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Polish bishops pledge greater sensitivity for abuse victims

Warsaw, Poland, May 24, 2019 / 11:34 am (CNA).- The bishops of Poland are speaking out against sexual abuse, pledging to continue to “eliminate factors conducive to crime” as well as to adopt a more sensitive attitude toward victims than in the past.

“We admit that as shepherds of the Church we have not done everything to prevent these harms,” the bishop’s conference of Poland wrote in a May 22 letter to be read at Masses May 26.

“For many believers, especially for young people sincerely seeking God, sexual scandals involving clergy become a hard test of faith and a reason for great scandal. Disappointment and indignation is all the bigger and more painful that children, instead of caring love and accompaniment in seeking the nearness of Jesus, experienced violence and brutal depravation [sic] of the dignity of the child.”

The bishops’ May 22 letter was prompted, in part, by a documentary released on YouTube earlier this month which presents allegations that abusive priests were shifted between parishes, and shows people confronting elderly priests alleged to have abused them as children. The film has nearly 21 million views.

The motion picture has prompted a nationak conversation in Poland, with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, promising harsher punishment for child abusers in reaction to the film, floating the idea of 30-year prison sentences.

“The film, taking into account the perspective of the victims, made us all aware of the magnitude of their suffering,” the bishops wrote.

“Anyone who is sensitive, learning the fate of the victims, experiences pain, emotion and sadness for their suffering. We thank to everyone who had the courage to tell about their suffering. We are aware of the fact that no word is able to reward them for the harms they have suffered.”

A study commissioned by the Polish bishops' conference and released this March revealed nearly 400 Polish priests were accused of sexual abuse of more than 600 people from 1990 until 2018. Just over half of reported victims were under the age of 15. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops' conference, called the report’s findings “tragic.”

The bishops urged victims of abuse by clergy to report their experience to both Church and state authorities, and a delegate has been appointed for each Polish diocese and most religious provinces to receive reports of abuse and “to help in obtaining psychological, legal and pastoral support.”

The bishops also stressed a need for greater sensitivity for victims and their suffering, citing lessons they learned from hearing the confessions of victims, whom they said need “great sensitivity and support to find the balance of life.”

They expressed support for Pope Francis’ May 7 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which mandates the reporting of sexual abuse and provides for punishment for Church authories who fail to do so. The motu proprio also puts the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

The bishops also laid out some of the measures they are taking in Poland to address the problem of abuse, including abuse prevention training programs for dioceses and religious congregations.

“Let us not let the good, that is done in the Church through their ministry, be obscured by the sins of particular persons,” the bishops urged.

“On the principle of collective responsibility, let us not also convey the guilt of particular people in cassocks to all priests. These people committed these acts and they should be punished for their actions. Let us support in these difficult times the priests who work with sacrifice so that they don’t lose their enthusiasm and receive encouragement from the lay faithful.”

Pro-life student group wins affiliation at Scottish university

Aberdeen, Scotland, May 24, 2019 / 01:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group at the University of Aberdeen has been granted affiliation by the school's student association, a month after filing a lawsuit charging unlawful discrimination.

“This week, the Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA) informed us that our society application has been approved, which means we have officially received affiliation,” the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society said May 17. “This is a long-awaited result to a seemingly endless battle, but we could not be more pleased to have won affiliation.”

In October Ausa had prevented the affiliation of Ales, citing its own pro-choice policy. The move limited Ale's access to funds and venues at the university.

After failing to have the policy changed, Ales filed a lawsuit April 12 against Ausa and the university, “alleging unlawful discrimination against the society and the violation of rights protected by UK law.” The suit will continue.

In its statement announcing its affiliation, Ales welcomed the assistance of both “free speech enthusiasts and pro-life advocates”, naming in particular Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.

“We are grateful for the numerous pro-life students at Aberdeen who have reached out to us over the last several months because they are interested in getting involved with the society,” the group added. “Our ranks have swelled with students who are passionately committed to the pro-life cause and who will lead this society in the years to come.”

Ales stated: “We look forward to actively engaging with the student body and working to foster a civil yet honest conversation about the vitally important ethical issues surrounding human life. While there are some intolerant students who wanted our society to fail … we truly believe that there are many more students on this campus who are willing to take a fair-minded approach to this debate. These are the students we’ve heard from all along the way – they may not agree with our position, but they adamantly believe that we should be free to espouse our beliefs on campus.”

Ausa had adopted a pro-choice policy in 2017, on which basis Ales' affiliation was rejected in October 2018. The policy says, in part, that “Ausa should oppose the unreasonable display of pro-life material within campus and at Ausa events.”

The pro-life group said that the pro-choice policy was “being used as political cover to ban student speech on campus, it also treats the student body as undivided on the issue of abortion.”

In its lawsuit last month, Ales charged that the no platform policy violates the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 by restricting “the freedoms of association and belief for certain students on the basis of an ideological litmus test.”

A spokesperson for the the University of Aberdeen has commented that it is “an inclusive community and recognises different beliefs, values and cultures.”

Pro-life groups at other Scottish universities have faced similar problems.

Last year the the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow) lifted a ban on pro-life groups following legal pressure. Strathclyde Sudents for Life argued that the student associaton's no platforming policy violated the Equality Act 2010 “by directly discriminating against a group of students based on their beliefs.”

Glasgow Students for Life were barred from affiliation by the Glasgow University's Students' Representative Council last November.

In March 2018 a joint committee on human rights of the UK parliament noted troubling barriers to free speech at the nation's universities, writing: “Whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups.”

Scottish pro-lifers lose appeal of decision allowing self-administered abortion pills

Edinburgh, Scotland, May 23, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group in Scotland has, for a second time, lost a legal challenge against the government’s decision last year to allow women to self-administer abortion pills at home.

“We are greatly saddened by this decision. We have been convinced all along that the policy decision by the Chief Medical Officer and Scottish Government was illegal, as well as detrimental to the well-being of women in our country,” said John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland.

“Women should not be facing the mental anguish that accompanies DIY abortions, nor any abortion for that matter. However, those concerns have not been upheld by the judges,” he said.

A three-judge panel ruled against the pro-life group’s appeal May 22, stating that a registered medical practitioner is still responsible for the treatment, whether it takes place in a clinic or in the home, and that even at home “control in the appropriate sense is maintained.”

The Scottish Parliament secured the legal right to govern abortion issues in 2016, and in October 2017 the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, told Scottish health boards that misoprostol could be taken outside a clinical setting.

Misoprostol is the second in a two-drug combination used in early abortions; women who have suffered an early miscarriage can take the drug at home to induce labor, while previously women seeking abortions had to take both drugs in a clinical setting.

With the new rules in place, women can take the first of the two drugs, mifepristone, at a clinic, and then 24 to 48 hours later take misoprostol at home.

In November 2017, when plans to permit at-home abortion pill administration were first announced, the Scottish bishops objected that “making abortion easier ignores the disturbing reality that an innocent human life is ended,” the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.

SPUC lost its first appeal against the government’s decision in August 2018, but challenged it again this April, arguing in court that the Abortion Act 1967 requires the presence of doctors, nurse, and medical staff.

In addition, the act lays out specific rules for approved places where abortions can take place, and did not intend to allow abortions at home, they said.

Pro-abortion groups backed the change, including Abortion Rights, the Family Planning Association and the Scottish Humanist Society, arguing that “abortion should be treated no differently” than other medical procedures that allow self-administration of drugs at home.

“The move to trivialize abortion is one that harms women and creates an environment where some women are even urged to have an abortion because it does not suit others,” Deighan said, saying the government plan amounts to approving “backstreet abortions.”

Ultimately, the court agreed with the abortion-rights groups’ arguments, endorsing the previous ruling against the appeal.

“We do not accept that the doctor’s control or supervision over the treatment differs in any material way between the situation of taking the tablet within the clinic and then leaving; and that of delaying the taking of the tablet to allow the woman to travel home. Both result in the termination of the pregnancy taking place outside of the clinic,” the three-judge panel wrote, according to the Scottish newspaper The National.

"The reclaimer has been unable convincingly to explain why an outpatient clinic or [general practitioner’s office] would necessarily be a 'safer' or more suitable place to take a tablet or pessary than the woman's home.”

Deighan thanked SPUC’s supporters for making the appeal possible, and reiterated that “women deserve better than abortion.”

“We have always been motivated by concern for the women who undergo abortion as well as our concern for the right to life. But we had hoped that the rule of law would at least hold the aspirations of pro-abortion forces at bay,” Deighan commented.

“It is difficult for us to see how having an abortion at home can possibly satisfy the legal requirement for medical supervision.”

In terms of next steps, taking the case to the UK Supreme Court could be an option, he told reporters.

Italy's fledgling pro-life movement finds inspiration in US abortion fight

Rome, Italy, May 22, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Italian March for Life was held Saturday as thousands of people from Italy and around the world rallied and marched one mile through the center of Rome to protest legal abortion and to support the pro-life cause.

But forty-one years after the legalization of abortion in Italy, some members of the pro-life movement in the country look to the United States as an example of the fight that lies before them – and the progress that can be made in more than forty years of marching for life.

The Italian “Marcia per la Vita” was itself modelled after the U.S. March for Life in Washington, D.C., which is now in its 45th year; but March organizer Virginia Coda Nunziante said Italy seems to be much further from the possibility of overturning its abortion law.

Italy’s “law 194,” established in 1978, made abortion legal for any reason within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and afterward for certain reasons with the referral of a physician. Since abortion’s legalization in Italy, it is estimated more than 6 million children have been aborted.

Nunziante referenced the Alabama’s law outlawing abortion in her final remarks at the March for Life May 18.

She called it a “first step” reached only after more than 40 years of dedication to the cause, and encouraged March participants to take energy from this fact to keep fighting the “great moral and civil battle” and to grow in determination “not to retreat” from the defense of innocent human life.

In comments to EWTN News, Nunziante said that “unfortunately, we’re not so close” to overturning legalized abortion in Italy, and that she sees part of the challenge to be the influence legal abortion has had on the culture.

“The law really enters in the minds of people, and especially young people,” she said, “so this is the reason why we want to have the March and we want to keep the debate on the social and political level.”

Nunziante, who has participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. several times, said she started the Italian version because she saw the impact of the U.S. March on encouraging a culture of life, especially among young people.

The March for Life in D.C. was also the inspiration behind the start of the Italian University Students for Life.

Chiara Chiessi, a student in Rome and the president of “Universitari Per La Vita,” said she was moved by the size of the pro-life demonstration in D.C. when she attended in 2016 and was struck particularly by the large participation of young people.

She told EWTN News that despite Italy’s strong cultural Catholicism, she finds the environment to be largely unsupportive of their group’s pro-life efforts.

“It is very, very difficult, because I think there is a crisis of faith,” Chiessi said, “so people don’t have the courage to show the reality of facts...” She also noted a lack of support from university chaplains in some cases.

Chiessi explained that praying or protesting outside abortion clinics, a common practice of some American pro-lifers, is only just beginning to take place in Italy, and culturally, she thinks many Italians are embarrassed to make such public demonstrations for the pro-life cause.

“It is not very, very easy, but we know that we have to go forward and not have fear about that,” she said.

Nunziante also noted a resistance among many Catholics in Italy to “go into the public square.”

She recalled the fear this generated when they first started the March for Life. But hearing Benedict XVI tell the U.S. bishops in November 2011 that Catholics should bring their voice to the public square encouraged them.

“So, we understood that it was the right moment to do this, so even if it is an effort, we have to do it,” she said.

Meanwhile, the March for Life in Italy continues to grow each year, with views towards leveraging international participation so “that Rome and the Roman March can become a hub for the whole world,” Nunziante said.

Home to the Vatican, “Rome is the capital of the Catholic world,” she argued. “So, I think that people from all the other countries, who are engaged in the pro-life movement, are very interested in being in Rome, because from Rome you can give a voice to the whole world.”

The generals who marched with 'Warriors' in Lourdes

Lourdes, France, May 22, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa, and Lt. Gen Chris Cavoli, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, are two of the highest-ranking members of the American military.

And over the weekend, they joined the thousands of military pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes seeking healing and peace.

Harrigian and Cavoli were asked to join the official American delegation to the International Military Pilgrimage, Warriors to Lourdes. Warriors to Lourdes is a program of the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

Although the two generals are both Catholic, neither had been to Lourdes previously. Both explained to CNA how their faith impacts their military career, and what the pilgrimage meant to them.

Harrigian has been in his current position for only a few weeks, but joined the Air Force in 1985 and attended the Air Force Academy.

“I wanted to fly airplanes,” he explained, which led to him applying to the Academy.

Harrigian was unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes prior to this trip, but he said his wife taught him about the significance of the site, and thought the pilgrimage would be fruitful for the family, for a multitude of reasons.

“She thought it would be a great opportunity, first to experience it but also to be with some of our warriors here and have an opportunity to interact with them,” said Harrigian.

The size and scope of the pilgrimage came as a surprise to the general, who repeatedly used the word “extraordinary” to describe the event. Approximately 12,000 servicemembers from about 40 countries traveled to Lourdes.

"The first thing I would say is, I didn't truly understand the breadth of all the nations that participated in this,” he said. “And to have an opportunity to interact with the different nations, the families, the warriors, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that I'm not sure I truly appreciated as I read about it.”

“But now that I'm here I find it to be an extraordinary experience," he added. Part of this experience included talking to senior French military officers and members of the Italian military.

“The interaction has been extraordinary,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to interact with them on a personal basis and get a sense of what Lourdes means to them as well.”

Harrigian said that he considers his Catholic faith to be an important facet that helps him maintain balance in his life and helps him with his military duties. He told CNA he is “always praying for our troops that are deployed down-range.”

“Reflecting on what your faith brings to you, your background, and having that underpin who you are is very important to any person,” he said. “And for me personally, it really helps in the command role that I have now.”

Cavoli is also visiting Lourdes for the first time. Unlike Harrigian, he was very familiar with the story of Lourdes and had been wanting to visit.

“I’ve been hearing about [Lourdes] my whole life, since I was a kid, so this is a unique opportunity to get to do something I’ve wanted to do so much,” he said.

Cavoli told CNA that he finds his faith to be “intertwined” with his military career, and calls upon his faith to provide the graces needed to carry out the duties of his job.

“Of course, I have my strictly military duties, which are mainly secular in nature, but the moral compass that religion gives me, the moral compass and the ethical fortitude, as well as the emotional strength to deal with what is a pretty hard profession, that helps me a great deal,” he said.

Additionally, Cavoli credits his faith with giving him the wisdom to make the choices in tough decisions, as well as “the strength to carry on when things are hard.”

One of the benefits of the International Military Pilgrimage is that it gives servicemembers a chance to be surrounded by people who have similar experiences and can understand and empathize.

“It gives folks time to be together and to share their thoughts. In this case, in the context of their faith, which adds strength to the discussion.”

Of course, soldiers, sailors, and airmen train and deploy to defend lives and to risk their own in the service of others. But an inherent truth of military service is that it can involve armed conflict and the taking of human life.

Even in pursuit of the noblest cause or in defense against the clearest of evil, killing and death leave marks on the consciences of all those involved. The “moral injuries” of armed conflict can be as real and as in need of healing as physical wounds.

“Moral injury is a serious thing," Cavoli said, offering that civilians could best help in the healing process by not make assumptions about the experiences of servicemen and women. Listening comes before understanding, he said.

During the pilgrimage, there were major events for all pilgrims, and smaller events for subsets. Both Cavoli and Harrigian said that they considered a shared Mass for English-speaking pilgrims, including servicemen and chaplains from the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland at the Lourdes Grotto, to be a highlight of the journey.

“The Mass at the Grotto was absolutely moving. It was beautiful,” said Cavoli. Afterwards, he joined a group for the Stations of the Cross, something he said added up to a “beautiful, beautiful morning” that was “just perfect.”

Harrigian called the Mass was “a great chance to just reflect upon everything that this experience brings to the entire community of warriors that are here, along with our families.”

And while neither had visited the baths when they spoke to CNA, both were carrying specific intentions with them.

“Personally, internal to our family, I’m always looking for grace and the opportunity to appropriately look over all those that I work with and work for, in the role that I currently have,” Harrigian told CNA. He said he was extremely grateful to the Knights of Columbus for orchestrating Warriors to Lourdes, which he called “an incredible event.”

Cavoli had similar intentions, saying he would be praying for “Peace, my soldiers, [and] my family.” He has appreciated his time in Lourdes, saying it was a place that made him feel “very calm” and fully aware of the presence of God.

“It’s just a wonderful pilgrimage,” he said.

Severely disabled French man taken off, returned to life support

Reims, France, May 21, 2019 / 06:09 am (CNA).- A severely disabled French man, who has been artificially fed and hydrated in a hospital in northeastern France for over 10 years, was taken off life support Monday, hours before the hospital was ordered by a French court to return the support.

A French court had ruled in favor of euthanizing Vincent Lambert earlier this month.

Doctors in a hospital in Reims had removed Lambert’s feeding and hydration tubes early May 20, and were beginning to administer sedatives, when a challenge passed the Paris appeals court and the hospital was ordered to delay ending life support.

The decision was delayed in order to give the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is affiliated with the United Nations, more time to review the case.

Euthanasia is illegal in France. However, a 2005 law allows physicians to refrain from using “disproportionate” treatments “with no other effect than maintaining life artificially.”

Lambert, 42, has been a tetraplegic and severely disabled for more than 10 years, after he sustained severe head injuries in a traffic accident in 2008.

Since then, Lambert has been at the center of a protracted court battle over whether to have his food and hydration removed. Lambert’s wife and six of his eight siblings have supported the removal of life support, while his parents have fought against it.

Vatican officials on Tuesday condemned the removal of food and hydration from Vincent Lambert.

In a joint statement May 21, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the interruption of food and hydration entail a “serious violation of the dignity of the person.”

Lambert has been described by some medical professionals as being in a “vegetative state.” Farrell and Paglia stated that though this is a “serious pathological condition,” it does not in any way “compromise the dignity of the persons who are in this condition, nor their fundamental rights to life and care, understood as continuity of basic human assistance.”

Food and water, they continued, are a form of essential care, and do not comprise “unreasonable therapeutic obstinancy.”

The Catholic Church does not require the use of extraorinary means to preserve life, but considers the provision of food and hyration to be an ordinary standard of care.

“The suspension of [food and hydration] represents, rather, a form of abandonment of the patient, based on a merciless judgment on his quality of life, expression of a culture of waste that selects the most fragile and defenseless people, without recognizing their uniqueness and immense value,” Farrell and Paglia wrote.

They also expressed the hope that an effective solution for preserving the life of Lambert can be found, and pledged the prayers of Pope Francis and the Church for that intention.

In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights approved the removal of Lambert’s life support, arguing in a 12-5 decision, that the choice to stop his intravenous feeding did not violate European rights laws.

Gregor Puppinck, director general of the European Centre for Law and Justice, warned at the time that the court’s decision put “at risk the ‘legal death’ of tens of thousands of patients in Europe.”

Puppinck had said the ruling means it is legal for states to “cause the death of a patient in a minimally conscious state” and means “we can again legally induce the death of a disabled patient who did not ask to die.”

A lower French court had previously ruled that Lambert should continue to receive food and hydration. In January 2014 a panel of nine judges in Chalons-en-Champagne said removing food and hydration is “a grave and clearly illegal attack on the fundamental right to life.”

The panel added that Lambert is “neither sick nor at the end of his life.”

The bishops of France reiterated Catholic teaching against euthanasia in a January 2014 document, stating that God’s commandment “Thou shall not kill” is “the foundation of all social life respectful of others, especially the most vulnerable.”

In March 2018, 118 French bishops signed a declaration promoting end-of-life care and explaining the Church’s opposition to suicide in all forms.

Pope Francis addressed Lambert’s case during a Regina Coeli address in April 2018. He asked for prayers for people such as Lambert, “who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”

“Every offense or wound or violence against the body of our neighbor is an outrage to God the creator,” he said, adding that, “in the flesh of these people we find the flesh of Christ.”


This story was updated with the statement of Cardinal Kevin Farrell and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

A pilgrim people: The Warriors to Lourdes share their stories

Lourdes, France, May 20, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- CNA had a chance to get to know some of the more than 200 pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes as part of the Knights of Columbus’ Warriors to Lourdes program during the International Military Pilgrimage, May 16-19. Here are their stories:


A century of tradition

The Knights of Columbus has a long history of supporting the troops and conducting military pilgrimages, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told CNA, with the Warriors to Lourdes program just the latest way they are continuing this tradition.

The Knights “were very much involved in France during the first World War,” Anderson said. “We had the largest military pilgrimage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in 1919.”

Anderson told CNA that the Knights of Columbus also sponsored military pilgrimages to Lourdes during WWI and that when they learned governmental spending cuts meant that the United States would not be sending a delegation to the International Military Pilgrimage in 2013, they joined up with the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, to create Warriors to Lourdes.

While he may have an important role leading the Knights, at Lourdes, Anderson stressed that he is just a pilgrim like everyone else.

“I think I come to Lourdes like any Catholic,” said Anderson. “It's a special place for Our Lady, it's a special place to be with people who are taking significant steps on their spiritual journey in life, and deepening their relationship with the Lord through Mary.”

Anderson said he has been to other Marian apparition sites, but there is something “very special” about Lourdes, due to all the people seeking some form of healing.

This weekend, Anderson said he is praying especially for his fellow pilgrims, that they find the spiritual or physical healing they may be seeking, but most of all that everyone on the trip can deepen their relationship with God.

“That includes me, that includes my family--we all have to grow in our spiritual life and we all have to grow closer to the Lord. That process is never done,” he said.


A journey home

Many of the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims are Catholic, but they are very different in the practice of their faith. Some attend daily Mass, and others have a more complicated relationship with the Church.

For Sgt. 1st Class Mary Katzenberg, who is a public affairs chief assigned to Ft. Bragg, the pilgrimage gave her the chance for her to attend her first Mass in about 20 years.

“I reconnected with God about a year ago after a 20-year stint of thinking I could do things on my own or do things my way,” she said.

After receiving an email about Warriors to Lourdes from her unit’s chaplain, Katzenberg said she felt called to apply, “to see if it was something God wanted me to do.”  

She told CNA that she was completely unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes prior to being accepted for the pilgrimage.

Katzenberg had the chance to visit the Lourdes baths, a visit that occurred just prior to the opening Mass for American pilgrims at the Rosary Basilica.

Visiting the baths was “a very emotional experience,” said Katzenberg. “I prayed for God to cleanse my soul, and it almost felt like it was kind of like a second baptism. It moved me.”

The experience has inspired Katzenberg to return to the Catholic faith.

“Well, beginning with this Mass [Friday], I really feel that God led me here to pull me back into the Church, that He knows what I need more than I know what I need,” she said.

“I just feel that that's what He's calling me to do--start attending Mass again and serving within the Church."


The next generation

A life of military service is often a family affair, with many people following in their parents’ footsteps and entering the armed forces. One family is hoping the graces from Lourdes will assist with their daughter’s future career in the Air Force.

The Bellm family of Gunnery Sgt. Justin, his wife Kate, and their daughters Courtney, Trinity, and Allison, came to Lourdes from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Sgt. Bellm serves as the Platoon Commander at Wounded Warrior, Battalion East, and has been in the military for 16 years.

His daughter, Courtney, will be entering the Air Force in just over two months, on July 23. While she could not find the exact words to describe her pilgrimage experience ahead of her military career, she told CNA “there’s just something about being here, surrounded by militaries from all over the world, and just seeing how we come together.”

The military, Courtney said, is like a “second family.”

This is the family’s first trip to Lourdes, and Sgt. Bellm said he applied because he “thought it would be a good opportunity to reconnect with the family, and a little bit of spiritual enlightenment.” It is also his last year with Wounded Warrior, so he jumped at the opportunity to travel to France.

Kate said that she was praying for family unity throughout the weekend, and that she found the experience to be “enlightening.”

“I didn't really know what to expect, so I just took whatever. I just went in with an open mind, really, and encouraged the girls to go in with an open mind."


Fellow travelers

While Lourdes is a site most commonly visited by Catholics, the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage is open to people of all religions.

The spiritual needs of non-Catholic pilgrims are tended to by military chaplains. One of those chaplains is Maj. Brian Minietta, an Army Chaplain at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

Minietta told CNA that his faith background is in the United Methodist community, and his chaplaincy is supported by the Evangelical Church Alliance. This is his third time joining the Warriors to Lourdes.

"The first time I came as just a pilgrim,” said Minietta. One of his friends, a Protestant chaplain, had attended a previous trip and encouraged him to apply. After he was accepted, Minietta was chosen to lead one of the faith and fellowship groups on his pilgrimage, which he said was an “amazing group.”

Warriors to Lourdes then invited him back on the pilgrimage the following year, but as a trip leader and chaplain.

Even though the Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization, and Lourdes is home to numerous Catholic churches and chapels, Minietta said he did not feel out of place at all as a Protestant. He credited his experience in the Army for how he was able to work alongside the other chaplains.

"In the Army,” he said, “we work in a pluralistic environment, and so we kind of have this thing where we say we perform and provide. And so, I perform the things that I can perform as a Protestant chaplain, but it's also my job to provide, so I brought people from my unit on this pilgrimage,” said Minietta. He views the pilgrimage as “an opportunity for me to provide for them.”

During the pilgrimage, eligible Catholic pilgrims were offered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Non-Catholics were given the opportunity to pray for healing alongside the non-Catholic chaplains. Minietta told CNA that he was glad he was still able to assist those in need of spiritual help.

“I got to pray for people--even though I can’t offer the sacrament, I still got to lay hands on people and pray for them,” he said. “And so, it’s easy for me to overcome our differences.”

Minietta found the experience of going into the baths to be reminiscent of his baptism.

“There's that significance of we need water to survive, water cleanses us. I went into that experience open to however the Lord was gonna work through the usage of water.”

Minietta found another way to provide for the pilgrims: during Saturday night’s Marian procession, he was one of the people who carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.


Support and healing

A pilgrimage this large needs a solid support staff. There are many nurses, doctors, and other professionals who are part of the delegation who keep everyone safe.

Commander Lance LeClere, M.D., is serving as the medical director for Warriors to Lourdes.

LeClere, a Navy doctor who is stationed in Annapolis, Maryland, was invited by a past pilgrim to attend this year’s pilgrimage. The call came at “an opportune time” as Leclere and his wife, a Navy nurse, had been seeking an opportunity to go on a medical mission.

“We've always looked for ways to support active duty service members, especially those that have been injured,” said LeClere. “This combined sort of the religious retreat and pilgrimage with the opportunity to serve the wounded, ill, and injured, and so it was a perfect opportunity to combine all of the things that we enjoy supporting."

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which boasts its own on-campus grotto modeled after the one in Lourdes, LeClere said it was “very moving” to see the inspiration for the place he spent much time praying as a student.

"It was just very special to be at the original grotto--it was very emotional,” he said.

True to his vocation as a doctor, LeClere told CNA that his intentions for the weekend were for his friends back in Maryland who were experiencing illnesses or other conditions. And true to his vocation in military service, he is praying for their mental well-being as well.

“I've also been thinking a lot about the spiritual and emotional healing of the service members that are on the trip, and folks that I know from back home that are in need of that as well,” he said.


For all their people

The armed forces is often compared to a tribe. For one couple, there is also a literal tribe back home praying for their pilgrimage.

Ben Black Bear III and his wife Jennifer Black Bear made the journey to Lourdes from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Both are members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Ben and Jennifer were invited to apply after meeting Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at a listening session with the USCCB and 13 other tribes. Ben is an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2006-2007, and also lived at Ft. Hood before returning to Rosebud.

The Black Bears both work for their church, and both were familiar with the story of Lourdes prior to the pilgrimage. Given the sheer distance between South Dakota and France, Ben described the pilgrimage as his “one-in-a-million chance” to visit the Grotto.

“It’s a really big honor for us, and also our parents, and also our future generation,” he said. They said they will be bringing back Lourdes water to their reservation.

Ben described the trip as “overwhelming,” but he has maintained his focus on prayer and the spiritual graces that come with a pilgrimage. He also knows that he and his wife are serving as  role models for their community.

“This is also a good eye-opener for our reservation, knowing us, (and) coming here,” said Ben. Back in Rosebud, there are people who are following their pilgrimage with keen interest.

“A lot of people researched it and they’re really familiar with what’s going on with it,” he said.

Jennifer told CNA that her prayer intentions for the weekend would primarily concern the well-being of others, and that she will be praying for “the health of all of our people on the reservation, our families, the health of our people.”


Miracles received

Some people come to Lourdes hoping for a miracle from its waters. The Fisk family has already experienced theirs.

Julian Fisk, the 14-month old son of Army Captain Adam Fisk and Morgan Fisk, did not have the easiest entrance into the world when he was born in January of last year.

“He came out not breathing for six minutes,” his father told CNA. “He was immediately evac’d to a NICU in a different hospital.”

After Julian arrived in the neonatal intensive care unit, doctors took quick action to attempt to prevent any brain damage due to his lack of oxygen at birth. While some of their efforts were successful, Julian had suffered a subgaleal hematoma, which Adam described as “a very large pocket of fluid that had been built up in his head” that could potentially cause major health issues. Doctors predicted it would take up to a month for the hematoma to heal.

Adam’s father-in-law, Deacon Mark Mitchell, flew in from Georgia to Texas to be with Morgan, Adam, and Julian while Julian was hospitalized. Mitchell had been to Lourdes, and brought some of the healing water with him to the NICU.

“He sprinkled some on Julian’s head, and along his body, and he prayed over him,” Adam explained.

“The next day, the hematoma was gone, and it baffled the doctors. Obviously, it was a miracle to us.”

Julian has now been entirely cleared by his doctors and is “completely where he needs to be at for his age,” said Adam. A few months after his miraculous healing, Adam was encouraged to apply for Warriors to Lourdes by Deacon Mitchell, who is also on this year’s pilgrimage. Adam jumped at the opportunity.

Julian was able to join his parents on the pilgrimage to Lourdes, and is one of the youngest people in the program. Adam said it was “amazing” to be in Lourdes, and to see the Grotto and the spring.

The Fisks have not yet had a chance to enter the baths, but they eagerly await the opportunity--having first-hand knowledge of how healing the water can be. Morgan has a progressive form of Lupus, and Adam said that they are praying for some sort of spiritual or physical feeling for her as well.

“We’re excited to go to that as a family,” said Adam.

Wisdom, gratitude, healing, fellowship: A military family’s journey to Lourdes

Lourdes, France, May 18, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Every pilgrim to Lourdes has their own motivations and reasons for making the journey. For the Mayors, the International Military Pilgrimage came with an additional grace: a family reunion.

Captain Mark E. Mayor and Captain Matthew N. Mayor are identical twins. Both have served for a decade in the U.S. Army. Both are members of the Knights of Columbus.

While the two have been stationed together in the past, they now live a continent apart. Mark is stationed at USAG Wiesbaden, in Germany. Matthew is stationed at Ft. Jackson, SC, but is a student at Northwestern University through the Army Advanced Civil Schooling program.

Last year, Mark and his wife, Malori, were both pilgrims on the Warriors to Lourdes trip. Malori, a registered nurse, volunteered on the medical team, assisted with helping wounded pilgrims, and played the violin at Mass throughout the weekend. This year, all three of the Mayors made the journey to Lourdes.

Mark and Malori told CNA that they are taking a different approach towards this year’s pilgrimage. Last year, they said they both came with a “spiritual agenda,” and were praying for a specific intention. This year, they said they are instead coming to Lourdes with an attitude of gratitude, and will be more relaxed about the experience.

"Coming with an agenda, though, was something that I think was a mistake, last year,” said Mark. This year, he intends to seek wisdom, something that he thinks he and his wife were inadvertently granted last year as well.

During the 2018 pilgrimage, Malori and Mark were praying they would conceive a child. This did not immediately happen, but Malori thinks that she received the gift of courage to break down the stigma and taboo of infertility. She used her blog to share stories about infertility and to inform her readers about holistic, natural, Church-approved methods of tackling fertility.

“I think that's what we needed, that was our miracle for last year, even though we came with an agenda, God gave us the wisdom to seek out the right resources,” said Mark. “I think that's the key takeaway with this pilgrimage."

Malori is now expecting their first child, who is due in January 2020.

“Even before I became pregnant, though, I was kind of reflecting on last year's experience at Lourdes, and realizing that I need to come here with a different posture, a different attitude; not 'give me what I want, right now, on my timeline,' but to just come with gratitude,” she explained.

This gratitude is “not necessarily for infertility--that would be very, very hard to be grateful for that cross itself,” but rather for how she and her husband have grown through this experience together.

Matthew told CNA that he had first learned of the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage through his brother and sister-in-law, and was inspired to apply for this year. He said that he came into Lourdes with an open mind, and that he is seeking healing for both physical and mental wounds.

“My only expectation is to come here with an attitude of gratitude, to be thankful for the blessings that I have in my life right now," said Matthew. Matthew also explained that he is looking forward to fellowship with members of the military, as the transition from living on a base to living in the civilian world can be jarring and lonely. The chance to interact with others is “a huge deal for me, to have that fellowship” he said.

Both Mark and Matthew have suffered from their time in the military, and both have been diagnosed with having post-traumatic stress. Mark also experienced a traumatic brain injury. They both spoke about the importance of civilian interaction with members of the military after they have returned home, as they both believe this is key to preventing and treating mental illnesses that many troops experience.

When a member of the military returns home, Mark explained, they are “separated from the tribe,” which can trigger depression and other mental wounds. The International Military Pilgrimage is a way for people to “get the tribe back together,” and is a therapeutic experience for the pilgrims. And while the pilgrims are from different nations and from different branches of the military, Mark is comforted by the fact that they are all in Lourdes to worship God.

“We all celebrate one universal Catholic faith,” said Mark. “It's just something that I find it really humbling."

Lourdes is famous for its baths, which have produced 70 confirmed miraculous healings, and hundreds of other cures. The Mayors say they have all been deeply touched by their experiences taking a dip in the ice-cold water.

Malori called her trip to the baths “life-changing,” and said that it came with a sense of peace. Matthew agreed, saying it was an “eclectic and powerful experience.”

"My intentions were for continued healing in body, mind, and spirit, and for the grace of continued wisdom to fulfill and refill my well of fortitude," said Matthew. He said he was grateful and thanked God for being present for him in that moment.  

All agreed that Lourdes is a special place, and that the addition of the pilgrims attending the International Military Pilgrimage only increases the town’s unique sense of holiness.

"Minus all the people coming here with illnesses and wheelchairs, maybe this is a little bit of what like Heaven is,” said Malori. “Everyone's so peaceful and all these different countries coming together at the military pilgrimage--maybe this is like a taste of that."

Archbishop of Paris: Notre-Dame restoration donations still needed

Paris, France, May 16, 2019 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- One month after a fire destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Archbishop of Paris released an update on reconstruction efforts and the donations received thus far.

Of the € 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) publicly pledged in the emotional aftermath of the fire, only € 13.5 million has been collected so far, Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris said in a statement published on Wednesday, May 15.

But the reasons for this are “simple, the discussions are just starting to prepare conventions of private law. They will also serve as a framework for expressing the will of these major donors,” Aupetit said.

Some of the major donors who have pledged the most money include French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, who pledged 100 million euros, and Bernard Arnault, who pledged 200 million euros, according to an NPR report. The owners of L'Oréal cosmetic company along with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation pledged 200 million euros.

Of the already-collected € 13.5 million, € 9.5 million was raised from 43,000 French and foreign individuals, including $7,000 of donations from United States donors. The remaining € 4 million came from four donors, according to the archbishop’s report.

Aupetit said that exact amount needed for the restoration is still being evaluated, but “the needs appear considerable.”

"Any given euro will be a euro that will serve to reshape the heart of the cathedral. It will be used to finance an ambitious but necessary” restoration program, he said.

The roof of Notre Dame caught fire before 7 p.m. local time on April 15, 2019. While the blaze brought down the Cathedral’s spire and destroyed the roof, the Eucharist and most of the relics and artwork inside were spared, including a relic from the crown of thorns. The main structure of the Cathedral was also spared from serious damage, including its famous rose windows, bells and bell towers.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would like the restoration to be completed within 5 years, but experts estimate that it could take much longer.

Franck Riester, the Minister of Culture in France, said Wednesday that the damaged parts of the cathedral must be removed and the structure secured before real restoration efforts can begin, according to Fox News. He added that he knows of another collection that has raised $952.2 million so far for the restoration efforts, and that it is too early to tell the exact amount that will be needed to rebuild the roof.

Aupetit said in his statement that he will celebrate Mass in the cathedral again “as soon as possible,” though he said for safety reasons it would likely be a private Mass.  

In a letter to Macron this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, who is visiting Paris this week, offered donations of Canadian softwood lumber and steel for the rebuilding efforts. Trudeau was scheduled to tour the damaged cathedral during his visit this week, The Canadian Press reported.



Parents, parishes should have greater role in sacrament prep, Dublin survey says

Dublin, Ireland, May 16, 2019 / 05:14 pm (CNA).- A survey in the Archdiocese of Dublin suggests that parents and educators are interested in changing the model of sacramental preparation for children.

“Ireland is unique in its dependence on schools in preparing for and celebrating the sacraments,” said a spokeswoman for the Dublin Archdiocese, according to the Irish Times.

“Parishes are becoming more involved and there are some efforts to involve parents more. But in the survey, all express dissatisfaction that it is still largely a school event. Schools themselves feel that they are still working in a vacuum,” she said.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin created the Sacraments Review Group in September 2018. It was established to listen to the people most involved with sacrament formation, including parents, clergy, and pastoral workers.

This week, Archdiocese of Dublin released results of a survey conducted of 1800 religious, clergy, parents, parishioners, and teachers. The participants expressed a desire for a transition from the school-led sacrament preparation to more formation based in the family and church.

“The survey asked about future practice in relation to the preparation and celebration of the sacraments. The responses seem to register a strong desire among schools for the home and parish to step up to the plate,” read a May 15 statement from the archdiocese.

Some programs have already been put into place to boost parental and parish involvement, such as Do This In Memory Of Me and Grow in Love.

In the nine months prior to a child’s First Communion, Do This In Memory Of Me encourages more Mass participation as a family, including special Masses held once a month. The program also has First Communion resources to help parents educate their children.

Grow in Love began in 2015 to introduce more parish and priest engagement with the spiritual formation of students at Catholic Primary Schools. Among other things, the program includes prayer services, priestly visits to the school, and a 10-theme curriculum.

The next step of the survey is to meet with its participants and brainstorm about future options. Among the considerations that will be discussed is the best way to engage parents of different backgrounds, Catholics and non-Catholics.

Currently, Catholic schools have 30 minutes a day set aside for sacrament preparation. The archdiocese has considered creating an “opt in” approach, in which more initiative is required to participate, and much of the preparation would be outside of normal school hours.

Teachers and religious leaders have expressed concern that sacramental preparation in schools currently treats the sacraments as more of a social event rather than something spiritually important.

Archbishop Martin issued a video in February encouraging Catholics to participate in the survey. He pointed to a change in the Irish culture and a need to reassess the Church’s engagement with the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and holy communion.

“Ireland is changing and Ireland religious culture is changing, and we have to see how in the developing the Irish religious culture, we prepare people for the sacraments,” he said.

“The sacraments are not conveyor belts. Sacraments are moments of faith, not just social occasions.”