HAZLETON (Jan. 30, 2023) – After serving the Annunciation Parish community in Hazleton for nearly 14 years, the Oblates of St. Joseph have announced their intention to return the administration of the parish back to the Diocese of Scranton on June 30, 2023.

The announcement was shared with parishioners of Annunciation Parish during all Masses on the weekend of Jan. 28 & 29, 2023, in a letter from Fr. Matthew Spencer, O.S.J., Provincial, Oblates of St. Joseph (Holy Spouses Province).

“It is never easy for us as Oblates to make such a significant decision. When we agree to work at a parish, we do so knowing that we will invariably form friendships with the faithful and become part of the parish family itself,” Fr. Spencer wrote in his letter. “I wish we had more vocations and more active priests to assign, in order to maintain all of our ministries in our Province, but instead we find ourselves having to accept what Divine Providence allows us to do with the limited personnel we have.”

There are currently two Oblate priests – Fr. Mariusz Beczek and Fr. Victor Leon – serving Annunciation Parish. After the transition on June 30, they will assume Oblate assignments elsewhere.

In a separate letter accompanying the Oblates announcement, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, thanked the Oblates for the leadership of the Annunciation Parish community over the last 14 years. Bishop Bambera said the Oblates announcement means a new pastor will be named for Annunciation Parish this summer.

“Be assured that parish life and all the ministries of your parish serving both the Anglo and Hispanic communities will continue,” Bishop Bambera explained. “The Diocese will follow its normal protocol for pastoral vacancies to find and announce a new pastor of Annunciation Parish once the standard discernment process takes place.”

While the Oblates will be leaving Annunciation Parish in Hazleton, their service to the Diocese of Scranton will continue and be centered at their religious house in Pittston. The change will allow the Oblates to better live out a unique element of their vocation – which involves living together in a community (of at least three confreres) in order to support each other, challenge each other and give witness to the gospel by their way of life.

“The world needs good examples of families in our day, and our commitment as Oblates today is not only to preach this from the pulpit, but above all to witness to this in our daily life as Oblates in community,” Fr. Spencer added.

In ending his letter to the faithful of Annunciation Parish, Bishop Bambera said change is never easy but pointed to the words of Saint Joseph Marello, founder of the Congregation of the Oblates of St. Joseph, as a reason for hope. He said, “He who is worried and full of anxiety in his work does an offense to God and does not say the Our Father from the heart. Let us accept purely and simply whatever God sends us, without being concerned or sad.”

Read Fr. Spencer’s Letter to the Parishioners of Annunciation Parish (English) 

Read Fr. Spencer’s Letter to the Parishioners of Annunciation Parish (Spanish) 

Read Bishop Bambera’s Letter to the Parishioners of Annunciation Parish (English)

Read Bishop Bambera’s Letter to the Parishioners of Annunciation Parish (Spanish)

KRAKOW, Poland (OSV News) – Urszula Niemczak keeps a regular schedule. At least twice a week she carefully checks whether winter decorations or fresh flowers growing in the summer on a historical gravesite of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their children look good and are well watered. She and her granddaughters take care of the grave in Markowa, in southeastern Poland.

Niemczak’s husband is Wiktoria Ulma’s nephew.

“How could I not come here and take care of that grave?” Niemczak told OSV News. “This is my obligation to this family that I entered, to the sacrifice the Ulmas made for all of us.”

Józef and Wiktoria Ulma secretly gave shelter to eight Jews for almost two years in German-occupied Poland, hiding them from the Nazi regime during the Second World War. The Ulmas had seven children, including the unborn child in Wiktoria’s womb.

The Nazis, informed by a local policeman that Jews were being hidden in the household, came early in the morning March 24, 1944, right before Easter.

First, they killed all eight of the Jewish fugitives. Then they shot Wiktoria and Józef.

“Kids were watching as their parents and the Jewish people they cared for were being shot,” Mateusz Szpytma, vice president of Polish Institute of National Remembrance, told OSV News. He added that “after a short discussion among themselves,” the Nazi officers decided to shoot the children too.

The Vatican confirmed the martyrdom of the Ulma family, including their unborn child, on Dec. 17, 2022, clearing the way for all nine members of the Ulma family to be beatified. For the first time in history, an unborn child is on the path to sainthood.

“They were good people. The local community loved them very much,” Szpytma told OSV News of Józef and Wiktoria, who were local farmers in Markowa. “Józef was someone who would also bring new ideas to the local community, he would build the first wind-driven power station in the village and was the first one to have electricity in their house,” he added.

“He would have a collection of books that he would hand to other people to read, acting almost as a local librarian, he had two modern cameras with which he would take pictures of his family and local community,” Szpytma said.

Their family life was documented in a number of photographs taken by Józef. At the time of their death in 1944, the oldest, Stasia (Stanislawa) was 8; Barbara, 7; Wladyslaw, 6; Franciszek, 4; Antoni, 3; and Maria, under 2.

In 2016, the Museum of the Ulma Family, dedicated to the Poles who hid and protected Jews during the Nazi occupation, was opened in Markowa. Józef’s pictures are one of the most valuable parts of the exhibition.

“The remarkable family memorabilia is the Bible, opened to the parable of the good Samaritan,” Szpytma told OSV News. The museum also keeps Stasia’s blood-stained school notebook.

Szpytma was a founder of the museum and is himself a descendent of the Ulma family. He also was the one that discovered their story for the world.

“It was an obligation I had as a historian and as a family member — my grandmother was Wiktoria’s sister,” he said, adding that God helped him along the way to tell the story of the Polish martyrs.

In 1995, Israel gave the Ulmas the title of Righteous Among Nations, an honorific used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. Their sainthood cause was begun in 2003. In the case of martyrs, the typical requirement of a miracle prior to beatification is waived, though one is required for canonization. Sources told OSV News their beatification will likely take place in the fall.

Regarding their recognition as martyrs, “There was a question about the child not being baptized but the notion throughout the process was that the little one was baptized not by water, but by blood,” Szpytma told OSV News. Sources in the village confirmed to historians that Wiktoria started to give birth to the seventh child upon her death.

“The land of the Ulmas has always been convinced that they are contemporary saints,” Niemczak told OSV News.

Poland was the only country in occupied Europe during the Second World War where the death penalty was imposed on anyone that decided to give shelter or in any way help Jews survive.

Six million Jews were exterminated by the German Nazi regime between 1939-45. Half of them died on the German-occupied Polish territory.

Despite the risk of the death penalty, an estimated 300,000 Polish people hid and helped Jews in their homes. Over 6,600 Poles hold the title of Righteous Among Nations. Around 1,000 Poles, including women and children, were executed for hiding and helping Jews.

There were 120 Jews in Markowa before the war. Twenty percent of the Jewish population of the town survived the war thanks to their mostly Catholic Polish neighbors. Twenty-nine Jews were helped and hidden by the inhabitants of the village; 21 of them survived.

The Szylar family were Ulma’s neighbors in Markowa. They hid the Weltz family, whose descendants still live in Brooklyn, New York, where they moved after the war.

Speaking to a group of students from Krakow, Eugeniusz Szylar said in 2016 that his father would repeat to the kids: “With God’s help, we will survive this.”

Szylar was 12 when the Ulmas were murdered. Szylar’s parents hid seven Jews for 18 months. Both families survived. He remembers the day the Ulmas were killed as the worst in his life.

“The Ulmas live in the dramatic time of history and they could be patron saints for people in such times, but also of big families,” Szpytma told OSV News.

“I’m proud of my teenage granddaughters. They come here willingly to help make the Ulma grave pretty,” she said.

“It’s important next generations remember about the Ulma family sacrifice, about Jews killed with them, so that we never forget that they all died because of lack of love in the hearts of the murderers.”

(OSV News) – A Catholic pro-life advocate is on trial for allegedly violating a federal law that protects access to abortion clinics, and the lead lawyer defending him said the charges against his client are being pursued “solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans.”

Mark Houck, known for his sidewalk counseling outside a Philadelphia abortion facility, is being tried in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on two charges under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, for allegedly assaulting an abortion clinic volunteer in October 2021.

The 1994 law prohibits intentional property damage of a facility that provides “reproductive health services,” including those related to abortion, and prohibits using “force or threat of force or … physical obstruction” to “injure, intimidate or interfere with” someone entering an abortion clinic.

Mark Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men, a Catholic lay apostolate, is seen at St. Joseph Church in Downington, Pa., April 30, 2017. A federal trial opened Jan. 24, 2023, for Houck, a prominent Catholic pro-life activist arrested by FBI at his home last September, known for his sidewalk counseling outside a Philadelphia abortion facility. Houck was arrested for allegedly assaulting an abortion clinic volunteer in violation of the federal FACE Act. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com)

“The Biden administration has filed two brazenly defective and discriminatory charges” against Houck, “and both should be dismissed,” said Peter Breen, executive vice president and head of litigation at the Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, public interest law firm based in Chicago.

Houck is co-founder and president of The King’s Men, a lay apostolate for men principally based in the U.S. He is being represented by Breen before District Judge Gerald J. Pappert.

The trial began the morning of Jan. 24 with jury selection. The swearing-in of jurors took place early Jan. 25, with the trial proceedings going into the afternoon. Pappert said he expected the testimony – and possibly the closing arguments as well – to be finished by the end of the day Jan. 26.

The charges against Houck stem from two separate incidents Oct. 13, 2021, where Houck allegedly assaulted the victim, identified in the indictment as “B.L.,” because B.L. was a volunteer escort at the reproductive health care clinic.

If convicted of the offenses, Houck faces up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of up to $350,000.

“Both counts allege that Mark Houck interfered with a so-called volunteer abortion patient escort, when in reality, Houck had a one-off altercation with a man who harassed Houck’s minor son, approximately 100 feet from the abortion business and across the street,” Breen said in a statement.

In a pretrial hearing Jan. 17, Breen also presented the court with evidence he said shows the FACE Act “was never intended to cover disputes between advocates on the public sidewalks outside of our nation’s abortion clinics.”

Breen entered into evidence the transcript of what he described as a “key exchange” between Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., over a bipartisan amendment they negotiated “to strip clinic escorts of the right to bring lawsuits under the FACE Act.”

In the May 1994 transcript as documented in the Congressional Record, Durenberger and Kennedy agreed that the definition of the “aggrieved person” protected by the law includes “all patients, providers and facilities that provide reproductive health services,” and excludes those who escort women seeking an abortion or other services at these clinics.

“Demonstrators, clinic defenders, escorts and other persons not involved in obtaining or providing services in the facility may not bring such a cause of action,” said Kennedy.

“This new evidence shows clearly that Congress intended to limit the FACE Act to patients and staff working in the clinic, and not to take sides between pro-life and pro-choice counselors and escorts on the sidewalk,” Breen said in a statement.

“The Biden Department of Justice’s prosecution of Mark Houck is pure harassment, meant solely to intimidate our nation’s pro-life sidewalk counselors who provide vital resources to help pregnant women at risk for abortion,” he added.

Houck’s arrest related to his sidewalk counseling Oct. 13 outside Philadelphia’s Planned Parenthood-Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center. According to a fundraising page for the Houck family, a volunteer “patient escort” began harassing Mark Houck’s son who was with Mark praying. Houck and his son then “walked down the street away from the entrance to the building.” However, the “escort followed them, and when he continued yelling at Mark’s son, Mark pushed him away.”

Philadelphia police records show officers responded to a report of assault at the Planned Parenthood facility.

The clinic volunteer, Bruce Love, was “pushed to the ground … causing a scrape to his right arm,” the police report said. News reports said later that police eventually decided there was a “lack of evidence” that an assault took place “and declined to pursue the issue any further.”

Love filed a criminal complaint against Mark Houck last year, but according to various reports, the case was dismissed because Love himself never showed up.

Early in the morning Sept. 23, 2022, Houck was arrested at his home in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for the alleged assault on the abortion clinic volunteer. He was indicted later that day on two charges under the FACE Act.

The arrest made headlines after Ryan-Marie Houck, Mark Houck’s wife, told reporters that 25 to 30 armed FBI agents, who she said included SWAT members, entered the family’s home at 7:05 a.m. pointing rifles at her and her husband as the couple’s seven children began screaming. They then arrested her husband, she said.

The FBI’s Philadelphia office issued a statement shortly after the arrest saying that claims about SWAT team members being involved in the arrest were inaccurate. “FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” it read.

“This is a great man facing a trumped-up and false charge that, if convicted, could land him in prison for eleven years. That is totally unacceptable,” Tom Stevens, president and CEO of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, said in a Jan. 24 text message to OSV News. “The Pro-Life Union stands behind Mark and his family and we hope to see quick and reasonable justice here. We will not be bullied by these scare tactics.”

Ashley Garecht, vice chair of the Pro-Life Union, said in a phone interview that there has been an “egregious over-prosecution” of Houck.

“We know Mark; we’ve been praying at gatherings at that Planned Parenthood for 20 years,” she told OSV News. “He knows the rules inside and out. He’s somebody we point to when we’re training new (sidewalk) counselors, because he does it so well; he handles this incredibly intense space so well.”

SCRANTON – The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will celebrate Mass for the 31st World Day of the Sick on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, at 12:10 p.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

The commemoration of the World Day of the Sick not only provides an opportunity to devote special attention to those who are ill, but is also a celebration of God’s works of mercy, especially through those who work tirelessly in the healthcare field.

The World Day of the Sick Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter will feature the Liturgy of the Anointing. Any infirmed person who wishes to receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick will be invited to approach the bishop/priest with their hands open and palms facing up. The bishop/priest will anoint both the forehead and hands of the sick person.

CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton will provide a live broadcast of the Mass. It will also be livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website and YouTube channel and links for the Mass will be provided on all Diocesan social media platforms.

All faithful are invited to participate in the Mass for the World Day of the Sick.

In his message for the World Day of the Sick in 2023, Pope Francis said the Church’s mission is seen in its care for the sick.

The care of those who are ill shows “whether we are truly companions on the journey or merely individuals on the same path, looking after our own interests and leaving others to ‘make do,’” the pope said.

Pope Francis added people need the love and support of others as they age and especially when they are ill.

“The plight of the sick is a call that cuts through indifference and slows the pace of those who go on their way as if they had no sisters and brothers,” Pope Francis explained. He added those who are sick “are at the center of God’s people, and the church advances together with them as a sign of humanity in which everyone is precious and no one should be discarded or left behind.”


SCRANTON – National Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated across the country Jan. 29 -Feb. 4 this year with the theme: “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.

All 19 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton will observe the annual weeklong celebration with Masses, various activities for students and families, and service projects for parishioners and community members.

Several Diocesan schools will kick-off National Catholic Schools Week by holding open houses on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. Others will hold open houses in March or are encouraging private tours. The full schedule of open houses is included in the table at the bottom of this page.

The goal of National Catholic Schools Week is to highlight the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to Church, local communities and the nation.

“Catholic schools continue to have a tremendously positive impact on our students’ growth academically, spiritually, and socially, as well as a strong and lasting presence in our communities through service and prayer,” Kristen Donohue, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said.

There are currently 4,420 students enrolled in the Diocese’s four high schools or 15 elementary schools.

Catholic schools provide a well-rounded education, offering an enriching curriculum that includes the arts, foreign languages, physical education and the latest computer technology to complement the core subjects of religion, math, language arts, social studies and science. Students attending Catholic School are prepared for success in college, trade school, military life, or wherever life takes them after graduation.

Nearly 1.8 million students are currently educated in 6,352 Catholic schools in the United States. Since 1974, National Catholic Schools Week has been the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States, sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association and the USCCB’s Secretariat of Catholic Education.

For more information about the 19 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton, please visit: dioceseofscranton.org/find-a-school


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As war ravages Ukraine, the country cannot be divided among religious confessions but must be united behind “mother Ukraine,” Pope Francis said.

“Jewish Ukraine, Christian Ukraine, Orthodox Ukraine” are not as important as Ukraine as a whole, the pope told members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions during a meeting at the Vatican Jan. 25.

“I thank you for your unity, for me this is a great thing, like the children of a family” that are dispersed, “but when the mother is ill, they are all together,” he told them. “It is an example in the face of so much superficiality that we see in our culture today.”

Bishop Markos Hovhannisyan, primate of the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Ukraine, speaks during a meeting with Pope Francis and members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions at the Vatican Jan. 25, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The delegation, composed of leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, was in Rome Jan. 24-26. In addition to their audience with the pope, they met with officials from the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue and the Dicastery for Communication. Representatives from the council also were scheduled to join Pope Francis at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls for vespers to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

After apologizing for being a “slave to time” and needing to get to his weekly general audience, Pope Francis put aside his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff to the religious leaders, expressing his closeness to those working for peace in Ukraine.

“I am close to you and I regularly receive envoys from President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy,” the pope said. “I am in dialogue with representatives of the Ukrainian people, and this leads me to hear you and pray.”

The pope also shared how at 11 years old he learned to serve the Byzantine-rite liturgy from a Ukrainian priest in Argentina. “From that moment my sympathy for Ukraine has grown,” he said.

The delegation included Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church; Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Latin-rite Archdiocese of Lviv; representatives of the country’s Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Lutheran churches; leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish and Muslim communities; and representatives of the Bible Society, which is interdenominational.

(OSV News) – During the six months following the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launch in July, more than 2 million calls, texts and chat messages have streamed into its 200 call centers coast-to-coast, the Associated Press recently reported. As suicide continues to be a leading cause of American deaths, Catholics may also turn to their church for spiritual support in the midst of a mental health episode — but dioceses are discovering they need to sprint to catch up and keep pace with this deadly epidemic.

“This is a brand new ministry in the church,” Deacon Ed Shoener, president and founding member of The Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, told OSV News. “And I think it’s growing fairly rapidly for a new ministry like this, in a very ancient institution.”

A suicide prevention sign is pictured on a protective fence on the walkway of the George Washington Bridge between in New York City Jan.12, 2022. The suicide epidemic in the U.S. is costing lives, and Catholic dioceses and ministries are racing to get in place much needed accompaniment for those crying for mental health help. (OSV News photo/Mike Segar, Reuters)

While some dioceses have staff therapists and counselors that are mental health professionals, through organizations such as Catholic Charities or Catholic Social Services, Deacon Shoener categorized those services as “professional mental health care” as opposed to “mental health ministry.”

An essential distinction, according to The Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, is that mental health ministry is not the same as mental health treatment, but it is complementary to the work of mental health professionals. Ministry takes the form of faith-based, God-centered and trained volunteer-led journeying with those experiencing mental wellbeing challenges, “without direct implementation of psychological interventions.”

Mental health ministry is spiritual and social support – not medical diagnosis or care – for those suffering in their mental health. And it’s a field that’s growing.

“I would say about 40 dioceses or so across the U.S. have some level of mental health ministry,” Deacon Shoener said, adding these efforts are generally “either being organized at a diocesan level out of one of the offices of the chancery, or a couple of parishes on their own have started to offer a mental health ministry.”

There are 194 territorial dioceses and archdioceses in the U.S., not including the Archdiocese for Military Services USA and the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The need for mental health ministry is acute. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was responsible for nearly 46,000 American deaths — one about every 11 minutes — in 2020. Another 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.2 million attempted suicide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, while 17% of youth (6-17 years) annually experience a mental health disorder.

“Mental health in the church: It’s not a problem of supply, it’s a problem of demand,” said Wendell Callahan, the executive director of the Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry at the University of San Diego, which the university established after receiving a 2019 grant. “You have many, many people in the pews sitting there dealing with mental health issues,” Callahan shared, “and not coming forward seeking help.”

Callahan told OSV News he believes stigma and shame explain people’s unwillingness to ask for help.

“Nobody has any concerns asking for prayers — or even individual accompaniment — dealing with a cancer diagnosis, for example,” he said. “But if it’s schizophrenia, or major depression, or PTSD, then the stigma pops up. And the shame around that. And that’s what we really need to work on — reducing that.”

As “Hope and Healing,” a 2018 pastoral letter from the Catholic bishops of California, observes, “Christian faith and religious practice do not immunize a person against mental illness.”

Seeking to address an evident need in the church, USD’s Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry launched a pilot program — now almost complete — of three-year start-up grants to support the implementation of mental health ministries in selected dioceses.

The response at the time was something less — a lot less — than what Callahan had hoped.

“There was generally very little interest in this,” he remembered. “We sent the call for proposals out to every diocese; every bishop in the country … multiple times. And we had a total of, I think, 12 responses.”

Callahan said he understands the church is also grappling with other issues of human suffering, such as poverty. “But this can be as crippling. And certainly, it can hinder a person’s everyday functioning, and indeed be fatal.”

Ultimately — through the USD grants — mental health ministry pilot programs were introduced in the archdioceses of Hartford and San Francisco, and in the dioceses of Orange, Rapid City and San Jose.

“Our bishop — Bishop Kevin Vann — has been a strong supporter and proponent for mental health ministry for many years,” said Linda Ji, director of the Office for Family Life in Orange, California. Bishop Vann was also instrumental in the drafting of “Hope and Healing.”

Following the 2013 suicide death of Protestant pastor Rick Warren’s son, Bishop Vann partnered with Warren, whose Saddleback Church is also based in Orange County, to twice host a “mental health and the church” conference. Awareness and commitment rose, but the diocese’s mental health ministry was still in its nascent stages. The USD start-up grant offered much-needed capacity-building resources. “It only made sense that we go for it,” Ji said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted initial expansion plans, roughly a quarter of the Orange diocese’s almost 60 parishes now have a mental health ministry. “It’s a part of our answer to the command to ‘Love one another as I have loved you,'” Ji said, referring to John 13:34.

Another source of inspiration can be found in the Diocese of San Diego, now regarded as a pioneer in mental health ministry programs. The present ministry launched in 2018 at the request of then-Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan. Still, Deacon Bill Adsit, mental health ministry coordinator in the diocese’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality, admitted he and his colleagues felt daunted by the task at the outset. However, today, almost 20 San Diego parishes either have mental health ministries or are working toward that goal. The diocese also celebrates annual Masses for suicide awareness and mental health awareness.

Bishop Dolan, now bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, himself lost three siblings and a brother-in-law to suicide, and ministered to family members who attempted it. He and Deacon Shoener are co-editors of “When a Loved One Dies by Suicide,” which has a complementary film series, and “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders” — both published by Ave Maria Press in 2020.

Addressing a 2022 mental health ministry conference in Los Altos, California, Bishop Dolan reminded his hearers that, “Our sisters and brothers coping with mental illness are sitting next to us in the pews during Mass as well as sleeping in the church parking lot at night. … As Catholics, we are called to reach out and embrace all of our brothers and sisters suffering from illnesses, and we need not treat mental illness as different from any other medical condition.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Lengthy, abstract homilies are “a disaster,” so preaching should be limited to 10 minutes, Pope Francis said.

Speaking off the cuff to diocesan liturgical directors Jan. 20, the pope said homilies are not academic conferences. “I sometimes hear people say, ‘I went to this parish, and yes it was a good philosophy lesson, 40, 45 minutes,'” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged priests to keep their homilies to “no more than eight to 10 minutes” and always include in them “a thought, a feeling and an image,” so that “the people may bring something home with them.”

Homilies are “sacramentals” to be “prepared in prayer” and “with an apostolic spirit,” he said.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with diocesan liturgy directors during an audience at the Vatican Jan. 20, 2023. Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is seen to the left of the pope. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

But, in the Catholic Church, he said, “in general, the homilies are a disaster.”

The liturgical directors were in Rome to participate in a formation course on liturgy, “Living Liturgical Action Fully,” at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy.

Pope Francis also warned against the liturgical master of ceremonies assuming too central a role during Mass. “The more hidden a master of ceremonies is, the better,” he said. “It is Christ that makes the heart vibrate, it is the meeting with him that draws in the spirit.”

Beyond a “deep knowledge” of religious celebrations, the pope said that experts on liturgy must have a strong pastoral sense to improve a community’s liturgical life, and that religious celebrations must foster the “fruitful participation of the people of God” and not just of the clergy.

A pastoral approach to the liturgy allows religious celebrations to “lead the people to Christ, and Christ to the people,” which the pope said is the “principal objective” of liturgy and an essential principle of the Second Vatican Council.

“If we neglect this, we will have beautiful rituals, but without vigor, without flavor, without sense, because they do not touch the heart and the existence of the people of God,” said Pope Francis.

The pope encouraged them to spend time in parishes, observe liturgical celebrations and help pastors reflect on how they prepare liturgy with their communities.

If teachers of liturgy are “in the midst of the people, they will immediately understand and know how to accompany their brothers and sisters, how to suggest what is suitable and feasible to communities, and what the necessary steps are to rediscover the beauty of the liturgy and celebrating together,” he said.

The job of a diocesan liturgical director, said Pope Francis, is to offer parishes a liturgy “that is imitable, with adaptations that the community can take to grow in liturgical life.”

A liturgical director should not care about a parish’s liturgy only when the bishop comes to visit and then let the liturgy go back to how it was after he leaves, the pope said.

“To go to parishes and not say anything when faced with somewhat sloppy, neglected, poorly prepared liturgies means not helping the community, not accompanying them,” he added.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Tens of thousands of pro-life advocates descended upon the nation’s capital for the 50th March for Life Jan. 20 – the first national march since the overturn of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that initially prompted the annual demonstration.

Standing on the event stage at the National Mall, with the U.S. Capitol visible in the background, Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, told attendees at a rally prior to the march that “the country and world changed” when Roe was reversed in June 2022. But she said the annual March for Life would continue in Washington until abortion is “unthinkable.”

Pro-life advocates gather for the 50th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 20, 2023. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“While the March began as a response to Roe, we don’t end as a response to Roe being overturned,” Mancini said. “Why? Because we are not yet done.”

The march took place on a sunny and unseasonably warm day in Washington. A headcount of attendees was not immediately available, as the National Park Service does not release crowd size estimates.

The national March for Life first took place in Washington in 1974 in response to the Roe decision legalizing abortion nationwide the previous year. The protest has taken place in Washington each year since, with a smaller-in-scale event during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

The 2023 event was the first national March for Life since the high court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe and returned the matter of regulating or restricting abortion to state legislatures.

At the pre-march rally, the Christian band “We Are Messengers” performed, followed by a number of speakers, including Jonathan Roumie, known for his role as “Jesus” in the television series “The Chosen,” former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, Democratic Connecticut State Rep. Trenee McGee, and Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Canonized in 2004, St. Gianna gave her life for Giana Emanuela, choosing to move forward with her fourth pregnancy even after doctors discovered a tumor in her uterus.

Molla told the rallygoers that she thanks her “saint mom” for the gift of life. “I would not be here now with all of you if I had not been loved so much,” she said.

Roumie took a picture of the crowd behind him from the stage, telling marchers to tag themselves on social media, and quipping he is the “TV Jesus,” not the real one.

“God is real and he is completely in love with you,” he said, adding that each person is individually loved by God.

“Remember my dear friends, we know how the story ends: God won,” Roumie said.

The rally also featured some lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, a Catholic Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said at the rally, “Future generations will someday look back on us and wonder how and why a society that bragged about its commitment to human rights could have legally sanctioned” abortion.

“The injustice of abortion need not be forever, and with your continued work and prayers, it will not be,” Smith said.

Prior to speaking to the sea of pro-life marchers on the National Mall, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who argued the Dobbs case before the Supreme Court, told OSV News that “empowering women and promoting life” were the next steps post-Roe.

“Some of the things that we’re talking about in Mississippi and promoting legislation on are workplace flexibility options, particularly for mothers,” she said. “We lose young mothers because they don’t have any options. They don’t have that flexibility. We’ve got to have childcare. It’s got to be affordable, accessible and quality.”

Fitch said she wants to see the pro-life movement do “some heavy lifts” to push laws enhancing child support enforcement and reforming the adoption or foster care systems.

“(These systems) are failing our children; they’re broken,” Fitch said. “We’ve got to make those (changes) happen and put those children in these loving families.”

Speaking with OSV News at the march, Kristan Hawkins, president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, said the next front of her organization’s activism will focus on fighting the spread of medication abortion. Hawkins said the pro-life movement should also focus on broadening the social safety net and its remaining goals at the federal level, such as stripping Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest single abortion provider, of taxpayer funds.

“We’re walking and running and chewing gum all at the same time,” she said.

“There is a lot for us to do as a nation, especially raising awareness among its citizens,” Isalyn Aviles Rodríguez, who came to the march from Miami, told OSV News. Rodríguez said she was motivated to march because “the nation needs to know that children are part of God’s plan from conception until natural death.”

As in prior years, the March drew teenage advocates for life as well. Angeline Moro, 14, from Trenton, New Jersey, attended the event to learn how to raise her voice in defense of the most vulnerable.

“We all need to have a chance to live,” Moro said.

At various events leading up to the march, pro-life advocates joined together in prayer and solidarity.

At the Jan. 19 opening Mass for the annual National Prayer Vigil for Life, the night before the march, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, said in his homily that the pro-life movement has “much to celebrate” because Roe v. Wade “is no more.”

But, he added, a “new important phase” for the cause of life “begins now.”

“Our efforts to defend life must be as tireless as ever” not only to change laws but also hearts “with steadfast faith in the grace and power of God to do so,” said Bishop Burbidge, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The event, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, drew between 6,000 and 6,500 people, with most of the congregation filling the Great Upper Church. Dozens also viewed the Mass via screens in the lower level of the basilica.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, issued on behalf of Pope Francis, who imparted his blessing on all those participating in the March for Life.

“His Holiness trusts that Almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures enacted at every level of society,” the message said.

The Mass was followed by a “Holy Hour for Life” at the basilica, which launched a series of Holy Hours of Eucharistic devotion throughout the night in dioceses across the country. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services celebrated Mass at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 to close the vigil.

Meanwhile, hundreds of teens and young adults from the Archdiocese of Washington gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for the Youth Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for Life, where homilist Father Robert Kilner of Solomons, Maryland, urged them to be “witnesses to life, witnesses to the truth that every life matters.”

“Pray and be confident that God can and will do great things,” he said. “Witness by the way you love your family, and especially the smallest, most helpless around you. Witness by your words in defense of the unborn, witness to God’s mercy, inviting everyone back to the joy of confession.”

Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, the principal celebrant of the Mass, said it was “a special joy for me to be able to celebrate this Eucharist with you, our young, youthful, joyful, happy Church.”

Across town, at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington’s Congress Heights neighborhood, another new pre-march event welcomed a sold-out crowd of pro-lifers. Sponsored by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus, the early morning Life Fest drew some 4,200 people – most of them teens and young adults – for a program of prayer, worship music, and personal testimonies that concluded with Eucharistic adoration and Mass.

“The law has changed … (but) hearts need to change toward advancing a culture of life in this nation,” Sister of Life Mariae Agnus Dei told OSV News. “Some of the biggest battles are in front of us.”

Celebrating “the gift of life and the beauty of the human person” is essential to that task, she said.

The thousands of attendees at these events then streamed into the National Mall, where they assembled at the noon rally and prepared to begin marching an hour later.

With the overturn of Roe, organizers had planned for a reworked march route, resulting in a new final destination: the East Front of the U.S. Capitol, symbolizing the movement’s new goals. However, restrictions on the use of sticks for signage put in place by the U.S. Capitol Police after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol resulted in the route instead passing by the West Front. For the 50th time, the national march ended in the same spot: before the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Morgan Ehlis, a student from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, told OSV News that being in Washington with “like-minded people” was an “overwhelming experience.”

“I’m grateful to be pro-life,” said Ehlis. “It’s swimming upstream for sure, but (this is a) big support group we have.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Word of God, which heals and raises people up, is meant for everyone, Pope Francis said.

Jesus “wants to reach those far away, he wants to heal the sick, he wants to save sinners, he wants to gather the lost sheep and lift up those whose hearts are weary and oppressed,” the pope said.

“Jesus ‘reaches out’ to tell us that God’s mercy is for everyone,” he said in his homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 22, the church’s celebration of Sunday of the Word of God.

Pope Francis gives a Bible to a woman he installed as a lector during a Mass marking the Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 22, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

During the Mass, the pope also formally installed seven men and women in the ministry of catechist and three others in the ministry of lector. Pope Francis gave each of the lectors a Bible and the catechists a crucifix.

In his homily, the pope said the Lord invites everyone to conversion and invites his disciples to actively “spread the light of the word” to everyone.

Jesus is “always on the move, on his way to others,” the pope said. “On no occasion in his public life does he give us the idea that he is a stationary teacher, a professor seated on a chair; on the contrary, we see him as an itinerant, we see him as a pilgrim, traveling through towns and villages, encountering faces and their stories.”

Jesus preaches in places where there are “people plunged into darkness: foreigners, pagans, women and men from various regions and cultures,” showing that his word “is not only destined for the righteous of Israel, but for all.”

“Moreover, if salvation is destined for all, even the most distant and lost, then the proclamation of the Word must become the main priority of the ecclesial community, as it was for Jesus,” he said.

“May it not happen that we profess a God with an expansive heart yet become a church with a closed heart — this, I dare say, would be a curse,” he said. “May it not happen that we preach salvation for all yet make the way to receive it impractical; may it not happen that we recognize we are called to proclaim the kingdom yet neglect the Word, losing ourselves in so many secondary activities or discussions.”

“Place your life under the Word of God,” he said. “All of us, even the pastors of the church, are under the authority of the Word of God. Not under our own tastes, tendencies and preferences.”

The word of God “molds us, converts us and calls us to be united in the one church of Christ,” so the faithful must ask themselves, “Where does my life find direction”? “From the many ‘words’ I hear, from ideologies, or from the word of God that guides and purifies me?”

When people recognize God’s presence and make room for his word, “you will change your outlook on life.”

After the Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square. Before the prayer, he said that following Jesus is a journey that requires leaving the status quo behind.

“What must we leave behind? Our vices and our sins, certainly, which are like anchors that hold us at bay and prevent us from setting sail,” he said, but also those things that keep one from “living fully, for example, fear, selfish calculations, the guarantees that come from staying safe, just getting by.”

He asked people to reflect on “what are the material things, ways of thinking, attitudes I need to leave behind so as to truly say ‘yes'” like Mary and to follow Jesus better. “We will always find that we are better.”