SCRANTON – On Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2024, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will be principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It is a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter.
During Lent, the following fasting and abstinence regulations are observed:
FASTING is to be observed on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14, 2024) and Good Friday (March 29, 2024) by all Catholics over 18 years of age to the beginning of their 60th year. On days of fasting, one full meal is allowed. Two smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs, but together should not equal another full meal, unless dispensed or excused.
ABSTINENCE from meat is to be observed by all Catholics who are 14 years of age or older. Ash Wednesday, all of the Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday are days of abstinence.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the same day as Valentine’s Day. While there have been inquires if a dispensation from the obligations to fast and abstain from meat will be given this year, the Diocese of Scranton explains that the significance of Ash Wednesday takes precedence over Valentine’s Day, just like in 2018.
“Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of grace that challenges us to deepen our relationship with Jesus through prayer, penance and works of charity. The obligations of fasting and abstinence are naturally the priority in the Catholic community. Its spiritual importance is evidenced by the large number of faithful choosing to attend Mass on this day,” Bishop Bambera said. “Valentine’s Day can appropriately be celebrated on another day, such as the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which happens to be Mardi Gras, a time of celebration prior to the Lenten journey. That will allow Ash Wednesday to retain its appropriate significance.”
In addition to the 12:10 p.m. Mass with Bishop Bambera, ashes will also be distributed at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton during Masses held at 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mass with the distribution of ashes will also take place at Immaculate Conception Parish, which is linked with the Cathedral, at 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. A full listing of Ash Wednesday Masses for all 110 parishes in the Diocese of Scranton is available on the Diocese of Scranton website at dioceseofscranton.org.
Throughout the Season of Lent, Bishop Bambera will also visit every geographic area of the Diocese of Scranton holding a Lenten Holy Hour. A Holy Hour is a period of time spent in prayer before the Lord, present to all sacramentally in the Eucharist. A Holy Hour involves personal prayer, meditation readings from Scripture, hymns and more.
The dates and locations for Bishop Bambera’s Lenten Holy Hours across the Diocese of Scranton are:
Thursday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
Holy Family Parish, Luzerne
Tuesday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m.
Our Lady of Victory Parish, Tannersville
Wednesday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m.
Most Precious Blood Parish, Hazleton
Thursday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.
Christ the King Parish, Archbald
Tuesday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m.
Saint Eulalia Parish, Roaring Brook Township
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m.
Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Williamsport
Thursday, Feb. 29, 7 p.m.
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Tunkhannock
Tuesday, March 5, 7 p.m.
Saint Joseph Marello Parish, Pittston
Wednesday, March 6, 7 p.m.
Saint John Neumann Parish, Lords Valley
Thursday, March 7, 7 p.m.
Epiphany Parish, Sayre
Monday, March 18, 7 p.m.
Our Lady of Hope Parish, Wilkes-Barre
Wednesday, March 20, 7 p.m.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Scranton
SCRANTON – Just two days after the 2024 March for Life takes place in Washington, D.C., the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton will join together for the annual ‘Mass for Life’ at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.
The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will serve as principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass, which is being celebrated for a greater respect of all human life, from conception to natural death, and every moment in between.
While pro-life supporters from parishes and organizations in the Diocese of Scranton are expected to join the March for Life in Washington that same week, the ‘Mass for Life’ is an opportunity for all people in the Diocese of Scranton to pray that every life is celebrated, valued and protected.
People attending the ‘Mass for Life’ are encouraged to bring a new pack of diapers to be donated to local organizations that assist mothers in need.
CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton will broadcast the ‘Mass for Life’ live and will make a livestream available on the Diocese of Scranton website and all Diocesan social media platforms.
(OSV News) – An actor who recently portrayed a beloved saint on screen has now fully come into the Catholic Church in real life.
Shia LaBeouf, a Hollywood veteran and star of director Abel Ferrara’s film “Padre Pio,” received the sacrament of confirmation, completing his initiation into the Catholic faith, during the New Year holiday weekend, according to announcements posted Jan. 2 to Facebook and Instagram by the Capuchin Franciscans’ Western American Province.
The friars posted several pictures of a smiling LaBeouf with the friars and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, who had previously interviewed the actor through his Word on Fire apostolate.
Capuchin Father Joseph Seraphin Dederick, the provincial, told OSV News that Bishop Barron administered the sacrament to LaBeouf at the Old Mission Santa Inés in Solvang, California, on Dec. 31.
OSV News has reached out to the Capuchins’ Western American Province and Bishop Barron for comment.
“We are thrilled to share that our dear friend Shia LaBeouf has fully entered the Church this past weekend through the sacrament of confirmation!” the friars said in their posts, adding that they “are overjoyed to welcome him into the fold and witness his deep commitment to his faith journey.”
LaBoeuf developed both working and personal relationships with the friars while researching his role in “Padre Pio.”
Speaking to OSV News in May, LaBeouf said he “wasn’t even trying to make movies” when Ferrara approached him about the role.
The acclaimed 37-year-old actor — whose Emmy-winning career as a kid on the Disney Channel blossomed into big-screen success — found himself “totally lost” after his inner demons led to partying, work conflicts and run-ins with the law.
“I was wandering around, living in my truck,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in acting anymore.”
As LaBeouf began confronting his personal issues, Ferrara tapped him for “Padre Pio,” a saint to whom the Bronx-born director — best known for his gritty cinematic takes on the underworld — felt himself “drawn.”
While researching the film, LaBeouf met Brother Alexander Rodriguez, a Capuchin Franciscan who is assistant vocation director at the order’s Old Mission Santa Inés in Solvang, California.
Soon LaBeouf was asking about more than one of the congregation’s most beloved saints.
“Shia was looking to know about Padre Pio, and then delved into the faith,” Brother Alexander told OSV News in May. “He got into RCIA (referring to the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults). The friars and I were helping to catechize him.”
LaBeouf told OSV News at the time “(learning) how to pray the rosary” brought a “tangible relief” that he had previously sought through drugs, alcohol and life in the fast lane.
The lessons continued as Brother Alexander accompanied LaBeouf to Italy for filming, with the Capuchin providing technical assistance for the project while appearing in the movie as Padre Pio’s fellow Capuchin and spiritual adviser.
“I fell in love with Christ,” LaBeouf told OSV News in May.
Now the actor, “known for his incredible talent and passion in the entertainment industry, has embarked on a profound spiritual journey that has led him to embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the Capuchin friars wrote in their Jan. 2 Facebook and Instagram posts. “His decision to fully enter the Church is a testament to his sincere desire to grow in his relationship with God and live out the Gospel values.”
The friars added, “As Capuchin Franciscans, we believe in the transformative power of faith and the incredible impact it can have on one’s life. We are humbled and grateful to walk alongside Shia as he takes this important step in his spiritual journey.
“We invite you to join us in celebrating this momentous occasion and to keep Shia LaBeouf in your prayers as he continues to deepen his faith and seek God’s guidance in his life,” the friars said. “May his example inspire others to explore their own spiritual paths and find solace in the loving embrace of the Church.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In its annual report on Catholic missionaries murdered during the year, the Vatican-based news agency, Fides, noted what many of them had in common was living a normal life in areas where violence had become common.
“They did not carry out any sensational actions or out-of-the-ordinary deeds that could have attracted attention and put them in someone’s crosshairs,” the report said.
“They could have gone elsewhere, moved to safer places, or desisted from their Christian commitments, perhaps reducing them, but they did not do so, even though they were aware of the situation and the dangers they faced every day,” it added.
Fides, the news agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies which is part of the Dicastery for Evangelization, reported Dec. 30 that 20 pastoral workers were killed in 2023: one bishop, eight priests, two religious brothers, one seminarian, one novice and seven laypeople.
The agency said its tally was slightly higher than in 2022 when it counted 18 missionaries who died violently.
In the 2023 list, Fides included Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, a native of Ireland who had been a priest and later a bishop in Los Angeles for 45 years. He was the co-founder of the Interdiocesan Immigration Task Force and a steadfast advocate for immigrants and the marginalized.
The bishop was found dead in his bedroom at home Feb. 18, 2023, after being shot multiple times. The man accused of his murder, Carlos Medina, was set to return to court Jan. 10 for a further remand hearing. Medina’s wife worked as the bishop’s housekeeper and Medina, who has pleaded not guilty, also did some work for the bishop.
The list also included U.S. Father Stephen J. Gutgsell, 65, who died after being stabbed in the rectory of his parish in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, Dec. 10, 2023.
Fides reported that the highest number of missionaries killed was registered in Africa, where nine missionaries were killed: five priests, two religious brothers, one seminarian and one novice.
The Americas followed with six missionaries murdered: one bishop, three priests and two laywomen. Four lay men and women died violently in Asia, including a Palestinian mother and daughter who were shot by an Israeli army sniper in Gaza Dec. 16, 2023. Seven others were also wounded.
Nahida Khalil Anton and Samar Kamal Anton were shot as they were walking on the premises of the parish of the Holy Family to the convent of the House of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, where Nahida worked as a cook.
One layman was killed in Europe: Diego Valencia, 65, sacristan of a parish in southern Spain, who was killed with a machete Jan. 25, 2023. The accused attacker is a Moroccan national who, before attacking Valencia the same evening, attacked and wounded 74-year-old Salesian Father Antonio Rodríguez with a machete as he celebrated Mass in a nearby church.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The world and the Catholic Church must respect and defend women and foster a motherly care for others to end dehumanizing cycles of violence, Pope Francis said.
“The church needs Mary in order to recover her own feminine face, to resemble more fully the woman, virgin and mother, who is her model and perfect image, to make space for women and to be ‘generative’ through a pastoral ministry marked by concern and care,” the pope said during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day Jan. 1.
The world too, he said, “needs to look to mothers and to women in order to find peace, to emerge from the spiral of violence and hatred, and once more see things with genuinely human eyes and hearts.”
In his homily, Pope Francis called on all societies to “accept the gift that is woman, every woman” and to “respect, defend and esteem woman in the knowledge that whoever harms a single woman profanes God, who was born of a woman.”
The Mass marked the 57th World Day of Peace celebrated by the church. The pope’s message for the world day, published in December, was dedicated to artificial intelligence and peace.
After praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square following Mass, the pope said he was following “with concern” the situation in Nicaragua, where “bishops (and) priests have been deprived of freedom.” A bishop and 12 priests have been arrested by Nicaraguan authorities since mid-December; Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison. Dozens of other priests have been exiled and members of religious orders expelled from the country.
Some 7,000 people were present in the basilica for the celebration on New Year’s Day, the Vatican said. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was the main celebrant at the altar and was joined by Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister.
Placed near the main altar was an icon of the “Madonna Lactans” or Nursing Madonna — a late Byzantine image of Mary nursing the infant Jesus. In his homily, the pope asked people to look at the “tender” icon of the mother who “looks after us and is close to us.”
Among those who presented the offertory gifts to Pope Francis were young people dressed as the three kings who visited Jesus. In Germany, Austria and other regions of Europe, children known as “sternsingers,” or star singers, carol and collect donations between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany. The three who presented the offertory gifts were joined by others dressed as the Magi sitting in the front row of the basilica.
A figurine of the infant Jesus was placed before the altar maintaining the Christmas atmosphere of the celebration. Several Christmas hymns were sung, including the German version of “Silent Night.”
In his homily, Pope Francis recalled how just as Mary knew the wine had run out at the wedding at Cana and asked Jesus to intervene, she “knows our needs” and “intercedes to make grace overflow in our lives and to guide them to authentic fulfillment.”
“Brothers and sisters, all of us have our shortcomings, our times of loneliness, our inner emptiness that cries out to be filled,” he said. “Who can do that if not Mary the mother of fullness?”
“Whenever we are tempted to retreat into ourselves, let us run to her; whenever we are no longer able to untie the knots in our lives, let us seek refuge in her,” the pope said.
He added that the current times, “bereft of peace, need a mother who can reunite the human family.” The pope encouraged people to look to Mary “in order to become artisans of unity” and to do so “with her maternal creativity and concern for her children.”
Pope Francis noted that since God chose Mary to “turn history around” by bringing Jesus into the world, “it is fitting, then, that the year should open by invoking her,” and that God’s faithful should acclaim her as the “Holy Mother of God.”
In that spirit, the pope ended his homily by asking the 24 cardinals, more than 200 concelebrating priests and the thousands present in the basilica to proclaim, “out loud, three times, together: Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God!”
Overlooking St. Peter’s Square after Mass, Pope Francis asked people at the outset of the new year to notice the often-overlooked gestures of love of Mary, and all mothers, “to learn that love that is cultivated above all in silence.”
The love of a mother, the pope said, “knows how to make room for the other, respecting their dignity, leaving the freedom to express themselves and rejecting every form of possession, oppression and violence.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On New Year’s Eve, believers and non-believers alike give thanks for all they have received in the last 12 months and express their hopes for the coming year, but Christians are called to cultivate their gratitude and hope following the example of Mary, Pope Francis said.
“Faith enables us to live this hour in a way different than that of a worldly mindset,” the pope said during an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 31. “Faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnated God, born of the Virgin Mary, gives a new way of feeling time and life.”
Pope Francis said that while many people express thanks and hope on New Year’s Eve, in reality, they often “lack the essential dimension which is that of relationship with the Other and with others, with God and with brothers and sisters.”
With a worldly mentality, gratitude and hope are “flattened onto the self, onto one’s interests,” he said. “They don’t go beyond satisfaction and optimism.”
Pope Francis encouraged Christians to look to the example of Mary who, after giving birth to Jesus, had a mother’s gratitude in her heart for bearing the child of God.
“Mystery makes room for gratitude, which surfaces in the contemplation of gift, in gratuitousness, while it suffocates in the anxiety of having and appearing,” the pope said. “The church learns gratitude from the Virgin Mary.”
The pope also said that the hope of Mary and the church “is not optimism, it is something else: it is faith in a God faithful to his promises.”
“This faith takes the form of hope in the dimension of time,” he said. “Christians, like Mary, are pilgrims of hope.”
Near the basilica’s main altar was an icon of the “Madonna Lactans,” or Nursing Madonna, from the Benedictine Abbey of Montevirgine in Mercogliano, Italy. The icon, in late Byzantine style, shows Mary nursing the infant Jesus. The pope prayed silently before the image before leaving the basilica.
The service culminated with the choir and the 6,500 people present in the basilica singing the “Te Deum” (“We praise you, oh God”) in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year.
In his homily, Pope Francis noted that the coming year would involve intense preparation for the Holy Year 2025. Yet more than worrying about organizing logistics and events, the pope asked people to be witnesses to “ethical and spiritual quality of coexistence.”
As an example, he pointed out that people of every nationality, culture and religion come together in St. Peter’s Square, so the basilica must be welcoming to all people and provide accessible information.
The pope then praised charm of Rome’s historic center but said it must also be accessible to people with disabilities and the elderly.
Roberto Gualtieri, mayor of Rome, sat in the front of row of the basilica during the prayer service and greeted the pope at its conclusion.
Pope Francis noted that a pilgrimage “requires good preparation,” and recalled that 2024 would be dedicated to prayer before the Holy Year.
“And what better teacher could we have than our holy Mother?” the pope asked. “Let us learn from her to live every day, every moment, every occupation with our inner gaze turned to Jesus.”
After the prayer service, the pope greeted people lined along the basilica’s central nave. Then, riding in his wheelchair, he went outside to pray in front of the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, taking his time to wave to visitors, bless children and listen to the Swiss Guard band as it played Christmas carols.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As an expression of ongoing affection and gratitude for the late Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in a round of applause for his predecessor on the first anniversary of his death.
“A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his earthly journey after having served the church with love and wisdom,” Pope Francis told an estimated 20,000 people gathered in the square for the midday recitation of the Angelus prayer Dec. 31.
Pope Benedict, who led the church from 2005 to 2013, died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95.
“We feel so much affection, gratitude and admiration for him,” the pope said. “From heaven, he blesses and accompanies us.”
Before the Angelus, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict’s former personal secretary, presided over a memorial Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. German Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, concelebrated the liturgy.
In his homily, the archbishop shared some of Pope Benedict’s meditations on the readings for the day’s feast, the feast of the Holy Family. Several times his voice broke with emotion remembering the pope he lived with and served.
Looking at how prayer was an essential part of the life of Mary and Joseph, Archbishop Gänswein quoted Pope Benedict’s last Angelus address, just days before his resignation went into effect, when he explained:
“The Lord is calling me ‘to scale the mountain,’ to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength.”
In the same way, the archbishop said, prayer marks the rhythm of the life of the church, “which is the great family of God.”
As the retired pope aged, he said, his life — with a growing intensity and interiority — became more focused on prayer.
Born Joseph Ratzinger, he tried to model his life on St. Joseph, the archbishop said. It could be seen in his intimacy with the Lord and with the people around him, “relationships distinguished by great courtesy, humility and simplicity.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As the new year begins, Pope Francis will be the oldest reigning pope since the early 1900s and the third oldest in history.
Having celebrated his 87th birthday in mid-December, Pope Francis’ initial calendar for 2024 had just the essentials.
A full slate of the usual papal liturgies and meetings are scheduled; bishops will continue making “ad limina” visits; Argentina will have its first female saint; the Synod of Bishops on synodality will conclude in October; and the jubilee year opens at the year’s end.
While doctors convinced the pope to cancel his scheduled trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December, he has continued to speak confidently about at least three countries he has on his wish-list for papal trips in 2024.
The pope told the Mexican news outlet N+ that a trip to Belgium is already “certain” and that two others, to Polynesia and Argentina, are being looked into. He did add that any long-distance trips would have to be “rethought” because of his age. Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis has not returned to his native country since his election, nearly 11 years ago.
Belgium, which is just a two-hour flight away, would most likely be a one- or two-day trip to mark the founding of the oldest Catholic university still in existence in the world, the Catholic University of Leuven, which celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2025.
The only other trip local bishops have confirmed is to the Italian city of Verona May 18, 2024, to take part in Italy’s annual Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
January will usher in several traditional papal liturgies starting with welcoming the new year with Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, followed by Mass on the Epiphany Jan. 6 and then Mass on the feast Baptism of the Lord Jan. 7 with the baptism of several infants.
The rest of the month includes the usual annual encounters with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican Jan. 8 and meetings with the staff of the office responsible for public security at the Vatican, as well as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25, concluding with an evening prayer service at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The new year also means a new round of “ad limina” visits by groups of bishops around the world. Bishops had made the visits every five years, but the interval has grown over time to be about every nine to 10 years. Bishops from the African continent will be finishing up their visits in 2024, and those next in line include bishops from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Greece, the Koreas and Japan. Their last ad limina visits were in 2015.
The pope is scheduled to meet with his international Council of Cardinals in February. Those meetings are usually held quarterly and on-going topics of discussion include: the “feminine dimension of the church,” the synod on synodality and safeguarding minors.
It is difficult to predict if or when there will be any consistories to create new cardinals in 2024. Pope Francis has made it an almost annual event, but when he handed out red hats in September 2023, he brought the number of cardinal electors up to 137, well above the limit of 120 and the highest number since St. John Paul II raised it to 135 in 2003.
Barring any deaths, the number of cardinal electors should be 132 starting in January, then down to 125 by June and 119 by December as some cardinals turn 80 and are no longer eligible to vote in a conclave. Those approaching the cutoff include U.S. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, who celebrates his 80th birthday June 29.
For beatifications and canonizations, so far there is only one on the papal calendar for 2024.
Pope Francis recently authorized the canonization of Blessed María Antonia de San José for Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. An 18th-century Catholic laywoman who championed the Ignatian spiritual exercises in Argentina after the Jesuits were expelled, she will be the first female of Argentina to be canonized.
Pope Francis had wanted to go to Argentina to beatify “Mama Antula” in 2016 in Buenos Aires, where she is buried, but he could not fit the trip in because of other travel obligations. Announcing the date for her canonization, the Vatican did not specify where the ceremony would take place, so if the pope can travel back to his home country in 2024, this could be one of the highlights.
The 11th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election is March 13, falling in the middle of Lent, which begins Feb. 14 and ends March 28. Holy Week will be busy with the usual slate of papal rites and ceremonies starting with Palm Sunday and its solemn ceremonial procession in St. Peter’s Square March 24 and culminating with the celebration of Easter March 31.
Among the nearly dozen “World Days” marked by the universal church that come with a dedicated papal message, Pope Francis recently announced the first World Children’s Day would be celebrated in Rome May 25-26.
The second assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will be held at the Vatican in October, formally concluding a worldwide process that began in October 2021. While no actual dates have been announced, there was a motion at the end of the first assembly to make it three weeks instead of four.
Then just as 2024 draws to a close, the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica will be opened Dec. 24 for the start of the Holy Year 2025. The other major basilicas of Rome also have Holy Doors, bricked up most of the time, which will be opened for the jubilee year.
The jubilee, usually held every 25 years, features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.
(OSV News) – Armed with art supplies, Sister Alicia Torres recently invited young adults attending a Catholic conference near Milwaukee to create a self-portrait on paper, drawn inside a circle. The circle, she explained, represented the Eucharist.
Through the Eucharist, each person better understands himself or herself as made in the image and likeness of God, she told them.
About 50 young adults worked for almost an hour, and when they finished, they silently walked around the room to see what others had created. To Sister Alicia’s surprise and delight, the 20- and 30-year-olds naturally formed a circle around the edge of the room as the session came to an end.
“This is an image of the Body of Christ,” she remembers thinking. “Here we are, united in our faith of the holy Eucharist, and all these young adults – who have so many struggles in the culture, in their personal lives – had this experience of connecting with Jesus through this art project.”
The art session was part of a Nov. 11 workshop Sister Alicia led on the Eucharist and creativity for Inheritance 2023, a young adult conference organized by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It is one of the highlights from her work in the past year with the National Eucharistic Revival.
“There has been, in my awareness of what’s going on nationwide, an attentiveness to not forget our young people,” said Sister Alicia, a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago as well as the National Eucharistic Revival executive team. “That’s very important because the data indicates that by their early 20s, we (the Catholic Church) lose 80% of the young people that have been confirmed. … And so to be able to bring the message of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist — his love, his mercy and his power — to the young people, I think is critical. And I see that happening, which brings me a lot of hope.”
A three-year initiative of the U.S. bishops, the revival is nearing its midpoint. It began in June 2022 with the feast of Corpus Christi. The first year focused on diocesan revival, inviting bishops, priests and diocesan leaders to deepen their relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Year of Parish Revival began in June 2023, with emphasis on reaching Catholics in the pews.
The coming calendar year will include the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage that begins mid-May and the National Eucharistic Congress in July, two large-scale efforts that lead into the revival’s final year, the Year of Going Out on Mission, which ends on Pentecost 2025.
A parish year playbook for local leaders identified four areas of focus: reinvigorate worship, personal encounter, robust faith formation and missionary sending. Each “invitation” contained ideas and examples of how parishes might respond.
In the fall, revival leaders launched “Jesus and the Eucharist,” a seven-session, video-based study designed for the Year of Parish Revival and intended for use in a small group setting.
The series is “a chance to invite people to explore basic mysteries of the faith — that God loves us enough to send his son to lay down his life for us, and who then offers himself to us here and now and walks with us,” said David Spesia, executive director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “That invitation to a renewed encounter to Jesus Christ each day, that is really what’s going to set the stage for the revival, through the pilgrimage and the congress.”
Revival leaders hoped that dioceses, parishes and other local Catholic entities would make the revival their own. The result is new or expanded adoration hours, Eucharist-focused homily series, and large Eucharistic processions. Processions this year in Manhattan, New York, for example, drew thousands of participants.
Meanwhile, some dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Atlanta, have tied longstanding Eucharistic congresses to the revival, and others, such as the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, have held new local congresses.
Other dioceses have gone outside of the box: the Dioceses of Lincoln, Nebraska; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and the Archdiocese of Denver created “passports” to encourage Catholics to visit adoration chapels, attend speakers or adopt spiritual practices related to the Eucharist. The Archdiocese of San Francisco offered an online course on Eucharistic miracles. The Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, has organized a student art contest with the theme “Eucharist: Bread of Life.”
The Archdiocese of Detroit continues to add stories to its I AM HERE campaign, launched in partnership with the prayer app Hallow, to collect and share people’s healing and transformative encounters with the Eucharist. When it was launched in June 2022, an archdiocesan leader said the campaign was a response to the revival in a “uniquely Detroit way.”
“This last year, for me, is about all the little things that are happening in local parishes,” said Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress. “It’s the pastor I heard about who is doing a preaching series on how the Eucharist is a ‘who’ and not just a ‘what,’ and how to have a relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist.”
Sister Alicia oversees the “Heart of the Revival” newsletter and its weekly news reel “The Pulse” that launched in September, and is a familiar face on the revival’s YouTube channel. She said she’s been impressed by the creativity parishes and dioceses have shown in localizing the revival.
“The question is, what does it mean to live a Eucharistic life?” she said. “Part of our crisis right now in our church is that, because of the movement of the culture, we have lost to a large degree that sacramental worldview, meaning that signs don’t carry the value that they might have carried for people 100 years ago.
“And that is one of the reasons why it’s hard for people to engage in Mass — because they can’t necessarily read the signs,” she continued. “They don’t understand the movement, the ritual, why do we do these things. … At the heart of this charism of the Eucharistic revival is a renewal of Catholic imagination rooted in the Eucharist.”
Revival leaders hope the 10th National Eucharistic Congress — the first national congress in 83 years — can help cultivate that sacramental imagination among the tens of thousands of Catholics expected to attend.
In November, revival leaders announced plans to make single-day passes available for the July 17-21 congress. Meanwhile, full five-day passes are offered at a 10% discount through Christmas Day at the congress’ website, www.eucharisticcongress.org. The website also includes the congress’ general daily schedule and speaker lineup.
“God has really spoken into what he wants this event to be,” Glemkowski said of the congress. “It’s truly going to be a moment of spiritual revival for the church, not just a conference. I don’t think people are going to walk away being like, ‘I heard a cool talk that was kind of meaningful to me.’ I think people are going to walk away and be like, ‘My life has changed.'”
(OSV News) – From Ukraine to Nigeria, and from Nicaragua to the Holy Land, 2023 was full of tragic situations that deeply affected the church and faithful. OSV News revisited four places clinging to hope that the new year will bring an improvement in the lives of people living in societies torn by conflict and persecution.
“As we go into the New Year, millions of people across the world are experiencing deprivation, loss and disruption to their lives, due to circumstances beyond their control,” said Caroline Brennan, emergency communications director of Catholic Relief Services, the international aid agency of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
“A moment of crisis can change the trajectory of people’s lives, and have ripple effects that last years, especially for those who are exposed to extreme, life-threatening danger and hunger,” she said in a statement. “We have to mobilize our collective efforts in aid, advocacy, funding and prevention to help people not only survive but have the means for recovery and resilience.”
This year, according to the United Nations’ June 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview, more than 360 million people needed humanitarian assistance — at a cost of nearly $55 billion — but only 20% of this need has been met by the international community. “This gap between need and assistance pledged is the highest ever,” CRS said.
Russian attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure inflicted severe hardships early in the year, although hopes were high that a long-awaited counter-offensive would recapture territory in the occupied eastern regions.
While the offensive made few gains, fears later grew of a shortfall in ammunition and military equipment, with Western attention diverted by conflict in the Middle East and political resistance, especially in the United States, to continued military aid.
“It was a year which started sadly, but also gave way to hope in Ukrainian hearts that we would be strong enough to be free,” Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia recalled in an interview with OSV News.
“When I visited our soldiers, they were happy with every tank and artillery piece, believing the world understood and Ukrainians would have something to fight for. Closer to fall, problems began, as it became clear the Russians had strengthened their positions and the arms deliveries weren’t as extensive as promised,” he said.
Ukraine’s religious leaders rallied national morale throughout the year, led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko) of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, legislative moves continued in Kyiv’s Verkhovna Rada parliament to ban communities from Ukraine’s rival Moscow-linked Orthodox church, which is still maintaining ties with centers in a state “carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine.”
Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who provided vigorous ideological support for the war in weekly homilies and speeches, was sanctioned by several Western countries, and placed on a wanted list in November by Ukraine’s Security Service under his original name, Vladimir Gundyaev.
In a sign of retaliation, Archbishop Shevchuk’s Greek Catholic Church was reported to be banned in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia, along with Caritas, the Knights of Columbus and other Catholic organizations, under a decree charging it with working for “foreign intelligence services.”
Bloody trench fighting continued around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mykolaiv, Kherson and other strategic towns, leaving a two-year death toll provisionally put by the United Nations at 10,000 civilians, with Western estimates of military casualties running close to half a million.
While tens of thousands of war crimes were also reported, church leaders urged the return of abducted Ukrainian children, currently estimated at around 20,000 by the Kyiv government, whose deportation formed the basis for March war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court against President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova.
On June 6, the destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka Dam caused extensive flooding along the lower Dnipro River, leaving at least 58 dead and 31 missing, and threatening the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and long-term water supplies to Russian-controlled Crimea.
Bishop Sobilo said morale had been raised by visits by the Vatican’s almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, and other bishops’ conference delegations, as well as by “strong support” for Ukraine from the pope during his weekly Rome audiences.
Among summer highlights, Pope Francis sent a peace envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv and Moscow to negotiate the return of prisoners, whose fate was also raised by the Vatican’s Lithuanian Nuncio, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, one of few foreign representatives to remain in Kyiv throughout the war.
“In our eastern cities, which are shelled regularly, many people are tired of a war with no end in sight and many are leaving,” Bishop Sobilo told OSV News.
“Aid has also greatly decreased, leaving widespread poverty, and the winter may turn out to be very harsh. On the other hand, there’s still a desire to defeat the enemy occupier, and we’ll be entering the new year with great hopes that the world will soon wake up again,” he said.
On Dec. 19, after recent visits to Washington and other Western capitals, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told journalists he had turned down military requests to mobilize 500,000 more Ukrainians for the war, adding he was confident the U.S. and other allies would not desert his country.
A Dec. 14 decision by EU leaders to open membership talks with Kyiv was also welcomed by the president and Ukrainian church leaders, who united in celebrating Christmas for the first time on Dec. 25 in line with the Western calendar.
As the world heads into a new year, Nigeria seems to continue to lead the world in the persecution of Christians.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, chairman of Intersociety, a nongovernmental human rights organization, told OSV News that “the situation of Christians in Nigeria is precarious,” and will remain so for the foreseeable future. He said that the country’s government has long been partisan, unfair to Christians and has not provided the same protections to Christians as to Muslims.
“That is why in 2024, the killings are expected to continue to rise,” he told OSV News.
He said the spate of Christian killings in Nigeria is worrisome and blamed the government for being complicit in them.
He estimated that at least 4,000 Christians have been killed in the African country in 2023, but the number could be higher because many of the killings went unreported. Instersociety estimated that between 4,500-5,000 Christians were killed every year in Nigeria between 2020 and 2022. Over the past 14 years, at least 52,250 Nigerian Christians have been murdered at the hands of Islamist militants, according to the group.
“The government of Nigeria still has a pro-Islamist security outlook. So, they (the militants) are expected to continue the killings. They are expected to continue burning of houses, sacred places of worship belonging to Christians, as well as Christian homes, villages, farmlands,” Umeagbalasi said.
Responsible for the violence in the country are militant groups such as Boko Haram. In 2014, the group abducted 276 students from a girls’ school in Chibok, and nine years later, 98 girls are still being held by Boko Haram. Other groups, such as the Fulani herdsmen, are violently targeting Christian communities, killing people and forcing them from their villages.
Umeagbalasi said Fulani jihadists “have enjoyed the protection of the government and security forces.”
Senior Research Fellow and Director for Genocide Prevention at Christian Solidarity International in Switzerland, Franklyne Ogbunwezeh, said the Christian population of central Nigeria is facing a “genocidal campaign,” and that the killings are intentional to “wipe out” Christians from the country.
In another chapter of what a priest called an “evil scheme” plaguing Nigeria, kidnappings of priests and seminarians became a tragic pattern. According to a January report by the research organization SB Morgen Intelligence, no fewer than 39 Catholic priests were killed by gunmen in 2022, while 30 others were abducted. The report also showed that 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded within the same period.
Busloads of political prisoners were taken in the middle of the night to the Managua airport in February, but they didn’t know their destination. Some 222 of them boarded a flight for the United States and freedom — though they were later stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship. At least one detainee refused to leave, however: Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa. He was convicted the following day and sentenced to 26 years in prison for conspiracy and spreading false information — after a sham trial.
Bishop Álvarez has repeatedly refused to be exiled from Nicaragua, even as part of negotiations involving the Vatican, according to media reports. In the process, he’s become the face of resistance to the oppression of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who have cracked down on all dissent over the five years to maintain power. He marked 500 days in detention on Dec. 18 — and remains likely to stay there.
But Catholic persecution goes beyond the bishop and appears to have worsened in 2023, according to Martha Patricia Molina, a lawyer in exile who tracks aggressions against the Nicaraguan church. Molina has counted 738 aggressions since 2018, including 273 so far in 2023.
Priests, Molina says, are receiving “courtesy visits” from police, warning them to behave and not participate in celebrations of popular piety, processions and the December feast of the Immaculate Conception — the most important in the country, according to Molina. Priests continued being arrested, too, and subsequently exiled, including a dozen who were sent to Rome in October after Vatican intervention.
A second Nicaraguan bishop was arrested Dec. 20 after voicing spiritual support for imprisoned Bishop Álvarez, according to independent Nicaraguan media. Bishop Isidoro Mora of the Diocese of Siuna, which serves the country’s remote Caribbean coast, was stopped by police and paramilitaries as he was traveling to the community of La Cruz de Río Grande to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation at the local parish, according to news organization Mosaico CSI.
The Jesuits were also expelled from Nicaragua in 2023, with the regime seizing and renaming their flagship Central American University (UCA). Many religious communities with foreign missionaries, who have not been allowed by the government to renew their legal residency, also left the country — and soon after, according to reports, the properties of some of these communities were confiscated by the government.
“I thought 2022 was the worst year,” Molina told OSV News. “We can describe this last year as the year with the most attacks against the Catholic Church in the (most) recent five-year period.”
There was a rare bright spot in November, when Sheynnis Palacios — whose gown with a blue cape was thought to be inspired by the Nicaraguan flag and the Virgin Mary — won the Miss Universe competition, sparking a patriotic celebration with flag-waving (a prohibited act) that the regime couldn’t control.
However, analysts see difficulties for the church in 2024. Arturo McFields Yescas, a former Nicaraguan ambassador, told OSV News that the regime was likely to pursue legal changes, which could control religious activities and the content of sermons.
“Religious persecution is going to be institutionalized and legalized,” he said. “They’re seeking greater control and more submission using arbitrary laws.”
After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israeli communities, which left 1,200 people, including families, children, elderly and youth at a music festival murdered and 239 mostly civilian hostages taken into the Gaza Strip, and the outbreak of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, with over 20,000 Palestinians killed according to Gaza health officials as of Dec. 21, the Holy Land fell into the spiral of what seems endless violence.
Ahead of the new year, Catholic Relief Services listed its most pressing humanitarian crises to watch in 2024. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza tops the list.
Nearly 2 million people — about 85% of Gaza’s population — have been displaced, and nearly all of those forced from their homes report that they do not have enough to eat.
“Many have crowded into schools, churches, hospitals, homes and shelters, but thousands are living outside without safe shelter. Without an immediate cessation of violence and increase of humanitarian corridors, widespread suffering will continue,” CRS said in a Dec. 21 statement.
“Even when I speak to our staff, they talk about not having enough food,” said Cornelia Sage, CRS head of programs for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza. “They talk about rationing meals, about not having enough to eat for their children. They tell me about going out to look for food for their families only to come back empty-handed. All of Gaza is going hungry.”
“Store shelves are empty and have been empty for weeks,” Sage said. “There are informal markets, but people are paying five to 10 times more for basic food items, especially key staples such as flour, oil and drinking water. Without cooking gas or fuel, people cannot cook, and they are eating what they can find. There is simply not enough food coming in to feed the people of Gaza.”
The lack of proper food and clean water can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“My son is two months old,” one CRS staff member said. “The first days were so hard for me. I had no milk, and the stress was just so hard, my body couldn’t produce it. It was hard in the beginning of the war. But now? With the lack of water and the lack of food, it’s become a real problem. We don’t know how we are going to provide for ourselves.”
Following the end of the ceasefire Dec. 1, Israeli forces have begun maneuvers in southern Gaza to root out Hamas leaders. During the ceasefire, 105 hostages, mostly women and children and including foreign nationals, were exchanged for 240 Palestinian women and teenage prisoners held by Israel.
There are 1,017 Christians now living in Gaza, of whom 135 are Catholic. The entire Christian community is sheltering either at the Greek Orthodox Church compound or at the Holy Family Parish compound. Most Christians have preferred to stay in the north of the Gaza Strip together with their community in the Christian compounds, although Israeli forces asked Palestinian civilians to flee to the south to avoid being caught in the battle.
In a heartfelt appeal during an Angelus prayer Dec. 17, Pope Francis called for an end to the “terrorism” of war, condemning the previous day’s attack in which — the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said — an Israeli army sniper shot and killed Nahida Khalil Anton, and her daughter, Samar Kamal Anton, as they walked to a convent at the Holy Family Parish compound in Gaza. The convent of the Missionaries of Charity also was targeted.
In a Christmas message released Dec. 21, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem denounced “all violent actions and call for their end.”
“We likewise call upon the people of this land and around the globe to seek the graces of God so that we might learn to walk with each other in the paths of justice, mercy, and peace,” they wrote.