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Father Josh Johnson to lead discernment retreat: 'Representation matters'

Vatican Media

Denver Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

When Father Josh Johnson first felt called to the priesthood, there was an obstacle he had to overcome first — Johnson is Black, and he had never met a Black Catholic priest before. He says he didn't see the priesthood as realistic, because he had never seen a priest who looked like him. 

Racially diverse Catholics feel called to the priesthood or religious life, but may have rarely seen a priest or religious who is the same race as them, Johnson noted. 

"Representation really is important when it comes to promoting the consecrated life, religious life, and diocesan priesthood. Representation of charism, but also of ethnicity,” Johnson told CNA. 

Together with Sister Josephine Garret, a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, Johnson will soon be putting on a retreat for young Catholics featuring speakers of various races and ethnicities.  

Johnson, the vocations director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, told CNA that he wants to expose young people to many kinds of religious life, and also to include a racially diverse set of speakers who can serve as inspiration for young Catholics of color.

"Representation of charism is important for this retreat, and representation of ethnicity is also important,” Johnson told CNA. 

“Because we want people to see the different charisms that are out there whether it's Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit, Josephite, Carmelite, diocesan, but we also want people to see black, and white, and Vietnamese, and Hispanic, so that when people come they can identify and say, ‘I can be that too.’"

The “Chosen Retreat” will take place at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, Louisiana, June 3-5. The weekend retreat is open to all 18-40-year-old men and women. Johnson said if this year’s retreat proves successful, he hopes to make it an annual event. 

Johnson said it was important to him in organizing the retreat that he make it a time conducive for prayer, fellowship, and study. Sister Garrett and Archbishop Fabre — who for the past several years has served a member of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference committee on cultural diversity in the Church— will be giving talks, and Johnson said the talk he will give will be very practical, discussing what the men and women interested in vocational discernment can do next. 

Johnson has been praying, fasting, and publicly advocating for an end to racism, and for racial reconciliation, for years. In ministering to the Black community, Johnson said a “ministry of presence” is key; the Church should be present in predominantly Black areas, inviting young people to consider the priesthood and teaching young people how to pray, because “a lot of people aren't rooted in the interior life,” Johnson noted. 

Johnson said he began to desire the priesthood after becoming friends with priests and seeing their ministry. He fell in love with the priests’ role of bringing Christ's Eucharistic presence into the world, and the opportunity that the priesthood brings to "accompany people on their walk to eternity."

"There's nothing better than knowing we can be used by our Lord to be a bridge for people to be with the Trinity for all eternity. Nothing compares," he commented.

Proposed Michigan abortion amendment has major problems, pro-life coalition says

Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan. (Official portrait) / null

Denver Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Advocates of legal abortion in Michigan have proposed a constitutional amendment that pro-life critics say is so poorly written it would do more than just remove legal protections for unborn children. 

It would affect almost everything related to pregnancy, threatening parental consent requirements for minors, bans on taxpayer funded abortions, and the state ban on human cloning.

“This is an historic occasion for the pro-life community and indeed all people in Michigan to oppose such an extreme amendment to the state constitution,” Paul A. Long, president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, said May 24. “We are eager to engage with all people of goodwill to clarify how dangerous this proposal is for unborn children, vulnerable women and families.”

The Catholic conference announced May 24 it has joined the pro-life coalition Citizens to Support MI Women and Children to oppose a far-reaching pro-abortion rights addition to the Michigan constitution known as the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment.

“Our unified and committed campaign is eager to promote the value of life and well-being of pregnant women as the abortion industry has set its sights on Michigan,” Long said. “The organizations pushing this constitutional amendment are actively seeking to overturn every common-sense statutory safeguard that regulates abortion.”

Backers of the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment must collect 425,059 valid signatures of Michigan registered voters by July 1. Their coalition is backed by the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan and Michigan Voices. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel are among the elected officials backing the proposal.

“The Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment is not about protecting existing rights, but smuggling a radical proposal into the constitution that would repeal or drastically alter dozens of state laws,” Citizens to Support MI Women and Children said on its website. “The amendment would fundamentally change the relationships between parents and children, as well as women and their doctors.”

“This poorly-worded amendment would repeal dozens of state laws, including our state’s ban on tax-funded abortions, the partial-birth abortion ban, and fundamentally alter the parent-child relationship by preventing parents from having input on their children’s health,” the group continued.

The proposed amendment’s 92-word summary says it would “establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility.”

It would allow a ban on abortion after “fetal viability” except “to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health.” It would “forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right.” It would bar prosecution of individuals who seek to exercise a reproductive freedom right or who help a pregnant individual to do so. It would “invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.”

Citizens to Support MI Women and Children said the details of the amendment deserve scrutiny.

“To quickly summarize, this proposed amendment is written so broadly and so poorly worded that it would harm every state law on abortion and everything else related to pregnancy,” the coalition said in its Feb. 3 analysis. “The only limit is consent, which is not limited to adults by the amendment.”

If the proposal becomes law, it would affect parental consent for children’s medical consent involving sex or pregnancy, including sterilizations. It could disallow any parental consent for children seeking abortions, and bar investigations of anyone who assists with an abortion, even if, for example, the accused person is a school counselor who takes a 13-year-old to get an abortion without parental knowledge.

The fact that the amendment does not define the age of an individual means its provisions “could apply to children as well as adults,” Citizens to Support MI Women and Children said. “If someone convinces a child to be sterilized, the parents have no say,” said the group.

The amendment could affect informed consent for women seeking abortion, and screening for cases where women are being coerced into abortion, as currently required by state law. It could affect requirements that only doctors perform abortions, and it could mean health insurance coverage must automatically cover elective abortions.

According to the group’s analysis, the “mental health” exception for late-term abortion bans would allow late-term abortion for any reason. As written, the amendment would allow any attending health care professional, not only medical doctors, to decide whether an abortion is medically indicated to protect a pregnant mother’s life or physical or mental health.

The amendment’s language protecting autonomy could strike down bans on human cloning, the pro-life coalition said, “since cloning oneself is an autonomous pregnancy decision.” Similarly, the buying and selling of babies through commercial surrogacy could be legalized, and the proposed amendment could make it impossible to impose health or safety regulations on the fertility industry.

As of May 4, state records indicate the Reproductive Freedom for All committee has raised over $1.4 million in cash and $500,000 in in-kind contributions. As of April, the pro-life committee had received only $103,000 in contributions.

The effort to gather signatures for the pro-abortion rights amendment has run into obstacles: Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers in early February rejected the coalition’s petition form for failing to meet state requirements, and again rejected the petition form in March, delaying the ability to collect valid signatures from supporters.

Michigan’s existing abortion law, dating to 1931, criminalizes abortion as a felony, except to save the life of the mother. In a 1972 ballot measure, 60% of Michigan voters rejected a proposal to allow abortion up to 20 weeks into pregnancy. In 1997, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that there is no right to abortion in the state constitution.

The state law has not been enforced since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade mandated that all states legalize abortion. However, abortion advocates have filed legal challenges to the law in the event that Supreme Court precedents are overturned in a decision expected in the next two months.

On May 17, Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth L. Gleichner issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the long-standing law, contending that the right to abortion is almost certainly protected under the state’s due process provisions protecting bodily integrity.

On May 20, the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Right to Life, represented by Bursch, filed a complaint asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to intervene. They asked the court to issue an order of superintending control over Gleichner and either take over the case or require the judge, who previously represented Planned Parenthood in a failed challenge to precedent upholding the state abortion law, to recuse herself.

Whitmer has filed her own lawsuit, which asks the Michigan Supreme Court “to recognize a constitutional right to an abortion under the Due Process Clause of the Michigan Constitution.”

Long, the president of the Michigan Catholic Conference, reiterated the need to defend Michigan’s laws against abortion.

“In the courtroom and at the ballot box, human life in Michigan is being threatened by the most extremist abortion advocates this state has witnessed,” he said. “Together with our coalition partners, we vow to work with diligence – guided by prayer – to uphold the sanctity of life in Michigan and to ensure every vulnerable mother has access to the support and compassion she needs to care for herself and her child.”

Cardinal O’Malley urges Italian Catholic bishops to ‘make things right’ for abuse survivors

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2022 / 10:54 am (CNA).

Cardinal Seán O’Malley urged Italian Catholic bishops on Wednesday to work for a “pastoral conversion” in their approach to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

The head of the Vatican’s abuse commission made the appeal in a video message played on the third day of the bishops’ plenary assembly in Rome, taking place on May 23-27.

“We have nothing to fear by telling the truth. The truth will set us free. Acknowledging people’s stories of abuse, listening to survivors, and committing to working together is not easy, but I can tell you after 40 years that it is the only way,” the archbishop of Boston said.

He went on: “Sometimes, and perhaps rightly so, it seems there are no adequate steps we can take to make things right for those who have been abused.”

“It is perhaps the most difficult part of being a pastor: knowing that our listening and our efforts at healing and justice will likely fall short of what survivors are looking for. It’s a sober reminder that ultimately only God’s grace can make whole what sin has broken.”

O’Malley’s message came as the Italian bishops discussed whether to hold a national inquiry into abuse.

Italian associations joined together in February to coordinate a movement against abuse in the Catholic Church in Italy. The network, which calls itself #ItalyChurchToo, is pushing the bishops to carry out an independent investigation into clerical sexual abuse in Italy over the last 70 years.

The consortium sent a letter to the Italian bishops’ conference on May 23 at the start of its general assembly.

“We demand truth, justice, and prevention,” it said, calling for an investigation into abuse, the opening of Church archives, compensation for victims, and a strict application of Pope Francis’ norms on the handling of abuse cases by bishops.

In his message, Cardinal O’Malley said that “the reality is that we will be judged on our response to the abuse.”

He proposed seven areas where pastoral conversion was needed: “1. An effective pastoral care of victims; 2. Clear guidance (and vigilance) on training courses for staff in the diocese; 3. Adequate and accurate screening; 4. Removal of perpetrators of abuse; 5. Cooperation with civil authorities; 6. Careful assessment of the risks existing for priests guilty of abuse (for themselves and the community) once they have been reduced to the lay state; 7. Public verification of the protocols in place so that people know the policies are working. An audit and report on the implementation of the policies is very useful.”

“The good news,” he said, “is that where effective policies are adopted and effectively implemented, the number of cases is dramatically reduced.”

“Sexual abuse has always been wrong, for sure,” O’Malley continued. “But the response of leaders in the Church and in civil society has also been wrong. We have learned a great deal over these past 40 years. We have come to see and understand how it has ruined lives, led to substance addictions, and even the tragedy of known and hidden suicides.”

“There is a sea of suffering that we are called to face up to,” he said.

The cardinal told bishops that the “work of listening, healing, and justice is being asked of us since it belongs to the fundamental ministry of a priest and pastor: to welcome people and to be instruments of God’s grace for those who have been hurt by life, even when that hurt comes from within our own ranks.”

“One of the strongest desires of the human heart is to feel safe. Our people want to feel safe in our Church and that means they want to be strengthened in their faith by their pastors,” he said.

Cardinal Tagle: Missionary dioceses need support with abuse prevention protocols

Cardinal Tagle at the beatification of Pauline Jaricot in Lyon, France, on May 22, 2022. / In Your Name/Diocèse de Lyon Flickr photostream.

Rome Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 09:40 am (CNA).

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has said that the Church needs to support missionary dioceses with expertise to implement the sex abuse prevention protocols mandated by the pope.

The prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in an interview with a French television station that his dicastery was working to “follow up” with Catholic bishops’ conferences on their abuse prevention measures.

“Maybe in established churches, it is easier for them to form the committees, the commissions, because then you have trained people,” Tagle said.

“And this is where we need to assist the young churches because some of them are just developing … They need psychologists. They need canon lawyers.”

He added: “And this is where also the universal Church would help each other. Those with expertise can help form the human resources in other parts of the world.”

Tagle said that he had seen the need to support developing dioceses without as many resources after his dicastery followed up and asked bishops’ conferences to submit what they had prepared in response to Pope Francis’ mandate to start writing protocols in line with what was required by the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

Last month, Pope Francis also asked the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to produce an annual report on what the Catholic Church is doing around the world to prevent the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

Cardinal Tagle spoke during a 30-minute sit-down interview with the television station KTO published on YouTube on May 25.

In the interview, the cardinal also addressed the issues of poverty, the Ukraine war, and the beatification of Blessed Pauline Jaricot, which he presided over on May 22.

When the Filipino cardinal was asked about his tendency to get emotional and shed tears during his speeches, Tagle replied: “Well, I guess you know, shedding tears is part of human experience.”

“When people are in love, they shed tears. When they are happy, they shed tears. When they suffer, they shed tears. So tears is one of the languages that can speak of many human situations, you know?”

The 64-year-old former Manila archbishop added: “I don’t know if I am just emotional, but I guess when I am in a situation, I allow myself to be affected … But I’m not always crying ... Sometimes I laugh too.”

St. Philip Neri’s 7 Churches Pilgrimage returns after pandemic break

Pilgrims pray in front of St. Peter's Basilica / Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2022 / 08:37 am (CNA).

When St. Philip Neri came to Rome from Florence in 1533, he encountered a city in upheaval. The Sack of Rome six years prior had left famine and plague in its wake. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing and the Church was rife with corruption.

The young Philip, who would spend around 16 years in Rome as a layman before becoming a priest, soon dedicated himself to caring for the city’s sick and poor.

The saint, whose feast day falls on May 26, also realized that Rome’s people were suffering from a spiritual sickness and tiredness as well, and so he set out to reinvigorate Catholics with the joy of the faith through song and dance — and jokes.

A historic illustration of the seven churches. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A historic illustration of the seven churches. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Part of St. Philip’s outreach was the revival of the Seven Churches visit. He may not be the originator of the idea of the pilgrimage to some of Rome’s most important churches, but he is credited with renewing its popularity.

After it fell out of use once again, St. Philip’s congregation of secular priests, the Oratory, revived it in the 1960s, including holding the walk one night each year, as close as possible to the way the saint would have done it.

Fr. Maurizio Botta, who led the pilgrimage, speaks at the start in front of Chiesa Nuova. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Fr. Maurizio Botta, who led the pilgrimage, speaks at the start in front of Chiesa Nuova. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

After a two-year pause, on the evening of May 13 into the morning of May 14, around 800 people walked 15 and a half miles in the footsteps of the saint and his followers.

Police officers in cruisers drove ahead of the urban pilgrimage to block traffic as a sea of Catholics from around Italy crossed busy intersections and passed Friday night diners while praying the rosary in unison and singing the Taizé chant “Laudate Dominum,” whose words say in Latin, “Praise the Lord, all people, Alleluia.”

Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The rosary was prayed four times during the pilgrimage, which took almost 10 hours to complete, including stops for a sack dinner at midnight and short lessons on the virtues led by priests of the Oratory.

Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus
Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus

The seven basilicas were chosen by the saint for their importance to Christianity, and the walk on May 13-14 followed the path laid out in a 16th-century document almost certainly seen and used by St. Philip — and likely even written by him.

This document, recreated and printed into a booklet for use on the annual pilgrimage today, gives St. Philip’s guidance for those making the Seven Churches visit.

Eating a sack dinner in the courtyard of a church. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Eating a sack dinner in the courtyard of a church. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

“Before setting out to make this holy Pilgrimage, each of the Brethren must lift up his mind to God, offering him the sincerity of his heart, with the purpose of desiring the sole glory of his divine Majesty in all actions, and especially in this one,” it says.

Those participating can also earn an indulgence under the usual conditions, and are asked to pray for specific intentions. These include praying for the penance of sins, the amendment of lukewarmness and negligence in the service of God, in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins, for the pope and the Church, for sinners still in the darkness of an evil life, for the conversion of heretics, schismatics, and infidels, and for the holy souls in purgatory.

Pilgrims stop to pray on the way to St. Peter's Basilica. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims stop to pray on the way to St. Peter's Basilica. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The pilgrimage began at Chiesa Nuova, the church built by St. Philip for the Oratory, and proceeded to St. Peter’s Basilica, reaching the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom at sunset.

From there, the group of 800 people followed a path along the Tiber River to stop at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island (not one of the official seven churches) on the way to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Pilgrims walk on a path next to the Tiber River. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk on a path next to the Tiber River. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Each of the seven churches is associated with a moment of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion. At each stop, an Oratory priest preached on a virtue and its opposing vice, before everyone joined in a prayer for an increase in that virtue and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The virtues and vices were abstinence against gluttony, patience against ire, chastity against lust, generosity against avarice, fervor of spirit against acedia, charity against envy, and humility against pride.

A street sign marking Seven Churches Way. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A street sign marking Seven Churches Way. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

After the Basilica of St. Paul, the pilgrimage followed an ancient street still called Seven Churches Way to arrive at the catacombs and the Basilica of St. Sebastian, a third-century Christian martyr.

As a layman in Rome, St. Philip Neri used to visit the catacombs of St. Sebastian to pray. One night in the catacombs, about 10 years after moving to Rome, as he prayed, a mystical ball of fire entered his mouth and went down into his chest, exploding his ribs and doubling the size of his heart with love of God.

St. Philip was changed, both physically and spiritually, by this event, which he only revealed shortly before his death.

Pilgrims outside the catacombs of St. Sebastian. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims outside the catacombs of St. Sebastian. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Pilgrims next arrived at the Domine Quo Vadis Church after a silent, moonlit walk through the ancient Appian Way Park, flanked by the silhouettes of Italian cypress trees.

The small church of medieval origin marks the spot where, according to tradition, Jesus appeared to St. Peter as he was fleeing Rome to avoid martyrdom.

Peter asked Jesus, “Domine quo vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”), to which Christ said, “Venio Romam iterum crucifigi,” (“I am coming to Rome to be crucified again.”) This rebuke caused Peter to turn around and face his own martyrdom.

Pilgrims walk along the ancient Aurelian Wall on their way to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk along the ancient Aurelian Wall on their way to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The next official pilgrimage church was the Basilica of St. John Lateran, followed by a 10-minute walk to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls was the penultimate stop. The church, which has the tomb of St. Lawrence, is located next to Rome’s Verano Monumental Cemetery, and was included among the Seven Churches by St. Philip Neri, Father Botta said, as a reminder of mortality.

The final stretch of the walk passed through Rome’s main train station, Termini, where pilgrims sang the Marian antiphon “Salve Regina.”

Pilgrims walk through Termini train station singing the "Salve Regina". Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk through Termini train station singing the "Salve Regina". Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The pilgrimage finished shortly before 6:00 a.m. at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the traditional end of the walk, where the “Salve Regina” hymn was sung again in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Pilgrims sing the "Salve Regina" outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims sing the "Salve Regina" outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A baby and his mom enjoy a moment with a new friend at the end of the pilgrimage. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A baby and his mom enjoy a moment with a new friend at the end of the pilgrimage. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A statue of Mary on a column outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus
A statue of Mary on a column outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus

Ukraine war: Catholics invited to join Pope Francis in praying rosary for peace

Pope Francis prays before Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 2015. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 26, 2022 / 06:42 am (CNA).

The Vatican is inviting Catholics to join Pope Francis in praying the rosary for peace in Ukraine and around the world at the end of the Marian month of May.

The pope will pray the rosary before the statue of Mary Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major at 6 p.m. local time on May 31.

“At the conclusion of the Marian month, Pope Francis wishes to offer a sign of hope to the world, suffering from the conflict in Ukraine and deeply wounded by the violence of the many wars still active,” the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization said on May 26.

It added: “All the faithful in every part of the world are invited to support Pope Francis in his prayer to the Queen of Peace.”

The pope will pray the rosary in union with Marian shrines around the world, including the Shrine of the Mother of God in Zarvanytsia, western Ukraine. They will be connected via video link to the live broadcast from Rome.

Pope Francis is expected to lay flowers at the foot of the Marian statue before reciting the rosary. The statue of Mary Regina Pacis, in the basilica’s left aisle, was commissioned by Pope Benedict XV to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession to end the First World War.

The sculptor Guido Galli depicted Mary with her left arm raised, commanding the war to end. In her right arm, she holds the Child Jesus, who is poised to drop an olive branch symbolizing peace.

Visitors often leave handwritten notes with prayers intentions at the base of the statue.

The statue of Mary Regina Pacis at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major. Fczarnowski via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
The statue of Mary Regina Pacis at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major. Fczarnowski via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The Pontifical Council said that the pope will be accompanied at the basilica by children who have recently made their First Communions or received the Sacrament of Confirmation, as well as families from Rome’s Ukrainian community.

A Ukrainian family is expected to pray one of the decades of the rosary.

Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

Gunmen kidnap 2 Catholic priests in Nigeria

Father Stephen Ojapah and Father Oliver Okpara, who were abducted in Nigeria’s Sokoto diocese on May 25, 2022. / Father Chris Omotosho.

Rome Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Gunmen attacked a Catholic rectory and kidnapped two priests in northwest Nigeria on Wednesday.

Father Stephen Ojapah and Father Oliver Okpara were abducted after gunmen broke into the rectory of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, in the middle of the night on May 25, according to a statement from the Diocese of Sokoto.

Two boys were also kidnapped along with the priests, according to Father Chris Omotosho, a spokesman for the diocese, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

Omotosho, a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul of Nigeria, of which one of the abducted priests is also a member, appealed for prayers “for their safety and release.”

The kidnapping is the latest incident in a series of attacks that have reportedly targeted Church institutions in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

ACI Africa reported on May 14 that Muslim youths vandalized multiple Catholic churches in the area, including the Sokoto diocese’s Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, St. Kevin’s Catholic Church, and the St. Bakhita Center.

The young people vandalized the churches in protest at the arrest of suspects in the stoning to death of Deborah Yakubu on May 12.

Yakubu, a young Christian woman who was studying economics at a college in Sokoto, was stoned to death and then burned by male students at the college who accused her of blasphemy.

She had reportedly testified that Jesus Christ helped her pass exams, and was then accused of making blasphemous statements about the Prophet Muhammad.

Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Makurdi, Benue State, issued a statement on May 20 questioning why the Nigerian government continued to remain silent amid persistent attacks in the West African nation.

Anagbe said that widespread terrorism by Islamist Fulani herdsmen in Benue State had made it nearly impossible to conduct pastoral visits in the area.

The bishop decried the silence of the international community amid the suffering of Christians in Nigeria.

“Sadly, we continue to draw the attention of the outside world to the plan by Islamists to Islamize Christian territories countless times with little or no attention paid to our cry and call for help,” he said.

“Sometimes it appears we have been abandoned to the mercy of the jihadists.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

Catholic pro-life student attacked at public school, school criticized for lack of protection

Sisters Vanessa Pagano (left) and Nichole Pagano, who are both students at Hunterdon Central Regional High School and attended an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally at the school in order to stand up for the unborn with a pro-life sign. / Vanessa Pagano.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 03:05 am (CNA).

Seven students have been suspended from Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey — and seven “extended detentions” given, with more disciplinary measures possibly to come — after a rowdy pro-abortion protest by students resulted in the physical and verbal assault of a sophomore holding a pro-life sign.

Jeffrey Moore, the school’s superintendent, acknowledged the “distressing” behavior of the pro-abortion students toward 16-year-old Nichole Pagano at a live-streamed school board meeting on May 23. But he was still severely criticized at the meeting for the way the situation was handled.

At the meeting, Moore gave a presentation about the unsanctioned protest, which took place on May 16.

“I want to reiterate, certainly the most distressing moments of this incident were in the behavior that was shown to counter-protesters who had arrived and those involved,” he said.

“Shoving, expletive-laden verbal aggression, vandalism to signs, signs were knocked over, thrown, kicked, all of those things that made this a most distressing and disrespectful scene and example of student behavior against a student there who showed up with another viewpoint.”

Nichole speaks out

Nichole told CNA on May 24 that when she and her senior sister Vanessa, both Catholics, saw around 200 students forming a pro-abortion protest in the middle of the school’s campus during class hours, they immediately felt a call to action: they needed to stand up for the unborn. And they did.

As Nichole walked around the protest holding a pro-life sign that said “Equal Rights For Babies in the Womb,” she was physically attacked and screamed at by students.

Nichole, of Readington Township, recalled: “There’s like 200 kids there and then all of a sudden they come surrounding us — mostly trying to come at me and attack me because I had the sign — and then they came at me all up in my face, verbally screaming at me, and physically even grabbed me and ripped me down.”

Nichole Pagano, 16, stands holding a pro-life sign at an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally that occurred at Hunterdon Central Regional High School May 16, where she was verbally and physically harassed while having her sign vandalized. Vanessa Pagano.
Nichole Pagano, 16, stands holding a pro-life sign at an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally that occurred at Hunterdon Central Regional High School May 16, where she was verbally and physically harassed while having her sign vandalized. Vanessa Pagano.

Nichole said that her 18-year-old sister was the only person protecting her, “trying to get these kids away from me and almost pushing them off of me, off my arm, and blocking them so they wouldn’t get my sign.”

Nichole said that after the protest she had scratches on her arm and legs, and her shoulder hurt. Her father, Michael Pagano, described the shoulder injury as being a “sore shoulder.”

Superintendent Moore said at the board meeting that some school and town police officers “were attached near that student so that she would have that presence nearby as we continue to work to dissipate the crowd.”

After he said this, someone could be heard yelling from the crowd: “That’s a lie!”

Nichole told CNA that the school’s principal Edward Brandt apologized to her at a school board meeting on the day of the protest. Moore also publicly apologized to her.

Referring to Brandt’s apology, she said that “it didn’t seem like too big of an apology, though. It kind of seemed like a quick, short, little apology. It didn’t seem very long and even that concerning.”

She added that after the apology, she “didn’t hear anything from anyone,” adding that the school didn’t contact her parents. Her father confirmed that no one had contacted him or his wife, Jennifer, as of May 25.

Nichole spoke publicly at the May 16 board meeting about the “hurtful” events that occurred that day.

She told CNA that when she saw the protest, she was baffled that students thought it was acceptable to protest in favor of abortion, especially in school.

“Like, do they really know what that is? I don’t think enough of them even know exactly what it is and how it works,” she said.

Nichole said that if she were to give other high school students advice on how to deal with similar situations, she would say: “You’ve got to just do what your heart says and what you believe in. You’ve got to do what’s right.”

“Even if it’s sometimes hard to do, you go to do it to make a stand and make a point.”

School board members scolded by the public

At the most recent school board meeting, the school’s handling of the situation was criticized multiple times, with one man even calling for Moore’s job termination.

The critical comments included a statement from New Jersey state assemblyman Erik Peterson, who represents the 23rd Legislative District, including parts of Hunterdon.

Explaining that he was present at the meeting “in solidarity with the parents,” Peterson said that Nichole “is the victim, not the ‘counter-protester.’ She was assaulted. It’s on video.”

“The problem, from my perspective, is the leadership,” he said. “These kids didn’t learn this on their own, they learned it here. And it starts with this board and the superintendent.”

Peterson called Moore’s presentation “disrespectful to everybody in this room and to this board, to everybody, and to the victim.”

Asked if the school had checked in with Nichole to ensure her future safety and well-being, a school spokesperson said in a statement: “We are deeply distressed by the behavior between students who engaged in verbal and, in a very small number of instances, physical aggression during this gathering.”

“Youth demonstrations have a long history of educating students toward civic-mindedness; however, the behavior in this demonstration was disrespectful and distressing enough to be an affront to that tradition of peaceful assembly and protest. We are investigating thoroughly and taking all appropriate disciplinary actions.”

The statement went on: “This demonstration brings us to serious reflection on the procedures we have for managing such events and, most especially, on the examples that we, as adults, are setting for our children.”

“The actions that they see taken by adults impact the actions that they believe to be appropriate and acceptable.”

“As we move to correct their behavior, we must work together to offer better object lessons. We must provide outlets for expression, but these need to be exercised with care, respect, and dignity for ourselves and one another. We need to teach these lessons of civil discourse to our children in much more deliberate ways, especially in these times.”

The statement concluded: “At Central, we will continue to insist on respect in all civic and political processes and hope that this contributes to a future in which there is better and more constructive civic participation. We are thankful for the partnership with our community in that effort.”

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