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Here’s how to take a local Catholic pilgrimage in the U.S.

The Sanctuary of Chimayo / Modern Catholic Pilgrim Facebook

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 23, 2021 / 06:41 am (CNA).

The most popular pilgrimages for Catholics range from the Holy Land to the Camino de Santiago. But, pilgrims should know, these faith-filled trips can also be as simple as walking to a local church.

“Choose a place to go, [it] can be as short as a block away,” Will Peterson, the founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, told EWTN News Nightly on Oct. 15. “I invite people to not make it too complicated.”

The mission of Peterson’s group is to deepen faith and build community in the U.S. through the longstanding Catholic tradition of making pilgrimages on foot. While many people think of traveling overseas for pilgrimages, they should also consider staying local, he said. 

“There are places worthy of pilgrimage here,” he stressed. For Holy Week, he pointed to New Mexico as a pilgrimage destination.

“Chimayo is a great spiritual place in northern New Mexico where on Good Friday every year there's like 30,000 people who make walked pilgrimage,” he said.

Another, called Wisconsin Way, begins outside Green Bay at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the only approved Marian apparition site in the country. Founded in 2013 by a local priest, Fr. Andrew Kurz, the trip is approximately 137 miles.

Pilgrimages, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are an important part of the Catholic faith and “evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal and prayer.”

Catholics can begin their pilgrimages as soon as today. For the month of October, leading up to the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1, Modern Catholic Pilgrim encourages Catholics to walk with the saints by praying for the intercession of a local parish patron saint as they walk to the church named after him or her.

“Then the next time you're there for Mass on Sunday, it’s going to kind of change your experience because you’ve journeyed there as a holy space,” Peterson urged.  

Peterson draws his inspiration from a trip to Rome eight years ago. That experience set him on fire spiritually, he said. Now, he hopes that his group will infuse an appreciation of pilgrimages in the U.S.

Making a pilgrimage on foot is a “very ancient tradition for Christians, but feels kind of contemporary and new [for the U.S.] because we don’t really have a culture of it,” he said. “So we’re excited to be part of that development of the culture.”

Will Roe be overturned? Here are 6 notable Supreme Court decisions that have been struck down

Young people hold signs opposing abortion during the March for Life in Washington, D.C. / Addie Mena/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 22, 2021 / 18:22 pm (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

Since its 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, the U.S. Supreme Court has exercised judicial review, deciding whether laws violate the country's constitution. These decisions are then used as the precedents for further decisions, creating a stable legal landscape.

Exceptions can occur, however, when the court subsequently decides it erred grievously, or when the U.S. Constitution has been amended following court decisions.

Interest in these cases is heightened as the court will hear oral arguments Dec. 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The case is a test of the precedent set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Among the most notable cases that have been overturned or superseded in the past are Dred Scott v. Sandford, Pace v. Alabama, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. United States, Apodaca v. Oregon, and Bowers v. Hardwick. An overview of each case and its subsequent history is presented below.

Dred Scott v. Sandford

This 1857 decision issued 7-2 held that citizenship rights were not held by African Americans, regardless of whether they were free or enslaved. Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken into areas where slavery was illegal, and he argued that he was thus no longer enslaved. In finding that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens, the majority opinion said that Scott lacked standing to bring his case. Nevertheless, the court ruled on the merits of the case, finding the Missouri Compromise, a congressional limitation on slave-holding in new federal territories, to be unconstitutional.

Justices Benjamin Robbins Curtis and John McLean both authored dissents in the case. Curtis noted that African-American men were able to vote in several of the states at the time of the Constitution's ratification, and that they were therefore U.S. citizens in fact.

The Dred Scott decision was nullified by the Reconstruction-era Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, and granted citizenship to all those born in the country and ensured the rights of due process and equal protection.

This case has been widely cited as an example of Supreme Court decisions that were made wrongly, and is frequently pointed to by pro-life activists urging that Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa wrote in a July letter that as abortion is intrinsically evil, “there is never a circumstance that could justify it. The laws that protect it are unjust and, therefore, no law at all. Roe was wrongly decided and must be corrected. It offends God and the principles of our founding, just as Dred Scott and its defense of slavery once did. We corrected that error, and now we must correct this one.”

In July 2020 Democrats for Life cautioned the Democratic National Committee that “denying personhood to the pre-born child has disturbing parallels to Dred Scott vs. Sandford.”

Pace v. Alabama

In this 1883 case the court unanimously upheld an Alabama anti-miscegenation law prohibiting interracial marriage. It held that the law did not violate the equal protection clause because it punished equally whites and non-whites: “Whatever discrimination is made in the punishment prescribed in the two sections is directed against the offence designated and not against the person of any particular color or race. The punishment of each offending person, whether white or black, is the same.”

This was overturned by two cases in the 1960s. The 1964 decision McLaughlin v. Florida found unconstitutional a Florida law that barred unmarried persons of the opposite sex and when one is white and the other black from habitual cohabitation. And 1967’s Loving v. Virginia struck down a state law prohibiting interracial marriage as violating the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plessy v. Ferguson

This 1896 decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine that permitted racial segregation laws provided that provisions for the races were of equal quality. 

In the 7-1 decision the court said that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause didn’t require that “all distinctions based upon color” be eliminated, upholding a Louisiana law that required separate but equal train cars for whites and blacks. The decision held that state legislatures have broad powers to write laws they deem reasonable, so long as they are not intended to oppress a particular class, and that enforced racial segregation does not mark one group with “a badge of inferiority.”

Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented, writing that Louisiana’s Separate Car Act was plainly intended “to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons,” compelling blacks “to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.” He added that the constitution “is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”

Plessy was effectively overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education. That unanimous decision found that racially separate schools “are inherently unequal,” violating the equal protection clause.

Korematsu v. United States

In this 1944 case the court upheld by 6-3 an order that excluded persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast during World War II. This exclusion order led to the internment of some 120,000 Japanese Americans.

A 1942 executive order had permitted the War Department to designate military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded, in the interest of preventing espionage and sabotage during the state of war. The U.S. Army then created a military area on the West Coast from which persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded. 

Fred Korematsu was a California native who refused to leave his home, and challenged the exclusion order under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.

The court’s majority opinion held that the exclusion order was not made out of hostility to Japanese-American individuals or their race, but because the military had deemed it necessary for security during the war. In a concurring opinion, Justice Felix Frankfurter held that the war powers clause gives Congress the ability to enforce military orders deemed appropriate for conducting war. 

The three dissenting justices each wrote opinions, all of them holding that the exclusion order was racially discriminatory. Justice Owen Roberts wrote that “it is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States.”

Korematsu has been widely reprobated since the 1980s, and it was effectively overturned by a passing remark in the 2018 5-4 decision in Trump v. Hawaii. There, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “The forcible relocation of U.S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority,” and that it “is already obvious … Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and — to be clear — 'has no place in law under the Constitution.'” Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also repudiated Korematsu.

In his dissent from the 5-4 decision Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000, which struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott.”

Apodaca v. Oregon

In this 1972 decision the court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury is not violated by non-unanimous verdict for conviction by state juries in criminal cases. The plurality opinion was held by four justices, with a fifth writing a concurring opinion. Oregon’s constitution allowed a verdict to be reached by 10 members of a 12 person jury.

The plurality of justices held that a unanimous jury was a historical fact, like juries being composed of 12 persons, and was not therefore guaranteed by the right to trial by jury. In his concurring opinion, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. held that the Sixth Amendment did require unanimous verdicts for federal trials, but that this did not apply to state trials. Four justices dissented from the plurality decision.

The decision was overturned by Ramos v. Louisiana in 2020. The 6-3 majority opinion found that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict was incorporated against states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The minority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in whole and by Justice Elena Kagan in part, argued the court should maintain the precedence decided by Apodaca.

Multiple amici curiae briefs filed in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization cite Ramos v. Louisiana as grounds for the court overturning Roe v. Wade and its successors. 

A July amici curiae brief by Mary Ann Glendon and O. Carter Snead said that Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence in Ramos gave three broad considerations to determine whether there is a special justification to overrule an erroneous precedent: that it is “grievously or egregiously wrong”; it has “caused significant negative jurisprudential or real-world consequences”; and whether overruling the decision would “unduly upset” society’s operation.

Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization similarly cited Justice Kavanaugh’s “egregiously wrong” standard as the issue before the court in its case.

Bowers v. Hardwick

This 1986 decision upheld, by a 5-4 vote, a Georgia law that criminalized sodomy.

The majority opinion rejected the argument that the right to privacy, discovered by the court in its 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, extended to homosexual conduct. Justice Byron White wrote that “There should be great resistance to expand the reach of the Due Process Clauses to cover new fundamental rights. Otherwise, the Judiciary necessarily would take upon itself further authority to govern the country without constitutional authority.”

Bowers was overturned in 2000 by Lawrence v. Texas. The majority opinion, held by five of the justices, held that the right to privacy through the due process clause did extend to consensual sexual conduct. In a concurring opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor held that Bowers should not be overturned, but that the Texas sodomy law was nevertheless unconstitutional, by violating the equal protection clause, because it criminalized homosexual, but not heterosexual, sodomy.

In his dissent in Lawrence, Justice Scalia noted that “Today's opinions in support of reversal do not bother to distinguish — or indeed, even bother to mention the paean to stare decisis coauthored by three Members of today's majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, when stare decisis meant preservation of judicially invented abortion rights, the widespread criticism of Roe was strong reason to reaffirm it … Today, however, the widespread opposition to Bowers, a decision resolving an issue as ‘intensely divisive’ as the issue in Roe, is offered as a reason in favor of overruling it.” 

Scalia added that the majority opinion gave three criteria for overruling erroneous precedent, adding that “Roe itself — which today's majority surely has no disposition to overrule — satisfies these conditions to at least the same degree as Bowers” and that “the Court has chosen today to revise the standards of stare decisis set forth in Casey. It has thereby exposed Casey's extraordinary deference to precedent for the result-oriented expedient that it is.”

Catholics pray after Alabama executes death row inmate

Florida Department of Corrections execution chamber 1. / Florida State Correctional Facility.

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Alabama executed inmate Willie B. Smith III on Thursday evening, Oct. 20, marking the first execution in the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith received a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m. 

Smith, 52, was sentenced to death in 1992 for the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson, a 22-year-old woman from Trussville, Alabama. Smith kidnapped Johnson at an ATM, robbed her, and then shot her to death execution-style at a cemetery in Birmingham. 

Donald Carson, communications director of the Diocese of Birmingham, told CNA Oct. 22 that the diocese "recognizes that the State must protect innocent people from violent criminals. In today’s world, however, we know that there are ways to do so other than to execute even those such as Mr. Smith, convicted of the most heinous of crimes. Society does not teach respect for life, for the dignity of every living human, by taking life. Instead, capital punishment devalues human life and contributes to a climate of violence in our communities."

The organization Catholic Mobilizing Network, which is dedicated to ending the death penalty, stated on Twitter on Thursday that members were praying for Smith ahead of his execution.  

“Dear God, You call us to be a people of justice and mercy. We know this execution is not Your will,” the group said.

Following Smith's execution, the group stated on Twitter, “Dear God in Heaven, we pray for the repose of Willie Smith's soul. Lord, guide us as we work, in Your name, for a world that upholds and honors the sanctity of all human life.”

During Smith’s trial, a recording of him boasting about his crime to one of his friends was played for the court. He said at the time that he had to shoot Johnson after kidnapping her, as her brother was a police officer. 

An accomplice, a 17-year-old girl who lived with Smith at the time of the murder, testified against him at his trial in exchange for a shorter prison sentence.  

Smith’s death sentence has been controversial for years due to multiple factors. In 2013, his attorneys claimed that he had been given antipsychotic drugs during his trial, which left him incapable of showing emotion.

In 2019, they alleged that his IQ was 70, which is considered to be borderline intellectually disabled. It is unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability, but both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this appeal in Smith’s case. 

Initially, Smith was set to be executed on Feb. 11, 2021. That was delayed after he requested his pastor be present with him during his final moments. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the state to deprive him of a spiritual advisor while executing him.

Why legal abortion is bad precedent: Roe v. Wade critics make the case to Supreme Court

Supporters for and against legal abortion face off during a protest outside the United States Supreme Court. / mark reinstein / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Oct 22, 2021 / 16:38 pm (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

As the Supreme Court considers whether to overturn its precedents mandating legal abortion nationwide, critics of legal abortion have argued that precedent by itself is no reason to preserve flawed decisions — especially rulings that treat taking a human life as a constitutional right.

“The Supreme Court has, in fact, overruled many of its own erroneous precedents, such as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding slavery and segregation laws,” said Ligia Castaldi, a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida. 

“Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are exactly this kind of erroneous precedent,” she told CNA, “with their creation of a non-existent fundamental right to abortion, and their judicial regulation of abortion on the basis of a viability standard and an overbroad definition of the health exception.”

The court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade and companion case Doe v. Bolton legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, while the court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey reaffirmed legal abortion.

Castaldi said the principle of stare decisis, a Latin phrase roughly meaning “to stand by things that have been decided,” is a principle that “generally binds the U.S. Supreme Court to its own precedent, its own decisions.”

Sharply different interpretations of that principle as it relates to abortion will be on display Dec. 1 when the nation’s highest court is set to hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the highly charged Mississippi case viewed as a decisive test of Roe and the legal reasoning that has sustained it as the law of the land for the past 48 years.

Three key justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Amy Coney, all nominees of Republican presidents — have each demonstrated deference for stare decisis. A recent analysis in Slate said the legal team for abortion proponents will try to persuade at least two of those justices that the court’s prior abortion decisions should not be set aside, with Roberts considered the most persuadable and Barrett the least persuadable. Mississippi and many of its supporters in the Dobbs case also address precedent prominently in their briefs.

The principle of stare decisis “protects expectations of people subject to the law,” explained Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“It promotes societal stability, thereby shaping people’s behavior. This is particularly true in the area of economic activity,” Collett told CNA. “Stare decisis does not prevent courts from making mistakes. It keeps them from reinventing the wheel every time a similar, but slightly different, set of facts comes before it.”.

Prof. Teresa Stanton Collett. Courtesy photo.
Prof. Teresa Stanton Collett. Courtesy photo.

Castaldi of Ave Maria Law said legal principles regarding precedent are “intended to promote consistency and predictability of Supreme Court decisions.”

“They are generally a good idea, but just as in every other legal rule, there may be legitimate exceptions,” she said. “They certainly do not prevent the Supreme Court from correcting erroneous decisions, such as Roe v. Wade.”

At issue in the Dobbs case is the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 2018 ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

As Castaldi explained, the state law directly contradicts Roe, Doe, and Casey. Roe prohibited states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability, or the capacity of the fetus to survive outside the woman’s body (now considered to be at approximately 24 weeks gestation) while Casey barred states from adopting regulations that pose an “undue burden” for a woman exercising her legal right to obtain an abortion.

“It also challenges Doe’s health exception, since Mississippi defines health to mean only physical, not mental health of the mother,” Castaldi said.

“Thus, it begs the question of whether the court should invalidate Roe and the only way that the Court could do this is by departing from stare decisis,” she continued. “That will not be easy to do since Roe has been reaffirmed in the past, such as in Casey, and again in June Medical, where Chief Justice Roberts shocked fellow Catholics by declaring that Roe was binding precedent under stare decisis.”

The 2020 decision June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo concerned a Louisiana law that held abortion clinics to the same standards as other surgical centers, such as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The court ruled this posed substantial obstacles to a woman’s access to abortion.

Roberts’ concurring opinion in the 5-4 case said the law was “just as severe” as a similar Texas law struck down in a 2016 Supreme Court decision. Though he had dissented from that 2016 ruling, he said the principle of stare decisis meant that Louisiana’s law could not stand.

However, Castaldi noted, the Supreme Court has already “chipped away” at its precedent in Roe. Casey affirmed a right to abortion based on personal liberty, rather than Roe’s privacy finding, she said, while also dispensing with Roe’s trimester-based system for evaluating state abortion laws.

For Castaldi, such developments allow grounds for further change.

 “Therefore, the court can rely on its own precedent to either undermine or entirely abolish Roe,” she said.

‘Precedent on top of precedent’?

The principal brief against the Mississippi law was filed by attorneys from the pro-abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the Mississippi abortion clinic Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This brief cites principles of precedent, like stare decisis, to argue that all pre-viability bans on elective abortion are unconstitutional. The viability standard is “well grounded in the constitution and the court’s broader jurisprudence.”

The brief also faults backers of the Mississippi law for failing to establish an alternative precedent. If a state seeks to overrule a repeatedly affirmed precedent, the brief argues, it “should at least propose and seriously develop an alternative legal framework.”

The pro-abortion rights brief depicts Casey as “precedent on top of precedent,” saying the decision backed up the correctness of the viability line.

“Even if contested, constitutional rights that have ‘become embedded’ in ‘our national culture’ are entitled to heightened stare decisis effect,” the brief states. It argues that the right to an abortion is grounded in precedents guaranteeing bodily autonomy, family decision-making, and access to contraception. The brief also depicts the viability line as “a principled point” at which to strike the balance of “the individual’s interests against the state’s interests.”

“(T)ime and again, the Court has reaffirmed that it is ‘imperative’ to retain a ‘woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability’,” the brief states.

For Collett, however, the constitutional arguments are key to determining whether precedent should stand.

“Both Roe and Casey are cases that have no foundation in the text of the Constitution, nor are they consistent with the states’ history of outlawing abortion both to protect the unborn child and the mother,” the University of St. Thomas law professor said. “As several justices have noted, stare decisis has less weight in reviewing interpretations of constitutional text.”

The constitutional amendment process makes it “extremely difficult” to correct judicial mistakes. When it comes to the interpretation of the constitution “getting the answer right is more important than stability,” said Collett.

While abortion precedent has at times been described as “settled law,” in Castaldi’s view this perception is not accurate.

Ligia Castaldi, a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida. Courtesy of Ligia Castaldi
Ligia Castaldi, a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida. Courtesy of Ligia Castaldi

“A case is settled law when no serious challenge to its holdings sticks in state or federal courts and its essential tenets have been repeatedly reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court,” she said. “Roe and Doe are quite the opposite. Roe is one of the most challenged Supreme Court cases of all time and continues to be incredibly divisive both among the justices and the general population.”

At least four Supreme Court justices have called for Roe to be overturned: Chief Justice William Rhenquist and Justice Byron White in the 1989 decision Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the Casey decision.

“Roe has sometimes been partially reaffirmed but also undermined by subsequent cases, therefore it is not settled constitutional law,” Castaldi said.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and other leaders made their case for the state law, arguing in their brief that stare decisis is itself an “overwhelming” reason to overrule Roe and Casey.

“Roe and Casey are egregiously wrong. The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” the Mississippi brief states. Roe itself broke from precedent because it invoked “a general ‘right to privacy’ unmoored from the Constitution.”

“Abortion is fundamentally different from any right this Court has ever endorsed. No other right involves, as abortion does, ‘the purposeful termination of a potential life,’” the brief continues. “Roe broke from prior cases, Casey failed to rehabilitate it, and both recognize a right that has no basis in the Constitution.”

Clashing views on precedent

Arguments revolving around abortion precedent are integral to a number of other amicus briefs in the Dobbs case.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court last month, the Biden administration’s Justice Department argued that Mississippi is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion.

The administration’s brief asks the court to maintain its previous abortion precedents. Legal abortion “means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the brief states. The brief characterizes abortion bans as “forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will.”

On the other side of the Dobbs case, Collett was the lead counsel for an amicus brief of 240 women scholars and professionals and pro-life feminist organizations. In contrast to backers of legal abortion who claim it is necessary for women’s progress, this brief argues that the current abortion rights precedent disadvantages women.

The brief states that legal abortion changes sexual behavior and increases the rate of sexual relations outside of committed relationships, which in turn leads to more non-marital pregnancies, single parenthood and abortion.

Abortion access changes the point of view of the father and of the wider society to see single parenthood as “always the woman’s ‘free choice’.” Claims that unrestricted access to abortion is “a necessary and a major contributor to women’s economic and social advances” are claims that “simply cannot be demonstrated,” their brief said.

5 ways Saint Pope John Paul II changed the Catholic Church forever

Pope John Paul II circa 1991.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

You probably know that St. Pope John Paul II was the second longest-serving pope in modern history with 27 years of pontificate, and he was the first non-Italian pontiff since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI in 1523. But did you know that he changed the Catholic Church forever during those 27 years?  Here are five reasons why:

1. He helped bring about the 1989 fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

The pope’s official biographer, George Weigel, who for decades chronicled the pope’s engagement with civic leaders, noted that the way Pope John Paul II influenced the political landscape was enormous. His political influence is seen best in the way his engagement with world leaders assisted the downfall of the U.S.S.R.

Just days before President Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, he met with the pope. According to historian and author Paul Kengor, Reagan went so far as to call Pope John Paul II his “best friend,” opining that no one knew his soul better than the Polish pontiff who had also suffered an assasination attempt and carried the burden of world leadership.

In the course of 38 official visits and 738 audiences and meetings held with heads of state, John Paul II influenced civic leaders around the world in this epic battle with a regime that would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of more than 30 million people. 

“He thought of himself as the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, dealing with sovereign political actors who were as subject to the universal moral law as anybody else,” Weigel said. 

“He was willing to be a risk-taker, but he also appreciated that prudence is the greatest of political virtues. And I think he was quite respected by world political leaders because of his transparent integrity. His essential attitude toward these men and women was: How can I help you? What can I do to help?”

More than anything, John Paul II understood his role primarily as a spiritual leader.

According to Weigel, the pope’s primary impact on the world of affairs was his central role in creating the revolution of conscience that began in Poland and swept across Eastern Europe. This revolution of conscience inspired the nonviolent revolution of 1989 and the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, an astounding political achievement. 

2. He beatified and canonized more saints than any predecessor, making holiness more accessible to ordinary people.

One of John Paul II’s most enduring legacies is the huge number of saints he recognized. He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 blesseds, as well as celebrating 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints. That is more than the combined tally of his predecessors over the five centuries before.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is perhaps the most well-known contemporary of John Paul II who is now officially a saint, but the first saint of the new millennium and one especially dear to John Paul II was St. Faustina Kowalska, the fellow Polish native who received the message of Divine Mercy. 

“Sr. Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence: by this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium,” he said in the homily of her canonization. “I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren.” 

Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 1990 and nicknamed the “man of the beatitudes,” is another popular saint elevated by the Polish Pope who loved to recognize the holiness of simple persons living the call to holiness with extraordinary fidelity. At the time of his death, the 24 year-old Italian was simply a student with no extraordinary accomplishments. But his love for Christ in the Eucharist and in the poor was elevated by John Paul II as heroic and worthy of imitation. 

It bears noting that Pope Francis would later surpass John Paul II when he proclaimed 800 Italian martyrs saints in a single day. 

3. He transformed the papal travel schedule.

John Paul II visited some 129 counties during his pontificate — more countries than any other pope had visited up to that point.

He also created World Youth Days in 1985, and presided over 19 of them as pope.

Weigel says John Paul II understood that the pope must be present to the people of the Church, wherever they are.

“He chose to do it by these extensive travels, which he insisted were not travels, they were pilgrimages,” Wegel said.

“This was the successor of Peter, on pilgrimage to various parts of the world, of the Church. And that's why these pilgrimages were always built around liturgical events, prayer, adoration of the Holy Eucharist, ecumenical and interreligious gatherings — all of this was part of a pilgrimage experience.”

In the latter half of the 20th century — a time of enormous social change and upheaval— John Paul II’s extensive travels and proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth were just what the world needed, Weigel said.

4. He transformed the teachings of the Church.

John Paul II was a scholar who promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law during his pontificate, and authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 45 apostolic letters.

This is why Weigel says the Church has really only begun to unpack what he calls the “magisterium” of John Paul II, in the form of his writings and his intellectual influence.

For example, John Paul’s Theology of the Body remains enormously influential in the United States and throughout the world, though Weigel says even this has yet to be unpacked.

5. He gave new life to the Catholic Church in Africa.

John Paul II’s legendary evangelical fervor took fire in Africa. 

He had a particular friendship with Beninese Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, and visited Africa many times. His visits would inspire a generation of JPII Catholics in Africa as well other parts of the globe.

“John Paul II was fascinated by Africa; he saw African Christianity as living, a kind of New Testament experience of the freshness of the Gospel, and he was very eager to support that, and lift it up,” Cardinal Gantin said.

“It was very interesting that during the two synods on marriage and the family in 2014 and 2015, some of the strongest defenses of the Church's classic understanding of marriage and family came from African bishops. Some of whom are first, second generation Christians, deeply formed in the image of John Paul II, whom they regard as a model bishop,” Gantin said.

“I think wherever you look around the world Church, the living parts of the Church are those that have accepted the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. And the dying parts of the Church, the moribund parts of the Church are those parts that have ignored that Magisterium.”

John Paul II’s influence in Africa and around the globe transformed the world. It also forever transformed the Church.

Christians pray, fast for release of missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Rebuilding project in Haiti / Christian Aid Ministries

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

The ringleader behind the kidnappings of 17 missionaries in Haiti has threatened to kill the hostages unless he received his demands, in a video posted online on Thursday. Meanwhile, the group that organized the mission trip has called for prayer and fasting for the missionaries’ safe release.

The group of missionaries and family members with the Ohio-based group Christian Aid Ministries were kidnapped by the gang 400 Mazowo on Saturday, Oct. 16, when they were working at an orphanage in Haiti. 

Christian Aid Ministries on Thursday requested that people pray not only for the hostages, but for their families, the government, and for the kidnappers themselves. The group encouraged people to pray and fast for the safe return of the hostages. 

“Pray for the kidnappers—that they would experience the love of Jesus and turn to Him. We see that as their ultimate need,” the group said in a statement posted on its website. 

Those kidnapped “are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Ontario, Canada,” and are continuing “to support each other with prayers and encouragement during this difficult time,” the group said.

The hostages range in age from 8 months to 48 years. Of the 17 hostages, all but one are American citizens; the other is Canadian. 

“Pray for government leaders and authorities—as they relate to the case and work toward the release of the hostages,” Christian Aid Ministries said. “We appreciate the ongoing work and assistance of those knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with kidnapping cases.”

On Thursday, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang released a video saying that he would kill the hostages if his demands were not met. The gang is requesting a $1 million ransom for each hostage. 

"I swear by thunder that if I don't get what I'm asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans," said Wilson Joseph in a video published on social media. According to Reuters, a senior U.S. State Department official said the video appeared to be legitimate. 

Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement that it would not comment on the video “until those directly involved in obtaining the release of the hostages have determined that comments will not jeopardize the safety and well-being of our staff and family members.” 

The 400 Mawozo gang responsible for the most recent kidnapping is the same criminal gang behind the April 2021 kidnapping of Catholic priests and religious in Haiti. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks; ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to a Haitian official.

In a statement on Friday, Christian Aid Ministries said that six days after the kidnapping, the families of the victims “face uncertainty. They long for the return of their loved ones.”

The group also explained why the missionaries chose to serve in Haiti. Kidnappings and acts of violence have become common in the country, with the country’s president Jovenel Moïse assassinated at his home in July.

“You may wonder why our workers chose to live in a difficult and dangerous context, despite the apparent risks. Before leaving for Haiti, our workers who are now being held hostage expressed a desire to faithfully serve God in Haiti,” the statement read. 

The website of Christian Aid Ministries states that it serves as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world. 

It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

English assisted suicide bill not put to vote in House of Lords

Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.

London, England, Oct 22, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

After seven hours of debate and notable opposition in the House of Lords on Friday, the sponsor of a bill that would legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales chose not to take the bill to a vote.

“It is a great outcome that this Bill was not taken to a vote today. The Bill is unlikely to be given time in Parliament to be debated in the House of Commons and become law, given that it is not supported by the Government,” Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, commented Oct. 22 shortly after the Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill tabled by Baroness Meacher. 

The bill would permit assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, commented that “Peers have today demonstrated a powerful opposition to this bill. Many vulnerable people are unaware of the dangers in going down this road, as this bill has hidden dangers, unsafe qualifying criteria, and potentially opens the door to even wider legislation.”

“Instead, the focus should be on pressing the Government to do more to ensure good palliative and end-of-life care for everyone, everywhere in this country,” Baroness Finlay, a professor palliative medicine, added.

More than 60 peers spoke against the bill during the debate.

Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, said that “No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible; No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe, equally valued if the law is changed in this way”.

“It does not serve compassion if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I expose others to danger; It does not serve dignity if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I devalue the status and safety of others,” Welby continued.

Lord Alton noted that “Notwithstanding the good intentions of those who produce these recurring bills, the same unanswered questions about the risks to vulnerable people… and the lack of safeguards remain and they remain unanswered”.

He added, “In truth, what are described as safeguards are simply a wish list for what its sponsors hope would happen in an ideal world”.

“It would be profoundly irresponsible to enact legislation without knowing how many putative safeguards might work. Asking us to do otherwise is like asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque,” he said.

Lord Winston called ‘assisted dying’ an inappropriate euphemism, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath noted his concern “about the unintended consequences of people feeling pressurised into ending their own lives, either because of fear that they might be a burden or because relatives might seek to gain through the accelerated death of a relative”.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle said that “I fear that this country will become a society that terminates the lives of its old people, its sick and disabled people, because they fear they are being a burden to their loved ones and because of the time and the cost of their care.”

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, founder of Not Dead Yet UK, commented that the bill “would alter society’s view of those in vulnerable circumstances by signalling that assisted suicide is something that they might or ought to consider”.

“Disabled people with terminal conditions or progressive conditions like mine are alarmed by the misleading narrative of autonomy and choice,” she said, and “We must not abandon those who can benefit from high-quality health and social care to the desperate temptation of assisted suicide in the guise of a compassionate choice.”

She has also said that were the bill passed, it “would run counter to our duty to protect those in the most vulnerable situations, and would exacerbate their fears, through insidious pressure, of being regarded as an expendable burden. As has happened elsewhere, the Bill would doubtless be extended.”

“No major disability rights group in the UK supports legalising assisted suicide. What they support is immediate and sustained improvement in their care. Now is not the time to abandon them to the desperate temptation of an assisted suicide under the guise of compassion.”

Multiple prominent, public demonstrations of opposition to the bill occurred this week ahead of its second reading.

A group of some 1,700 British doctors wrote to the UK Health Secretary saying they would not participate in assisted suicide were it legalized.

“The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised...Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it was suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable,” the letter read.

And Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, along with Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, recently wrote a joint letter to peers “to express our profound disquiet at the provisions of the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill currently in the House of Lords.”

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961. In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.

In September 2020 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, as of September, is no longer officially opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide. The British Medical Association has adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue, following a narrow vote at its annual representative meeting. The body had been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006.

College football coach, Ignatian scholar team up for video project

Mike Gutelius (center), head football coach of The Catholic University of America, watches the action on the sidelines. / The Catholic University of America

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

If you visit The Catholic University of America’s campus in Washington D.C., you will be sure to notice members of the school’s football team walking around with a “chip” on their shoulders. 

That chip is figurative and literal, as head coach Mike “Gut” Gutelius has commissioned team shirts that say “All Gas, No Breaks” on the front, and the word “chip” located on the back right shoulder.

Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America
Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America

The symbolism appears to be having the desired effect, as Gutelius’s team is 5-2 and undefeated in its conference heading into its Oct. 23 game against the Merchant Marine Academy.

The Cardinals’ success this season is a product of Gutelius’ efforts to change the culture of the football program, a slow but steady process that began with his hiring after the 2016 season. His approach encompasses a special emphasis on faith: Team Bible studies, pre-game rosaries, and discussions about the Cardinal Virtues all figure into his plan for developing young men with character.

Although Gutelius describes himself as “just a coach,” his success and faith life on and off the field drew the attention of Ablaze Family Ministries (AFM) and world-renowned Ignatian spirituality speaker, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. 

AFM, a nonprofit organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland, with a mission to strengthen Catholic families, has teamed up with Gallagher to find a way to make St. Ignatius of Loyola’s 14 Rules for Discerning the Will of God more accessible and relatable to a younger audience. 

“St. Ignatius of Loyola has crafted an invaluable set of 14 practical guidelines (rules) to understand and respond to this daily ebb and flow in the spiritual life,” Gallagher told CNA. “As I know from almost 40 years of experience, people love the concrete wisdom of these rules that help them know what is of God and what is not, and how to accept the one and reject the other.”

Gallagher, a frequent speaker on EWTN, has an extensive international ministry providing retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching about the spiritual life. He currently holds the St. Ignatius Chair for Spiritual Formation at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.  

Because of his platform as a college football coach and his authenticity as a faithful Catholic, Gutelius was a clear choice for AFM and Gallagher to help bridge the gap between the academic nature of Ignatian spirituality and a younger audience that could greatly benefit from Ignatius’ rules for discernment. 

Gallagher told CNA that Gutelius “brings a wealth of experience to help make this bridge between St. Ignatius’s words and our daily experience.”

The project, produced by AFM, is called the “Playbook for the Spiritual Life,” and features 10 videos explaining how to apply St. Ignatius’s rules for discernment. 

The 10-minute videos feature Gutelius, filmed in the locker room or on the field, giving a unique game situation and explaining how to act during that time of adversity. After the coach's brief introduction of the football concepts, Gallagher then explains how the football analogy is similar to a particular Ignatian rule.

"In football you have to be aware of what's going on, you have to understand the game, and you have to execute. It's the same in your spiritual life,” Gutelius told CNA. 

“You have to be aware of the traps that can be set for you. You have to be aware of your own limitations. You have to be aware of your own physical desires. And then you have to understand them in relation to God's plan. And then the real trick is, can you execute?"

In one video the two men discuss St. Ignatius' fourth rule, which states, “When your heart is discouraged, you have little energy for spiritual things, and God feels far away, you are experiencing spiritual desolation. Resist and reject this tactic of the enemy!” 

Gutelius first explains the necessity of lifting weights in order to succeed in the game. However, sometimes, he says, players are physically drained and are unmotivated to work out. The coach says the decision to either take a day off or push through the temptation makes the difference between winning and losing come gametime. 

Gallagher then likens the challenge of lifting weights during a time of unmotivation to a young man who “has no energy for prayer” and is tempted to scroll through his phone, rather than read scripture as he planned. Gallagher says that the choice to scroll through the phone will leave the young man feeling empty, while if he chooses to read scripture as planned, he will feel more fulfilled.

“Football is an analogy for life in general and in that sense you can find a lot of connections between football done well and spirituality done well,” Gutelius told CNA. “Both require practice, commitment, and a desire to get better, and you’re going to have bumps and bruises in both football and your spiritual life.”

Executive Director of Operations at AFM, Deacon Steve Sarnecki said the combination of all these elements make the videos effective.

“Father Gallagher’s theological excellence when it comes to Ignatian spirituality, Ablaze’s unique ability to create family friendly, approachable, accessible content, and Coach Gut’s ever-present witness and understanding of strategy and the spiritual life came together in a beautiful weave for this project,” he said.

Gutelius said he was enthusiastic to be included in the project. "I hope that if I have any small part in maybe reducing a barrier for young people, then I am fired up to do it,” he said.

“I feel like I have a little bit of a pulpit as the head football coach at the Catholic University of America, and if I don't use it to help people understand the truth, to help people understand that God has a plan for them that they have to figure out, if I don't use that, then I might wind up at the pearly gates and not get the reception I'm looking for."

Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America
Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America

Gabe Aparicio, the team’s senior captain, told CNA that Gutelius has been a spiritual and fatherly role model for the whole team. 

“Gutelius’ office door is always open for us and I’ve had multiple conversations with him about life and faith, and honestly, he’s the type of person, the type of Catholic I aim to be someday,” Aparicio said. 

Gutelius graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1992 with a major in politics and a minor in philosophy. When he is not on the field or in the game-film room, he can often be found attending a campus Mass or showing prospective players around campus. He currently resides in Maryland with his wife Kimberly, and children Michael, 21, Sam, 19, and Mary, 16.

“I firmly believe St. Ignatius will be pleased with how this series presents his rules for discernment,” Gutelius said.

“Maybe even pleased enough that he might intercede a little bit to help the Cardinals get a big win this weekend?” he added. “We can always use a little heavenly help in worldly matters but especially this weekend vs the Merchant Marine academy!"

That time a priest was reprimanded by a saint

St. John Paul II, circa 1992. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 14:28 pm (CNA).

When white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on October 16, 1978, Fr. Eamon Kelly, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time, couldn’t have known that he was witnessing the election of a future saint.

Nor did he know that more than a dozen years after that election, he would be reprimanded by that same future saint, John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday general audiences.

It was Holy Week of 1992, and Fr. Kelly, a priest with the Congregation of the Legion of Christ, was on his annual pilgrimage to Rome.

But this year was different.

His youth group had brought along eight Russian young people, the tension of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War just barely in the rearview mirror of history.

Fr. Kelly had done some strategizing to make sure the Russian youth got a good seat.

“We had our tickets and we went in early, and we did get positions up against the barrier of the corridor,” Fr. Kelly said. “So that was fantastic, we were going to see Pope John Paul II.”

His German students gave up all of the seats closest to the aisle, so that the Russian young people would get to shake the Pope’s hand as he walked through the Paul VI audience hall.

“I had the kids observe how he did it – he’d shake hands but by that he’d already moved on to talking to the next person, greeting them,” Fr. Kelly recalled.

“So I told them this pope knows Russian, and you need to greet him politely when he’s two or three people away; say some nice greeting in Russian.”

They did, and it worked: sure enough, the Pope’s ears perked up when he heard the Russian greetings. As soon as he got to the group, he stopped walking.

“He started talking to them in Russian, and there was a tremendous chemistry going on, and everybody was super excited. Our six rows of kids had assimilated into about two,” Fr. Kelly said.

Eventually the Pope asked, in Russian, how the group was able to make it to Rome. All the Russian students turned and pointed at Fr. Kelly.

He was a head taller than most of the students, so Fr. Kelly suddenly found himself in straight eye contact with John Paul II.

“There was so much joy and appreciation and gratitude in his eyes that these kids were there,” Fr. Kelly said.

“But then, his look turned like a storm with a critical question – ‘Why didn’t you tell me before they came?’” the Pope demanded of the priest.

“You know, like I could call up the Pope and tell him we’re coming,” Fr. Kelly recalled with a laugh.

“I tried to give an excuse, I said it was hanging by a thread that it was going to happen, I just fumbled my way through it. What are you going to do when the Pope is asking you for accountability?” Fr. Kelly said.

In hindsight, Fr. Kelly said he maybe could have called an office in the Vatican to alert them of the Russian students, but he didn’t realize that this visit would be so important for the Pope.

But Russia was dear to St. John Paul II’s heart, as he had played a critical role in the peaceful fall of communism and the Soviet Union. Just a few years prior, he had met for over an hour with President Mikhail Gorbachev, who later said the peaceful dissolution of the USSR would have been impossible without the Roman Pontiff.

Perhaps their meeting in 1989 had also softened Gorbachev’s heart prior to World Youth Day 1991, when the leader allowed some 20,000 Russian youth to attend the event in Poland for the first time ever. The conciliatory move was the whole reason the Russian students were now meeting John Paul II in Rome.

“He said to me, 'This is the first group of Russians I’ve ever greeted in the audience hall',” Fr. Kelly said.

It’s possible that it may have been the first youth group from Moscow to visit Rome ever, Fr. Kelly said.

“I don’t want to claim that title, because there may have been others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to come before the start of communism,” he said.

He said the Pope was visibly moved by the Russian students.

“He was happy, he was happy. He said if he would have known that they were there, he would have greeted them formally from the stage.”

And the Russian students?

“They were elated.”

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 22, 2016.

Adults from Afghanistan, Iran, prepare to be baptized as Catholics in Vienna

A baptismal font in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. / Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vienna, Austria, Oct 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Eleven people from Afghanistan are among the 27 adults who will soon be baptized as Catholics in Austria’s Vienna archdiocese.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna formally welcomed the candidates for adult baptism at a ceremony on Oct. 20 at a Carmelite church in the city’s Döbling district, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In addition to the 11 Afghans, there are six Iranians and four Austrians, with the remainder from five other countries.

More than two-thirds of the catechumens are male and between the ages of 20 and 40.

The 76-year-old cardinal told the candidates: “Being a Christian imparts a hope that is greater than the problems and crises of this world and also greater than the personal blows of fate that some of you have already experienced.”

Afghanistan is the world’s second-worst country in which to be a Christian after North Korea, according to the advocacy group Open Doors, which ranks Iran in eighth place.

Daniel Vychytil, who oversees the adult catechumenate in Vienna and at a national level, told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress that some of those seeking adult baptism had gained asylum.

Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in August, Afghans in Austria are likely to receive residence permits.

But baptized Afghans are often anxious about family members who remain in their homeland.

“Even if they have been granted asylum themselves, relatives must first manage to flee to Pakistan and apply there to the Austrian embassy for family reunification,” Vychytil said.

He added that most of the Afghan baptismal candidates first encountered Christianity on their journey out of Afghanistan or in Austria itself.

He noted that some had had “very deep religious experiences.”

“Some came to believe in Jesus Christ through conversations with compatriots who have already converted and are active in missionary work, others through visits to church spaces, where they felt a profound peace and quiet and encountered God,” he said.

He added that he knew Afghans who in previous years had been deported from Austria after being baptized.

Kathpress said that in Austria the number of adult baptisms — involving people aged 14 and over — has risen since the turn of the millennium, peaking in 2017.

In common with other Austrian dioceses, the Vienna archdiocese admits baptismal candidates each year in the spring, but has another ceremony in the fall for adult candidates who began their preparation later.

The baptisms take place in local parishes around the Feast of Christ the King, which falls this year on November 21.

Vychytil estimated that there would be around 200 adult baptisms in Austria this year, 80 of them in the Vienna archdiocese.

There are around 45,000 infant baptisms annually in Austria, a central European country of nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics.

While there is an established trend of people leaving the Church in Austria, the Vienna archdiocese reported a rise in the number of men training for the priesthood last year.