WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Pope Francis has created the ecclesiastical province of Las Vegas, comprised of the Archdiocese of Las Vegas and the suffragan dioceses of Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City.

He also named Las Vegas Bishop George Leo Thomas to be the first metropolitan archbishop of Las Vegas. Archbishop Thomas, who turned 73 May 19, was appointed the third bishop of Las Vegas Feb. 28, 2018.

The establishment of the new province and the appointment of the metropolitan archbishop was publicized in Washington May 30 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Then-Bishop George Leo Thomas of Las Vegas returns to his seat after receiving Communion at the Basilica of St. Mary Major during his “ad limina” visit in Rome Jan. 30, 2020. Pope Francis created the ecclesiastical province of Las Vegas May 30, 2023, which is comprised of the Archdiocese of Las Vegas and the suffragan dioceses of Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City. The same day he named Bishop Thomas the first metropolitan archbishop of Las Vegas. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A metropolitan archbishop is the head of his archdiocese, and while he has no direct power of governance over the suffragan dioceses in his province, “through canon law, he supports them in matters of faith and discipline and provides fraternal pastoral care to his brother bishops,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Las Vegas has been for me one of the most beautiful encounters, beautiful treasures I could have ever experienced,” Archbishop Thomas told reporters at a news briefing in Las Vegas about the creation of the ecclesiastical province, the elevation of the five-county diocese in southern Nevada to an archdiocese and his being named an archbishop.

He was joined at the briefing by Auxiliary Bishop Gregory W. Gordon of Las Vegas; Bishop Daniel H. Mueggenborg of Reno, Nevada; Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City; and retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

When Archbishop Thomas was named the third bishop of Las Vegas by Pope Francis in 2018, he had been the bishop of Helena, Montana, for 14 years. Before that, the Montana native was an auxiliary bishop of Seattle for four years.

He said that when he was named to Las Vegas, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the U.S., informed him of the appointment and also told him the Las Vegas Diocese had “grown too complex” to send a new bishop to be its shepherd.

By “complex,” he meant it had “a pronounced shortage of priests and seminarians, exponential growth of laity, and needed to build new parishes and establish new schools,” Archbishop Thomas recalled, adding that he told the nuncio: “The one thing I can do is bring wise and gifted people around a common table and we can solve anything.”

The creation of the ecclesiastical province of Las Vegas and elevation of the diocese to an archdiocese illustrate that “the dynamism of this local church, the vitality of the parishes and communities” has come “to the attention of the Holy See,” Archbishop Thomas said.

“I feel very grateful to the Holy See and certainly to Pope Francis, whom I love very deeply, but the honor and the glory belongs to the priests and to the lay faithful,” the archbishop said. “It is the people laboring out in the fields and in the communities who are really responsible for the dynamism of this archdiocese.”

“We are having exponential growth to be sure, and people receiving excellent pastoral care,” he said. “The fact we have now become an archdiocese is certainly a mark of approbation and approval of the Holy Father” and “most especially is a credit” to the laity, priests and religious.

Archbishop Thomas said he planned to go to Rome June 28 with pilgrims from the archdiocese and fellow clergy and that on June 29 he will receive the pallium from the pope.

The pallium is the woolen band that the heads of archdioceses wear around their shoulders over their Mass vestments. It symbolizes an archbishop’s unity with the pope and his authority and responsibility to care for the flock the pope entrusted to him.

“I’m told I’m the only American receiving it this year,” Archbishop Thompson said, adding that Archbishop Pierre will place it over his shoulders in Las Vegas Oct. 2, the feast of the Guardian Angela, during a major celebration at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer that will formally establish Las Vegas as an archdiocese.

In his remarks at the briefing, Bishop Gordon said that the pope’s creation of the new province and elevation of the diocese to archdiocese is “a reflection at this moment of the tremendous growth” of the church and Nevada itself in terms of population, hotels and sports arenas but also in terms “of the spiritual, as evidenced by the increase in the number of baptisms, parishes, schools and other apostolates.

But “this moment” also is certainly a reflection of the pope’s confidence in the spiritual leadership of Archbishop Thomas, who “is always thanking us for all the work we (do) but we know the truth, that work would not be done if it weren’t for the fact the shepherd is so active and so engaged,” Bishop Gordon said. “We thank you for all you’ve done these past five years in our new archdiocese. … We look forward to working with you in your pastoral ministry in this archdiocese for many, many years to come.”

Bishop Gordon said the first inquiries into the possibility of Las Vegas becoming an archdiocese and an ecclesiastical province being created for Nevada and Utah go back to the creation of the Las Vegas Diocese in 1995.

“(There are) decades of growth, decades of censuses showing how Nevada and Utah lead the nation as among the fastest growing states,” Bishop Gordon said, noting that Nevada’s five southern counties making up the new archdiocese alone have over 750,000 Catholics.

In 1995, St. John Paul II divided what was the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas into the Diocese of Reno and the Diocese of Las Vegas. The Diocese of Reno was first established March 27, 1931, and then redesignated as the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas Oct. 13, 1976.

The statewide Diocese of Salt Lake was formed in 1891 from the Vicariate of Utah and Eastern Nevada. In 1951, the Vatican renamed it the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Before May 30, the dioceses of Reno, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City were suffragan dioceses of the metropolitan Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Bishop Mueggenborg, who has headed the Reno Diocese since 2021, said at the briefing that he met the May 30 announcement about Las Vegas “with great joy and profound gratitude.”

“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to you, Archbishop Thomas, and the archdiocese. This is a significant milestone and it marks a new chapter in the life of the church especially here in Nevada but in the entire Great Basin of the United States. It reflects not only the spiritual growth but also the dedication that has taken root here the last 28 years.”

Bishop Solis, who has been Salt Lake City’s bishop since 2017, called it “a great honor and privilege to join you in this milestone in celebration of God’s blessing to this local church here in Nevada.”

He extended his diocese’s and state’s “warmest congratulations for this wonderful moment in the history of the local church of Las Vegas.”

“Nothing happens by accident,” Bishop Solis said. “It is always the movement of the Holy Spirit that inspires priests, religious men and women, as well as the laity, to build a vibrant church in joy and gratitude.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church’s current Synod of Bishops should not be a “parliament for demanding rights,” but a “journey in accordance with the Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

The synod, which seeks to gather input from all baptized Catholics on building a listening church, is not “an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to submit to the breath of the Spirit,” he said.

Pope Francis delivers his homily during his Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican May 28, 2023. Pope Francis called on Catholics to invoke daily the Spirit who gives “harmony to the world” and “directs the course of time and renews the face of the earth.” (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

In his homily for Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica May 28, the pope said that the Holy Spirit is “the heart of synodality and the driving force of evangelization.”

“Without him, the church is lifeless, faith is mere doctrine, morality only a duty” and “pastoral work mere toil,” he said. “We often hear so many so-called thinkers and theologians who give us cold doctrines that seem mathematical because they lack the Spirit.”

Pope Francis, seated to the side of the basilica’s main altar, spoke without difficulty just two days after he had cleared his day’s schedule due to a fever.

Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, was the main celebrant at the altar alongside Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, and Leonardo Sandri, vice dean.

Reflecting on St. John’s account of Jesus breathing on the apostles to impart the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis urged Christians to seek harmony in the church without doing away with the differences that enrich its character.

“The Spirit does not inaugurate the church by providing the community with rules and regulations, but by descending upon each of the apostles, every one of them receives particular graces and charisms,” he explained. The Spirit “does not eliminate differences of cultures but harmonizes everything without reducing them to bland uniformity.”

Embracing difference, the pope said, is key to resisting the temptation to look back in time with nostalgia or become “caught up in our plans and projects.”

At Pentecost, however, “the life of the church began not from a precise and detailed plan, but from the shared experience of God’s love,” he said.

Pope Francis asked Christians to invoke the Holy Spirit daily to create harmony where there is division in the church and beyond.

“Let us think of the wars, so many conflicts, it seems incredible the evil of which we are capable. Yet fueling our hostilities is the spirit of division, the devil, whose very name means ‘divider,'” he said.

Conversely, the Holy Spirit “opposes the spirit of division because he is harmony, the Spirit of unity, the bringer of peace.”

“If the world is divided, if the church is polarized, if hearts are broken, let us not waste time in criticizing others and growing angry with one another,” Pope Francis said, “instead, let us invoke the Holy Spirit.”

The pope encouraged Christians to reflect on their relationship with the Holy Spirit and asked them to develop a faith that is “docile in the Spirit,” and not “stubbornly attached” to “so-called doctrines that are only cold expressions of life.”

“If we want harmony let us seek (the Spirit), not worldly substitutes,” he said.

At the end of Mass, Pope Francis he smiled and waved to onlookers as he was taken down the basilica’s central nave while seated in a wheelchair.

Reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square after the Mass, Pope Francis again spoke of the synod, asking people to join special prayers planned for May 31, the end of the month traditionally dedicated to Mary.

“At the conclusion of the month of May,” he said, “Marian shrines around the world are planning moments of prayer to support preparations for the upcoming ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops,” which is scheduled to meet in October at the Vatican. “We ask the Virgin Mary to accompany this important stage of the synod with her maternal protection.”

“And to her we also entrust the desire for peace of so many peoples throughout the world, especially of the tormented Ukraine,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis called the migration crisis between Mexico and the United States a “serious problem” and praised a U.S. bishop working along the border during an interview with Telemundo journalist Julio Vaqueiro.

In the interview, broadcast May 25, the pope was shown photos of a baby wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a suitcase to be taken across the Rio Grande into the United States.

Pope Francis waves at a participant during a meeting of Scholas Occurentes, an educational initiative, held at the Augustinianum Institute for Patristic Studies in Rome May 25, 2023. Julian Vaqueiro, a Telemundo journalist seen in front holding a microphone, was the event’s master of ceremonies, and spoke with Pope Francis in an interview released May 25. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“It’s a serious problem there,” the pope said in response. “On the other side (of the border) there is a great man, Bishop Seitz” of El Paso, Texas.

“This bishop feels (the problem),” Pope Francis said. “The problem of migrants is serious, it’s serious there and it’s serious here,” he said about Europe, particularly “along the Libyan coast.”

Speaking about his own experience as a child of immigrants, and now as an immigrant in Rome, the pope said that every person who leaves his or her homeland “misses the air of their birthplace.”

“The mate you make in a thermos yourself is not the same as the mate your mom or your aunt makes for you,” he said, referring to the caffeinated herbal drink popular in Argentina.

Vaqueiro asked Pope Francis about his meeting May 13 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The pope said Zelenskyy asked for his help in returning Ukrainian children who have been taken into Russia and told the pope to “not dream much about mediations.”

Since the outbreak of the war, the Vatican has avoided openly condemning the Russian government and has offered itself as a mediator for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

“Really, Ukraine’s bloc is very strong, it’s all of Europe, the United States, so it has a lot of strength,” Pope Francis said to explain why a Vatican mediation did not appear immediately feasible. “But what really pained (Zelenskyy) and what he asked for collaboration on was trying to get the children back into Ukraine.”

More than 19,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported into Russia or Russian-held territories according to a Ukrainian government website. The U.N. Human Rights Office has classified Russia’s illegal transfer of children into its territories as a war crime.

In response to a question on abortion, Pope Francis said that a fetus is a “living being, I’m not saying a person, but a living being.”

“Is it licit to eliminate a living being to resolve a problem?” he asked. “Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”

On abuse, the pope said that priestly celibacy “has nothing to do” with the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy, since, he said, abuse is committed at high rates within families and schools by married persons too.

Vaqueiro, who served earlier in the evening as master of ceremonies at Pope Francis’ meeting with members of Scholas Occurentes, a Vatican-related educational initiative, asked the pope what still needed to be done to realize the reforms discussed by the cardinals in the lead up to the conclave that elected him pope just over 10 years ago.

“Everything,” Pope Francis said. “It’s curious, as you do things, you realize everything that still needs to be done; it’s something insatiable.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While the release of the working document for the Synod of Bishops on synodality is expected sometime in early June, Pope Francis tried to respond to some of the questions and concerns about the synod process that already have been raised.

Pope Francis speaks to members of the Italian bishops’ conference and diocesan leaders involved in Italy’s national synod process May 25, 2023, in the Vatican audience hall. The pope addressed questions and concerns members of the group submitted about his notion of fostering a “synodal church.” (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Meeting at the Vatican May 25 with members of the Italian bishops’ conference and the people they chose to coordinate work for an Italian synod, the pope gave a succinct description of what he means by a “synodal church”:

“Every baptized person is called to actively participate in the life and in the mission of the church, starting from the specifics of one’s own vocation, in relationship with others and with the charisms given by the Spirit for the good of all. We need Christian communities in which space is enlarged, where everyone can feel at home, where pastoral structures and means foster not the creation of small groups, but the joy of being and feeling co-responsible.”

Evangelization is at stake, he said. “A church weighed down by structures, bureaucracy and formalism will struggle to walk in history at the pace of the Spirit, meeting the men and women of our time.”

“The great enemy of this process,” he said, “is fear.”

Pope Francis said that as he entered the Vatican audience hall for the meeting, someone — using an Argentinian phrase that is not very polite, nor is its translation in Italian, he said — told him that the whole synod process is creating a mess.

“Think about the apostles on the morning of Pentecost,” the pope said. If the synod is “a blank,” he said to laughter, “Pentecost morning was even worse. It was worse. Total disorder. And who provoked that mess? The Holy Spirit. He’s good at creating disorder to move people. But the same Spirit also provoked harmony.”

“Don’t be afraid when there is disorder provoked by the Spirit,” Pope Francis said. One need fear “only when it is provoked by our selfishness or the spirit of evil.”

Speaking just a few days before Pentecost, the pope urged everyone, but especially the fearful, to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who opens people to listen to others, who makes dialogue fruitful, enlightens discernment and guides choices and decisions.

Pope Francis told the bishops and representatives that he would try to respond to their questions about “the priorities for the church in relation to society, about how to overcome resistance and concerns, on the involvement of priests and lay people, and on the experiences of marginalization.”

Church unity and shared responsibility are essential, he said. An “always lurking” temptation is to rely on “a few ‘qualified actors’ who carry out pastoral activity” while the rest of the faithful stand by and watch.

“Sometimes one gets the impression that religious communities, chanceries and parishes are still too self-referential,” Pope Francis said.

“There seems to creep in, somewhat covertly, a kind of “defensive neoclericalism’ – clericalism is a perversion,” he said. It is “generated by a fearful attitude, by complaints that the world does not understand us anymore, that young people are lost and by a need to reiterate and make one’s influence felt.”

Obviously, the pope said, a “synodal church,” one where all are welcome, where all share the mission and contribute their prayer, time and talents will have an impact on those the Catholic Church still believes have been chosen by God and given special gifts to lead and to discern.

“We must ask the Holy Spirit to make us understand and experience how to be ordained ministers and how to exercise ministry in this time and in this church: never without the Other with a capital ‘O,’ but also never without others with whom we share the journey.”

“This applies to the bishops, whose ministry cannot do without that of priests and deacons” and to priests and deacons who must work with each other and the faithful, the pope said. “But this is also true for the entire community of the baptized, in which each one walks with other brothers and sisters in the school of the one Gospel and in the light of the Spirit.”

Promoting co-responsibility in the church, he said, is not simply a matter of finding a new way to “distribute power.”

Rather, he said, it means learning how to recognize the gifts of each person, particularly those “who still struggle to see their presence recognized in the church, those who do not have a voice, those whose voices are drowned out or even silenced or ignored, those who feel inadequate perhaps because they have difficult or complex life paths (and) are sometimes almost ‘excommunicated’ a priori.”

Part of the goal of synodality, he said, is to “let God’s heart shine through – a heart open to all and for all.”

Pope Francis said those already active in the church need to remember the parable of the wedding feast from Matthew 22. “When none of the invited guests show up, what does that gentleman say? ‘Go to the crossroads and call everyone.’ Everyone: sick, healthy, righteous, sinners, everyone, everyone.”

“We should ask ourselves how much space we make and how much we really listen in our communities to the voices of young people, women, the poor, those who are disappointed, those who have been hurt in life and are angry with the church,” the pope said. “As long as their presence remains sporadic in ecclesial life overall, the church will not be synodal, it will be a church of the few.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians should pray on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit would give them the courage and strength to share the Gospel, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis gives his blessing at the end of his weekly general audience May 24, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“No matter how difficult the situation may be – and indeed, at times it may seem there is no room for the Gospel message – we must not give up and we must not forsake pursuing what is essential in our Christian life, namely evangelization,” the pope said May 24, the Wednesday before Pentecost.

Using the example of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the 19th-century Korean martyr, Pope Francis continued his weekly general audience talks about the “zeal” to evangelize.

With thousands of visitors and pilgrims – including bands, flag twirlers and dancers – gathered in a sunny St. Peter’s Square, the pope introduced his talk about St. Andrew by pointing out how Christianity was introduced to Korea 200 years before St. Andrew by laypeople who had heard the Gospel proclaimed in China and then shared it when they returned home.

“Baptized laypeople were the ones who spread the faith. There were no priests,” the pope said. “Would we be able to do something like that?”

Ordained in 1844, St. Andrew Kim Taegon was the first Korean-born priest and ministered at a time of anti-Christian persecution.

Pope Francis told the story of how when the saint was still a seminarian, he was sent to welcome missionaries who snuck into the country from abroad. After walking far through the snow, “he fell to the ground exhausted, risking unconsciousness and freezing. At that point, he suddenly heard a voice, ‘Get up, walk!'”

“This experience of the great Korean witness makes us understand a very important aspect of apostolic zeal: namely, the courage to get back up when one falls,” the pope said.

“Each one of us might think, ‘But how can I evangelize,'” he said. Following the example of the “greats” of evangelization history, each Christian can find a way to witness to the Gospel — “talk about Jesus” — in his or her family, among friends and in one’s local community.

“Let us prepare to receive the Holy Spirit this coming Pentecost, asking for that grace, apostolic grace and courage, the grace to evangelize, to always carry forward the message of Jesus.”


Martha Callahan is serving as secretary and ‘ex-officio’ member.


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima during his trip to Portugal for World Youth Day 2023, the Vatican said.

In a statement May 22, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that the pope will travel to Lisbon Aug. 2-6 and will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima Aug. 5.

Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three Fatima seers, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, May 13, 2017. The Vatican announced the pope will return to Fatima Aug. 5 while in Portugal for World Youth Day 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis, who repeatedly has said he intended to be in Lisbon for World Youth Day, had not spoken publicly about also going to Fátima in August. In October 2022, he publicly registered to attend World Youth Day as a pilgrim with the help of two Portuguese university students after praying the Angelus from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

The Marian shrine at Fátima is connected to Pope Francis’ public prayer appeals for an end the war in Ukraine. In March 2022, just over one month after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the pope consecrated both countries to Mary’s immaculate heart, praying before a statue of Our Lady of Fátima in St. Peter’s Basilica. Before her death, Sister Lúcia dos Santos, one of the three Portuguese children who claimed to see apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917, had said Mary requested that Russia be consecrated to her immaculate heart by a reigning pope to bring peace to the world.

Previous popes had consecrated Russia to Mary’s immaculate heart in various forms but had never mentioned the country by name as Pope Francis did in 2022.

In 2017, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the shrine to mark 100 years since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima as part of a quick trip to Portugal that lasted just over 24 hours. He canonized Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, the cousins of Sister dos Santos, who also saw Mary at Fátima. Francisco in 1919 at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness in 1920 at the age of 9. Sister dos Santos died in 2005 at the age of 97.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has asked Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna to lead a mission “to help ease tensions in the conflict in Ukraine,” the Vatican press office said.

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, during a meeting with representatives of most of Italy’s 227 dioceses and their programs to encourage the financial support of church activities during an audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Feb. 16, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The appointment of the cardinal, who is president of the Italian bishops’ conference and a longtime member of the Sant’Egidio Community, was confirmed May 20 by Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

While Bruni said “the timing of such a mission and its modalities are currently being studied,” he said Pope Francis has never lost hope that some kind of dialogue could “initiate paths of peace.”

By referring to Cardinal Zuppi’s task as a “mission,” Bruni appeared to affirm that it was the same peace mission Pope Francis was referring to April 30 when he told reporters returning to Rome with him from Budapest, Hungary, that he had a plan underway.

Spokesmen for the Ukrainian and Russian governments denied knowing anything about the pope’s plan, although Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, insisted they had been informed.

Pope Francis met May 13 at the Vatican with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who tweeted that he asked the pope “to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.” The Ukrainian leader also said he reiterated his insistence on a “just peace” that involves Russia leaving all the Ukrainian territory it occupies.

Il Sismografo, an Italian blog that closely follows the Vatican, had reported May 18 that Zelenskyy and President Vladimir Putin of Russia “each agreed to talks with the Holy Father’s two special envoys to discuss and achieve a truce.”

The blog had said there were “preliminary agreements” from the Vatican, Kyiv and Moscow that Cardinal Zuppi would go to Ukraine and Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Russian-speaking prefect of the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, would serve as papal envoy to Moscow. However, the archbishop’s office May 19 denied that he was involved.

Cardinal Zuppi, 67, has been involved with the lay Community of Sant’Egidio for almost 50 years. The community serves the poor, the elderly and has served as a mediator and hosted several formal peace talks, including the talks that in 1992 led to the end of the civil war in Mozambique. Cardinal Zuppi, a parish priest at the time, was involved in the negotiations.

At the Sant’Egidio Community’s annual religions for peace meeting in October, Russia’s war on Ukraine was the key focus.

Cardinal Zuppi told the gathering that “without dialogue only weapons remain.”

However, “dialogue by no means treats all motives as equal, it does not avoid the question of responsibility, and it never confuses the aggressor and the victim,” he said. Stopping the exponential spiral of war is possible only by recognizing the truth.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – World Youth Day is an antidote against indifference, isolation and lethargy, Pope Francis said.

Since World Youth Days were established by St. John Paul II in 1985, “they have involved, moved, stirred and challenged generations of women and men,” he said in the preface of a new book, “A Long Journey to Lisbon,” by Aura Miguel, a Portuguese journalist for Rádio Renascença. Vatican News published the preface May 2.

The initial intuition that inspired St. John Paul “has not faded,” Pope Francis wrote, as today’s world, especially its young people, is facing enormous changes and challenges.

Pope Francis greets the crowd before celebrating Mass for World Youth Day pilgrims at St. John Paul II Field in Panama City, Panama, Jan. 27, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Young people, he wrote, “risk self-isolation every day, living in a virtual environment much of their life, ending up as prey to an aggressive market that creates false needs.”

“Getting out of the house, heading out with fellow travelers, having important experiences of listening and prayer combined with moments of celebration, and doing it together, makes these moments precious for everybody’s life,” he wrote.

“We really need young people who are at the ready, eager to respond to God’s dream, to care about others, young people who discover the joy and beauty of a life spent for Christ in service to others, to the poorest, to the suffering,” the pope said.

Pope Francis repeated his call to young people not to live life “standing on a balcony watching life go by,” avoiding getting involved and getting their hands dirty, putting a screen between them and the rest of the world.

“Many times I have told (young people) not to be ‘couch potatoes,'” not to be “‘anesthetized’ by people who benefit from having them ‘dumb and numb,'” he wrote.

Being young is the time for dreaming, the pope wrote, and for being open to the real world, “discovering what is really worthwhile in life, struggling to conquer it; it is opening oneself to deep and true relationships, it is engaging with others and for others.”

But, he wrote, the world is facing so many challenges: the pandemic has shown that “we can only save ourselves together”; there is “the vortex of war and rearmament”; the arms race “seems unstoppable and threatens to lead us to self-destruction”; there is the war in Ukraine; and many wars and conflicts continue to be forgotten, “so much unspeakable violence continues to be perpetrated.”

How are young people to respond, the pope asked? “What are they being called to do with their energy, their vision of the future, their enthusiasm?”

“They are called to say, ‘We care.’ We care about what is happening in the world” and about “the fate of millions of people, of so many children, who have no water, no food, no medical care, while the rulers seem to be competing to see who can spend the most on the most sophisticated armaments,” he wrote. “We care about everything,” including all of creation and the digital world, “which we are challenged to change and make more and more humane.”

“World Youth Days have been an antidote to life on a balcony, to the anesthesia that makes people prefer the couch, to disinterest,” Pope Francis said in the preface.

“WYD is an event of grace that awakens, broadens horizons, strengthens the heart’s aspirations, helps people dream, to look ahead,” he wrote. “It is a planted seed that can bear good fruit.”

World Youth Day 2023 is scheduled to take place in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 1-6, and the motto for this year’s event is a passage from the Luke’s Gospel: “Mary arose and went with haste.”

In his formal message for WYD 2023, published in last year, Pope Francis said that the figure of Mary shows young people “the path of closeness and encounter” at a time when “our human family, already tested by the trauma of the pandemic, is racked by the tragedy of war.”

BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNS) – Praising the piety and charity of Hungarian Christians and their commitment to supporting traditional family life, Pope Francis said Christ also calls them to open their hearts — and perhaps their borders — to others in need.

When it comes to the church or to society, isolationism is not Christian, the pope said in a variety of ways during his visit to Budapest, Hungary, April 28-30.

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts from Hungarians dressed in traditional clothes during Mass in Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square April 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Because of the 86-year-old pope’s mobility issues, the trip was confined to the capital and the official schedule was lighter than usual. But, as is normal for the pope, he used part of his long midday breaks and early evenings for private meetings, including with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary.

Flying back to Rome April 30, the pope confirmed that he and Metropolitan Hilarion had spoken about Russia’s war on Ukraine, and he said the Vatican has some special “mission” underway, but he declined to provide details.

The pope also spoke about the war with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who, despite being a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has condemned the war. But within the European Union, he has consistently voted against sanctioning Russia and against sending weapons to Ukraine.

Orbán has claimed his position makes him the only European leader siding with Pope Francis, although the pope has insisted Ukraine has a right to defend itself.

In his first speech in Hungary – to government and civic leaders and diplomats serving in Budapest – the pope encouraged the leaders to foster greater European unity rather than going their own way.

The “passionate quest of a politics of community and the strengthening of multilateral relations seems a wistful memory from a distant past,” he said April 28 in his speech at the former Carmelite monastery that now houses Orbán’s office.

“More and more,” the pope said, “enthusiasm for building a peaceful and stable community of nations seems to be cooling, as zones of influence are marked out, differences accentuated, nationalism is on the rise and ever harsher judgments and language are used in confronting others.”

Ukraine is one of Hungary’s eastern neighbors and Hungarians have assisted some 2.5 million Ukrainians who have crossed the border since Russia’s war on Ukraine began in February 2022. About 35,000 of the Ukrainian refugees have remained in Hungary.

Pope Francis repeatedly praised Hungarians for opening their country and their hearts to the Ukrainians, but in several speeches and at his Mass April 30 in Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square, he urged them to be open to everyone in need.

“How sad and painful it is to see closed doors,” he said in his homily. He cited “the closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others; the closed doors of our individualism amid a society of growing isolation; the closed doors of our indifference toward the underprivileged and those who suffer; the doors we close toward those who are foreign or unlike us, toward migrants or the poor.”

Orbán and President Katalin Novák, who have promoted the migration restrictions, were among the estimated 50,000 people attending the Mass in the square in front of the Hungarian Parliament building.

The pope also preached openness April 28 during a meeting with Hungary’s bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists.

He called Hungarian Catholics to embrace “prophetic welcome” or “prophetic receptivity,” which, he said, “is about learning how to recognize the signs of God in the world around us, including places and situations that, while not explicitly Christian, challenge us and call for a response.”

Christians grow in “prophetic receptivity,” he said, by “bringing the Lord’s consolation to situations of pain and poverty in our world, being close to persecuted Christians, to migrants seeking hospitality, to people of other ethnic groups and to anyone in need.”

Pope Francis met with more than 10,000 Hungarian young people in a sports arena April 29 and listened to four of them share how they have overcome obstacles and grown in their faith.

One of them, Tódor Levcsenkó, a 17-year-old student in Miskolc, Hungary, and the son of an Eastern Catholic priest from the Eparchy of Mukachevo in Western Ukraine, told his peers that their sense of mission and purpose can be “numbed by the fact that we live in safety and peace,” but only a few miles away, across the border, “war and suffering are the order of the day.”

“May we have the courage to defend our faith and take up our call to be peacemakers,” he said.

Pope Francis echoed his call, telling the young people, “This is the real challenge: to take control of our lives in order to help our world live in peace. Each one of us should ask the uncomfortable question: What am I doing for others, for the church, for society? Do I think only about myself?”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – At least three dozen women will be voting members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, Pope Francis has decided.

In a decision formalized April 17, “the Holy Father approved the extension of participation in the synodal assembly to ‘non-bishops’ — priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, lay men and women,” the synod office said in a statement April 26.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod, told reporters April 26 that about 21% of the synod’s 370 members would not be bishops and at least half of that group would be women.

Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, speaks to Iacopo Scaramuzzi, a reporter for La Repubblica, in the Vatican press office April 26, 2023. The Vatican had just announced Pope Francis’ decision to have women and laymen as voting members of the synod. (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden)

Adding women and young people to the membership will make sure “the church is well represented” in the prayer and discussions scheduled for Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican, the cardinal said. “It will be a joy to have the whole church represented in Rome for the synod.”

“As you can see, the space in the tent is being enlarged,” Cardinal Mario Grech, synod secretary-general, told reporters, echoing the title that had been chosen for the working document for the just-completed continental phase of the synod. The document said that in local and national synod listening sessions there were consistent questions about how to promote greater inclusion in the Catholic Church while staying true to church teaching.

“The Synod of Bishops will remain a synod of bishops,” Cardinal Grech said, but it will be “enriched” by representatives of the whole church.

The pope’s decision to expand the categories of synod members, the April statement said, “is in continuity” with the Catholic Church’s growing understanding of the synodal dimension of the church and “the consequent understanding of the institutions through which it is exercised.”

Since the Synod of Bishops was reinstituted after the Second Vatican Council, the voting members of the synod have all been men. The membership was primarily cardinals and bishops, except for the 10 priests — and recently one religious brother — elected by the men’s Union of Superiors General.

Now, rather than the Union of Superiors General selecting 10 voting members, the office said, it will elect only five priests or brothers. And the women’s International Union of Superiors General also will elect five sisters or nuns.

Past synods have included women as non-voting “auditors,” a group that included many women.

Pope Francis has done away with the “auditor” category of synod participant, the Vatican said. Instead, there will be a group of 70 non-bishop members representing “various groupings of the faithful of the people of God,” including priests, consecrated women, deacons and laypeople from every part of the world.

The pope will choose the 70 from a list of 140 people selected by bishops and organizers of six regional groupings of bishops and by the Assembly of Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches. The six regional groups are: the council of bishops’ conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean, known as CELAM; the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe; the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar; the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences: the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania; and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops together.

Each of the seven bishops’ groups will nominate 20 people, the statement said, and “it is requested that 50% of them be women and that the presence of young people also be emphasized.”

In addition to the 10 religious elected by their groups of superiors and the 70 non-bishop members nominated by continental groups, Pope Francis may include “non-bishop members” among the members he appoints.

And, since the leadership of the synod secretariat will be full members, that includes Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the synod. Cardinal Hollerich added that after all the work they did preparing the synod, “it would be very unfair” to exclude them as members.

Most synod members will be bishops elected by their episcopal conference or by their Eastern Catholic bishops’ synod. The number of delegates each conference can elect depends on the size of the conference. Bishops’ conferences with more than 200 members — like the conferences of Italy, Brazil and the United States — will elect five members.




Being guided by “mission over maintenance,” our Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils will continue to work with the Diocese of Scranton in fulfilling the Mission Statement of Vision 2030 and will utilize the Vision 2030 Blueprint Process as a “proactive initiative focused on being as responsive as possible to the mission of the Church.”



May 13-14, 2023


Our Lady of Fatima Parish

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church


Saint Nicholas Parish

St. Nicholas Church




In July 2021, the parish communities of Our Lady of Fatima at Saint Mary’s Church and Saint Nicholas came together in a linkage. Since then, we have been focused on how best to move our faith-filled communities forward given several priority drivers. These include a 26-percent drop in the total number of registered parishioners over the last decade, a $1.7 million outstanding assessment debt of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, and a facilities assessment of the deferred maintenance of the buildings and grounds at Our Lady of Fatima Parish that exceeds $800,000 in total.

There has been a significant change in the demographics of the greater Wilkes-Barre community. As a point of reference, in 1968, Wilkes-Barre had 20 parishes served by 50 priests. The city now has five parishes with only five priests. Over the last 100 years, the city’s population has effectively been reduced by 50-percent. Between 2018 and 2022, Our Lady of Fatima Parish has seen a 54-percent decline in its number of parishioners and the average attendance at weekend Mass decreased 46-percent during the same five-year time period.

The parish offertory at Our Lady of Fatima has also continued to steadily decline from 2018 to 2022. The parish does not do a significant amount of fundraising and has been unable to pay its current obligations historically. The parish also does not have any significant savings available for capital needs to address an aging facility structure and compounding deferred maintenance obligations.

Within the backdrop of this information, throughout the last seven months, representatives of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Saint Nicholas Parish, Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center and the Diocese of Scranton have been studying the possibility of utilizing space at Our Lady of Fatima Parish to provide additional daycare/childcare opportunities to our Wilkes-Barre community.

The study to determine whether the project could be both successful and sustainable was not rushed. It involved an extensive evaluation of the physical space, evaluation of possible reimbursements available and more. The study determined roughly $1.4-$1.7 million would be needed to be spent at the Saint Mary’s church property in order to get the project off the ground. Aside from the normal expenditures to completely rehabilitate the space to meet the building and construction codes for childcare utilization, the existing building conditions presented additional financial challenges including: code requirements for a multi-use facility, fire protection sprinklers throughout the entire facility, new fire rated walls and assemblies, insufficient parking to comply with the zoning code and the increased cost required for below grade accessibility/means of egress and areas of refuge for both the parish center and basement of the church.

The Transition Team representing Our Lady of Fatima and Saint Nicholas, in consultation with the Diocese of Scranton, weighed all of this information. Together, we have reached the decision that it is not in the best financial interest of our parishes to continue pursuing the daycare/childcare option at Our Lady of Fatima Parish. We are committed to being outstanding stewards of all of the resources entrusted to us. An honest assessment of the financial and demographic realities we face show it is most prudent to utilize our combined resources for improved programming to support the parishioners and the mission of the Church as opposed to the struggle of maintaining bricks and mortar.

With all of these factors being extensively considered, it is the recommendation of the Transition Team that the best path forward at this time is to bring our two independent parishes, which are currently only “linked,” together as one new parish through consolidation. This means forming a new parish community for the faithful of downtown Wilkes-Barre. Once consolidation takes place, we will continue to study the impact all of the priority drivers in regards to our two church buildings and continue to prayerfully discern the best path forward. Being guided by “mission over maintenance,” our Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils will continue to work with the Diocese of Scranton in fulfilling the Mission Statement of Vision 2030 and will utilize the Vision 2030 Blueprint Process as a “proactive initiative focused on being as responsive as possible to the mission of the Church.”


With all of these factors being extensively considered, it is the recommendation of the Transition Team that the best path forward at this time is to bring our two independent parishes, which are currently only “linked,” together as one new parish through consolidation. This means forming a new parish community for the faithful of downtown Wilkes-Barre. Once consolidation takes place, we will continue to study the impact all of the priority drivers in regards to our two church buildings and continue to prayerfully discern the best path forward. Being guided by “mission over maintenance,” our Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils will continue to work with the Diocese of Scranton in fulfilling the Mission Statement of Vision 2030 and will utilize the Vision 2030 Blueprint Process as a “proactive initiative focused on being as responsive as possible to the mission of the Church.”