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The best Catholic Advent calendars for 2021

Advent calendar / Elena Mozhvilo/Unsplash

Denver Newsroom, Nov 17, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. And while it’s easy to get distracted by the craziness leading up to this special day, the Advent season is the perfect time to bring your family together and spend time learning about and celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. 

Here’s a list of our favorite Advent calendars to bring the Nativity story to your family, and hopefully create cherished memories and long-lasting traditions.

Perfect for kids

  • “Advent Calendar: Nativity” on lovepop.com 

    This Advent calendar is a great way to get your kids interacting with the story of Jesus’ birth. This Nativity day-by-day advent calendar includes paper pop-ups to teach the story of Jesus’ birth in a hands-on way. For each day, there is a brief explanation of the Nativity story that is easy to read and understandable for young children. 

  • “Color Your Own Advent Calendar” on catholiccompany.com 

    This color-your-own Advent calendar from the Catholic Company encourages children to use their creativity as they learn the Nativity story. It teaches children the story of Jesus’ birth as they color different sections of the Nativity scene each day leading up to Christmas. 

Something the whole family will love

  • “Manger Scene - Freestanding Advent Calendar” on ewtnrc.com

    Countdown to Christmas with this Advent calendar depicting the manger scene. Each day, open the corresponding window to reveal a special image and Bible verse that retells part of the Nativity story. Get the whole family involved by rotating who gets to read each day. 

  • “Itty Bittys Countdown Calendar to Jesus’ Birthday” on ewtnrc.com

    For families with newborns or babies, the Itty Bittys Countdown Calendar to Jesus’ Birthday from the EWTN Religious Catalogue is a great option. It features a plush baby Jesus that is moved from pocket to pocket each day and then is placed in the manger on Dec. 25. It’s a great way to start getting your little one familiar with Advent and the Nativity story. 

Do it yourself

  • If you’re looking for a DIY Advent calendar, here’s an idea for one you can make using only envelopes, paper and a pen. Start by drawing numbers on each envelope and place them, in numerical order, throughout your home. For example, you can pin them to a bulletin board, or clip them to long pieces of twine that can be hung on the wall. Then take smaller pieces of paper and write Bible verses that retell the story of Jesus’ birth and place them in each envelope. You can also write ideas for kind gestures you and your kids can do for a family member, such as “Do a chore you don’t usually do” or “Compliment someone today.”


Prayerful; for grown-ups

Don’t let the busyness of the holiday season distract you from its true meaning— preparing for the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Invite the joy of Advent into your homes and families, and remember it’s not about the presents, but His presence.

There are plenty of different options for to every need, if you want to see more, visit: https://www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com/Advent-Calendars

Blessed Carlo Acutis named a patron of Eucharistic Revival campaign

Bl. Carlo Acutis / carloacutis.com

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Blessed Carlo Acutis will serve as the patron of the first year of a new three-year Eucharistic Revival project the U.S. bishops approved Nov. 17, a designation that entrusts a critical initiative to the intercession of a popular modern Catholic hero known for spreading devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

Acutis, an English-born Italian Catholic who died in 2006 at age 15 shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia, used his technical prowess as an amateur computer programmer to share information online about Eucharistic miracles. He is the first Catholic from the Millennial generation to be beatified.

Among the sentiments Acutis shared online is his testimony that “the more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven."

That same message is at the heart of the bishops’ Eucharist campaign, which was endorsed Wednesday during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore. Patrons for the other years of the campaign were not announced.

Set to officially launch with diocesan Eucharistic processions around the country on June 22, 2022 for the feast of Corpus Christi, the effort will include the creation of a new Eucharistic revival website, the development of new teaching materials, special training for diocesan and parish leaders, a traveling team of Eucharistic preachers, and a host of other initiatives.

The campaign will culminate with a National Eucharist Congress, the first of its kind in the United States in nearly 50 years, to be held July 17-21 in Indianapolis, Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens, one of the architects of the revival campaign, announced Wednesday. Cozzens is the bishop-designate for the Diocese of Crookston, Minn and an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

The bishops’ campaign, which many Catholics view as long overdue, comes at a time when devotion to the Eucharist is lagging among those who identify themselves as Catholic, surveys and other indicators show. 

That trend already was well underway during Acutis’ lifetime. His mother has said that before she had Carlo, she went to Mass only for her First Communion, her confirmation, and her wedding. But as a young child, Carlo loved to pray the Rosary. After he made his First Communion, he went to Mass as often as he could. He asked his parents to take him on pilgrimages, particularly to the sites of Eucharistic miracles.

Acutis was beatified on Oct. 10, 2020, in Assisi, Italy

Support for religious freedom up among Americans; majority consider worship ‘essential,’ survey says

Flag and cross. / Amanda Wayne/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 17, 2021 / 14:34 pm (CNA).

A legal group known for representing religious believers in court announced this week that support for the “principles of religious freedom” among U.S. adults reached a three-year high in 2021, based on a new survey and analysis by the group. 

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, based in Washington D.C., released their third annual Religious Freedom Index report Nov. 17, which aims to serve as a comprehensive study of Americans’ perspectives and views on religious freedom. 

Becket says their research shows that a majority of Americans think worship and funerals at houses of worship should be considered essential activities in a pandemic. The report found that among the various demographic groups they surveyed, the people most likely to rate religious activities as “essential” were Republicans, Generation X, and Black and Hispanic people. 

Becket says their analysis of the survey data demonstrates that support for religious freedom has reached a three year high, based on a "composite" score devised by the group. 

“Support for religious liberty in America in 2021 is alive and well,” the report reads. 

“This year’s Index showed the highest overall composite score of any year...After a tumultuous 2020, when the Index saw a small but consistent dip in support, this return to 2019 levels—and in some cases, record highs—is a welcome observation.”

The survey, which used a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults, included 21 questions carried over from last year, plus 50 additional questions about more timely topics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The 21 “Index” questions examined six categories of American thought on religious liberty: Religious Pluralism, Religion and Policy, Religious Sharing, Religion in Society, Church and State, and Religion in Action.

The group calculated a composite score of overall support for religious freedom using the “Index” questions, which this year was 68 out of a possible 100, up from 66 in 2020. 

Americans value faith-based organizations, the report concludes, and want the government to partner with them on fair and equal terms. The data also show that a majority of Americans think that people with religious opinions on controversial topics should be free to voice them in public. 

“The majority of respondents also support viewpoint diversity on college campuses, as well as parents’ rights as the primary educators of their children,” the report reads.  

“There are tensions with religious pluralism, however. While Americans support broad expressive religious freedoms in principle, they are less comfortable with certain real-world applications of this freedom, especially in circumstances relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The report also concludes that more familiarity with religion and people of faith seems to increase support for religious freedom in certain situations, with respondents who said they had coworkers who were people of faith reporting “much higher levels of comfort” when discussing religious topics at work. 

Those who worked with people of faith were also more supportive of religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, Becket said. 

In the inaugural year of the Index, 2019, the report found strong opposition among respondents to the government taking adverse action against people or organizations for their free exercise of religion. Certain racial minorities— African-Americans and Hispanics— were more likely than other respondents to view religion as "part of the solution" in society. 

In 2020, Becket concluded that Americans believe places of worship should not be subject to harsher coronavirus regulations than businesses. The "composite" score showing overall support for religious freedom dipped slightly as compared to 2019. 

“A pandemic, an election year, and social unrest no doubt contributed to last year’s dip in support for religious liberty,” the 2021 report concludes. 

“This year’s Index findings bring us to overall higher levels of support and are encouraging, especially as we see more people of faith reporting higher levels of acceptance in society and lower rates of religiously based discrimination. Next year’s Index findings will show whether this high support for religious liberty increases.”


USCCB votes to inscribe Mother Teresa in the U.S. Liturgical Calendar

Mother Teresa circa 1994. / (C) LOsservatore Romano.

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 13:41 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops, meeting in Baltimore for their annual fall assembly, voted Nov. 17 to inscribe St. Teresa of Kolkata, known during her life as Mother Teresa, in the Liturgical Calendar of the United States. 

The bishops voted to include her feast day as an optional memorial that could be celebrated in the Mass on Sept. 5, the anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death.

The vote passed overwhelmingly 213-0, with one abstention. The action still needs the approval of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments before it takes effect.

"She is an incredible example of encounter," Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay said ahead of the vote. 

"Some of her quotes I use frequently in teaching and homilies, and they're very powerful and effective in moving the heart and helping people to recognize Christ, especially...in the poor, but also in those around them. So I think there's a great devotion to her in many ways. And I think that we would be deeply served by putting this in our calendar," he said.

Memorials can either be optional or obligatory, and are celebrations of a saint or saints. While Catholics can liturgically commemorate any canonized saint, it does not always mean the given saint is included in the Church’s universal calendar of optional or obligatory memorials.

Mother Teresa was a missionary nun who worked and lived among the poor in India. She taught poor children, set up orphanages and houses for those suffering from AIDS, and cared for the sick. 

In 1950, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity which quickly grew from one house for the sick and dying to nearly 500 houses worldwide. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Though originally from Macedonia, Mother Teresa was an honorary American citizen, an honor conferred on her in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton. Honorary American citizenship has been given to just seven other individuals and only two, including Mother Teresa, have received it while living. 

She died on Sep. 5, 1997 at age 87. She was beatified six years after her death by St. John Paul II on Oct. 19, 2003. Pope Francis canonized her on Sep. 4, 2016.

Two Irish Catholic dioceses will soon be under the leadership of one bishop

The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, Galway, Ireland. / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Rome Newsroom, Nov 17, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Two Catholic dioceses in Ireland will soon be under the leadership of one bishop, a representative of Pope Francis has told local Irish bishops.

In a joint statement, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora and Bishop Michael Duignan of Clonfert said that their two dioceses in the west of Ireland would be joined under the leadership of a single bishop while remaining autonomous dioceses.

“We have been informed by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, that in the near future the Holy Father Pope Francis intends to appoint a single bishop to the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora and the Diocese of Clonfert,” said the joint statement published on Nov. 16.

The bishops explained that this change would not be an amalgamation and would not suppress either diocese.

“Both dioceses will continue to maintain their own integrity and autonomy as is but will work closer together, where possible, through the person and ministry of a single bishop (in persona episcopi),” it said.

This means that the existing diocesan structures, institutions, lands, finances, and juridical competencies would be left unaltered.

The announcement comes after Bishop Kelly submitted the customary letter of resignation at the age of 75 to Pope Francis earlier this year.

At only 51 years of age, Bishop Duignan could be a candidate to be the leader of the two dioceses.

Duignan has served as the bishop of Clonfert for the past two years. His episcopal consecration took place on Oct. 13, 2019, a few months after his appointment by Pope Francis.

The Diocese of Clonfert, Ireland (highlighted in red). Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Diocese of Clonfert, Ireland (highlighted in red). Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Diocese of Clonfert, located in parts of County Galway and County Clare, traces its history back to the sixth century, when St. Brendan (also known as Brendan of Clonfert) established the Clonfert abbey. The diocese was formally established in the year 1111.

Today, the diocese has a population of 36,000 Catholics across 24 parishes, making it one of Ireland’s smallest dioceses, according to the Irish Times.

The Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora, on the other hand, is much larger in population, with more than 105,000 Catholics.

Galway and Kilmacduagh dioceses were combined in 1883 after the bishop of Galway was made the apostolic administrator of Kilfenora.

The Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, Ireland (highlighted in red). Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, Ireland (highlighted in red). Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

There are a total of 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland which each currently have their own bishop.

“We pray God’s blessings on our respective dioceses at this important time and we look forward to a closer working together towards a new springtime of faith within each of our diocesan and parish communities,” Kelly and Duignan said in their joint statement.

How did the bishops vote on the Eucharist document?

Bishop-designate Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minn. speaking Nov. 16 during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Fall Assembly in Baltimore. / Shannon Mullen/CNA

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly voted to approve a new document on the Eucharist Wednesday that highlights the sacrament’s indispensable role in the life of the Church.

The vote, coming during the annual fall assembly of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, was 222 to 8, with three abstentions.

Voting was anonymous and conducted electronically. A two-thirds majority was necessary for the document's adoption.

The product of months of debate and revisions, the final text avoids any overt references to whether bishops and priests ought to deny Communion to public figures at odds with Catholic teaching on abortion and other moral issues. 

Instead, the document aims to initiate a new emphasis on catechizing Catholics about the meaning and importance of the Eucharist, in response to what many bishops see as a worrisome decline in belief in the sacrament as the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

In an interview with CNA prior to the vote, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver explained that the document seeks “to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.”

In addition to approving the document, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” the bishops approved a strategic plan for a three-year eucharist revival campaign. The vote was 201 to 17 in favor of the revival campaign, with five abstentions. The initiative is to include the development of new teaching materials, training for diocesan and parish leaders, the launch of a dedicated revival website, and the deployment of a special team of 50 priests who will travel the country to preach about the Eucharist.

The campaign will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis, Bishop-designate Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., announced Wednesday. Cozzens, who is heading the revival effort as chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said the congress would be the first of its kind in the United States in nearly 50 years. Previously, Cozzens said, such national eucharistic events were held once a decade.

"I see this as really kind of a wonderful convergence of events, leading us through this Eucharistic revival to this Eucharistic Congress. I stand to speak strongly in favor of it," Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, OK. said.

"I am very hopeful that it will produce the great fruits that all my brother bishops are praying for and hoping for during these days, including helping people in the course of the revival to rediscover the beauty of the Mass and return to Mass," he said.

"I think we're on the cusp and on the verge of something truly impactful and wonderful for the Church in the United States," Coakley said. "I think this might be just what we need." 

The few bishops who spoke during a brief discussion prior to the vote on the document on the Eucharist proposed only minor changes to the wording of certain passages, none of which were approved. The bishops held a closed-door executive session on Monday to allow for more substantive discussion about the document.

The two sections of the 30-page Eucharist document are “The Gift,” which centers on the Eucharist as a gift from Christ through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and  “Our Response,” which focuses on gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist, the role the laity play in regards to reception of the Eucharist, and the importance of the Eucharist in conversion.

"The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist," the document states.

“When we receive Holy Communion, Christ is giving himself to us. He comes to us all in humility, as he came to us in the Incarnation, so that we may receive him and be one with him,” says the text.

While the document does not provide any criteria for denying the sacrament to someone not in communion with Church teaching, the text does explain the differences between venial and mortal sins, and says that a Catholic in a state of mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist until they have gone to Confession and received absolution. 

“While all our failures to do what is right damage our communion with God and each other, they fall into different categories, reflecting different degrees of severity,” the document states.

“There are some sins, however, that do rupture the communion we share with God and the Church,” the document states. 

“As the Church has consistently taught, a person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace of the sacrament, he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the Body and Blood of Christ.,” the document explains.

The document states “the reception of Holy Communion entails one’s communion with the Church in this visible dimension,” and restates the text of the 2006 document from the bishops concerning Catholics in public life. 

“If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church,” the new document states, repeating the bishops’ 2006 guidance.

“Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation," the guidance states, "would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed Archbishop Coakley's statements on the Eucharistic Revival initiative to another speaker.

U.S. Bishops vote to accept Eucharist document

USCCB Fall General Assembly / CNA

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted overwhelmingly to accept the document “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church" during the morning session of the fall USCCB meeting on Nov. 17, 2021.

The vote, which is held in a secret electronic ballot, was 222 in favor to eight against, with three abstentions. 

To pass, two-thirds of the bishops had to vote in favor of the document.

This vote total was even more lopsided than the June vote to move forward with the drafting of the document. In June, the bishops voted 168 to 55 to move forward with the document. 

Initially, it was speculated that the document would provide explicit directives on who and who is not eligible to receive the Eucharist. Particularly, it was feared that the bishops would use the document to rebuke Catholic politicians who are in favor of abortion rights.

President Joe Biden (D), the second Catholic president of the United States, has publicly supported a right to legal abortion throughout the entirety of a pregnancy. During his presidential campaign, he broke from several decades of his past beliefs and announced that he was now opposed to the Hyde Amendment.

The final draft of the document does not make explicit mention of denying the sacrament from certain high-profile Catholics, and instead focuses on the importance of teaching the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the Eucharist as a tool for evangelization. 

The two sections of the document are “The Gift,” which centers on the Eucharist as a gift from Christ through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and  “Our Response,” which focuses on gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist, the role the laity play in regards to reception of the Eucharist, and the importance of the Eucharist in conversion. 

This story has been updated with additional information.

Star on Sagrada Familia’s Marian tower to light up Barcelona’s skyline

The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary. / Sagrada Família Basilica.

Barcelona, Spain, Nov 17, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The skyline of Barcelona will be transformed on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when a newly completed tower at the Sagrada Família Basilica is illuminated.

A 12-pointed star atop the basilica’s soaring Tower of the Virgin Mary will be lit up at 7:40 p.m. local time.

ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, reported that the tower will be visible from across the city, which has a population of 1.6 million people and is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia in northeastern Spain.

The glass and steel star, which is lit up from within, is around 20 feet in diameter. Under the guidance of architect Jordi Faulí, a crane will lift the 5.5-ton star into place on Nov. 29.

The star will shine by day in the sunlight and will be illuminated at night. Its structure has been tested to resist lightning and shocks up to 100 kilograms (around 220 pounds).

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

The unfinished church, dedicated to the Holy Family, is expected to be completed in 2026, the centenary of the death of its visionary architect Antoni Gaudí.

The Sagrada Família was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Benedict XVI on Nov. 7, 2010.

The church was forced to close to tourists from March to July 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis. It invited medical workers to attend its reopening.

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

Xavier Martinez, the basilica’s general director, said that this October the church received only 40% of the number of visitors in October 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic.

A video produced by the basilica shows that the Tower of the Virgin Mary stands next to the central Tower of Jesus Christ, which is surrounded by four smaller Towers of the Evangelists.

At 450 feet, the Marian tower will be the basilica’s second-highest after the Tower of Jesus Christ, which will reach around 570 feet.

An aerial view of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary (circled). Sagrada Família Basilica.
An aerial view of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary (circled). Sagrada Família Basilica.

The Tower of Mary will be the first of the six central towers to be completed.

Twelve wrought-iron stars that surround the tower’s crown were set in place on Nov. 9.

The lighting of the 800 windows that form the tower and the star will take place in three stages. On Dec. 4, the lower part will be lit up, followed by the upper part on Dec. 6, and finally the whole tower and star on Dec. 8.

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

The basilica’s website said: “The week before the lighting of the tower, Dec. 1-7, the Sagrada Família is inviting everyone to take part in illuminating the Tower of the Virgin Mary symbolically online, through the Sagrada Família and Archdiocese of Barcelona websites.”

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

“Anyone interested, regardless of the country they live in, can contribute their symbolic, digital flash of light, which will then translate into the progressive illumination of the tower in real life in the run-up to the lighting of the star.”

The full illumination will be preceded by a Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Joan Josep Omella i Omella of Barcelona, and the blessing of the tower.

The 75-year-old cardinal said that Barcelona’s skyline would be altered thanks to “a star of new evangelization, dedicated to Mary, whom we ask to intercede so that the Gospel illuminates our lives and our city.”

The basilica has unveiled an extensive program of activities to celebrate the tower’s completion.

A portrait of architect Antoni Gaudí in 1878, by Pau Audouard. Public domain.
A portrait of architect Antoni Gaudí in 1878, by Pau Audouard. Public domain.

Antoni Gaudí, a devout and ascetic figure, began working on the project for a church dedicated to the Holy Family in 1883. In 1914, he stopped all other works to focus exclusively on the basilica, to which he dedicated himself until his unexpected death.

He was struck by a tram in 1926, at the age of 73, while walking to Barcelona’s St. Philip Neri church for confession. Passersby did not recognize the famed architect because of his worn-out clothes and lack of identity papers.

He died three days after the accident and was buried in the crypt of his unfinished basilica. His cause for canonization opened in Rome in 2003.

The basilica finally received an official building permit in 2019, 137 years after its construction began.

Progress was initially slow as the works depended on private donations. Building work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, during which combatants set fire to the crypt and destroyed some of the architect’s designs and plaster models.

A rainbow over Sagrada Família in Barcelona, February 10, 2016. .  TTstudio/Shutterstock
A rainbow over Sagrada Família in Barcelona, February 10, 2016. . TTstudio/Shutterstock

Gaudí created numerous celebrated works in Barcelona using his distinctive style inspired by natural forms and eschewing the sharp angles associated with modernist architecture.

He summed up his approach by saying, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”

When questioned about how long it would take to build the basilica, he reputedly said, “My client is not in a hurry” — referring to God.

Orthodox archbishop makes historic address to USCCB assembly

Archbishop Elpidophoros addresses the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their fall assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 16, 2021. / Screenshot of USCCB video image.

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 07:40 am (CNA).

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, spoke of a “dialogue of love” between the two faiths and the potential for increased unity in a historic address to the Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Elpidophoros said he had “heartfelt joy” being with his “brother bishops of the USCCB,” and that Tuesday, Nov. 16, marked the first time in the history of the United States that Orthodox leadership had been present at the USCCB’s general assembly. He was joined by several other Orthodox bishops who were present as observers. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the USCCB, and Bishop David Talley, chairman of the committee on ecumenical and interreligious affairs, arranged for the Orthodox delegation to join the assembly. Gomez invited Elpidophoros to address the assembly. 

“As you are well aware, a few weeks ago we had the honor and blessing to welcome His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for a historic visit to this country during which he met some of you either in Washington, DC, or in New York City,” said Elphidoros. He thanked the bishops for their “warm and ecumencial presence” with the patriarch. 

Elphidoros quoted Patriarch Bartholomew’s address to the Ecumenical Reception at the National Council of Churches, where the patriarch stated that a “dialogue of love” between the faiths was the future for the two churches, and that the 21st century “should become the century of the restoration of unity.” 

“Today, I am convinced, as I present myself in front of my brother hierarchs, that this dialogue of love, initiated by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem, continues with a particular density in this blessed country,” said Elphidoros. 

This “dialogue of love” should be modeled by the relationship of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, explained the archbishop. In 2013, Bartholomew became the first Archbishop of Constantinople to attend a papal enthronement, and the two have worked together, along with other faith leaders, to discuss the best approaches on societal issues. 

This dialogue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy “is a clear manifestation of our common desire for unity and communion on both a global and local level,” said Elphidoros, and he said that the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation “should not be shy” about what it has accomplished in its existence. 

 “Since 1965 — at the happy coincidence of the reestablishment of Catholic-Orthodox relations and the Second Vatican Council — this Consultation has produced thirty-two documents, reports, and statements,” he said. “Some of them became real references for theologians, and for our Churches to walk together towards unity.”

These writings, he said, are the “real fruits” of the collaboration between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, fruits that serve to “nourish both our communities.” 

In addition to the publications, Elphidoros said that the improving relationships between the two faiths produce spiritual fruits as well. 

“Every year the Assembly of Bishops together with the USCCB offer the opening prayer at the March for Life,” he said. “Just a few months ago, the Assembly of Bishops also signed on to an Amicus brief supporting the sanctity of life.”

Looking ahead, Elphidoros said that the Orthodox Christians are “very interested” in the synodal process, particularly the October 2023 Catholic Synod of Bishops, and would be interested in providing input as the preparations for the synod begin. 

“I am convinced that the future and mission of Catholic-Orthodox relations in the USA is to continue to bear witness to God’s presence in the world, faithful to the Spirit of Jerusalem that we received as a legacy,” he said. 

“Ecumenical dialogue bears in itself a synodal dimension that explores the meaning and praxis of the very nature of the Church structure and mission,” said Elphidoros, adding that while international dialogue is studying the interdependence between synodality and primacy, “perhaps, in our American context, as we dedicate our energy and time to sharing this important issue and reflecting together, it will bear fruit in due course.” 

Elphidoros closed his speech by thanking the bishops, saying he hopes that “there will be many more opportunities to come together as brothers.” 

He then gave Archbishop Gomez a silver pectoral cross from the Hagia Sophia, “the universal cathedral of Christianity,” as a symbol of his “love and appreciation.”

Oklahoma AG objects after Catholic healthcare group enforces COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor. / oag.ok.gov

Denver Newsroom, Nov 17, 2021 / 07:38 am (CNA).

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor on Monday issued a cease and desist letter to Ascension, after the Catholic healthcare group reportedly suspended an unspecified number of employees who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine before a Nov. 12 deadline. 

Ascension St. John, a hospital in Tulsa, reportedly suspended the employees without pay Nov. 12 despite a state court’s emergency temporary restraining order prohibiting the group from taking action against employees who requested, but were denied, a religious exemption to the hospital's vaccine mandate. 

“It appears that Ascension is determined to trample on the sincerely held religious beliefs of the healthcare heroes it employs despite the court’s clear mandate,” O’Connor said in the cease and desist letter. 

“Ascension’s actions will also interrupt patient care and prevent patients from being treated by the provider of their choice.”

Local news reports from Nov. 13 suggested that Ascension St. John temporarily reversed its decision to suspend the employees, before resuming the suspensions the same day. 

St. Louis-based Ascension, which operates hospitals in Oklahoma, 18 other states, and the District of Columbia, implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on July 27. 

The mandate required all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza by Nov. 12, 2021 or risk suspension, and eventual termination on Jan. 4, 2022. 

“As a healthcare provider and as a Catholic ministry, ensuring we have a culture of safety for our associates, patients and communities is foundational to our work,” the mandate says. Ascension is not affiliated with Ascension Press, a Catholic multimedia publisher based in Pennsylvania. 

The attorney general’s letter demands that Ascension “immediately cease and desist its defiance of the court’s temporary restraining order,” allow the attorney general’s office time to investigate allegations of religious discrimination, immediately reinstate all suspended employees who applied for a religious exemption, and place employees on their normal work schedule. 

Ascension did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

Judge William D. LaFortune granted a temporary restraining order in Tulsa District Court on Nov. 12 in response to a lawsuit filed that same day by the State of Oklahoma, which accused Ascension of religious discrimination. Healthcare workers who applied for religious exemption were “flatly rejected by Ascension,” O’Connor contended in a press release on Friday.  

One such complainant is Mitchell Duininck, a physician at Ascension St. John in Tulsa, who applied for a religious exemption within the deadlines imposed by Ascension, but his request was repeatedly denied, court documents state. 

Duininck, a practicing Christian, says he filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights Enforcement after Ascension denied his request on two occasions.

“We will not tolerate any form of religious discrimination against Oklahomans who seek reasonable accommodations from vaccine mandates based on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” O’Connor said. 

“No Oklahoman should be forced to choose between a vaccine and their job, when it involves violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

O’Connor called the temporary restraining order “a win for religious freedom” in a tweet late Friday. A hearing is set for Dec. 1 to determine if a temporary injunction should be granted while religious discrimination complaints are investigated. 

O’Connor has joined 11 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers.