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Pope Francis to Catholics in Cyprus: ‘Jesus alone frees the heart from evil’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec 3, 2021 / 04:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that “Jesus alone frees the heart from evil” as he celebrated Mass in the divided capital city of Cyprus.

Preaching at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia on Dec. 3, the pope described Christ as a “physician” eager to bring healing to the human heart.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Jesus is the physician: he alone is the true light that illuminates every man and woman, the one who gives us an abundance of light, warmth, and love. Jesus alone frees the heart from evil,” he said at the live-streamed Mass.

The pope was offering Mass on the second day of his visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a population of 1.2 million people.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The country is predominantly Orthodox Christian, with a Catholic minority of around 10,000 people — the estimated attendance figure at the Mass, according to the Holy See press office.

The booklet for the Mass, celebrated on the feast of St. Francis Xavier in the largest stadium in Cyprus, included Latin, English, Greek, and Italian.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope based his homily on the day’s Gospel reading, Matthew 9:27-31, in which Jesus heals two blind men who call out to him.

He reflected on three facets of the encounter: first, that the men went to Jesus for healing; second, that they shared their pain; and third, that they joyfully proclaimed the Good News.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Like those two blind men, we are often like wayfarers, immersed in the darkness of life,” he said.

“The first thing to do in response is go to Jesus, just as he tells us: ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Is there any one of us who is not, in some way, tired or heavy laden? Everyone. Yet, we resist coming to Jesus. Often we would rather remain closed in on ourselves, alone in our darkness, feeling sorry for ourselves and content to have sadness as our companion.”

The pope urged Catholics instead to follow Jesus, telling him their needs, and handing over their bitterness to him.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass at the same altar that Benedict XVI used during his trip to Cyprus in 2010, when he became the first pope to visit the island.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Francis was flanked by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of the Maronite Church, one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The cardinal had welcomed the pope to the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia on the first day of his visit.

Pope Francis greets Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis greets Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem. Vatican Media.

Also at the pope’s side in the home stadium of the Cyprus national soccer team was the Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem, who oversees the pastoral care of Latin Catholics in Cyprus.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The pope, who turns 85 on Dec. 17, said that Catholics had much to learn from the way that the two blind men shared their suffering with Jesus, asking him to have mercy on them.

“Each of us is blind in some way as a result of sin, which prevents us from ‘seeing’ God as our Father and one another as brothers and sisters. For that is what sin does; it distorts reality: it makes us see God as a tyrant and each other as problems,” the pope reflected.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

“It is the work of the tempter, who distorts things, putting them in a negative light, to make us fall into despair and bitterness. And a terrible sadness, which is dangerous and not from God, lurks well in solitude. So, one must not face the darkness alone. If we bear our inner blindness alone, we can become overwhelmed.”

He said that healing occurs when Christians carry their pain together, listening deeply to one another.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope noted that the two blind men began to share the news of their healing, despite Jesus’ request that they tell no one.

“From what we are told, it is clear that their intention was not to disobey the Lord; they were simply unable to contain their excitement at their healing and the joy of their encounter with Jesus,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he continued: “This is another distinctive sign of the Christian: the irrepressible joy of the Gospel, which ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.’ The joy of the Gospel frees us from the risk of a private, gloomy, and querulous faith, and leads us into the dynamism of witness.”

He thanked Catholics in Cyprus for their witness to the Gospel.

“It is not proselytism — please, never proselytize — but witness; not a moralism that judges — no, don’t do that — but a mercy that embraces; not superficial piety but love lived out. I encourage you to keep advancing on this path,” he said.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

Concluding his homily, he said: “Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus is passing, passing also through the streets of Cyprus, hearing the cries of our blindness.”

“He wants to touch our eyes and hearts and to lead us to the light, to rebirth and raise us up within. He asks us the same question that he asked the two blind men: ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ (Matthew 9:28).”

“Do we believe that Jesus can do this? Let us renew our faith in him. Let us say to him: Jesus, we believe that your light is greater than our darkness; we believe that you can heal us, that you can renew our fellowship, that you can increase our joy. With the entire Church, let us pray, all together: Come, Lord Jesus!”

Pope Francis to Orthodox bishops in Cyprus: Let us seek full unity

Pope Francis addresses Orthodox bishops in the Orthodox Cathedral in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2021 / 01:15 am (CNA).

In a meeting with Orthodox bishops in Cyprus on Friday, Pope Francis expressed the desire that the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church will continue to journey toward full unity.

The live-streamed meeting with members of the Holy Synod took place on the second day of Francis’ Dec. 2-6 trip to the Mediterranean island countries of Cyprus and Greece.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Holy Synod is the highest authority of the Church of Cyprus, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church.

“The grace of being here reminds me that we have a common apostolic origin: Paul traversed Cyprus and went on to Rome,” Pope Francis said Dec. 3. “We are thus heirs of the same apostolic zeal, and a single path joins us, that of the Gospel. I like to see us advancing on that same path, seeking ever greater fraternity and full unity.”

The meeting with Orthodox bishops followed a private meeting between Francis and Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, at his residence early Friday morning.

Pope Francis said in his speech that he had been touched by the way that Chrysostomos II had spoken about the Church as a mother.

Chrysostomos II represented the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the opening Mass of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Benedict XVI and Chrysostomos II met another two times at the Vatican and during Benedict’s own trip to Cyprus in 2010 — the first papal visit to the island.

Pope Francis kisses the pectoral cross of Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis kisses the pectoral cross of Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. Vatican Media.

Pope Francis thanked the bishops for their active participation in the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

He reflected on the example of St. Barnabas, an apostle who came from Cyprus and helped St. Paul to spread the Gospel among pagans.

“Barnabas, son of consolation, exhorts us, his brethren, to undertake the same mission of bringing the Gospel to humanity; he asks us to realize that the message cannot be based only on generic exhortations, the inculcation of precepts and rules to be followed, as often has been the case,” the pope said.

“Rather, it must follow the path of personal encounter, be attentive to people’s questions, to their existential needs.”

“Because the Gospel is not handed on by communication, but by communion,” Francis emphasized. “It is this that we Catholics want to experience in the next few years, as we rediscover the synodal dimension, which is essential to being Church.”

“In this, we feel the need to walk more closely alongside you, dear brethren, who, through your experience of synodality, can truly help us,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis met the Holy Synod in the Cathedral of St. John the Theologian, the Orthodox cathedral of the Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, the country’s divided capital city. The cathedral was built in the 14th century and the interior features frescoes depicting scenes from Scripture.

“It is my heartfelt hope that there will be increased opportunities for encounter, for coming to know one another better, for eliminating preconceptions and for listening with docility to our respective experiences of faith,” the pope said in his speech.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He also spoke about the importance of keeping what is sacred, but not “absolutizing” certain customs and habits “that do not require uniformity and assent on the part of all.”

“Let us not become paralyzed by fear of openness or bold gestures, or give in to talk of ‘irreconcilable differences’ that in fact have nothing to do with the Gospel. Let us not permit the ‘traditions,’ in the plural and with a small ‘t,’ to prevail over ‘Tradition’ in the singular and with a capital ‘T,’” he said.

“That Tradition bids us imitate Barnabas and leave behind everything, however good, that could compromise the fullness of communion, the primacy of charity, and the need for unity.”

Pope Francis said that St. Barnabas laid all he had at the feet of the Apostles, and “we too are asked by the Lord to realize that we are members of the same body and to bow down, even to the feet of our brethren.”

He noted the deep divide that exists between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but said that “the Holy Spirit desires that with humility and respect we once more draw close to one another.”

“[The Holy Spirit] invites us not to grow resigned to our past divisions and to cultivate together the field of the kingdom with patience, perseverance, and concrete gestures,” he said. “For if we set aside abstract concepts and cooperate, for example in works of charity, education and the promotion of human dignity, we will rediscover our fraternity, and communion will mature by itself, to the praise of God.”

Francis said that Cyprus’ Church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa, “Our Lady of the Golden City,” is a concrete example of fraternity, since it serves as a place of worship for all of the Christian confessions in the country.

“It is thus a sign of communion in faith and life under the gaze of the Mother of God who gathers her children together,” he said.

“Each will maintain his own customs and identity, but in time, our joint efforts will increase concord and bear fruit,” the pope continued. “Just as these beautiful Mediterranean lands are embellished by respectful and patient human labor, so too, with God’s help and humble perseverance, may we cultivate our apostolic communion.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis landed on Dec. 2 in Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip that will also take him to Athens, Greece, and the island of Lesbos. The visit is expected to highlight the plight of migrants, since both countries have been major stopping points for people seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

The predominantly Orthodox Christian Republic of Cyprus has a population of 1.2 million people, just 10,000 of whom are Catholic.

The island is split by a U.N. buffer zone, with the de facto state of Northern Cyprus located on the northeastern portion of the island. The predominantly Sunni Muslim territory is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is regarded by all other states as part of the Republic of Cyprus.

Cyprus and Greece are significant in early Christian history, because the Apostles St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveled to the Mediterranean countries to bring the Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles records that St. Paul stopped in Cyprus and converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. The Apostle also famously preached on the streets of Athens.

“Dear brethren, I wish to assure you of my own prayer and closeness, and that of the Catholic Church, in the most troubling problems that beset you and in the best and boldest hopes that spur you on,” Pope Francis told the Orthodox bishops. “Your sorrows and your joys are also ours; we sense them as our own. At the same time, we feel great need of your prayers.”

'Fulani association' warns Christians in Nigerian state to close churches or risk attacks

A Fulani herdsman in Cameroon. / Philippe Semanaz via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Sokoto, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Christians in Nigeria’s Zamfara State have been cautioned against public worship in churches lest they be attacked, abducted, and their places of worship torched.

The warning, for which a “Fulani association” claims responsibility, is contained in a letter circulated by the office of the state police commissioner.  

“The command has already alerted its Divisions/Formations for immediate proactive action and deployment of men at churches especially during services,” the police leadership in Zamfara said in reaction to what it described as “an anonymous letter threatening to launch attack on churches, especially churches located at the outskirt of the metropolis.”

The threatening letter was delivered to police headquarters in Gusau, the state capital, Nov. 19.

In the document, members of the "Fulani association who are planning to launch war against Christian religion" claimed responsibility of the "anonymous letter".

“We want churches to be closed from now to the next three years. If they are not closed, we will start burning them,” those behind the letter threatened, and added in reference to Christians in Zamfara, “We will follow their pastors to their houses whether during raining or in the mid night and kidnap them and their family.”

They claimed responsibility of some previous attacks on Nigerians saying, “We have been harming people but we have forgotten the Christians. So, we will start from now until Christmas time. We are going to start with churches located out skirt of Gusau.”

“We are going to start kidnapping of Christians and burning of their churches located outskirt of Gusau town and we are going to do it when no one expect it to happen.”

The letter said, “We are taking this action because they (Christians) were the one that started causing this problem; they harmed our children at Saminaka area and chased away our cows while on rearing behind Karma Hotel.”

According SaharaReporters, security officials in Zamfara said they have taken precautionary measures following the threats.

Mohammed Shehu, spokesperson for the Zamfara State police command, DSP, said that Christian Association of Nigeria leadership in Zamfara had been invited to “discuss security measures around the churches.”

“In that regard, a special squad has been created by the CP to patrol and protect worshippers, especially on Sundays,” the security official said, adding, “plain-clothes personnel have been deployed for intelligence gathering and to unravel those behind the threat letter.”

Speaking to ACI Africa Dec. 1, the Director of Communications of the Diocese of Sokoto said measures are being taken to protect Christians.

“No formal statement has been made by Church officials in the State but internal strategies are at work,” Fr. Chris Omotosho said.

In a Dec. 1 message, CAN representatives in Zamfara said, “Threat against Christians and churches by the terrorists is a divisive strategy against the effort of Christian and Muslim leaders towards ending criminalities in the North-West.”

“We know that all kidnappings and other criminalities being perpetrated in the North-Western part of the country are the handiwork of terrorists who either migrated from the North-East or those who were released under the purported rehabilitation program of the Federal government,” the Christian leaders said in their message, “No Christian Should Be Killed in Zamfara.”

They added, “Now that a Federal High Court has labelled those criminals terrorists, we call on the Police, the military authorities and other security agencies to rise up to the challenge of the terrorists who have turned kidnappings into the biggest business venture in the geopolitical zone.”

“The way and manner by which our security agencies have been handling those criminals are totally unacceptable, reprehensible and unprecedented. Criminals are criminals irrespective of their religious, political and ethnic affiliations,” CAN wrote.

“The leadership of the national Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in our recent visit to Sokoto and Kebbi states was alarmed, surprised and shocked by the record of those criminals who are killing and kidnapping with impunity in the area as if there was a pact between them and the security agencies,” the Christian representatives recalled.

CAN stated that with Christian and Muslim leaders in Nigeria working together to stop sectarian criminality in the northwest, the criminals “are now trying to introduce divisive ways by declaring war against Christians and churches in the zone especially in Zamfara State where they are gradually turning into their strongholds.”

“We have no problem with Islam or with our Muslim brothers and sisters but with the handful fanatics and their financiers who have declared war against Christianity,” they said.

CAN representatives in Zamfara appealed to all peace-loving Muslims “to speak against those who are painting Islam what is not. We know that there is no right-thinking Muslim leader who will be happy with the killings of Christians.”

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to sanction any Commissioner of Police or Zonal Police Commanders and the Director of State Security Services wherever kidnappers operate in the country henceforth. This will go a long way in reducing the menace as we are approaching the Yuletide season,” they said.

The Christian leaders urge the federal government “to refund all the ransom paid for the release of those who were abducted in the last five years.” 

“President Buhari should also direct the Police to arraign all suspected kidnappers, bandits and terrorists in their custody with a view to stopping those who are perpetrating the atrocities. Failure to do this will force the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to ask our members to embrace the principle of self-defense wherever the security agencies appeared compromised,” they added.

Nigeria has been grappling with insecurity since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency began targeted attacks with the aim of turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic State.

Members of the Islamist group have organized attacks on various targets including civilians and political and religious leaders.

15 photos from outside the Supreme Court during the Dobbs abortion case

Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Dec 2, 2021 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Thousands of abortion supporters and pro-life Americans rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1 as justices heard oral arguments in the historic abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The case, which involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, challenges two landmark decisions: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992. 

Here’s what it looked like outside of the Supreme Court:

Thousands of pro-life advocates gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Thousands of pro-life advocates gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Theresa Bonopartis of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA
Theresa Bonopartis of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA
Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA
Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA
Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Mallory Finch from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Mallory Finch from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
From left to right: Amaya Kocher from Cecil, Pennsylvania, Mathilde Steenepoorte from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Megan Moyer from Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and Ellie Kaynor from Detroit, Michigan, woke up around 5:45am to attend the pro-life rally together outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
From left to right: Amaya Kocher from Cecil, Pennsylvania, Mathilde Steenepoorte from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Megan Moyer from Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and Ellie Kaynor from Detroit, Michigan, woke up around 5:45am to attend the pro-life rally together outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Ann and Jimmy Aycock from Birmingham, Alabama, were among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Ann and Jimmy Aycock from Birmingham, Alabama, were among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Delia Tuttlebee (right) from Texarkana, Texas, and Laura Lane from Birmingham, Alabama, attend Mississippi College and came to the pro-life rally outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, with Students for Life of America. Tuttlebee interns with Students for Life and Lane serves as president of the Students of Life chapter at MC. Katie Yoder/CNA
Delia Tuttlebee (right) from Texarkana, Texas, and Laura Lane from Birmingham, Alabama, attend Mississippi College and came to the pro-life rally outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, with Students for Life of America. Tuttlebee interns with Students for Life and Lane serves as president of the Students of Life chapter at MC. Katie Yoder/CNA
Stephen Kosciesza, from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., attended the pro-life rally outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Stephen Kosciesza, from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., attended the pro-life rally outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Abortion supporters attend a separate rally outside the Supreme court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Abortion supporters attend a separate rally outside the Supreme court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Capitol police placed fencing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, during oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, in an attempt to separate rallies by abortion supports and pro-lifers. Katie Yoder/CNA
Capitol police placed fencing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, during oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, in an attempt to separate rallies by abortion supports and pro-lifers. Katie Yoder/CNA

What would the overturning of Roe mean for Latin America?

A pro-life march in Mexico City, Oct. 3, 2021. / David Ramos/CNA.

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 2, 2021 / 14:02 pm (CNA).

If the US Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across the country in 1973, what impact would it have on Latin America? Pro-life leaders in Latin America spoke to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency, about how a ruling reversing Roe v. Wade would impact each of their countries.

A key effect, the leaders explained, is that there would be less pressure to legalize abortion in the region, which often comes politically and economically from the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week state abortion ban Dec. 1. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, could overturn the court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which has barred restrictive early-term abortion laws like Mississippi’s for the past 48 years.

Rodrigo Iván Cortés, president of the National Front for the Family of Mexico, and vice president of the Political Network for Values, told ACI Prensa that a decision reversing Roe v. Wade "would mean a huge setback for the ideological activism for the culture of death" that the United States exerts in Latin America, especially under the Biden administration.

Cortés said, "it has been clearly noted that that administration is putting pressure on Mexico to change laws and policies to impose abortion."

In addition, he said that this change "would mean a very important example" for the magistrates on Mexico's Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, who "are clearly subservient to that ideology of death."

Julia Regina de Cardenal, president of the Yes to Life Foundation of El Salvador, stressed that if Roe v. Wade were overturned "it would help El Salvador, in the sense that the arguments and lies that were used in the United States to legalize abortion, and that are still used here by those promoting the abortion industry, would be undercut."

Although one would expect "more pressure from International Planned Parenthood Federation, in a desperate attempt to legalize its lucrative business that would be greatly affected," the president of the Yes to Life Foundation emphasized that with a pro-life ruling by the United States Supreme Court "the humanity of the 15-week fetus would become more evident, which has already been demonstrated by science and technology."

Ligia Briz, executive director of the The Family Matters Association of Guatemala, said that reversing Roe v. Wade "would be excellent news for us."

"The organizations that are trying to push this issue in our countries, going against our legislation, especially in Guatemala, by law they will have to cease and desist," she said.

Giuliana Caccia, director of the Origen Association in Peru, said that reversing Roe v. Wade "would be a clear example of an indisputable premise, which is that the truth always triumphs."

“In Peru, I think that, if it were reversed, it would give us an indisputable argument, because this ruling was always invoked. Abortion has no legal basis, and no ruling or law can deny that it is a duty to defend life from conception, under any circumstance," she said.

“Our country is one of the nations that has resisted the most, because abortion is legal in Argentina and in many countries in the region. The reversal of the ruling would be one more weapon to continue containing the advancement of this regional agenda that is making steady progress through NGOs financed by international collaboration,” she said.

The president of the More Life Foundation of Argentina, Raúl Magnasco, told ACI Prensa that "the possibility of reversing" Roe v. Wade “means for the whole world a very important ray of hope.”

“As the United States is the most influential country in terms of the communications media, it would mean great progress for the entire region and the world, which would understand, in light of the North American experience, that the future is inclusive regarding the care and recognition of both lives, the mother’s and the unborn child’s,” he stated.

Jesús Magaña, president of the United for Life platform in Colombia, stressed that the Roe v. Wade decision "has been disastrous not only for the United States but for the world," because "abortion was legalized through a juridical act that ended up exceeding the functions of the Supreme Court, because it’s practically a kind of legislation contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, which protects human nature and the people as a whole.”

"In fact, in Colombia the model that has been used to decriminalize abortion has been precisely that of the United States, since the Constitutional Court, acting against the Constitution, has decriminalized abortion," he said.

For Magaña, "if the ruling is reversed, it would be very important because it would put the Judiciary back within its just limits and the democratic process."

Thus "this terrible imbalance” would be avoided “that we have today in our countries, where the interference of the judiciary is so aggressive that it ends up destroying the democratic system by invading the domains of the legislative or executive branch,” he said.

For Elizabeth Bunster, director of Project Hope in Chile, “the possibility of reversing Roe v. Wade would be a sign of hope in the face of a powerful onslaught against life in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Although Chile’s Chamber of Deputies narrowly defeated a bill Nov. 30 that would have legalized elective abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, "we know that there are groups that will continue to insist on this law," she said.

If Roe v. Wade were reversed “it would represent great hope for Chile because one of the arguments wielded to legalize abortion is to talk about the progressivism of developed countries.”

"The United States is seen as a model for these issues," she noted.

Also contributing to this article were Walter Sánchez Silva and Diego López Marina.

'Come to our rescue': Nigerian priest to international community after month of captivity

Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh, who was held captive for more than a month by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria's Kaduna state earlier this year. / Aid to the Church in Need.

Kaduna, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2021 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

A Nigerian priest who spent more than a month in captivity following his abduction earlier this year has called on the international community to come to the aid of the people of God in Nigeria’s Kaduna State amid heightened insecurity.

Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh, 37, told Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 25 attacks from the predominantly Muslim Fulani herders “have become very common in Kaduna state.”

“I am therefore calling on the international community to please come to our rescue,” Fr. Awesuh told the pontifical charity organization.

In a September 2021 report, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) ranked Kaduna as one of Nigeria’s least secure states.

Intersociety members said in the report that at least 608 people in Kaduna state have lost their lives in what has been described as “Christian butcheries” perpetrated by Fulani bandits in the first nine months of the year. 

The report also indicated that 4,400 Christians in Nigeria have been killed, while at least 20 priests and pastors have been murdered or abducted in the West African nation.

Fr. Awesuh told Aid to the Church in Need that Fulani herdsmen stormed his residence in Kachia Local Government Area at 11 pm May 16. 

“I heard gunshots and I quickly turned off the television set. Turning off the light, I saw shadows and heard footsteps. I carefully opened the curtain to see what was going on. I saw five bulky Fulani herdsmen who were well-armed. I recognized them by their dress and by the way they spoke. I stood there confused, not knowing what to do, as I felt completely lost,” the priest recounted.

He added that his body became stiff and started sweating profusely after the attackers knocked at his door.

“They kept on knocking, but, afraid, I refused to open the door. They broke down the door and forced themselves inside. One of the men pushed me to the floor, tied me up and flogged me mercilessly, saying ka ki ka bude mana kofa da tsori (‘you are getting tortured because you kept us standing outside for so long and refused to open the door when we were knocking’). They stripped me naked down to my shorts.”

Abducted along with ten of his parishioners, the priest said that for the next three days they trekked in the bushes feeding only on mangos.

“We were hungry, tired, and weak and our legs hurt a lot and our feet were swollen as we trekked barefoot. There was rain on the second and third days, but we had to keep moving. On the third day, we arrived at a camp deep in the forest,” Fr. Awesuh said.

They remained in the forest for nearly five weeks, where they were fed with rice, oil, and salt. The food was prepared by the women who had been kidnapped, he added.

“We were not allowed to bathe throughout our captivity. We had to urinate and defecate in the hut. We were smelling like dead bodies and the hut smelled like a mortuary. We were tortured and threatened with death if a ransom of 50 million naira ($120,000) was not paid,” Fr. Awesuh said. 

He related that “Our families pleaded and negotiated with our kidnappers, until they finally accepted the sum of 7 million naira ($17,000).”

The priest recalled that three parishioners tracked down the abductees, meaning to rescue them, but they lost their lives in the process.

“Oh, what sorrow to have watched three of my parishioners shot dead in cold blood, right before my eyes—and I couldn’t do anything. It was very painful! At this point, I felt helpless, hopeless, useless, and restless! I urgently craved for death to take me, as the scene of the killings kept playing in my head.”

“Whenever I opened my mouth to pray, words failed me. All I could say was ‘Lord have mercy,’” Fr. Awesuh recounted.

He thanked God for his freedom saying, “To the greater glory of God’s name, we were released and came out alive. I narrowly escaped death. I know of so many priests kidnapped before and after me who were killed even after a ransom was paid.”

Fr. Awesuh, whose current location remains undisclosed for security reasons, said he has undergone counselling.

“The love I received and experienced from my family, friends and especially the Church, was enormous,” he concluded.

Pope Francis tells Cypriot authorities he is praying for ‘the peace of the entire island’

Pope Francis addresses the authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec 2, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Cypriot authorities on Thursday that he is praying for “the peace of the entire island.”

The pope addressed political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in the capital, Nicosia, on Dec. 2, hours after he arrived on the island divided by a U.N. buffer zone.

Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

He described the de facto partition of the island as “the greatest wound suffered by this land.”

“I pray for your peace, for the peace of the entire island, and I make it my fervent hope,” he said.

“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue.”

Pope Francis is the second pope to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI made a three-day trip to the Mediterranean island in 2010. He is embarking on a five-day visit that will also take him to Greece, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country.

Pope Francis meets Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.

In his live-streamed address, the pope described Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a population of 1.2 million people, as “a country geographically small, but historically great.”

He said that the nation has served as “the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East,” offering “an open door, a harbor that unites.”

“Cyprus, as a crossroads of civilizations, has an innate vocation to encounter, favored by the welcoming character of the Cypriot people,” he said.

The island of Cyprus also contains Northern Cyprus, a predominantly Sunni Muslim territory located on the northeastern portion of the island.

Northern Cyprus is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is considered part of the Republic of Cyprus by all other states.

Pope Francis left Rome at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday. After touching down at Larnaca International Airport, he traveled to the divided capital city, where he addressed members of the country’s Catholic minority at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia.

He was then driven to the Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who later gave a speech praising the pope’s outreach to the poor and defense of the environment.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Anastasiades said that Cyprus receives an outsized share of migrants compared to other European Union member states and thanked the pope for his role in transferring 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy.

“Your symbolic initiative is, first of all, a strong message about the need for a much-needed review of EU immigration policy, so that, on the one hand, there is a fairer division of the management of problems and, on the other, and a more humane life for those who emigrate to the member states,” he said.

Flanked by Anastasiades, the pope visited a statue of Makarios III, the first president of Cyprus, in the Presidential Palace gardens. Considered the “Father of the Nation,” Makarios was also the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. He survived four attempts on his life and a coup during his three presidential terms.

Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades before a statue of Makarios III at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades before a statue of Makarios III at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.

Pope Francis paid tribute to Makarios in his address to the country’s leaders, pointing out that his name means “blessed” in Greek, which, he said, evoked the Beatitudes presented by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

The pope noted that Cyprus played an important role in early Christian history.

“Precisely from this place, where Europe and the East meet, there began the first great inculturation of the Gospel on this continent,” he said.

“I am deeply moved to be able to retrace the steps of the great missionaries of the early Church, particularly Saints Paul, Barnabas, and Mark.”

The pope compared the island, with its natural beauty and man-made treasures, to “a pearl of great price in the heart of the Mediterranean,” alluding to Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.

He said: “A pearl in fact becomes what it is because it takes shape over time. It takes years for its various layers to become compact and give it luster.”

“So too, the beauty of this land comes from the cultures which over the centuries have met and blended here. Today too, the light of Cyprus is richly variegated.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He went on: “Many peoples and nations have contributed different shades and tints to this people. I think too of the presence of many immigrants: percentagewise, more than any other country of the European Union.”

“To preserve the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is no easy thing. As in the formation of a pearl, it takes time and patience; it demands a broad vision capable of embracing a variety of cultures and looking to the future with foresight.”

“I think in this regard of the importance of protecting and supporting all the members of society, especially those who are statistically a minority.”

The pope observed that a pearl is created when an oyster faces “an unexpected threat to its safety,” such as a grain of sand.

The Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
The Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

“To protect itself, it reacts by assimilating the thing that wounded it: it encloses the foreign body that endangers it and makes it into something beautiful: a pearl,” he said.

“The pearl of Cyprus has been darkened by the pandemic, which has prevented many visitors from visiting it and seeing its beauty; here, as in other places, this has aggravated the effects of the financial and economic crisis.”

“In this period of recovery, however, it will not be anxious efforts to recover what was lost that will ensure and consolidate growth, but the commitment to promote the recovery of society, especially through a decisive fight against corruption and everything that violates the dignity of the person; here I think, for example, of the scourge of human trafficking.”

The statue of Archbishop Makarios in the grounds of the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
The statue of Archbishop Makarios in the grounds of the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

Pope Francis urged the Cypriot authorities to make bold gestures to try to achieve reconciliation between the island’s divided peoples.

“Not gestures of power, threats of reprisal and shows of force, but gestures of détente and concrete steps towards dialogue,” he suggested.

“I think, for example, of openness to sincere discussion that would give priority to people’s needs, ever more effective involvement on the part of the international community, the need to protect the religious and cultural heritage, and the restitution of all that people hold most precious in that regard, such as places or at least sacred furnishings.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope praised a peacebuilding initiative called the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Project, which brings together the island’s religious leaders under the auspices of the Swedish embassy.

“Times that seem least favorable, when dialogue languishes, can be the very times that prepare for peace,” he said.

“The pearl also reminds us of this, for it takes shape in the patient, hidden process of weaving new substances together with the agent that caused the wound.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope urged dispirited leaders to think of younger generations that long for a “world of peace,” rather than “one marred by perennial rivalries and poisoned by unresolved disputes.”

“Cyprus, as a geographic, historical, cultural, and religious crossroads, is in a position to be a peacemaker. May it be a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean,” he said.

“Peace is not often achieved by great personalities, but by the daily determination of ordinary men and women. The European continent needs reconciliation and unity; it needs courage and enthusiasm, if it is to move forward.”

“For it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress, nor will economic recovery alone serve to guarantee its security and stability.”

He concluded: “May we look to the history of Cyprus to see how encounter and welcome have brought forth good fruits that endure. Not only in the history of Christianity, for which Cyprus was ‘the springboard’ on this continent, but also for the building of a society which found its richness in integration.”

“This spirit of enlargement, this ability to look beyond one’s own borders, brings rejuvenation and makes possible the rediscovery of a brilliance that was lost.”

Pope Francis invites Catholics in Cyprus to be agents of fraternity

Pope Francis visits the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2021 / 08:47 am (CNA).

On his first day in Cyprus, Pope Francis invited the Catholic community to promote a spirit of fraternity in the island country, which is divided by a U.N. buffer zone.

“We need a fraternal Church, one that is an agent of fraternity in our world,” the pope said Dec. 2, shortly after arriving in Nicosia, the divided capital city.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his live-streamed speech at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace, Francis said that “in Cyprus, there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensibilities, different backgrounds and histories, different rites and traditions. Yet we should not experience diversity as a threat to identity; no, we should not be jealous or defensive.”

“If we fall into this temptation, then fear grows, and fear gives rise to distrust, distrust leads to suspicion and then, sooner or later, to conflict,” he continued. “We are brothers and sisters, loved by a single Father.”

Pope Francis landed Thursday afternoon in Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip that will also take him to Athens, Greece, and the island of Lesbos. The visit is expected to highlight the plight of migrants, since both countries have been major stopping points for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

Pope Francis boards the plane to Cyprus at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, Dec. 2, 2021. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis boards the plane to Cyprus at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, Dec. 2, 2021. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope touched down at Larnaca International Airport, then traveled the 31 miles to Nicosia by car.

Addressing Catholic priests, consecrated, deacons, catechists, and ecclesial associations and movements of Cyprus, he said: “By your spirit of fraternity, you can remind everyone, and Europe as a whole, that we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity. We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us.”

The predominantly Orthodox Christian Republic of Cyprus has a population of 1.2 million people, just 10,000 of whom are Catholic.

The island is split by a U.N. buffer zone, with the de facto state of Northern Cyprus located on the northeastern portion of the island. The predominantly Sunni Muslim territory is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is regarded by all other states as part of the Republic of Cyprus.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Before leaving the Vatican on Dec. 2, Francis greeted around 12 migrants from Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, and Syria, now living in Italy. Some of them were migrants who came to Rome on the plane with Pope Francis after his 2016 visit to Lesbos.

On his way to the airport, the pope stopped to meet another group of immigrants hosted by the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a parish close to Fiumicino Airport. While there, he also prayed before an image of Our Lady of Loreto.

The night before the trip, Francis made his customary stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to visit the icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, to ask for her intercession for his travels.

Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Dec. 1, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Dec. 1, 2021. Vatican Media.

Cyprus and Greece are significant in early Christian history, because the Apostles St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveled to the Mediterranean countries to bring the Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles records that St. Paul stopped in Cyprus and converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. The Apostle also famously preached on the streets of Athens.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the head of the Maronite Church, traveled from the Holy Land and Lebanon to be present at the pope’s encounter with Maronite and Latin Catholics in Cyprus Dec. 2.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Maronite Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. There are an estimated 3 million Maronite Catholics worldwide, around a million of whom live in Lebanon.

After listening to songs and testimony from Raï and two religious sisters, Pope Francis spoke about St. Barnabas, the apostle who was born on the island of Cyprus.

Barnabas “was a great man of faith and wisdom chosen by the Church in Jerusalem — the Mother Church, we could say — as the person best suited to visit a new community, that of Antioch, made up of a number of recent converts from paganism,” Francis said, praising the patience that Barnabas showed to “people coming from another whole world, another culture, another religious sensibility.”

“They were people who had just had a life-changing experience; theirs was a faith full of enthusiasm, yet still fragile,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Barnabas, he added, had “the patience of discernment that is capable of perceiving the signs of God’s work in every place, the patience to ‘study’ other cultures and traditions. Above all else, Barnabas had the patience of accompaniment ... he did not overwhelm the fragile faith of the newcomers by taking a rigorous and inflexible approach, or by making excessive demands about the observance of precepts. He accompanied them, taking them by the hand and dialoguing with them.”

Pope Francis invited Catholics in Cyprus to have the same patience.

“The work you are carrying out on this island, as you welcome new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world, is precious,” he said. “Like Barnabas, you too are called to foster a patient and attentive outlook, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God, who never leaves anyone outside the home, bereft of his loving embrace.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He pointed out that Barnabas is also a good example of fraternity, as seen in his friendship with St. Paul, which they were able to maintain even through disagreements about how to carry out their mission.

“I share with you my joy in visiting this land and journeying as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the great apostle Barnabas, a son of this people, a disciple who loved Jesus and a fearless herald of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

“As he visited the emerging Christian communities, [Barnabas] saw the grace of God at work; he rejoiced and urged everyone ‘to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’ (cf. Acts 11:23). I come with the same desire: to see the grace of God at work in your Church and in your land, to rejoice with you at the wondrous things the Lord has done, and to urge you to persevere always, without growing weary or discouraged,” he said.

Dobbs Day: Here's what it was like at the rallies outside the Supreme Court

Thousands of pro-life advocates gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Dec 2, 2021 / 08:04 am (CNA).

Anna Del Duca and daughter, Frances, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning to brave the 30-degree weather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. They arrived hours before oral arguments began in the highly-anticipated abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The case, which involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, challenges two landmark decisions: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992. 

“We're looking forward to the end of Roe versus Wade in our country,” Anna, who drove from Pittsburgh Tuesday night, told CNA. In her hands, she held a sign reading, “I regret my abortion.”

Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA

“I would like to use my testimony to be a blessing to others,” she said, so that “others will choose life or those who have regretted abortion or had an abortion would turn to Jesus.”

Anna remembered having an abortion when she was just 19. Today, she and her daughter run a group called Restorers of Streets to Dwell In Pittsburgh that offers help to women seeking healing after abortion. 

Anna and Frances were among thousands of Americans who rallied outside the Supreme Court before, during, and after the oral arguments. To accommodate them, law enforcement closed the street in front of the court. Capitol police also placed fencing in the space in front of the building in an attempt to physically separate rallies held by abortion supporters and pro-lifers.

At 21-weeks pregnant, pro-life speaker Alison Centofante emceed the pro-life rally, called, “Empower Women Promote Life.” The event featured a slew of pro-life women of diverse backgrounds and numerous politicians.

“It’s funny, there were so many diverse speakers today that the only unifying thread was that we want to protect preborn children,” Centofante told CNA. They included Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Catholics, agnostics, atheists, women who chose life, and women who regretted their abortions, she said.

She recognized women there, including Aimee Murphy, as people who are not the typical “cookie cutter pro-lifer.”

Aimee Murphy, 32, founder of pro-life group Rehumanize International, arrived at the Supreme Court around 6:30 a.m. She drove from Pittsburgh the night before. Her sign read, “Queer Latina feminist rape survivor against abortion.”“At Rehumanize International, we oppose all forms of aggressive violence,” she told CNA. “Even as a secular and non-partisan organization, we understand that abortion is the most urgent cause that we must stand against in our modern day and age because it takes on average over 800,000 lives a year.”

She also had a personal reason for attending. 

“When I was 16 years old, I was raped and my rapist then threatened to kill me if I didn't have an abortion,” she revealed.

“It was when he threatened me that I felt finally a solidarity with unborn children and I understood then that, yeah, the science told me that a life begins at conception, but that I couldn't be like my abusive ex and pass on the violence and oppression of abortion to another human being — that all that I would be doing in having an abortion would be telling my child, ‘You are an inconvenience to me and to my future, therefore I'm going to kill you,’ which is exactly the same thing that my rapist was telling me when he threatened to kill me.”

On the other side of the police fence, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Access Coalition and NARAL Pro-Choice America participated in another rally. Yellow balloons printed with the words “BANS OFF OUR BODIES” escaped into the sky. Several pro-choice demonstrators declined to speak with CNA.

Voices clashed in the air as people, the majority of whom were women, spoke into their respective microphones at both rallies. Abortion supporters stressed bodily autonomy, while pro-lifers recognized the humanity of the unborn child. Chants arose from both sides at different points, from “Whose choice? My choice!” to “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!”

At 10 a.m., the pro-life crowd sudddenly went silent as the oral arguments began and the rally paused temporarily as live audio played through speakers.

Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C. for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C. for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA

During the oral arguments, students from Liberty University knelt in prayer. One student estimated that more than a thousand students from the school made the more than 3-hour trip from Lynchburg, Virginia.

“Talking about our faith is one thing, but actually acting upon it is another,” he said. “We have to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. So to me this is part of doing that.”

Sister Mary Karen, who has been with the Sisters of Life for 21 years, also stressed the importance of prayer. She drove from New York earlier that morning because, she said, she felt drawn to attend. She came, she said, to pray for the country and promote the dignity of a human person. 

“Our culture is post-abortive,” she explained. “So many people have suffered and the loss of human life is so detrimental, just not knowing that we have value and are precious and sacred.”

Theresa Bonopartis, of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA
Theresa Bonopartis, of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA

She stood next to Theresa Bonopartis, who traveled from Harrison, New York, and ministers to women and others wounded by abortion.

“I've been fighting abortion for 30 years at least,” she told CNA. 

Her ministry, called Entering Canaan, began with the Sisters of Life and is observing its 25th anniversary this year. It provides retreats for women, men, and even siblings of aborted babies.

Abortion is personal for Bonopartis, who said she had a coerced abortion when she was just 17. 

“I was kicked out of the house by my father and then coerced into getting an abortion,” she said. “Pretty much cut me off from everything, and that's something people don't really talk about … they make it try to seem like it's a woman's right, it's a free choice. It's all this other stuff, but many women are coerced in one way or another.”

She guessed that she was 14 or 15 weeks pregnant at the time.

“I saw my son. I had a saline abortion, so I saw him, which I always considered a blessing because it never allowed me to deny what abortion was,” she said. Afterward, she said she struggled with self-esteem issues, hating herself, guilt, shame, and more. Then, she found healing.

“I know what that pain is like, I know what that experience is like, and you know that you can get past it,” she said. “You just want to be able to give that message to other people, that they're able to heal.”

Residents of Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson case originated, also attended. 

Marion, who declined to provide her last name, drove from Mississippi to stand outside the Supreme Court. She said she was in her early 20s when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. 

“At the time, of course, I could care less,” she said. Since then, she had a change of heart. 

“We were the generation that allowed it,” she said, “and so we are the generation who will help close that door and reverse it.”

Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA
Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA

The crowd at the pro-life rally included all ages, from those who had witnessed Roe to bundled-up babies, children running around, and college students holding up homemade signs. 

One group of young friends traveled across the country to stand outside the Supreme Court. They cited their faith and family as reasons for attending.

Mathilde Steenepoorte, 19, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, identified herself as “very pro-life” in large part because of her younger brother with Down syndrome. She said she was saddened by the abortion rates of unborn babies dianosed with Down syndrome.

Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA

Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, arrived Tuesday. He woke up at 6 a.m. to arrive at the Supreme Court with a crucifix in hand.

“I believe that God is the giver of life and we don't have the right [to decide] whether a baby should live or die,” he said.

He also said that he believed women have been lied to about abortion. 

“We say it's their right, and there's a choice,” he said. When girls tell him “I have the right,” his response, he said, is to ask back, “You have the right for what?” 

Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.
Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.

Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, also woke up early but emphasized “it was worth it.” A pro-life podcast host, she called abortion a “human-rights issue.”

“I hope that it overturns Roe,” she said of the case, “but that doesn't mean that our job as pro-lifers is done. It makes this, really, just the beginning.” 

From Syria to Slovakia, buildings are lit up in support of persecuted Christians

Red Week 2021 is marked in Bosnia and Herzegovina. / Aid to the Church in Need.

Königstein, Germany, Dec 2, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

Hundreds of buildings across the world were lit up in solidarity with persecuted Christians in Red Week, an annual event organized by the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

This year’s commemoration, on Nov. 17-24, marked the first time that the eastern European countries of Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina have taken part in the event, with Kyiv’s Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and Sarajevo Cathedral illuminated in red.

Another highlight was the participation of the Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah in Aleppo, Syria. The cathedral was badly damaged in the country’s ongoing war but rebuilt with help from ACN.

Also lit up in red were Sacré-Cœur in the French capital, Paris, and the cathedrals in Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart in Australia.

On Red Wednesday, the final day of Red Week, ACN released a report declaring the treatment of Christian minority women and girls in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia a “human rights catastrophe.”

At the start of Red Week, the pontifical foundation announced it was donating $5.6 million to help Christian communities in Lebanon and Syria.