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Pandemic forces changes to Roman Curia’s annual Lenten retreat

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has asked members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private retreat at the beginning of Lent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The pope typically spends five days on retreat together with members of the Roman Curia participating in Lenten spiritual exercises. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.

A statement from the Holy See Press Office on Jan. 20 said that the retreat would not take place in Ariccia this year due to “the current health emergency.”

In its place, the pope has invited all cardinals residing in Rome to spend time in prayer from Sunday, Feb. 21, to Friday, Feb. 26. All papal events will be canceled between the two dates, including the general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Last year, Pope Francis participated in the Lenten retreat “from home,” following along with the spiritual exercises and reflections from his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

The practice of the pope going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries in Lent began around 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat center, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel. 

The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house also offers internet access, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.

Pope Francis: Ask God for unity to ‘overcome scandal of division’ among Christians

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” on Wednesday, saying that the devil always seeks to sow division and discord.

“During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” Pope Francis said in his general audience address on Jan. 20.

“The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” the pope said.

The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. Pope Francis said that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held on Jan. 18-25, is “dedicated specifically to this: to ask God for the gift of unity to overcome the scandal of division between believers in Jesus.”

The pope stressed that prayer for unity involves a spiritual battle both with the divisions within oneself and with the temptation of the devil.

“To pray means to fight for unity. Yes, fight, because our enemy, the devil, is the one who divides, as the word itself says. He is the divider. Jesus asks for unity through the Holy Spirit, to create unity. The devil always divides … He fosters division everywhere and in any way, while the Holy Spirit always joins in unity,” Pope Francis said.

“In general, the devil does not tempt us with high theology, but with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. He is cunning: he magnifies others’ mistakes and defects, sows discord, provokes criticism and creates factions.”

“God has another way: He takes us as we are, he loves us so much … he takes us as different, as sinners, and always nudges us towards unity.”

In his virtual Wednesday audience, broadcast live from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope encouraged people to “evaluate ourselves and ask ourselves if, in the places in which we live, we nurture conflict or fight for an increase of unity with the tools that God has given us: prayer and love.”

Pope Francis insisted that “unity can only be achieved as a fruit of prayer,” saying that “we are not able to obtain unity with our own strength.”

"In fact, we know that we are not capable of preserving unity even within ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul felt a painful conflict within himself: wanting the good but inclined toward evil (see Romans 7:19). He had thus grasped the root of so many divisions that surround us -- between people, in families, in society, between nations and even between believers -- and inside us,” he said.

“The Second Vatican Council stated, ‘the imbalances under which the world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. […] Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society’ (Gaudium et spes, 10).”

“Therefore, the solution to these divisions is not to oppose someone, because discord generates more discord. The true remedy begins by asking God for peace, reconciliation, unity.”

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”

“The root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always,” Pope Francis said.

‘This image is very offensive to many people’: Poland’s ‘rainbow halo’ trial begins

CNA Staff, Jan 20, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).- The trial of three activists who distributed posters depicting Poland’s Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo will resume next month following a tumultuous opening hearing. 

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable in Poland by up to two years in prison.

A crowd of mainly young people gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as “A secular, not Catholic Poland” and “The rainbow does not offend.” 

Local media reported that at one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult for the hearing to proceed. Following testimonies from the first witnesses, the trial was adjourned until Feb. 17.

The case is being heard in the city of Płock in central Poland, where in April 2019 the women placed posters of Our Lady of Częstochowa, a venerated icon of the Virgin Mary, with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus.

Karolina Pawłowska, director of the Ordo Iuris International Law Center in Warsaw, said she was confident that the trial had a sound basis in Polish law. 

“The image that is the subject of this case -- which depicts the Mother of God and Baby Jesus with the halos replaced with colors that are commonly associated with LGBT movements -- I think it’s one of the cases that fulfills all premises of profanation, which is defined in the Polish criminal code in Article 196,” she told CNA on Jan. 18.

Article 196 of the country’s penal code says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Pawłowska said: “It is clear, especially when you take into consideration the Polish cultural circle, which is very much focused on and built upon Catholic ethics and values which are very important to Polish people.”

“So from the side of people who are Catholics, who are defending Christian values, defending religious freedom, it should be obvious that such provocations should not take place in public debate, because it is not an element of public debate and should not be accepted as an element of public debate but should be considered as an offense to many, many people.”

The three activists say that they attached the posters to walls around St. Dominic’s Church in Płock in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

But according to the Associated Press, they deny allegations that they put stickers featuring the image on garbage bins and mobile toilets.

Pawłowska said that Polish Catholics were concerned not only by the image itself but also by the way that activists have used it. 

“It is also important to say that we are talking not only about the image, which was offensive and provocative of course, but also about the way it was promoted. It was very widespread on social media,” she said.

“It was also placed on the walls of the Sanctuary of St. Faustina and at the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw. So in places that are very important to Catholics, places that are the object of cult [religious practice]. It was also very offensive to people that believe in God, believe in Jesus.”

“This is why there should be no doubt that this particular act of ‘artistic expression,’ as the authors would like to describe it, is something that should not take place.” 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display in St. Dominic’s Church as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

Amnesty International, the human rights organization founded by the British Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson, has urged Poland’s prosecutor general to drop the charges against the three women. 

Pawłowska said that Amnesty’s stance lacked merit in Polish law. 

“It mostly consists of political postulates, but not arguments that have grounds in existing legal provisions in Poland,” she said.

“The Polish constitution and international law defend the right to religious freedom and defend people from examples of such offenses like that. This is why the stance of Amnesty International not only has no grounds in the Polish legal system but also in international human rights provisions.”

The Catholic Church in Poland is not currently commenting on the court case, which comes as the Church appears to be losing ground in Polish society. 

More than 90% of Poles are baptized Catholics and the country has the highest weekly church attendance in Europe. But statisticians announced last month that Sunday Mass-going declined by 1.3% in 2019 -- before the coronavirus pandemic struck the country.

In November, a survey found that only 9% of respondents aged 18 to 29 had a positive view of the Church, while 47% had a negative view and 44% were neutral.

Pawłowska said that the Ordo Iuris International Law Center had no formal connection to the Catholic Church in Poland.

“In fact, we are a non-governmental legal organization that consists not only of Catholics but also people of different beliefs,” she said. 

“We of course defend people’s rights to religious freedom and that their religious convictions be respected, but we are not referring to religious arguments. We are referring to legal arguments, which are all on our side because the Polish constitution and international legal human rights treaties are in favor of such rights.”

In October, protesters disrupted Sunday Masses after the country’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. Amid nationwide demonstrations, protesters left graffiti on church property and vandalized statues of St. John Paul II, the Polish pope who led the Church from 1978 to 2005. 

Pawłowska pointed out that the “Rainbow Madonna” image was displayed during the protests.

“Right now in Poland, we can see that this image is quite popular, especially among, for example, protesters that were using it during protests against the judgment of the Polish constitutional tribunal which banned eugenic abortion,” she said.

“And I think this image is very, very offensive to many, many people. And this is why it should not be promoted.” 

She said that while the court in Płock could not ban the image, it could send a “very important message.”

“It can send the message that it is something that is offensive and ask the authors of the image to not propagate it anymore. For example, to take it off from their social media and so on,” she said. 

“Of course, in the modern age of the internet, it is hard to completely erase such an image from social media, from the internet, because I think it’s almost impossible. But it would be a very, very important message.” 

“And it would be a very important message for Catholics that could feel defended by our state from certain offensive, provocative images that are created by radicals.”

Court: Vermont can’t exclude Catholic school student from college tuition program

Denver Newsroom, Jan 20, 2021 / 12:23 am (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has sided with a Catholic high school student who challenged a State of Vermont policy that excludes students at private religious secondary schools from a no-cost college credit program.

“Today’s decision levels the playing field by ensuring that Vermont parents and students who have chosen a faith-based education can enjoy the same publicly available opportunities as their neighbors,” Jake Warner, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Jan. 19.

Amy Hester, a senior at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, is a plaintiff in the case with her parents and the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which runs the school.

As a student at a private religious high school, Hester was excluded from the Vermont Education Agency’s Dual Enrollment Program. The program allows high school students to take college courses with tuition paid by the state. Students from public schools are eligible, as are students from secular private schools and homeschooled students.

The State of Vermont pays tuition for dual enrollment credit directly to the post-secondary institution, and makes no payments to high schools at all. Religiously affiliated colleges that offer religious coursework can take part in the dual enrollment program and so receive state funding.

While a lower court rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against the policy, Hester has “a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim,” Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said Jan. 17, as reported by the Vermont newspaper the Battleboro Reformer.

Judge Steven Menashi, in a concurring decision, said Hester had a clear likelihood of successfully arguing that her exclusion from the dual enrollment program “violates her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.”

The court ordered the Vermont Secretary of Education to allow Hester to participate in the program. It granted a preliminary injunction pending the final resolution of the case.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys, including those from the Alliance Defending Freedom religious freedom legal group, welcomed the decision.

“Vermont officials can’t treat people of faith as second-class citizens by excluding them from generally available public benefits,” Warner said. “When the government allows same-district students from public schools, secular private schools, and homeschools to participate in its dual enrollment program but excludes only students from religious private schools, it discriminates against religious students.”

Thomas E. McCormick, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Battleboro Reformer that the ruling would impact students who live in a town without a public high school and instead attend an approved independent high school.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice had filed a brief supporting the student’s claim that the rule violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. The dual enrollment program is open to “similarly situated schools and students attending such schools.”

“(R)eligious entities and their adherents cannot be excluded from or disadvantaged under public programs and benefits based on their religious character,” the brief said.

The appellate court had granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs on Aug. 5, citing a recent Supreme Court decision that could further change the legal thinking about funding for religious private schools.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment and constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them.” The case concerned a 2015 state scholarship program funded by tax credits that state officials had said could not be used by students at religious schools.

Catholic leaders in Brazil ask for more oxygen tanks due to decreasing supplies

CNA Staff, Jan 19, 2021 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- As the second wave of coronavirus has severely impacted people in the Amazon, Brazilian bishops have asked for donations of oxygen supplies to help patients in crowded hospitals.

“We, bishops of Amazonas and Roraima, make an appeal: For the love of God, send us oxygen,” said Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus according to a recent video, Independent Catholic News reported.

Archbishop Steiner released the video Jan. 16 emphasizing difficulties faced by residents of Amazonas - a state in northwestern Brazil. He said that during the first wave of the virus, victims faced a lack of information and hospital beds. Now, he said, the patients are dying from a lack of oxygen tanks.

He encouraged listeners to put themselves in the services of others and follow pandemic restrictions instead of focusing on political divisions and promoting arguments.

"I make another appeal in [the] name of our bishops, that we put ourselves at the service of others, that we continue to use a mask, follow social distancing and carry on caring for each other's health,” he said.

"We are in a difficult moment of the pandemic, which seems almost without an end. Let us all make our contribution and engage with solidarity in caring for the life of one another."

According to Agence France-Presse, COVID-19 has killed over 210,000 people in the country. In Amazonas, the virus has caused an average of 149 deaths per 100,000 residents. Of Brazil’s 27 states, the Amazonas is the second-worst region to be affected by the coronavirus.

Governor Wilson Limas tweeted last Thursday that the state began to airlift 235 patients to five other Brazilian states because of a lack of oxygen supplies. Over 60 premature infants in Manaus were also airlifted to hospitals in Sao Paulo, about 2,500 miles away from Manaus, on Jan. 15.

Health officials have expressed concern that the coronavirus in the region has mutated into more contagious strains.

As oxygen supplies continue to diminish, those with Covid-19 and their families have forgone hospitals and relatives have waited hours to purchase oxygen supplies for themselves. While in line for a new oxygen market, local resident Fernando Marcelino told AFP that supplies are limited.

"Everyone here has a family member being treated at home. They prefer that to leaving them to die in the hospitals," said Marcelino.

"The oxygen is arriving, but we don't know how long that will last for," he added.

Private school parents will appeal to EU for relief against Spanish education law

Madrid, Spain, Jan 19, 2021 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- An association of Spanish education advocates will appeal to the European Union to prevent Spain's socialist government from implementing an education law that will restrict the exercise of the rights of parents in deciding their children's education.

The law, approved by the Spanish parliament Dec. 23, 2020, eliminates Spanish as the official language, and most importantly, prevents parents from choosing religious schools for their children.

Spain has a charter school program that allows private schools, most of which are Catholic, to receive significant financial resources from the government. About 50% of Spain's students go to charter schools. The new law prevents parents who live in a district with a public school to opt into a charter school for their children, a blow to both parental freedom and the ability of charter schools to survive financially. 

“Más Plurales”, an organization that that includes thousands of educators, parents, and students from charter schools in Spain, announced Jan. 19 that “in the upcoming days we will appeal to the European Commission a lawsuit against the Spanish Government due to the serious imminent risk of violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms recognized by the European Union that implies the approval and entry into force of the new law.”

“This is a Law approved with little support, with the lowest number of parliamentary votes of all democratic educational laws and with a parliamentary procedure in which the intervention of civil society has been vetoed,” the statement also said.

The new law also dramatically affects religious education. Before the current law was approved, the government and the Catholic Church had an agreement that allowed one hour of elective Catholic education at public schools. The new law removes that hour from the school program, relegating it to an after school activity.

According to Más Plurales “almost 2 million citizens have signed our statement against the law and in favor of freedom and plurality. Demonstrations have been held in which thousands of cars have traveled the streets of the main cities throughout the country in protest of the content and the way in which this law has been implemented.”

The current Spanish government, controlled by a coalition between the Spanish Socialist Party and the leftist "Podemos," has increasingly been passing laws hostile to religion in the public square.

This pro-life Democrat is worried about the next Catholic president

Denver Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A former U.S. representative who was known as one of the last standing pro-life Democrats in Congress said he is worried about the example a Catholic president who is also pro-abortion will have on young Catholics. 

“I'm afraid that there's a lot of talk about Joe Biden being our second Catholic president,” said Dan Lipinski, a former U.S. representative for the third district of Illinois, on the southwest side of Chicago.

“It's going to be very clear early on if he does move on the executive orders, with respect to abortion, that's going to be very problematic, especially as a Catholic.”

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to repeal several pro-life policies put in place by the Trump administration, including the Protect Life Rule and the expanded Mexico City Policy. Biden has also pledged to repeal the Hyde Amendment and codify Roe v. Wade into law.

Among other things, these changes would allow for taxpayer funding to groups that perform abortions, both domestically and overseas. 

Lipinski said that his own Catholic faith influenced him during the 16 years he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, including by shaping his pro-life beliefs. Lipinksi was known as one of the last standing pro-life Democrats in Congress, voting against the party line on numerous legislative issues involving abortion.

“I knew that I was never going to change my position on abortion and in protecting lives. I knew that from the beginning,” Lipinski said in an interview with CNA, citing his Catholic faith in influencing his pro-life convictions.

“Honestly I just never believed that it was worthwhile to protect a seat in Congress, to protect my position in Congress, no matter how much I loved the job and was honored to represent the people of the third district. It just wasn't worth it to me to give up what I knew was right.”

Lipinski said he believes Catholics should allow their faith to influence all aspects of their lives.

“We all fall short, but we're all called to always, in everything we do, put our Catholic faith first and have that really inspire and guide what we do,” he said. “Certainly that extends to life as an elected official.”

While some Catholics argue that they are personally pro-life, but do not want to impose their values on other people, Lipinksi rejected this line of thinking.

“If you truly believe that the baby in the womb is a human person, can't compromise that away. You can't say, ‘well, not everyone believes that, so I'm not going to support that.’ You have to do everything you can to protect that life,” he said.

At the end of his time in Congress, Lipinksi was one of the sole Democrats opposing the party’s abortion stance. But it wasn’t always that way.

He remembers having several pro-life, Democratic colleagues during his first years in the House.

“I was still in the minority, but I always like to point out to people that back in 2009, the first time the Affordable Care Act - or Obamacare - passed the House, there was the Stupak–Pitts Amendment.”

The Stupack-Pitts Amendment prevented taxpayer dollars from being spent on elective abortion or insurance that covered elective abortion, and Lipinski said 64 Democrats voted for it.

“I think there may be a handful, a small handful, of Democrats who would support that in the House today,” he said. “With my loss last year and Collin Peterson in Minnesota, there really are no Democrats left that are 100% pro-life.”

“I'm very concerned about the direction the party has gone when it comes to the abortion issue, when it comes to family issues, protection of religious liberty,” he said. “The party really needs to … at the very least recognize people who are pro-life and respect their position, and at the very least not support taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Lipinski lost his seat last March in a primary race against Marie Newman, after pro-abortion groups contributed to a coalition giving more than $1.4 million in funding to Newman. 

The congressman said the night he knew he lost the primary was difficult for him. But he actually remembers the next day best.

“The next day I had people contacting me and thanking me for standing up for my principles, staying true to my Catholic faith, and I knew that God was calling me to something bigger,” he said. 

Lipinski said he is working on a book about being Catholic in the public square today, “and encouraging Catholics to stay true to their Catholic faith in a world right now that’s very tough and a very bipolar, tribal society where Catholics don't fit in neatly to either two tribes.” 

The book is an extension of a commencement address he delivered at Ave Maria University in 2019.

“As a former college professor, I especially want to reach out to young Catholics. I think these days, especially,” Lipinski said. “They need to have good examples, and they're really thirsting for a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic, and encouragement to be Catholic.”

“We are a very divided country right now. Catholics don't fit neatly into either party. I think that Catholics have really an opportunity to be a witness for every aspect of Catholic social teaching,” he said. “Obviously, the right to life is the most important, but the dignity of every individual, and what the government can do to uphold that dignity in a lot of different ways.”

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. 

As March for Life goes virtual, U.S. bishops call Catholics to prayer instead

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- After the national March for Life announced last week it would be taking place virtually, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair has exhorted Catholics to prayer instead.

“Peaceful prayer and witness must and will continue this year—just in a different format,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, stated on Tuesday.

The archbishop encouraged Catholics who originally planned to attend the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 29, to instead unite in prayer beginning on Thursday, Jan. 21, the eve of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The 9 Days for Life novena will continue until Jan. 29.

The March for Life is an annual peaceful pro-life gathering in Washington, D.C. in protest of abortion. It has occurred every year since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Annually attended by pro-life advocates from all over the U.S., the march is the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration, according to organizers.

It is scheduled to take place on Jan. 29, but last Friday organizers for the event decided to confine attendance to a small group of pro-life leaders, citing safety precautions. The leaders will leave roses in front of the Supreme Court in mourning for the lives lost to abortion.

Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, cited the safety of participants as a key reason for the change in plans. The march was originally intended to continue albeit with health precautions for attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol, this year’s March for Life will look different,” Mancini said.

Through the fall and into the winter, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 soared; the total number of deaths in the U.S. due to COVID-19 has now surpassed 400,000.

Security in Washington, D.C. has also intensified following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol by thousands of rioters. Now, large portions of downtown Washington, D.C. are locked to the public in advance of the Jan. 20 Inauguration.

More than 25,000 National Guard troops are currently stationed in D.C., according to NBC News 4 Washington, and the National Mall has been closed to the public.

“The annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the March virtually,” Mancini said.

Archbishop Naumann praised the decision by the march to move to a virtual format.

“As long-time participants in the annual March for Life, my brother bishops and I commend the march organizers for their concern for the lives and safety of all participants,” he said. “The countless, peaceful, pro-life marchers who would normally gather each year should not be put at risk.”

Archbishop of Washington prays for COVID victims at Lincoln Memorial

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Washington prayed for all victims of the COVID-19 pandemic at a national memorial service on Tuesday evening.


“We turn to the Lord of all to receive these, our sisters and brothers, into eternal peace, and to comfort all those who grieve the loss of a loved one,” Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. prayed at the at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., appearing alongside President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.


“We do so not as strangers or disinterested persons, but as fellow citizens who share some limited portion of their grief and sorrow,” Cardinal Gregory said of the prayer.

Gregory delivered the invocation at the Nationwide COVID-19 Memorial service on Tuesday evening, held on the eve of the 2021 Inauguration Day. More than 400,000 Americans have died from the COVID-19 pandemic since it began.


“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” President-elect Joe Biden stated in front of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. “It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”


Tuesday’s service also featured a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Lori Marie Key, a 29 year-old nurse who worked in the COVID-19 unit at her hospital at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System; she appeared in a viral video earlier in 2020 singing “Amazing Grace” while at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan.


Biden’s remarks were followed by a lighting around the Reflecting Pool. According to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, cities from around the U.S. joined in unity, lighting up prominent landmarks.


Cardinal Gregory mentioned the special pain of family and friends of COVID victims, who could not have a proper funeral for them due to restrictions on public gatherings.


“We pray for the countless families and relatives who had to surrender their loved ones without the comfort and the consolation of a familiar funeral ritual, according to their religious traditions or selection,” Cardinal Gregory prayed.


“May our prayer this evening serve as a small expression of our national desire to comfort and strengthen those who have endured the loss of a loved one to this pandemic, and may it be a resounding gesture of gratitude for all those who have cared for the victims of this virus, and their loved ones,” he said.


Biden, a Catholic, has reportedly invited congressional leaders to attend a service with him at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in D.C. on Wednesday morning.


Connecticut assisted suicide bill would not safeguard against coercion, opponents say

Hartford, Conn., Jan 19, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Disability advocates criticized a Connecticut assisted suicide bill for failing to safeguard against coercion and for promoting the idea that the terminally ill are a burden on their caregivers.

“No amount of safeguards can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate care, of having to rely on others for support, of seeing your caregivers are tired, and wondering whether the world would be better off without you,” Cathy Ludlum told the Hartford Courant.

Ludlum is the leader of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a group of disability advocates who oppose assisted suicide.

She added that the timing of the bill was suspect, as constituents are not allowed to gather and share their testimonies at public hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One has to wonder why you’re pushing it through during COVID-19 when constituents have less access to legislators and public hearings,” she said.

Various assisted suicide bills have been proposed in the state starting in 2013, though none have been passed into law.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D), co-chair of the state legislature’s public health committee, told the Hartford Courant that this bill was a priority for his committee, and that “nothing of real consequence” had been changed in the bill since its previous introduction other than some tweaks that reflect “some of the learning we’ve had from experience of other states.” Assisted suicide is when a patient is given lethal drugs by their doctor that they must administer to themselves in order to end their life. It is legal in nine U.S. states, including California, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Typical requirements that must be met for a patient to be allowed to request assisted suicide include mental competency, a prognosis of six months or fewer to live, and the approval of at least two doctors, though these requirements vary by state. Disability groups are frequently vocal opponents of assisted suicide legislation, which they argue targets vulnerable populations including the disabled, the ill, the elderly, and the poor. Patients rights advocacy groups have also pointed to cases in which ill patients were offered assisted suicide instead of treatment because it was the cheapest option.

Thomas E. Sullivan, a cardiologist in Massachusetts, told the Hartford Courant that one of the main reasons people request assisted suicide is because they feel they are a burden on their caregivers. Other reasons people frequently give include loneliness, depression, dementia, and a loss of control. But instead of offering to kill these patients, they should be cared for by “physiatrists and other disability care specialists and when appropriate, the role of hospice, palliative and compassionate experts who routinely perform these functions in a most humane manner,” Sullivan said. In written testimony for a 2019 bill in Connecticut that proposed legalized physician assisted suicide, provided to CNA, Ludlum said she feared that people with disabilities would be disproportionately nudged toward assisted suicide instead of being provided with appropriate psychological and emotional support. Under that year’s legislation, Ludlum said she could be considered a candidate for assisted suicide, because without a feeding tube and respiratory support, she likely would die. “What is to prevent someone like me from showing up at a doctor’s office and saying, ‘I have had enough. I will be stopping all my treatment’?” she said.

Ludlum said she was concerned that someone with a disability “would be more likely to get compassionate nods of approval” for assisted suicide, rather than offers of psychological help or palliative care.

Steinburg told the Hartford Courant that he did not think the disability community did “a particularly good job of either reading the actual language of the bill nor having evaluated the actual experience of states that have passed such legislation, where I’ve yet to see any real significant pattern of abuse, of coercion.”
“We’re talking about a very small population of terminally ill patients, not the disabled community. We go out of our way in the language to do everything we can to assure that no family member or friend is coercing the person involved. So it really disappoints me that they continue to, in my mind, blindly oppose this legislation,” he added. Lisa Blumberg, a Hartford-area attorney, told the Hartford Courant that she opposed the bill because the language of the bill only took into account the patient’s competence for choosing assisted suicide at the time of the prescription of the drugs, instead of at the moment when they would take them. “We don’t know if a patient is competent when he takes them. We don’t know if he is having bad day. We don’t know anything. We cannot afford to just have faith,” she said.