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null / Wuttichai jantarak/ShutterstockDenver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 10:55 am (CNA).The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 6-3 that Maine's policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend "sectarian" schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment."Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June 21 decision in Carson v. Makin.He added that "a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.""Maine's decision to continue excluding religious schools from its tuition assistance program … thus promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires."Roberts noted that Maine "pays tuition for certain stude...

null / Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 6-3 that Maine's policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend "sectarian" schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

"Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June 21 decision in Carson v. Makin.

He added that "a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause."

"Maine's decision to continue excluding religious schools from its tuition assistance program … thus promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires."

Roberts noted that Maine "pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State's antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise."

Having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Roberts said, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.

The case was brought by the Carson family, consisting of parents Amy and David and their daughter Olivia, who reside in Glenburn, Maine. Because Glenburn has no public school system, families with school-age children are eligible for a school-choice program that pays tuition at either public or non-sectarian schools.

About 5,000 Maine students are eligible for this program, which excludes private schools that are "??associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith," which Maine considers "sectarian".

The Carson parents are alumni of Bangor Christian Schools, a K-12 school in the nearby city of Bangor. But because Bangor Christian Schools mandates Bible class, it is ineligible for the town tuition program, meaning the Carsons have to pay for Olivia's tuition. 

The Carsons, along with two other Maine families seeking to send their children to "sectarian" schools, filed suit in 2018.

The Carson v. Makin decision referred to other recent rulings on free exercise and and equal protection.

In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Dissenting from the decision on Tuesday were Justices Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Elena Kagan, and in part, by Sonia Sotomayor, who also filed a dissenting opinion.

Breyer argued that the interpretation of the First Amendment advanced by the majority opinion will work against its "general purpose," which he said is "to allow for an American society with practitioners of over 100 different religions, and those who do not practice religion at all, to live together without serious risk of religion-based social divisions."

He also argued that Maine "excludes schools from its tuition program not because of the schools' religious character but because the schools will use the funds to teach and promote religious ideals."

"State funding of religious activity risks the very social conflict based upon religion that the Religion Clauses were designed to prevent. And, unlike the circumstances present in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, it is religious activity, not religious labels, that lies at the heart of this case," Breyer maintained.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, called the majority opinion "another blow to bigoted and arcane anti-Catholic laws. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that parents want and deserve better school choices for their kids. Religious families, and even families that aren't religious but see the value in faith-based schools, should not be cut out from programs that help parents make the best educational choice for their kids. Maine's law and others like it especially hurt low-income children who suffer the most in failed schools. Today's win helps to end anti-religious discrimination and expands sorely-needed school choice for low-income families."

Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, a law firm focused on religious freedom, commented: "We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country.  Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government."

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."

"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children."

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null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 11:45 am (CNA).Pope Francis condemned the use of nuclear weapons in favor of a "culture of life and peace" in a message released Tuesday. "I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral," the pontiff wrote to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, president of the First Meeting of States Parties, regarding the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). "Trying to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security and a 'balance of terror,' sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust inevitably ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any possible form of real dialogue," Pope Francis wrote. "Possession leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of 'blackmail' that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity." States parties to the TPNW are gathering in Vienna, Austria, Ju...

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis condemned the use of nuclear weapons in favor of a "culture of life and peace" in a message released Tuesday. 

"I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral," the pontiff wrote to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, president of the First Meeting of States Parties, regarding the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 

"Trying to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security and a 'balance of terror,' sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust inevitably ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any possible form of real dialogue," Pope Francis wrote. "Possession leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of 'blackmail' that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity." 

States parties to the TPNW are gathering in Vienna, Austria, June 21-23 to "commit to concrete actions to implement obligations under the Treaty," which envisions a world without nuclear weapons, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

"The Holy See has no doubt that a world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible," Pope Francis added. "In a system of collective security, there is no place for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction."

Pope Francis identified the treaty's "courageous vision" as "ever more timely," adding that "we need to remain aware of the dangers of short-sighted approaches to national and international security and the risks of proliferation."

"As we know all too well, the price for not doing so is inevitably paid by the number of innocent lives taken and measured in terms of carnage and destruction," he said.

He urged that disarmament treaties are not only legal obligations but also "moral commitments." 

Peace, Pope Francis said, is "indivisible," and to be just and lasting, it must also be "universal." 

"It is deceptive and self-defeating reasoning to think that the security and peace of some is disconnected from the collective security and peace of others," he said.

He emphasized the Catholic Church's role.

"For its part, the Catholic Church remains irrevocably committed to promoting peace between peoples and nations and fostering education for peace throughout its institutions," the pope's statement says. "This is a duty to which the Church feels bound before God and every man and woman in our world."

Pope Francis called on people to be responsible for maintaining peace, both on a public level and a personal level. It is a legal discussion as well as an ethical discussion, he said. He added that this treaty recognizes that education for peace can play an important role in teaching current and future generations.

The statement also paid homage to the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to all victims of nuclear-arms testing.

Pope Francis closed by encouraging representatives, international organizations, and all of civil society to continue to promote "a culture of life and peace based upon the dignity of the human person and the awareness that we are all brothers and sisters."

Pope Francis has expressed concern about nuclear weapons in the past. More recently, in the context of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the pope said that the image of Noah's flood is "gaining ground in our subconscious" as the world considers the possibility of a nuclear war "that will extinguish us."

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The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between the night of June 19 and the morning of June 20, 2022. / Courtesy of The Lennon Pregnancy CenterMansfield, Mass., Jun 21, 2022 / 12:52 pm (CNA).A pro-life pregnancy center in Michigan and a pro-life organization in Minnesota have both been vandalized within the past week. The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. Gary Hillebrand, the center's president, told CNA Tuesday that 12 of the clinic's front windows were smashed. Four glass doors were smashed as well, he said.He said graffiti was left that said "If abortion isn't safe, neither are you!"In Minneapolis, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) had four of its office building windows smashed between the night of June 14 and the early morning of June 15. The building was also written on with red graffiti that said "ABORTION I...

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between the night of June 19 and the morning of June 20, 2022. / Courtesy of The Lennon Pregnancy Center

Mansfield, Mass., Jun 21, 2022 / 12:52 pm (CNA).

A pro-life pregnancy center in Michigan and a pro-life organization in Minnesota have both been vandalized within the past week. 

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. 

Gary Hillebrand, the center's president, told CNA Tuesday that 12 of the clinic's front windows were smashed. Four glass doors were smashed as well, he said.

He said graffiti was left that said "If abortion isn't safe, neither are you!"

In Minneapolis, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) had four of its office building windows smashed between the night of June 14 and the early morning of June 15. 

The building was also written on with red graffiti that said "ABORTION IS LIBERATION."

MCCL has now been vandalized twice in the past two months, Paul Stark, communications director for MCCL told CNA Tuesday. 

The first vandalism against the group's office occurred May 9 and included red graffiti spelling out the words "Never Again." A hanger and an anarchist symbol were also graffitied on the building in red. 

There was also a homemade sign taped to the building which said, "You are BAD people. You can't take away people's rights."

The Minneapolis Police Department was notified but no perpetrator has been caught yet. Stark said the group is not intimidated nor afraid and will continue to serve women and families. He also said the group is planning to heighten its security measures.

MCCL serves its pro-life mission through education, advancing pro-life legislation, and supporting pro-life candidates for office.

In the Michigan attack, photos posted by the clinic's Twitter account show that the pro-abortion graffiti has been painted over and the windows have been boarded up. Hillebrand said the graffiti was painted over by police. The online post at Abolition Media shows what the graffiti originally said. 

"On the night of 6/19 a gang of criminal queers smashed the windows of two fake abortion clinics in the greater Detroit area leaving the messages 'if abortion isn't safe, neither are you' and 'fake clinic,' the post says.

In the post, "Jane will have her revenge" claimed responsibility for the vandalism. 

Hillebrand estimates that the repairs will cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The staff at the clinic is not intimidated, he said, but they are cautious. The clinic has ordered more security cameras, he said. 

Hillebrand's clinic provides all its services for free such as ultrasounds. The clinic also offers free classes on parenting, preparing for childbirth, relationship counseling, budgeting, nutrition, and more. The clinic offers material help as well by providing "anything from diapers to strollers, to car seats," Hillebrand said. 

The Dearborn Heights Police have been notified about the vandalism. 

Vandalism against pro-life pregnancy centers have surged in the past two months after a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court of a Mississippi court case showed that the justices may have intended to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roe is the 1973 court case that federally legalized abortion. 

Since the leak on May 2, not only pregnancy centers but churches as well have come under attack from pro-abortion activists. The FBI said last week that they are investigating the attacks. 

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Fathers Javier Campos Morales, SJ and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, SJ. / Mexican JesuitsDenver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).The Jesuits of Mexico announced Tuesday that two of their priests were killed Monday inside a church in a mountainous region of Chihuahua state. Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined. The gunmen who carried out the June 20 attack on the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua also took their bodies. "We condemn these violent acts, we demand justice and the recovery of the bodies of our brothers who were taken from the church by armed persons," a June 21 statement released in Spanish from the Mexican Jesuits reads. "We trust that the testimonies of Christian life of our dear Javier and Joaquín continue to inspire men and women to give themselves in the service of the most vulnerable. Rest in peace."According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, bot...

Fathers Javier Campos Morales, SJ and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, SJ. / Mexican Jesuits

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Jesuits of Mexico announced Tuesday that two of their priests were killed Monday inside a church in a mountainous region of Chihuahua state. 

Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined. The gunmen who carried out the June 20 attack on the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua also took their bodies. 

"We condemn these violent acts, we demand justice and the recovery of the bodies of our brothers who were taken from the church by armed persons," a June 21 statement released in Spanish from the Mexican Jesuits reads. 

"We trust that the testimonies of Christian life of our dear Javier and Joaquín continue to inspire men and women to give themselves in the service of the most vulnerable. Rest in peace."

According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, both priests tried to protect a person who sought refuge in the church while being chased by at least one other man, both armed, El Sol de Mexico newspaper reported. The chaser reportedly shot and killed all three men. 

Luis Gerardo Moro Madrid SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits of Mexico, condemned the killings and said they are "working with the federal and state authorities to ensure the safety" of the parish's two remaining priests.

The Jesuits issued a demand that "all protective measures be adopted immediately to safeguard the lives of our Jesuit brothers, sisters, lay people and the entire Cerocahui community."

When asked about the crime by El Sol de Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that an investigation is underway. 

The region where the killings took place is populated by the Tarahumara indigenous people, who are renowned for their running skills. The area has suffered from drug-related organized crime for years, and the Jesuits noted and expressed solidarity with the pain that the people they serve are experiencing "due to the prevailing violence."

"The Sierra Tarahumara, like many other regions of the country, faces conditions of violence and neglect that have not been reversed," the statement from the Jesuits continues. 

"Every day men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our brothers were murdered today. The Jesuits of Mexico will not remain silent in the face of the reality that lacerates all of society. We will continue to be present and working for the mission of justice, reconciliation and peace, through our pastoral, educational and social works."

According to the Jesuits, Father Campos Morales was born in Mexico City and was ordained in 1972. After several pastoral assignments, he returned to Cerocahui in 2019 to serve as Superior of the Jesuit Mission; as Pastor and Vicar of Indigenous Pastoral of the Diocese of Tarahumara, and as Regional Advisor of Base Ecclesial Communities. 

Father Salazar was born in Monterrey and was ordained in 1971. Since 2000 he served as Parochial Vicar in Chínipas, and later as Cooperating Vicar in Cerocahui since 2007. 

The killing of priests in Mexico has escalated in recent years. Most recently, the body of Father José Guadalupe Rivas Saldaña, 57, was found with signs of violence on the outskirts of Tecate, a city located on the border with the United States in the Mexican state of Baja California.

It is estimated that the first three and a half years of the current administration of López Obrador has been the most violent period on record in the history of Mexico, with more than 120,000 homicides.

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 6-3 ruling June 21, the Supreme Court said a Maine...

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 6-3 ruling June 21, the Supreme Court said a Maine tuition aid program that excluded religious schools violated the Constitution’s free exercise clause.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said: “A state need not subsidize private education but once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

He also said the court’s decision in Carson v. Makin stemmed from a principle in its two previous decisions, particularly the 2020 opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In that case, the court said the state of Montana could not exclude religious schools from receiving tax credit-funded scholarships under its school choice program.

The Maine case went a step further by asking if the state can prevent students from using state funds to attend schools that provide religious instruction.

Roberts stressed that a neutral benefit program that gives public funds to religious organizations through the independent choices of the recipients of those benefits does not violate the Constitution’s establishment clause.

During oral arguments last December on this case, several of the justices found fault with the state’s decision process in determining just how religious a school was in order to decide if the school could participate or not in the program specifically for rural communities.

Schools deemed as ones that could potentially “infuse” religion in classes were excluded while other schools deemed by the state’s board of education to be the “rough equivalent” of public schools — or religiously neutral — could take part in the tuition program.

“That’s discrimination based on doctrine. That’s unconstitutional,” Roberts said at the time, which he essentially reiterated in his opinion.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, stressed that the court has “never previously held” what it is saying today, “namely, that a state must (not may) use state funds to pay for religious education as part of a tuition program designed to ensure the provision of free statewide public education.”

Breyer, joined by Justice Elena Kagan and in part by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said this decision pays more attention to the free exercise clause and not enough to the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, said the high court “rightly ruled that the Constitution protects not just the right to be religious but also to act religious.”

“This commonsense result reflects the essence of Catholic education,” they said.

“The court has again affirmed that states cannot exclude religious schools from generally available public benefits based on their religious affiliation or exercise,” the USCCB chairmen added. “In our pluralistic society, it is vital that all people of faith be able to participate in publicly available programs and so to contribute to the common good.”

Nichole Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, who focuses on education policy, called the decision “a victory both for religious liberty and for American schoolchildren.”

“The majority makes clear, once again, that, when the government makes a benefit available to private institutions, it must treat religious institutions — including faith-based schools — fairly and equitably,” she said in June 21 statement.

She also noted that the opinion cements the constitutional principle that “requires government neutrality — and prohibits hostility — toward religious believers and institutions.”

Garnett, signed an amicus brief in the Maine case submitted by the Religious Liberty Initiative of Notre Dame Law School on behalf of elementary and secondary schools from three faith traditions — Catholic (Partnership for Inner-City Education), Islamic (Council of Islamic Schools in North America) and Jewish (National Council of Young Israel).

Noting how this decision could impact school choice programs, she said it “clears away a major hurdle to the expansion of parental choice in the U.S. by clarifying that, when states adopt choice programs, they must permit parents to choose faith-based schools for their children.”

“Faith-based schools have a long and proven track record of providing high-quality education, especially for our most disadvantaged children and policies that exclude them from private-school choice programs are both unconstitutional and unwise,” she added.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, similarly filed an amicus brief in this case, emphasizing that states have had a long history of excluding religious institutions from public benefits, often in part from the Blaine Amendments passed during a time of anti-Catholic sentiment in the last 19th century.

The Blaine Amendment to prohibit direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation was first proposed in Congress in 1875 by Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine. (Blaine also served as a U.S. senator from 1876 to 1881.)

In their statement, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Daly noted that Blaine’s “cynically anti-Catholic” proposal was narrowly defeated in Congress but Blaine Amendments “were ultimately adopted in some form by 37 states.”

“These laws have nothing to do with government neutrality toward religion,” the two prelates said. “Rather, they are expressions of hostility toward Catholics. We are grateful that the Supreme Court continues to rebuke this harmful legacy.”

– – –

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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BISMARCK, N.D. (CNS) — Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck announced June 16 the diocese...

BISMARCK, N.D. (CNS) — Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck announced June 16 the diocese will open an investigation into “the holiness of life and love for God” of North Dakota native Michelle Christine Duppong, who died of cancer Dec. 25, 2015. She was 31.

At the time of her death, Duppong was the director of adult faith formation for the Diocese of Bismarck. Before that, she was a missionary for six years with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.

She mentored hundreds of students on college campuses and her final assignment with FOCUS was on its inaugural team at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

“Michelle’s holiness of life and love for God certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary and throughout FOCUS, but hers is also a witness which should also be shared with the universal church,” Bishop Kagan said.

He announced the diocesan investigation into her life and faith at the FOCUS new staff training at the University of Mary. The investigation could lead to her beatification and canonization.

“Michelle was a radiant, joyful woman with the heart of a true servant,” said Msgr. James Shea, president of the Benedictine university. “For the students on our campus, she was an inspiration and a treasured mentor, teaching them by her example the transformative power of friendship with God.”

Duppong grew up in Haymarsh, North Dakota, and earned a degree in horticulture at North Dakota State University in 2006. While there, she encountered FOCUS and the Catholic apostolate inspired her to serve as a FOCUS missionary after graduation.

In 2012, Duppong became Bismarck’s diocesan director of adult faith formation, “using her missionary zeal to bring others closer to Christ,” said a news release. On Dec. 29, 2014, Duppong was diagnosed with cancer “and battled the disease with perseverance and a patient, cheerful spirit” until her death.

The diocesan investigation, which involves the gathering of evidence about Duppong’s life and deeds, will include witness testimonies and the compilation of private and public writings. When this is completed, the next stage toward her canonization cause is for the diocese to present the evidence to the Dicastery for Saints’ Causes at the Vatican.

If the documentation is accepted for consideration and her cause is officially opened, Duppong would then be considered a “Servant of God.”

“From there, the cause could proceed at a steady pace, especially if there are no theological objections and Duppong enjoys what the church calls ‘the fame of sanctity’ — that she is venerated as a holy person.”

In general, a verified miracle attributed to her intercession would be needed for he beatification and a second such miracle would be required for canonization.

A documentary titled “Thirst for Souls: the Michelle Duppong Story” is in the works. Its worldwide premiere would take place at SEEK23, FOCUS’ national conference, to be held Jan. 2-6 in St. Louis.

The mission of FOCUS is “to share the hope and joy of the Gospel” on campuses and in parishes through Bible studies, outreach events, mission trips and discipleship.

For the 2021–2022 academic year, nearly 800 FOCUS missionaries are serving at 205 locations, which includes 22 parish venues across the U.S. and seven international campuses.

FOCUS alumni, now numbering nearly 40,000, live and serve in parishes and communities across the country.

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Nuclear weapons do not increase a nation’s or region’s security, in...

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Nuclear weapons do not increase a nation’s or region’s security, in fact, they are a “risk multiplier” that gives people a false sense of security, Pope Francis said in a message to an international conference.

Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, read the pope’s message in Vienna June 21 at the first Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The treaty, which prohibits the deployment, possession, moving, storing and stationing of nuclear weapons, entered into force in 2021; it has been signed by 86 nations and ratified by 62 of them, including the Holy See. The United States, Canada and other members of NATO have not signed the treaty, nor have Russia and China.

“A world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible,” Pope Francis wrote in his message to the conference. “In a system of collective security, there is no place for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Nuclear deterrence, he said, is in no way a deterrent to most of the world’s most serious problems, including terrorism, cyber attacks, environmental catastrophes and poverty.

Then, he said, one must consider “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space.”

Even simply maintaining the weapons is costly — drawing resources away from positive actions like education, health care and poverty reduction — but there also is the constant “risk of accidents, involuntary or otherwise, that could lead to very troubling scenarios.”

“Nuclear weapons are a costly and dangerous liability. They represent a ‘risk multiplier’ that provides only an illusion of a ‘peace of sorts,'” the pope said.

“I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral,” Pope Francis wrote.

“Trying to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security and a ‘balance of terror’ sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust inevitably ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any possible form of real dialogue,” he said.

In addition, the pope wrote, the possession of nuclear weapons “leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of ‘blackmail’ that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity.”

The treaty, he said, brings more than a legal obligation, it is a sign of a “moral commitment” and a pledge to “promoting a culture of life and peace based upon the dignity of the human person and the awareness that we are all brothers and sisters.”

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ATHLONE, Ireland (CNS) — A chapter in the life of the Irish church is coming...

ATHLONE, Ireland (CNS) — A chapter in the life of the Irish church is coming to an end, and the primate of All Ireland said believes that “if we are open to listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying,” something new will begin, though it will be much smaller.

Speaking to Catholic News Service at the ruins of the ancient sixth-century monastic site of Clonmacnoise, founded by St Ciarán on the banks of the River Shannon in County Offaly, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he felt the 200 years from Catholic Emancipation in 1829 to 2029 “serve as a moment, a chapter in the life of the church in Ireland, just as Clonmacnoise tells the story of a particular moment. Clonmacnoise was clearly once a really vibrant ecclesiastical center at the crossroads of Ireland in its day, and yet that was a chapter that came to an end. I feel we are at a similar moment in the life of the Irish church now.”

“The question is — what next? We are still not entirely certain, but we are open to what the Holy Spirit might be saying and to a quiet and gentle renewal of the faith. We are moving from maintenance to mission. In order to make space for something new, we have to accept that there is no point in trying to maintain a particular form of the life of the church which was for a different time.”

Irish census figures for 2022 are likely to show another drop in the number of people who identify as Catholic in Ireland. In 2016, the figure was 78.3% of the population, (approximately 3.7 million people) down from 84.2% in the 2011 census.

Last year, Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin told the journal Síolta, which is published by the national seminary in Maynooth: “The challenges facing me are pretty clear. We have an aging clergy and very few vocations to the diocesan priesthood or religious life. There is a major decline in the number of people who actively practice and live their faith.” He stressed that clerical sexual abuse had irreparably damaged the church’s reputation in Ireland.

Archbishop Farrell warned that this could spell the end for Catholicism in Ireland if major changes were not implemented within the church, because evidence of Christian belief in Ireland today “has, for all intents and purposes, vanished” and this “underlying crisis of faith was particularly acute among the younger generations.” He added, “The current model of the church is unsustainable.”

Archbishop Martin told CNS June 18: “One of the things that is coming across is the (pre-)synodal conversations is an awful lot of people are very passionate about their faith in Jesus Christ, very much in love with Christ, with the church. But they want the church to be open to something different.”

Archbishop Martin spoke after a liturgy that concluded a daylong National Pre-Synodal Assembly, in which 160 delegates representing the 26 dioceses in Ireland, religious congregations and Catholic groups met to reflect on the findings of the 40 submissions that emerged from the local diocesan listening phase in preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on synodality.

The reflections gathered in the assembly will help shape the content of Ireland’s national synthesis, to be submitted to the Vatican by Aug. 15.

The synthesis will be overseen by the Synodal Pathway Steering Committee, and the chair of the committee, Nicola Brady, pledged to publish the final report as a gesture of transparency and trust.

The report also will be used as a resource to continue the synodal dialogue in preparation for the Irish church’s national assembly in 2026, which aims to bring about renewal to a church grappling with the fallout of clerical abuse scandals, declining morale, a lack of vocations and falling Mass attendances.

Organizers of the National Pre-Synodal Assembly said there was a commonality in the 15 themes that emerged.

“While each diocese had its own particular experience of the Synodal Pathway, nevertheless what we heard were many common themes emerging across the country — North and South,” said Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, deputy chair of the Steering Committee of the Synodal Pathway.

The themes included a call for much greater roles for women at all levels of church; expressions of how abuse is part of the story of the church; LGBTQI+ concerns; faith formation and adult catechesis; youth, family, co-responsible leadership; lay ministry; liturgy and the impact of COVID-19.

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Pope Francis met with the synod of bishops of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on June 20, 2022. / Vatican NewsVatican City, Jun 20, 2022 / 09:45 am (CNA).Pope Francis discussed the "survival of Christians in the Middle East" with Catholic bishops from Syria and Lebanon at the Vatican on Monday.The pope met with Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch and other representatives of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church as the Eastern church began its synod of bishops, which is taking place in Rome June 20-25.In the meeting, Absi asked Pope Francis to put pressure on political authorities to "draw a red line," prioritizing the protection of the Christian presence in the Middle East. The patriarch told the pope of the Melkite bishops' concern that widespread poverty, low standards of living, and dangerous conditions have led to a wave of emigration from the region, particularly of young people.Pope Francis said: "You are rightly concerned about the survival of Christians in the Middle East ...

Pope Francis met with the synod of bishops of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on June 20, 2022. / Vatican News

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2022 / 09:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis discussed the "survival of Christians in the Middle East" with Catholic bishops from Syria and Lebanon at the Vatican on Monday.

The pope met with Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch and other representatives of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church as the Eastern church began its synod of bishops, which is taking place in Rome June 20-25.

In the meeting, Absi asked Pope Francis to put pressure on political authorities to "draw a red line," prioritizing the protection of the Christian presence in the Middle East.

The patriarch told the pope of the Melkite bishops' concern that widespread poverty, low standards of living, and dangerous conditions have led to a wave of emigration from the region, particularly of young people.

Pope Francis said: "You are rightly concerned about the survival of Christians in the Middle East — I too am worried — it's a concern that I fully share."

The pope also noted that the Melkite church now has a worldwide presence with eparchies in Argentina, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Venezuela.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the pope based in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Absi was elected as the Melkite patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and All the East during a synod in Lebanon in 2017.

Pope Francis recalled that since the start of his pontificate thousands of people have died in "beloved and martyred Syria" and millions more have fled the region as refugees.

"The tragedies of recent months, which sadly force us to turn our gaze to the east of Europe, must not make us forget what has been going on in your land for 12 years," the pope said.

During the meeting, Pope Francis renewed his appeal to both Syrian authorities and the international community to achieve "an equitable and just solution to the tragedy in Syria."

"On more than one occasion I happened to meet and hear the account of some young Syrian who had arrived here, and I was struck by the drama he carried within him, by what he had experienced and seen, but also by his gaze, almost drained of hope, unable to dream of a future for his land. We cannot allow even the last spark of hope to be taken out of the eyes and hearts of young people and families," the pope said.

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Soren and Ever Johnson with their five children, ages 19 to 10. / Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.Rome Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).A few years after getting married in the early 2000s, Soren and Ever Johnson were reflecting on Pope John Paul II's call for the laity to play a greater role in the new evangelization and wondering how they could contribute.John Paul II "was constantly saying, 'if the laity take their obligation to spread the Good News seriously, there will be a new springtime for the Church in the third millennium,'" Ever said. "And he said it over and over and over again in so many different contexts it was hard not to feel responsible to do something."This was the origin of their ministries Trinity House Community and Trinity House Cafe + Market, based in Leesburg, Virginia. The mission, they say, "is to inspire families to make home a taste of heaven for the renewal of faith and culture."The Johnsons told CNA via video call this month that they ar...

Soren and Ever Johnson with their five children, ages 19 to 10. / Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

A few years after getting married in the early 2000s, Soren and Ever Johnson were reflecting on Pope John Paul II's call for the laity to play a greater role in the new evangelization and wondering how they could contribute.

John Paul II "was constantly saying, 'if the laity take their obligation to spread the Good News seriously, there will be a new springtime for the Church in the third millennium,'" Ever said. "And he said it over and over and over again in so many different contexts it was hard not to feel responsible to do something."

This was the origin of their ministries Trinity House Community and Trinity House Cafe + Market, based in Leesburg, Virginia. The mission, they say, "is to inspire families to make home a taste of heaven for the renewal of faith and culture."

The Johnsons told CNA via video call this month that they are looking forward to being speakers at the World Meeting of Families 2022 in Rome, where they will give a 15-minute presentation on Saturday, June 25.

Soren and Ever met in 2000 in Kraków, southern Poland, "in John Paul II's footsteps," Soren said. They will celebrate 21 years of marriage in August and have five children aged 10 to 19.

When they met, Ever was working for George Weigel, the author of "Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II." She wanted to do more to engage Catholics and non-Catholics who might not otherwise be involved in parish life or encounter the ideas that the think tank was trying to promote.

Soren and Ever Johnson at the Trinity House Cafe + Market. Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.
Soren and Ever Johnson at the Trinity House Cafe + Market. Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.

"There's only so long we can spend in the parish basement just enjoying our own company. Because this isn't evangelization," Ever said, commenting on their thought processes at the time. "You know, we're having a great time and kind of encouraging each other and learning a lot, but there really wasn't much exposure for people who weren't already, you know, part of the choir."

This pull to be more open to the wider community led them to open Trinity House Cafe + Market in 2014.

Trinity House Cafe + Market. Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.
Trinity House Cafe + Market. Courtesy of Soren and Ever Johnson.

"Our location is at the intersection of Church and Market streets, and we're right across from the courthouse, so it's a really amazing location to just be this Christian presence in the community," Ever explained.

The Johnsons said the coffee shop also hosts community events and has been a way for Christians and non-Christians to engage with each other in an open and welcoming environment.

The idea, Soren said, is to "lead with beauty in the public square. Give [people] a taste of heaven, give them a taste of hospitality, a welcoming environment where people feel listened to, they feel served and they see the beauty of the Church — not in your face, but it's there if you want to go deeper."

"And over these eight years, we've seen just amazing stories of people coming back to the faith," he said.

The Johnsons also see hospitality and outward service as important aspects of family life, which is why they are the focus of the final "level" of a framework the couple created for helping families to increase their communion with God and with each other.

Modeled on the Holy Trinity, Ever said, "if you want to be like the Persons of God, the whole point is to be outflowing. Like producing so much grace within your family that you have more than enough to go around for what the family members need."

"Because it involves God, in his infinite grace, [it] spills over and provides for anyone else who comes your way as well," she said.

At the 10th World Meeting of Families, taking place on June 22-26 at the Vatican, the Johnsons will speak about discernment in daily family life.

"The way we look at it is, discernment is all about being attentive to God's voice amid the chaos and joy of family life," Soren said. "So in our talk, we're going to present a framework for how parents can create an atmosphere in their homes of good discernment."

"We will point to how each family is a communion of persons, an image of the Trinity. So we're going to point to how the heart of discernment is following the Lord's voice and deepening that communion as a family," he said.

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