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Canada bishops address ongoing search for Indigenous graves amid calls for greater accuracy

Children's red dresses are staked along a highway near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School where flowers and cards have been left as part of a makeshift memorial created in response to media reports that the "remains" of 215 children have been discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, on June 2, 2021. / Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2023 / 09:54 am (CNA).

No human remains were found in last month’s excavation of a Catholic church basement on Pine Creek First Nations lands in Manitoba, Canada, after the community asked a Brandon University archaeological team to conduct excavations in the search for any missing children who might have died decades ago in the community’s former residential school.

In the summer of 2022, ground-penetrating radar discovered 71 anomalies on the lands of Pine Creek First Nation, also known as the Minegoziibe Anishinabe. Most anomalies were located in known burial areas on the grounds of the former Catholic-run Pine Creek Residential School. The community was surprised to find 14 of these anomalies in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church, prompting fears the church held possible graves and a crime scene. However, excavations from late July to mid-August of this year failed to find any human remains.

In an Aug. 18 video posted to Facebook, Chief Derek Nepinak of Pine Creek First Nation said: “The results of the excavation take nothing away from the difficult truths experienced by our families who attended the residential school in Pine Creek … As a community, we identified the possibility of something very tragic and difficult for our families, and we pursued the truth of it with no certainty about the outcome.” 

The First Nation community is still deciding how to respond to the other 57 anomalies in the known burial areas.

Their search effort comes as Canada is reckoning with the history of its government-backed residential school program to assimilate Indigenous people. The schools were operated by Catholic and Protestant groups.

About 150,000 children attended the schools in the 19th and 20th century, often with Indigenous children from other communities far from home. More than 4,000 children died, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza were the major killers. A 2015 government inquiry recorded many former students’ testimonies of abuse, substandard living conditions, family separation, and policies of “cultural genocide” to eliminate Indigenous culture.

Many children who died were buried on school grounds, in non-school community graveyards, or on hospital grounds in graves that have since faded from memory and lost any perishable markings. Students were given new non-Native names and parents were not always notified of the children’s deaths and places of burial. Poor recordkeeping and lost or destroyed records have compounded the problems.

Indigenous communities are now using ground-penetrating radar to try to locate potential grave sites while also drawing on surviving records and the testimony of community elders. 

In 2021, initial reports of hundreds of suspected grave anomalies at two school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan prompted a wave of violence and vandalism against Catholic and other churches, including churches serving Indigenous Christian congregations. Dozens of Catholic churches in Canada were vandalized or burned down after the announcement, The B.C. Catholic newspaper reported.

News of these anomalies also led to other major events. As Tristan Hopper pointed out in a Sept. 3 article in the National Post: “The surveys would help spawn a new holiday, Truth and Reconciliation Day, prompt an official visit by Pope Francis, and result in Canadian flags being kept at half-mast for a record-breaking five consecutive months.” 

But to date, Hopper pointed out, “of the hundreds of suspected graves identified starting in 2021, Pine Creek is the only one that has been followed up with an archeological dig.” 

Not all anomalies are expected to be potential graves, and Indigenous communities are often reluctant to disturb suspected burial sites.

One child’s remains were uncovered near a residential school since searches began. In southwest Saskatchewan last fall, the Star Blanket Cree Nation searched the site of the former Lebret Indian Industrial School and found the fragment of a child’s jawbone in an unmarked grave far from any known graveyard. The provincial coroner’s service identified the bone fragment as from a child between the ages of 4 and 6 and dated it to about 125 years ago, CBC News reported. The school was operated under Catholic auspices from 1884 to 1969, though it is unknown how the child died or whether the child was a student at the school.

In an April 20 statement, shíshálh Nation said ground-penetrating radar had identified 40 unmarked shallow graves of children near the former St. Augustine’s Indian Residential School in British Columbia, a Catholic-run institution. Chief yalxwemult’ Lenora Joe asked the media and the public to respect the community’s healing process. The community has not made statements outside of media releases.

Other communities have conducted searches without finding any anomalies, though these are not listed in the interim report.

Calls for ‘a truly accurate historical picture’

The failure to find evidence of “mass graves,” as many media reports categorized the discovery of anomalies, has prompted some observers to call for greater accuracy in documenting what really happened to Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

“No one aware of the sordid story of the Indian Residential School system, or the broader facts of Canada’s long mistreatment of its Indigenous peoples, legitimately denies our shameful past,” Peter Stockland wrote in Canada’s Catholic Register Sept. 7. “There’s zero evidence of a national urge to airbrush such history. But after a period of outpouring of hard truths, demand is mounting for clarifying questions and answers. The justification offered is a stated desire for a truly accurate historical picture.”

Stockland suggested a cultural divide is at work in the efforts to recover history: Non-Indigenous Canadians approach the claims of unmarked graves as “forensic matters subject to the procedures of criminal investigation, evidence-gathering, and proof beyond reasonable doubt.” But in his view, “many Indigenous leaders make clear repeatedly that the search for children in graves is not about bodily validation of that mistreatment. It’s about mourning the dead: dead children, that is, lost and too often forgotten ancestors.”

Bishop Emeritus Fred Henry of Calgary has said the Catholic Church in Canada should press the government for proof about missing children whose parents didn’t know what happened to them. 

“Why is the Catholic Church not asking the federal government for proof that even one residential child is actually missing in the sense that his [or] her parents didn’t know what happened to their child at the time of the child’s death?” he wrote in an email to Toronto’s Catholic Register in August.

Henry said he went to Catholic media because he had not received a response to an initial group email he sent to his fellow bishops earlier in the summer.

The New York Post in August cited several observers, including Jacques Rouillard, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Montreal, who voiced concern about the reporting of the alleged graves.

“I don’t like to use the word hoax because it’s too strong, but there are also too many falsehoods circulating about this issue with no evidence,” Rouillard said.

Catholic bishops respond

Despite historical questions and cultural tensions in Canada, the country’s Catholic bishops have said they will continue to support Indigenous communities while acknowledging the failings of Catholics involved in the Church-run residential school system.

“It is good that rigorous research is being conducted by professionals to understand better what happened at the schools. The bishops are supportive of such research,” Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg told CNA Sept. 6. “They also understand and share the desire for truth to be at the heart of reconciliation.”

“That said, it is the priority of the bishops at this time to lead the Church in finding ways to walk with Indigenous peoples, to build relationships, to apologize when appropriate for suffering experienced within Church-operated institutions, and to be allies in the pursuit of justice,” Gagnon said.

The Canadian newspaper The Catholic Register, citing Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Archbishop Don Bolen of Regina, said the bishops collectively “have chosen to listen rather than respond to every event and demand arising from the process.”

Reluctance to excavate

A community’s response to suspected burials is “a very sensitive conversation,” a guide from the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials points out. The Canadian government-funded independent body is composed of predominantly Indigenous Canadians and experts in archival research, archeology, forensics, and police investigations. 

The guide notes that Indigenous communities may be reluctant to excavate, in part because of various laws, protocols, and teachings about honoring burial sites. Some families may want to move the remains to a more suitable burial place, but for others, the guide states, “the knowledge of survivors and other research may provide all the certainty they seek.”

Kimberly Murray, the Canadian government’s special interlocutor for missing children, unmarked graves, and burial sites, released a June interim report on how individual families and entire communities are searching for relatives and members whose fate or place of burial are unknown.

The report lists 16 Indigenous communities searching for anomalies and possible grave sites. Some searches have recovered unmarked burial sites at known cemeteries or near marked graves, while others have detected “potential unmarked burials.” 

Abuse history prompted church basement dig 

The former Pine Creek Residential School was operational from 1890 to 1969, and 21 children are known to have died there, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which keeps a list of children who died while at a residential school based on surviving Church and government records. 

Chief Nepinak noted that the failure to find remains in the church basement is separate from the testimony about the abuse at the school.

“There’s still a living memory of tremendous atrocity, of abuse that happened ranging from physical to emotional to sexual abuse,” Nepinak told the The Canadian Press.

CNA contacted Pine Creek First Nation for comment but did not receive a response by publication.

Pine Creek First Nation has a registered membership of 3,170 people, about 1,200 of whom live on reserve land. The discovery of the anomalies in the church basement prompted the community to call in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) last year, The Globe and Mail reported. Though community leaders said that elders and community members had “additional knowledge and information in relation to these anomalies,” the RCMP investigation ended in July without finding any evidence of a crime, Manitoba RCMP said in a statement.

Sean Carleton, assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba, told CBC News in August that the searches aim to learn the full truth about the residential school system rather than prove abuses happened. They are “part of that ongoing work of really understanding what was going on in that school specifically and with the system as a whole.”

He said it is important to realize that not all anomalies will be human remains.

If some anomalies prove to be graves, they could be graves of community members, children who were not students, or non-Indigenous school staff and their children, as well as nuns and priests, Scott Hamilton, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, told The B.C. Catholic in 2021.

Archbishop Gagnon told CNA the Catholic bishops have prioritized acknowledging “the tremendous suffering, trauma, and intergenerational trauma” caused by the schools. They have also prioritized “following up on Pope Francis’ apology” and his encouragement to take a path of solidarity with Indigenous peoples in support of truth and supporting Indigenous languages and culture. The archbishop noted the goal of assisting in “the ongoing work of truth-telling.”

Our Lady of Sorrows: What are Mary’s seven sorrows?

Our Lady of Sorrows at the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Granada, Spain. / José Manuel Ferro Ríos via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 02:00 am (CNA).

Catholics are invited to contemplate the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a special way on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The first sorrow begins with the prophecy of Simeon, a devout man in Jerusalem who met Christ as a baby. During the encounter, Simeon foretells Mary’s suffering.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” he tells her, according to Luke’s Gospel (Lk 2:34-35).

As with the first sorrow, Mary’s other sorrows regard her son: fleeing into Egypt to save the Christ Child’s life; losing the child Jesus in the Temple for three days; meeting Christ on his way to Calvary; standing at the foot of the cross; watching Christ’s body being taken down from the cross; and burying Christ’s body.

Reflecting on Our Lady of Sorrows in Slovakia in 2021, Pope Francis highlighted Mary’s response to these sorrows.

“Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot of the cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief,” he said. “Here is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.”

Through these sorrows, Our Blessed Mother also offers hope. She revealed seven promises to St. Bridget of Sweden in the 14th century for those who recite seven Hail Marys daily while reflecting on her tears and sorrows, according to Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry (OSMM) in Vandalia, Illinois. 

OSMM lists those seven promises from Mary as:

1. “I will grant peace to their families.”

2. “They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.”

3. “I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”

4. “I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”

5. “I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”

6. “I will visibly help them at the moment of their death; they will see the face of their Mother.”

7. “I have obtained from my divine Son that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.”

The faithful can also ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows through the seven sorrows rosary, or chaplet. OSMM provides general instructions on how to pray it: The prayer resembles a regular rosary, except that there are seven sets of seven Hail Marys. Each of the seven sets — consisting of an Our Father and seven Hail Marys — focuses on one of the seven sorrows.

This article was originally published on CNA on Sept. 15, 2022, and was updated Sept. 14, 2023.

Catholic schools must be faithful and welcoming on gender identity, Cleveland Diocese says

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Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2023 / 18:41 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has issued a policy on gender identity and related LGBT issues for its Catholic schools, stressing the need to accompany and welcome people with gender dysphoria while also showing consistency with Catholic teaching and respect for God’s creation.

“Catholic institutions must accompany people experiencing gender dysphoria and be committed both to providing a loving environment and to upholding the truth of God’s created reality,” the introduction to the Ohio diocese’s policy says. “As the Catechism teaches, individuals who experience these perceptions or feelings are to be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The three-page policy document, dated Aug. 31, largely formalizes existing policy and practice, according to the diocese’s website. The policy applies to diocesan offices, parishes, parish schools, and diocesan schools. There are about 42,000 students in Catholic schools in the diocese.

Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland promulgated the policy as particular law for the Diocese of Cleveland, meaning it has canonical status.

“All are welcome,” says the policy, adding that by being a part of a Catholic community a person accepts the responsibility of acting in a way “consistent with moral teachings” and in a way that upholds “the rules and expectations of that community … designed to reflect the fullness of the Church’s teachings.”

Pronouns, bathrooms, dress codes, and more

Regarding parental notification, the policy says that a Catholic institution should notify parents or guardians if faculty or staff become aware that a minor is experiencing “gender dysphoria or gender confusion.” If there is “reasonable concern” that notification will result in physical abuse, the institution should consult the diocese’s legal office and the moral theologian designated by the bishop. However, the policy states that the “initial presumption” should be that parents are notified unless there is a “compelling reason not to.”

The policy clarifies that if a parent or guardian declines to affirm a child’s newly claimed identity it should not be considered abuse or a reason not to disclose the child’s gender confusion.

The policy bars student or staff use of “preferred pronouns” in speech or writing, including institutional correspondence and communications. With parental agreement, nicknames may be used for a person with gender dysphoria or gender confusion “as a pastoral accommodation,” provided their use does not obscure or contradict a person’s biological sex.

Bathroom use must correspond to biological sex. In some cases, an institution’s leaders may accommodate requests for the use of single-person bathrooms.

Dress codes require a person to dress “consistent with their God-given biological sex and complying with any applicable sex-specific dress code.”

Admissions to institutions, programs, and activities that are single-sex must be based on a student’s biological sex. Exceptions could include special cases, such as when a girl seeks to play certain roles on a boy’s football team.

Same-sex couples may not attend dances, mixers, or similar events as a couple.

The policy says it does not ban “open and respectful discussion or debate” on sexuality and gender dysphoria in appropriate forums for Catholic institutions. However, it bars the display of pride flags or other symbols that may be construed as opposition to Catholic teaching.

“No person may publicly advocate or celebrate sexual orientation or identity in ways that are contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching and that could cause disruption, confusion, or scandal regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings.”

The policy bars purported gender transitions through social behavior, surgery, or medical treatments. It also rejects changes to or purges of institutional records and documents. These must reflect “a person’s God-given biological sex and legal name.”

Policy based on Catholic teaching

“A person experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion will not be denied admission to an institution or be excluded from an institution’s life and activities simply because he or she is experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion or same-sex attraction,” the policy adds. It outlines cases in which accommodations should or can be made for people with gender dysphoria.

At the same time, the policy notes, those who openly voice disagreement with Church teaching “in an open and scandalous way” or who act contrary to Catholic teaching may face restrictions, or, as appropriate, disciplinary action.

Catholic institutions must act and speak in ways consistent with Catholic teaching, the policy document says. This includes Catholic teaching that “the human person is a unity of both body and soul and that, body and soul, each person is created in God’s image.”

“Our bodies, created male and female, are part of God’s intentional design in creation and are, therefore, imbued with meaning and purpose,” the policy explains. “As stewards of these gifts, we are called to accept, love, and care for our bodies as they were created.”

Similar to policies in other Catholic dioceses

The Cleveland Diocese policy is similar to policies of other Catholic dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Diocese of Sioux Falls in North Dakota, and the Archdiocese of Denver.

In June 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document on gender theory and identity “Male and Female He Created Them.” The document discussed Catholic responses to gender theory, which it criticized as “cultural and ideological revolution.” The congregation said that the aim of the Church at the institutional and individual level must be the education of children in line with authentic principles that defend and instill authentic human dignity.

Consecrated hosts stolen from hospital chapel tabernacle in Spain

Bishop Rafael Zornoz of Cádiz and Ceuta, Spain, celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Puerto Real. / Credit: Diocese of Cádiz and Ceuta

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 14, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A hospital chapel in the town of Puerto Real, Spain, located in the Diocese of Cádiz and Ceuta, has recently been desecrated twice, with Masses to be offered in reparation already planned.

Sources at the diocese told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that the tabernacle had been profaned on at least two different occasions, as witnessed by the chaplains in charge.

The first time, one of the priests discovered that the door of the tabernacle was “out of joint” and repositioned it. Although there was no major damage and neither the sacred vessels nor the consecrated hosts were missing, the priest noticed in a corner “a dirty glass with remains that look like coffee.”

On the second occasion, another chaplain discovered that “the veil of the tabernacle had been torn off,” and although the door was not pried “they took the lid of the ciborium and the pyx with all the consecrated hosts.”

After removing everything from the tabernacle as a precaution, the chaplains reported the desecrations to the hospital management, which referred the incidents to law enforcement.

A Mass in reparation will be offered in the chapel on Sept. 15 as well as on Sept. 18.

Avoiding the danger of desecration

The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum of the then-Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explains that the consecrated hosts are principally reserved after Mass so that “the faithful who cannot be present at Mass, above all the sick and those advanced in age, may be united by sacramental Communion to Christ and his sacrifice, which is offered in the Mass.”

This reservation also allows “the practice of adoring this great sacrament and offering it the worship due to God.”

The instruction specifies that “the Most Holy Sacrament is to be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is noble, prominent, readily visible, and adorned in a dignified manner” and stipulates that “diligent attention should be paid to all the prescriptions of the liturgical books and to the norm of law, especially as regards the avoidance of the danger of profanation” (Nos. 129-130).

“It should also be borne in mind,” the instruction warns, “that removing or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose or casting them away are graviora delicta, the absolution of which is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (No. 132).

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Court rules California district can’t bar Christian athletic club from schools

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A panel of judges ruled that a California school district must allow a Christian athletic club to return to public schools after the district banned the group over its adherence to Christian teachings on sexuality.

In 2019, the San Jose Unified School District rescinded its recognition of student groups affiliated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes because the clubs require members to affirm a statement of faith that declares sexual activity is only permissible between a man and a woman within a marriage. The district claimed this mandatory affirmation discriminated against LGBTQ people.

Even though affiliated clubs had operated in the school district for more than a decade, each club was removed from schools in the district. A lower court sided with the school district, but that decision was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, which ensured that the clubs can operate in the public schools again.

According to the ruling, the San Jose Unified School District engaged in a “double standard” when it “penalized [the Fellowship of Christian Athletes] based on its religious beliefs.”

The opinion found that the district failed to treat Fellowship of Christian Athletes “like comparable secular student groups whose membership was limited based on criteria including sex, race, ethnicity, and gender identity.” The opinion found that “the Constitution prohibits such a double standard.”

The appellate court ruling grants Fellowship of Christian Athletes temporary relief, which allows it to have equal access to the public schools while the litigation is settled. The ruling does not settle the constitutionality of the issue in the ongoing litigation but indicates that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is likely to succeed in its claims against the district.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Danielle J. Forrest said that the district discriminated against Christians under the guise of fighting against discrimination.

“The height of irony is that the district excluded [the Fellowship of Christian Athletes] students from fully participating in the [Associated Student Body] program in the name of preventing discrimination to purportedly ensure that all students feel welcome,” the opinion read. “In doing so, the district selectively enforced its nondiscrimination policy to benefit viewpoints that it favors to the detriment of viewpoints that it disfavors.”

Rigo Lopez, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader for Bay Area schools, applauded the ruling in a statement.

“[Fellowship of Christian Athletes] is excited to be able to get back to serving our campuses,” Lopez said. “Our FCA teams have long enjoyed strong relationships with teachers and students in the past, and we are looking forward to that again.”

The fellowship received representation from Becket, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in religious freedom cases. Daniel Blomberg, a vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement that the ruling ensures equal treatment for religious students.

“This is a huge win for these brave kids, who persevered through adversity and never took their eye off the ball: equal access with integrity,” Blomberg said. “Today’s ruling ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California.”

The appellate court has jurisdiction over the entirety of California and eight other states: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Jesuits, Georgetown donate $27 million to fund for slave descendants

Georgetown University. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 08:55 am (CNA).

A foundation that is raising money for the descendants of people who were enslaved by Jesuits announced $27 million in new contributions, more than doubling the total fund, which has now reached $42 million.

The new money came from two large donations: a $10 million contribution from Georgetown University and an estimated $17 million from the Jesuits. The Jesuit funding includes the estimated value of a former plantation that is owned by Jesuits and another $10 million.

With the additional funding, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation’s fund has now reached 42% of its five-year goal of $100 million. The organization’s final goal is to ultimately reach $1 billion.

Monique Trusclair Maddox, a fourth- and fifth-generation descendant and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement that the contributions are a meaningful step.

“These contributions from Georgetown University and the Jesuits are a clear indication of the role Jesuits and other institutions of higher education can play in supporting our mission to heal the wounds of racism in the United States, as well as a call to action for all of the Catholic Church to take meaningful steps to address the harm done through centuries of slaveholding,” Maddox said.

Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation was established to support funding for programs that will help descendants of those who were enslaved by the Jesuits with a focus on three main areas. This includes education from early childhood to postsecondary education funding, support for elderly and infirm descendants, and racial healing and reconciliation in communities and organizations throughout the country.

Jesuits participated in the slave trade in North America since colonial times to support missionary efforts and establish educational institutions, including Georgetown. In 1838, the university sold more than 272 enslaved people from their plantations to southern Louisiana to support its financial needs.

“The work of reconciliation — grounded in a deep reckoning with the pain and injustice of slavery and its legacies — is an expression of hope,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said in a statement.

“The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation has put forth an extraordinary vision to uplift Descendant communities, support the educational aspirations of Descendants, and promote racial healing in our nation,” DeGioia added. “It is an honor for our university to have the opportunity to contribute to their efforts. The difficult truths of our past guide us in the urgent work of seeking and supporting reconciliation in our present and future.”

Father Tim Kesicki, SJ, who chairs the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Trust, said in a statement that it is important to right past wrongs.

“As a Catholic community, it is imperative that we don’t turn away from our sinful history of slaveholding and instead look inward at how we can right past wrongs with justice, healing, and compassion,” Kesicki said. “I am thrilled to see other Catholic and Jesuit institutions step up by investing in the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation’s mission to foster racial healing and uplift current and future Descendants.”

Georgetown University had previously contributed $1 million to the fund. The Jesuits have previously contributed $15 million to the fund when the foundation was first established.

According to the foundation, there are about 10,000 living and deceased descendants of Jesuit enslavement.

One Sicilian town’s centuries-old devotion to the Holy Cross

Men process with the historic cross on the feast of the Holy Cross in Montemaggiore Belsito on Sept. 14, 2022. It is considered a great honor to be one of the people to transport the heavy float in which the cross is carried. / Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 02:30 am (CNA).

In northern Sicily, 15 miles from the sea and nestled in the foothills of the Madonie mountain range, lies the town of Montemaggiore Belsito.

Though the town’s population, once mostly farmers, has declined to under 3,000, it boasts no fewer than 11 churches — a sign of the vibrant Catholic belief at the time of its formal establishment in 1610.

And while many of these old churches stay closed up, there is one important feast day that draws many of Montemaggiore’s former residents home: the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on Sept. 14.

A 15th- or 16th-century wooden cross is kept in the Church of the Holy Cross in Montemaggiore Belsito on the Italian island of Sicily, except when it is moved to the Basilica of St. Agatha for the religious celebrations of the Sept. 14 feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Credit: Riccardo Siragusa
A 15th- or 16th-century wooden cross is kept in the Church of the Holy Cross in Montemaggiore Belsito on the Italian island of Sicily, except when it is moved to the Basilica of St. Agatha for the religious celebrations of the Sept. 14 feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Credit: Riccardo Siragusa

Across hundreds of years of celebration, the Holy Cross has become the de facto patron of the town, even though the official saint is St. Agatha, who is honored in the name of Montemaggiore’s mother church and basilica.

The town marks the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross with Mass and a solemn procession through the town with a late 15th-century or early 16th-century cross of uncertain origin.

The cross and corpus are made of cypress wood from the Madonie mountains. It is believed the silver leafing on the cross is not original but was added sometime in the 1700s.

The feast day procession, which begins and ends at the Basilica of St. Agatha, passes through the main streets of the town; it is considered a great honor to be one of the people to transport the heavy float in which the cross is carried.

Out of the whole year, “it’s the feast day with the highest participation in the area and in the whole diocese,” Father Salvatore Panzarella, the pastor of the Basilica of St. Agatha, told CNA. 

The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

He explained that the celebration begins the Sunday before Sept. 11, when the crucifix is moved from the Church of the Holy Cross to the Basilica of St. Agatha. 

Three days of preparation then follow Sept. 11–13. These three days recall a time in 1836 when the people processed the cross through the streets to ask for protection from a cholera outbreak.

At midday on Sept. 15, the cross is brought back to its church.

Not only is devotion to the Most Holy Cross very old in Montemaggiore, but the celebration of its feast day “is probably the oldest in the territory,” Panzarella said.

The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

A popular legend says the cross, which can be dated to between 1480 and 1520, was found by Father Giuseppe Cangelosi and some farmers around the year 1625.

The story says the crucifix was found in a field near an abbey. The priest’s attention was drawn to the spot by a bush that was burning but not consumed by the flames.

Yet Montemaggiore’s councilor of culture and deputy mayor said a more likely explanation is that the cross was a gift from a member of the noble Migliaccio family, which ruled the area for years and was responsible for its founding.

There are no historical records to give proof to the theory, but the idea is supported by the fact that the Migliaccio family paid to have the Church of the Holy Cross built in the early 1600s, according to Riccardo Siragusa, the town’s deputy mayor.

The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
The procession for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross winds through the main streets of Montemaggiore Belsito. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

There are also historical records showing that the feast of the Holy Cross was celebrated by the townspeople as early as 1628.

Siragusa and pastor Panzarella both explained that the town’s first celebration of the cross was marked every year on May 3 — the date sometimes known as “Roodmas” — which commemorates the finding of the true cross in the Holy Land.

Around the middle of the 1700s, the pastor said, Montemaggiore began to also mark the Sept. 14 feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Pope John XXIII removed the May 3 feast from the Church calendar in 1960 in favor of Sept. 14).

The May 3 feast is also commemorated with Mass and a procession, this time along a longer and steeper path through the town’s outskirts so the parish priest can bless locals’ fields and animals.

Centuries later, Montemaggiore continues to mark both days with religious celebrations, though Sept. 14 has taken on much more importance.

“There are very deep connections to this festivity,” Panzarella said.

European bishops concerned about draft bill on medical use of ‘human substances’

European Parliament. / Credit: Unsplash | Guillaume Périgois

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 13, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Commission of the Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Commissariat of the German Bishops-Catholic Office in Berlin on Sept. 12 published a joint statement expressing their “deep concern” about a new draft bill that changes the position of the European Council and Parliament on the substances of human origin (SoHO) regulation.

The bishops said that the bill, with the transactional amendments to the regulation, “will unequivocally set the course of the future discussion regarding prenatal human life in European transplantation and pharmaceutical law” and noted that “it will influence the ongoing discussion on strengthening the EU Health Union and will raise numerous ethical and constitutional conflict issues in the EU member states.”

The bishops stated that “as the Catholic Church we are convinced, with many others and for many reasons, that human life from the beginning, including unborn life, possesses its own dignity, right, and independent right of protection” and therefore it is their intention to draw attention to the consequences of the new SoHO regulation.

Specifically, the document emphasizes the danger of expanding the definition of the term “human substance,” since it could include human embryos and fetuses. 

Father Manuel Barrios Prieto, secretary general of the COMECE, explained the significance of this: “The danger lies in the possibility that such a definition may degrade the dignity and value of human life, creating an unacceptable equivalence between embryos and fetuses and simple skin cells or blood plasma.”

The statement also notes that Article 58 of the new regulation “would permit and mandate preliminary genetic testing on embryos and fetuses, potentially paving the way for life selection.”

Human life not just a ‘substance of human origin’

The objective of the regulation is “to realize the full potential of novel forms of processing and use of blood, tissues, and cells for patients” and to ensure “patient care.”

Thus the new term “substance of human origin” (SoHO) is introduced, which for the European prelates is defined “too broadly” and could have serious moral and ethical consequences.

“The definition of ‘SoHO’ according to Article 3 No. 5 of the draft regulation not only refers to non-fertilized germ cells (sperm, oocytes, and degenerated oocytes) in the field of reproductive medicine but also covers embryos and fetuses,” the joint declaration states.

The bishops pointed out that “this is relevant, for example, to the removal and use of deceased or killed embryos and fetuses as well as the alternative use of in-vitro-produced supernumerary embryos that are deliberately not implanted in the woman’s uterus.”

“In all these cases,” the bishops noted, “the SoHO regulation degrades unborn human life to a mere ‘substance of human origin’ or — depending on its origin — to a ‘SoHO preparation’ equating it [in the regulation] on the same level as skin cells or blood plasma without any sort of differentiation. Human subjects are thus subdued to be mere objects in disregard of their inherent dignity.”

Addressing the issue in 2008, the Congregation [now Dicastery] for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Holy See, in its instruction Dignitas Personae, stated that “the dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses a great ‘yes’ to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever-greater importance in today’s world.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia to cover up Nazi SS monument in Catholic cemetery

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop Borys Gudziak addresses the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2023. / Credit: Shannon Mullen/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 13:41 pm (CNA).

The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said this week that it would cover up a monument to the Nazi SS that still stands in a local cemetery in the suburbs of the city while it engages in “discussions” with the community about the controversial display.

The monument, erected roughly 30 years ago at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery, which is owned by the seat of the archeparchy, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, gained national attention last week with a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A report on that monument, and another in Michigan, had appeared in the Jewish newspaper The Forward last month.

The monument was meant to honor the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which was made up of ethnic Ukrainians during the Nazi occupation. The large stone cross bears the insignia of the division as well as several memorial inscriptions in English and Ukrainian. 

Advocates argue the unit should be seen less as a vanguard of the Nazi Reich and more as a group of anti-communist Ukrainian patriots. Critics, meanwhile, say the group was involved in numerous war crimes and atrocities and that their behavior during the war — as well as their identification with the SS — should preclude any monuments being constructed in their honor. 

Amid the controversy, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement urging the Ukrainian Catholic Church to “correct” the “historical myths” about the division and “remove this memorial stone from our community.”

Marcia Bronstein, the regional director of American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey, likewise said that the AJC was “look[ing] forward to being partners and exploring how best they can condemn this and how they can remove this statue that is so painful to the Jewish community.”

On Tuesday, Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak said in a statement that “given the current attention surrounding the monument … the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia has decided to temporarily cover [it].”

Gudziak said the monument will remain covered “while our discussions ensue with the community in order to prevent vandalism and with the goal of conducting an objective dialogue with sensitivity to all concerned.”

In an earlier statement Gudziak had noted that the archeparchy “values its relationship with the Jewish community and intends to address the issues at hand with the depth and seriousness that they deserve.”

Reached for comment, an archeparchy spokesperson declined to offer information on how long that process would take, instead directing CNA back toward Gudziak’s original statement.

The 14th Division — also referred to as the 1st Galician for the region from which many of the volunteers were drawn — was after the war found to have participated in several war crimes including the massacre at the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka where as many as 1,200 Polish civilians were killed. The division was also reportedly responsible for the Pidkamin massacre, where several hundred to a thousand were murdered.

The Jewish news outlet Forward reported last month that another statute honoring the division resides near Detroit. Monuments to the division can also be found in Canada.

The Michigan monument sits “on the side of a Ukrainian credit union building” in the town of Warren, according to Forward. The town’s mayor, James Fouts, told the news outlet that there was “not even a minute chance that we would support anything like this.”

“We would never allow anything like that to go on public property,” Fouts told Forward, “but I don’t think we can do much for a monument on private land.”

USAID announces ‘religious engagement policy’ aimed at partnering with faith groups

A Christian mission team is pictured praying in Guatemala in 2019. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Tuesday announced the establishment of a new “religious engagement policy” the agency said is meant to incorporate more religious groups and institutions into its global aid and development missions. 

USAID, an independent department in the federal government, administers foreign aid and development assistance to civilian authorities worldwide. Its $50 billion budget funds humanitarian efforts in disaster response, socioeconomic development, and other areas. 

The agency said in a press release on Tuesday that it was debuting its “first-ever religious engagement policy,” which it said underscored “the important role of religious communities and faith-based organizations [FBOs] as strategic development partners.”

The press release said the new policy, titled “Building Bridges in Development: USAID’s Strategic Religious Engagement Policy,” offers aid workers a framework for “engaging religious communities and FBOs.”

Among its goals includes improved collaboration between religious institutions and the agency to maximize “humanitarian assistance outcomes.” The agency will also be pursuing what it calls “strategic religious engagement” with religious partners.

On the policy’s website, USAID said its approach to “strategic religious engagement” can work to “engage local actors as co-designers and critical partners” and encourage partnerships with “new and underutilized organizations with innovative ideas.”

The agency called the new program “an adaptive approach to development and humanitarian assistance that can apply to any sector or region depending on the local context.” 

In a policy document, USAID said it would take several steps to implement the program, including “assess[ing] a country’s religious landscape,” developing “approaches to engagement, partnership, and safeguarding,” “inviting religious actors into stakeholder consultations,” and maintaining “continuous engagement” with those stakeholders.

Program comes after ‘extensive’ dialogue with religious groups

Bill O’Keefe, the executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy at the global humanitarian group Catholic Relief Services, said CRS is “excited” about the prospect of the new program. 

O’Keefe, who attended the program launch in Washington, told CNA that the program was “the result of extensive consultation and discussion between USAID and faith leaders and faith groups.”

“USAID has long worked directly and indirectly with faith leaders and faith groups, including Catholic Relief Services, Caritas organizations around the world, and other Catholic groups and religious leaders,” O’Keefe said.

“However, it has not had a clear policy encouraging that work and clarifying the contribution religious leaders can make to development and humanitarian response.”  

“We are excited to see the policy and hope especially it facilitates even greater support and partnership between USAID, local Catholic partners, and other religious leaders critical to peace and justice around the world,” O’Keefe continued. 

The framework of the program, O’Keefe said, is “solid.”

“Whether the policy achieves its goals depends on follow-up and leadership at USAID,” he said. “Engaging diverse religious leaders in the many contexts USAID finds itself will require [the agency to] bring to life the principles in the policy itself.”

Past controversies over potential conflicts with religion

USAID’s current administrator is Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who served in the Obama administration. 

Religious groups had raised red flags regarding her nomination to the USAID post in 2021 over concerns that she would push a pro-abortion agenda in that role. Her nomination was praised by the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood Action Fund at the time.

Jesús Magaña, president of United for Life-Colombia, said upon her nomination that Biden was exemplifying an “agenda of death” by nominating Power to the role. 

Ivone Mieles, director of Pro-Life Ecuador, likewise claimed that the nomination was “scary for Latin America” due to the “influence that organizations … like Planned Parenthood, will have” under Power’s administration.

Pro-life advocates last year similarly warned of the influence that pro-abortion ideologues were having on international aid, citing the federal President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief distributing funds to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which last year announced “a partnership with USAID” to address in part “family planning” and “reproductive health” in low- and middle-income countries.

USAID was founded in 1962 by then-President John F. Kennedy, who stressed the importance of charitable giving from “the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people” as well as the U.S.’s “political obligations as the single-largest counter to the adversaries of freedom.”

Originally devoted largely to capital assistance, in its ensuing decades USAID shifted its work to focus on material aid such as food, health, and education. 

It also advocates for more infrastructural development such as improvements in agriculture and sanitation as well as technological development and “anti-corruption” efforts.