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UPDATE: Where are Catholics allowed to eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day this Lent?

St. Patrick and corned beef. / Left: Hope Phillips / Shutterstock. Right: Slawomir Fajer / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

This year St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday.

For those who aren’t Catholic but are keen on observing the feast day with green beer and the traditional corned beef and cabbage, this is something of a happy coincidence and a great way to end the work week.

For Catholics it’s problematic. It’s Lent, a penitential time when Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays.

As the luck of the Irish would have it, there is a way out of this dilemma. Diocesan bishops can give the faithful a dispensation to allow them to eat meat on March 17.  The National Catholic Register’s Matt McDonald surveyed all of the bishops in the U.S. to find out which ones are offering a free pass on St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s what he heard back:

“As of Thursday, March 16, 73.1% of the dioceses — 128 — were offering some relief from the no-meat-on-Fridays-during-Lent rule for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Of those saying some form of yes, 94 diocesan bishops are providing a dispensation with no strings attached — although many of those bishops suggest extra prayers or spiritual exercises or abstaining from meat on another day. Thirty-four diocesan bishops said some form of ‘yes, but …’  — requiring a substitute through what canon law calls a ‘commutation’ of the requirement, such as attending Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, saying the Breastplate of St. Patrick, praying the rosary, abstaining from meat another day, or helping the poor.

“Also in the yes-but category is the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military Services, which is requiring abstinence from meat on another day the same week as St. Patrick’s Day for those planning to eat meat on Friday, March 17.

“Forty-five diocesan bishops have said no to a general dispensation or commutation for all Catholics in the diocese, although many of those say they would grant individual dispensations upon request. That’s 25.7% of the dioceses.”

So, before heading out to celebrate, here’s a handy map showing which dioceses have given the green light (sorry) to eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day:

To learn about the history of the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day by Irish Catholics in the United States read this fascinating article by McDonald in the National Catholic Register.

Texas lawmakers propose making illegal immigration a felony

Migrants, mostly of Venezuelan origin, attempt to forcibly cross into the United States at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on March 12, 2023. / Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 15:24 pm (CNA).

The Republican leadership in the Texas House announced last week that passing a bill to make illegal immigration a felony is a top priority this spring.

The “Border Protection Unit Act,” introduced last week by state Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer and supported by key leaders of the majority-Republican Texas House of Representatives, would create a specialized border protection police force and make illegal immigration a state felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a March 10 press release announcing that House leadership will prioritize passing the Border Protection Unit Act. 

“Addressing our state’s border and humanitarian crisis is a must-pass issue for the Texas House this year, and I thank Representatives Guillen and Schaefer for filing … [bills that] will lead to a safer Texas that overall reduces the cost to taxpayers,” Phelan said.

The act would give the new border protection unit full legal authority to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of nondeadly force.” Additionally, the unit’s chief, who would be appointed by the governor, would have the authority to deputize civilians “to participate in unit operations and functions” so long as those individuals have not been convicted of a felony.”

Another bill proposed by state Rep. Ryan Guillen would establish a Border Safety Oversight Committee to oversee the new border protection unit and provide border policy recommendations to the Legislature.

The Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus immediately denounced Schaefer’s proposed legislation, calling it an “extreme vigilante death squads policy.” 

“This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people,” the statement read.

Schaefer responded in a tweet: 

“The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept. of Public Safety to protect Texans. Many will be licensed peace officers, others trained and specifically authorized by the Governor to make lawful arrests. Exactly as the Nat’l Guard & DPS operate now under Operation Lone Star.”

Operation Lone Star is an ongoing border security initiative that was first launched in the spring of 2021 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. 

The initiative has dedicated billions of state dollars and resources to border security and sent thousands of public safety officers and National Guard soldiers to the Texas-Mexico border. 

To become law, Schaefer’s bill will have to pass both houses of the Texas Legislature before the end of the legislative session in May. Republicans hold majorities in both the Texas House and Senate, making increased border security policies very possible.

According to the Border Protection Unit Act’s text, if two-thirds of both houses approve the act it will take effect immediately. If the bill is passed without a two-thirds majority, it will take effect on Sept. 1 of this year.

Texas Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced similar legislation in the Senate, making illegally crossing the border a state felony punishable by jail time. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, has signaled his support for Birdwell’s bill.

Abbott, who is a Catholic Republican, has said that securing the border is an “emergency item” for the 2023 Texas legislative session.

A Feb. 16 press release from Abbott’s office announced that he intends to work with the Legislature to “secure another $4.6 billion to bolster border security efforts” and to “pass legislation making it at least a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling in Texas.”

With a record 2.76 million-plus undocumented migrants crossing the border in the fiscal year 2022, illegal immigration has been a growing concern for not only Republicans but also some key Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

In February, the Biden administration announced a new policy that will take effect May 11 and automatically deny asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or cross other countries illegally to get into the United States. Biden’s new rule, which is his most restrictive border policy yet, will remain in effect until May 11, 2025.

Responding to Biden’s new policy, Dylan Corbett of the Catholic relief group Hope Border Institute told CNA that those setting immigration policy should consider the effects on migrants.

“We spend billions of dollars every year on border and immigration enforcement. There is no doubt that we can reinvest some of those resources into putting in place a safe, efficient, welcoming system at the border that upholds the rights of vulnerable migrants and keeps our country safe.

“At this point, it is only a question of overcoming the political hurdles. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today only see the political cost of making progress on immigration, but they don’t realize that there is also a moral cost to shutting the door on the most vulnerable that is far more consequential,” Corbett said.

UK bishops say law criminalizing prayer outside of abortion clinics is discriminatory

Father Sean Gough, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, faced criminal charges for praying for free speech outside an abortion clinic after business hours in violation of a strict buffer zone law in the English city of Birmingham. “I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray?” he said in a Feb. 9, 2023, statement from the ADF UK legal group. / Credit: ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Mar 16, 2023 / 12:52 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom said a new law criminalizing prayer and outreach outside abortion clinics in England and Wales discriminates against people of faith.

“We lament that prayer, holding certain views, or peacefully witnessing to the Gospel of life in certain ‘zones’ across these lands may now be a criminal offense,” Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ lead bishop for life issues, said March 15.

“Throughout this bill’s passage through Parliament, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has reiterated its concern that this proposed legislation, despite any other intent, constitutes discrimination and disproportionately affects people of faith,” Sherrington said.

Britain’s House of Commons approved legislation on March 7 to create “buffer zones” across the country, which strictly bans behavior that “interferes with any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services” around abortion facilities.

The law’s broad provision would prohibit a wide range of behavior, including silent prayer.

Violation would be punished with a fine. However, the fine is potentially unlimited.

Several individuals have already run afoul of buffer zones enacted by localities. Adam Smith-Connor, whose unborn son died in an abortion decades earlier, was fined for praying outside an abortion facility under a protection order in Bournemouth in November 2022.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, co-director of March for Life UK, and Archdiocese of Birmingham priest Father Sean Gough were acquitted in February of all charges against them after they were accused of breaking a Birmingham council protection order for praying in front of an abortion clinic. The charges concerned separate incidents. The day before the vote in Parliament, Vaughan-Spruce was detained for praying again outside the same abortion facility.

The bishops of England and Wales were especially concerned that lawmakers rejected an amendment to protect silent prayer and consensual communication in affected buffer zones. The amendment failed by a vote of 299-116.

Religious freedom is essential for society and human flourishing, the bishops’ statement said.

“This includes the right to manifest one’s beliefs in public including through witness, the raising of one’s mind and heart to God in prayer, and charitable outreach,” they added. “Yet this new law potentially inhibits this, restricting freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”

The bishops emphasized that such zones could be expanded to other topics and these raise “serious questions about the state’s powers in relation to the individual in a free society, both those with faith and those without.”

Paul Coleman, executive director of the religious freedom advocacy group ADF International, characterized the buffer zones as “censorship zones.”

Writing in a March 10 Newsweek essay, he said the law is “about leveraging the full power of government censorship to suppress a particular viewpoint, giving police the authority to question and arrest individuals solely on the basis of their thoughts.”

In their statement, the bishops condemned all harassment and intimidation of women and said there is “little, if any, evidence to suggest that vigil participants engage in these behaviors.” The new law, they said, is too broad and “both disproportionate and unnecessary.”

At the same time, peaceful prayer and outreach outside abortion facilities are part of Christian witness and practice, according to the bishops.

“Christian prayer cannot be confined to places of worship or the privacy of one’s own home,” they said. “In each moment of every day, Christians are called to prayer.”

They cited Jesus’ “greatest commandment,” to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our soul and to love our neighbor as ourself.”

“This new law potentially strikes at the heart of being able to respond to this call and duty,” the bishops said. Christians are called to show “special regard for the most vulnerable and the poorest among us.”

“Who can be more vulnerable than a baby in the womb?” they asked. “As Catholics we hold that life is sacred from the first moment of conception and that harming, attacking, or denying life in these circumstances is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the people of God.”

For decades, since abortion was legalized in 1967, Catholics have taken part in “peaceful and often silent witness to the dignity of human life outside the places where over 10 million unborn lives have been taken.”

“Catholics feel a strong call to witness through peaceful presence to the sanctity of life and the injustice of abortion,” they said.

At the same time, love of neighbor motivates believers to “offer practical help to those in need.” Catholics have long offered “vital practical support outside abortions clinics to expectant mothers who might dearly wish to keep their babies.”

“Where there is need, Christ bids us to serve,” the bishops of England and Wales said.

Facing hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits, Albany Diocese to declare bankruptcy

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY. / Drew Proto via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Denver, Colo., Mar 16, 2023 / 09:47 am (CNA).

The Catholic Diocese of Albany has decided to file for bankruptcy, saying a financial reorganization will help provide some compensation for the hundreds of sex abuse victims who have filed lawsuits.

“I understand this filing causes uncertainty, but as a Church and a community of faith, we must recognize that victim-survivors are our sons and daughters, and our brothers and sisters, and all of us, without exception, must work together to find ways to help them,” Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany said in a March 15 statement. 

“It’s a natural thing for us to do, especially for those who have been hurt by an institution we are all called to be a part of. We must reach out to all and journey with them through the healing process,” the bishop’s statement read.

Parishes and schools are not part of the filing and are incorporated as different entities, the bishop said.

“It is very important for me to point out that the mission and ministries of the diocese and parishes will continue during the reorganization proceedings,” he said. He asked for prayers “for all involved, that God’s peace and healing can prevail.”

Scharfenberger said the diocese has been named in more than 400 lawsuits filed from August 2019 to August 2021 under the Child Victims Act of 2019. The act allowed a retrospective one-year “look back” window during which alleged abuse victims could file lawsuits long after the statute of limitations had ended. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the window through 2021, citing the obstacles caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The diocese has settled more than 50 of these lawsuits. Settlements have been “large” and the “limited funds” have been depleted, the bishop said.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy will ensure “some compensation” for all abuse victims with pending litigation. The collection of debts and legal actions against the diocese will halt and a reorganization plan will determine available assets and insurance carrier participation “to negotiate reasonable settlements” with abuse victims and other creditors.

There is no timeline for the Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Albany Diocese said in a statement. Other reorganizations have continued for several years. Bankruptcy reorganization plans usually must be approved by the affected creditors, including lawsuit plaintiffs, and also by the bankruptcy court.

The bankruptcy announcement follows months of negotiations between attorneys for the diocese and for the plaintiffs. Several attorneys for plaintiffs complained that the diocese’s offer of a global settlement fell far short of a reasonable amount and alleged that the diocese’s attorneys had obstructed the legal discovery process, the Albany Times-Union reported.

Scharfenberger took office in 2014. According to the diocese’s website, the Albany Diocese serves about 316,000 Catholics in a population of 1.4 million. About 68 diocesan priests are in active ministry, the diocese’s website reports.

The Albany Diocese joins five New York dioceses that have declared bankruptcy amid the lawsuits brought under the Child Victims Act. The other dioceses are Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rockville Centre.

The St. Clare Hospital pension fund is also a subject of lawsuits. More than 1,100 former employees of the closed Schenectady hospital lost some or all of their retirement savings when the fund emptied in 2019 as a result of a decision in the 1990s to drop the fund’s federal pension insurance protection, WAMC Northeast Public Radio reported. The hospital, which shut down in 2008, operated under the diocese. A 2019 lawsuit against the diocese seeks damage on behalf of the pensioners.

Though these lawsuits will be halted, Scharfenberger said this was not the diocese’s aim for filing the bankruptcy.

A special section on the Albany Diocese’s website addresses the reorganization. The bishop pointed to information on the diocese’s child protection and safe environment resources and its Hope and Healing effort for abuse survivors.

“I apologize to the victim-survivors and their families for the inexcusable harm that was done to them by those in positions of trust,” he said. He emphasized the dioceses’ commitment to its programs for victim-survivors, including work to facilitate mental health services and to provide opportunities for spiritual healing.

“They are part of our community in Christ, and as a Church we are called to share his love, to be his heart in the world today,” the bishop said of abuse victims.

Albany’s Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard, who led the diocese from 1977 until 2014, gave a deposition made public in March 2022 in which he admitted that he did not report several instances of alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests, instead choosing to keep the allegations quiet and to refer the priests for treatment.

Hubbard has defended his response to abuse cases, saying that it was “common practice” in the 1970s and 1980s to act as he did, though he acknowledged that his failure to notify the parish and the public when a priest was removed from or restored to ministry was a “mistake.” 

In a majority of the cases “the victims themselves did not want to make the matter public and many times sought confidentiality through their attorneys.”

A March 2021 lawsuit has accused him of abusing a boy in 1977, an allegation that he has denied. Hubbard has asked the Vatican to permanently remove him from the clergy, contending he can no longer serve in public ministry.

Called by God from childhood, triplets from Brazil belong to the same religious order

Triplets María Gorete dos Santos, María de Lourdes dos Santos, and María Aparecida dos Santos, 57, are all nuns belonging to the Franciscan Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. / Credit: Courtesy of Sister María Gorete dos Santos

CNA Newsroom, Mar 16, 2023 / 07:57 am (CNA).

Triplets María Gorete dos Santos, María de Lourdes dos Santos, and María Aparecida dos Santos, 57, are all nuns belonging to the Franciscan Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Born into a Catholic family of 17 siblings in rural Bahia state in Brazil, they felt their vocation awakening in childhood. “We didn’t know … what it was like, we just wanted to be religious. It was something that only God can explain,” María Gorete said.

Gorete, Lourdes, and Aparecida are from the small town of Itamira in the district of Aporá. There they met “a nun from Italy, Sister Ricarda” when they were children, and the nun’s witness made them want to follow the same path.

“She visited the communities there, where we attended holy Mass and, while the parish priest ministered to … the people, she gathered the children, seated them in front of the altar, put on a record player, and taught us,” María Gorete said. 

María Gorete recalled that Lourdes then said: “When I grow up, I want to be like this sister.”

“That made us feel the call even more. We grew up with this idea, which matured, and we lived with this ideal,” María Gorete told ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner.

Gorete recalled that her mother, Josefa Mendes de Souza, stated that she would not let her daughters leave the house unless it was to marry or to enter religious life. However, the family didn’t know how to make the triplets’ dream of entering religious life happen.

A priest who celebrated Mass in the region learned about their desire and contacted the superior of a convent in Salvador in Bahía state, who said she could take the young women. The first to follow the call to a vocation was Lourdes in 1984.

María Gorete recalled that Aparecida also wanted to go, but her mother “said that it wasn’t possible at that time, because we had to help with the younger siblings. And the mother [of the house] also helped the elderly people in the community, because in the countryside they needed help to put away firewood, since there was no gas or electricity, to wash clothes in the river, because there was no tank ... So, we had to help her.”

A year after Lourdes went to the convent, Aparecida followed the same path and, after another year, it was Gorete’s turn.

For María Gorete, there may have been “a bit of influence from one sister to the other, because the first one pulled us along,” but she clarified that “each woman has her ideal of being a religious, of consecrating her life to God. This was maturing, and our desire was growing more and more.”

For a year the three lived in the same convent, in Salvador. “It was good for us to be together, because we strengthened each other,” María Gorete said.

However, the presence of the triplets “created a lot of confusion in the convent,” because although “each one worked in a different place,” when one of the nuns spoke with one of the triplets and then with another one, she thought she had spoken to the same person.

Currently, María Gorete is in São José dos Campos in São Paulo state, where she works at Asilo Santo Antônio. María de Lourdes is in the convent of Santa Clara do Desterro in Salvador. María Aparecida is spending time at home, taking care of their 85-year-old mother. 

“Today, our mother needs care and wants us close. So we talked to our mother superior and we can stay with her. We’re going to take turns caring for her,” María Gorete explained.

For her, following religious life “is worth it.” 

“It's worth leaving everything, leaving the family. It’s not like abandoning the family, but following what Jesus says: If you want to follow me, renounce everything you have, pick up your cross, and follow me. It gives life meaning,” she said.

“By deciding to follow Jesus, we prepare ourselves for whatever comes. We don’t know what’s ahead, but we know we’re not alone. So, we have the courage to give up everything and go without fear. The apostles followed without fear and fulfilled their mission. We are here in the world to carry out our mission of serving, whether in the family, in the convent, wherever God wants us,” she concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Church in Chile says ‘no to the violence’ following arson attack by indigenous militants

Fire in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel belonging to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the village of Selva Oscura, Chile, March 13, 2023. / Credit: Bishopric of Temuco

CNA Newsroom, Mar 15, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Catholic community of the Diocese of Temuco in Chile said no to violence following the March 13 fire that destroyed the Sacred Heart of Jesus chapel in the Amaza sector.

In a public statement signed by the diocesan administrator, Father Juan Andrés Basly Erices, the community expressed its grief over the arson attack that occurred in the early morning hours of March 13, destroying the chapel belonging to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the village of Selva Oscura.

“On this day, when His Holiness Pope Francis marks the 10th anniversary of his pontificate, we echo the words of the message he delivered to us during his visit to these lands of La Araucanía, where he stated that ‘violence calls for violence, destruction increases division and separation. Violence ends up turning the most just cause into a liar.’ That is why we say ‘no to the violence that destroys,’” said the statement, quoting the pope.

The statement emphasized “the call for peace and unity,” acknowledging that the people and their communities “are suffering a lot” with pain and anguish due to the “violent and destructive acts.”

“With greater effort, we continue to pray for our people, our land, our blood, and we invoke St. Joseph, patron of the diocese, his protection for all, and that, in these days of Lent, conversion to good be lived out,” the text said.

The violent episode follows other fires that occurred on Feb. 20 and March 4, the first involving two forestry vehicles in the town of Traiguén and the second in the chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the hamlet of California, about 10 miles from Selva Oscura in the Araucanía region.

On that occasion, according to the police, at least eight people participated in the attack that reduced the church to ashes.

The criminals sprayed the building with a flammable liquid, lit the fire, and escaped, according to Radio Biobío.

There were also shots fired in the vicinity of the place, where a banner was found claiming responsibility for the vandalism, signed by the group “Mapuche Malleco Resistance,” a loosely organized indigenous rights guerilla group operating in Malleco province.

In February, the minister of the interior, Carolina Tohá, reported that the government of President Gabriel Boric filed legal actions against the Mapuche organization.

The minister stressed that “setting fires when there are [forest fire] conditions like the current ones is a crime that risks endangering the population.” For this reason, she questioned: “I don’t know which indigenous claims agenda can justify that.”

“From the moment an action of this type is decided upon, people’s lives are being put at risk,” she added.

The indigenous Mapuches demand that their ownership of what they consider their territory be recognized and they oppose the overexploitation of land resources by private forestry companies.

With this justification, the armed Mapuche groups have been attacking forestry companies for some time, arguing that they are invading their lands. The militants have burned buses, churches, and schools, attacked trucks, and stolen wood.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Miami University student group hopes to install Plan B ‘morning after pill’ vending machine on campus

Plan B. / Mike Mozart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

Miami University’s student government association has plans to install a “Plan B” emergency contraception vending machine on its Oxford, Ohio, campus in time for the fall semester.

Plan B emergency contraception, also known as “the morning-after pill,” is a one-step pill that can sometimes act as an abortifacient.

Though plans have not yet been finalized, the university’s student government has proposed purchasing the pills in bulk and selling them in a campus community hall to make them available to students 24/7 at a discounted price, according to student government meeting notes.

Miami University would be the first school in Ohio to have a contraception vending machine on campus.

Sophomore Ryan Parker, one of the students behind the proposal, told The Miami Student that he expected the university’s administration to approve the initiative.

“We’re still kind of working out those logistics with a bunch of different departments on campus, but everyone has been overly supportive so far,” Parker told the student newspaper.

Several universities throughout the U.S. already have similar emergency contraception vending machines on campus including George Washington University, the University of California-Los Angeles, and Boston University.

The initial purchase of the machine and pills would be paid for by the school’s Associated Student Government, which, like other student-run organizations, receives money from the university. The continued stocking of the pills would be funded by the sale of pills to students.

According to the manufacturers, the pill is designed to be effective for up to 72 hours, preventing ovulation and thus stopping a pregnancy before conception.

However, some say that the Plan B pill can act as an abortifacient. According to Miami University Students for Life, “emergency contraception has the potential to end a human life.”

“There are two ways Plan B is capable of ending the life of a conceived human. First, its chemical makeup directly affects the hormones at play within the female reproductive system and can prevent enough progesterone (the ‘pregnancy hormone’) from sustaining the offspring,” the petition states.

“Second, Plan B is capable of creating an inhospitable uterine environment with the thinning of the endometrium. This uterine lining is, without artificial interference, thick and ready for a conceived child to implant and continue the gestational process. If the embryo survives all of Plan B’s previous defenses and arrives at the uterus only to find nowhere to implant, he or she will die.”

Miami University Students for Life said the initiative, which proposes allocating $3,500 for the Plan B vending machine, would use student-funded dollars for something that could be harmful to women’s health.

“Current research shows Plan B can cause serious complications, be ineffective, and potentially create more serious long-term health conditions,” Miami University Students for Life said in an online petition to stop the vending machine.

Alecia Lipton of Miami University’s media relations office told CNA that “the proposed Plan B vending machine is not a university initiative but is a student-led project of the Associated Student Government [ASG] at Miami University.”

“If an emergency-contraception vending machine were to be purchased by the Associated Student Government, it would be funded by monies controlled by ASG, not the Miami administration,” Lipton said. “The proposed vending machine would dispense the over-the-counter contraceptive medication, Plan B, which delays or prevents ovulation but does not end a pregnancy that has implanted.”

According to Lipton, “at this point there is neither any certainty that a vending machine will be installed nor a specific time frame or date for completion of this proposed initiative.”

Still, she told CNA that plans are underway to make a Plan B vending machine available to students.

“The Associated Student Government is working to determine sourcing of products, costs, and a potential on-campus location,” she said. 

Caroline Wharton, a representative of the national group Students for Life of America, told CNA that the organization supports its Miami University chapter’s petition to stop the Plan B vending machine.

“‘Emergency contraception’ is really an abortifacient with the potential to kill preborn life,” Wharton said. “Beyond being a danger to children in the womb, having such drugs in a vending machine also increases their ability to be put in the hands of an abuser, putting women at risk as well.”

“Campuses should have life-affirming resources available for students — assisting with things like child care, financial aid, needed materials, food, etc. for pregnant and parenting students — instead of encouraging a culture of irresponsible sexual activity, disregard for preborn life, and possible abuse,” Wharton said.

Abortion is legal in Ohio until 22 weeks of pregnancy. An Ohio law banning abortion after a detectable heartbeat, typically six weeks’ gestation, is currently blocked as it works its way through the state court system.

Waves of attacks displace Catholic natives in central Nigeria

Ruins after a militia attack in Benue state, Nigeria, during the last week of February 2023. / Credit: Courtesy of Michael Burton/

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The controversial presidential election on Feb. 25 still dominates Nigeria’s main news. Meanwhile, recent terrorist raids in Benue, a predominantly Catholic state in north-central Nigeria, are getting scant mention.

Six counties in the Middle Belt state have seen deadly attacks by Fulani militants since the election, according to Mike Uba, the county chairman of Guma, adjacent to the state capital of Makurdi. The affected counties are both in the north and southern borders of the state.

One of the most recent attacks, on March 7, left at least 20 residents dead in the village of Tse Jor after about 40 attackers with machetes arrived on motorbikes and slashed defenseless men, women, and children for at least two hours, Helen Tikyaa, an aid worker employed by the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, told CNA. Tikyaa said she drove to the village during the attack but dared not go in until the killers had departed.

Women and children from Tse Jor and surrounding villages are still streaming into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Naka, 20 miles west of Makurdi, Tikyaa said.

Paul Hemba, the security adviser to the Benue governor, told CNA that the killers likely avoided using rifles during this raid to avoid alerting the military, which has a base approximately seven miles south of Tse Jor. 

“The terrorists planned this attack knowing they would get little resistance,” he said. “This attack in a remote rural area was a surprise to everyone. The attackers knew that the military would need at least one hour to get to the attack site due to the crude roads and because few of the villagers even had cellphones, and those who did wouldn’t necessarily know who to call in case of emergency.”

Father Remigius Ihyula, a priest administering aid in Makurdi, said the attack on the Tse Jor community caught the citizens and the authorities off guard. 

“It was the first time the community saw such violence since the killings started in 2001, and the attackers came without warning,” Ihyula told CNA in a text message. “The motive could be nothing short of terrorism and the desire to inflict pain and disperse populations to occupy the deserted areas.” 

Benue has more than 1 million people struggling to survive in makeshift camps due to terrorist raids that have depopulated large areas and prevented hundreds of thousands of small farmers from accessing their four-acre farms, Ihyula said.

Arriving residents of the Naka internally displaced people camp build their own shelters with branches and mosquito netting on Feb. 21, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Helen Tikyaa
Arriving residents of the Naka internally displaced people camp build their own shelters with branches and mosquito netting on Feb. 21, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Helen Tikyaa

The attacks continued 62 miles east of Tse Jor on March 7, according to Father William Shom, who pastors a church in Yelewata, Guma County. An attack by Fulani terrorists who came in large numbers to Yelewata that evening left seven people dead. The terrorists also burned 27 houses, Shom said in a text message to CNA.

“This is what my parishioners are passing through,” Shom added. “We cannot sleep with our eyes closed. We are calling on the international community to come to our aid.”

The town of Naka, population 3,000, is host to a sprawling IDP camp of 5,000 residents, chiefly women and children suffering from hunger and trauma, according to reports from the Foundation for Justice Development and Peace.

“With the attack on Tse Jor on [March 7], there are now eight villages near Naka that have been depopulated and taken over by Muslim tribes, whose militia make up the killing parties,” Tikyaa told CNA. “Many of the children show signs of malnutrition. The state government makes ration deliveries only once each month, and when food runs out, the people in the camps try to earn money by doing jobs or begging in the streets of Naka.”

“The UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], Red Cross, [and] MSF [Doctors without Borders] are very active in giving support of various kinds,” Father Ihyula said. “The UNHCR particularly has been of tremendous help, offering temporary shelters and protection-related support to the victims.”

“While the Benue state government has tried its best under the circumstances, the federal government has neglected the sufferings of the people,” he said.

“From the point of view of the Foundation for Justice and Peace and the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, our challenge to effective intervention strategies has mainly been the constant attacks and displacement in multiple areas,” he added. “It has been overwhelming dealing with this situation.”

On Benue’s southern border with Cameroon, attacks by Fulani Muslim terrorists claimed more than 50 lives of Catholic parishioners in the remote mountains of Kwande County from Feb. 26 to March 2, according to media reports.

The villages came under attack following the Feb. 25 presidential election, which certified Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, as the winner. The APC was the known preference of the radicalized militias to win the pivotal presidential race, according to observers at the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, which has argued that the APC win has emboldened the terrorists to attack with impunity.

Benue was won by the APC in the presidential campaign, and the upcoming round of gubernatorial elections on March 18 will see the APC rallying behind a suspended priest as their candidate for governor, Father Hyacinth Iormem Alia. The bishop of the Diocese of Gboko suspended Alia in May 2022 because canon law does not allow priests to be involved in partisan politics.

Alia has reportedly condemned the attacks on the heels of the election and said through his media spokesman that some political groups in Benue have attempted to “cash in” on the APC win.

“My reading of the APC win in Benue is that the people have been deceived to believe that the APC will retain power, and it would be foolhardy to be in the opposition given the benefits of belonging to the ruling party,” according to one priest who would only speak under the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Catholic gap year program in Ireland prepares young people for lifelong mission

Young people at Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. / Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA

Glencomeragh, Ireland, Mar 15, 2023 / 13:42 pm (CNA).

A new gap year program gives young people the opportunity to spend one year living in Ireland in an intentional Catholic community with daily Mass, eucharistic adoration, and faith formation.

Located in the rolling green hills of County Waterford, the Holy Family Mission program is seen by many local Catholics as a ray of hope for the Church in Ireland. 

“This idea of having a place where you can get to know yourself better, get to know the Lord better, and then really face life as a more confident, well-rounded, mature, faithful person is a great gift,” Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford told CNA.

“I wonder how many young people wander into college without really knowing what they want, and then get distracted with all kinds of things,” he said.

The nine-month “gap year” is for people aged 18-30 who desire greater formation in their Catholic faith. Approximately 30 young people live on the grounds of the 200-year-old Glencomeragh estate, where they also help to organize retreats to share the faith with others.

‘A gap year for God’

Teresa Jansen came to Holy Family Mission from Chicago directly after high school because she felt the need for more training in her faith and wanted to “dive deeper” in her relationship with God.

“There are just so many opportunities to be able to pray and to really encounter the Lord,” Jansen said.

“My highlight has been adoration every day. Having adoration and Mass every single day has been key, I think, just because that’s where the transformation has really happened. … And then along with that, deep, authentic friendships have come out of this year,” she said.

Participants of Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission
Participants of Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission

“God is forming me for mission just because he’s doing a lot in my heart that I wasn’t expecting.”

Michael Tierney, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student from County Offaly, Ireland, calls Holy Family Mission “a gap year for God.”

“Some people go on retreats or they go for weekends and they have like this spiritual or ‘Jesus high’ for a couple of days, but then they go back to their normal lives and they fall back into old habits,” Tierney said.

“Holy Family Mission is really needed now to produce a generation of young people to lead the renewal of the Church and who are really grounded in what the Church believes.”

Bearing fruit

In a country where at least 10 dioceses do not have a single seminarian studying for the priesthood, Holy Family Mission has borne remarkable fruit since its founding in 2016.

Seven alumni of the program have gone on to enter the priesthood or religious life. Others have met their spouse during their time at Holy Family Mission.

“We’re seeing a lot of green shoots in the ‘yes’ that young people have given here in their generosity to God,” Maura Murphy said. 

Murphy is one of three youth ministers who founded Holy Family as a house of formation. She said that many young people describe the gap year as the “steppingstone that they needed” before entering college life.

Participants at Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission
Participants at Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission

“Many of them have gone on and have got really involved in their college campuses. Some of them have started Catholic societies. Some of them have started off Catholic households on campus,” she said.

“Some who come to us have been teachers, nurses. They have taken a career break … and they’ve gone back to that reality, they have gone back into that environment, but better formed to witness to the faith and to answer questions that their colleagues have.”

Bishop Cullinan remarked: “It’s bearing fruits, first of all, in all of these young people being more confident in themselves and in their faith to face whatever life has for them. Some have gone into religious life, but most of them have gone on to just being more confident in the chosen path that they’ve taken.”

“And there have been a few marriages as well,” he added. “And that, you know, is great because the vocation to marriage is … so fundamental to the well-being of society.”

An answered prayer

Father Patrick Cahill, Patrick Reynolds, and Murphy were each working in youth ministry in different parts of Ireland but kept hearing the same things. 

“We were hearing young people say we desire formation. We desire community. We want to know more about the faith. … And at that point, we didn’t know where to send them in Ireland,” Murphy recalled. 

She said that the dream was to have “a house of formation for young people in Ireland, a place where they could live in for a set period of time, where they could be walked with accompanied, where they could be taught the faith, and where they could share it with young adults.”

Maura Murphy, Father Patrick Cahill, and Patrick Reynolds, founders of Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission
Maura Murphy, Father Patrick Cahill, and Patrick Reynolds, founders of Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission

In April 2016 the three youth ministers approached Bishop Cullinan to pitch the idea of forming young people in Ireland and having a missionary outreach to young people and families.

Cullinan remembered: “I listened and I was really taken by the idea. I said, ‘This is the kind of thing we need.’” 

The Glencomeragh property came to the bishop’s mind, but he did not say anything because it did not belong to the diocese. He said: “Look, let’s pray about it. If God wants this to happen, it’ll happen.”

The very next day, the bishop received a call from a priest with the Rosminian order who said that the order wanted to gift the Glencomeragh property to the diocese “if it had a purpose for it.”

Cullinan said: “I actually had to ask him to repeat it. And I sat down. And he said it again. And I said, ‘There’s an answer to prayer!’”

Murphy recalls that the bishop “really saw that the Lord wanted Holy Family Mission and his time was now.” Holy Family Mission opened within a few months.

“Sometimes it is the case that the Lord is putting that deep desire in your heart because he’s actually asking you to respond to that call. He’s showing you a need, and he wants you to cooperate with his guidance and to make it happen,” Murphy said.

A Marian and eucharistic spirituality

Holy Family Mission focuses on formation in five areas: spiritual, personal, academic, community, and mission. 

For Father Cahill, the full-time priest in residence for the program, the ultimate goal of the gap year is for young people to “know the Lord.”

“God has revealed himself to us because he wants us to know him. How can we love a God that we don’t know? So that’s what we aim to do. Here we aim to facilitate through various means in everything that we do to know who the Lord is. So if it’s academics, if it’s through community life, but most especially through being with him, and that’s why everything has to be eucharistic,” he said.

Tierney described the spirituality of Holy Family as “very Marian and eucharistic.”

Eucharistic adoration at Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission
Eucharistic adoration at Holy Family Mission in County Waterford, Ireland. Credit: Holy Family Mission

“We have the rosary. We have eucharistic adoration. We also have a chapel on site where people can go during the day and just check in with God. And you know, that’s really important, because at least from me, like that’s where the growth has really occurred,” he said.

Holy Family Mission uses materials from Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Catechetical Institute as part of its intellectual formation. A counselor is also made available to the community. 

“We want to be in the right environment, a prayerful environment with like-minded people, where we can study our faith and allow that knowledge to impact our prayer life, to impact who we are, and how we interact with those around us,” Murphy said.

“We hope that in the nine or 10 months that they are here, that at the end, they are closer to who God has asked them to be and has called them to be, better equipped to live out the Gospel, and to fully embrace the beauty of it,” she said.

Group of Jewish parents sue state of California for equal access to special needs education

null / Credit: Cherries/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

A group of Jewish parents filed a lawsuit Monday against the California Department of Education, calling for the state to provide religious schools with equal access to special needs education funding for their students.

Under California law, federal and state special education funding is available to public schools and secular private schools. However, state law prohibits these funds from going to private religious schools, such as the Orthodox Jewish schools these California parents want their children to attend. The prohibition also applies to Catholic schools, Protestant Christian schools, Muslim schools, and any other religiously affiliated school.

“It takes a special kind of chutzpah to deny Jewish kids with disabilities equal access to special education benefits,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. Becket, which provides pro bono legal assistance to defend religious liberty, is representing the parents in this lawsuit.

“California politicians can end this unlawful discrimination the easy way or the hard way,” Rassbach continued. “Either they change the law that is hurting children with disabilities, or they can shamefully fight in court for the right to discriminate.”

The lawsuit represents three sets of Jewish parents whose children require special needs education. According to a news release from Becket, the parents desire that their children receive an education that allows them to reach their full potential and is centered on Jewish religious beliefs. The news release notes that both Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy want the ability to provide this education to children with special needs but do not have any access to state or federal funding for those services. 

“California’s elected officials should want to help the most vulnerable members of our society, not hurt them,” Rassbach said. “There is no reason to stand by this outmoded law instead of giving kids with disabilities equal access to benefits.”

The lawsuit claims that the current funding rules violate the parents’ civil rights under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. According to the lawsuit, the policy violates the First Amendment in several different ways.

The lawsuit argues that the rule “categorically excludes religious schools” from a public benefit otherwise provided to members of the community “because of their religious exercise.” They argue further that the rule treats “secular activity more favorably than religious exercise” and that “religious schools must give up their religious identity” to access these funds. They also argue that the rule discriminates against the parents’ right to “direct the religious upbringing of their children.” 

According to the lawsuit, the rule violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it denies the parents’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law and that the Department of Education does “not have a compelling interest in discriminating on the basis of religion.” 

Laura Wolk Slavis, who serves as counsel at Becket, told CNA that the “[legal] precedent is absolutely on our side” given recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“Once a state offers a public benefit, it can’t exclude otherwise qualified participants just because they’re religious,” Wolk Slavis said. 

On June 21, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a Maine law violated the First Amendment because it provided tuition assistance to private secular schools but categorically excluded religious schools from accessing the same funds. On June 17, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the City of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by denying a contract with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because its foster care agency refused to place children with homosexual couples on religious grounds. 

Wolk Slavis said the California policy is based on an “outdated reflection of the First Amendment and must be changed.” She said it’s not clear how many parents and students are affected by the law because it does not allow religious schools to even apply for the funding but estimates that it affects a few thousand students.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Education told CNA that the department has not been served with the lawsuit yet and cannot comment because it could not fully review the lawsuit.