VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A day after canceling an audience because of mild flu symptoms, Pope Francis led the midday recitation of the Angelus prayer as normal and marked the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine.

“How many victims, people wounded, destruction, anguish, tears in a period that is becoming terribly long and whose end is not yet in sight,” the pope said Feb. 25, reminding some 20,000 visitors in St. Peter’s Square that Russia launched its major offensive Feb. 24, 2022.

Pope Francis gestures as he leads the recitation of the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 25, 2024, and prays for peace in Ukraine two years after Russia launched its major offensive on the country. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“It is a war that not only is devastating that region of Europe but is unleashing a global wave of fear and hatred,” Pope Francis said.

Although his voice was deeper than normal, the pope did not show signs of feeling unwell; he did not cough or seem to experience trouble breathing as he has in the past when the Vatican said, as it did Feb. 24, that he was experiencing “flu-like symptoms.”

Dozens of people in the crowd Feb. 25 held up banners bearing the word “Nonviolence” in Italian.

“While I renew my deepest affection for the tormented Ukrainian people and pray for all, especially for the numerous innocent victims,” the pope said, “I plead for that little bit of humanity to be found that will allow the creation of the conditions for a diplomatic solution in search of a just and lasting peace.”

Pope Francis also asked the crowd to pray “for Palestine, for Israel and for the many peoples torn apart by war, and to concretely help those who suffer! Think of all the suffering; think of the wounded children – innocents.”

Casting his gaze even wider, the pope said he is concerned about the increasing violence in eastern Congo, and he joins the nation’s bishops in asking everyone to pray for peace, “hoping for a cessation of the fighting and the search for a sincere and constructive dialogue.”

Pope Francis also joined the bishops of Nigeria and the leaders of the Dicastery for Evangelization in denouncing “the increasingly frequent kidnappings in Nigeria.”

“I express my closeness in prayer to the Nigerian people, hoping that efforts will be made to ensure that the rapid spread of these incidents be curbed as much as possible,” the pope said.

 

SCRANTON – It has been nearly two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began – and all people of goodwill are invited to join together to pray for an end to the war later this month.

On Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, a ‘Prayer Service for Peace and to Commemorate the Second Year of War in Ukraine’ will be held at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton at 2:30 p.m.

The Prayer Service will be led by Father Myron Myronyuk, Pastor, Saint Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church of Scranton, and the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton.

“We want to remind people that our brothers and sisters are still suffering tremendously in Ukraine,” Father Myron said. “I know that many people are tired of war, but it is still going on. We are still losing a lot of lives and that is why we will have this opportunity to think about it, pray for our soldiers, and offer continued support for them.”

While in-person attendance is highly encouraged, the Prayer Service will also be broadcast live on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website, YouTube channel, and social media platforms.

“Father John Seniv will be the homilist. His mother was born in Ukraine. He was a long-time pastor in Berwick and was transferred to Northampton and retired from that parish a few years ago,” Father Myron stated. “We also have an opera singer from Philadelphia who is willing to come and perform a few songs during the Prayer Service.”

Since the invasion began, Father Myron has coordinated several shipments of supplies to Ukraine. That has included everything from tourniquets to hospital beds and medication. Those attending the Prayer Service will be able to provide monetary support to the ongoing efforts.

“The greater Scranton community has given us such support. We’ve been able to buy vehicles, two ambulances, 15 drones, a lot of medical equipment, uniforms that we have shipped to Ukraine,” he said.

For the last two years, Pope Francis has relentlessly called for peace. Recently, the Holy Father said today’s wars and conflicts have put humanity on the brink of the abyss and called for a worldwide cease-fire.

“I will never tire of reiterating my call, addressed in particular to those who have political responsibility: stop the bombs and missiles now, end hostile stances” everywhere, the pope said in an interview with La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, published Jan. 29, 2024.

“A global cease-fire is urgent: either we do not realize it, or we are pretending not to see that we are on the brink of the abyss,” he said.

Since the Prayer Service will be held during Lent, Father Myron is hoping the pews will be full.

“Our people in Ukraine are asking us to pray for them. I want to thank all the good people, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, who are praying for Ukraine constantly. I want to thank them for that kindness,” he said. “During Lent, we try to work on our soul – but of course – we are constantly thinking about others.”

(OSV News) – Five days after mourners filled the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for an irreverent “homecoming” funeral for actor and author Cecilia Gentili, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said he believes the “cathedral acted extraordinarily well.”

In a recording released Feb. 20 of the SIRIUS XM radio show “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan,” the cardinal praised the priests at St. Patrick’s for making a quick decision “that with behavior like this we can’t do a Mass. We’ll do Liturgy of the Word — the readings — and the sermon and prayers of petition and the Our Father.” The service “got worse with the eulogies that were very irreverent and disrespectful,” he added.

The 52-year-old Gentili, an Argentine native who had battled sexual abuse from age 6 and trafficking, as well as homelessness, heroin addiction and incarceration, died Feb. 6 of unnamed causes.

The exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is seen in a nighttime file photo. Five days after mourners filled the iconic cathedral for an irreverent “homecoming” funeral for actor and author Cecilia Gentili, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said he believes the “cathedral acted extraordinarily well” in cutting the service short because of mourners’ behavior. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Gentili was the founder and principal consultant of Trans Equity Consulting and an advocate for the decriminalization of sex work.

The service featured “Mass cards and a picture near the altar showed a haloed Ms. Gentili surrounded by the Spanish words for ‘transvestite,’ ‘blessed,’ and ‘mother’ above the text of Psalm 25,” The New York Times reported. Many mourners, it said, sported attire that included “glittery miniskirts and halter tops, fishnet stockings, sumptuous fur stoles and at least one boa sewed from what appeared to be $100 bills.”

At one point in a livestream video from the service uploaded to Trans Equity’s YouTube channel, a male voice is heard, apparently speaking to Maryknoll Father Edward Dougherty, the presider, and saying, “What we’ll do is move to a funeral service – no Mass – so after that, we’ll do the final commendation and we’re done.”

Two days after the service, the cathedral’s rector, Father Enrique Salvo, labeled the behavior “scandalous.” He acknowledged that many people “have let us know they share our outrage over the scandalous behavior” that took place at the service. He said in a Feb. 17 statement that at Cardinal Dolan’s “directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation.”

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s Parish Church’ makes it worse,” Father Salvo said. “That it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual forty-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”

On the radio show, which is co-hosted by Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, executive director of Busted Halo, Cardinal Dolan praised Father Salvo for his statement, adding that “when scandal (and) acts of disrespect toward the church go on, it does cause us a lot of anguish. I think our cathedral acted extraordinarily well.”

The LGBTQ group that arranged the funeral said Feb. 20 it wants “accountability” from the cathedral for shortening the service from a full Mass to a shorter liturgy without the Eucharist.

“A public apology will also be requested from the Archdiocese of New York for the painfully dismissive and exclusionary language used in their recent statement,” said GLITS Inc. (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) in a news release announcing it will hold a news conference with political and religious leaders and community members about the matter at City Hall Feb. 21.

In its Feb. 20 news release, GLITS said the “rash decision made by clergy members” at the cathedral “abruptly cut short … this joyful and celebratory commemoration of (Gentili’s) powerful legacy.” The service “ended an hour earlier than had been scheduled, thus denying her the full funeral Mass that was agreed upon,” it said.

The community Gentili served “requests a public apology to heal from the pain,” it said, and added that the rector “alluding to the presence of trans and the LGTBQ+ community at large as ‘forces of sin and darkness'” in his statement “is incendiary rhetoric that contributes to further discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities.”

The release cited Pope Francis’ call “for a more open and inclusive church,” adding, “We hope that LGBTQ+ parishioners and mourners won’t be left to feel abandoned yet again by the faith that they still want to call home.”

But Gentili was a self-professed atheist who had been “reexamining (a) relationship with religion for a long time,” according to a November 2023 interview. Gentili had come “from a family of so many different faiths,” including Catholicism, that the activist didn’t feel “attached to any of them.”

Ceyenne Doroshow, founder and director of GLITS and organizer of the funeral, told the NY Times Feb. 15 she had not disclosed to the cathedral’s pastoral staff that Gentili identified as transgender, saying, “I kind of kept it under wraps.”

The GLITS news release said the funeral organizers had “advised” the cathedral staff “to look up Gentili, her work and the community she served.” Expecting the funeral’s organizers to “affirmatively disclose the gender identity of their loved one would not be expected of a non-transgender person,” it said.

In his statement, Father Salvo said, “The Cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way.”

Cardinal Dolan on the podcast echoed what Father Salvo said, noting that priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral “first of all didn’t know the background of the person who died.”

“They got a call that ‘our dear friend died and she’s a Catholic, and it would be a great source of consolation to have the funeral at the cathedral’ … and of course the priests said, ‘Come on in, you’re welcome’ — which is beautiful,” he said. “We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried from there.”

(OSV News) – An Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos qualify as children under state law has raised complex legal questions about artificial reproductive practices opposed by the Catholic Church.

The Feb. 16 ruling responded to appeals brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020, when a hospital patient removed frozen embryos from storage equipment, destroying them.

Alabama Judicial Building, where the state supreme court meets, is seen in Montgomery Sept. 26, 2019. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Feb. 16, 2024, that frozen embryos qualify as children under state law. (OSV News photo/Chris Aluka Berry, Reuters)

The 8-1 opinion said the state’s highest court has previously held “that unborn children are ‘children’ for purposes of Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act … a statute that allows parents of a deceased child to recover punitive damages for their child’s death.” The judges found that parents’ ability to sue over the wrongful death of a minor child applies to unborn children, without an exception for “extrauterine children.”

“Under existing black-letter law, the answer to that question is no: the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location,” it said.

Elizabeth Kirk, co-director of the Center for Law & the Human Person at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in Washington, told OSV News that the cases in which the court had previously held that unborn children are “children” had “involved injuries to pregnant women and the subsequent deaths of their unborn children.”

“Here, the court held that the word ‘child’ in the statute includes unborn children regardless of location, whether in or outside of a biological womb,” she said.

The 1987 document from the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith known as “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”) states the church opposes in vitro fertilization and related practices, including gestational surrogacy, in part because “the connection between in vitro fertilization and the voluntary destruction of human embryos occurs too often.”

Kirk said that “all of us should welcome laws and court decisions that comport with the truth of the human person, including the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.”

Opponents of the ruling said it would imperil access to an infertility treatment. The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system paused IVF treatments after the ruling.

But Kirk called the ruling “a narrow matter of statutory interpretation, involving the state’s wrongful death statute.”

“It specifically avoided reaching broader questions such as whether unborn children are ‘persons’ in other contexts such as under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “Nevertheless, to the extent that IVF practices trigger application of the wrongful death statute, such practices could be implicated.”

Dr. Paula Amato, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said in a statement that “in its medically and scientifically unfounded decision, the court held that a fertilized frozen egg in a fertility clinic freezer should be treated as the legal equivalent of an existent child or a fetus gestating in a womb.”

“The eight members of the court who approved this decision may view these things as the same, but science and everyday common sense tell us they are not,” she said.

Amato argued that by “insisting that these very different biological entities are legally equivalent, the best state-of-the-art fertility care will be made unavailable to the people of Alabama.”

“No healthcare provider will be willing to provide treatments if those treatments may lead to civil or criminal charges,” she said. “If the policy outcomes mandated under this decision stand, the consequences will be profound. Modern fertility care will be unavailable to the people of Alabama, needlessly blocking them from building the families they want. Young physicians will choose not to come to the state for training or to begin their practice. Existing clinics will be forced to choose between providing sub-optimal patient care or shutting their doors.”

Amato said the “choice to build a family is a fundamental right for all Americans, regardless of where they live.”

“We cannot, therefore, allow this dangerous precedent of judicial overreach with national implications to go unchecked,” she said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Feb. 20 the ruling would cause “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

Denise Burke, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the ruling “is a tremendous victory for life.”

“The Court ruled that unborn children created through assisted reproductive technology are children under Alabama law and therefore protected,” Burke said. “No matter the circumstances, all human life is valuable from the moment of conception. We are grateful the Court correctly found that Alabama law recognizes this fundamental truth.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 238,126 patients underwent IVF treatment in 2021, resulting in 112,088 clinical pregnancies and 91,906 live births.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The second assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will meet Oct. 2-27 and will be preceded by several formal studies coordinated by the synod general secretariat working with various offices of the Roman Curia.

The Vatican announced the dates for the assembly Feb. 17, indicating that the desire of some synod members to spend less time in Rome was not accepted. The fall assembly will be preceded by a retreat for members Sept. 30-Oct. 1, the Vatican said.

Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops pray before a working session in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 26, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

And in response to a formal call by members of the first assembly of the synod, Pope Francis has agreed to the establishment of “study groups that will initiate, with a synodal method, the in-depth study of some of the themes that emerged.”

In a chirograph, or brief papal document, released Feb. 17, the pope said that “these study groups are to be established by mutual agreement between the competent dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the General Secretariat of the Synod, which is entrusted with coordination.”

However, the papal note did not list the topics to be studied nor the members of the groups. The synod office said it hoped the approved groups and their members could be announced by mid-March.

Pope Francis’ note focused on the obligation of the offices of the Roman Curia to work with the synod since both bodies, though distinct, are established “to promote in a synodal spirit the mutual relations of the bishops and of the particular Churches over which they preside, among themselves and in communion with the Bishop of Rome.”

In their synthesis report at the end of the first synod assembly, members voted to ask Pope Francis for several studies before the 2024 assembly, including on “the terminological and conceptual understanding of the notion and practice of synodality” itself; and another study on “the canonical implications of synodality,” conducted by “an intercontinental special commission of theological and canonical experts.”

Synod members also called for further theological study on the permanent diaconate and said, “theological and pastoral research on the access of women to the diaconate should be continued, benefiting from consideration of the results of the commissions specially established by the Holy Father, and from the theological, historical and exegetical research already undertaken.”

“If possible,” members said, “the results of this research should be presented to the next session of the assembly.”

After a request of the women’s International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis established a commission to study the historic identity and role of women deacons. The commission worked from 2016 to 2019, and the pope gave a report on it to the superiors general, but it was not made public. He set up a second commission in 2020 after the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon; its results have not been published either.

The assembly of the synod on synodality also said, “We believe the time has come for a revision of the 1978 document ‘Mutuae Relationes,’ regarding the relationships between bishops and religious in the Church. We propose that this revision be completed in a synodal manner, consulting all involved.”

On several occasions after his election in 2013, Pope Francis said he had asked the dicastery for religious to revise “Mutuae Relationes,” a set of directives issued jointly with the then-Congregation for Bishops in 1978 to provide guidance to bishops and religious in their relationship. Pope Francis has said the norms need revision to ensure religious are not treated simply as employees or human resources for a diocese and to ensure that the orders’ autonomy does not lead them to activities in conflict with a local church.

The synod assembly also called for “a thorough review of formation for ordained ministry in view of the missionary and synodal dimensions of the Church.” Assembly members said that involves “reviewing the ‘Ratio Fundamentalis’ that determines how formation is structured.”

The “Ratio Fundamentalis” was last updated in late 2016 and provides guidelines for preparing men for the Latin-rite priesthood and ensuring their continuing education, training and support.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Vices, such as vanity and greed, are like “wild beasts” of the soul that risk tearing people apart, Pope Francis said.

Vices “must be tamed and fought, otherwise they will devour our freedom,” he said Feb. 18 before reciting the Angelus prayer with about 15,000 visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis gives his blessing in St. Peter’s Square during the recitation of the Angelus prayer at the Vatican, Feb. 18, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The period of Lent, he added, helps Christians create moments of silence, prayer and reflection in order to correct those vices and perceive the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

On the first Sunday of Lent, the pope focused his main Angelus address on the day’s Gospel reading about Jesus in the desert or “the wilderness.” He remained there for 40 days, “tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him,” according to the Gospel of St. Mark (1:12-13).

“We too, during Lent, are invited to ‘enter the wilderness,’ that is, silence, the inner world, listening to the heart, in contact with the truth,” the pope said.

By entering into one’s inner world, he said, “we can encounter wild beasts and angels there.”

The “beasts” of the soul, he said, are “the disordered passions that divide the heart, trying to take possession of it. They entice us, they seem seductive, but if we are not careful, we risk being torn apart by them.”

They include various vices, he said, such as coveting wealth, “the vanity of pleasure, which condemns us to restlessness and solitude, and the craving for fame, which gives rise to insecurity and a continuous need for confirmation and prominence.”

However, the pope said, angels were also in the desert with Jesus.

“These are God’s messengers, who help us, who do us good: indeed, their characteristic, according to the Gospel, is service,” he said. “While temptations tear us apart, the good divine inspirations unify us and let us enter into harmony: they quench the heart, infuse the taste of Christ, ‘the flavor of Heaven.'”

“In order to grasp the inspiration of God, one must enter into silence and prayer. And Lent is the time to do this,” the pope said, encouraging Christians to dedicate the time and space needed for such reflection each day.

Pope Francis and leaders of the Roman Curia were to dedicate themselves to private prayer and reflection from the afternoon of Feb. 18 to the afternoon of Feb. 23.

After the Angelus, the pope greeted Italian agricultural and livestock farmers, who had come to St. Peter’s Square seeking his blessing as they joined farmers across Europe demonstrating about rising costs, falling incomes and the impact of European Union regulations aimed at mitigating climate change.

The farmers had their mascot, a cow named Ercolina II, with them in the square. The first Ercolina had been the mascot of dairy farmers who protested limits imposed by the European Union on milk production and associated large fines for exceeding quotas in 1997.

HAZLETON – Regal Cinema in Hazleton is the only location in Pennsylvania where you can see the new documentary, “Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity,” by Goya Producciones.

The film opens in the United States Feb. 22, and will be playing at the Regal Hazleton location, 400 Laurel Mall, at 1:50 p.m., 4:20 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.

 
The documentary is scheduled to play at the Luzerne County theater through Feb. 29 at varying times. For specific dates/times, visit:
 
https://www.regmovies.com/movies/guadalupe-mother-of-humanity-spanish-ho00015914?date=02-23-2024

 

“Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity,” the latest film from Spanish production company Goya Producciones, will be released in its original version with English subtitles in select U.S. theaters for one week, beginning February 22 (Photo OSV News/courtesy of www.peliculaguadalupe.com).

Its director, Andrés Garrigó, talked with OSV News about the film.

This documentary features scenes recreating the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531. “The world would not be what it is now without the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Garrigó, speaking of the impact of the mother of God’s apparitions on Tepeyac Hill near what is now Mexico City. “The Virgin arrived, and there were impressive effects and millions of conversions, all thanks to her.”

The film also includes reflections by priests, analysis by historians and scientists, and testimonies of many of the faithful on whom the “Morenita del Tepeyac” has worked miracles. “Former drug addicts, gang members, drug traffickers and underworld people who at one point had contact with the Virgin and became Marian and Guadalupanos and now go around singing, preaching and praising the Lord,” said the director and producer of the documentary.

The testimonies compiled in this production were recorded in Mexico, the United States, Spain and Germany, and they are experiences that transformed the lives of men and women who have received miracles from Our Lady of Guadalupe and who shared her message with others.

“There is no other (Marian) advocation that has so many millions of faithful who come to visit her from far and near with such fervor year after year for (almost) five centuries,” said Garrigó.

The actors who star in this film are of Mexican origin. Angelica Chong plays the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Mario Alberto Hernandez plays St. Juan Diego.

For Garrigó, those who go to the theaters to see the film “will feel like actors and actresses of the apparitions themselves, because we have tried to put such care and affection that I don’t think there is another film or documentary production that is so close to the original ‘Nican Mopohua,'” he said, referring to the oldest account of the story of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Tepeyac to St. Juan Diego, written in Nahuatl.

The devotion to the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe has reached all continents and that is why for the filmmakers, it is particularly important to know the details of its origin, the historical context that was lived in Mexico in 1531, almost four decades after the discovery of America; and how this devotion has transcended geographical, cultural and linguistic barriers.

“Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity” is a film that not only moves and renews our faith but also addresses with scientific backing those mysteries and messages immortalized in the “ayate,” cloak of St. Juan Diego,which has inexplicably survived almost 500 years.

Gárrigo spoke of the mysteries in the cloak, or “tilma,” where the Virgin’s image appeared and how the documentary shows the messages for the Indigenous people of that time and the “secrets to be discovered when technology would allow it in the 20th and 21st century.” This includes the images that are reflected in the eyes of Guadalupe, the constellations of stars and “how the cloth has resisted all types of aggressions with dynamite and acid.”

Garrigó commented that for almost two years, the Goya Producciones team worked on the pre-production, shooting and post-production of this film, which also will be released in countries such as Mexico, Central and South America, and Spain.

The film includes an interview with Archbishop José H. Gomez. of Los Angeles. Several scenes were filmed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, as well as a Mass and procession in honor of the “Virgen Morena” celebrated in East Los Angeles. Spanish filmmaker Pablo Moreno is co-director of the documentary, which features Mexican actress Karyme Lozano as host and EWTN anchor Pepe Alonso as narrator.

Garrigó said that finding an actress who would convey an image of purity proper to the Blessed Virgin was a great challenge; however, the first of the four actresses at the casting call was the one who met the requirements, including candor, sympathy and physical similarities.

“She told us that she was a Guadalupana and that her mother was praying for her at that moment of the casting. In the end, it seemed to us like a gift from the Virgin,” recalled Garrigó.

Another early fruit of this film was that one of the writers discovered his call to the priesthood and is now in the seminary, he said.

“We have several miracles, small and large, that happened while shooting,” he recounted. One of them was the scene of the first apparition where, according to forecasts, it would rain heavily. However, the sky cleared, the sun came out, and they managed to film this scene for three hours. After finishing, the sky darkened, and it began to rain.

“Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity” will be shown in select theaters in the United States from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28. The documentary is in Spanish with English subtitles.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has once again been targeted by vandals. This time, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the north lawn of the basilica grounds, located in an area known as Mary’s Garden, suffered severe damage.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15, a visitor praying the rosary in the garden discovered the desecrated statue. The individual immediately alerted the basilica staff, prompting an inspection. It appeared that the Blessed Mother’s face had been deliberately struck with a hammer, and the surrounding light fixtures, meant to illuminate the path for visitors, were shattered.

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the north lawn of the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington was vandalized Feb. 15, 2024. According to the basilica’s rector, the damage appears to have been caused by a hammer and is being investigated. (OSV News photo/courtesy of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)

According to Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, this act of vandalism seems to have occurred shortly before its discovery, given the routine checks performed by the security staff.

This act of vandalism echoes a disturbing pattern of disrespect towards religious symbols at the national shrine. Msgr. Rossi recalled, in a statement, a similar incident on Dec. 5, 2021, when the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, an image of the Virgin Mary located in the Rosary Walk and Garden across Harewood Avenue from the basilica, was also vandalized.

The statue vandalized Feb. 15, “Mary, Protector of the Faith” by sculptor Jon-Joseph Russo, depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the child Jesus. According to the basilica’s website, it was erected in 2000 in honor of Bishop Thomas J. Grady, the fifth director of the national shrine, who oversaw the construction of the Great Upper Church.

Msgr. Rossi expressed concern and compassion not only for the sanctity of the shrine but also for the person or people responsible for the damage. “While this act of vandalism is very unfortunate, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” he said.

The basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. The basilica welcomes nearly a million visitors annually.

The shrine’s security team is working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate the vandalism and bring those responsible to justice. Sources tell Our Sunday Visitor that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. The Metropolitan Police Department has not yet returned Our Sunday Visitor’s request for comment.

PHILADELPHIA OSV News) – As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine reaches the two-year mark Feb. 24, OSV News sat down with Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, recently returned from his latest visit to Ukraine, for his insights on the war.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia speaks during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington March 14, 2023. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

OSV News: After two years of full-scale invasion and 10 years of aggression by Russia, how would you describe the overall outlook of the Ukrainian people?

Archbishop Gudziak: It’s really quite amazing, because there’s so much devastation, there’s so much death, there’s so much displacement, and yet the people are pretty clear in their resolve. … There are principles we have to defend, and we really don’t have any choice, because wherever there is Russian occupation, there is genocide. So, if we don’t defend ourselves, we’ll be killed.

We know we have to get the job done. We need help to get that job done, but we know nobody is going to send troops to help us in Ukraine.

We gave up our nuclear arsenal unilaterally in 1994 (under the Budapest Memorandum), receiving security pledges and guarantees from the United States, Great Britain and Russia, who (promised) not only to not invade or demonstrate aggression, but to not even use economic power to shake the sovereignty or independence of Ukraine. … You had the global community applauding the first nuclear disarmament.

(But now) Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty has been violated brutally. Ukrainians realize they have to defend themselves and they will do so.

OSV News: Western support has begun to lag over the last year, with some U.S. lawmakers actively opposing aid to Ukraine. How would you respond to those calls?

Archbishop Gudziak: It’s so important to understand what the consequences of further Russian occupation may be. … We’re at (approximately) 17% of Ukrainian territory under occupation. That has led to 8 million people crossing the border (with 2 million since returning). If, let’s say, even half of Ukraine came under a Russian occupation, you will have at least 10 more million refugees.

And the displacement of people, but also the (disruption) of global political, diplomatic, economic, food (and ecological) systems … has led to a hit on all of us.

Your pocketbook has been hit by the Russian invasion. Oil prices, food prices went up because of the Russian invasion. Hungry people are starving in Africa or the Middle East because of the Russian invasion.

If there’s an advance, it’s going to hit you in your pocket. It’s going to further affect and destabilize global security. And it will empower all the ruffians of the world, whether it’s North Korea, Iran or people who are not yet showing that kind of aggression, but (are) just waiting for a signal that nobody’s watching anyway.

I appeal to conservative Catholics who are concerned about subjectivism, who understand what Pope Benedict was saying when (as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) he observed that we’re moving into a period of the dictatorship of relativism. This is what (Russian Federation President Vladimir) Putin wants. He’s not aiming to convince you of Russian righteousness. He just wants you to doubt democracy. He wants you to doubt the truth, to believe in nothing. And this is diabolical.

(Putin) has killed for almost a quarter-century — the vicious bombing of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya (in February 2000); the death of journalists and political opposition figures that have happened under his rule; the attack, invasion and annexation of part of Georgia in 2008. In 2024, this war (in Ukraine) is not two years old. It’s 10 years old.

We cannot be naive about this. Dear fellow Catholics — your fellow Catholics, your fellow Christians, Protestants and others will not be able to pray freely. Their churches will be closed (and) taken over by the Russian Orthodox Church, as it did with Ukrainian Catholic churches after the liquidation of (its) visible structures. The church can never be liquidated because it’s the Body of Christ. But the persecution of the church is something that follows us since the time of Christ, since the time of the Apostles.

I don’t know if people realize that (many of the popes in the first four centuries of the church) were martyrs. It’s not impossible that this godless brutalism can move into the Western European continent. It’s not impossible that a godless rule, an atheist, aggressive, anti-democratic rule could be in Rome and the bishops of Rome could again become martyrs.

There is no freedom of religion in Russia. Even the Russian Orthodox Church is fully shackled. And the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, uses the language of Islamic militants — of jihad — to encourage participation in the war.

There’s not a single Ukrainian Catholic parish registered in Russia. Certain (faith) confessions are already illegal.

OSV News: Two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights have concluded that Russia has breached the Genocide Convention. Yet the 153 nations party to the convention have been slow to take action. Why?

Archbishop Gudziak: People don’t understand because they use their own categories. They judge or perceive on the basis of their own experience. We have not had an occupation in the United States, really, in historical memory. We haven’t had bombs falling on us, except for 9/11, for example, or isolated acts, which really traumatize us.

There are bombs falling on civilian structures throughout Ukraine every single day — bombs, rockets, drones. And this is something we (in the U.S.) cannot relate to. If there’s a bomb or a mass shooting with 20 people killed, it is a great tragedy. And it happens at home, it’s close. But there are probably between 300 and 400 people killed in Ukraine every day. That includes the soldiers on both sides.

A lot of people (in the U.S.) say, “We don’t want to go into those long-term wars.” And they compare. But Iraq and Afghanistan are not Ukraine and Russia — it’s a bad comparison. Ukrainians are not giving up to the Taliban. They’re not running away. The president is there. The people are there. The government is there. The parliament is there. A million Ukrainians volunteered, joined the armed forces in the last two years. One million people are putting their lives at risk.

OSV News: How does the current war fit into the long record of Russian aggression against Ukraine and in particular the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?

Archbishop Gudziak: It’s the present image of what happened in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Mariupol (sites of recent Russian mass atrocities in Ukraine). But it’s also the history. There were … millions killed by wars, genocide and genocidal policies like the Holodomor or the Holocaust.

All of this at the hands, in one form or another, of totalitarian powers, or wars that were generated by empires.

Putin has said there is no such thing really as Ukraine, there isn’t a separate independent Ukrainian people, (and) the Ukrainian language is just a dialect. All of that will be erased, and it’s not a question of hypothesis.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church gets eradicated as a legal, visible entity every time there’s a Russian occupation. It happened in the 18th century. It happened a few times in the 19th century as the Russian Empire grew or consolidated its hold on territory after the partitions of Poland. The Tsarists … came to Lviv (and) arrested and deported the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to Russia. The Soviets did it in the 20th century.

And now we see it (happening) in the occupied territories.

OSV News: What can Catholics do to support Ukraine at this moment?

Archbishop Gudziak: First of all, we should pray. The Lord is the Lord of history. … And I’ve seen too many miracles. Our church was illegal for 45 years … it was decimated. Today, 35 years later, there are 3,000 priests again, and we have the youngest episcopacy and clergy in the world.

Second, be informed. There’s a lot of disinformation. Be careful of the Tucker Carlsons of the world.

Ukrainians are very grateful to all who pray, who advocate and who help. There’s a special respect for America.

(Ukrainians are) going to fight and defend God-given principles, God-given dignity, so that our children and grandchildren don’t have to suffer. … We have to stop (Russia’s aggression), no matter what the cost.

February 12, 2024 

WASHINGTON – At Masses on the weekend of March 9-10, Catholics across the United States will have an opportunity to help the most impoverished and marginalized by giving to The Catholic Relief Services Collection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This annual collection helps fund the U.S. bishops’ flagship international relief and development organization (Catholic Relief Services), but it also supports five other initiatives:

  • The U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, works to end conflicts and build just societies that respect human rights, religious freedom, and integral human development;
  • the Holy Father’s Relief Fund allows Pope Francis to send emergency aid to disaster victims worldwide;
  • the U.S. bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Services, promotes awareness of the plight of immigrants, migrants, refugees, trafficking victims, and people on the move, and assists with programmatic assistance and aid;
  • the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), provides legal aid to immigrants and refugees seeking a legal path to work permits and citizenship; and
  • the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Cultural Diversity in the Church works to bring Catholics from various culturally diverse communities into fuller participation in the faith, life, and evangelizing mission of the Church. Its Pastoral Care for Migrants, Refugees and Travelers program ministers to the special pastoral and cultural needs of immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean Islands, and Europe, as well as itinerant people, including seafarers, traveling show performers, truckers and tourists, while its Asian and Pacific Island Affairs program engages Catholics from Asian and Pacific Island communities in the United States.

“The initiatives that benefit from The Catholic Relief Services Collection bring hope and change lives of the most impoverished and vulnerable among us,” said Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on National Collections. “It is my hope that you consider the Lord’s graces and blessings at work in your lives and consider how you might make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling.”

This collection helped sponsor a conference to seek peace and justice between South and North Korea. And in drought-stricken Kenya, the collection underwrote the renovation of water systems that now bring life and hope to millions of people through Catholic Relief Services. A project funded by the U.S. bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Services trained thousands of parish volunteers to assist 21,000 refugees from countries as diverse as Ukraine and Venezuela as they were resettled in the United States and are adjusting to life in a new culture as they make a new start.  The Secretariat on Cultural Diversity in the Church brought together young Catholics from many ethnic backgrounds across the United States to build bridges of understanding that heal divisions in our Church, our country and our communities. And for the last 35 years, CLINIC has supported the needs of immigrants seeking legal services at the local level in communities across the country.

Most dioceses will take up the collection in their parishes on the weekend of March 9-10, though some choose a different date. #iGiveCatholicTogether also accepts funds for the collection.

For more information, please visit https://www.usccb.org/catholic-relief.