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‘A willingness to start with ‘yes’’: How one Catholic school graduated its first student with Down syndrome

Pastor of St. Augustine's, Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. (right) and admissions director Paula O'Dea (left) hand Abby Aguedelo her diploma on graduation day. / Wendy Agudelo

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

Tears flowed down the faces of Abigail “Abby” Agudelo’s classmates, as earlier this year she became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from St. Augustine’s School in Andover, Massachusetts. 

“We know other parochial schools in Massachusetts are striving to do the same today,” Abby’s mother, Wendy Agudelo, told CNA in an interview in August. “And because of Abby’s experience, other families who desire a Catholic school education for all of their children, including those containing a family member with special needs, are now looking at parochial school education as opportunistic.”

Because of her own mother’s strong Catholic faith, Wendy Agudelo had always wanted a Catholic education for all of her children. She also hoped Abby would have an academic path with “full inclusion,” and would not be placed in a classroom separate from other students. 

After Abby’s time in public preschool, however, her mother was not certain of a combination of Catholic education and full classroom inclusion.

“We noticed a divide between what we wanted for Abigail and what the school felt she should receive given her diagnosis,” she said in an email to CNA. 

It was during Agudelo’s search for a school that then-St. Augustine principal Paula O’Dea and pastor Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. stepped into the breach, and decided that St. Augustine’s would accommodate Abby's needs. 

“When Abby and her wonderful parents first made their inquiry to us at St. Augustine School about enrolling, the principal and I were concerned that we might not have available all that Abby would need for a successful experience,” Gori told CNA in an email. “We and Abby's parents all agreed to give it a try and that there would be no hard feelings if things didn't work out.” 

Gori said that Abby’s parents were “right all along” in believing that Abby would thrive at St. Augustine’s. “We received from her as much or more than she did from us,” Gori said. “It was a delight and a blessing every day and every year to have Abby at St. Augustine School.”  

Wendy Agudelo told CNA that, in general, parochial schools may not have a significant amount of resources. She noted organizations that exist to educate and support parochial schools interested in broadening their demographics. She named the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion and the FIRE Foundation as a few examples of these groups.

“Not every parochial school, or administrator for that matter, is interested in this path,” Wendy Agudelo said. “It comes with its set of challenges, but also great reward.”

She said that those who choose the path that St. Augustine’s School chose “ultimately earn the greatest return on investment.” 

“Nine years ago,” Paula O’Dea told CNA, “we didn't have any teachers with a moderate disabilities certification. Now, we have a lot of teachers with that as their second degree, and we'll have two full-time special ed teachers on site.” O’Dea is currently admissions director for St. Augustine’s.

O’Dea, who was the school’s principal at the time of Abby’s entrance, believes that St. Augustine’s was the only elementary school in the Archdiocese of Boston to accept a student with Down syndrome.

She told CNA that in Abby’s time at public school, her parents observed her in the corner of the classroom with a special education teacher, “not really being included in anything in the classroom.”

When Abby first arrived at the school, O’Dea said the school decided that, in order to properly live out its Catholic mission, it needed to find ways to support any student who wanted to attend. 

The school partnered with local Merrimack College to hire a student studying moderate disabilities as a subsidized, full-time teacher to support Abby. O’Dea said the school’s decision was a success, because it was affordable and effective for Abby. St. Augustine continues to have a “Merrimack Fellow” today.

O’Dea said that hiring the Merrimack Fellow was “a very small investment financially for us to have such a great outcome in the end.” She says she would recommend it as an alternative to hiring a full-time special education teacher for the classroom. 

Abby’s parents said that they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the administration and staff throughout Abby’s schooling. They encouraged teachers at every grade level to gain more professional development and experience with special needs through local conferences and workshops. 

While working full time, both of Abby’s parents spent much of their time at St. Augustine’s volunteering at Kindergarten centers, the lunchroom, as a chaperone on numerous field trips, and as active guild members helping to run events and fundraisers.

Wendy Agudelo said that partnering and collaborating with the school “every step of the way” bore amazing results.  

“In my opinion,” Agudelo said, “it’s not about available resources as much as it is a willingness to start with ‘yes’ and work together towards a shared goal.” 

“We’re not alone and believe that the more families know, the more armed with opportunity they become,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have found such great academic partners for our children, but pepper in some serious faith and a sprinkling of compassion, and nothing is impossible!” 

“Abby’s achievement is very impressive,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, to CNA. “But the biggest impact is the effect she had on the entire school community.  They all were blessed to have her as a classmate or student.”

Archbishops criticize ‘outrageous’ claims against St Junipero Serra

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco (left) and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles (right) / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

A California bill to replace a statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol unfairly slanders the saint’s legacy, two archbishops claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Sunday, Sept. 12. 

Last month, California lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass Assembly Bill 338, which would replace the statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol with one honoring local Indigenous populations. The bill text claims that Serra and his missions were responsible for a host of atrocities against native peoples. 

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, becoming the first saint to be canonized on American soil. A Franciscan friar from Spain, he left a prestigious university chair in Majorca for what is now the United States in 1749, founding a system of missions to evangelize the Indigenous in modern-day California. He celebrated more than 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations.

The bill text states that “[Indigenous] history and contributions have been relatively ignored, written with great discrepancies and false mythologies.” 

“One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra,” the bill states, claiming that Serra oversaw the mission system which included “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

These claims about Serra are false, said Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in their op-ed. 

“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they wrote.

The archbishops wrote that the lawmakers drew from “a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.” That book, “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” is cited in the bill as “a more accurate and complete account of the period.” 

“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”

The archbishops described Serra as a “complex character,” but one who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” 

Serra, the archbishops noted, traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City when he was aged and infirm “to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written.”

“Mr. Newsom knows California history well enough to see that the claims against Serra aren’t true,” they said. “In 2019 he apologized for the state’s history of injustice against native people, acknowledging that it was California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, who launched what Burnett called ‘a war of extermination.’”

That “war of extermination,” the archbishops pointed out, began more than 60 years after Serra had died. 

“The destruction of the state’s native people happened long after he was gone and many of the missions had been taken over by the government,” they said. 

The statue of St. Junipero Serra was toppled by protesters in June 2020, and has since been in a storage area. Instead of replacing the statue, however, the archbishops proposed adding an additional statue at the capitol to honor the state’s Indigenous populations. 

“How we choose to remember the past shapes the people we hope to be in the future,” they said. “We can think of no better symbol for this multiethnic state committed to human dignity and equality than to place two statues at the California Capitol—one celebrating the living heritage of California’s indigenous peoples, another reflecting the faith and leadership of their defender St. Junípero Serra.”

Pope Francis implores Slovakia’s Christians to pursue ‘freedom’ in Christ over comfort

Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. / VAMP Pool

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

After he arrived in Slovakia on Sunday, Pope Francis exhorted the country’s Christian leaders to prefer God to comfort and security.

Noting the rise of religious freedom in Slovakia in recent years, “after the years of atheistic persecution” of the communist government, Pope Francis implored Christians not to fall into “interior bondage.”

He made his remarks to members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia. The council consists of seven member churches and five observer churches and religious societies, which include Latin Rite Catholics as well as Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist Evangelical and Jewish congregations. The Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava hosted Sunday’s ecumenical meeting.

Pope Francis noted “how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom. For there is always the temptation to return to slavery, not that of a regime, but one even worse: an interior bondage.”

“Dear brothers, may this not happen to us! Let us help one another never to fall into the trap of being satisfied with bread and little else,” he said at the meeting. “Then our goal is no longer ‘the freedom we have in Christ Jesus,’ his truth that sets us free, but the staking out of spaces and privileges, which, as far as the Gospel is concerned, are ‘bread and little else’.”

Present at Sunday’s live-streamed meeting was the president of the ecumenical council, Bishop Ivan Elko of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic. He expressed the desire for mutual blessing among churches.

Crises in one church “brings us all down together,” he said. “We want to bless one another, and look at each other with good will.” Metropolitan Rastislav of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia was also present at the meeting.

Pope Francis arrived in Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12, in the Central European country with a population of 5.5 million. It is the first papal visit to Slovakia since 2003.

He addressed the ecumenical event and, later on Sunday, was scheduled to meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus in Slovakia. Later in the week, the pope will travel to the Slovakian cities of Prešov, Košice and Šaštin where he will meet with political authorities, the local Jewish community, and Catholic bishops and clergy.

He traveled to Slovakia from Hungary, where earlier on Sunday he offered Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest and met with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

“I am here as a pilgrim in Slovakia, and you are here as welcome guests in this Nunciature!” the pope told the Christian leaders.

After being greeted by the president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, the Pope delivered his remarks, followed by the prayer of Psalm 103. He then greeted the participants individually.

Pope Francis called the meeting “a sign that the Christian faith is – and deserves to be – a seed of unity and leaven of fraternity in this country.”

He asked those present to consider the state of the Christian faith in Europe, and pleaded for unity among Christians.

“Here, from the heart of Europe, we can ask: have we Christians lost some of our zeal for the preaching of the Gospel and for prophetic witness?” he asked.

“It is hard to expect Europe to be increasingly influenced and enriched by the Gospel if we are untroubled by the fact that on this continent we are not yet fully united and are unconcerned for one another.”

The pope proposed two suggestions in response to the challenge: contemplation and serving the poor.

“Unity is not attained so much by good intentions and agreement about some shared value, but by doing something concrete, together, for those who bring us closest to the Lord. Who are they? They are the poor, for in them Jesus is present,” he said.

“May the gift of God be present on the table of all, so that, even though we are not yet able to share the same Eucharistic meal, we can welcome Jesus together by serving him in the poor,” he said.

He pointed to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century missionary bishops who are recognized as the “Apostles of the Slavs.” They adapted the Greek alphabet into a script for the Slavonic language, creating the “Cyrillic” alphabet used to translate the bible into Slavonic.

“As witnesses of a Christianity still marked by unity and zeal for the preaching of the Gospel, may they help us to persevere on our journey by fostering our fraternal communion in the name of Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

How 9/11 led a first responder to the priesthood

Father Tom Colucci. / Courtesy photo

Denver Newsroom, Sep 11, 2021 / 10:12 am (CNA).

On a September morning, twenty years ago, Tom Colucci was in his car driving home, weary after working the overnight shift at a firehouse in Lower Manhattan. 

Then, at 8:46am, he got a call. The city was recalling all police officers and firefighters to the World Trade Center. A plane had crashed into the North Tower. 

Colucci, a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, rushed to the scene— the South Tower was on the verge of collapse, and came tumbling down just as Colucci arrived.

The area surrounding the World Trade Center was total chaos, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do first. He had heard 40,000 people were missing. So, Colucci and the other first responders began digging through rubble on the streets. 

Less than an hour later, the North Tower fell. Tom and the other first responders continued to dig through the rubble, hoping against hope that they would find survivors. They found precious few. 

More than 340 firefighters died that day, including five from Tom’s firehouse. It was the deadliest day for first responders in U.S. history, and likely the deadliest terrorist attack ever. 

“So it was all very devastating. A lot of these guys were young guys, married, with families ...But we just pulled each other through. And also that our faith came through. Most of these guys were Catholic, and so it was the faith [that] pulled us through,” Colucci said. 

The victims included the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, Father Mychal Judge. Judge was reportedly praying the rosary and offering Last Rites in the lobby of the North Tower, and had run outside the North Tower to minister to a fallen firefighter when the South Tower collapsed.

A photographer captured the moments right after Judge’s death. A now-famous photograph shows two firefighters, a police officer, an EMT, and a civilian carrying the priest’s battered body out of the wreckage. 

“Everybody asks, ‘where was Christ that day? Couldn't he stop the planes?’ But you saw the body of Christ. Everybody that came in to help that day...You saw the country pulled together. That was the body of Christ,” Colucci commented. 

Colucci’s involvement in search and rescue efforts continued until May of 2002, when he was promoted to captain. 

Colucci had been with the New York City fire department since 1985. Now, only a few years from retirement, Colucci began revisiting his longtime interest in becoming a Catholic priest. A devout Catholic since his youth, Colucci said the priesthood had always been at the back of his mind. He said his experience on September 11th, and the witness of the heroic priests he saw that day, made him even more interested in pursuing the priesthood.

“I just saw the best that day. You know, Father Mike died the way he died, and there were other priests that came down and they were, you know, counseling the guys and a few of them were on the rubble helping us cheering us on,” he said. 

Colucci retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2005, after twenty years of service. He didn’t enter the seminary right away. He had sustained a head injury while on the job a few months earlier and needed two brain surgeries. He retreated to a Benedictine monastery in western New York to recover and to discern, for the next seven years, his call to the priesthood. 

During that time away, Colucci strengthened his prayer life, and felt even more secure in his vocation to the priesthood. In 2012, he entered Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, New York. He was ordained in 2016 at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the first retired firefighter ever to become a priest. 

Father Colucci has been a priest for a little over five years now. He’s pastor of a parish with a school in Walden, New York, north of New York City. He says he actually sees a lot of similarities between the priesthood and the fire service. 

“You serve other people. That's what a firefighter does, unselfishly he runs into burning buildings and emergency calls to help people out. And that's what a priest does. He's always available to help people out. I get calls day and night to help people in different areas, spiritually. To help them doing the sacraments, Mass and confessions...And so it's a life of service, both professions,” he said. 

Father Colucci dreams of one day being chaplain for the New York City Fire Department— and he’s on the shortlist of candidates. But for now, he stays in touch with the people he met as a firefighter, he celebrates funerals for firefighters killed in the line of duty, and he’s chaplain for a volunteer firehouse in his area. He also celebrates an annual Mass on September 11th, in Manhattan. 

“We lost 343 [firefighters] that day. And since then we've lost about 200 due to related cancers...we'll never forget the people that died that day and the great sacrifices they made,” he said. 

This story is an adaptation of Episode 111 of the CNA Newsroom podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast.

College soccer player: ‘Transgender’ sports policies violate women’s rights

null / Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A West Virginia college soccer player says that allowing only biological females to play women’s sports is a “women’s rights issue.”

“I believe that protecting fairness in women’s sports is a women’s rights issue,” said Lainey Armistead, a junior NCAA Division II soccer player at West Virginia State University, on Friday.

Armistead, represented by attorneys from the group Alliance Defending Freedom, on Friday filed a motion in federal court to intervene in a case regarding West Virginia’s Save Women’s Sports Act. The law restricts participation in women’s sports to only biological females.

“This isn’t just about fair play for me: It’s about protecting fairness and safety for female athletes across West Virginia,” Armistead stated. “It’s about ensuring that future generations of female athletes are not discriminated against but have access to the same equal athletic opportunities that shaped my life.”

Represented by the group Alliance Defending Freedom, Armistead on Friday filed a motion to intervene in a case regarding West Virginia’s Save Women’s Sports Act, B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education.

West Virginia’s law is one of a number of state laws nationwide meant to protect women’s sports. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued when the law was enacted earlier this year, and a federal court placed an injunction on the law while it is considered in court.

“As one who grew up in a house full of brothers who played soccer, and a dad who coached soccer, Lainey is well-acquainted with the physical differences that give males an athletic performance advantage,” said Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Christiana Holcomb.

“Not only that, but soccer is a rough contact sport: concussion, knee, and ankle injuries are common among female players. Add into the mix a male who races down the field at a faster pace, kicks the ball harder, and slams into other players with a larger physical frame, and the risk of injury to girls and women increases dramatically,” Holcomb said.

“She fears that too many women feel pressured to keep their real views silent, and she fears that girls might consider not playing sports at all if they feel they cannot win against a physically superior male,” the motion states.

Alliance Defending Freedom also represents female athletes in Idaho who are defending the state’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.

The group has also represented several female sprinters in Connecticut who challenged the state’s policy of allowing athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity. Beginning in 2017, two males identifying as transgender females ultimately won 15 state track championships, and one of them set ten state records previously held by ten different girls.

While the U.S. Department of Education under President Trump found that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy violated Title IX, the agency under President Biden withdrew that finding.

Federal court rules against Tennessee abortion restrictions

Tennessee state house / Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court ruled against Tennessee’s abortion restrictions on Friday, nine days after another pro-life “heartbeat” law went into effect in Texas.

In July 2020, Tennessee enacted a law restricting abortions at several stages in pregnancy, including abortions conducted after detection of a fetal heartbeat which can occur as early as six weeks post gestation.

The law also prohibited abortions conducted because of the race or sex of the baby, or because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled against both provisions, upholding a lower court’s ruling that halted them from going into effect.

Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, authoring the majority opinion, wrote that “access to pre-viability abortion is a constitutionally protected right.” Daughtrey noted that “the law remains clear that if a regulation is a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion, it is invalid.”

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List stated on Twitter that the ruling was "disappointing" and that the state's pro-life provisions were "commonsense."

"However we're confident that soon SCOTUS will once again allow states to protect life," the group stated.

The ruling comes as a Texas law restricting most abortions in the state went into effect on Sept. 1. Later this fall, the Supreme Court will also hear oral arguments in the case of a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks.

Texas’ “heartbeat” law prohibits most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, with exceptions for medical emergencies. That law is unique in that it is enforced through private party lawsuits and not by the state.

On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the law hours after it had already gone into effect.

National pro-abortion groups and the Biden administration vowed to maintain abortions in Texas, as Biden said the law “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” The Justice Department on Thursday sued Texas officials, as well as any private parties bringing lawsuits under the “heartbeat” law.

Judge Daughtrey on Friday noted the recent increase in state abortion restrictions, saying that “this development is not a signal to the courts to change course. It is, in fact, just the opposite. The judiciary exists as a check on majoritarian rule.”

“The State may not use the courts to ‘enforce [their moral principles] on the whole society through operation of the criminal law,’” Judge Daughtrey wrote.

However, Judge Amul Thapar called for the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that upheld Roe. He concurred in part and dissented in part from the majority opinion.

“None of these timing restrictions are permissible under the Roe/Casey framework,” he said of the Tennessee law. “But Roe and Casey are wrong as a matter of constitutional text, structure, and history.”

“Only seven other countries permit abortions after 20 weeks. That list includes China and North Korea—not exactly countries to emulate,” he wrote.

Regarding the law’s ban on abortions conducted for the “reason” of race, sex, or diagnosis, he said he would have upheld that provision.

“On this point, the majority stands alone,” he said. “And its decision to strike down the anti-discrimination statute at the altar of abortion is wrong.”

Catholics ask Gov. Newsom to reject St. Junipero Serra falsehoods

A statue of St. Junipero Serra outside the California capitol in Sacramento, which was destroyed by a mob July 4, 2020. / Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sacramento, Calif., Sep 10, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Misleading claims about St. Junipero Serra have made their way into a bill sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, drawing concerns and objections from several Catholic leaders who say the errors shouldn’t stand amid debate about statues of the pioneering Spanish Franciscan missionary.

After vandals knocked down a decades-old statue of Serra on the grounds of the California capitol last year, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a bill to remove a place for the Franciscan missionary saint and instead place a Native American statue on the grounds.

“The California Catholic Conference supports the intention of A.B. 338 to create a monument that represents and honors the Native peoples of California,” Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Sept. 3. “We recognize the immense contributions of the Native peoples and the terrible hardships they have endured. The support for our Native peoples need not come at the cost of spreading false information about St Junipero Serra.”

However, the Catholic conference said it “strongly objects” to the legislature’s findings presented in the bill about St. Junipero Serra and the mission system.

“Credible historians do not support the findings made in this bill, which are highly offensive and not historically accurate,” Domingo said. “The native peoples of California suffered a ‘genocide’ beginning in 1851 under California Governor Peter Burnett. This is a horrific part of our state’s history and a terrible tragedy for our Native brothers and sisters. This began long after Junipero Serra’s death in 1784.”

Junipero Serra's missions played a critical role in the spread of Christianity. Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state's largest cities, including San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. He was particularly admired in the 20th century and various statues of him were erected on public grounds.

Critics have since lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Serra himself was abusive.

But Serra's defenders say the priest was actually an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights. They note that he often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over mistreatment of native people, and the native communities themselves showed an outpouring of grief at his death.

“Catholics in California are proud of our rich history and the faith brought by St. Junipero Serra,” Domingo said. “We know that Serra and the missionaries fought for better treatment of the Native people and taught that all people have equal dignity under God. Our diverse parishes include Latinos and Native people praying together. Our Church in California must include a cooperative effort to celebrate the gifts and accomplishments of the Native people and the missions and a commitment to working together peacefully and respectfully for the better future.”

The California legislation’s purported findings side with Serra’s critics, however. The bill says, “One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra.”

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” the bill continues. “Therefore, it is critical that California address the incomplete telling of the history and contributions of Native Americans in this state and that the devastating impact of the mission period, and Father Serra’s role in that devastation, be recognized and acknowledged.”

A statue of Junipero Serra was on the California Capitol Grounds from 1965 until July 4 of last year, when about 200 demonstrators damaged it and tore it down. Some protesters at the capitol had portrayed this gathering as an effort to “decolonize the streets.” Statues of Serra were vandalized or torn down across California, including some on church grounds.

“There have been a number of incidences of vandalism to statues, church buildings and other religious structures or artwork throughout California and the U.S.,” Domingo said. “This should be of great concern to everyone, religious or not. Throughout history, church buildings have been recognized as refuges of hope and healing, and religious art has been revered. We are seeing a growing hostility in our culture toward faith and people of faith.”

 

When vandals knocked down the Serra statue at the capitol grounds, Bishop Jaime Soto acknowledged the suffering of indigenous people under Spanish colonialism and later “the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California.”

“Yet, it is also true that while Fr. Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples,” he said in July 2020.

If Newsom signs A.B. 338, it would remove the legal statute that requires a statue of Junipero Serra to be maintained on the capitol grounds and instead require a monument to Native Americans. The governor can sign the bill, veto it, send it back for modification, or do nothing, Domingo explained. He has until Oct. 10 to act on the bill.

The Thomas More Society of Orange County, a group sponsored by lay Catholic lawyers and judges, in a Sept. 2 email charged that the legislature seeks “to permanently defame” Serra’s life and legacy. The group asked its members and supporters to contact Newsom’s office and state their opposition to the statements about Father Serra in the bill.

“The St. Thomas More Society of Orange County supports the concept of constructing a monument honoring the native people of the Sacramento region,” the group said. “However, we strongly oppose the absolutely unnecessary and conclusory findings tarnishing Fr. Serra, and we are concerned how these findings may be used in the future. The monument can certainly be constructed without disparaging Fr. Serra.”

The Catholic lawyers’ group provided a sample message to the governor which called the bill “misleading, conclusory and sparse on facts.” The bill “goes much farther” than recognizing Native Americans and contains “entirely unnecessary, unsupported legislative findings that disparage Fr. Serra.”

“It is offensive to Catholics and their heritage and history in California, and contains a highly incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of a great man,” said the sample message. The message urges the governor not to sign the bill or to remove “all legislative findings” about Fr. Serra from the bill.

The Catholic group objected that the bill relies on “a singly highly questionable source” and ignores “the plethora of evidence in favor of the Apostle of California.”

Among the longtime admirers of St. Junipero Serra is Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, a Mexican-American who has often depicted Serra as another “Founding Father” of the United States.

“The sad truth is that, beginning decades ago, activists started ‘revising’ history to make St. Junipero the focus of all the abuses committed against California's indigenous peoples,” Archbishop Gomez said in a June 29, 2020 column for Angelus News. “But the crimes and abuses that our saint is blamed for--slanders that are spread widely today over the internet and sometimes repeated by public figures--actually happened long after his death.”

He praised respectful debate about Serra monuments, but also defended Serra’s example.

“He learned their languages and their ancient customs and ways,” said the archbishop. “St. Junipero came not to conquer, he came to be a brother. ‘We have all come here and remained here for the sole purpose of their well-being and salvation,’ he once wrote. ‘And I believe everyone realizes we love them’.”

“Serious scholars conclude that St. Junipero himself was a gentle man and there were no physical abuses or forced conversions while he was president of the mission system,” said Archbishop Gomez.

Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the Old Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura, told CNA last year that indigenous people are not uniformly critical of Serra.

“There is substantial evidence that among the Chumash St. Junipero Serra is revered and respected for his contributions to our county. Their voices have not been heard or respected. Their voices should have equal weight and import.” Some indigenous Americans, both in Ventura and Santa Barbara, are “appalled by the character assassination of St. Junipero Serra,” the priest reported.

Fr. Elewaut is the 30th successor of St. Junipero Serra at the San Buenaventura mission, which St. Junipero founded on Easter Sunday 1782. It was the final mission the friar founded.

“Historic fact supports the good Serra brought to the indigenous people of Alta California, his spiritual children,” he said, stating that indigenous Californians suffered the most after the mission period had ended. “Do your homework, read the historical facts, and learn who really abused the indigenous peoples. Not Serra himself and not the intent of the Mission Era.”

Pope Francis canonized Serra during his 2015 U.S. visit, making Serra the first Hispanic saint to minister in the continental U.S. He praised Serra as “the embodiment of 'a Church which goes forth', a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.”

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said. “Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.”

Providence bishop: Catholic congressman's abortion position 'terribly disappointing'

Congressman James Langevin. / (public domain)

Providence, R.I., Sep 10, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Tomas Tobin of Providence on Thursday lambasted a local congressman’s newspaper editorial which explains his support for federally codifying abortion rights, despite his Catholic faith and professed personal pro-life views.

“We are so tired of hearing Catholic politicians say, as Jim Langevin does, ‘Although I remain personally opposed to abortion . . .’ and then go on to support abortion,” Bishop Tobin wrote in a Sept. 9 statement. “That pathetic excuse doesn’t fly anymore.”

A Sept. 9 column in the Providence Journal by Rep. James Langevin, a Democrat who represents Rhode Island’s second congressional district, explains how his position on legalized abortion has “evolved.” He says his increased support for abortion rights is the reason he will be voting for the Women’s Health Protection Act when he arrives in Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.

“Although I remain personally opposed to abortion, as a matter of public policy, my position has evolved,” Langevin wrote. “I will join as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act. And when I return to Washington, D.C., in two weeks, I will vote to codify the protections afforded by Roe into federal law.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act would grant women the right to undergo an abortion, and health care workers the right to perform an abortion. It would prohibit states from restricting abortions through laws requiring mandatory ultrasounds or waiting periods before an abortion. It would also block restrictions on pre-viability abortions and on the method of abortions. 

The bill would eliminate the possibility for pro-life riders like the Hyde Amendment, which have protected Americans from paying for abortions with their tax dollars.

Abortion activist politicians have introduced the bill multiple times since 2013, but have had no success in passage. The bill has 48 co-sponsors in the Senate and 205 in the House. 

Bishop Tobin said that “although Congressman Langevin had previously attempted to nuance his pro-life position, his new statement on behalf of the ‘Women’s Health Protection Act’ removes any doubt about where he stands and is terribly disappointing.”

In his column, Langevin criticized Republicans for claiming to be pro-life while “consistently vote against policies that help millions of kids and families across our country.” 

The congressman explained how he has fought to expand access to healthcare and protect the social safety net, as well as “championed initiatives to ensure every child can find their forever home with a safe and loving family.”

He added that he hopes the policies he fought for would continue, but “cannot, in good conscience, sit idly by as the right-wing legislators of Texas — and a soon to be bevy of copycat states — take our country in a very dangerous direction.”

“Nor can I cast a vote against a policy that the people of Rhode Island have already seen fit to enshrine in our state law,” he said.

The congressman said he is “deeply alarmed by the direction the Republican Party and the right-wing Supreme Court are headed,” adding that he believes “the consequences will be disastrous, and the already fraying fabric of our nation will tear even further.”

Bishop Tobin said Langevin’s decision to “reconsider” his position on abortion shows he has joined the “partisan pro-abortion bandwagon.”

“Jim Langevin claims to be a ‘practicing Catholic,’” Bishop Tobin wrote, “but practicing Catholics do not promote the legalization of abortion which the Church clearly teaches is an ‘abominable crime.’” 

Bishop Tobin concluded by acknowledging the obligation to speak the truth: “that every time an abortion takes place, a child dies.”

“Sadly,” he said, “that reality will now be on the heart and soul and conscience of Jim Langevin.”

‘March for the Martyrs’ to raise awareness of Christian persecution

March for the Martyrs, Sept. 5, 2020 / For the Martyrs

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2021 / 10:01 am (CNA).

The second annual March for the Martyrs, an event to draw attention to global Christian persecution, will be held on Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C. 

It will mark the first time the event has been held in the nation’s capital. The move to Washington from Long Beach, California was done to bring greater awareness of Christian persecution overseas. 

“We all see what’s going on in Afghanistan right now. Christians are being hunted down and killed,” said Gia Chacon, president of the group For the Martyrs which organized the march. 

“This is happening in so many other nations across the world, and so few people are talking about it. That’s why we’ve chosen to move the March for the Martyrs to Washington, D.C.” 

For the Martyrs is an advocacy group founded in 2019 that seeks to raise awareness of international Christian persecution and promote religious freedom. 

Chacon estimates that “thousands” will attend the march in Washington, and asked participants to wear red in solidarity with persecuted Christians. 

The march will begin on the National Mall, and will end at the JW Marriott hotel on Pennsylvania Ave. The day’s events include a rally on the National Mall, and “Night of the Martyrs,” featuring testimonies from survivors of Christian persecution as well as from advocates. 

Last year’s march “was and continues to be the United States’ first and only large-scale march representing persecuted Christians,” the group states.

While the board members of For the Martyrs are Catholic, the march is open to all. 

“I believe we can all unite around this cause - with one voice - as the body of Christ in the United States advocating for our persecuted brothers and sisters,” said Chacon.  

The march will be co-sponsored by The Catholic Connect Foundation, Open Doors USA, In Defense of Christians, Liberty University’s Freedom Center, and Students for Life.  

Speakers at the rally include Fr. Benedict Kiely, the founder of Nasarean.org; David Curry, president of Open Doors USA; Bob Fu, a Chinese defector and the founder of China Aid; and Toufic Baaklini, the president of In Defense of Christians. 

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency, is an advisory board member of For the Martyrs.

Catholic health ministry head decries 'unjust' federal vaccine mandate

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House, Sept. 9, 2021 / WhiteHouse.gov

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2021 / 08:04 am (CNA).

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for many private employers, drawing criticism from the head of one Catholic health care ministry.

“Coercing individuals into making a medical intervention is unjust,” said Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation and former acting deputy director of the Civil Rights Division of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, in an interview with CNA on Thursday.

“And a vaccine mandate that could cause millions of Americans to lose their jobs, to be excluded from large swathes of civil society – to become, effectively, second-class citizens – seriously undermines the principle of human dignity and the civil rights foundations of America,” he said.

President Biden on Thursday said his administration would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, or ensure negative COVID-19 tests weekly. The emergency rule is being developed by the Labor Department, Biden said Thursday afternoon.

Those employers must give paid time off to workers to get vaccinated, Biden said, also appealing to entertainment venues to require proof of vaccine from customers.

Biden on Thursday also issued an executive order requiring executive branch federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and mandating the same for federal contractors.  Facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding would also have to require the vaccine for staff, the Associated Press reported.

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Thursday.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said to unvaccinated Americans.

In his remarks, Biden did not specify if the Labor Department was crafting conscience accommodations for employees opposed to COVID-19 vaccines due to conscience concerns.

The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have utilized controversial cell lines, drawn from fetal tissue from abortions believed to have been conducted in the 1970s. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna used the controversial cell lines in testing, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines in both testing and production.

However, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a December 2020 note, said that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to the cell lines is morally permissible, if no ethical option is available.

“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation” with the abortions “is not obligatory,” the Vatican said, “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent--in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”

The congregation went on to state that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

For those refusing a vaccine “for reasons of conscience,” they must take precautions to avoid transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.

Catholic health care groups have also opposed vaccine mandates, while noting that Catholics have been encouraged to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The Catholic Medical Association stated, on July 28, that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center also issued a July 2 statement opposing mandated vaccination with any of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States.

“The best ethical decision-making occurs when individuals have sufficient information for discernment and are able to reflect without undue external pressures placed on them,” the center stated.

“Mandates, by their very nature, exert pressure that can be severe if employment or the ability to further one’s education are threatened.”

U.S. bishops have also issued statements on vaccine mandates and conscience exemptions.

Some, such as Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, upheld the decisions of Catholics who declined COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience.

“For those who have discerned to receive one [vaccine], they can be assured that they can do so in good conscience. For those who have discerned not to receive one, they too can do so in good conscience,” Olmsted said in an Aug. 27 letter to Catholics in his diocese.

“What is primary for us as individuals is to form our conscience through the teachings of the Church.”

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, however, required COVID-19 vaccines for all diocesan employees.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said.

Vaccines and the federal government both have important roles to play in fighting COVID-19, Brown said, while warning against a federal vaccine mandate.

“I know folks that have died and been hospitalized because of COVID-19,” he said. “The disease should be taken seriously.”

“But there are better ways of combatting the virus,” he said, than “coercing Americans into making a medical intervention, and robbing them of the ability to make informed consent to this medical intervention.”