VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis announced that he is preparing a document on the Sacred Heart of Jesus to “illuminate the path of ecclesial renewal, but also to say something significant to a world that seems to have lost its heart.”

The document is expected to be released in September, he said, and will be part of ongoing celebrations marking the 350th anniversary of the first apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The celebrations began Dec. 27 and are scheduled to end June 27, 2025.

Pope Francis speaks to visitors in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience at the Vatican June 5, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

The pope made the announcement during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 5. The Catholic Church traditionally dedicates the month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the solemnity of the Sacred Heart will be celebrated June 7 this year.

The document will include reflections from “previous magisterial texts” and it will aim to “re-propose to the whole church this devotion laden with spiritual beauty. I believe it will do us much good to meditate on various aspects of the Lord’s love,” the pope said.

Meanwhile, in his main audience talk, Pope Francis continued a new series on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church, particularly in how the Holy Spirit leads God’s people to meet Jesus, the source of Christian hope.

The Biblical name of the Holy Spirit is “ruach” in Hebrew, which means breath, wind or spirit, he said.

The image of wind expresses the power of the divine Spirit, he said, and Jesus highlighted its freedom to blow and go where it wants.

“The wind is the only thing that absolutely cannot be bridled, cannot be ‘bottled up’ or put in a box,” he said. “To pretend to enclose the Holy Spirit in concepts, definitions, theses or treatises, as modern rationalism has sometimes attempted to do, is to lose it, nullify it or reduce it to the human spirit.”

A similar temptation in the church is the attempt “to enclose the Holy Spirit in canons, institutions, definitions. The Spirit creates and animates institutions, but he himself cannot be ‘institutionalized'” or turned into an object, the pope said.

The freedom Jesus offers with his Spirit is special, he said. It has nothing to do with the selfishness of being free to do what one wants, but it is “the freedom to freely do what God wants! Not freedom to do good or evil, but freedom to do good and do it freely, that is, by attraction, not compulsion. In other words, the freedom of children, not slaves.”

True freedom is choosing to serve “in love and joy,” he said. And it is “a commitment to grow in the truth revealed by Christ and to defend it before the world,” he said in his greeting to Polish-speaking pilgrims.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – President Joe Biden June 4 signed an executive order aimed at reducing unauthorized border crossings by asylum-seekers. The move was expected and comes as Biden faces increasing political pressure on the issue of migration in the midst of his reelection bid.

Catholic immigration advocates expressed concern about the impact Biden’s order could have on asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Migrants from Jordan, China, Egypt and Colombia surrender to a Border Patrol agent after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., May 15, 2024. U.S President Joe Biden June 4 signed an executive order temporarily shutting down asylum requests. (OSV News photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, chairman of the Committee on Migration for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the group is “deeply disturbed by this disregard for fundamental humanitarian protections and U.S. asylum law.”

J. Kevin Appleby, senior fellow for policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York and former director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told OSV News, “This action will drive desperate asylum-seekers to more remote areas of the border, leading to the loss of life, and strengthen smuggling networks, who will charge enormous sums to get people across the border undetected.”

In its announcement, the White House said Biden’s order would “bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum.”

The order would temporarily shut down asylum requests once the seven-day average number of daily encounters with noncitizens between official ports of entry is over 2,500. Asylum requests would be reopened once daily encounters dropped below 1,500 — something that has not taken place since July 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order, however, excludes “unaccompanied children … from non-contiguous countries” in calculating the number of encounters.

The White House announcement said Biden “believes we must secure our border.”

“That is why today, he announced executive actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” it said. “These actions will be in effect when high levels of encounters at the Southern Border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today. They will make it easier for immigration officers to remove those without a lawful basis to remain and reduce the burden on our Border Patrol agents.”

The White House also took aim at congressional Republicans for ultimately coming out against a bipartisan border security package previously negotiated by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. The legislation failed to advance in February after former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, despite his own hard-line stance on immigration policy, argued passing the bill would aid Biden in the November election. It also failed to advance in May when even some of its original negotiators did not support bringing it up for another vote.

That legislation would have implemented strict new migration policies for the U.S.-Mexico border, among other measures. But Catholic migration advocates previously expressed concern about the implications of the legislation, particularly for people seeking asylum.

In its announcement, the White House argued, “We must be clear: this cannot achieve the same results as Congressional action, and it does not provide the critical personnel and funding needed to further secure our Southern border. Congress still must act.”

Sister Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is the executive director of Brownsville, Texas-based Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, told OSV News she is concerned about particularly women and children who will be denied asylum because they are often “exposed more to more danger” on the journey to the border.

“They’re more exposed to the dangers of human trafficking, and that worries me a lot,” she said.

Sister Norma added that elected officials should prioritize policies that protect vulnerable people, and Catholics must advocate for humane responses to migration.

“We’re not helping them because they’re immigrants, we’re helping because they’re here — they’re here and in our communities here at the border,” she said. “And there are people suffering and so we have a responsibility before God to respond correctly.”

In his statement, Bishop Seitz added, “There is a crisis of conscience at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“When vulnerable families seeking safety and the means for a dignified life are labeled ‘invaders’ or ‘illegals’, terms that mask their humanity, we have strayed from the path of righteousness, succumbed to our fear of the ‘other’, and forsaken the values upon which our nation was founded,” he said. “This sentiment in no way violates a country’s right and responsibility to maintain its borders and regulate immigration in furtherance of the common good. Nevertheless, as defenders of human life and dignity, which we hold sacred and inviolable from the moment of conception, we cannot accept unjust conditions on the right to migrate for those fleeing life-threatening situations. We especially worry for those compelled by these policies to traverse more treacherous terrain, further endangering their lives and the lives of Border Patrol agents.”

Bishop Seitz said, “For those concerned about violent gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers, we join you in opposing those evildoers. At the same time, we ask: What fate awaits the families who flee for their lives from the same predatory actors, only to be returned to their grasp once they reach our borders?”

“Imposing arbitrary limits on asylum access and curtailing due process will only empower and embolden those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable. These measures will not sustainably reduce the increased levels of forced migration seen worldwide,” he added. “Mindful of challenges faced by American communities and consistent with our longstanding and repeated calls for bipartisan reform of our broken immigration system, we strongly urge the President to reverse course and recommit his administration to policies that respect the human life and dignity of migrants, both within and beyond our borders.”

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, said in a statement the Biden administration’s “proposed actions are a real step backward in our nation’s commitment to human rights and asylum protections as well as a humane and orderly process at the border.”

“Political considerations cannot override the moral imperative to offer protection to those fleeing persecution and violence,” Corbett said. “Instead, we can choose to lead with compassion, justice and respect for human dignity.”

Appleby told OSV News the June 4 executive action “also likely violates domestic and international law and will certainly be challenged in the courts.”

Anna Gallagher, executive director at Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, said in a statement the organization was “appalled that the United States is abandoning its commitment to humanitarian protection and national and international asylum law.”

“This move to drastically reduce asylum access is dangerous, immoral, and illegal,” Gallagher said.

“The policy will strip countless migrants of their legal right to seek asylum with due process, and as a result many lives will be endangered and lost, and families separated,” she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union indicated it intends to sue over the order, writing on X, formerly Twitter, “We will be challenging this order in court.”

Appleby noted the order “comes at a peculiar time, as arrivals at the border have gone down significantly.”

U.S. officials have observed a dip in unauthorized border crossings in March and April after a surge the previous year.

“The human and moral costs of the policy will exceed any perceived political gain for President Biden,” Appleby said.

A Gallup poll released April 30 found that Americans said the most important problem facing the U.S. is immigration, marking the third consecutive month immigration topped that list, which it said was “the longest stretch for this particular issue in the past 24 years.”

ROME (CNS) – When Catholics carry the Eucharist through the streets, “we are not doing this to show off or to flaunt our faith” but to invite others to share in the life that Jesus gives by making himself a gift, Pope Francis said.

“Let’s make the procession in this spirit, ” the pope said June 2 in his homily at a Mass for the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Pope Francis presided over the Mass in Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran, his cathedral as bishop of Rome. Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the main celebrant at the altar.

After Mass, more than 3,000 people – cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, lay members of confraternities and sodalities, Romans and pilgrims – participated in the Corpus Christi procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, about a mile away. Rome Auxiliary Bishop Baldo Reina carried the Eucharist under a canopy held aloft by eight men.

Pope Francis, who has difficulty walking and often uses a wheelchair, was driven to St. Mary Major to welcome the procession and lead adoration and Benediction.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis said the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist demonstrates that God is “not distant and jealous, but close and in solidarity with humanity; a God who does not abandon us but always seeks, waits for and accompanies us, even to the point of placing himself, helpless, into our hands, subjecting himself to our acceptance or rejection.”

“His real presence also invites us to be close to our brothers and sisters wherever love calls us,” the pope said.

The sign of bread is important, the pope said, because “it is the food of daily life, and with it we bring to the altar all that we are and all that we have: our lives, work, successes and failures too.”

In some cultures, he said, if someone drops a piece of bread from the table, they pick it up and kiss it as a sign that “it is too precious to be thrown away, even if it has fallen.”

The Eucharist teaches Catholics “to bless, to gather and to cherish God’s gifts as a sign of thanksgiving” by not wasting food or talents, for example, but also by “forgiving and helping raise up those who make mistakes and fall because of weakness or lapses, acknowledging that everything is a gift and nothing should be lost, that no one should be left behind and that everyone deserves a chance to get back on their feet.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the fragrance of bread and how, “every day we see too many streets that were once filled with the smell of freshly baked bread, but are now reduced to rubble by war, selfishness and indifference!”

“We urgently need to bring back to our world the good, fresh aroma of the bread of love, to continue tirelessly to hope and rebuild what hatred destroys,” he said.

Reciting the Angelus prayer earlier in the day with visitors gathered under the rain in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed for war-torn countries where finding one’s daily bread is a challenge.

He prayed for Sudan, “where the war that has been going on for over a year still has not found a peaceful solution.”

“And let us not forget tormented Ukraine, Palestine, Israel (and) Myanmar,” he said. “I appeal to the wisdom of those who govern to cease the escalation and to put every effort into dialogue and negotiation.”

In his main Angelus address, he called attention to the Gospel’s description of Jesus breaking the bread and sharing it with his disciples.

“In the broken bread and in the chalice offered to the disciples,” the pope said, “it is he who gives himself for all humanity and offers himself for the life of the world.”

Because of that, he said, partaking of the Eucharist “is not an act of worship detached from life or a mere moment of personal consolation; we must always remember that Jesus took the bread, broke it and gave it to them and, therefore, communion with him makes us also capable of becoming bread broken for others, capable of sharing what we are and what we have.”

(OSV News) – The U.S. Catholic bishops’ latest annual report on child and youth protection shows abuse allegations are down, while safe environment protocols have taken root in the church — but guarding against complacency about abuse prevention is critical, as is providing ongoing support for survivors.

On May 28, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection released the “2023 Annual Report — Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

This is the cover of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection’s 2023 annual report on the “Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People'” released May 28, 2024. (OSV News photo/courtesy USCCB)

The 2023 report is the twenty-first since the charter was established by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002 as a number of clerical abuse scandals emerged. Commonly called the Dallas Charter, the document lays out a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, and includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of abuse.

Data for the report came from audits conducted by StoneBridge Business Partners, a Rochester, New York-based consulting firm that provides forensic and compliance services to a range of organizations. In addition, the report includes a 2023 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate on allegations and costs related to the abuse of minors.

For the July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023, period, CARA’s report found a more than 51% drop in historical allegations from those reported in the same period last year, from 2,704 in 2022 to 1,308 in 2023. The decrease was partly due to the resolution of allegations received as a result of lawsuits, said the report.

Another milestone was the full participation of all 196 dioceses and eparchies in the Charter audit, a 100% response rate that was unprecedented. Of those, 28 were visited on-site by StoneBridge, with another 17 audited remotely by the firm and 131 other dioceses and eparchies submitting data for the report.

At the same time, “the number of new allegations from minors remained similar to the prior year, at 17,” wrote Suzanne Healy, chairwoman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board, a lay-led group that advises the bishops on preventing sexual abuse of minors, in a Feb. 21 letter to USCCB president Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio that was included in the report.

Healy — a licensed marriage and family therapist who served as the victim assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 2007 to 2016 — also cautioned against “charter fatigue or complacency” in addressing sexual abuse in the church.

“Even as we move forward with progress, we must acknowledge that without ongoing diligence and commitment, there is the possibility that failures can happen and we must be ready to act if they do. … We must remain vigilant,” wrote Healy. “One new allegation is one too many.”

She wrote that 70% of the nation’s dioceses and eparchies “conduct their own parish audits on the implementation of safe environment programs and policies,” with the data showing “a correlation between parish audits and charter compliance.”

Yet Healey warned, “Without monitoring implementation at the parish level, the risk of abuse increases.” She noted the National Review Board supported the use of high reliability organization principles — used to maximize safety in complex organizations where error stands to inflict great harm — to examine the 17 new claims for “any holes or practices that need to be shored up to prevent future abuse.”

One such deficit was highlighted by a recent discovery in the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, that several safe environment clearance documents were missing from the file of a parish staffer who had previous criminal charges flagged in an FBI fingerprint check.

The gap came to light when the employee was arrested May 8 for unrelated alleged sexual assaults against a minor, which were said to have occurred off site from the two parishes at which he had worked. The pastor who oversaw both parishes had attested that he had personally reviewed the clearances and had found them in order. Bishop Larry J. Kulick of Greensburg took swift action, removing the pastor, placing the parish staff involved on leave and ordering an immediate audit of all safe environment clearances throughout the diocese.

StoneBridge wrote in its assessment that “chancery offices (that) maintain regular face-to-face contact with parishes have better results in implementing training and background check procedures than those (that) do not,” and recommended that diocesan officials periodically visit parishes and schools to review safe environment documentation.

Four dioceses and eparchies audited by StoneBridge were found to be noncompliant with various articles of the charter, but subsequently took steps after the audit to address the issues and attain compliance: St. Mary Queen of Peace Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy in USA and Canada, the Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle USA and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee initially failed to meet review board requirements. St. Mary Queen of Peace along with the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago also lacked safe environment training for minors during the 2023 audit period.

StoneBridge also found several issues at more than 25% of the dioceses and eparchies audited:

– A struggle to maintain functioning review boards, which serve as consultative bodies for their bishops, due to lack of meetings, members, bylaw compliance, policy reviews and understanding of member roles.

– A lack of language in child protection policies regarding either child sexual abuse content or “individuals who habitually lack the use of reason.”

– Ineffective monitoring by dioceses and eparchies to ensure compliance with their existing safe environment programs, with a lack of updated documentation and visitation to parishes and schools.

– Outdated or missing letters of promulgation from bishops on their safe environment programs.

Among the problems StoneBridge identified in less than 25% of the dioceses and eparchies:

– Some clergy, employees and volunteers were not trained or background checked, but nonetheless had contact with minors.

– Offers by the bishop or his representative to meet with victims and their families were not specified in the policies or were not made on a timely basis.

– Abuse reporting procedures were not consistently displayed at parishes and schools, or were not available in all languages in which liturgies were offered, thereby limiting the ability of non-English speakers to file complaints.

– Documented policies regarding accused clergy were lacking with regard to a presumption of innocence, retention of civil and canonical counsel, steps to restore a cleric’s good name in the case of an unsubstantiated allegation, or clergy transfers.

– Lack of a formal policy on communicating with the public regarding clerical sexual abuse of minors.

The CARA survey included in the 2023 report showed that between July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023, reporting dioceses and eparchies paid more than $260.5 million in allegation-related costs — 99% higher than that paid during the previous fiscal year. Of the 2023 total, 73% represented victim settlements, with 19% dedicated to attorney fees.

Over the past 10 years, the Catholic dioceses and eparchies in the U.S. alone have paid more than $2 billion in costs regarding abuse allegations.

But the cost to abuse survivors is far greater, said both Archbishop Broglio and Healy in the report.

“Theirs is a lifelong journey and the mission of the church is a lifelong commitment to accompany them on this healing journey … to minister, even to those who believe they have lost God along the way and left the church,” wrote Healy, noting that during the audit period, 183 new survivors and their families received pastoral care and 1,662 survivors and their families receive ongoing pastoral care.

“I am deeply sorry for their suffering,” wrote Archbishop Broglio in his preface to the 2023 report. “These numbers are not just numbers. The statistics are the many stories and accounts of the betrayal of trust and the lifelong journey towards recovery.”

The archbishop also wrote that he was “grateful” to victim survivors “for holding all of us accountable,” stressing as well the importance of countering abuse amid a landscape “in flux,” given both technological and therapeutic developments.

“I pray that together, we continue working toward the goal of ending the scourge of child sexual abuse, not only in the church but in society,” wrote Archbishop Broglio.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly will leave his post in July, the embassy announced.

The ambassador will step down from his role and return to his native Indiana on July 8, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See said in a post on X published May 30.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve my country in this unique way,” Donnelly was quoted as saying in the post.

Pope Francis greets Joe Donnelly, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, after his annual address to the diplomatic corps Jan. 8, 2024, in the Hall of Blessings at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The former Indiana senator assumed his role in Rome in April 2022 when he presented his letters of credential to Pope Francis. His posting coincided with the 40th anniversary of the United States establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1984.

In a March interview with Catholic News Service, Donnelly said that when interacting with Vatican officials his job was “to try to make sure that where the United States stands, it’s understood.”

As an example, when Pope Francis said the Russian invasion of Ukraine may have been “facilitated” in part “because NATO is barking at Russia’s doors,” Donnelly said, “We tried to let them know, well, here’s what’s actually going on” in the various parts of Ukraine and “here’s the plans that Russia actually had to invade Ukraine based on that they just wanted to take Ukraine back.”

The embassy announced that Laura Hochla, a career diplomat who has served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See since July 2023, will serve as chargé d’affaires of the embassy.

(OSV News) – As a Eucharistic procession made its way May 28 through Victoria, Texas, a 20-something man sitting on the side of a street caught Charlie McCullough’s attention. McCullough stopped to talk with him, explaining what was going on: The procession was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage en route to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, and the Eucharist they were walking behind is really, truly Jesus.

“He had grown up in the Protestant faith and had never seen a Eucharistic procession before, and was at a time in life where he was asking a lot of big questions about what is the reason I exist for, what’s the purpose of life, all these things,” McCullough, one of six perpetual pilgrims on the pilgrimage’s southern St. Juan Diego route, recalled May 29. “We talked briefly and I kept walking.”

About five blocks later, McCullough looked over his shoulder and saw the man running after the procession. He caught up to McCullough and asked if they could talk more.

A priest leads a Eucharistic procession from St. Mary of the Pines Parish Center in Stafford Township, N.J., during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage May 29, 2024. (OSV News photo/Mike Ehrmann, Diocese of Trenton)

“He told me that that morning was the first time he had tried to pray in years. He opened his Bible, and he didn’t know if the Lord had heard him. And when we walked by — when Jesus Christ walked by — he knew something was different. And he knew that he wanted to follow the Lord, and he had so many questions about how and what he wants to do, and there was this zeal welling up in his heart,” McCullough said. “I just got to pray with him and encourage him.”

“At the end of our conversation, he goes, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but I want to go all the way to Indianapolis,'” he said.

McCullough, a fellow Texan, thinks it’s unlikely the man will follow the pilgrimage to Indianapolis, “but I pray that he follows the Lord the rest of his life,” he said. “He had a very profound experience, and the Lord stirred his heart through a simple encounter there, and it was very beautiful.”

McCullough shared that encounter on a May 29 media call that included pilgrims from all four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which began May 18-19 in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas. Ten days into their journeys, the 23 perpetual pilgrims were in the Diocese of Victoria; the Diocese of Boise, Idaho; the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

Their second week included already iconic events — such as when Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York blessed the city with the Eucharist from a boat near the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor May 27 — and hidden moments — like when a man got out of a truck in the middle of Oregon, far away from any towns, and genuflected as the Eucharistic caravan passed.

“It was just a moment driving by, but he had gone out that distance to make sure he knew he would be by Jesus,” said Chas Firestone East, a perpetual pilgrim from Virginia journeying on the western St. Junipero Serra Route.

The pilgrims shared other stories of encounter and conversion: On the California side of Lake Tahoe, a photographer for a secular news outlet — amazed by the masses of people turning out for processions — told the perpetual pilgrims that he was inspired to learn more about the Eucharist and plans to begin the process for becoming Catholic. Meanwhile, a woman who isn’t able to walk with the pilgrims has been joining each procession along the St. Juan Diego Route since Brownsville, Texas, on a retrofitted tricycle. Also in Texas, some perpetual pilgrims helped bandage a woman’s wounded leg at a homeless shelter, and then the woman — whose name is Hope — asked the pilgrims to pray with her.

“It was just a beautiful moment to see Jesus … getting to see him inside the person that we encounter,” said Shayla Elm, a Juan Diego Route perpetual pilgrim originally from North Dakota.

The pilgrims have been amazed by the number of people who met them for Eucharistic processions, Holy Hours and Mass.

“I have been blown away at how hungry people are to show their faith and how thirsty Jesus is for their souls,” Elm said. “Jesus really is thirsty for this whole country. He really wants so many souls to encounter him, and he’s the one walking in the streets. He’s leading us right now. So, it’s really beautiful to have all of us walking alongside our Lord.”

Meanwhile, the pilgrims have been bringing the Eucharist to places where people cannot join the public events. On May 28, perpetual pilgrims on the northern Marian Route visited a St. Paul, Minnesota, nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The visit was a day after a 7,000-person procession on a nearby avenue. A deacon with them pointed out that Jesus wanted to come to people, who due to age or infirmity, couldn’t come to him, and his message stuck with perpetual pilgrim Kai Weiss, a German student who studies in Washington.

“Jesus is really seeking all kinds of different people out on this journey,” he said.

While the perpetual pilgrims expected large turnouts in the cities along their routes, events in small towns have also drawn hundreds. Weiss noted that processions in rural parts of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, likely exceeded the towns’ populations.

“The enthusiasm in those small towns was shocking,” he said. “You just walk through these small towns and church bells are ringing, the first communicants have flowers … people along the route come out of their houses to check what is going on and they’re really moved. Many of them kneel down, but I think a lot of them are like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.'”

On May 26, the Serra Route’s perpetual pilgrims had driven a long time across the Nevada landscape without passing any towns — an experience that East described as beautiful but eerie, especially right after spending time in major California cities. Then, they pulled up to a tiny mission church on the Nevada-Oregon border town of McDermitt, where they were warmly welcomed by a group of Catholics. That arrival “felt like there was a family waiting for us,” East said.

In McDermitt, they met Bishop Liam S. Cary of Baker, Oregon, who accompanied the pilgrims in driving processions for the 24 hours they were in his state. The Baker Diocese encouraged the Catholics joining them by car to pray, sing and listen to Catholic podcasts. As the vehicles crossed into Idaho May 27, Bishop Cary knelt before the monstrance on a float pulled by a truck.

Zoe Dongas, a perpetual pilgrim from New York on the eastern St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route, said a highlight from the pilgrimage has been “the amount of faithful bishops and priests we’ve been able to encounter.”

“We were just on a boat … with Cardinal Dolan and (Metuchen, New Jersey) Bishop (James F.) Checchio, (and New York Auxiliary) Bishop (Edmund J.) Whalen … and getting to bless the Statue of Liberty — that was wild,” she said. “To get to spend time in adoration with all of these holy men that love their church so much and are willing to say ‘yes’ to this amazing adventure and to receive us with such great hospitality — it’s truly been such a gift.”

On May 30, the Seton Route pilgrims had moved into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Juan Diego Route pilgrims were in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The Serra Route pilgrims were preparing to leave the Boise Diocese for the Diocese of Salt Lake City; and the Marian Route pilgrims were preparing to leave the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to enter Minnesota’s Diocese of Winona-Rochester, which is led by Bishop Robert E. Barron, who in 2019 first proposed the idea of a National Eucharistic Revival.

On the May 29 media call, the perpetual pilgrims acknowledged that their packed days can sap their energy. As they aim to become more like Jesus through time with him in the Eucharist, that also means “ourselves becoming a kind of broken bread, and abandoning yourself to that,” Weiss said.

“We’ve had some days where we would get up at 5 a.m. and we’ll hit four or five different parishes by 10 a.m. And, it’s like 10 a.m. and I’m like, ‘Gosh, it’s already so many parishes, and I can’t keep them apart,'” Weiss said with a laugh. “But one of the beautiful things is that the Lord really provides then with some kind of spark, some kind of amazing encounter that really makes you realize again what is happening and the impact that the pilgrimage is having.”

(OSV News) – In what increasingly represents a pattern in the Northeast and Midwest, the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, on May 28 announced a restructuring plan designed to merge approximately 34% of its 160 parishes.

Since April, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, and the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, have all revealed or expanded similar initiatives.

“The Diocese of Buffalo is facing multiple challenges including a significant priest shortage, declining Mass attendance, aging congregations and ongoing financial pressures brought about by our Chapter 11 filing,” explained Bishop Michael W. Fisher in a statement May 28.

“This plan,” Bishop Fisher added, “resulted from the lessons learned as we brought parishes together in the parish family model and determined rather quickly that scaling back the number of parishes would best allow us to use our limited resources to help reenergize a spiritual renewal in the diocese.”

Diocesan statistics provide additional context, depicting a Catholic community where 49% of parishes report a decline in registered households, only 12% initiated new Catholics this past Easter Vigil, and 59% post a negative operating balance.

Sixty percent of diocesan parishioners are over the age of 60, while 59% of parishes note a steady decline in baptisms, with more than half averaging just one baptism per month.

The average age of Buffalo diocesan priests is 76; in just six years, 63% will be between 65 to 70.

In 2020, the Diocese of Buffalo formally filed for Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy code, as it simultaneously attempted to compensate 900 claimants alleging sexual abuse by priests, religious and other diocesan employees.

In March, additional monetary strain was apparent as the diocese moved to sell its 1930s-era downtown Buffalo headquarters, which listed for $9.8 million.

Nonetheless, a diocesan website FAQ said Chapter 11 status is not the cause of the intended parish mergers; it is instead “helping us to take a hard look at ourselves to determine what our future needs to look like.”

Launched in 2019, the diocese’s “Road to Renewal” plan initially suggested no parishes would be merged. But as the process progressed, it became apparent families of parishes would need — according to a frequently asked questions document on the diocesan website — to “rightsize and reshape appropriately for the future.”

Employing a collaborative model, the current 160 parishes were grouped into 36 “families of parishes” announced in December 2021. A pilot phase, involving an inaugural group of six families of parishes, began shortly thereafter.

According to the diocese, the final number of merged parishes will follow a clergy and parish leadership review of recommendations. These can either be agreed to, or an option for an alternative parish — or parishes — within the family of parishes can be suggested for merger. These determinations will take place between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1, 2024, and the process to begin merging identified parishes is expected to commence this fall.

The merger recommendations were based upon demographics, sacramental participation, and financial support, explained a diocesan official in a May 28 statement.

“We also looked at the variations of our urban, suburban and rural parishes,” said Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar for renewal and development and leader of the Road to Renewal effort, “because factors like poverty rates, availability of transportation, proximity and limited resources impact overall parish long-term vitality.”

In his statement, Bishop Fisher presented the diocesan restructuring as a prioritizing of assets.

“These difficult changes associated with our renewal allow limited resources to be directed to the greatest needs in our community,” Bishop Fisher said. “The work of the Holy Spirit within our diocese and the support of the Western New York community has been an incredible blessing.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Through the gift of their vocation and their different charisms, consecrated men and women play a central role in the Catholic Church’s mission to spread the Gospel, Pope Francis said.

“Indeed in many places on the planet the first proclamation of the Gospel bears the face of consecrated men and women who take up with great commitment and dedication of their lives the Lord’s mandate: ‘Go into the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,'” the pope said, quoting St. Mark’s Gospel.

Pope Francis greets and gives candy to sisters belonging to the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master as he arrives at their complex in Rome May 29, 2024, for a meeting with priests ministering in the Diocese of Rome who have been ordained 10 years or less. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis’ comments came in a message to participants in a conference for consecrated religious life in Brazil released by the Vatican May 30. The theme for the conference is taken from Jesus’ instruction to the disciples in St. John’s Gospel: “Remain in my love.”

The pope told participants that “the gift of the vocation must be kept and cultivated every day, so that it produces good fruits in the life of every religious man and woman.”

To live out one’s vocation in a good way, “it is necessary to remain in His love, through constant dialogue with Jesus in daily prayer and faithfulness to the vows that express our consecration in a beautiful way,” he wrote.

Citing his homily for World Day for Consecrated Life in 2020, Pope Francis said that in consecrated life: “poverty is not a colossal effort, but a higher freedom;” chastity is not “austere sterility, but the way to love without possessing;” and “obedience is not a discipline, but victory over our own chaos, in the way of Jesus.”

The pope congratulated the Conference of Religious Men and Women of Brazil for their 70 years of service to the church, and he encouraged them to live in the present while sustained by their specific charisms and “to look to the future with hope.”


On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday) after the 9 AM Mass, Father Joe Jose Kuriappilly, Pastor led a procession with the Blessed Sacrament from SS. Peter and Paul Church in Towanda to the Grotto Shrine.

The parishioners returned to the church for Benediction. First Communicants participated in their First Communion outfits. This was a commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his Apostles honoring the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament.


SCRANTON – Starting on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, the main entrance to Cathedral Cemetery, located in the 1700 block of Oram Street, West Scranton, will be temporarily closed to both vehicles and pedestrians.

The temporary closure is necessary so that renovation work to the cemetery entrance gates and sidewalks can be completed. The work is expected to be completed, and the main entrance to Cathedral Cemetery reopened, no later than Labor Day weekend.

Cathedral Cemetery will remain open to visitors throughout the duration of the renovation work, however access by both vehicles and pedestrians will be the alternative entrance on Pettibone Street (adjacent to the green maintenance garage).

The Diocese of Scranton and the staff of Cathedral Cemetery appreciates the understanding of all people avoiding the construction area to ensure the safety of both workers and visitors.