Browsing News Entries

Faith inspires many at CPAC, including numerous Catholic speakers

Supporters of former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 24, 2024. / Credit: Mandel NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

CNA Newsroom, Feb 24, 2024 / 21:58 pm (CNA).

Faith-based convictions were highlighted by numerous Catholic and other Christian participants at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held just outside Washington, D.C. this past week. 

An annual gathering of some of the most prominent conservatives in the United States and around the world, this year’s edition of CPAC took place from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24. 

The conference’s agenda included opportunities for both Mass and Protestant services, a screening of the film "Cabrini" — about the life of St. Frances Cabrini, the first Catholic saint from the United States — as well as panels on a biblical understanding of gender and how to respond to efforts to push Christianity out of the public square.

“The question is what moral code are we going to live by," former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a Catholic, said during a panel titled "The Bible Uncancelled" on Saturday. 

"The left has their own woke code that they change depending on what power dynamics are in place to help them control people," Santorum added. "Whereas conservatives historically have said, no, … the moral code by which our country is going to live will be a biblically based one." 

Santorum warned that many in our society have "replaced the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [with] the God of Self," noting that this breakdown has caused "all of this depravity and confusion and depression and anxiety" among young people in the country. 

During an earlier panel titled “Genesis 1:27”, pushing back on gender ideology, Terry Schilling, a Catholic father of six who serves as president of the American Principles Project, warned against the growing threat to parental rights and religious freedom for parents who refuse to go along with or facilitate the “gender transition” of their minor children. 

Parents, he warned, are being punished "for protecting their children from this [transgender] industry that will quite literally chew them up and spit them out with destroyed bodies.”

The faith was also directly referenced by speakers on panels that were not explicitly religious in nature. 

Eduardo Verástegui, a Catholic actor who starred in the anti-child sex trafficking film "Sound of Freedom," discussed the faith component in his activism.

"I'm asking God and Our Lady of Guadalupe to help me," Verástegui told the crowd to resounding cheers.

This expression of faith comes at a time when church affiliation in the United States has fallen and hostility toward traditional Christian views on controversial subjects has been on the rise. 

Santorum, in his panel discussion, noted that he has faced hostility for his faith-based views for a long time. 

"It’s OK," he said. "God did not say ‘pick up your box of candies and follow me.’ He said ‘pick up your cross daily and follow me’ and we all need to do that.”

Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was removed from his post as Bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas last year, did not speak at the conference’s main event, but did give remarks at the Ronald Reagan dinner on Friday night.

Other Catholics who spoke at the conference included Ohio U.S. Senator J.D. Vance and political activist Jack Posobiec, along with Matt and Mercedes Schlapp, the husband and wife duo who lead the American Conservative Union, the parent organization of CPAC.

Former president and current Republican candidate Donald Trump also spoke at CPAC. The former president focused his remarks on other domestic and foreign policy issues, including the economy and immigration.

Trump's speech at CPAC took place on the same day he trounced his sole remaining rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in the South Carolina primary. 

The Associated Press called the election for Trump shortly after the polls closed on Saturday evening, with the former president projected to defeat former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in her home state by more than 20 percentage points.  

With over three quarters of the results in from the Palmetto State at 9:45 p.m. ET on Saturday evening, the AP projection was holding up, with Trump at 60% and Haley at 39%.


Beer for Lent? The Diocese of Scranton’s ‘40 Days’ brew helps feed the homeless

Beer lovers gather at the release of the "40 Days" beer brewed by Breaker Brewing and the Diocese of Scranton. / Credit: Kristen Mullen

CNA Staff, Feb 24, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Many Catholics give up beer as part of the penitential rigors of Lent. One diocese is brewing it as part of a Lenten tradition stretching back 400 years.

The Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, has launched a beer collaboration with a local brewery to support its anti-hunger programs for the homeless.

The tradition of Lenten beer stretches back centuries. In Bavaria in the 17th century, Paulaner monks turned to a common staple of the time of their region — beer — to sustain them through their strict, no-solid-food fast during the Lenten season. Paulaner is now a global brand and is among the bestselling beers in Germany.

In the spirit of the Paulaner brewers, the Scranton Diocese on its Facebook page earlier this month shared that its “Forty Days” beer collaboration with local Breaker Brewing Company would be launching on Mardi Gras, Feb. 13. 

The Forty Days beer is a doppelbock, the announcement said. A doppelbock, according to CraftBeer.com, is “reminiscent of toasted bread” and may include “dark fruit flavors such as prune and raisin,” depending on the recipe used.

The "Forty Days" Doppelbock beer was produced by Breaker Brewing and the Diocese of Scranton. Kristen Mullen
The "Forty Days" Doppelbock beer was produced by Breaker Brewing and the Diocese of Scranton. Kristen Mullen

The brewery created the beer in collaboration with Father Brian Van Fossen. The priest told CNA this week that he went to high school with Mark Lehman, one of the co-owners of the brewery. 

“Back in November we met about the project and Mark asked me to do some research on the beer,” Van Fossen said.

“Though I thought it was a good idea, the diocese was not able to send Mark and me to Munich to do research on beer, so I went to the computer,” he joked. 

“I discovered a doppelbock beer which was rooted with the Paulaner brothers in Munich, Germany,” he said. “The beer consisted of strong grains and an interesting mixture of hops and barley, which provided a strong nutrient content.” 

The priest said the beer was originally developed as part of the “strict fast of the Paulaner monastery.” The beer “celebrates the history of the Doppelbock beer style and its ties with the Lenten season,” the press release announcing the beer said. 

Breaker Brewing is located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes outside of Scranton. The beer collaboration is meant to help fund the diocese’s “Rectory, Set, Cook!” program to help feed homeless people. 

The diocese announced the launch of that program in 2021. It was billed at the time as Scranton’s “first-ever, all-virtual, cook-off-style fundraiser,” one taking the form of “a friendly online showdown among more than 25 priests.”

“Participating parish priests are starring in individual videos showcasing a favorite recipe or recipes and counting on their flocks and friends far and near to show their support by making monetary donations as small as $10,” the diocese said. “Each $10 donation will represent one vote for a pastor chef or team.”

All proceeds of the fundraiser go to local anti-hunger efforts by Catholic Social Services, including the local St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen “as well as food pantries and programs across the CSS footprint.” 

The diocese continued the program for a third year, and the contest this year took the theme “Collars and Scholars,” with “some of the priests [being] assisted by Catholic school students and other young people.”

Sandy Snyder, the director of foundation relations and special events at the Diocese of Scranton, said that upon launching the program the diocese “considered it experimental and hoped to raise $50,000 to call it a success.” 

“We hit $50,000 pretty quickly, and the momentum just kept going,” she said. “We finished at $171,697 raised in our first year. So we knew there would be a Rectory, Set, Cook! 2023.”

“Last year, we finished at $197,313,” she said. “So this is the year we hope to make Rectory, Set, Cook! a six-figure fundraiser times two and raise more than $200,000, which is important because we’ve added homelessness as a second benefiting cause.” The diocese is focused on building a brand-new permanent shelter in Luzerne County, she said.

Lehman, the co-owner of the brewery, told CNA that the beer was brewed using “Pilsen, Munich, and melanoidin malts with Hallertau hops to balance out the sweetness.” 

“Notes of this medium-brown-hued malty sweet delight is that of toasted bread, slight caramel/toffee, with hints of raisins throughout,” he said.

“The beer was one of the top sellers since its release, competing with another one of our beers for the top slot each day,” Lehman said. “Although we made quite a bit, I believe at this rate, we may not have enough to make it through the 40 days.”

Van Fossen confirmed that the beer is selling “like Lenten fish dinners.” Buyers have ordered the drink from as far away as Maine, he said, allowing the diocese to direct considerable funds to its homeless program. 

“All we need to do is look to the cross,” the priest said. “So if the joy of Lent can be found in a beer while feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless, I think God is being glorified in all things.”

CPAC speakers urge lawmakers to embrace life, end coerced abortions

Stanton Healthcare CEO Brandi Swindell and Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance speak at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference. / Credit: CPAC Screenshot/Rumble

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 24, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

With elections in the United States less than nine months away, pro-life speakers at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference are urging candidates for public office to embrace the issue of life and for lawmakers to crack down on coerced abortions. 

“At 16 weeks, a little baby girl has all her major organs, has fingernails and eyebrows, can hear and respond to her mother’s voice, and can feel pain,” Penny Nance, the CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, said during a panel titled “Babies-R-Us.” 

“She’s an important part of our human family,” Nance said. 

The panel addressed the upcoming elections in the U.S., which includes races for the presidency, every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 34 seats in the United States Senate. In 13 states, there will be elections for governor and several states will also hold local races. 

Nance criticized the “media” and the Washington, D.C., “consulting class,” which she claims has fed false narratives of the abortion issue.

“The other side thinks abortion should be legal any time, any reason, any number, at any point in gestation, all paid for by the taxpayer,” Nance continued. “That is an extremist position.”

Since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, more than 20 states have passed into law stricter limits on abortion. However, in every state in which abortion policy was directly placed on the ballot via a ballot initiative since the overturning of Roe, every pro-life ballot initiative has failed and every pro-abortion initiative has succeeded.

Brandi Swindell, the founder and CEO of the pro-life pregnancy center group Stanton Healthcare, also spoke on the panel and emphasized the need to end coerced abortion. 

“If you are a victim or a survivor of abortion abuse, we believe you, we stand with you, and we will not abandon your stories, and there is help and hope,” Swindell said. “We have got to end abortion abuse as a society.” 

Stanton Healthcare is launching a new initiative and website to combat coerced abortion, which includes seeking criminal charges against anyone who has forced a woman to abort her child. Swindell said the organization already has 2,000 affidavits for confirmed cases of abortion abuse that they are looking into.

Swindell claims that the pro-abortion movement, including Planned Parenthood, “has normalized and enabled” abortion abuse. She said pro-life pregnancy centers provide alternatives for women who desire to keep their children.

“We stop the cycle of substance abuse, of domestic abuse, all these different things, of poverty, economic issues,” Swindell said.” When a woman finds hope through unexpected pregnancy, she gets her life together and does what’s best for her baby and what’s best for her if she has access to quality health care services that are life-affirming.”

During the panel, Nance encouraged women who regret their abortions and men who regret their participation in abortions to join the pro-life movement. “Our movement is replete with people who deeply regret their abortions,” Nance said.

“At the cross of Jesus Christ, he forgives all sin,” Nance continued. “There’s nothing you could ever have done that’s bad enough that he won’t love you, he won’t forgive you, and he won’t be in a relationship with you and want to spend eternity with you.”

CPAC is an annual event that features leading conservative speakers from the U.S. and around the world. The event, which is held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, began on Feb. 21 and concludes on Feb. 24.

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage: When is it passing through your town?

The National Eucharistic Revival recleased a detailed map of the upcoming pilgrimage routes ahead of the National Eucharistic Congress. / Credit: National Eucharistic Revival

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 23, 2024 / 18:25 pm (CNA).

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage released a schedule of all the stops along the four pilgrimage routes planned across the country and ending at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis this July. 

The stops, which were announced by organizers on Thursday, include shrines, cathedrals, parishes, cultural sites, and parks.  

At the stops, the faithful in the area will have the chance to join in the national event by participating in Mass, adoration, devotions, praise and worship, and fellowship as well as have opportunities to accompany the Eucharist on the streets as part of the pilgrimage.

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, Inc., said that “a cross-country pilgrimage of this scale has never been attempted before.”

“It will be a tremendously powerful action of witness and intercession as it interacts with local parish communities at stops all along the way,” Glemkowski said. “Following Jesus and praying through cities and rural towns is going to be life-changing for the Church across America.”

He also stressed that Catholics in communities across the country are “invited to be part of the historic movement to set hearts ablaze.”

What is the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage? 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is being organized in conjunction with a three-year-long Eucharistic revival campaign by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

The national pilgrimage consists of four different routes beginning on opposite sides of the country and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21.

Collectively the four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes will traverse 6,500 miles, 27 states, and 65 dioceses while carrying Christ in the Eucharist. 

The organizers are calling it “our national Emmaus moment” after the biblical passage in which Jesus walked with two of his disciples along the road to Emmaus. Through this campaign, the bishops plan to rededicate the country to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Where can I meet up with it? 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s four routes are the Marian Route from the north, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route from the east, the St. Juan Diego Route from the south, and the St. Junipero Serra Route from the west. 

To see when the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is making a stop near you, click here

The Northern “Marian Route” will begin with a Pentecost Mass and Eucharistic procession at a historic site in the Lake Itasca region of Minnesota.

The Eastern “Seton Route” begins with Mass at the birthplace of the Knights of Columbus, St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 18. 

The Southern “Juan Diego Route” will begin with a Pentecost Mass on May 19 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Brownsville, Texas, just a few minutes’ walk from the U.S. border with Mexico. 

The Western “Junipero Serra Route” will begin on May 18 with solemn vespers and adoration at the historic Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, at which Serra once celebrated Mass. 

Who will be leading the pilgrimages? 

According to the statement, each route will be led by a team of eight “Perpetual Pilgrims,” who have already been selected and whose names will be announced on March 11. 

A “rotating cadre” of 30 Franciscan Friars of the Renewal will provide “ecclesial support” for the pilgrims. 

How can I participate? 

Participating in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is simple and costs nothing. Exact details on individual events at pilgrimage stops, including registration information, are available on the route pages

You can also participate by walking portions of the pilgrimage with the Perpetual Pilgrims. To do so, organizers ask that you register, which you can do by clicking here.

After Alabama Supreme Court’s embryo personhood ruling, what comes next?

Technician does control check of the in vitro fertilization process using a microscope. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 23, 2024 / 17:50 pm (CNA).

An Alabama Supreme Court decision that established the personhood of frozen embryos drew praise from pro-life groups. The possible wider effects of the decision, meanwhile, remain shrouded in uncertainty. 

The state Supreme Court ruled that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could have wide-reaching effects on in vitro fertilization treatments.

The nine-judge court said in the 8-1 ruling that the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act is “sweeping and unqualified” and that its provisions extend to children “regardless of their location.”

“It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation,” the ruling said. “It is not the role of this court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy.”

The court’s decision came about as part of a lawsuit brought by several parents whose frozen embryos had been accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. The plaintiffs had argued that the destruction fell under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

Pro-life advocates praised the decision. Katie Daniel, the state policy director for SBA Pro-Life America, said in a statement to CNA that the court in its ruling “recognized what is obvious and a scientific fact — life begins at conception.” 

“That does not mean fertility treatment is prohibited,” Daniel said. “Rather it means fertility treatments need not carelessly or intentionally destroy the new life created.” 

“Alabama or anyone concerned by this decision can look to Louisiana, which has had a law in place since the 1980s that requires IVF be practiced in a more ethical way,” she said. She noted that “1,000 babies are born every year in that state as a result of IVF.”

Lila Rose, the president and founder of Live Action, likewise said after the ruling that the decision “affirms the scientific reality that a new human life begins at the moment of fertilization.”

“This ruling, which involved a wrongful-death claim brought by parents against a fertility clinic that negligently caused the death of their children, rightly acknowledged the humanity of unborn children created through in vitro fertilization,” Rose said, calling the decision “an important step towards applying equal protection for all.”

Will it affect other states?

Though the ruling was understandably welcomed by pro-life advocates, it is less certain how the court decision may play out beyond the state of Alabama.

The question before the state Supreme Court was whether or not frozen embryos should be considered children under Alabama state statute. Jay Tidmarsh, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, told CNA that the ruling “decided only a question of state law.”

“On whether this will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, I think many people do not realize that the U.S. Supreme Court decides only issues of federal law,” Tidmarsh said. 

“On matters of [Alabama] state law, the Alabama Supreme Court has the final word, not the United States Supreme Court,” Tidmarsh said. 

“For the United States Supreme Court to become involved in this case, therefore, the Alabama decision must involve an issue of federal law,” he said.

The Constitution established the Supreme Court as overseeing cases involving “controversies to which the United States shall be a party,” as well as “controversies between two or more states.” The Alabama decision “does not decide or invoke any matter of federal law,” Tidmarsh pointed out. 

“I could well imagine some theories of federal law that the decision might implicate, but none of those theories was mentioned in the opinion,” he said. 

Danielle Pimentel, who serves as policy counsel at Americans United for Life, echoed Tidmarsh’s assessment. 

“Right now I don’t see there are any federal questions to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court,” she said. The decision was “focused on Alabama law and will stay within Alabama,” she said.

The ruling “doesn’t limit IVF or access to it,” she pointed out. “It simply ensures that both the parents and the children are protected under the Wrongful Death of the Minor Act. If the fertility clinic is acting negligently, parents can potentially bring a civil claim.”

The state Supreme Court’s decision, meanwhile, is only part of the lawsuit brought by the parents whose embryonic children had died at the fertility clinic, Pimentel noted. 

“[The court’s ruling] wasn’t a ruling on the merits,” she said. “We still don’t know what a trial court will decide on whether the defendants have violated the act. I think we’ll have to wait and see what the trial court decides.”

The Catholic Church has long condemned the IVF process and the production of embryos. There are now an estimated 1 million frozen embryos in the U.S. alone.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted.”

The Holy Father had noted at the time that there “seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.” 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, meanwhile, wrote in the 1987 document Donum Vitae that even an IVF and embryo-transfer procedure that is “free of any compromise with the abortive practice of destroying embryos and with masturbation remains a technique which is morally illicit because it deprives human procreation of the dignity which is proper and connatural to it.”

CPAC speakers stress the role of faith in healing from sex trafficking

null / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Faith plays an important role in the healing process for those who have survived human trafficking, a victim of sex trafficking and a founder of a shelter for victims shared during a panel discussion at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Just remember that when you were little, when all of you were small, just like myself, there are dreams … ideas and thoughts about life and what you want to be; who you want to be,” said Tanya Gould, who was a victim of human trafficking and now serves as the director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Office of the Attorney General of Virginia.

“It takes faith to believe that you’re still that person after all of that has happened to you,” Gould said.

An important part of the recovery process, according to Gould, was “having people and places and folks that believe in … just me being human — who I am and being [made] in the image of God.”

Elizabeth Ameling, the founder and executive director of The Latisha’s House Foundation, which provides housing for sex trafficking victims, said those who work at her shelter tell women that “they’ve always been loved and there’s no one like them,” adding that the group’s housing manager tells them: “You’re the apple of God’s eye, he only made one of you, [and] you’re perfect.”

“We say that to them because [most of them] don’t have moms and dads — overwhelmingly their parents are dead or in prison,” Ameling said. “They have to have that connection. If they develop that while they’re in our house, they do better going through counseling, they do better dealing with addiction and it is transformative because it lets them know they’re loved.”

The panelists also discussed efforts to combat human trafficking through law enforcement and government initiatives.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, another member of the panel, encouraged officials to go after those who purchase sexual services from women, noting that many of the women are victims of trafficking. He said that this emphasis, which his state is focusing on through Operation Buyer’s Remorse, ensures that women who are victims are not being prosecuted.

“Don’t buy sex in Ohio,” Yost said. “If the money dries up, the trafficking will dry up.”

Yost added that the influx of people immigrating into the United States illegally has heightened the problem of sex and labor trafficking in the United States. He argued that this problem is “dispersing everywhere” and is not just taking place in states that border Mexico.

“There’s no such thing as a border state anymore,” Yost said. “Or maybe I should say every state is a border state.”

Gould also highlighted the importance of raising awareness of sex trafficking as a means to combat the illicit market. She said a major part of Virginia’s efforts includes awareness to businesses and employees.

CPAC is an annual event that hosts conservative and Republican speakers. The event, which is located at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, began on Feb. 21 and concludes on Feb. 24.

Catholic University installs Crucifixion artwork by imprisoned Catholic activist Jimmy Lai

A drawing of the Crucifixion by imprisoned Catholic and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai is unveiled by Lai's godfather, William McGurn, and his wife and daughter at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Feb. 22, 2024. / Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 23, 2024 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., has installed a drawing of the Crucifixion by imprisoned Hong Kong Catholic and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.

Father Robert Sirico, a supporter and friend of Lai’s, said during the installation ceremony on Thursday that the sketch is a testimony “not just of Jimmy’s struggle but the struggle of all people of Hong Kong” and “all of the people of China, who will, by faith, resist [oppression].”

The large drawing depicts Christ on the cross flanked by eight orange flowers. It was created by Lai in prison, where, according to Sirico, he has been kept in solitary confinement for close to 1,500 days.

A drawing of the Crucifixion created in prison by Catholic Hong Konger and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai now on display at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America
A drawing of the Crucifixion created in prison by Catholic Hong Konger and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai now on display at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America

The picture was blessed by university chaplain Father Aquinas Guilbeau. It is now on permanent display by the St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Catholic University’s Busch School of Business.

Catholic University Chaplain and Vice President of Ministry and Mission Father Aquinas Guilbeau, OP, blesses a drawing of the Crucifixion by imprisoned Catholic and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai on Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America
Catholic University Chaplain and Vice President of Ministry and Mission Father Aquinas Guilbeau, OP, blesses a drawing of the Crucifixion by imprisoned Catholic and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai on Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America

Who is Jimmy Lai?

A successful entrepreneur, newspaper owner, Catholic, and outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Lai has been in a Hong Kong prison since 2020 for his pro-democracy and free speech advocacy.

The activist, a convert to Catholicism, was originally arrested in August 2020 under that year’s controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government. The law sharply curtailed free speech in Hong Kong in an effort to quash what the Chinese Communist Party considered subversion and sedition in the separately administered region.

The plaque below Lai’s drawing at Catholic University explains that he “cites his Catholic faith as the basis for his refusal to be silenced or flee to save himself from arrest.”

Sirico said that the Hong Kong activist willingly chose to give up his comfortable, affluent life by resisting the CCP and refusing to leave Hong Kong. Although Hong Kongers have for years enjoyed a greater degree of freedom than that found in mainland China, that is now quickly changing as Chinese officials crack down on the region.

“If I go away, I not only give up my destiny, I give up God, I give up my religion, I give up what I believe in,” Lai said in 2020. “I am what I am. I am what I believe. I cannot change it. And if I can’t change it, I have to accept my fate with praise.”

Sirico told CNA that Lai sees his imprisonment as a way of joining in Christ’s passion on the cross. He said that the drawing should serve as an inspiring reminder that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Father Robert Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute and producer of a documentary on Jimmy Lai called "The Hong Konger," gives an address at the installation and blessing of a drawing of the crucifixion by Lai at The Catholic University of America's Busch School of Business, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America
Father Robert Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute and producer of a documentary on Jimmy Lai called "The Hong Konger," gives an address at the installation and blessing of a drawing of the crucifixion by Lai at The Catholic University of America's Busch School of Business, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America

In prison, Sirico said that Lai has devoted himself to religious reading and prayer. He has also begun creating religious drawings, mostly pictures of the Crucifixion, like the one now on display at Catholic University.

A symbol of resistance

CUA has been a vocal supporter of Lai in previous years. In 2022, the university awarded Lai an honorary degree.

Dr. Peter Kilpatrick, Catholic University’s president, told CNA that Lai “represents resistance to real oppression” and that he “represents freedom.”  

Kilpatrick said that he hopes students will look at the drawing and learn about Lai and his resistance in Hong Kong and realize that “there are still people in the world who are willing to fight for the truth and who are willing to fight for freedom.”

“I see freedoms being denied all around the world,” Kilpatrick said. “In 2024, we may have to fight harder … not just in Hong Kong, but perhaps right here in the United States, for freedom to worship as we should and must, for the freedom and the dignity of the human person, which is under assault.”

Chen Guangcheng, a world-renowned Chinese human rights activist known commonly as the “barefoot lawyer,” was also at the dedication ceremony. He told CNA that he came to show his support for Lai. 

“Jimmy Lai is a good person,” Guangcheng said. “He used his media to see the truth; that is why the CCP persecuted him.” 

Guangcheng urged Americans to do more in support of freedom in Hong Kong and mainland China.

“I think if the Western people and government stand with them, the situation still can change,” he said.

She left a wild lifestyle but thanks to the Virgin Mary found true happiness in God

Irasema Ángel, 43, describes her past life as "a glass box full of lies," where there was no freedom or full happiness. / Credit: Courtesy of Irasema Ángel

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 23, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Irasema Ángel, 43, exchanged a life of comfort for a life that now seeks to please God. Her testimony is proof of the importance of conversion in the lives of Christians.

From a very young age, Ángel — a Mexican national who resides in the United States — was involved in “a life full of luxuries,” a reality that she herself described as “a glass box full of lies,” where freedom and complete happiness did not exist.

Speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Ángel shared that her relationship with her father was always distant, which marked her youth. “At a certain point my father was unfaithful to my mother, and that’s when my heart broke,” she said.

When she was only 14, Ángel adopted a rebellious lifestyle, marked by feminism, hedonism, and self-sufficiency. This superficiality led her to distance herself from everyone, including her family, but especially from God and the sacraments.

“I thought I was the master of my own life and that I didn’t have to answer to anyone,” she said.

Born in the Mexican state of Baja California, she commented that “it was very common” for American influence to be very strong there — especially Hollywood — and she recognized that it had a profound impact on her way of conceiving the world.

“Hollywood knew how to sell me movies, fashion, music, and pornography. This deforms your identity and dignity as a daughter of God,” Ángel said. In addition, she noted that at that time she only thought about “having a good time and having fun.”

Thus the years went by: between bars and nightclubs, from Thursday to Sunday nonstop. Soon the parties became an occasion for drugs and lust. 

“No one educated me and it was very easy not to control myself. That made me a slave to passions,” she said. “In my case, I didn’t know the difference between love and lust. I was without shame or modesty.”

This way of living, Ángel said, permeated all aspects of her reality with frivolity from her way of dressing to the way she spoke and behaved — a situation that after several years changed radically when the Mother of God intervened in her life.

The Virgin Mary 

After a long personal process in which Ángel left her past life behind and began to be formed in the faith, she began to attend Mass at a parish in San Diego. There she “strived to fulfill the will of God,” but it was still difficult for her to overcome some situations that had been ingrained in her for a long time.

At that moment when her faith began to falter, a friend invited her to participate in a traditional dance in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At each of the meetings, the dance group prayed the rosary before and after each rehearsal in preparation for the pilgrimage on Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

That day Ángel was just one of the pilgrims who venerated the Virgin. She commented that during the trip she didn’t feel anything in particular, but when she entered the church at the end of the procession, she was overcome with tears, which she still cannot explain. 

“I didn’t know what was happening. I had never asked the Virgin for anything directly, but I did ask God for my conversion every day. Then [Our Lady] came and rescued me from the clutches of Satan,” she recounted.

From that moment on, Ángel left behind the sins of her past life. 

“That’s how Mary came into my life and I made a clean break with mortal sin,” she said, adding that “I started to heal my wounds. God gave me another chance.”

The Mexican woman has been “walking hand in hand with Christ” for 18 years now. For her, the only goal that a human being should aspire to is to achieve holiness. She calls on young people to “not settle for less” and for “their standards and expectations to always be high.”

“Aspire to holiness. It’s a path that’s not easy, but with Jesus and Mary it really is possible,” she said. “For me that is true success, not what the world offers you. This is true heroism.”

“The success you seek is God’s dream for your life because it protects you from false love, it makes you less selfish, more generous, it gives you back your personality, your identity, and your character,” Ángel explained.

To learn more about Irasema Ángel and her conversion story, you can follow her on Facebook and on X.

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

CPAC panelists sound alarm amid transgender-related parental rights battles

Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project discusses gender policy for minors with Dr. Eithan Haim and CPAC panel moderator Meg Brock of the Daily News Foundation. / Credit: Screenshot of CPAC 2024/Rumble

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 22, 2024 / 22:08 pm (CNA).

The president of the American Principles Project, Terry Schilling, warned that the “transgender industry” is waging a “war on families” amid efforts by states to tear children away from parents who refuse to facilitate their children’s gender transitions.

“They are declaring war on families,” said Schilling, a Catholic, during a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on Thursday.

The panel — titled “Genesis 1:27” in reference to the biblical affirmation that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” — delved into concerns about state governments imposing gender ideology on families and allowing surgical sex-change operations to be performed on children in more than half of the country.

The panelists specifically referenced the situation in Indiana, where the state government took a 15-year-old out of his parents’ custody after the teenager began to identify as transgender. The Catholic parents, Mary and Jeremy Cox, refused to refer to their son as a girl based on their belief that sex is immutable, and he developed an eating disorder.

Although the Indiana Court of Appeals could not substantiate any abuse or neglect from the parents, the judges still removed the child from the home and placed him with a family that would refer to him as a girl as a means to address the eating disorder. The appellate ruling occurred in October 2022, but the parents asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case last week.

The panelists also discussed the growing trend in states such as California, Washington, and Minnesota to pass laws that allow out-of-state runaway children to receive transgender surgeries without the knowledge or consent of their parents. 

Schilling said these laws and state actions “incriminate parents for doing their jobs” by punishing them “for protecting their children from this [transgender] industry that will quite literally chew them up and spit them out with destroyed bodies.” 

The Catholic father of six criticized what he called the “transgender for-profit industry,” which he said is enriching itself by providing transgender drugs to children and facilitating sex-change operations.

Schilling was joined on the panel by Dr. Eithan Haim, who was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for leaking details about a secretive program to facilitate sex changes for children at the Texas Children’s Hospital.

Haim encouraged doctors to speak up about the harm caused by facilitating gender transitions for children, arguing that “we take an oath when we go into medical school and we follow this path that we should do no harm, [and] that doesn’t just apply to the clinic [or] to the operating room … but it applies outside of that.” 

“These doctors [who facilitate sex changes for children] have believed they can become God and create something new when the actual goal of medicine is to preserve and strengthen what’s already been created,” Haim added.

The panel was hosted by Meg Brock of the Daily Caller News Foundation. This year’s CPAC proceedings continue through Saturday, Feb. 24.

Art as a leap of faith: Kansas artist quits job to paint murals to revitalize parish

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest, prophet, and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." / Courtesy: Mattie Karr

CNA Staff, Feb 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

An artist in Kansas is revitalizing her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. 

Mattie Karr’s three-paneled recently-completed murals will be installed at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

Karr studied illustration at the University of Kansas but left behind her dreams of filmmaking to move into a more secure corporate role after school. But when Father Anthony Oulette, pastor of Holy Name, discovered Karr was an artist, he told her about his idea for the parish.

“He took me to the church and was like well, I have this idea; I have tons of ideas to renovate the church,” Karr recalled. “And he told me on the left side there would be Pentecost and St. Michael at the top and Mary in the middle, and then on the right side would be St. Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple with Gabriel at the top. He wanted them to mimic the beautiful stained-glass windows that we have.”

Karr accepted the mural commission in 2020, and in September 2022, she left her full-time job and launched her career in sacred art, beginning with the Holy Name commission. Oulette organized fundraising and built the panels for the art in his garage.

The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr
The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr

“I remember leading up to it, this voice in my head, like ‘what if God’s not even real.’ It was crazy,” she said. “I love Jesus so much and I know that he is real, but there was really this temptation of like, you’re gonna base your entire life and your entire career and your safety, security, money off of this person who you think is alive and is real — like what if God’s not even real?” 

But the leap of faith slowly began to prove itself. 

When Karr needed visual references for the figures in the art, she and Oulette decided to ask parishioners to volunteer. They both had the same parishioner in mind for Mary: Leticia DeCaigny.

When Karr was taking photos of the parishioners in costume for reference, she found out there was a deeper connection for DeCaigny.

DeCaigny and her husband lost their 8-year-old son after his five-year battle with cancer. 

“She was like, ‘We lost our son to cancer about 10 years ago, so I know what it’s like to walk with the suffering son. I feel very close to Mary and this is a confirmation that she sees me and that she’s with me,’” Karr recalled DeCaigny saying. “She came with her husband; her husband’s in it too as a disciple … and he was just in tears, and it was very moving.”

This affected Karr’s view of the project. 

“This project really is not mine: that’ what I felt like in my heart,” she recalled. “I’m participating in this, I’m painting it, and gathering models, but this is so much bigger than me. Because there’s no way I could have known that, I just chose her because I liked her hair. I didn’t know that her story was really linked to Mary. And so that was a huge gift I think for her, but also for me.”

“It’s not just a piece of art,” she continued, “but it’s really something to impact the people who are going to be involved in it and the people who are going to see it, for hopefully many many years.”

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

The scenes Oulette chose mean something special to the parish, Karr explained. 

“The Lord has such unique things to say to all of us,” she said. “My parish, for instance, is very Holy Spirit-driven. I don’t know if I’d call it a charismatic parish per se, but we love the Holy Spirit, and so having a scene of Pentecost is really important for our parish. And then our name is Holy Name of Jesus, and so the other [triptych] is the scene of Jesus the day of his circumcision, which is when he would receive his holy name.”

Karr’s depiction of the presentation of Jesus features Joseph holding Jesus before a priest, when he was presented with his holy name, with Joseph’s ancestors gathered in the background, holding candles. The archangel Gabriel looks upon the scene from above, holding a lantern over the blue, candlelit scene.

“And so these paintings, they could be replicated in another parish, but I don’t know if they would have the same effect,” she said. “The Holy Spirit has something so unique for each community, for each person, because he knows us so well.”

The Pentecost and Holy Name triptychs are scheduled to be installed at Holy Name by Easter or Pentecost, Karr said, noting that much of the work is volunteer-based. 

When asked about the importance of art, Karr shared about the intimate effect beauty can have. 

“[Art] really helps draw people out of despair and depression,” Karr said. “I’ll be the first one to tell you that beauty has drawn me out of my own depression.”

Karr recalls a moment when she was painting the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 

“Even with this triptych, I was painting little baby Jesus at a time that I was not doing very well, and just looking in his eyes and looking at his face, it was like he was communicating with me, like I was having this conversation with him,” she said. “And it just broke through in a way that I can’t really explain.” 

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

When asked about her own faith journey, Karr shared the role of beauty and art in it. 

“I always wanted to go on an adventure for God,” Karr said. “This was something that was really a desire of mine from a young age. I remember reading ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a family, and my dad explaining how Aslan was like God and Jesus, and how there are all these analogies. I think deep down I just knew that if I said yes to God I’d be on a wonderful adventure just like Narnia.”

"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr
"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr

“And obviously life is difficult,” she continued. “It wasn’t always this adventure and I got into some pretty dark moments … in college, [I] had some pretty dark depression. But God, he rescued me in real, personal, and deep ways through those moments of depression.” 

After an experience of someone praying over her, Karr said that her work in healing ministries and art helped strengthen her faith. 

“I call it my tomb year. There was a summer, in 2018, that I was just dead; I just felt depressed and I hated God and I didn’t understand — and he seemed far from me,” she said. “I wasn’t living this adventure that I thought I would, I just felt embarrassed all the time and insecure and I didn’t think that anyone really loved me even though they said they did — just depression, really. And he came through in a really powerful way through somebody praying over me.”

Through that experience, Karr became more involved in healing ministries and says that since then she “really [has known] that Jesus is really good, and he loves me, and he wants to be in every part of my life.”

“But I think that has really played a role in my art, too, because I think that art can have a really important role in healing; because our wounds are so dark and ugly and we often times think that we are dark and ugly, and so we mask up and try to create these false identities and these false selves to make us feel better,” she said. “But beauty has this way of just shining a light through that and being vulnerable and getting to the heart of the issue.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr
Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr

Karr says it’s important that churches are different from other buildings. 

“I don’t want my church to look just like another retreat hall or a school or something. I want it to look different because church is different; because Mass is different; Mass is supernatural,” she continued. “We’re communing with God; we’re receiving God into our bodies, so it should look different.”

“The Catholic Church used to be the leader in the arts and I don’t think we’re the leader in the arts anymore,” she said. “People are creating beautiful art in Hollywood and in video games. And our churches … we’re just lacking so much, is what I can see. And so if we’re going to be Catholic artists we need to be excellent. We need to strive for excellence.”

“If you want your space to be beautiful, you need to invest in it,” Karr said. 

“We need art in our churches to draw people up higher and to recognize when you come into church, it’s different than any other place that you’re going to be,” she said. 

Art is now Karr’s full-time job. She takes commissions for churches and individuals, sells prints on her website, and does live wedding paintings. Karr shares project updates for the Holy Name triptychs on her social media.

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr