Catholic Guide

Meet the Catholic bishop who began a pro-life ministry for pregnant women in need

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. / Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 26, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

When the U.S. Catholic bishops first launched a nationwide initiative to help pregnant women in need, the chair of their pro-life committee envisioned every parish becoming a pro-life hub.

“Our hope was … that every parish ought to be a place where any woman can come,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City told CNA. “And the parish would be really prepared to connect them with the best resources in the area — and hopefully, we have somebody that would walk with them through that process.”

Today, the bishops’ pro-life parish-based ministry, Walking with Moms in Need, promises to do just that — by encouraging Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women facing difficult situations. 

Naumann oversaw its launch in 2020 when he served as chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Now, two years later, the 73-year-old archbishop sees the ministry only gaining momentum after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a ruling that frees states to decide abortion policy. 

The pro-life issue is a personal one for Naumann. His father was tragically murdered, he disclosed, when he was still in his mother’s womb. She had a difficult pregnancy with him, as she did with his older brother. Growing up, he watched as his mother, who never remarried, worked as a Catholic school teacher and, then, a principal. 

“I could see the struggle that a single mother goes through,” he remembered. 

At the same time, he said, those circumstances “oddly, probably contributed to me becoming a priest.” He pointed to his parish priest, who took an interest in him and his brother because they grew up without a father. 

Naumann was ordained a priest in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. He first took an active role in Catholic pro-life leadership when, in 1984, the archbishop in St. Louis invited him to lead the pro-life apostolate in that archdiocese. 

But, he urged, “It was an issue I always felt strongly about.”

A call to action

Speaking with CNA at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, Naumann recognized the overturning of Roe as a “significant” decision — and a call to action.

“Those states where they do have protective laws for women and children, that means they need to even have more support for moms and for their children,” he said of states that have restricted abortion. “I think Walking with Moms is very important in those states.”

Naumann also expressed concern about states that remain largely unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision, including his state of Kansas, where a pro-life amendment on the ballot recently failed. He also worried about states enacting laws “maybe even more horrendous” than Roe v. Wade.

“In those states, it becomes very important too, because the children we can't protect with the law, we can [protect] with love and [by] surrounding the mother and the child with the support system,” he said.

Walking with Moms in Need, in part, began in anticipation of Roe’s reversal, Naumann revealed.

“We saw that that was a possibility,” he said, before adding, “But you know, frankly, I didn't think I would see it in my lifetime.”

“There was in my mind, why, if that happened, are we really prepared to support women — even more women and children,” he said. “And so I'm really glad we took that initiative and the Holy Spirit kind of guided us.”

He described how his own diocese is participating in Walking with Moms in Need: by making parishes aware of the resources available in addition to identifying the gaps where help is needed. 

“I've told our pastors, there's no excuse for any of our parishes not being able to connect women with the help they need and to be prepared to accompany them,” Naumann stressed.

He called the bishops’ pro-life pastoral plan “multifaceted,” with a focus on four areas: prayer; education within and outside the church; pastoral care, and advocacy. While much of the focus on abortion has been on the courts and legislation, Naumann emphasized the importance of building a pro-life culture.

“In the long run, we have to build a consensus within the culture that killing our own children is not the way we want to address difficult pregnancies,” he said.

Detroit bishop calls for penitential Advent after passage of abortion initiative

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. CNA file photo. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 26, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Detroit is calling on Michigan Catholics to spend the first two weeks of Advent doing penance following the passage of a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to allow abortion on demand.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron addressed a letter to all parishioners the day after Proposition 3 passed with 56.7% of the vote. 

“Abortion is now legal in Michigan at an unprecedented level, and millions of lives are at stake. We must pray and ask God for his mercy upon us for allowing this evil to happen in our state,” Vigneron wrote.

“For this reason, I want to invite all the faithful to join me in the first two weeks of Advent, from November 27 to December 9, in doing penance, giving alms, praying, and fasting. We must use these spiritual practices to make reparations for the great sin of abortion in our midst,” he said. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Jesus called on his followers to strive for “interior penance,” defined as a “radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed” (No. 1431). Through almsgiving, prayer and fasting, Christians can “express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (No. 1434).

This year, as part of the Detroit Archdiocese’s “I AM HERE” campaign, special eucharistic Holy Hours will be offered at 7 p.m. every day of Advent. The campaign was started in June in conjunction with the beginning of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Eucharistic Revival initiative.

The first Holy Hour will take place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

In his letter, Vigneron also underlined the importance of offering pregnant women in need help during time of crisis.

“We also renew our commitment to accompanying women and families in need, with greater resolve than ever. This work is more critical now, as the unborn have been stripped of their basic right to life and their mothers face the harmful lie that the death of their children is a solution to their struggles. 

“In response to the passing of Proposal 3, we must step forward with no judgment, open arms, and effective resources to help women reject the ‘solution’ of death and empower them to choose life for their children,” Vigneron wrote.

He singled out the Walking with Moms in Need initiative and the Project Rachel as two important ministries that help pregnant women, mothers, and children, and those who have been harmed by abortion.

Christmas 2022: Small Catholic businesses offer meaningful gifts for all

Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, Little Saints Stories tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. / Francesca Pollio Fenton / CNA

Denver, Colo., Nov 26, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

As we approach Christmas, it’s time to pull out the list of all those for whom you need to buy gifts. To help you check off your list, we’ve put together a list of Catholic businesses that offer meaningful gifts for your loved ones.

Litany NYC

Started by two friends with a passion for fashion, Litany strives to design their clothing as a way to draw one’s soul to God. This women’s clothing line caters to the “intentional and unique state of each woman as she blossoms into who she was created to be.” Each item is hand-sewn by a small team in New York, is made-to-measure, and is entirely supplied within the United States. You can find beautiful scarfs, blouses, dresses, purses, and more. One of their newer pieces is the Cana scarf, which was inspired by the Wedding Feast at Cana. The design aims to restore the significance of the vocation of marriage and remind women about the beauty of her vocation in any stage of life.

Telos Art Shop

From clothing to jewelry, Telos Art is a family-owned Catholic company that sells necklaces, rings, and earrings with the intention of pointing the wearer toward a “higher end.” This shop offers the perfect gifts for ladies who love to display their faith through jewelry. Items that can be purchased include stunning crucifix necklaces, Marian medals, saint medals, and more. They also have men’s jewelry!

Little Saint Stories

If you have littles ones on your list, then a book from Little Saint Stories would be the perfect gift. Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, these books tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. They serve as a great way to teach children about the inspiring lives and virtues of the saints from a young age. There are books on St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi, and more. In addition to the book, you can also get the accompanying prayer pal. These prayer pals are plush toys of the same saint your book is written about!

Abundantly Yours

With a mission to equip women to “grow deeper with Christ,” Abundantly Yours has the perfect gifts for that young woman in your life who loves her faith. The Remain in Me Journal, inspired by John 15:4, is a great option for anyone who enjoys prayer journaling or writing notes during the homily at Mass. The shop also sells handmade rosaries, plus stickers and magnets with inspiring messages that could serve as stocking stuffers!

The Catholic Woodworker

And for that special man on your list, The Catholic Woodworker is your place to go. This business strives to inspire men to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers through the rosary. You can find wooden rosaries and other devotional items such as crucifixes, home altars, and prayer cards. These handcrafted and masculine pieces are sure to inspire any man to grow in his faith.

Christmas is the perfect time to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas through the gifts we give. By gifting faith-based items to our loved ones, we can remind others that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Vatican says China violated terms of agreement with bishop installation

A worshiper waves the flag of China as Pope Francis leaves following the weekly general audience on June 12, 2019, at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. / Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2022 / 05:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican said on Saturday that Chinese authorities had violated the terms stipulated in its provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.

A statement released on Nov. 26 said that “the Holy See noted with surprise and regret” that Bishop John Peng Weizhao had been installed as an “auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,” a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican.

Peng’s installation ceremony in Nanchang, China “did not occur in accordance with the spirit of dialogue … and what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, on September 22, 2018,” it said.

The Vatican statement also noted reports that “prolonged and heavy pressure from local authorities” preceded the installation.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest,” it said.

The boundaries of the “Diocese of Jiangxi” were drawn by Chinese authorities without Vatican approval.

Peng, on the other hand, was legitimately appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 and secretly ordained as an underground bishop of Yujiang — something for which he was arrested by Chinese authorities and held in custody for six months, according to Asia News.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association publicized on its official website that Peng’s installation ceremony occurred on Nov. 24 with “the consent of the Jiangxi Provincial Catholic Educational Affairs Committee and the approval of the Chinese Catholic bishops’ conference.”

The government-approved Catholic association said Peng swore an oath at the installation ceremony to “guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society” and contribute to the “dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China on Nov. 24, 2022. Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China on Nov. 24, 2022. Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Bishop John Baptist Suguang Li of Nanching presided over the installation ceremony with about 200 people in attendance. Li serves as the vice president of the Chinese bishops’ conference, a group that has not received public recognition from the Holy See.

The installation ceremony took place one month after the Vatican renewed its deal with Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops for an additional two years.

The provisional agreement between the Holy See and China was first signed in September 2018 and renewed for another two years in October 2020. The terms of the deal have not been made public.

Former bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, a vehement critic of the agreement, was convicted by a Hong Kong court and fined HK$4,000 the day following the installation. The Vatican has yet to make a statement on Zen’s conviction.

Pope Francis prays for homeless man who died in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis prays on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2022 / 03:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis is praying for a homeless man who was found dead near the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square on Friday morning.

Burkhard Scheffler, a 61-year-old man born in Germany, died on a cold night on the street, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Nov. 25.

Like many homeless people in Rome, Scheffler sometimes spent his nights sleeping under the shelter of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, where he received assistance from the Vatican Dicastery for the Service of Charity.

In the past decade, Pope Francis has established many services near the Vatican for the homeless, including a four-story homeless shelter, a medical clinic, a laundry service, showers, and an ambulance.

“Pope Francis learned with sorrow of the death of Burkhard Scheffler near the colonnade of St. Peter's last night,” Bruni said.

“In his prayer, the pope remembers Burkhard and all those who are forced to live without a home in Rome and around the world and invites the faithful to join him.”

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, entrusted Burkhard to the intercession of St. Francis while on pilgrimage in Assisi.

‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ initiative comes to Buenos Aires

Fabric “balconera” with the image of the Holy Family / Credit: Facebook page Talleres del Sagrado

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

At the initiative of the Vicariate Center of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, this Christmas the “balconeras” are arriving in Argentina, a resource to put Christ again at the center of the celebration.

The proposal, which originated in Uruguay, consists of placing an image of the Nativity scene on doors, windows, balconies, stained-glass windows, counters, or vehicles to remind people that “Christmas is Jesus.”

The 28- by 16-inch cloth panels imprinted with an image of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus in the manger are often placed on balconies facing the street, which is why they are called “balconeras.”

The organizers of the initiative want it to be established as a tradition so that the powerful impact of the image will bear witness to the coming of Christ.

The cloth balconeras are made in workshops at Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica, a place where young people in the Barracas neighborhood in Buenos Aires with problematic drug use receive accompaniment.

The pastor of the basilica, Father Sebastián García, told the AICA news agency that the community received the proposal very positively and that requests are increasing day by day.

“Many people who can’t set up a Nativity scene have lost that tradition, or this Christmas are half hopeless, have this proposal that the visible place in our house can be a witness bearing the image of the Nativity,” he said.

The priest highlighted the missionary meaning of the idea, “so that all the people who see it can feel the same thing.” Given the multiplicity of offers that there are at Christmas, “we believe that the Christian one is the best and the most important, and also the one we share,” he said.

The proposal envisions the possibility that people can take more to share with someone who needs one, and thus encourage hope.

In Uruguay, where balconeras have been placed for several Christmases, people are invited to hang them beginning Dec. 8 and also to pray the Dawn Rosary during the Immaculate Conception novena at four locations in the capital, Montevideo.

In addition, people are asked to bring the baby Jesus from the manger to get it blessed, organize a work of mercy in the community, and pray a prayer on Christmas Eve as a family.

Beginning in 2018 in Montevideo, in addition to the balconeras, the faithful began lighting the “Light of Bethlehem” in parishes and homes.

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

‘Everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation’: Bishops respond to priests’ fear of false abuse claims

Left to right: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Worth-South Bend, Indiana, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston. / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

A recent survey of priests found growing distrust of bishops and major fears that they would not get their support if faced with false abuse accusations.

Eighty-two percent of priests responding to a survey conducted by The Catholic Project, a research group at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said they live in constant fear of being falsely accused of sexual abuse.

And only 51% of diocesan priests believe their bishop would support them during an abuse investigation, according to the survey, which was released in October. Meanwhile, only 36% are confident their diocese would provide the resources necessary to defend themselves during a legal investigation.

CNA discussed those survey results with bishops attending the fall general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore earlier this month. During the annual gathering, the U.S. bishops marked the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter protocols the conference adopted in 2002 for responding to abuse allegations against clergy.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called the survey’s findings “very troubling,” adding that bishops must “support the priests that are having difficulties and troubles” and “be compassionate and patient with them.”

Cordileone said the possibility of career-ending accusations is even greater in some parts of the country than in others.

“Priests are under a lot of pressure, and we need to appreciate that, especially in the climate in some states, like our own (California), that once again has lifted the statute of limitations. Now everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation,” Cordileone said.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston voiced his sympathy with priests’ concerns, saying that priests live with the knowledge that they are “just one accusation away from retirement” and that in many cases, “if you are accused of something, that’s pretty much the end.”

Priests’ lack of trust in their bishop contributes directly to burnout. Young priests seem particularly vulnerable, with 60% of diocesan priests under the age of 45 voicing at least some level of burnout, according to the Catholic Project survey.

Connecting with and helping individual priests feel supported is a “challenge for bishops,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, told CNA.

“I think it is important,” Rhoades said, adding that he’s had to ask his staff for additional support “so that I can have time with the priests.”

Yet, when it comes to sexual abuse investigations, those challenges are further magnified. “You’re trying to be sensitive to the victim, alleged victim, and be there for them. Then there’s the priest,” Rhoades stated. “So it’s a really, really difficult thing to deal with, but we have to.” 

To Reed, the solution to priests’ distrust of bishops is “less administration, more personal contact.” In Reed’s opinion, there “has to be a missionary aspect” of a bishop’s work. “A cup of coffee, you know, with a priest, celebrate the morning Mass, go out to dinner, maybe stay over the rectory, that kind of thing.”

Though a bishop can work hard to improve the trust with his priests, there is “nothing you really can do” about the one-and-done nature of abuse accusations, Reed conceded.

For Cordileone, it depends on the priest in question and his track record. Cordileone said that if “it’s clear that he’s innocent, and he’s been a respected pastor his whole life … (the priest’s bishop) has to protect his reputation … even despite the vitriol he’s going to receive. I think that that’s one thing that can help to rebuild trust with the priests.”

Shannon Mullen and Zelda Caldwell contributed to this story.

As Church allows for LGBT-employees in Germany, Vatican publishes concerns over Synodal Way

German Bishops at Mass in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls during their visit in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican on Thursday published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections against the Synodal Way.

Two leading cardinals delivered their theologically argued reservations in direct meetings with the German bishops last Friday, warning the process “hurts the communion of the Church.”

The critiques were published Nov. 24 both in the official newspaper of the Vatican and on the Vatican’s news site. 

They included the suggestion of a moratorium on the process — a proposal knocked back in discussions with German bishops in Rome on Nov. 18, CNA Deutsch reported.

Facing the German bishops in Rome, Nov. 18, 2022: Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ, Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS, Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops (from left). Vatican Media
Facing the German bishops in Rome, Nov. 18, 2022: Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ, Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS, Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops (from left). Vatican Media

The main concern is one of union with the Church, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, explained.

“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.

The Synodal Way — which is not a synod — risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations, but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Cardinal Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

Ouellet said Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalized by this process, he added. 

Inspired by Gender Theory

“It is striking,” the cardinal told the Germans, “that the agenda of a limited group of theologians from a few decades ago has suddenly become the majority proposal of the German episcopate.”

The German agenda, Ouellet said, was the “abolition of compulsory celibacy, ordination of viri probati, access of women to the ordained ministry, moral re-evaluation of homosexuality, structural and functional limitation of hierarchical power, reflections on sexuality inspired by gender theory, major proposed amendments to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” 

In amazement, Ouellet said, many observers and faithful are asking: “What happened?” and “Where did we end up?” 

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Losing an achievement of Vatican II

Firstly, given the Synodal Way is not a synod, Ladaria said, it was not expected to produce a final document. Still, perhaps it should produce one — or something similar —” that can reflect a more linear approach and less reliance on assertions that are not fully substantiated.”

Secondly, the cardinal cast doubt on the Synodal Way’s assumed “connection between the structure of the Church and the phenomenon of abuse of minors.” 

Ladaria warned the Germans of “reducing the mystery of the Church to a mere institution of power, or viewing the Church from the outset as a structurally abusive organization that must be brought under the control of superintendents as quickly as possible.”

Such an approach risks losing “one of the most important achievements of the Second Vatican Council,” Ladaria wrote: Namely, “the clear doctrine of the mission of the bishops and thus of the local Church.”

Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media

On the question of ordaining women, Ladaria reminded the bishops, as he has stated previously: The teaching of the Catholic Church on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood, now or in the future, is clear – and to sow confusion by suggesting otherwise is a serious matter.

Finally, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told the German bishops to recognize their role in the context of the Apostolic succession. “If it is true that the Magisterium is under the judgment of the Word, it is equally true that it is precisely through the exercise of the Magisterium of the bishops, and especially of the Bishop of Rome, that the Word comes alive and resounds vibrantly,” the cardinal wrote.

The terse warnings published this week were not the first intervention by the Vatican against the Synodal Way. In July, the Vatican issued a warning of a new schism arising from the process initiated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

German response: ‘Not a stop sign‘

Upon their return from Rome last week, some German bishops commented on the objections to their “reform project,” reported CNA Deutsch.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said the Vatican’s warnings were “not a stop sign for the important and necessary discussions we’re having,” such as the Synodal Way’s vote for women’s ordination

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck Photo: Nicole Cronauge / Diocese of Essen.
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck Photo: Nicole Cronauge / Diocese of Essen.

In short, the Synodal Way — Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path —is still expected to continue as planned by organizers, with the next (and so far final) synodal assembly to take place in spring of 2023.

In the meantime, German bishops are pushing ahead with making changes across the board to the Church in their dioceses, not just on the Synodal Way: This week, labor laws were amended so that employees of the Catholic Church can identify as LGBT, be “divorced” or not even Catholic. 

While clerics and those in “pastoral care” are still expected to be Catholic, the Church — which employs about 800,000 people in Germany — is “enriched” by this “diversity in church institutions,” the German Bishops’ Conference said on Tuesday. 

According to a report by CNA Deutsch, the bishops also said that “all employees can, regardless of their duties, their origin, their religion, their age, their disability, their sex, their sexual identity and their way of life,” now be representatives of “a Church that serves people.”

Not just for students: Here’s what adults can expect at SEEK23 in St. Louis

Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' Making Missionary Disciples track. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 25, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship, with the goal of encouraging and equipping Catholics to live and share their faith. The Jan. 2–6, 2023, gathering, SEEK23, will be the first in-person national conference for FOCUS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eileen Piper, FOCUS’ vice president of lifelong mission, told CNA recently that a new conference track called Making Missionary Disciples aims to help adult attendees become equipped to better share their faith.

While most of FOCUS’ programming is geared toward students, the Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for priests, bishops, diocesan and parish staff, FOCUS alumni, parishioners, and benefactors who “long to see their parish, diocese, family, or community experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and who desire to be a part of the solution,” the organization says.

“This really is a unique opportunity, and you’re going to get hands-on experience,” Piper told CNA.

“This is practical training. It’s made for you to take into your state of life — so if you are a leader in a parish, you are going to be equipped to be able to step into your work in the parish in a brand-new way.”

Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS
Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS

Piper said she, like many Catholics, has friends and family members in her life who are no longer practicing their faith. The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for those who want to do a better job of sharing their faith, she said, not on “street corners” but primarily with people they already know and love.

“It starts to practically equip you so that you’re feeling more confident and more comfortable entering into faith conversations with those that you are already in relationship with,” she explained.

The track will feature speeches and workshops put on by nationally recognized Catholic speakers such as Father Josh Johnson, Sister Bethany Madonna, and sEdward Sri. Conference attendees will also be given time for prayer and fellowship, daily Mass, and networking opportunities, FOCUS says.

Through the workshops, “you’ll be working on your personal testimony, so you can just in a very comfortable way share your own story of how you like what Jesus means to you, and why it matters.”

Piper said as part of the conference they also hope to create opportunities for parish priests to connect “brother to brother” and discuss with one another what is working well in their parishes. She also said FOCUS will be offering a Lenten Bible study in 2023 for anyone who wants to participate, and they will be especially suggesting that SEEK23 attendees join in on it and invite others to join as well.

Since its founding in the 1990s, FOCUS has sent missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning small numbers of people to the Catholic faith at a time through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.

FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. Almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis Archdiocese, have FOCUS missionaries living and working there.

SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 were held online due to the pandemic.

Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.

Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launch pad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.

He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after an ongoing major merging and closing process, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”

SEEK23 registration is now open and costs $399 total for the full five days, regardless of whether you are a college or high school student or an adult. General passes for St. Louis residents cost $350. All registration options can be found here.

UK woman praying in public asked to ‘move on’ by local authorities

Livia Tossici-Bolt says she was urged by council officers to “move on” after praying in public / ADF International

CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 08:09 am (CNA).

Concerns about religious freedom in the UK are intensifying after local council officers confronted a woman on the south coast of England for praying quietly in a public space and asked her to move away.

Livia Tossici-Bolt was praying with a friend near a local abortion clinic in Bournemouth but had not breached the borders of the censorship zone around the clinic, which the local council had imposed.

Nevertheless, two ‘Community Safety Accredited Officers’ patrolling the buffer zone informed Livia that her actions could cause “intimidation and harassment” and asked her to move away. According to Tossici-Bolt, the officers also expressed concern that there was a local school nearby and that “the children may ask questions.”

In a statement released on November 24, ADF International formally announced their support for Tossici-Bolt and the launch of an official complaint to local authorities for breaching her right to pray on a public street.

The statement comes as parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Clause 9 of the Bill proposes to institute ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression.

Clause 9 faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on November 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed unease with the introduction of buffer zones.

According to a statement from ADF International, Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill prohibits not only “harassment” outside of abortion facilities but “informing,” “advising,” “influencing,” “persuading,” and even “expressing an opinion.”

During the debate on Tuesday, Baroness Claire Fox of Buckley said: “If we pass Clause 9, why will other institutions not demand buffer zones around their special case facilities? If we consider that in Clause 9 a buffer zone is defined very broadly as “150 meters from … any access point to any building or site that contains an abortion clinic”, does that not make protests of all sorts at hospitals potentially unlawful? What if you wanted to organise a vigil outside a hospital in which, for example, babies died due to negligence, such as in the maternity services scandal recently? What about a rally against the use of puberty blockers on teenagers? Would that be banned too?”

Commenting on her own experience, Tossici-Bolt said in a statement on November 24: “Everyone has the freedom to pray quietly in a public place. I would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment. We complied with the new rules instituted by the council and didn’t pray within the censorship zone. Yet nevertheless, these prayer-patrol officers tried to intimidate us out of exercising our freedom of thought and of expression – in the form of prayer -which has been a foundational part of our society for generations.”

ADF International recently championed the cause of a 76-year-old grandmother in Liverpool, UK, who successfully overturned a financial penalty for praying near an abortion clinic in February 2021.