Students from the nation’s Jesuit schools gather near the U.S. Capitol in Washington Nov. 8, 2021, to advocate for the environment and for immigration as part of the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. The annual event encourages them to be active participants in matters that affect the poor and marginalized in the U.S. and elsewhere. This year students advocated for these issues as Congress debated President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Build Back Better Act’s plan to expand affordable child care and ensure that quality prekindergarten is available to all families “is a worthy goal,” but as written these provisions “will suppress, if not exclude” many faith-based providers from participating, according to Catholic and other religious leaders.

“We are writing to express our urgent concerns regarding the child care and universal prekindergarten provisions in the House-passed Build Back Better Act,” said a Dec. 1 letter the faith leaders sent to U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairwoman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The signers represent religious denominations, schools and charities “that comprise and serve millions of Americans,” the letter said.

Among the signers were the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, and the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, chaired by Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington.

Catholic Charities USA and the National Catholic Educational Association also signed the letter, along with Jewish, Muslim and other Christian associations.

The Build Back Better Act “does not preclude parents from selecting faith-based providers,” the letter said, but its current provisions “make it virtually impossible for many faith based providers to participate in the program.”

The bill does so, it continued, by departing from current federal child care policy and attaching “new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs – such as separate boys or girls schools or classes – and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs.”

The Build Back Better bill changes how providers receive public monies by defining “all providers as recipients of federal financial assistance, whether the funds come via certificates, in the child care program, — or direct grants, in the prekindergarten program,” the letter explained.

“Making faith-based providers of child care and prekindergarten into recipients of federal financial assistance triggers federal compliance obligations and nondiscrimination provisions,” it said.

Currently, these child care providers are exempt from some nondiscrimination provisions.

Low-income families have traditionally received funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant program that they may use at a variety of child care centers, including those run by churches and other religious organizations. These various programs are not considered direct recipients of federal funds.

The block grant program receives federal funding but is administered by the states to provide child care subsidies to families who qualify for them.

“The faith community has always affirmed that parents should choose the best environment for care and education of their children,” the faith leaders’ letter said.

“The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program,” it said.

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Build Back Better Act Nov. 19, and it is now under consideration in the Senate.

The faith leaders asked Murray and Burr to give “urgent attention to address” their concerns about the measure “to ensure that faith-based providers are able to participate” in the bill’s child care and universal prekindergarten programs.

– – –

The full text of the letter can be found online at:

December 6, 2021

His Excellency, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, announces the following appointment, effective as indicated:

Reverend Brian J. W. Clarke, from Pastor, Holy Rosary Parish, Hazleton, and Holy Name of Jesus Parish, West Hazleton, to Pastor, Most Holy Trinity Parish, Cresco, effective January 3, 2022.


EAST STROUDSBURG – For more than a decade, Saint Matthew Parish has received the “Guadalupana Torch,” a burning symbol of hope, in the days leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. This year is no exception.

Dozens of people gathered in the Rite Aid Pharmacy parking lot in East Stroudsburg on Dec. 1 awaiting the torch’s local arrival.

“It is our faith, our tradition,” Carlos Albuja, parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, explained.

“This is all about our faith. It is very important to us,” Julio Sanchez, parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, added. “We are one family, one church, one community.”

The Guadalupana Torch comes from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and goes across parishes in the United States before ending in New York City on Dec. 12.

After its arrival in Monroe County, a procession was held to Saint Matthew Parish where Mass was celebrated at the church.

“It is beautiful seeing that the torch is being passed down all the way from Mexico, all the way through several states and seeing all these people coming together,” Martin Sanchez, parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, said.

On Dec. 12, the faithful commemorate the day that the Virgin of Guadalupe, also the patron saint of Americas, appeared to a Mexican Indian peasant – now venerated as Saint Juan Diego – in 1531 on the Tepeyac hill where the Basilica of Guadalupe was built.

“She came to give love, the faith to believe everything is possible with faith in God,” Alma Lecama, parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, explained.

“Growing up, learning to love, learning that she loves us all and cares for us, it’s a very beautiful thing and I think it means a lot to everybody,” Sanchez added.

The faithful of Saint Matthew Parish hope to continue receiving the Guadalupana Torch each year. Following its brief visit in the Poconos, it traveled to parishes in neighboring New Jersey.

“We are really happy to receive one more year Our Lady of Guadalupe and I hope Our Lady brings a lot of blessings for all of us,” Carmita Avecillas, parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, said.

“As a young adult, this activity embraces my faith in the Catholic community,” Stephanie Albuja added.




MILFORD – Parishioners at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish spent their Thanksgiving giving back to the people in their community.

The parish prepared and served 170 takeout meals on Thanksgiving Day to members of their Pike County community.

Using the manta, “many hands make light work,” the parish had a number of volunteers who helped to prepare and package the meals for distribution.

The following pictures capture some of the generous spirit of parishioners who volunteered to help their community through the assembly line that was established to package the meals and the other shows the volunteers who put the finishing touches on the meals.



Pope Francis is greeted by young people as he arrives at the international airport in Larnaca, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. The pope was beginning a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNS) – The Catholic Church is a mosaic of different rites and cultures and must show the world the beauty of welcoming all people as brothers and sisters, Pope Francis told the Catholics of Cyprus.

Beginning his Dec. 2-4 visit to the island with a meeting with bishops, priests and religious rather than with government officials, the pope highlighted the religious value of welcoming and diversity in a nation struggling with migration.

Located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and just south of Turkey, Cyrus has a large Orthodox majority, but also centuries-old communities of Maronite and Latin-rite Catholics, whose numbers have grown because of foreign workers, especially from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India.

On the flight from Rome to Larnaca, a city on the sea about 30 miles from Nicosia, Pope Francis told reporters, “It will be a beautiful trip, but we will touch some wounds.”

One of those wounds — the fact that for more than 40 years the island has been divided between the mostly Greek Cypriot south and the mostly Turkish Cypriot north — explained why the pope landed in Larnaca. The Nicosia airport is now mainly the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force that patrols the “green line” between the north and south.

The other wound – migration – was the center of the pope’s attention even before he left his residence Dec. 2. He met with 12 refugees from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan now living in Italy. Some of them, the Vatican said, came to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos with the pope in 2016. The pope is scheduled to make his second visit to Lesbos Dec. 5.

And, before arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, he stopped at the nearby parish of St. Mary of the Angels and greeted the 15 refugees the parish is supporting.

On the plane, a French reporter gave the pope a gift from a Catholic parish in Calais, France: a kite made from the tattered tents of asylum-seekers stuck in Calais but hoping to get to England. It included the name, Aleksandra Hazhar, of a baby girl born prematurely on the Calais beach in 2020; she died a few days later.

Meeting with the bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the Maronite Cathedral, which is located on the “green line” and has the blue-bereted peacekeepers patrolling out front, Pope Francis described Cyprus as “a land of golden fields, an island caressed by the waves of the sea, but above all else a history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters.”

“The church, as catholic, universal, is an open space in which all are welcomed and gathered together by God’s mercy and invitation to love,” the pope said. “Walls do not and should not exist in the Catholic Church. For the church is a common home, a place of relationships and of coexistence in diversity.”

“Who is the source of unity in the church?” the pope asked. “The Holy Spirit. And who is the source of diversity in the church? The Holy Spirit.”

And, encouraging the bishops and priests to be patient with their people and sensitive to their cultural differences, Pope Francis said “proselytism within the church” can be just as harmful as proselytism outside. Guiding and correcting people is one thing, he said, but must be done gently and with great mercy.

“We need a patient church,” he said, “a church that does not allow itself to be upset and troubled by change, but calmly welcomes newness and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel.”

“The work you are carrying out on this island, as you welcome new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world, is precious,” he said. Like the apostle Barnabas, described in the Acts of the Apostles as a Cypriot, “you, too, are called to foster a patient and attentive outlook, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God, who never leaves anyone outside the home, bereft of his loving embrace.”

“The church of Cyprus has these same open arms: It welcomes, integrates and accompanies,” the pope said, after listening to St. Joseph Sister Perpetua Nyein Nyein Loo speak on behalf of the four women’s congregations that work on the island.

In addition to running schools, she said, “much of our work consists in defending the basic human rights of those in need and of migrant workers, who frequently must bear the burden of disproportionate debts as well as harsh and unfair treatment, including unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, verbal and physical abuse and other forms of discrimination.”

Pope Francis also encouraged the Catholics to show “respect and kindness” for the nation’s other Christian communities.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Lebanon-based patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, welcomed the pope to the cathedral and told him that the main Christian communities on the island — Cypriot Orthodox, Maronite and Latin-rite Catholic and Armenian Orthodox — have “optimal relations.”

But Pope Francis said that same kind of patience and acceptance is needed within the church as well.

“We are brothers and sisters loved by a single Father,” he told them.

Arguing is normal, the pope said, adding as an aside that he and his four siblings argued almost every day when he was growing up, but they still came together as a family around the dinner table.

“This is what fraternity in the church means: We can argue about visions, sensibilities and differing ideas,” he said. “Yet let us always remember: We argue not for the sake of fighting or imposing our own ideas, but in order to express and live the vitality of the Spirit, who is love and communion.”


A pro-life activist holding a crucifix joins a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Dec. 1, 2021, ahead of the court hearing oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee Dec. 1 urged Catholics, people of other faiths and all people of goodwill to unite in prayer that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in its eventual ruling on Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

His statement was issued the same day the court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi. Its ban was struck down by a federal District Court in Mississippi in 2018 and upheld a year later by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The Mississippi law is being challenged by the state’s only abortion facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s the first major abortion case the court has heard in decades.

“In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that.”

“We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act,” he added. “We invite all people of goodwill to uphold the dignity of human life by joining us in prayer and fasting for this important case.”

If the court’s ruling, expected in July, upholds the ban, it possibly also could overturn Roe and send the abortion issue back to the states to decide laws on it.

Archbishop Lori directed people to for Catholic and ecumenical prayers and resources for community engagement and action “as we await the court’s decision in this case.”

Pro-life advocates and supporters of keeping abortion legal gathered outside the Supreme Court rallying for their respective positions on the issue as the justices heard oral arguments in the case inside the court.

Beyond the court building’s steps, statements about the Mississippi law and predictions about the outcome of the case came from all quarters.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., predicted there would be “a revolution” if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Shaheen, who is on record as a supporter of widespread access to abortion, said that young people in particular would find it unacceptable if the court strikes down the legal precedent set by Roe in 1973 legalizing abortion nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called on the Senate to Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The measure, passed by the House Sept. 24, codifies Roe and establishes the legal right to abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states under federal law.

“The Mississippi case brought before the Supreme Court is a product of Republican attacks on reproductive rights spanning decades,” said DeLauro, a Catholic. If Roe is overturned, the court will be “depriving individuals across the country of their right to choose to have an abortion,” she said.

Many pro-lifers hoping Roe will be overturned emphasized how many scientific advances have been made in the nearly 50 years since that decision was handed down, advances they argued that have led to unprecedented information on the developmental stages of the unborn child from conception to birth.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, pointed to what he called the “utterly weak and time-worn arguments” that he said were made by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor, considered the liberal members of the court.

Among their comments was Sotomayor’s claim that only “fringe” doctors believe in the existence of fetal pain as a reason to restrict abortion.

“They do not acknowledge that the changes in science are real, or that the confusion thrust upon judges and legislators by the court’s approach to abortion is also real,” Father Pavone said in a statement.

“These and other objective reasons have led us to the day when Mississippi, and other states, believe it is time to enact stronger protections for the unborn, and for unelected judges to stop imposing policies that the legislatures should be responsible for instead,” he said.

At the rally outside the court, Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist and a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, similarly commented that “incredible advances in science and fetal medicine have rendered viability a totally incoherent legal standard.”

“Science and common sense tell us children in the womb are as undeniably human as the rest of us,” remarked Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, an independent political advocacy group. “We know for instance that by 15 weeks they already have beating hearts, can suck their thumbs, and even feel pain.”

“It is time to overturn Roe and allow Americans to once again pass laws that reflect these basic values,” he said in a statement.

He added that “millions of faithful Catholics across the nation are hopeful after today’s oral arguments that the Supreme Court of the United States will restore sanity to its abortion jurisprudence which has enabled over 62 million American children to be aborted since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided.”

“Protecting innocent life is the preeminent moral issue for Catholics but it is also the condition of any just society, and abortion robs our most vulnerable citizens of that most basic human right,” Burch said.

Not all eyes on the court were in the nation’s capital.

In Illinois, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said the country has “the first real legal opportunity in over a decade to topple” Roe, which “has left a tragic trail of human carnage: more than 62 million dead children and countless broken families and wounded souls.”

He said the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, has assisted thousands of clients, including some of the nation’s leading pro-life figures, “all of whom have either spoken to the opportunity now facing the Supreme Court or are actively engaged in the cry to ‘Overturn Roe.'”

Louisiana Right to Life associate director Angie Thomas said that while no one can predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case on the basis of oral arguments, she was heartened that at least six of the nine justices asked questions that seemed to support Mississippi’s ban.

In a news conference outside the pro-life organization’s New Orleans headquarters, Thomas noted that Justice Brett Kavanaugh stressed the court should remain “scrupulously neutral” on issues “that are just this complicated and this divisive,” allowing those issues to be decided by individual states and their elected representatives.

In addition, Thomas said, Justice Samuel Alito interjected during the nearly two hours of oral arguments that the rights of the unborn child had to be considered along with the rights of the mother.

“Alito mentioned that the fetus has an interest in life, too, when the other side was talking about the women’s interest,” she said. “He mentioned how there are two interests there that actually are difficult to hold together.”

“These justices are really digging into the difficult issues of where there is an objective line of protection (for the unborn child) and how do you truly balance these interests, and should the court even be doing that?” Thomas said after the news conference. “It’s more important that the Supreme Court just remain neutral and allow the states to work this out.”

“New York is going to be very different than Louisiana, but it is the power of the people to make that decision,” she told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Thomas said advances in science have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt about the humanity of the unborn child from its earliest stages.

“At 15 weeks, the child is moving, the child has a beating heart and the child’s organs are formed,” she said.

“We have the chance to protect that child. … We could have a significant change in abortion law in America today,” Thomas added. “And, if that change happened, in Louisiana we are ready to be a post-Roe, abortion-free community where women are truly helped and babies are protected.”

A pro-life activist holding a crucifix joins a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Dec. 1, 2021, ahead of the court hearing oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – In the Supreme Court’s first major abortion case in decades – which looked at Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy – the majority of justices Dec. 1 seemed willing to let that ban stay in place.

But it was unclear if they would take this further and overturn Roe.

While the justices considered the state law and the possible ramifications of supporting it or not, people on both sides of the issue were on the steps of the Supreme Court revealing the divide on this issue by what they were shouting or with their placard messages calling abortion murder or an essential right.

At several points during the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts continued to bring the focus back to the question at hand: the 15-week ban on abortions in Mississippi, which was struck down by a federal District Court in Mississippi in 2018 and upheld a year later by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

A 15-week ban is not a “dramatic departure from viability,” Roberts said.

The point of viability – when a fetus is said to be able to survive on its own – was key to the discussion because the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before 24 weeks or when a fetus is said to be able to survive on its own.

Roberts seemed hesitant to take this further, asking if the court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, if it also would be asked to reconsider several other cases that people could say have been wrongly decided.

And that discussion of previous court decisions, the use of “stare decisis” came up frequently. The term, which literally means to stand by things decided, was used in reference to previous abortion cases but also several other cases with some justices pointing out that precedence should not always be a deciding factor and that some cases did need to be overturned.

Justice Stephen Breyer indicated the court was treading on contested ground and was concerned that its decision could be seen as merely being political.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor took this a step further, saying the court would be seen as highly politicized if it were to overturn Roe and other related rulings. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked. “I don’t see how it is possible.”

But as the arguments continued, more reflection seemed to be on the issue of abortion itself and the possibility of bringing the issue “back to the people,” as Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart suggested.

Stewart stressed that Roe and Casey court decisions  “haunt our country” and “have no home in our history or traditions.”

Roe v. Wade is the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Casey v. Planned Parenthood is the 1992 decision that affirmed Roe and also stressed that a state regulation on abortion could not impose an “undue burden” on a woman “seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh emphasized the court was being forced to “pick sides” on a contentious issue and questioned why the court had to be the arbiter here.

“The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice,” he said, noting that it “leaves the issue to the people to resolve in the democratic process.”

Justice Clarence Thomas asked what those opposed to the state ban thought was the constitutional right to an abortion, and Justice Samuel Alito spoke of the fetus having “an interest in having a life.”

Julie Rikelman, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who represented the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in its challenge of Mississippi’s abortion law, said keeping the law in place would cause “profound damage to women’s liberty, equality and the rule of law.”

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar went on to argue that overturning the court’s previous abortion rulings would have “severe and swift” effects causing abortion restrictions in other states.

If the court sides with Mississippi, it would be the first time the court would allow an abortion ban before the point of viability and could lay the groundwork for other abortion restrictions that other states could follow.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a court brief supporting Mississippi, stressed that abortion is not a right created by the Constitution and called it “inherently different from other types of personal decisions to which this court has accorded constitutional protection.”

Referring to the court’s major abortion decisions, the brief warned that if the Supreme Court “continues to treat abortion as a constitutional issue,” it will face more questions in the future about “what sorts of abortion regulations are permissible.”

Just as the arguments started, the USCCB issued a statement from Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, which said: “We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act.”

A ruling in the case is expected in July.