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Michigan bishop ‘humbled’ by success of weekly discipleship challenge

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing. / Diocese of Lansing.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 9, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

A year-long initiative by a Michigan bishop to inspire greater Christian discipleship among clergy and laypeople has now attracted more than 11,000 weekly subscribers.

“I’m delighted, humbled and, yes, a little surprised by the degree of enthusiasm for the Disciples Together on the Way initiative,” said Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing.

“I just pray that the initiative is helping more and more people across the Diocese of Lansing — and even beyond — to live more authentic, deeper, and happier Christian lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Boyea’s Disciples Together on the Way initiative sends a weekly discipleship challenge to subscribers via a text message every Friday. Each challenge attempts to help subscribers acquire a different good habit of Christian discipleship in four key areas: prayer, catechesis, community, and apostolate.

At the end of May, for example, subscribers were encouraged to give thanks to God for the difficulties of life. Last week, Boyea challenged people to attend a weekday Mass. This week, he is urging followers to spend some time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

“Each weekly challenge is pitched at a level that, yes, may be a bit of stretch for some of us but is not beyond the capacity of any of us,” said Boyea.

“That is especially true when we remember we have God’s grace to help us plus the fraternal support of the thousands of others who are prayerfully accompanying us in this yearlong pilgrimage.”

Boyea’s weekly text message also links to a short video of him explaining the rationale for each challenge, plus some practical advice on how to conquer it. At present, 11,728 people are subscribed. The average open rate for each text is approximately 90%.

The template for a regular digital delivery of catechesis and inspiration was adopted by the Diocese of Lansing in 2020, when Boyea began leading people on a daily Bible study entitled the Bishop’s Year of the Bible. That initiative was also delivered via a daily text message or email.

Boyea, who has led the Lansing diocese since 2008, said: “As we read the Holy Bible, chapter by chapter, day by day, we more deeply encountered Jesus Christ himself in the Word of God and, as a result, many of us felt that He was calling us to continue our collective journey as disciples together on the way and, hence, the result was Disciples Together on the Way.”

It was Boyea who coined the name of the initiative drawing upon Christ’s identification of himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the custom in the early Church of Christians referring to their new life as disciples of Jesus as “the Way” (Acts 9:2).

The 71-year-old bishop said that he was also keen to incorporate the Greek word “synod,” which means “journeying together”.

“This life is a journey, after all, it’s a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage from God and to God,” he explained.

“It’s not an easy journey, that’s true. However, if we cooperate with God’s grace we can make it and, even better, we can make it together.”

Those charged by Boyea with implementing the discipleship initiative, which began in January and concludes in December, are also delighted by the response in parishes.

Craig Pohl, the diocese’s director of new evangelization, said: “Whether people are journeying this year with someone else — a spouse, friends, whoever — or on their own, there are over 10,000 other people in the diocese doing it with you in spirit — there’s something really powerful in knowing that.”

“Plus, the fact that it’s our bishop who is directly teaching, preaching, and sanctifying his people has really inspired many across our parishes — to know that our shepherd is himself leading his flock to Christ, it’s really great.”

To take up Bishop Earl Boyea’s weekly Disciples Together on the Way challenge, text ONTHEWAY to 84576.

Bishop Zanchetta’s lawyer requests house arrest to serve sentence for sexual abuse due to health problems

Argentine retired Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta (R) arrives to court in Oran, Argentina, on March 3, 2022. Zanchetta, considered close to Pope Francis, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison for sexual abuse of two seminarians by a court in the northwestern city of Oran, which ordered his immediate arrest, according to the ruling. / Gaston India/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, Jun 8, 2022 / 15:17 pm (CNA).

Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who was sentenced in March to four and a half years in prison for sexually abusing two seminarians in Argentina, has requested through his lawyer that the sentence be served under house arrest in a local monastery, due to the prelate's health problems.

Zanchetta’s lawyer, Darío Palmier, is seeking the change so the bishop emeritus of Orán doesn’t have to remain in Prison Unit 3.

Zanchetta was first taken to St. Vincent de Paul Hospital for hypertension. After treating him he was returned to jail; but he later was sent to a private clinic, according to Salta Radio Ciudad Online.

“He’s hospitalized, we’re treating him. Recently he had to make an in- person visit to the doctor for hypertension symptoms, he has a serious case of kidney disease. It‘s a disease related to his venous system, it was diagnosed in Rome,” the lawyer told Salta 12, as reported by Ciudad Online.

“The truth is that he can collapse at any time. He’s being examined by the courts’ medical service. There’s a medical team made up of cardiologists and kidney specialists,” Palmier added. He explained that Zanchetta’s health has worsened, and that "the medical exams are taking a long time.”

“We asked that due to his condition that he be transferred so he could be examined by a private doctor,” said Palmier.

The lawyer said that it is the Second Chamber of the Orán Trial Court, consisting of judges María Laura Toledo Zamora, Raúl Fernando López and Héctor Fabián Fayos, which must respond to the request for house arrest.

These are the same judges who sentenced the bishop to prison in March.

Palmier also said that the place offered for Zanchetta to serve his sentence under house arrest is the Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley of the Order of the Immaculate Conception-Franciscan Conceptionist Mothers.

Zanchetta stepped down as bishop of Orán in 2017, claiming “health reasons,” and was subsequently appointed as an assessor at the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), a specially created position. The APSA oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets.

As of June 2021, Zanchetta was no longer with the APSA. He previously had been suspended, then reinstated, from the role amid a canonical investigation into his conduct.  

Zanchetta led the Diocese of Orán, located in northern Argentina, from 2013 until 2017. His episcopal appointment was one of the first done by Pope Francis in his native Argentina. 

Zanchetta’s trial, which was initially set to begin in October, was delayed four months at the request of his attorney. The defense attorney had asked the judges to wait for the files of the canonical process that Zanchetta is undergoing at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican has not yet released any information regarding the canonical process or any determinations that have been reached regarding Zanchetta. 

Pope's past statements on Zanchetta

Allegations of sexual misconduct were first raised against Zanchetta in 2015. According to Argentinian newspaper El Tribuno, one of Zanchetta’s secretaries accidentally discovered sexually explicit images that were sent and received from his cell phone in 2015. The secretary alerted authorities, stating that the pictures included “young people” engaged in sexual activity, as well as lewd images of the bishop. 

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

In October 2015, Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome for five days. At the time, Zanchetta informed Pope Francis that his phone had been hacked, and that the allegations against him were motivated by anti-Pope Francis sentiment. 

The pope reportedly accepted the bishop’s explanation that his cell phone had been hacked, and took no further action.

The oldest man in the world is 113 and prays the rosary twice a day

112-year-old Venezuelan farmer Vicente Pérez gestures at his home in San Jose de Bolivar, Tachira state, Venezuela, on Jan. 24, 2022. Guinness World Records has officially recognized Pérez as the oldest living man following the death of a Spaniard who was the previous holder of the title, / Jhonny Parra/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, Jun 8, 2022 / 06:15 am (CNA).

His name is Juan Vicente Pérez Mora, he’s Venezuelan, passionate about his faith, prays the rosary twice a day, and is in the Guinness World Records as the oldest man in the world. 

Mora was born on May 27, 1909 and this year he turned 113 years old. 

In an article published on May 17 on the Guinness World Records website, Mora said his secret to living a long life is to "work hard, rest on holidays, go to bed early, drink a glass of aguardiente (a strong liquor made from sugarcane) every day, love God, and always carry him in your heart." 

He says his family and friends are his greatest life companions and that the greatest thing he has learned in life is “the love of God, the love of family, and that we must get up early to work.”

According to the Guinness World Records, Mora was officially confirmed the oldest living man in the world on Feb. 4, 2022. You can watch a video about him below.

Mora was the ninth child of 10 born to Eutiquio del Rosario Pérez Mora and Edelmira Mora.

In 1914 they moved to Los Pajuiles, a village in San José de Bolivar. When Mora was 5 years old, he started to work with his father and siblings in agriculture, specifically coffee harvesting and sugar cane.

At 10, he began school but was only able to attend for five months because his teacher became very ill. However, Mora was able to learn how to read and write thanks to a book his teacher had given him prior to her health declining. 

Mora was also a sheriff in Caricuena from 1948 to 1958.

He was married to Ediofina del Rosario García for 60 years. She passed away in 1997. The couple had six sons and five daughters. The family has now grown to include 41 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and 12 great-great-grandchildren. 

Among his family, Mora is known for his faith. He strives to build a solid relationship with God, his relatives, and he prays the rosary twice a day. 

“My Uncle Vicente transmits a lot of peace, tranquility and radiates a lot of joy,” his nephew Freddy Abreu told CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency ACI Prensa. “He’s a person who has a lot to give. He enjoys the simple things in life and is very grateful to God.”

The oldest person in the world, and the oldest woman in the world, is French nun Sister Andre Randon who was born on Feb. 11, 1904. She is 118 years old. She became the oldest person in the world this year when Kane Tanaka, born Jan. 2, 1903, passed away on April 19, 2022. 

DHS warns that ‘faith-based institutions’ could be targeted amid ‘heightened threat environment’

The seal of the United States Department of Homeland Security. / chrisdorney via Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 8, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Department of Homeland Security warned on Tuesday that “faith-based institutions” could be potential targets amid a “heightened threat environment” in the United States.

The DHS alert followed an unconfirmed report that it had notified Catholic bishops of “credible threats” if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned.

In a June 7 bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), the department responsible for public security said: “In the coming months, DHS expects the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets.”

“These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents.”

The warning came days after the prominent Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher said that an “informed and highly trusted source” had told him that the DHS had informed bishops that Catholic churches could be attacked the night that the Supreme Court rules on the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Writing on The American Conservative website on June 3, Dreher said that the source told him: “Homeland Security has officially notified the bishops there are credible threats to the safety of Catholic churches, clergy, and bishops if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. Violence has been called for beginning the night such a decision is handed down.”

CNA has not independently confirmed the source’s claim. USCCB spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi provided the following statement to CNA on Wednesday afternoon: "The USCCB does not discuss security matters publicly; we encourage the faithful to be vigilant and if they are aware of any suspicious activity, they should report it to their local law-enforcement."

The NTAS bulletin, which is valid until Nov. 30, said that “threat actors” had “recently mobilized to violence,” motivated by “personal grievances, reactions to current events, and adherence to violent extremist ideologies.”

“DHS continues to assess that the primary threat of mass casualty violence in the United States stems from lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances,” it noted.

A section of the bulletin labeled “Additional information” said: “Given a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case about abortion rights, individuals who advocate both for and against abortion have, on public forums, encouraged violence, including against government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies.”

Vandals have struck at pro-life centers across the U.S. since the leak of a draft opinion suggesting that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

In the latest incidents, a pro-life pregnancy center in Asheville, North Carolina, had its windows smashed and was defaced with pro-abortion messaging on the night of June 6-7.

A pro-life pregnancy center in Amherst, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, sustained major damage in a fire and was marked with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7.

70 new priests ordained in one weekend in Mexican diocese

Guadalajara Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady), Mexico / Shutterstock

Guadalajara, Mexico, Jun 7, 2022 / 14:29 pm (CNA).

In one historic weekend, the Cardinal Archbishop of Guadalajara, José Francisco Robles Ortega, ordained 70 men to the priesthood in two separate ceremonies held June 4 and 5 at the Mexican Martyrs Shrine in that city. 

In the first ordination 33 priests were ordained and in the second, 37.

In addition, the cardinal ordained seven new deacons on June 3, also at the shrine in Guadalajara.

Father Juan Carlos Lupercio Gómez, the vice-rector of the Guadalajara seminary, told the archdiocese’s weekly publication that “it’s a blessing in the midst of this time in which we’re living — in many sectors — an environment without God.” 

“It’s a sign that he himself, in the midst of adversity, keeps calling; the seeds of the Word (Jesus Christ) are scattered throughout the world,” he said.

“And God continues to call, his voice is powerful and there are still young hearts willing to continue to listen to the beat of His heart.”

Lupercio also recalled the memory and witness of St. Christopher Magellan and several of his fellow martyrs, who also received their formation at the Guadalajara seminary and later gave their lives in witness to Christ during the religious persecution that took place in Mexico in the 1920s.

Chosen to watch over the flock

In his homily for the June 4 ordination, Robles reminded the ordinands that they are not serving the world, but God and his people.

“The Holy Spirit is choosing you today to watch over the flock. And whose flock? The flock of Jesus Christ which he merited through his blood,” the cardinal said.

“It’s not even your flock, it’s not even our flock, it’s the flock of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is entrusted to you starting today by the election and anointing of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The Mexican cardinal told the new priests that "you must never forget your origin" because "the priest is a man who has been called, has been chosen from among men.”

“The priest is not an angel, he’s not an alien, he’s not a superior being, he doesn’t belong to a strange caste. The priest is a man, chosen by God, taken by God from among his fellow men. This must not be forgotten,” Robles said.

Robles warned that “when the priest forgets his origin” he creates “distance between himself and between the community he is assigned to serve.”

If he acts in this way, the cardinal continued, "he usually sends a message: I’m superior, I’m more important, I’m the one who must be recognized and the one who must be served."

"And when the priest takes on this attitude of superiority, of being above his fellow man, the priest becomes involved in this evil that sadly affects the Church and affects many: clericalism," the cardinal said.

The archbishop of Guadalajara then pointed out that priests are "to serve men in the things of God, and that is what the people expect from a priest: a man of God, a man who speaks to them of God, a man to be the presence of God among them, to experience his love, to experience his mercy, to experience his salvation.”

The cardinal warned that “the world can enter our hearts, our minds, our person, our priesthood, and the world can make us its own and we forget that we belong to God, for the service of the brothers in the things that are of God."

'Making Jesus Christ present'

In his homily the following day, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Robles told the 37 men to be ordained that “the election, the consecration and the sending forth of these brother priests who are going to be ordained is patent proof of the action of the Holy Spirit.” 

“The charism, the service of making present Christ the head, Christ the shepherd, Christ the spouse of his Church, this charism is received by each and every one of these brothers who is going to be ordained: the charism of making Jesus Christ present in the midst of his people.”

After recalling that the Holy Spirit raises up a "a variety and a richness of charisms" in the Catholic Church "for the good of all,” Robles stressed that "this great charism, this beautiful gift of representing Christ, does not obscure, does not nullify, any of the other charisms.”

“Never forget this: Your charism is not superior, it's not greater, it’s not the only one. Your charism is for service, for the service of the other charisms that the Holy Spirit raises up in his Church,” he told the new priests.

Robles encouraged them that “the Spirit of the Lord will always animate you, renew you and always drive you forward. The Spirit of the Lord will strengthen and console you always.”

“The Spirit of the Risen Lord has descended as a gift, and it’s a gift that remains,” he said, adding that “it’s a gift that has remained with our poor humanity until the end of time.”

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

Texas pro-life pregnancy centers prepare for overturning of Roe v. Wade

null / Liudmila Fadzeyeva/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 7, 2022 / 02:50 am (CNA).

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this summer, abortions will be banned entirely statewide in Texas, with limited exceptions. Although some Texas women will likely travel to other states to obtain abortions, the legal change could mean that tens of thousands more children will be born in the state each year.

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN) stands ready to help those mothers and babies, said John McNamara, the network’s executive director.

The funding network started small in the early 2000s and has grown to support more than 175 locations — crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, clinics, and more — all over the state.

Each of the nearly 200 organizations that the TPCN supports is a standalone nonprofit with its own funding streams and donor bases, McNamara said. The hope for the program is that the government dollars would help each organization expand its pro-life services.

“This is not just about saving the baby. This is about setting young parents up for long-term success in their parenting,” he told CNA.

McNamara said that the program was launched in the early 2000s after a realization on the part of the Texas legislature about how much government funding was going to organizations providing or promoting abortion. The Texas government wanted to establish a funding stream for organizations promoting childbirth, and thereafter parenting or adoption, McNamara said.

The network was established as the Texas Alternative to Abortion Services Program, born out of a desire to “level the playing field” between abortion providers and pro-life organizations.

For the first 16 years, there was a federal component to the dollars in the form of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) money, McNamara said, but the federal component to the funding was always minimal: less than 10% for the past 16 years.

Today, TPCN is funded entirely with general revenues from the state of Texas. In the fiscal year 2021, the organization was the program’s largest grantee, receiving $36.6 million (nearly 80%) of the funds awarded that year.

As more states pass measures to ban abortion — which they would be allowed to enforce if Roe v. Wade is overturned — Texas’ pregnancy care program is already being emulated, most notably by its neighbor, Oklahoma.

In late May, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a law prohibiting abortion from the moment of conception with few exceptions, and Oklahoma started a pregnancy care network almost exactly like Texas’ in 2019. Madeleine Craig, the Oklahoma network’s executive director, said in May that the network had 12 locations and intended to expand to at least 20 by the end of the year.

The Texas program is notable in part for the length of its continuum of care. Women and men are not only eligible for their pro-life services during pregnancy, McNamara noted. In fact, their services extend from the beginning of pregnancy until three years after birth.

Those services include counseling for women considering abortion, housing for women who have been in an unsafe or abusive environment, vocational training, and classwork on budgeting, self-sufficiency, interviewing skills. They also offer doula services, as well as programs and classes for the fathers to teach them to be good and effective.

The Texas legislature has spoken loudly on this, McNamara said, creating what amounts to an “almost four-year continuum of care.”

According to reporting from the Texas Tribune, pregnant women in Texas are more likely to be uninsured — 1 in 5 residents were uninsured in 2019, double the national average — and less likely to seek early prenatal care than the rest of the country. Texas also has high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, and high rates of teen pregnancy.

An anonymous client of the pregnancy network said that she appreciated the human connection she made when she sought help for her pregnancy.

“You helped a broken person that never talked about her feelings, that felt she was not important and not worth it. But after meeting you, I feel I am an important person. I love that I met you,” the client wrote on her comment card upon leaving the clinic.

Texas enacted a “heartbeat” abortion ban in September 2021 that prohibits abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, but relies on private lawsuits between citizens to enforce the ban, rather than state action.

Despite many women traveling out of state for abortions since it was enacted, the heartbeat ban has led to a reduction in the number of abortions in the state, and thus an increase in mothers seeking help.

Since the bill took effect, the organizations that are part of the TPCN have seen requests for their services go up 35% compared to a normal, pre-pandemic year, McNamara said. He added that they expect another jump in demand when or if Roe is overturned, and an increase in funding from the Texas legislature would be a huge boon for their many clinics and homes.

The organization has faced threats in recent weeks following a draft opinion leak from the Supreme Court, along with other pro-life and Catholic organizations.

Over Mother’s Day weekend, a pro-life pregnancy center in Denton, Texas, called Loreto House was defaced with graffiti that read, “Not a clinic,” and “Forced pregnancy is murder.” Another women's resource center, Woman to Woman Resource Center, also was vandalized.

Both centers are part of the TPCN.

The Church asks Colombia, Venezuela to resume diplomatic relations to address migration

Migrant child has lunch at the Casa de Paso "Divina Providencia" in Cucuta. / David Ramos/ACI Prensa.

Lima, Peru, May 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Church has asked the governments of Colombia and Venezuela to resume their “truncated binational relations” in order to respond effectively to the challenges involved in serving migrants.

The call to restore diplomatic relations was made during a May 24 press conference in the Diocese of Cúcuta, where a meeting of the National Secretariat for Social Pastoral Ministry was held with the border dioceses of Tibú, Ocaña, Cúcuta, Nueva Pamplona, Arauca, and Riohacha, as well as Jesuit Refugee Service, in order to address the situation of Venezuelan emigration.

Reading from a statement,  Father Rafael Castillo Torres, director of the National Secretariat for Social Pastoral Ministry in Colombia, said that "there have been not a few signs of concern … that challenge our humanitarian and pastoral action.”

Among these are "human trafficking, the recruitment of minors into armed gangs, the exploitation of workers, illegal economies, widespread violence, people disappearing, the absence of government institutions abandoning our borders and the ongoing presence of organized crime, capable of controling people and organizations.”

Therefore, he said, "from this city of Cúcuta, so historically united with our sister nations, we call on our governments to resume the truncated binational relations.”

The breaking of diplomatic relations goes back to when Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president in January 2019 after winning a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or were imprisoned. Venezuela's bishops called his new term illegitimate, and opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country's interim president.

Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and millions have emigrated.

Guaidó set Feb. 23, 2019 as the date to try to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela overland from Brazil and Colombia and by sea from Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. However, the Maduro regime forcibly blocked the aid from coming in, sparking clashes at border crossings.

The same day Maduro announced he was breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia and gave Colombian diplomatic personnel 24 hours to leave the country.

However, the Colombian Foreign Minister at the time, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, pointed out that since Colombia no longer recognized the Maduro regime and was supporting Guaidó as interim president, diplomatic relations could not be broken.

Nevertheless, in practice there have been no bilateral relations between the states since then.

Fr. Castillo said it is necessary for the two nations “to be able to rebuild their binational relations with all that that means and involves.”

“Not only because of border traffic, but because we believe that two sister nations that have grown together, that have progressed together historically, have to rebuild their relations as sister peoples. Especially in the face of this migratory challenge that we have on our border that must put the life and dignity of our migrant brothers in first place,” the priest said.

According to a World Bank article from November 2021, some 5.6 million people have left Venezuela since 2015, and of these, 1.7 million are in Colombia.

The director of the National Secretariat of Social Pastoral Ministry of Colombia expressed his desire that it be possible to “have a joint strategy of Church and nation to be able to respond to these pastoral challenges” with migrants.

"Regardless of who the Colombians elect as president," the priest said, "we believe that it’s imperative to be able to reestablish those bilateral relations because we need it.”

"It’s almost a moral imperative to do so, because our peoples are suffering and because of the need we have to rebuild these relationships with a sense of fraternity, solidarity and hope, because that is what we want as a Church.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nichole speaks out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School board members scolded by the public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Flores on Texas elementary school shooting: ‘Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem’

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville delivers the St. Thomas Day Lecture at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paul, Calif., Jan. 28, 2019. Photo courtesy of TAC. / null

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Bishop Daniel Flores said on Wednesday that he was sick of hearing people say that “guns aren’t the problem” after a gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.

“We sacralize death’s instruments and then are surprised that death uses them,” the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, wrote on Twitter on May 25, the day after the shooting.

“Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem, people are. I’m sick of hearing it. The darkness first takes our children who then kill our children, using the guns that are easier to obtain than aspirin,” Flores said.

It was one of many responses from Catholic bishops around the U.S. after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. Among the victims were 10-year-old students in the fourth grade.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston was one of the bishops who took to social media to share his reaction to “the unthinkable loss of so many innocent young lives.”

“Our nation has too often become a place of unspeakable crimes of gun violence that have taken far too many lives, though none more heartbreaking than innocent children. We must take action to stop this senseless carnage,” O’Malley said.

“We pray for the grieving families and the Uvalde community, whose lives are forever changed. In this moment we embrace them with prayers for peace and healing as we commend to the Lord those lost, consoled by the promise of eternal life,” the cardinal wrote on Twitter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago published a long thread on Twitter, highlighting how parents at the Uvalde elementary school faced “a delay in identifying the victims — such was the extent of the damage done to these children’s bodies by the killer’s weapons.”

Cupich shared statistics on the uptick in gun violence in the U.S. in 2020 and noted that the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting is scheduled to take place in Texas this week.

He wrote: “As I reflect on this latest American massacre, I keep returning to the questions: Who are we as a nation if we do not act to protect our children? What do we love more: our instruments of death or our future?”

“The Second Amendment did not come down from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important than human life. Our children have rights too. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them,” Cupich said.

Other U.S. bishops focused their social media responses on praying for the victims and their families.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence wrote: “I join my fervent prayers to those of many others for the victims of the horrible shooting at the school in Uvalde, Texas. May God grant eternal peace to those who died and as much consolation as possible in this dark hour to their families and loved ones.”

Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles said: “May Our Lady of Guadalupe take the victims of this violence in her tender arms, and bring comfort to those who mourn, and healing those who are hurt. And may God grant peace to every heart that is troubled tonight. We ask this in Jesus’ name.”

Pope Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on May 25: “My heart is broken for the massacre at the elementary school in Texas.”

“It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all work hard so that such tragedies can never happen again,” the pope said.

Texas elementary school shooting: US Catholic bishops lament ‘epidemic of evil and violence’

State troopers stand outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. - An 18-year-old gunman killed 14 children and a teacher at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, according to the state's governor, in the nation's deadliest school shooting in years. / Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 02:45 am (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops said on Tuesday that the country was facing an “epidemic of evil and violence” after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Texas.

In a statement issued on May 24, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urged citizens to “implore our elected officials to help us take action.”

The USCCB issued the statement after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, southwest Texas, killing 21 people.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that officers were believed to have killed the shooter, a local 18-year-old identified as Salvador Ramos.

The statement from the USCCB’s public affairs director Chieko Noguchi said: “There have been too many school shootings, too much killing of the innocent. Our Catholic faith calls us to pray for those who have died and to bind the wounds of others, and we join our prayers along with the community in Uvalde and Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.”

“As we do so, each of us also needs to search our souls for ways that we can do more to understand this epidemic of evil and violence and implore our elected officials to help us take action.”

Responding to the shooting on May 24, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller tweeted: “God have mercy on our children, their families, their communities. Darkness is dense with one more shooting in our country.”

“Let us help one another to spark light and warmth. May we keep each other in company. Prayers are needed.”

The U.S. bishops deplored mass shootings in New York State and California earlier this month.

In a May 16 statement, the USSCB said that it continued to “advocate for an end to violence,” citing the Church’s consistent appeals for “rational yet effective forms of regulation of dangerous weapons.”

The USCCB spoke out after a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a shooter killed one person and wounded five others on May 15 at a church in Laguna Woods, California.