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Joy in Syria: Pope Francis gives ‘green light’ for canonization of ‘Martyrs of Damascus’ 

A moment of prayer during the procession through the narrow streets of the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus on July 9, 2023, in celebration of the liturgical feast of the Martyrs of Damascus. / Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

Jerusalem, May 23, 2024 / 17:11 pm (CNA).

In Damascus, Syria, today, news that the 11 “Martyrs of Damascus” will be canonized was received with “emotion and hope,” according to Father Firas Lufti, guardian of the Franciscan convent of Bab-Touma in Damascus where the martyrdom occurred and where many relics of the martyrs are preserved. 

During an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, “the Supreme Pontiff approved the votes in favor cast during the ordinary session of the cardinal and bishop fathers for the canonization” of the martyrs, said the bulletin released by the Holy See Press Office on May 23. 

The “Martyrs of Damascus” were murdered “out of hatred for the faith” in Damascus, Syria, some time during the night of July 9-10, 1860. The event took place during the persecution of Christians by Shia Druze, which spread from Lebanon to Syria and resulted in thousands of victims.

A Druze commando entered the Franciscan convent, located in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus, and massacred the friars: Manuel Ruiz, Carmelo Bolta, Nicanor Ascanio, Nicolás M. Alberca y Torres, Pedro Soler, Engelbert Kolland, Francisco Pinazo Peñalver, Juan S. Fernández, along with three laymen who were biological brothers — Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki.

Upon refusing to renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam, the 11 were brutally killed, some beheaded with sabers and axes, others stabbed or clubbed to death.

The altar dedicated to the eight Franciscan friars martyred in Damascus in 1860 is located inside the Catholic church in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus. The church is adjacent to the Franciscan convent where the martyrdom of the friars and three Maronite laypeople, the Massabki brothers, took place. Beneath the altar is the urn containing the bones of the martyrs. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The altar dedicated to the eight Franciscan friars martyred in Damascus in 1860 is located inside the Catholic church in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus. The church is adjacent to the Franciscan convent where the martyrdom of the friars and three Maronite laypeople, the Massabki brothers, took place. Beneath the altar is the urn containing the bones of the martyrs. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

The news of the impending canonizations comes almost 100 years after the beatification of the 11 martyrs, which took place in 1926.

“All of us have longed to hear this news,” said Lufti, who is also a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land. “With the canonization, the process initiated over 160 years ago with their martyrdom, with the self-giving in service to God, the Church, and suffering brothers, is completed. Holiness is the life project of every baptized person and the culmination of a life spent for others.”

“This news,” Lufti added, “comes at a time when the entire Middle East, including Syria, is experiencing moments of drama and conflict. Holiness is the hope for a new world. Despite the horrors of sin that mankind is capable of writing, history is written by God, who is the Lord of history, alongside his saints.”

The hope is that the canonization of the Martyrs of Damascus is also “a message of dialogue, peace, and unity” in the Middle Eastern context, the friar said. 

The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

Every year on July 10, the liturgical calendar of the Custody of the Holy Land commemorates these martyrs. In the Syrian capital, the Latin and Maronite communities often celebrate this day together.

“This year’s celebration will have a very special flavor because it will be a taste of holiness,” Lufti explained. “The canonization of the Martyrs of Damascus will give a new impetus to the life of the Christian community, which awaited this announcement with great anticipation.”

Lufti referred to the Damascus martyrs as “witnesses, models, and examples” to follow “in order to persevere in the faith.” The canonization of these men who “put into practice the golden rule of Christian life: to love God and neighbor to the point of giving their lives … gives us hope [and] shows us where to set our feet on the path toward holiness, which is the goal of every Christian.”

The cause for canonization of the martyrs has been revived in recent years due to their growing reputation for holiness and the number of miracles attributed to their intercession.

The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

In 2022, the Holy Synod of Maronite Bishops presented a petition to Pope Francis for the canonization of the Blessed Massabki Martyrs — the three brothers from the same family who were killed along with the friars the same night in Damascus. This request was joined by the Order of Friars Minor, who sought the canonization of the entire group of martyrs.

On March 23, 2023, the pope authorized a special procedure for the drafting and study of the “Positio super Canonizatione,” a set of documents used in the process by which a person is declared a saint, often simply referred to as the “Positio.” On May 23, the pontiff approved the favorable votes of the ordinary session of cardinals and bishops for the martyrs’ canonization.

Although there is no date scheduled yet for the canonization, Lufti said the Church in Syria hopes it can be celebrated during the upcoming Jubilee Year recently announced by Pope Francis.

Correction with a Kiss

In his parable The Wise Woman, George MacDonald tells the story of two girls, whose selfishness brings misery to all, including themselves, until a Wise Woman puts them through a series of tests to help them become “lovely” again.

After the girls fail each test and suffer shame and isolation, one of them, Rosamond, finally realizes she can’t change herself. “Couldn’t you help me?” she asks the Wise Woman. “Perhaps I could,” the woman replied, “now that you ask me.” And with the divine help symbolized by the Wise Woman, Rosamond begins to change. She then asks if the woman would forgive all the trouble she’s caused. “If I had not forgiven you,” the woman says, “I would never have taken the trouble to punish you.”

There are times when God disciplines us. It’s important to understand why. His correction isn’t driven by retribution but by a fatherly concern for our welfare (Hebrews 12:6). He also desires that we may “share in his holiness,” enjoying a harvest of “righteousness and peace” (vv. 10–11). Selfishness brings misery, but holiness makes us whole, joyful, and “lovely” like Him.

            Rosamond asks the Wise Woman how she can love a selfish girl like her. Stooping to kiss her, the woman replies, “I saw what you were going to be.” God’s correction too comes with love and a desire to make us who we’re meant to be.

10 things you should know about Blessed Carlo Acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis. / Credit: Diocese of Assisi

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 15:21 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who died in 2006, paving the way for him to be canonized by the Catholic Church. A gamer and computer programmer who loved the Eucharist, he will be the Church’s first millennial saint.

So who is Blessed Carlo? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Carlo Acutis was born May 3, 1991, in London, where his father was  working. Just a few months later, he moved with his parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, to Milan, Italy.

  2. Carlo was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager. Before his death in 2006, he offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church, saying: “I offer all of my suffering to the Lord for the pope and for the Church in order not to go to purgatory but to go straight to heaven.”

  3. From a young age, Carlo had a special love for God, even though his parents weren’t especially devout. Antonia Salzano, his mom, said that before 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 possible at the parish across from his elementary school. Carlo’s love for the Eucharist also inspired a deep conversion for his mother. According to the postulator promoting his cause for sainthood, he “managed to drag his relatives, his parents to Mass every day. It was not the other way around; it was not his parents bringing the little boy to Mass, but it was he who managed to get himself to Mass and to convince others to receive Communion daily.” Salzano spoke to “EWTN News Nightly” in October 2023 about her son’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She said: “He used to say, ‘There are queues in front of a concert, in front of a football match, but I don’t see these queues in front of the Blessed Sacrament’ ... So, for him the Eucharist was the center of his life.”

  4. Carlo’s witness of faith as a child led adults to convert and be baptized. Rajesh Mohur, who worked for the Acutis family as an au pair when Carlo was young, converted from Hinduism to Catholicism because of Carlo’s witness. Carlo taught Mohur how to pray the rosary and told him about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Mohur said that one of the things that most impressed him as a non-Christian was the witness of Carlo’s love and concern for the poor — how he interacted with the homeless man who would sit at the entrance of the church and would bring tupperware dishes filled with food out to people living on the streets.

  5. Carlo wasn’t afraid to defend Church teaching, even in situations when his classmates disagreed with him. Many of Carlo’s high school classmates remember Carlo giving a passionate defense for the protection of life from the moment of conception when there was a classroom discussion about abortion. 

  6. Carlo was a faithful friend. He was known for standing up for kids at school who got bullied, especially kids with disabilities. When a friend’s parents were getting a divorce, Carlo made a special effort to include his friend in the Acutis’ family life. With his friends, he spoke about the importance of going to Mass and confession, human dignity, and chastity.

  7. Carlo was fascinated with computer coding and taught himself some of the basic coding languages, including C and C++. He used his computer skills and internet savvy to help his family put together an exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that has gone on to be displayed at thousands of parishes on five continents. His spiritual director has attested that Carlo was personally convinced that the scientific evidence from Eucharistic miracles would help people to realize that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and come back to Mass.

  8. Carlo loved playing video games. His mother recalls that he liked Nintendo Game Boy and GameCube as well as PlayStation and Xbox. He had conversations with his gaming buddies about the importance of going to Mass and confession and limited his video game playing to no more than two hours per week. Carlo also liked Spider-Man and Pokémon.

  9. Carlo died on Oct. 12, 2006, and was buried in Assisi. Initially, there were reports that Carlo’s body was found to be incorrupt, but the bishop of Assisi clarified before his beatification that his body was not incorrupt. His body lies in repose in a glass tomb in Assisi where he can be seen in jeans and a pair of Nike sneakers. Thousands came to pray at his tomb at the time of his beatification in October 2020.

  10. Pope Francis recognized a second miracle attributed to Carlo’s intercession in a decree on May 23, 2024. The miracle involved the healing of a 21-year-old girl from Costa Rica named Valeria Valverde, who was near death after seriously injuring her head in a bicycle accident while studying in Florence in 2022. The first miracle that led to his beatification involved the healing of a 3-year-old boy in Brazil in 2013 who had been diagnosed with a malformation of his pancreas since birth.

The Vatican has yet to announce a date for Carlo Acutis’ canonization. The ceremony could take place as soon as this October or during the 2025 Jubilee Year, which includes a special jubilee for youth and a jubilee for teenagers.

This article was originally published Oct. 20, 2020, and was updated May 23, 2024.

Federal government backs down, allows Virginia Knights to hold annual Memorial Day Mass 

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 27, 2024, in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance. / Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance.

Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 had filed a temporary restraining order against NPS after the park service forbade the council from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass at Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

First Liberty Institute, which represented the Knights in the dispute, said in a press release this week that the fraternal organization has “held the service at the park every year since at least the 1960s.”

The filing, made in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said NPS decided in 2023 that the annual Mass, held at the cemetery within Petersburg National Battlefield, “would henceforth be categorized as a prohibited ‘demonstration’ under NPS regulations because it is a ‘religious service.’”

Yet on Thursday afternoon, First Liberty Institute said in a press release that the Knights would be permitted to hold the Mass on Monday as planned.

NPS “has granted a permit … allowing the Knights’ annual Memorial Day Mass service” on Monday, the organization said.

“We are grateful to the NPS for allowing the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day,” John Moran, a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods, said in the statement. 

Roger Byron, a senior counsel at First Liberty, said that the Knights “are thrilled that they will be able to exercise their religious beliefs and keep this honorable tradition alive.”  

“We appreciate the tremendous support of Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin and Attorney General [Jason] Miyares in this case,” Byron said. 

Park service officials had earlier said the Knights could hold the Mass “outside the cemetery on a patch of grass near the parking lot,” which the Knights’ filing said was “unreasonable, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”

The Knights said the park service was “misapplying its own regulations” and “unlawfully infringing on the Knights’ First Amendment rights.” The filing said the federal government was also violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993-era law that places strict rules on how the government may infringe on a person’s religious liberty. 

Officials with the National Park Service also did not respond to a query on the suit on Thursday. 

Byron had said earlier this week that the park service was “way out of line.”  

“This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent,” Byron said.

Number of Catholic parishes in Baltimore’s core will be halved, archdiocese says 

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:08 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced this week that more than half of the parishes in Baltimore’s historic city core will close or merge as part of a major pastoral planning process.

The final plans, announced May 22, will see 61 parishes at 59 worship sites in Baltimore City and some nearby areas of Baltimore County reduced to 23 parishes at 30 worship sites.

“These decisions, while difficult, are made with an eye toward a future goal of hope," Archbishop William Lori said in a video message, saying the plan was put together, “guided by the Holy Spirit,” with an eye to helping the parishes prioritize announcing the Gospel and helping neighbors in need.

The many Catholic churches in Baltimore City were built to serve “a surging population that’s now lost hundreds of thousands of people,” the archdiocese says on the website for the initiative. From a high of 1 million people in the 1950s, the population in the city stands at fewer than 570,000 people.

According to the archdiocesan publication Catholic Review, the 61 current parishes serve approximately 5,000 Catholics — about 1% of the Catholics in the archdiocese, served by 44% of the archdiocese’ current parishes.

Lori said the mergers will enable the remaining parishes to “focus on mission and ministry, as opposed to leaking roofs, crumbling walls, and failing electrical and plumbing systems.”

After first announcing the intentions for the plan in 2022, this past April the archdiocese revealed the details of the consolidation plan, saying the initiative had “entered its public comment phase.” Several public fora held by the archdiocese on the plan drew “more than 6,000 voices in prayerful listening,” and Lori said their feedback helped to shape the final plans.  

“We have known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep up with building and property maintenance,” the archdiocese said.

“To achieve the Church we envision, one where parishioners are welcomed, engaged, and constantly growing in faith, and one strengthened by our varied ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, we must realign and consolidate our efforts and resources. Our failure to do so would be shortsighted and render us to be poor stewards of the time, talent, and material gifts with which God has blessed us.”

According to the Catholic Review, the new configurations and mergers will be complete for most parishes by the first Sunday of Advent 2024, Dec. 1. For others, it could be the first Sunday of Lent 2025, and for some even later. 

Numerous other large dioceses including Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, and smaller ones such as Peoria, Illinois, have in recent years announced reorganization plans to greatly reduce their number of parishes. 

Baltimore was the first Catholic diocese in the United States, having been established as such in 1789 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. The territory of the Diocese of Baltimore originally included the entire fledgling U.S., and it remained the only archdiocese in the country until 1846.

Last fall, Lori announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of hundreds of abuse claims against it in recent decades. Lori insisted in his recent video message that the mergers are not related to the bankruptcy and that proceeds from any building sales will remain in the parish, as supported by canon and civil law.

Michigan attorney general releases third report on alleged diocesan abuse

The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. / Credit: rossograph via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:38 pm (CNA).

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has released the third of seven reports on alleged sexual abuse in dioceses throughout the state. 

The report details “allegations of abuse that took place in the Diocese of Kalamazoo,” one of seven in the state of Michigan. Previous reports focused on the Dioceses of Gaylord and Marquette.

As with the prior reports, the Kalamazoo investigation details abuse allegations that stretch back decades. The review includes allegations of misconduct “by priests who are current or former clergy for the Diocese of Kalamazoo that occurred in the diocese from Jan. 1, 1950, to the present.”

The Diocese of Kalamazoo was previously part of the Diocese of Grand Rapids; it did not become its own named diocese until 1971.

The diocese “agreed to provide reports of abuse to the Department of Attorney General,” Nessel’s office said, describing diocesan participation in the investigation as “instrumental.”

Though the report contains “detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct,” Nessel’s office noted that “criminal prosecution of many of these allegations is barred by the statute of limitations or because the accused priest is deceased.” 

“For too long, sexual assault and abuse have been surrounded by silence,” the attorney general said in the release.

“This investigation aims to shatter that silence, empowering survivors to speak their truth. My department is committed to ensuring that every case of sexual abuse and assault is thoroughly reviewed and investigated in an effort to pursue justice for victims.”

Some of the allegations contained in the report date to the 1970s and 1980s, though others occurred as recently as 2017. The allegations include alleged abuse perpetrated against minors as well as inappropriate behavior and conduct toward adults. 

The attorney general’s office said its wide-reaching report of the seven Michigan dioceses has included to date a review of “more than 1.5 million [paper] documents” and more than 3.5 million digital documents; the office has also “issued criminal charges in 11 cases throughout the entire state and secured convictions in nine cases.”

Two of those 11 cases originated from allegations in the Kalamazoo Diocese, Nessel’s office noted, including the prosecution and imprisonment of Father Brian Stanley, who pleaded guilty to “immobilizing a teenage boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and using masking tape as additional binding to cover the child’s eyes and mouth” as part of a school punishment. 

Stanley was sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years of probation. 

In a statement on Wednesday following the release of the report, Kalamazoo Bishop Edward Lohse said past abuse in the diocese is “an historical reality.” 

“It is tragic, appalling, and inexcusable. No one knows this better than you who are the victim- survivors of that abuse,” the bishop said. 

“You were entrusted to our care, and we failed to protect you,” the bishop said. “There is no other way to put it. For that failure, I am deeply sorry.”

The prelate said the diocese “continue[s] to strengthen our efforts to protect children and youth and to educate people to recognize signs of behavior that put youth at risk.”

Lohse said the diocese would unveil updated youth protection policies later this summer.

Vatican reinstates Carmelite nun after bishop’s dismissal in Texas over affair with priest

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:04 pm (CNA).

The Holy See has reinstated a Carmelite mother superior nearly a year after the bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed her after alleged inappropriate conduct with a priest. 

Bishop Michael Olson issued a decree on June 1, 2023, dismissing Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from religious life following a nearly six-week-long investigation into the affair. 

Gerlach had previously served as the prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. Olson said at the time of the dismissal that the investigation had found her “guilty of having violated the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Olson said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “informed me that it overturned the decree dismissing Mother Teresa Agnes” from the Arlington monastery. 

“Although the dicastery acknowledged that Mother Teresa Agnes admitted to misconduct against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,” Olson wrote, “they reasoned in part that her admission did not establish that the misconduct was ‘perpetrated by the exertion of force or violence.’” 

The Code of Canon Law (No. 1395) stipulates that a cleric who commits a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue using “force, threats, or abuse of his authority” can suffer significant penalties, up to and including dismissal. 

“Additionally, the dicastery reasoned in part that her admission of misconduct did not establish abuse of her ecclesiastical authority of prioress, since she ‘possessed no real or even imagined authority’ over her accomplice, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, since he was not ‘subject to Mother Teresa Agnes’ authority as prioress,’” Olson said. 

In its decree, the dicastery also said that the mother superior was “not afforded the full 15 days allotted to respond fully to the canonical warnings” regarding her disobedience of the bishop.

Though it reversed the decision dismissing Gerlach from her role at the monastery, the dicastery “upheld the decisions I made last year” regarding the larger investigation, Olson said on Wednesday. 

“All decisions were made for the good of Mother Teresa Agnes and the Arlington Carmel and its sisters,” Olson said on Wednesday, “in accordance with my obligation under canon law and the rule and constitutions of the Arlington Carmelites as the local bishop.”

The dispute between the Carmelite nuns and Olson has grown increasingly bitter over the last year. During the investigation, Olson banned the monastery from celebrating daily Mass and blocked access to regular confessions.

At the time he accused the nuns of hindering his investigation into the monastery after they filed a lawsuit against him. The Vatican subsequently appointed the bishop as the pontifical commissary in the dispute, confirming his authority over the nuns in his diocese. 

In April of this year the Vatican declared that the Association of Christ the King in the United States would oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington monastery. That decision ended the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary. 

Several days later the nuns filed a request for a restraining order against Olson and the parties tasked with overseeing the monastery. 

Before filing for the restraining order, the nuns had indicated their intent to defy the Vatican’s decree regarding oversight of the monastery, labeling it “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.” The nuns subsequently dropped the request for the restraining order

On Wednesday Olson said the association’s oversight would “ensure that all the nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for, and nurtured in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

“As their bishop, I stand ready to pastorally assist the nuns of the Arlington Carmel,” he said.

Matthew Bobo, the lawyer representing the nuns, said that Gerlach would continue to stay at the monastery following the decision. 

“She never left the monastery as she was awaiting the recourse from the Vatican,” he told CNA, “which was obviously returned in her favor.”

Biden administration launches reporting tool for health law at center of abortion dispute

The Biden administration holds that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 11:17 am (CNA).

The Biden administration this week launched an online tool designed to allow patients to report violations of a federal health law, one that the White House says requires emergency room doctors to perform abortions in some cases. 

At the center of the dispute is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). That law, which was passed in 1986, dictates to Medicare-participating hospitals that “all patients receive an appropriate medical screening examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary,” regardless of ability to pay.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in July 2022, shortly after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, that under EMTALA an emergency room doctor “must provide” abortions to pregnant women if it is determined that abortion constitutes a “stabilizing treatment” under the federal law. 

A federal appeals court in January rejected the Biden administration’s argument that the law can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. The Biden administration has appealed the January ruling at the Supreme Court. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in April, meanwhile, heard arguments in a dispute in which the federal government also challenged an Idaho pro-life law on EMTALA grounds. 

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an online tool “to allow individuals to more easily file an Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act complaint.”

Though the announcement does not mention abortion, the release said the tool is “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s comprehensive plan to educate the public and promote patient access to the emergency medical care to which they are entitled under federal law.”

“If an individual believes their EMTALA rights have been violated, it is important that they can easily file a complaint,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in the announcement. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, specifically praised the tool as “incredibly important” for women in the post-Roe v. Wade United States.

“The Biden administration has fought at every turn to ensure women receive emergency health care in all circumstances, but make no mistake, these protections and so many others could very well disappear under a second Trump administration,” Murray said. 

She argued that “Donald Trump and his allies will try to ban abortion care any way they can, putting millions of women’s lives at risk.”

Katie Glenn Daniel, the state policy director at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that the new online tool “seems like a tool that should be used for good” because it makes it easier for people who are wronged “to file a complaint.”

EMTALA, Daniel noted, is a law “requiring that if you show up to a hospital with a medical emergency, that they can’t turn you away due to [an inability] to pay.” If a woman is pregnant, she added, “that protection extends to her and her unborn child.”

Although Daniel said EMTALA is “a life-affirming law,” she added that people need to view this announcement with skepticism, based on the Biden administration’s efforts to expand abortion through the president’s interpretation of the law.

“It’s so clear that they see EMTALA as a tool to try to back end abortion in pro-life states,” Daniel said. “It’s something we have to look at with a critical eye.”

If the Supreme Court were to rule in the administration’s favor, Daniel warned, “it basically opens the door to [Biden] rewriting all kinds of laws.”

The Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling in the Idaho dispute. Last month, Joshua Turner, a lawyer representing Idaho before the high court, said the state law permits an abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, which is based on “the doctor’s good-faith medical judgment.”

In contrast, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who provided the legal arguments on behalf of the DOJ, said Idaho’s law conflicts with the text of EMTALA.

In view of the case, the Catholic Health Association has expressed its concern that “the highly polarized and politicized nature of abortion conflates necessary medical interventions with elective procedures.” 

The association went on to note that “Catholic hospitals do not offer elective abortions. However, in tragic situations when a mother suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition during pregnancy, Catholic health clinicians do provide medically indicated treatment, even if it poses a threat to the unborn or may result in the unintended death of the child.”

Archaeological discovery sheds light on Christian pilgrimages to Holy Land 1,500 years ago

Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view), May 2024. / Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

Jerusalem, May 23, 2024 / 10:31 am (CNA).

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered a Byzantine-period church in the northern Negev desert with wall art displaying ships. The surprise findings were announced in a press release issued by the authority on May 23.

The discovery was made in the south of the Bedouin city of Rahat, where the Israel Antiquities Authority has been conducting excavations for several years in the context of a city expansion project. The excavated site tells the story of settlement in the northern Negev desert at the end of the Byzantine period and in the beginning of the early Islamic period.

Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view). Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view). Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the excavators, “these intriguing drawings may have been left by Christian pilgrims arriving by ship to the Gaza port; their first inland stop was this Rahat church, continuing from here to other sites throughout the country.”

This site, in fact, lies only a half-day’s walk from the ancient port of Gaza, and the church is located along an ancient Roman road that led from the coast to Beer Sheva, the Negev’s main city.

Archaeologist Daria Eladjem points to a ship drawing in the excavation, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
Archaeologist Daria Eladjem points to a ship drawing in the excavation, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the excavation directors — Dr. Oren Shmueli, Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi, and Dr. Noé David Michael on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with Professor Deborah Cvikel of the University of Haifa’s Department of Maritime Civilizations — it is reasonable to think that Christian pilgrims traveled this road to reach the Christian holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the monasteries in the Negev hills and in the Sinai.

“It is reasonable that their first stop after alighting from the ships in Gaza port was this very church revealed in our excavations south of Rahat,” the scholars said.

The ships drawn on the rock “are a greeting from Christian pilgrims arriving by ship to Gaza port,” the excavation directors said. “Pilgrims [who] visited the church left their personal mark in the form of ship drawings on its walls. The ship is indeed an old Christian symbol, but in this case, apparently, it is a true graphical depiction of real ships in which the pilgrims traveled to the Holy Land.”

The excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Rahat, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
The excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Rahat, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Cvikel described one of the drawings: “One of the ships is depicted as a line drawing, but yet it may be discerned that its bow is slightly pointed and that there are oars on both sides of the vessel. This may be an aerial depiction of the ship, though it seems the artist was attempting a three-dimensional drawing. It may be that the lines below it portray the path beaten by the oars through the water.”

“Ships or crosses left by visiting Christian pilgrims as witness to their visit are also found in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher Church,” she added, highlighting a common practice of the pilgrims at that time.

The reference is probably to the famous ship of the “Domine Ivimus,” the only image of a vessel found at the Holy Sepulcher (while the crosses are countless). It’s a charcoal drawing, dating between the second and fourth centuries, found on a stone used in a very ancient wall located in the foundation area of the basilica, in the part that is owned by the Armenians.

“This surprising and intriguing find of ship drawings in a northern Negev Byzantine-period church opens a window for us to the world of Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land 1,500 years ago,” Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido said. “It also provides firsthand evidence about the ships they traveled in and the maritime world of that time.”

Carlo Acutis to be first millennial saint: Pope Francis recognizes miracle for canonization

Carlo Acutis. / carloacutis.com

Rome Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 06:22 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis, paving the way for him to become the first millennial saint.

The Italian computer-coding teenager who died of cancer in 2006 is known for his great devotion to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The recognition of the second miracle attributed to Acutis’ intercession makes it possible that Acutis could be canonized during the Catholic Church’s 2025 Jubilee Year.

In a decree on May 23, Pope Francis approved the miraculous healing of a 21-year-old girl from Costa Rica named Valeria Valverde who was near death after seriously injuring her head in a bicycle accident while studying in Florence in 2022.

After the girl underwent an emergency craniotomy to reduce intracranial pressure, the family was told that her situation was very critical and that she could die at any moment, according to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Six days after the accident, Valeria’s mother went on a pilgrimage to Assisi to pray for the healing of her daughter at the tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis, leaving a written note.

On that same day, Valeria began to breathe on her own and on the following day she recovered the use of her upper limbs and partly recovered her speech.

Valeria was discharged from the intensive care unit 10 days after her mother’s pilgrimage and underwent further tests that showed that the hemorrhagic right temporal cortical contusion in her brain had completely disappeared.

Contrary to medical predictions, Valeria spent only one week in physical therapy and on Sept. 2, 2022, two months after her accident, she went on a pilgrimage to Carlo Acutis’ tomb in Assisi with her mother to celebrate her complete healing.

The first millennial saint

Born in 1991, Acutis is the first millennial to be beatified by the Catholic Church.

Shortly after his first Communion at the age of 7, Carlo told his mother: “To always be united to Jesus: This is my life plan.” To accomplish this, Carlo sought to attend daily Mass as often as possible at the parish church across the street from his elementary school in Milan.

Carlo called the Eucharist “my highway to heaven,” and he did all in his power to make this presence known. His witness inspired his own parents to return to practicing the Catholic faith and his Hindu au pair to convert and be baptized.

Carlo was a tech-savvy kid who loved computers, animals, and video games. His spiritual director has recalled that Carlo was convinced that the evidence of Eucharistic miracles could be persuasive in helping people to realize that Jesus is present at every Mass.

Over the course of two and a half years, Carlo worked with his family to put together an exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that premiered in 2005 during the Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by Pope John Paul II and has since gone on to be displayed at thousands of parishes on five continents.

Many of Carlo’s classmates, friends, and family members have testified how he brought them closer to God. Carlo was a very open person and was not shy to speak with his classmates and anyone he met about the things that he loved: the Mass, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and heaven.

He is remembered for saying: “People who place themselves before the sun get a tan; people who place themselves before the Eucharist become saints.”

Carlo died at the age of 15 in 2006 shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia. Before he died, Carlo told his mother: “I offer all of my suffering to the Lord for the pope and for the Church in order not to go to purgatory but to go straight to heaven.”

Thousands of people visited Carlo’s tomb in Assisi following his beatification in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 10, 2020.

Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who is currently in Rome for a meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference, welcomed the news that Acutis will be canonized.

“The Church in Assisi is in celebration,” he said. “I plan to arrive in Assisi this evening to thank the Lord in a Eucharistic celebration. But as of now I join the faithful who are in the shrine for a prayer of praise.”

“May the Lord continue his work through the witness of Blessed Carlo. May he obtain for us from the Lord the grace to love him as he loved him, especially in the holy Eucharist.”

Courtney Mares is the author of the book “Blessed Carlo Acutis: A Saint in Sneakers.”