March for Life participants demonstrate near Union Station in Washington Jan. 29, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The 49th annual national March for Life — with a rally on the National Mall and march to the Supreme Court Jan. 21 – will go on as scheduled this year amid a surge in the omicron variant in the nation’s capital.

Outdoor events are not affected by the District of Columbia’s vaccine mandate for indoor gatherings, but participants should expect to wear face masks. Indoor events associated with the annual march will have to comply with city COVID-19 restrictions.

The national Pro-Life Summit, sponsored by Students for Life, is also scheduled to take place Jan. 22 at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel. The event will feature former Vice President Mike Pence as its keynote speaker. Pence has been a frequent March for Life speaker, and in 2020 he introduced President Donald Trump at the event’s rally.

The March for Life has canceled its three-day Pro-Life Expo and is combining two planned Capitol Hill 101 panel discussions Jan. 20 into a single event. The organization is still holding its annual Rose Dinner Gala.

Participants who are 12 and older attending the panel discussion or dinner will have to provide proof of receiving one COVID-19 vaccination by Jan. 15, or, if they are seeking a medical or religious exemption, they must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of the event.

The Pro-Life summit is also requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination following the city’s regulations. The summit, which in previous years has drawn more than 2,000 high school and college students, notes on its website that it is accepting vaccine exemptions “for a strongly (or sincerely) held religious belief … in writing or orally” and it is also requiring masks at all events.

March for Life never projects attendance figures, but an informal survey by Catholic News Service of a few groups planning to attend this year’s march indicates that the turnout may approach pre-pandemic levels.

Last year’s march was turned into a virtual event due to the pandemic and the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Only an invited group of 80, joined midway by more than 100 others, marched from the nearby Museum of the Bible to just behind the Supreme Court. It was the first outdoor event in Washington since the Capitol violence, with both the Capitol and Supreme Court surrounded by high fences.

In previous years, total attendance for the rally and march up Constitution Avenue was estimated to be as high as 100,000.

“We have nearly 250 students and faculty headed to D.C.,” said Ed Konieczka, assistant director of university ministry at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. “That is five full buses – our largest contingent since leading the march in 2017.”

A similar number was estimated by organizers of the bus caravan for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

However, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, decided in December 2021 that the COVID-19 risk was too high to sponsor a bus caravan.

Bevin Kennedy, diocesan secretary for communications, cited “the difficulty of monitoring and mitigating the COVID risk with a group of over 100 participants.”

The march is held annually on a date nearest the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.

The first march was held Jan. 22, 1974, organized by Nellie Gray, a government lawyer, and the Knights of Columbus. The idea was to form a “circle of life” around the Capitol and the Supreme Court. Jeanne Mancini assumed leadership of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund after Gray died in 2012.

This year’s theme is “Equality Begins in the Womb.” The rally is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with a performance by singer Matthew West. The march starts at 1:15 p.m. after the political speeches are completed.

There is considerable anticipation that this year’s march could be the last one with the Roe decision hanging in the balance.

Later this year, the Supreme Court will announce its decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal by Mississippi to remove a lower court’s injunction on its law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

If the court rules in favor of the state law, it will effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and send abortion laws back to the states.

Msgr. Salvatore A. Criscuolo is seen in this undated photo. The retired priest was former pastor of St. Patrick Church in Washington and has been a chaplain to the Metropolitan Police Department for 36 years. (CNS photo/courtesy Metropolitan Police Department) 

A year since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Msgr. Salvatore A. Criscuolo continues to see the physical pain and mental stress among officers of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

A volunteer chaplain serving the department for 36 years, Msgr. Criscuolo, 72, regularly hits the streets, where he hears from officers who continue to struggle having fought with fellow Americans bent on blocking the peaceful transition of the presidency.

“Many officers are still not able to get back to work,” he told Catholic News Service.

Every chance he gets, Msgr. Criscuolo takes to the streets to talk with officers. At times he’ll ride a police motorcycle. Most of the time he seeks out officers on the beat to see how they are doing, whether they were involved in the Capitol riot or not. They talk about family, their careers and their daily struggles.

Msgr. Criscuolo said he was shaken by the violence as well.

He recalled being with officers on Pennsylvania Avenue when demonstrators, largely supporters of former President Donald Trump, passed by.

“Then everything broke loose,” he said.

The priest told the officers he wanted to join them at the Capitol. But they told him to return to his residence at nearby St. Patrick Church, where he retired as pastor in 2019, so he would be safe.

At the church, about a mile and a half from the Capitol, Msgr. Criscuolo turned on his police scanner. “You could hear the intensity and the fear of the officers that day,” he said.

The priest called the events of the day “frightening.”

“Unless you were there and unless you know them (the officers), you can’t imagine what they experienced. It was a six-hour battle. It was a war against other Americans, which is even more frightening.”

The next morning, Msgr. Criscuolo returned to the streets to be with the officers. He met with those who were on duty, working 12- to 16-hour shifts.

“I went out there to talk with them to see how they were doing, to listen to their stories. They were beaten up. More so emotionally, just beaten up. A couple of them actually went to confession the day after, which is not unusual after an event like this,” he said.

In the year since the violence that postponed, but did not derail, congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election as the country’s second Catholic president, Msgr. Criscuolo said he has seen a deeper resolve among police officers to put their lives on the line to preserve democracy.

“I’ll be out there tomorrow (Jan. 6),” he said. “I’ll go the various districts. I’ll go to talk.”

Meanwhile, the pastor of St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill told CNS Jan. 5 that he did not foresee a return of violence on the one-year anniversary of the insurrection.

Father William Gurnee, a former congressional staff member, said the events of that day were disconcerting. The parish is just three blocks northeast of the Capitol.

“We’re a town used to protests, used to marches, so it doesn’t faze us. But the mood of the country was somewhat on edge and that was reflected on Capitol Hill,” he said.

The parish always has welcomed congressional staffers — holding different political philosophies — to Mass. Politics has never interfered in the ministries of the parish, Father Gurnee said.

“We have Democrats. We have Republicans. We have independents. Everybody is welcome at St. Joseph’s. We’re neighbors,” he said.

Despite holding such sentiments, Father Gurnee said he has noticed a gradual decline in the sense of community in the neighborhood. He is seeing fewer people relocating their families, leading to few encounters outside of the parish — such as at schools where kids would be enrolled or at a local grocery store.

“They’re not having the opportunity to know each other as people,” he said.

In response, Father Gurnee tries to connect newcomers in other ways. When someone comes to Mass and introduces himself or herself, he will point out others in a similar situation. “It’s one of my big jobs particularly,” he said.

More importantly, he said, is keeping the focus on Jesus and letting people know he and the parish at large are there to support them.

“As a former congressional staffer, I was taught that these members of Congress have so many people in their face asking for stuff,” Father Gurnee said. “I make it very clear that I’m here to serve them, not to ask for something.”

Elsewhere, Franciscan Action Network and Faithful Democracy were hosting an online interfaith prayer service the evening of Jan. 5 to mark the anniversary of events at the Capitol.

Patrick Carolan, Catholic outreach director for Vote Common Good, said the prayer service will allow participants the opportunity to consider their role in responding to the violence and how they may feel called to move forward. Participants also will be invited to fast on Jan. 6.

In a post on Franciscan Action Network’s “Acting Franciscan” blog, Carolan and Brian McLaren, a Protestant theologian, author and social justice activist, called on people of faith, and ministers in particular, to end their support of efforts to thwart democracy and discontinue espousing the falsehood that Trump actually won the presidency in 2020.

“Every bishop, priest, and minister who is not part of the problem needs to become part of the solution by speaking out with conviction against current attempts to sabotage our elections and destroy our democracy,” they wrote. “And the rest of us need to join our voices with theirs and come together to heal a divided nation as we hold accountable those who continue efforts to destroy it.”

They invited people to spend Jan. 6 registering voters and to join one of the many candlelight vigils nationwide that will serve to send “a unified demand to Congress” to enact stronger voting rights and democracy protections in federal law.

EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) — The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg is launching a series of initiatives to expand awareness of first U.S.-born saint, it announced Jan. 4, on the saint’s feast day.

The initiatives build on the momentum of a yearlong commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the saint’s death.

“Underlying all that we do at the shrine is the strong belief that Mother Seton does not belong to the past. She belongs to all of us today and all those in the future who seek greater meaning in their lives and a friend in heaven,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the shrine.

The first essay by Catholic poet Paul Mariani describes the sensations of a concerto and the profound feelings it elicits through the eyes of Thomas Merton and Mother Seton.

Other essays will highlight the poet and Catholic convert Denise Levertov and former actress Mother Dolores Hart.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley, the future Mother Seton and future saint, was 19 when she married William Magee Seton, 25, a scion of a wealthy New York family and a prosperous young businessman. The couple had five children. William died in 1803 in Italy, and two years later Elizabeth became a Catholic. In 1809, she founded the U.S. Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Md. (CNS photo/The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)

It will also resume its Seeds of Hope retreats and will add a prepared home retreat based on St. Elizabeth Seton’s writings. The in-person retreat program is described as the only one in the U.S. geared primarily to those on the margins of society.

The at-home retreat, scheduled to begin during the Easter season, is particularly aimed to those struggling with anxiety as a means to build faith and resiliency in a time of uncertainty.

The shrine has developed an email prayer program called: “Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton” using the writings of Mother Seton to help readers integrate themes of the saint’s faith into daily life. The program’s website page can be found here:

The shrine also plans to break ground this summer on its work of a fully renovated and expanded museum and visitor center highlighting the life and legacy of Mother Seton and the sisters who took her message to the world. Funds for this effort are from the shrine’s capital campaign that is close to reaching its $7 million goal.

Information about the initiatives can be found at

Also on Jan. 4, the shrine also released its latest video in the “Seeker to Saint” series, which tells the unique American story of St. Elizabeth Seton. The newest video, “Finding Mary,” shows how the saint’s devotion to Mary developed and then helped her through many trials.


January 3, 2022

His Excellency, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, announces the following appointments:

Clergy Assignments:

 Rev. Brian J.W. Clarke, to Administrator pro tem, Holy Rosary Parish, Hazleton, and Holy Name of Jesus, West Hazleton, effective immediately until February 1, 2022.  Father Clarke will continue to serve as Pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish, Cresco.

 Rev. Kenneth M. Seegar, from Pastor, Saint Andre Bessette Parish, Wilkes-Barre, to Pastor, Holy Rosary Parish, Hazleton, and Holy Name of Jesus Parish, West Hazleton, effective February 1, 2022.

Rev. Seth D. Wasnock, to Administrator, pro tem, Saint Andre Bessette Parish, Wilkes Barre, effective February 1, 2022.  Father Wasnock will continue to serve as Pastor, Saint Maria Goretti Parish, Laflin,

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass marking the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 1, 2022. In the foreground are young people dressed as the Magi. (CNS photo/Romano Siciliani, pool)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As Catholics begin a new year contemplating the motherhood of Mary, they should be inspired not to let problems weaken their faith or prevent them from helping others grow, Pope Francis said.

“In her heart, in her prayer,” he said, Mary “binds together the beautiful things and the unpleasant things,” and learns to discern God’s plan in them.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass Jan. 1, the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, in St. Peter’s Basilica and then led the recitation of the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square with thousands of people, including dozens who held signs with the names of countries at war.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis pleaded for an end to violence against women.

“Enough,” he said. “To hurt a woman is to insult God, who from a woman took on our humanity.”

And, in his Angelus address, Pope Francis insisted peace is a gift from God that requires human action.

“We can truly build peace only if we have peace in our hearts, only if we receive it from the prince of peace,” he said. “But peace is also our commitment: it asks us to take the first step, it demands concrete actions. It is built by being attentive to the least, by promoting justice, with the courage to forgive, thus extinguishing the fire of hatred.”

Peace also requires “a positive outlook as well, one that always sees, in the church as well as in society, not the evil that divides us, but the good that unites us,” the pope said. “Getting depressed or complaining is useless. We need to roll up our sleeves to build peace.”

Pope Francis said he could not look at Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms without thinking of “young mothers and their children fleeing wars and famine or waiting in refugee camps. And there are many of them.”

“Contemplating Mary who lays Jesus in the manger, making him available to everyone, let’s remember that the world can change, and everyone’s life can improve only if we make ourselves available to others, without expecting them to begin,” he said. “If we become artisans of fraternity, we will be able to mend the threads of a world torn apart by war and violence.”

In his homily earlier at the Mass, Pope Francis asked people to consider what it must have been like for Mary, who had been told by the angel that her son would be great, to give birth in an animals’ stall and to lay her baby in a manger instead of a cradle.

“His poverty is good news for everyone, especially the marginalized, the rejected and those who do not count in the eyes of the world,” the pope said. “For that is how God comes: not on a fast track and lacking even a cradle! That is what is beautiful about seeing him there, laid in a manger.”

But for Mary, a mother, it must have been painful to see her son in such poverty, the pope said.

Pope Francis contrasted the amazement and enthusiasm of the shepherds with the quiet, pensive reaction of Mary.

“The shepherds tell everyone about what they had seen,” he said. “The story told by the shepherds, and their own amazement, remind us of the beginnings of faith, when everything seems easy and straightforward.”

“Mary’s pensiveness, on the other hand, is the expression of a mature, adult faith,” he said. Hers is “not a newborn faith, but a faith that now gives birth. For spiritual fruitfulness is born of trials and testing.”

Mary “gives God to the world” in a dark stable in Bethlehem, he said. “Others, before the scandal of the manger, might feel deeply troubled. She does not: she keeps those things, pondering them in her heart.”

And through faith, he said, “in her mother’s heart, Mary comes to realize that the glory of the Most High appears in humility; she welcomes the plan of salvation whereby God must lie in a manger. She sees the divine child frail and shivering, and she accepts the wondrous divine interplay between grandeur and littleness.”

Mary, like most mothers, knew how “to hold together the various threads of life,” the glorious and the worrisome, the pope said. “We need such people, capable of weaving the threads of communion in place of the barbed wire of conflict and division.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said the church itself is “mother and woman,” and while women could and should have greater positions in the church, they are “secondary” to the role all Catholic women have of giving life, including figuratively, and in combining “dreams and aspirations with concrete reality, without drifting into abstraction and sterile pragmatism.”

“At the beginning of the New Year,” he said, “let us place ourselves under the protection of this woman, the mother of God, who is also our mother. May she help us to keep and ponder all things, unafraid of trials and with the joyful certainty that the Lord is faithful and can transform every cross into a resurrection.”