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Meet the 10 newest blesseds of the Catholic Church

The 10 Elizabethan sisters beatified on June 11, 2022, in Wrocław, Poland. / Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Wrocław, Poland, Jun 18, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church’s 10 newest blesseds were beatified last weekend in Poland.

The 10 members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth were murdered by soldiers of the Red Army in 1945.

They were beatified at a Mass celebrated by the Vatican Cardinal Marcello Semeraro on June 11 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Wrocław.

Pope Francis praised their “example of faith” at his Sunday Angelus on June 12.

“May their example of faith to Christ help us all, especially Christians who are persecuted in various parts of the world, to bear witness to the Gospel courageously,” he said.

Here are their stories:

(Note: The following biographies describe disturbing incidents.)

Blessed Sister Maria Paschalis (Maria Magdalena) Jahn. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Paschalis (Maria Magdalena) Jahn. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

The group of Elizabethan martyr-sisters is headed by the youngest of them, Blessed Sister Maria Paschalis (Maria Magdalena) Jahn. She was born on April 7, 1916, the eldest of four children. Three days after her birth, she was baptized in her parish church of St. John the Baptist in Nysa, Silesia.

On March 30, 1938, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth. After her first religious profession in 1939, she was sent to the Congregations’ house in Kluczbork and two years later to Głubczyce. From April 1942, she stayed in St. Elizabeth’s House in Nysa, where she worked as a cook and ministered to elderly and sick sisters.

With the advance of the Red Army in March 1945, she left the city with another nun at the request of her superior. They reached Velké Losiny and then Sobotina (in the present-day Czech Republic), where they found shelter in a school. They served in a local church and rectory, and helped to nurse the sick and elderly.

On May 11, 1945, Sister Maria Paschalis was confronted by a Soviet soldier who threatened to kill her if she did not submit to him. She resisted bravely, but seeing that she could not defend herself, she knelt, held the cross from her rosary in her hand, and said firmly: “I wear a sacred dress [habit] and I will never go with you.”

On hearing these words, her assailant threatened her again. She responded: “I belong to Christ, He is my Bridegroom, I don’t care if you shoot me.”

Then she knelt and prayed “My Jesus, give me strength,” and asked those around her for forgiveness. After a moment’s silence, a gunshot put an end to her earthly life.

She was buried in the local cemetery in Sobotina in the presence of the clergy, sisters of St. Elizabeth, and numerous faithful. Since the moment of her death, she has been held up as a model of chastity for young people.

Blessed Sister Maria Edelburgis (Juliana) Kubitzki. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Edelburgis (Juliana) Kubitzki. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Edelburgis (Juliana) Kubitzki was born on Feb. 9, 1905, in Dąbrówka Dolna near the southern Polish town of Namysłow. In July 1929, she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, making her perpetual vows on June 29, 1936. She worked as an outpatient nurse in Wrocław-Nadodrze and Żary.

After the Red Army entered Żary, the sisters were forced out of their house and found shelter in the rectory, where they arranged a chapel in one room. On the night of Feb. 17-18, 1945, the Red Army soldiers seized the sisters and some girls, brutally abusing them. Sister Maria Edelburgis said: “Under no circumstances can I bear it, although it may also cost my life.”

On Feb. 20, the soldiers broke into the room where the sisters were hiding and demanded that the sister go with them. One soldier fired several times in the direction of Sister Maria Edelburgis, who died soon after. Her body remained in the same room for three days to prevent further violence.

She was buried opposite the main portal of the parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Żary.

Blessed Sister Maria Rosaria (Elfrieda) Schilling. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Rosaria (Elfrieda) Schilling. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Rosaria (Elfrieda) Schilling was born into a Protestant family in Wrocław on May 5, 1908. She attended a housekeeping school run by sisters of St. Elizabeth in Nysa.

After converting to Catholicism at the age of 20, she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth. She made her perpetual profession on July 29, 1935, serving in the pastoral and administrative offices in Hamburg, Głogów, Nysa, Katowice, Legnica, Chojnów, and Nowogrodziec on the Kwisa, a river in southwestern Poland.

When Soviet troops captured Nowogrodziec on Feb. 18, 1945, she was staying at the Congregation’s local house. Together with other sisters, she hid in an air raid shelter for safety. Late in the evening on Feb. 22, three soldiers broke into the shelter and took Sister Maria Rosaria by force to the commandant’s office. She was raped and returned to the shelter exhausted and bleeding, in a ragged habit. She was on the verge of death, but her health improved enough for her to tell the sisters everything that had happened.

The next day, the military commissar ordered the nuns, except for Sister Maria Rosaria, to go to the commanding officer. Despite her weakness and to avoid further violence, she left with the others. A bullet fired by the enraged commissioner struck her on the road. She whispered “Jesus, Mary!” A second shot was fatal.

Her body was not found until six months later. She is buried in the parish cemetery in Nowogrodziec.

Blessed Sister Maria Sabina (Anna Jadwiga) Thienel. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Sabina (Anna Jadwiga) Thienel. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Sabina (Anna Jadwiga) Thienel was born on Sept. 24, 1909, in Rudziczka, near Prudnik in southern Poland. In 1933, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, and on July 31, 1940, she made her perpetual vows.

As a nurse, she served elderly and sick people in St. Nicholas’ House in Wrocław. In 1944, for safety reasons, Sister Maria Sabina and her charges were evacuated to Lubań, where the sisters conducted outpatient and caring activities.

On Feb. 28, 1945, the Red Army captured the city, and the soldiers took over the sisters’ house. The sisters and residents were not allowed to leave the building and were harassed, humiliated, and raped.

When one of the soldiers tried to drive the sister out of the room by force, she successfully resisted, clinging to the cross and calling on Mary for help: “Holy Mother of God, allow me to die a virgin, protect my purity!”

On March 1, 1945, when the sisters were praying and Sister Maria Sabina was repeating her request to Mary, a bullet pierced the door and struck her in the chest, killing her. She was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Lubań.

Blessed Sister Maria Melusja (Marta) Rybka. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Melusja (Marta) Rybka. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Melusja (Marta) Rybka was born on July 11, 1905, in Pawłow, near Racibórz. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in 1927 and made her perpetual vows on July 31, 1934. She spent her life as a nun at St. George’s House in Nysa, working in the garden and bakery, and doing household jobs. During the Second World War, she nursed the elderly and sick and looked after the girls from the housekeeping school.

On March 24, 1945, Sister Maria Melusja was attacked and shot by a Red Army soldier while defending a girl who was being assaulted. According to witnesses, the sister saved the house from being burnt down, as the fire set by the soldiers stopped in the front of the room where the sister’s body lay in a pool of blood.

The sister’s body is buried in a mass grave in the sisters’ garden at 16 Słowiańska Street in Nysa.

Blessed Sister Maria Sapientia (Łucja) Heymann. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Sapientia (Łucja) Heymann. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Sapientia (Łucja) Heymann was born on April 19, 1875, in Lubiesz, near Wałcz in northwestern Poland. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in 1894 and made her perpetual profession on July 2, 1906. She worked as a nurse in Hamburg and then in Nysa.

When the Red Army entered Nysa, the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty increased. On March 24, 1945, soldiers ordered the sisters from St. Elizabeth’s House to gather in the refectory. One of the soldiers went up to a young sister and wanted to take her away. Blessed Maria Sapientia implored him to give up, saying: “No, I beg you, no.” The soldier put his weapon up to her temple and fired.

Her mortal remains were buried in a common grave in the monastery garden at the House of St. Elizabeth in Nysa.

Blessed Sister Maria Acutina (Helena) Goldberg. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Acutina (Helena) Goldberg. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Acutina (Helena) Goldberg was born on July 6, 1882, in Dłużek, then in East Prussia. At the age of 23, she joined the Sisters of St. Elizabeth and made her perpetual vows on July 25, 1917.

For many years, she worked as a nurse at a hot springs sanatorium in Wleń and a house for retired priests in Nysa. From 1941, she worked in an orphanage in Lubiąż as a guardian of war orphans.

Aware of the brutality of the Red Army soldiers who entered the city on Jan. 26, 1945, Sister Maria Acutina was continually on watch for the safety of the girls entrusted to her. On May 2, 1945, she was shot while defending them.

Sister Maria Acutina’s body was buried in the parish cemetery in Krzydlina Mała, southwestern Poland.

Blessed Sister Maria Adela (Klara) Schramm. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Adela (Klara) Schramm. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Adela (Klara) Schramm was born on June 3, 1885, in Łączna near Kłodzko, southwestern Poland.

In 1912, she joined the Sisters of St. Elizabeth and made her perpetual vows on June 29, 1924. She worked in Ramułtowice, Szklarska Poręba, Wałbrzych-Sobięcin, and Godzieszów, where she was the superior of local communities.

As the Red Army was approaching, Sister Maria Adela decided to remain and take care of the elderly women in her charge. After the Red Army soldiers took the village, she and her charges found a shelter at the farm of Maria and Paul Baum.

On Feb. 25, 1945, a soldier broke into the house. Blessed Maria Adela, defending her charges and her chastity vowed to God, was shot, together with her hosts and other people staying there. All of them were buried in Godzieszów, southwestern Poland, on the farmer’s property in a bomb crater, where later a plaque was erected to commemorate their death.

Blessed Sister Maria Adelheidis (Jadwiga) Töpfer. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Adelheidis (Jadwiga) Töpfer. Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Another victim of the Soviet troops’ brutality was Blessed Sister Maria Adelheidis (Jadwiga) Töpfer, who was shot on March 24, 1945.

She was born in Nysa on Aug. 26, 1887. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in 1907 and made her perpetual profession on July 28, 1919.

She had great pedagogical skills, and for many years she was a teacher and headmistress of a housekeeping and handicraft school in Koźle, and from 1942 at St. George’s boarding school in Nysa.

In 1943, she was transferred to St. Notburga’s House in Nysa. During the Soviet occupation of the city, the sick and the elderly sought refuge with the sisters. Sister Maria Adelheidis remained with them. Despite extremely difficult living conditions, she always found a place for and offered help to those in need. She was the soul of the house.

As soldiers were roaming the building, a Red Army man entered the room where the sister and her charges were staying. Provocatively, he showed his bleeding hand and asked who had been shooting from the room. Although everyone truthfully denied it, he shot Sister Maria Adelheidis. Her body was laid to rest in the Jerusalem Cemetery in Nysa.

Blessed Sister Maria Felicitas (Anna Ellmerer). Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.
Blessed Sister Maria Felicitas (Anna Ellmerer). Courtesy of the Elizabethan sisters.

Blessed Sister Maria Felicitas (Anna Ellmerer) was shot in Nysa, on March 25, 1945.

She was born on May 12, 1888, in Grafing, near Munich. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, making her perpetual profession on July 5, 1923, working as a teacher and tutor in Dusseldorf, Kup, and Nysa.

The Soviet soldiers stationed in St. Elizabeth’s House constantly bothered the sisters, who experienced days of fear and terror. The superior of the house pleaded with them to leave the sisters alone. In response, she was struck with the butt of a rifle and lost consciousness. Sister Maria Felicitas rushed to her aid. A soldier took advantage of this and tried to lead her outside. As the sister defended herself and resisted, he fired a warning shot.

In response, Sister Maria Felicitas stood against the wall, stretched out her hands in the shape of a cross, and cried out loudly: “Long live Christ the K...!” The last word was interrupted by a fatal bullet. The killer trampled on his victim’s head and chest with his heavy boots.

The sister’s mortal remains are buried in the monastery garden at 16 Słowiańska Street in Nysa.

A prayer for the necessary graces through the intercession of Blessed M. Paschalis and Nine Companions:

Lord Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen,
You strengthened Blessed Maria Paschalis and her Companions
to sacrifice their lives.
By defending the dignity and chastity of a woman
as well as performing acts of mercy,
they kept faithful to you
to the shedding of blood.
May the example of their lives encourage us
to a generous service to our brethren
and to zealous fulfillment of Your commandments.

Through their intercession, grant us the favors
which we ask of You with trust,
you who live and reign forever and ever.

Our Father... Hail Mary... Glory be to the Father...

Family of ‘skateboard hero’ of 2017 London attack campaigns for sainthood

Flowers are placed alongside a photograph of Ignacio Echeverría and others killed in the London Bridge terror attack prior to a commemoration service on June 3, 2018, the first anniversary of the attack that killed eight people and injured dozens more. / Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2022 / 04:43 am (CNA).

On June 3, 2017, eight people were killed and dozens injured when three terrorists drove their van into a crowd and wielded knives against innocent pedestrians in London.

By fending off the perpetrators with his skateboard, 39-year-old native Spaniard Ignacio Echeverría was able to prevent the terrorists from reaching many other civilians. During this act of self-sacrifice and bravery, he was fatally stabbed.

Now, five years later, Echeverría — known as the “skateboard hero” of the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks — is poised to potentially become a saint.

Since Echeverría’s death in 2017, his parents have been gathering documents to present to the Church to begin the meticulous process toward consideration for sainthood.

Echeverría’s father described him as a faithful man. “His religious life was very important to him,” Joaquín Echeverría told The Guardian. Making the transition from life in Madrid to life in London was difficult for his son, he said, yet he “relied on religion to overcome his difficulties and failures.”

Because the canonization process cannot begin until five years after the individual’s death, June 3, 2022, marked the day Echeverría’s journey toward sainthood could officially start.

The family decided to pursue Echeverría’s canonization at the suggestion of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino of the Archdiocese of Madrid. Name recognition is in his favor: Skate parks now bear his name; a musical, "Skate Hero," was written about his sacrifice, and Spain posthumously has awarded him awarded him the prestigious George Medal and Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit

With the consideration of sainthood, Joaquín Echeverría said, “Ignacio — as someone who was always very excited about life — would be jumping for joy in heaven … because it was an acknowledgment that his death was an act of generosity.”

In an interview earlier this year, Joaquín Echeverría noted that the ultimate decision for canonization, naturally, will be based on what God wants. Though it is in God’s hands, he told La Iberia, “if God chose Ignacio because an example was needed, he chose the best example.”

How the Eucharist entered the heart of a 13th-century saint and inspired a Sister of Life

St. Juliana Falconieri (1270-1341) and Sister Juliana Faustina. / Courtesy photos.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 18, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

This is the story of how an obscure 13th-century saint from Florence inspired a young religious sister in Manhattan — and then utterly surprised her.

“It was not so much that I discovered St. Juliana, as that she found me, and showed herself to be a friend to me, a ‘big sister’ in the spiritual life,” Sister Juliana Faustina told CNA.

“St. Juliana has taught me that it is through the Eucharist, particularly through Holy Communion, that our hearts are day by day transformed more into the Heart of Christ,” she said.

Born just six years after Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi, St. Juliana Falconieri (1270-1341) devoted her life to prayer and works of mercy as the foundress of the Servite nuns, until she became so sick that she was unable to receive Holy Communion.

Devastated by this loss of union with Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, St. Juliana asked a priest to lay the Eucharist upon a corporal over her heart.

When the priest did this, the Eucharist disappeared and Juliana died. Branded on her skin above her heart was an image of the Eucharist with a crucifix in its center and rays surrounding the host. The Eucharist had entered her heart.

A large marble statue in St. Peter’s Basilica, to the left of the twisting columns of Bernini’s soaring baldacchino, captures that exact moment. St. Juliana is seen with her arms outstretched in ecstasy as rays of gold radiate from a Sacred Host above her heart.

The statue of St. Juliana Falconieri in St. Peter's Basilica. Courtney Mares
The statue of St. Juliana Falconieri in St. Peter's Basilica. Courtney Mares

The feast of St. Juliana is on June 19, the same day that many Catholic dioceses will celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ this year.

A sisterhood spanning 700 years

The Sisters of Life are a religious order dedicated to protecting the sacredness of human life, particularly by caring for women who are pregnant and their unborn children.

As Sister Juliana Faustina was discerning her religious name with the order, she noticed a convergence in the spirituality between two female saints: St. Juliana Falconieri and St. Faustina Kowalska, the 20th-century Polish nun to whom Jesus appeared with a message of Divine Mercy.

“When I was preparing to enter religious life, I read a section of St. Faustina’s Diary where she sees the rays of Divine Mercy radiate forth from the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration on the Feast of Corpus Christi.”

“Jesus spoke to her and said, ‘These rays of mercy will pass through you, just as they have passed through this Host, and they will go out through all the world,’” she said.

Photo courtesy of the Sister of Life.
Photo courtesy of the Sister of Life.

“These words were a summons for me, as well, to let the Heart of Jesus be so alive in me that my heart could be another place where His love and mercy enter this world,” she said.

“I was struck by the thought of St. Juliana as a model of this, particularly since those who witnessed her Eucharistic miracle described the ‘rays’ around the image of the Eucharist imprinted on her heart.”

Finding Falconieri

It was during a phone call with Sister Juliana amid the COVID-19 pandemic that I first learned about St. Juliana Falconieri.

The saint caught my attention because she had been deprived of the Eucharist for reasons outside of her control, as so many of us in Europe had experienced during months of strict lockdown measures.

At the end of our phone call, Sister Juliana asked a bit shyly if I could do her a favor and find out where Falconieri was buried in Italy.

Finding Falconieri’s tomb quickly became one of the top items on my bucket list. Some digging in Italian sources revealed that her tomb was to be found inside the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation) in Florence — an easy day trip from Rome by train.

A surprise at the tomb

The church containing St. Juliana Falconieri’s tomb is located just around the corner from Florence’s Accademia Gallery, where tourists push and shove to get a photo of Michelangelo’s David sculpture.

Despite its location in the heart of Florence, less than a 10-minute walk from Filippo Brunelleschi’s Duomo, the basilica was nearly empty when I stepped inside.

But what I saw when I approached St. Juliana’s tomb stunned me. There, right beside the tomb, was the Divine Mercy image inspired by St. Faustina.

St. Juliana Falconieri’s tomb in the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation in Florence, Italy. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
St. Juliana Falconieri’s tomb in the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation in Florence, Italy. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Sister Juliana Faustina’s two new names were united in the side chapel of the basilica. I was so excited to send a letter to the convent to tell Sister Juliana Faustina what I had discovered.

For the Sister of Life, it was a confirmation of the grace she had received in praying about her religious name.

“I was so happy,” Sister Juliana said.

“For me, the Eucharist and Divine Mercy go hand in hand, so I felt the image being placed beside St. Juliana was very fitting.”

“[It was] … a little sign of love that my two patron saints know each other in heaven and are friends, interceding together for me,” she added.

Who was St. Juliana Falconieri?

Born into a wealthy merchant family in 1270, Falconieri was a contemporary of Dante Alighieri in the medieval Republic of Florence.

Her paternal uncle was St. Alexis Falconieri, one of the “Seven Holy Founders” of the Servants of Mary, also known as the Servites, in Florence. He had experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the feast of the Assumption in 1233 and was considered a mystic — though he refused priesthood because he considered himself unworthy.

The example of Juliana’s uncle moved her to desire to consecrate her whole life to God and she declined a marriage proposal from a wealthy young suitor, despite pressure from her parents to accept it. She donned a religious habit at the age of 14 in 1284.

As a nun, Juliana dedicated herself to works of mercy, particularly caring for the sick. She would visit the dying in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, the oldest hospital still active in Florence today. The hospital was founded by the father of Beatrice Portinari, who is believed by some to be the real-life inspiration for Dante’s beloved.

A statue of Dante Alighieri in Florence, Italy. Courtney Mares.
A statue of Dante Alighieri in Florence, Italy. Courtney Mares.

Under the direction of her uncle, Juliana founded the female branch of the Servants of Mary. The sisters fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays each week and were known around Florence for their large black religious habits.

As she neared the age of 70, Juliana began to suffer from terrible stomach pains to the point where she was unable to swallow. The Eucharistic miracle on the day of her death occurred on June 19, 1341.

An intercessor for the sick

Since taking Juliana as her religious name, Sister Juliana Faustina has heard testimonies from lay people and doctors who have seen Falconieri’s intercession work powerfully for those suffering from serious illnesses.

“I’ve been surprised at how many people hear my name and share stories of how they’ve experienced St. Juliana Falconieri’s intercession,” she said.

“I think St. Juliana shows us that suffering, illness, and even death are no longer obstacles to our union with Christ. Rather, through the Cross of Jesus, they actually become moments where we can experience the greatest intimacy and union with Him,” she explained.

Statue of St. Juliana Falconieri in St. Peter's Basilica. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Statue of St. Juliana Falconieri in St. Peter's Basilica. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

At a time when many people are tempted to despair that their suffering is meaningless, Sister Juliana sees Falconieri as a hopeful witness that these moments of suffering “are actually bursting with meaning.”

“If Jesus desired to draw so near to St. Juliana as to actually allow this miracle, where His Eucharistic Heart entered into hers, we must believe that He desires just as ardently to draw near to each of us in our own moments of trial,” she said.

“With hearts united to His, we are not suffering in vain, but participate in the love of His own Heart which, precisely through His Passion and Death, brought about the redemption of the world.”

Pope Francis accepts Belgian bishop’s request not to be made a cardinal

Bishop Lucas Van Looy, S.D.B., pictured at a Vatican press conference on the family synod, Oct. 23, 2015. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

London, England, Jun 16, 2022 / 10:21 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has accepted a Belgian Catholic bishop’s request not to be made a cardinal at a consistory in August.

Bishop Lucas Van Looy, the 80-year-old emeritus bishop of Ghent, was due to receive the red hat with 20 other churchmen in Rome on Aug. 27.

A June 16 statement from the Belgian bishops’ conference said: “The announcement of the creation of Mgr. Lucas Van Looy, emeritus bishop, as a cardinal has provoked many positive reactions, but also criticism that as Bishop of Ghent (2004-2020) he did not always react vigorously enough against abuses in the pastoral relationship.”

“To prevent victims of such abuses from being hurt again as a result of his cardinalate, Bishop Van Looy asked the pope to dispense with his acceptance of the appointment. Pope Francis agreed to his request.”

“Cardinal De Kesel and the bishops of Belgium appreciate the decision of Bishop Van Looy. They reiterate their commitment to continue their fight against all forms of abuse in the Catholic Church, in which the interests of the victims and their families are always at the forefront.”

Lucas Van Looy was born in Tielen, Belgium, on Sept. 28, 1941. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1961. He was ordained a priest on Sept. 12, 1970.

During the 1970s, he served as a missionary in South Korea. In the 1980s and 90s, he held leadership positions within the Salesians.

In 2003, at the age of 62, he was named bishop of Ghent, northwestern Belgium. He was ordained bishop on Feb. 1, 2004.

Van Looy spoke before a Belgian parliamentary commission on sexual abuse in 2010. According to a contemporary report, he apologized to survivors of clerical abuse.

“As a human being, as a believer, as a priest, and as a bishop, I am deeply ashamed,” he said.

Another report said that commission members were surprised when he told them that he had not forwarded six letters related to abuse in his diocese to the authorities. He reportedly explained that the situation was “less pressing” because the priests concerned had retired.

Pope Francis personally appointed Van Looy as a delegate to the 2015 family synod.

The pope accepted his resignation as bishop of Ghent on Nov. 27, 2019, when Van Looy was 78, three years past the normal retirement age for diocesan bishops.

Pope Francis announced on May 29 that he intended to elevate Van Looy to the rank of cardinal.

Padre Pio was canonized on this day 20 years ago

St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio). / Public Domain.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 16, 2022 / 09:36 am (CNA).

On this day 20 years ago, more than 300,000 people crowded into St. Peter’s Square as Pope John Paul II canonized St. Pio of Pietrelcina, calling his life a witness to the “glory of the cross.”

John Paul II said that the life and mission of the Capuchin friar — more commonly known simply as Padre Pio — “proves that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, can be transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord.”

“Is it not, precisely, the ‘glory of the cross’ that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the cross in order to open the heart to hope,” the Polish pope said.

On June 16 this year, Catholics marked the 20th anniversary of the canonization in the small southern Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where an average of 7 million people come on pilgrimage to pray at Padre Pio’s tomb each year.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle was originally scheduled to preside over the anniversary Mass, but had to cancel at the last minute due to health problems.

Archbishop Franco Moscone, the bishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, told the congregation that Cardinal Tagle had been unable to come for the Mass after the cardinal’s doctor advised him not to travel after he underwent a laser eye surgery.

In his homily, Moscone commented that Padre Pio, a “little friar who came to this tiny and unknown place over a century ago is now a giant of spirituality and San Giovanni Rotondo is a crossroads of faith known throughout the world.”

Padre Pio is a saint known for his suffering, humility, and miracles. He was born in Pietrelcina, Italy, in 1887 and at the age of 10 already felt inspired to become a Capuchin friar. Shortly after he made his solemn vows as a Franciscan and received his priestly ordination in 1910, he received the stigmata — Christ’s wounds, present in his own flesh.

On the feast of the Assumption in 1914, Father Pio wrote: “In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross.”

Padre Pio’s reputation for holiness and ministry in the confessional began to attract huge crowds to San Giovanni Rotondo during his lifetime. He was known for his patient suffering, fervent prayer, and compassionate spiritual guidance.

Among those who traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to have his confession heard by Padre Pio was a young Father Karol Wojtyła, who spent nearly a week in the small town with the Franciscan friar in 1947. He later returned to the town as a cardinal in 1974 (after Padre Pio’s death in 1968) and again as Pope John Paul II in 1987.

At the canonization in 2002, John Paul II expressed hope that Padre Pio’s example would encourage priests to offer the Sacrament of Penance “with joy and zeal.”

“The ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional. He loved to repeat, ‘I am a poor Franciscan who prays,’ convinced that ‘prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God,’” he said.

“Prayer and charity, this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching, which today is offered to everyone,” John Paul II said.

What is the World Meeting of Families 2022? A CNA Explainer

The 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 16, 2022 / 08:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican is gearing up for the World Meeting of Families 2022, which will draw around 2,000 Catholic families to the Italian capital next week to meet Pope Francis and hear talks on marriage and the faith.

CNA answers your questions about the 10th edition of this event:

What is the World Meeting of Families 2022?

The World Meeting of Families 2022 will take place in Rome from Wednesday, June 22 to Sunday, June 26.

The international Catholic gathering will focus on the theme of “Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness” and marks the end of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year.

The schedule includes Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, talks by lay Catholic couples, family activities, and a live performance by Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo.

Pope Francis will participate in three events, beginning with the opening gathering, the Festival of Families, on the afternoon of June 22.

The pope will also celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening, June 25. On Sunday, June 26, Francis will address families at the Angelus and commission them to share what they have learned with others when they return home.

How did it start?

The first World Meeting of Families took place in Rome in 1994 at the request of Pope John Paul II. The event was also held in the Eternal City in the year 2000.

The meetings usually take place every three years, with the most recent being in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018.

In 2015, more than a million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

But in 2022, organizers opted to limit in-person attendance to around 2,000 families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How can I participate?

With in-person attendance smaller than in prior years, the Vatican is encouraging Catholic families to participate in the World Meeting of Families through the media.

Catholics can join in from wherever they are by attending locally organized gatherings or tuning into live streams of the Rome events.

EWTN will have live coverage of the World Meeting of Families from Rome, beginning with a preview on Tuesday, June 21, and ending with the Angelus on Sunday, June 26.

UK government sanctions head of Russian Orthodox Church

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. / Nickolay Vinokurov via

London, England, Jun 16, 2022 / 06:20 am (CNA).

The U.K. government announced on Thursday that it is imposing sanctions on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office said in a June 16 statement that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia was being “sanctioned for his support and endorsement of Putin’s war.”

The announcement came after European Union member states failed to agree on whether Patriarch Kirill should face sanctions after his name was proposed by the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU. Hungary reportedly objected to his inclusion.

The U.K. decision was welcomed by Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See.

Writing on Twitter, he said that the Russian Orthodox Church and its leaders had to pay the “same price as Putin for killing thousands and destroying Ukraine.”

But the step was condemned by Vladimir Legoida, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for the Church’s Relations with Society and Mass Media.

In a June 16 statement on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate, he said that “attempts to intimidate the head of the Russian Church or to force him to abandon his views are meaningless, absurd, and futile.”

“The Patriarch’s family went through years of godless persecution, and he himself grew up and formed under tremendous pressure on the faith, to which he has always honorably resisted,” he commented.

Legoida added: “The Church — especially now — is the last bridge, the means of communication, which they are trying to destroy for some reason. It may be needed only by those political forces who have made escalation of conflict and alienation of peace their important goal.”

“Otherwise I cannot explain such absurd and counterproductive measures, which contribute to only one thing — to break up the already severely damaged communication between the European community and Russia.”

Numerous influential Russian citizens have been added to the U.K. sanctions list since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The sanctions have included asset freezes and bans on travel to the U.K.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Today we are targeting the enablers and perpetrators of Putin’s war who have brought untold suffering to Ukraine, including the forced transfer and adoption of children.”

“We will not tire of defending freedom and democracy, and keeping up the pressure on Putin, until Ukraine succeeds.”

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

The Ukraine war has strained the Moscow Patriarchate’s relations with other Eastern Orthodox Churches.

It has also prompted Catholic bishops across Europe to urge Kirill to denounce the invasion. They include Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Luxembourg’s Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, and the Irish bishops.

In an interview published in May, Pope Francis explained that he had expressed concern about Patriarch Kirill’s stance on the war during a video conference call on March 16.

The pope added that he and Kirill had called off a meeting scheduled for June 14 in Jerusalem, saying “we agreed that it could send the wrong message.”

Pope Francis said in an interview published this week that he hoped to meet Patriarch Kirill in Kazakhstan in September.

“I had a 40-minute conversation with Patriarch Kirill. In the first part, he read me a declaration in which he gave reasons justifying the war. When he finished, I intervened and told him: ‘Brother, we are not clerics of the State, we are pastors of the people,’” the pope recalled.

“I was to have met him on June 14 in Jerusalem, to talk about our shared issues. But with the war, by mutual agreement, we decided to postpone the meeting to a later date, so that our dialogue would not be misunderstood.”

“I hope to meet him at a general assembly in Kazakhstan in September. I hope to be able to greet him and speak a little with him as a pastor.”

Theologian resigns from German ‘Synodal Way’ forum on sexual morality

Katharina Westerhorstmann. / Screenshot from K-TV Katholisches Fernsehen YouTube channel.

Bonn, Germany, Jun 15, 2022 / 06:15 am (CNA).

A theologian has resigned from the German “Synodal Way” forum on sexual morality.

Katharina Westerhorstmann told the Catholic television station K-TV that she left the forum “not only because of time constraints, but also because of the concrete work in the synodal forum itself,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The Synodal Way is a controversial multi-year gathering of German bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; the priesthood; the role of women; and sexual morality.

Westerhorstmann teaches theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus in Austria. She will remain a member of the “Synodal Way” and is still allowed to participate in debates during plenary assemblies.

She said that the synodal forum’s direction was clear from the beginning. When a draft text had been presented, she said, her proposals for amendments “were highlighted in color because they did not fit the predetermined direction.”

Speaking to, the German bishops’ official news website, Hendrik Johannemann disputed Westerhorstmann’s account. Johannemann is a member of the synodal forum on sexual morality and came out as homosexual during the “Out in Church” campaign on German television earlier this year.

When changes were made to texts, all “amendments that were not along the lines of the original text” were highlighted in color, said Johannemann. These amendments could have been either “significantly more progressive” or more conservative, he added.

Westerhorstmann pointed out that she and other members of the synodal forum, including Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau in Bavaria, had previously tried “to explain more precisely our view of man, which corresponds to the current teaching of the Church.” But the proposed document was not adopted.

The synodal forum on sexual morality has introduced several texts to the plenary assembly of the Synodal Way. They have already been voted on once, but face two additional rounds of debate before a final vote.

One text, “Celebrations of blessing for couples who love each other,” says: “The synodal assembly calls on the bishops to officially allow in their dioceses celebrations of blessing for couples who love each other and want to commit, but to whom sacramental marriage is not available or who do not want to enter into it. This also applies to same-sex couples on the basis of a re-evaluation of homosexuality as a normative variant of human sexuality.”

In 2021, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that the Church does not have the authority to bless homosexual relationships.

Another document introduced by the Synodal Way forum, “Magisterial reassessment of homosexuality,” calls for a change in Catholic teaching on homosexuality, saying that sexual orientation is “inseparable” from every human being. Sexual orientation “is not self-selected and it cannot be changed,” the text argues.

Accordingly, it demands a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that the Church “has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Franciscans in Germany elect openly gay priest as new superior

Franciscan friars line the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jun 14, 2022 / 19:15 pm (CNA).

The 300-member Franciscan province of Saint Elisabeth in Germany has elected as its new superior Father Markus Fuhrmann, who a few weeks ago publicly came out as homosexual.

In an interview with MK-Online, the official news website of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, Fuhrmann explained why he went public with his homosexuality.

“If I am gay myself, then I want to show that I can also be part of the Church in this ministry. That's important because it's not supposed to be like that in the Church. Unfortunately, there is too much institutional hypocrisy in our Church,” he said.

In addition, the new Franciscan superior said that he “personally supports the efforts of the Synodal Way, I am in favor of a critical rethinking of celibacy in the priestly way of life and I am in favor of women having access to ordained ministries.”

The Synodal Way is a controversial multi-year process that began in December 2019 and involves bishops and lay people from Germany to address issues such as the exercise of power, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the Church, issues on which they have expressed, publicly and on various occasions, positions contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Asked about the fact that his Franciscan brothers knew of his homosexuality at the time of his election, the new German superior said that "it was very good for me to know that this is very positive for the brothers."

He added, “I get a lot of encouragement, and maybe that spark of appreciation can spread to other areas of the Church. I think that's good.”

Father Markus Fuhrmann (third from left) with the new authorities of the Franciscans in Germany. Courtesy of
Father Markus Fuhrmann (third from left) with the new authorities of the Franciscans in Germany. Courtesy of

Fuhrmann was born on August 9, 1971, in Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony, Germany. He made his simple vows in 1998 and his solemn profession in 2003. He was ordained a priest on May 7, 2005.

In Cologne, part of Saint Elizabeth Province, he ministered to the indigent, and before his election, he served as provincial vicar.

Regarding his future work, the new Franciscan superior in Germany told MK-Online that "a big change is imminent, and I want and must shape it together with the brothers."

The Church's teaching on homosexuality

Catholic teaching on homosexuality is summarized in sections 2357, 2358, and 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Church teaches that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

As the catechism explains, “Tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and this inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.”

The catechism states, “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Providing further guidance, the catechism says, “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

Father Mark Lewis named rector of Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome

Father Mark Lewis, S.J. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jun 14, 2022 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed Father Mark Lewis, a Florida-born Jesuit priest, to lead Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University as rector, it was announced on Tuesday.

Lewis, 62, has served as academic vice rector of the Gregorian, a Jesuit-run ecclesiastical university, since 2019. His term as rector will begin on Sept. 1.

He joined the university’s faculty as a Church History and Cultural Heritage professor in 2017, after six years as provincial superior of the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus. He also taught at Spring Hill College in Alabama.

Lewis’ appointment follows that of another American, Father Thomas Joseph White, to lead the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in 2021.

Lewis lived in Rome from 1996 to 2004, working at the Historical Institute of the Society of Jesus, which he directed for six years.

He has a doctoral degree in history from the University of Toronto. He was born in Miami and joined the Jesuits in 1980. He was ordained a priest in 1991.

Outgoing Gregorian rector Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves said on June 14 that the rector-designate “has acquired a wealth of academic and governance experience, which he has generously placed at the service of the Pontifical Gregorian University in recent years.”

“He has committed himself to the pedagogical formation of the teaching staff and the promotion of quality, which has now become a permanent dimension of university life,” he added.