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This weekend’s New York Encounter: Come ‘verify that our soul is still there’ 

The New York Encounter, a three-day cultural festival taking place Feb. 16-18, 2024, will examine the theme “Tearing Open the Sleeping Soul” with panels, exhibitions, and artistic performances. / Credit: The New York Encounter

CNA Staff, Feb 14, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

“Ultimately, the New York Encounter is just that, it’s an encounter — an event that changes you,” said Holly Peterson, an educator with the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, who helped to organize the annual three-day cultural festival taking place in New York City this weekend.

“Speaking from experience, I always come home from the New York Encounter happier than when I went. Not because I’m rested or saw New York, but because my heart has been renewed,” Peterson told CNA.

The New York Encounter, taking place Feb. 16–18, is a Catholic event unlike any other. 

Now in its 16th year, the event — which is free of charge and open to the public — attracts thousands from across the nation and around the world. 

Held at the Metropolitan Paviliion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, the event features panel discussions, artistic performances, and exhibitions that look at the issues and challenges people face today, and, in Peterson’s words, “go to the root in a radical way.”

‘Our humanity is sleeping’

The New York Encounter was founded by members of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement. This year’s Encounter has the theme ”Tearing Open the Sleeping Soul” with the subtitle “What is happening to our humanity?”

At a three-day retreat held last year, the event’s organizers shared their concerns about both world events and challenges they face in their own lives, Peterson explained. 

“There is no shortage of reasons to ponder this question: daily images of gratuitous violence; an epidemic of suicide; feeling suffocated by the imposition of opposite ideologies and their language, starting in school; the potential threat of generative AI; a sense of paralysis in front of the future; suffering and evil devoid of meaning or redemption; general weariness, malaise, numbness, and lack of desire. These signs suggest that our humanity is asleep. What can reawaken it?” reads a description of the theme on the event’s website.

This year’s scheduled panels and exhibitions, some of which will be livestreamed, consider these issues to “verify that our ‘soul’ is still there, waiting to be rekindled,” according to the event’s promotional materials.

“Last year it was very apparent that, after the pandemic and years of recovery, we were not back where we were before 2020 — the war was ongoing, there was an explosion of AI, a national mental health crisis was in full bloom, there was a huge teacher shortage, many felt disenfranchised,” Peterson told CNA.

“The Church has something to say on all of these issues, and there are people, living witnesses, who know these topics well and go to the root, in a radical way,” Peterson said, adding that they “take seriously the human experience.”

These are “people who have ‘torn open’ not only their topic, but who have something to say to the human, to the heart of the person,” she said.

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement in the Catholic Church founded by Father Luigi Guissani in Milan in the 1960s. As a young teacher at a Catholic high school, Guissani noticed that many of his students, while baptized Catholic, had “zero” interest in the faith of their parents, favoring instead the secular political theories coming into vogue. He introduced them to a new method of thinking, one where God is revealed in everyday experiences.

“The charism of Father Giussani has educated us is to see reality as a sign,” Peterson told CNA.

“And the New York Encounter seeks to do that, to see reality as the place where God communicates to us. God calls us through signs, through what the sign invokes. In short, we have learned to take reality seriously, including issues which are sometimes painful, controversial, or seemingly profane, because at the bottom of them is something an Other gives or allows to happen to communicate to us something more,” she said. 

Attendance at the New York Encounter has grown exponentially since its founding — from 5,554 in 2015 to 15,500 in 2023. It is modeled after a meeting held in Rimini, Italy, every August attended by more than 800,000. While there are many Catholics and members of Communion and Liberation among the New York audience, the event attracts people from many different backgrounds. 

“All kinds of folks come to the Encounter — from babies in strollers to older people, from religious to lay, from Christians to nonbelievers. This is one of the unique features of the Encounter. There is no audience who is not welcomed,” Peterson said.

“The Encounter does not target any particular age group, but because of the nature of the topics — politics, the arts, literature, science, etc. — it draws people from every age group and every walk of life,” she said.

Attendees can pick and choose which panels and exhibitions they would like to attend, take time to socialize, line up to have their books signed by author-panelists, or fortify themselves with an espresso, Italian sandwich, or gelato — a nod to the event’s ties to Italy. 

In addition to the authors, scholars, experts, and artists taking part, leaders of the Catholic Church play a prominent role. This year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, will be celebrating Mass on Sunday. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.; Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, OFM, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica; and Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, are among the weekend’s featured participants.

Here are a few highlights from the panels and exhibits scheduled for this year’s New York Encounter:

Current events:

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 11:30 a.m.: “A Fundamental Difference”: A close look at artificial intelligence with Jonathan Stokes of Symbolic AI and Jennifer Strong, producer of the tech podcast “Shift.”

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m.: “A Torn Open Wound”: A conversation on the war between Israel and Hamas and any conceivable road to peace with Shadi Hamid, columnist and editorial board member for The Washington Post, and Jacob Siegel, senior editor for the Tablet.

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 12:45 p.m.: “Fratelli Tutti”: A conversation on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti encyclical with Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., and Mrs. Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

● Sunday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m.: “An Incurable Wound?”: Eyewitness accounts of the life of Christians in the Holy Land with Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and Father Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza.

● Sunday, Feb. 18, at 4:15 p.m.: “Beyond Left and Right”: An exploration of the Supreme Court and its future with Stephanos Bibas, judge of the United States Court of Appeals, and Jeffrey Pojanowski, professor of law, University of Notre Dame.

Arts and language:

●  Friday, Feb. 16, at 6:30 p.m.: “A Soul Waiting to Be Reawakened”: The Encounter will be opened by creative offerings from Christian Wiman, poet, and Kuok-Wai Lio, classical pianist.

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 9:30 a.m.: “The Power of Language”: A presentation on the nature of language and the danger of ideologies with Andrea Moro, professor of general linguistics at the Institute of Superior Studies, Italy, and Marguerite Peeters, director of the Institute for Intercultural Dialogue Dynamics, Brussels.

●  Saturday, Feb.17, at 6 p.m.: “What Beauty Can Do to the Soul”: A conversation on the power of art to rekindle our humanity with Patrick Bringley, writer, and Jean-François Martel, author.

Education and hope:

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11:30 a.m.: “Made to Be Free”: A discussion on education in light of Father Luigi Giussani’s pedagogy with Hans van Mourik Broekman, principal of Liverpool College, U.K., and Aaron Riches, professor of theology, Benedictine College.

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 5:30 p.m.: “From Death into Life”: Stories of forgiveness and hope with Gilbert King, journalist, and Rachel Muha, founder of the Brian Muha Foundation.

When and where is the New York Encounter?

The New York Encounter takes place this weekend, from Friday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, in New York City. Admission is free of charge, and no registration is required.

To learn more and see a complete schedule visit the website for the New York Encounter.

11 quotes from the saints on love and relationships

Mother Teresa and John Paul II, May 25, 1983. / Credit: L'Osservatore Romano

CNA Staff, Feb 14, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

In a culture where the family is attacked and love is often confused with lust, it can be hard to know what godly love looks like in our relationships — whether that be in dating, in marriage, or within our home.

Here are 11 quotes from the saints on love and relationships.

St. Teresa of Calcutta:

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen:

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

St. John Paul II:

“Love is never something that is ready-made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman; it is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming,’ and what it becomes depends upon the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.”

St. Clare of Assisi:

“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become.”

St. John XXIII:

“The charity which burned in the household at Nazareth should be an inspiration for every family. All the Christian virtues should flourish in the family, unity should thrive, and the example of its virtuous living should shine brightly.”

St. John Chrysostom:

“When a husband and wife are united in marriage they no longer seem like something earthly, but rather like the image of God himself.”

St. Josemaría Escrivá:

“Marriage is to help married people sanctify themselves and others. For this reason they receive a special grace in the sacrament which Jesus instituted. Those who are called to the married state will, with the grace of God, find within their state everything they need to be holy.”

St. John Paul II:

“Love that leads to marriage is a gift from God and a great act of faith toward other human beings.”

St. Gianna Molla:

“Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the souls of men and women.”

St. Thomas Aquinas:

“The greater the friendship, the more solid and long-lasting the marriage will be, as we are united not only in flesh but in domestic activity.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen:

“It takes three to make love, not two: you, your spouse, and God. Without God, people only succeed in bringing out the worst in one another. Lovers who have nothing else to do but love each other soon find there is nothing else. Without a central loyalty life is unfinished.”

This article was originally published on Feb. 14, 2023, and has been updated.

Ash Wednesday: Leave the ashes on or wash them off?

Ash Wednesday Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London, England, on March 1, 2017. / Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 14, 2024 / 04:30 am (CNA).

At the Mass that marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which serves as preparation for Easter, the priest and the ministers who assist him say one of two possible formulas as they place ashes on the foreheads of the faithful present, even non-Catholics who want to receive them.

The Roman Missal states that “the minister then places the ashes on those who come forward, saying: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ (cf. Mk 1:15) or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (cf. Gn 3:19).”

What do you do after receiving the ashes?

There is no specified response or action for the penitent after receiving the ashes, so it is a moment to silently meditate on what the priest or minister said.

Father Mauro Carlorosi, an Argentine priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and expert on the subject of divine mercy, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that although “there is no minimum time” established to wear the ashes on the forehead or head, these can serve as a means to bear witness.

The ashes and witnessing to the Christian faith

The priest, who is also a member of Faustinum, an international association that promotes the Divine Mercy devotion, explained that the ashes “do a lot to serve as a witness that you are a Christian and are living Lent.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to bear witness wherever you are,” he emphasized.

“But, of course, the ashes on the head that day don’t prevent the performance of your duty. If you have to wash them off you can do so; you shouldn’t take them off because you’re too cowardly to wear an external sign,” the priest explained.

For Carlorosi, “in these times we need to know how to externalize our faith, particularly as laypeople. Just as we wear a wedding ring on the hand or make the sign of the cross [passing] before a church, we can wear ashes to courageously bear witness to Christ.”

“If the ashes fall off on their own or if you wash yourself, then this should be from losing that sign in the natural course of things,” the priest recommended.

“And if an ugly stain remains on your forehead that deteriorates as the day progresses, there is no problem in removing it so that it doesn’t look like dirt. There would be no problem then with washing,” he concluded.

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

When it comes to ‘The Chosen’ Season Four, expect the unexpected

Thomas (Joey Vahedi) and Ramah (Yasmine Al-Bustami) in Season Four of "The Chosen." / Credit: The Chosen/Mike Kubeisy

CNA Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers about Episodes 1–3 of Season Four of “The Chosen.” Read at your own discretion.

The theatrical release of Season Four of “The Chosen” has officially kicked off and has left fans of the show shocked and in tears with both expected and unexpected moments.

In the first episode of the new season, viewers witness the tragic execution of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod Antipas.

In a powerful scene between Joanna, the wife of Chuza, and John the Baptist, a terrified Joanna warns John of his execution while two Roman soldiers lead him out of his prison cell in chains. John quotes part of Matthew chapter 11 saying: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the poor have good news preached to them.” The scene ends with John turning to Joanna, saying: “The way of the Lord is prepared.”

Later, a chained John walks toward the guillotine as flashbacks of his birth as told in Luke chapter 1 remind us of the role he was chosen to play in the story of salvation. With only moments left, he looks outside and sees a lamb grazing in the field before the Roman soldier takes his swing.

David Amito, the actor who plays John the Baptist, and Amy Bailey, the actress who plays Joanna, spoke to CNA in an interview about these important scenes.

Amito shared that filming the scene of his character’s execution “felt a lot like poetry.” 

“I didn’t know, or pre-meditate, how it was going to play out and a lot of it was just experiencing it and it was a really intense experience but at the same time very creative,” he said.

He added that everyone involved worked hard to make the moment “feel as true as possible and something that would fit with what the expectations people had were and at the same time to give them something they weren’t expecting.”

Regarding Joanna’s storyline and where she goes next now that John has been killed, Bailey said: “I’m fascinated to see what the next season will bring for her because I think there are people in Jesus’ camp who are suspicious [of her].”

She also teased that viewers will see a “beautifully epic scene” for her character in Episode 8, which has been her favorite scene thus far.

While the death of John the Baptist was expected this season, the death of another character was definitely not expected by fans of the show. Ramah, one of the women following Jesus and who was in a romantic relationship with the disciple Thomas, is killed at the hands of Quintus, the Roman Praetor of Capernaum.

The season picks up with Thomas and Ramah making arrangements for their betrothal. However, after a large crowd gets unruly following a sermon given by Jesus, Quintus’ sword pierces Ramah, leaving her dead and Thomas devastated.

Yasmine Al-Bustami, the actress who portrays Ramah, told CNA in an interview that she found out about her character’s death in Season Two but didn’t know when it would be coming. 

“Even before I read the script, all of my friends — everyone on the cast basically — were texting me asking, ‘Hey, how are you? Is everything fine? Are you doing okay? Did you read the script?’ So, already I knew, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be in this one,’” Al-Bustami said.

She added: “So I finally got to it, read it, and it hit me but it didn’t hit me, obviously, until I did the whole thing.”

The actress explained that the scene wasn’t an easy, one-day shoot. Instead, it took six days to film.

Al-Bustami shared that while she has several favorite scenes from her time playing Ramah, a scene from Season Four stands out at the top of her list — the scene where Thomas and Ramah tell Jesus of their plan to get married and ask him if he’ll take part in it.

“Seeing how that played out — I just thought that was very beautiful,” she shared. 

Throughout her time playing Ramah, Al-Bustami said she learned several things from her character, including “following your gut” and “making sure that you’re staying true to yourself.”

She added that her experience being a part of “The Chosen” has reminded her that she hopes to continue to make “meaningful work for people.”

Hong Kong activist: Proposed law could worsen religious liberty, persecute Catholics

Hong Kong.Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, May 18, 2020. / Credit: Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 13, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A religious freedom advocate from Hong Kong is warning that proposed legislation could further restrict religious liberty and lead to the persecution of the Catholic Church and other Christians. 

Frances Hui, a Hong Kong native who has political asylum in the United States, expressed concern about the possible enactment of the controversial proposal Article 23, which would expand a 2020 national security law. She made these comments during a Hudson Institute panel discussion on “The Repression of Hong Kong and Heroism of Jimmy Lai.”

Lai, a pro-democracy journalist and convert to Catholicism, was arrested on several charges under Hong Kong’s 2020 national security law and could face life in prison. His newspaper, Apple Daily, frequently published material critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Although the Chinese government charged him with colluding with foreign forces, critics of the prosecution claim that he — and hundreds of other political and religious dissidents — were arrested for their activism. 

If enacted, Article 23 would expand the law to bolster the government’s crackdown on political dissidents, which has been ongoing for more than three and a half years.

The change would add new offenses, including a prohibition on external interference in Hong Kong, a prohibition on supporting external intelligence organizations, and a prohibition on electronic and computer activities without lawful authority that endangers national security, along with a prohibition on general sabotage activities, according to the Hong Kong Free Press

Hui, who serves as the policy and advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said during the panel that the legislation would “target foreign organizations [and] their activities in Hong Kong,” which could be used against foreign Christian missionaries and Hong Kong Catholic Church communications with the Vatican.

“A lot of the small- to medium-scale church groups, the Catholic Church, and foreign missionaries would all be affected,” Hui said. 

“We don’t know how they’re going to use this law to go against religious groups, but having this law passed and imposed in Hong Kong would be a great threat to religious groups in Hong Kong,” she added. “They are subject to legal prosecution. … The Catholic Church in Hong Kong … might have to stop their communication with the Vatican because it’s a foreign state.” 

In such a scenario, Hui warned that the Catholic Church in Hong Kong could be forced to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, which the communist government established in 1957 to exert government control of Catholic churches in mainland China.

“We don’t know how they’re going to use this because it’s another vaguely written law, but … if they don’t like what you’re doing and they have targeted you, they have the law at their disposal to use that to threaten you and put you in jail,” Hui said.

The legislation was first proposed more than 20 years ago in 2002, but the effort was rejected after widespread backlash from the people of Hong Kong, journalist associations, and Western governments. The effort, however, was revived by Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in 2022. On Jan. 30, Lee began a one-month consultation period on the proposal. 

“I think this is something the world and the American government should pay attention to and [should] speak up against it,” Hui said.

Nearly 300 people in Hong Kong, including Lai, have been arrested since the government updated the national security law in 2020. Critics believe this is a crackdown on free speech and political opposition. 

“The biggest goal of [the national security law] is to stifle dissidents,” Hui said. “It has destroyed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. It’s a very vaguely written law that pretty much applies to the whole civil society.” 

The United States Congressional Executive Commission on China has encouraged President Joe Biden’s administration to issue sanctions against the judges and prosecutors involved in Lai’s case and similar cases.

Member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board William McGurn, who is Lai’s godfather and has known him for decades, said during the panel that he believes Lai would also want people to not forget “the other people locked up that don’t have his name recognition or friendliness with Western reporters and politicians.” 

“I think … he stayed in Hong Kong to be with them to choose sides,” McGurn said. “Same with Cardinal [Joseph] Zen … [who] was not prosecuted under the national security charges [but] was on these other charges of organizing a group without official regulatory permission.” 

In November 2022, Zen was convicted on charges of failing to register a fund that helped pay for the legal fees and medical treatments of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. He has appealed that conviction.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation published a report on Jan. 30 that found that religious freedom is “deteriorating” in the city amid a “hostile takeover” from the Chinese Communist Party. 

According to the report, Catholic and other Christian groups have faced accusations of supporting “violent protests” and colluding with “foreign organizations” under the 2020 national security law.

In addition to persecuting Christians, critics have accused the Chinese Communist Party of persecuting Uyghur Muslims and followers of Falun Gong, a religious and political movement.

Major expansions coming to Belmont Abbey College after fundraising feat

Mary Help of Christians Basilica on the campus of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Major expansions are coming to the Benedictine-run Belmont Abbey College after the North Carolina school quickly hit its fundraising goal of $100 million two years ahead of schedule.

Some of those funds have already been put to use with a new dining hall, lab space, and strengthening of its endowment.

The “Made True” campaign, launched in February of last year, has aims of allotting $15 million toward building a new monastery for the 14 monks on campus, raising a new performing arts center, and launching career and family initiatives supporting religious freedom, according to a press release announcing the initiative last year.

In a Tuesday press release, the school announced that the North Carolina General Assembly allotted $9 million of the state’s 2023–2024 budget toward the construction of the performing arts center.

The school plans to put $30 million in funding toward new academic programs in nursing, public policy, and finance. Those funds will also be used to support its Belmont House in Washington, D.C., which hosts discussions on religious freedom and is a gathering place for civic engagement, the school said.

In addition to adding new scholarship programs toward making the school more affordable, Belmont Abbey College will put $55 million toward the school’s endowment fund in pursuit of reducing reliance on federal aid, which can come with strings attached forcing religious schools to provide services that violate Catholic principles, the school said last year.

Now that the Belmont, North Carolina, school has hit its initial goal, it is raising the bar to try to realize $50 million more by 2026. 

William Thierfelder, the school’s president, said in a press conference Tuesday that the $150 million feat “providentially coincides” with the 150th anniversary of the institution’s founding in 1876.

Thierfelder said that “there is still so much more to accomplish.”

Some of the initiatives the school will aim to support with the additional funds, he said, are the new monastery, providing 150 endowed scholarships for students in the honors college, and 10 endowed academic chairs.

Fifteen million dollars of the $50 million to be raised will be used to establish 10 endowed chairs, a term referring to a permanently funded position for research faculty who are leaders in their field.

Another $15 million will fund 150 scholarships for students in the Honors College, an arm of the school with a curriculum focusing on “the foundational impacts of ancient, Christian, and modern thought” through studying historic works.

In the press conference, Philip Brach, the school’s vice president of college relations, said that the scholarships will help make the school more affordable for students now and in the future by having present scholarship earners agree to a “voluntary covenant where they will pay it forward after they leave.”

Twenty million dollars of the additional funds will go toward the new monastery, which will be better fit for community life, Abbot Placid Solari said during the press conference.

Brach said that the monastery was built long before a major highway, Interstate 85, “came roaring through here,” taking away an environment of silence from the monks.

Solari, who has been a monk of Belmont Abbey since 1974, said the new monastery is “important for our contemplation and way of life that also will provide space for the archives.”

The abbot added: “I think it makes a statement to the college community, to the local community, to anyone who’s considering joining the monastery, that we’re here to stay.”

The existing monastery, which the press release Tuesday said was constructed with bricks handmade by the monks, will be refurbished to keep its original character and be more energy-efficient. 

Married, churchgoing couples among the happiest, data says

Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, speaks to ENN Host Tracy Sabol on Feb. 12, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN News Nightly”

CNA Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Men and women who are married and who attend church regularly are among the happiest couples, according to data compiled by a prominent sociological professor. 

Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia as well as the director of the school’s National Marriage Project, told “EWTN News Nightly” this week that he wrote his newest book, “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization,” after hearing concerns from his students about the state of marriage today. 

“They’re kind of worried about their prospects for marriage, particularly the women at UVA,” Wilcox told “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol. “And so this kind of concern led me to write a book on the importance [and] the value” of adults getting married.

Contrary to popular perception, Wilcox said, data indicate that married men and women are markedly happier than their unmarried counterparts. 

“We’ve been seeing a lot of stories … talking about the ways in which [women], for instance, are kind of really miserable in marriage and miserable as mothers,” Wilcox said, citing a recent media report alleging that “married moms were less well off” than “single, childless women.” 

“In fact, the data point us in exactly the opposite direction,” he said. “What we see is that for both women and men, the path to prosperity and happiness kind of runs right through marriage. So both women and men who are married, for instance, are almost twice as likely to be very happy with their lives compared to their single peers.”

“There’s really no group that’s as happy for men as married dads and for women as married moms,” Wilcox said. “So as tough as marriage [and] as tough as being a parent can be, the upside to having a spouse and kids for most Americans is pretty high.”

The happiness factor, Wilcox said, shows up even more prominently in married couples who attend church regularly.

“What we see in this data is that couples who attend church together are about 15 percentage points more likely to be very happy with their marriages,” Wilcox said. “They’re about 30% to 50% less likely to get divorced, depending upon the data set.” 

Those high numbers also translate to higher sexual satisfaction for married couples, he said.

“I think the thing that surprised me the most was that not only are they more sexually satisfied on average, but couples who attend church together tend to have more sex than couples who don’t go to church at all,” Wilcox said. “So there’s just any number of outcomes that look better for couples who go to church together.”

Declining divorce rates in recent years are a sign of encouragement, Wilcox pointed out, though overall declining marriage rates present problems of their own, he said. 

“The ’70s were known as the divorce revolution,” he told Sabol. “But since then, divorce has been coming down. And so today at least, we’re estimating that well below 1 in 2 couples who are getting married are going to end up getting divorced. Or to put it more positively, most of the couples who are getting married today are going to go the distance.”

“We are seeing, because marriage is more stable, that a growing share of kids are being raised in stably married households,” Wilcox said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is for American adults, we’re still seeing a pretty marked decline in marriage rates. And they call that the closing of the American heart.”

Data have long pointed toward a sustained drop in marriage rates for every age cohort following the “Silent Generation,” the group of Americans born between 1928 and 1945. A recent Pew survey found that just 30% of marriage-age millennials live with a spouse and a child, compared with 70% of those from the Silent Generation at the same stage in their lives.

Wilcox told CNA last year that sharply declining marriage rates among younger Americans had him concerned. 

“A lot of adults — more than one-third of young adults today in their 20s — will never marry,” he said at the time. “This is record demographic territory we’re heading into.”

National Marriage Week is observed in the U.S. every Feb. 7–14, coinciding with World Marriage Day on the second Sunday of every February. 

5 ways to observe St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday

null / berni0004 / Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 10:00 am (CNA).

On Feb. 14 of each year, the Roman Martyrology commemorates the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Valentine of Rome, who is considered the patron saint of lovers and married couples. Coincidentally, Feb. 14 this year is also Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent. So how can dating Catholic couples and spouses observe both on the same day?

Very little is known about the life of St. Valentine, but tradition indicates that he risked his life to marry couples in a Christian way during the time of persecution against Christians. He was martyred around the year 269.

Today, St. Valentine’s Day is a time when couples express their love with gestures and gifts.

Ash Wednesday, however, is a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics, which marks the beginning of the 40 days in which the Church calls the faithful to conversion and to truly prepare to live the mysteries of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in Holy Week.

For Brother Édgar Henríquez, a Chilean seminarian of the Legionaries of Christ, Catholics can observe the coinciding days in light of the mystery of the incarnation of the Lord, who “committed himself to us” by assuming human nature and suffering for the sin of man, in the same way that a married couple becomes one flesh and mutually “accepts their weaknesses, their failings, and their sin out of love.”

Henríquez, who is close to being ordained as a transitional deacon, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that “the commitment of a couple that is engaged or in a serious dating relationship and a married couple is a commitment of love, just as God has also assumed a commitment with us.”

With this way of looking at St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the Chilean seminarian offered Catholic married couples and those in a serious relationship five tips to observe Feb. 14 in the best possible way:

1. The importance of words

For Henríquez, one of the best things a Catholic couple can do for each other is to show affection through words. Not just once a year, but every day. Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Word of God, is also present in Catholic marriages.

“Praying together is the least we can do with the person we are committed to,” he said, noting that this Feb. 14 is a special opportunity “to offer a day of prayer for your partner, for your future together, and for everything you are building.”

“A couple that prays together, stays together,” he added.

2. Pay attention to details.

“Jesus is very detailed. He thinks about everything because he knows that the details make the difference,” the Chilean seminarian pointed out. In order not to break with the penitential spirit of Ash Wednesday, the gifts can be simple and sober things but coming from the heart, they can perfectly demonstrate the affection one has for the other person: “a letter, a song or some little thing.”

3. Spend time together.

Henríquez advised that serious Catholic couples and married couples “can leave aside the logic of the world a little,” which pushes consumerism and materialism on Valentine’s Day, and “enter into the logic of God, to offer each other the most valuable thing they have, which is their own time.”

He pointed out that this is what Jesus Christ did with his apostles and it is what the Church also asks us to do during Lent: spend more time with Jesus and get closer to him, to accompany him during his passion, death, and resurrection. “It is an expression of love to spend time with each other,” Henríquez said.

4. Project yourself into the future.

Just as Ash Wednesday is a call to prepare ourselves to spend the 40 days in conversion and penance until the Sacred Triduum, so a Catholic couple can take advantage of this day to “renew the mutual promise they made to each other, to look toward what is to come and what they are going to build together,” the seminarian said.

5. Do something together for others.

Finally, Henríquez noted that “love is about giving,” and there is no better way to start Lent than with a work of charity, especially if it is done as a couple, “such as going to Mass together and offering it for whoever needs it, praying the rosary for some intention, donate the money that they were going to use to buy a gift and buy basic necessities for needy families.”

“These things leave their mark, especially during the engagement period, and it is the true spirit of Lent,” he added.

Henríquez concluded by asking that on Feb. 14, priests, as well as men and women religious, also in some way observe both days since they have given their lives to the Lord out of love.

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

Pope Francis appoints Father James Ruggieri as bishop of Portland, Maine

Portland Bishop-elect James Ruggieri. / Credit: Diocese of Providence

Rome Newsroom, Feb 13, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed Father James Ruggieri as the new bishop of Portland, Maine.

The Vatican announced Feb. 13 that the 56-year-old priest from Providence, Rhode Island, will be ordained as the bishop of Maine’s only diocese.

He succeeds Bishop Robert Deeley, who has led the Portland Diocese for the past decade. Deeley will turn 78 years old in June. 

Ruggieri is a native of Providence, where he is known for feeding the homeless each week from an old food truck decorated with images of Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. 

He was recently honored with the 2024 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Vision Award by his alma mater, Providence College, for founding St. Patrick’s Academy, a Catholic preparatory high school for students unable to enroll in other Catholic schools for financial reasons. The school has no set tuition, but families pay what they can afford. 

Father Bernard Healey, a fellow priest in the Rhode Island diocese, has described Ruggieri as a “model priest” who provides a “voice for justice on behalf of the unborn, the immigrant, the refugee, and the poorest of the poor.”

“Father James’ priestly ministry is courageous, humble, and holy. He is tireless in working and serving the many poor and immigrant parishioners who make up his Providence inner-city parishes of St. Patrick and St. Michael. He lives humbly and simply among the people he serves, tirelessly serving the hungry, the homeless, the immigrant, and the marginalized,” he said in an editorial in the Rhode Island Catholic last year.

“Father James has been a loyal ally in advocating for the sanctity of all human life and the dignity of every human person,” Healey added.

“While others clamor from ivory towers about public policies and political platforms, Father James routinely performs the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with dedication and love, provides comfort and peace to the sick and dying, absolves sinners, and lovingly welcomes the lost sheep of his flock.”

Bishop Richard Henning of Providence also commented on the “wide-reaching effects” of Ruggieri’s ministry in Rhode Island and offered prayers and support for the priest in his new mission.

Ruggieri has served as the pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Providence for more than 20 years and also serves as the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church. His appointment at St. Michael’s Parish in 2020 sparked an op-ed in The Providence Journal bemoaning that a sign outside the parish that said “Welcome” in a dozen languages had been replaced with a sign that says, “Pregnant? Need Help?” 

“In my brief time in Providence, I have come to appreciate and admire Father Ruggieri’s personal humility, authenticity, and remarkably fruitful priestly ministry,” Henning said after his appointment.

“For these reasons, among others, I see the wisdom of the Holy Father’s choice even as I feel the pang of the loss to us,” he added.

Ruggieri will be consecrated and installed as the 13th bishop of Portland in a Mass on May 7 in Maine’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The Diocese of Portland spans the entire state of Maine and has a population of about 279,000 Catholics. The diocese was established by Pope Pius IX in 1853.

Religious sisters urge passage of aid bill to ‘break link’ between trafficking, migration

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Ahead of a house vote on a human trafficking prevention bill, two organizations hosted an online panel on Feb. 12 highlighting how the legislation could “break the link” between human trafficking and forced migration. 

Alliance to End Human Trafficking (AEHT) and The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (NAC) — both founded by religious sisters — are urging Congress to pass a bill that could combat human trafficking by providing grants to organizations in areas with high rates of trafficking.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5856) is on the docket for the House of Representatives this week. If approved, the act would allocate $241 million per year to provide grants for organizations in nations with high rates of trafficking. The bill would also fund aid for survivors and for detecting trafficking in school-age children. The bill, promulgated by 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, would reauthorize the foundational law of 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which expired in 2021

Kwami Adoboe-Herrera, a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and a child victim of human labor trafficking, shared his testimony in the online panel “Breaking the Link Between Human Trafficking and Forced Migration: Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.”

Adoboe-Herrera left Togo, a small country on the west coast of Africa, at the age of 7 in 2006. He came to the U.S. under the presumption that he would be able to get an education and ultimately help support his family. 

But the family friend who brought him to the U.S. smuggled him here illegally and made his life a “living hell” from 2006 to 2013 through physical and emotional abuse. He was put into the school system where a teacher recognized something was wrong and built a rapport with him. He said he is here today “by the grace of God alone.”

Adoboe-Herrera is not alone in his testimony. According to the Human Trafficking Institute, 72% of those trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants. Migration is a large factor because many, like Adoboe-Herrera and his family, are desperate enough to leave their homes in the hope of something better — and are often taken advantage of. 

Sister Maria Orlandini, OSF, from the Franciscan Action Network, spent time in Honduras and El Salvador. She explained that poor conditions often compel people to make the dangerous trip, which leads to being trafficked. In Honduras, 1 in 5 Hondurans live on less than $2 a day while violent crime runs rampant. 

“I saw poverty, people living in shacks. The only brick houses either finished or half-built were the ones of those who had relatives in the United States [to] send money home,” Orlandini said. “People live to find a job in the U.S. hoping to send enough money to the house and to support their family left behind.”

“... Desperate people become vulnerable to human traffickers” said Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, Ph.D., who moderated the panel. 

Marilyn Zigmund Luke, director of advocacy for the Alliance to End Human Trafficking, said the bill could help “expand prevention efforts” and mitigate this migration out of desperation, or “forced migration.” 

“This is really a three-pronged approach at getting at not only trafficking within the United States, but really getting at what’s happening within the home countries of people so that they will not migrate,” she explained. “If this bill is put into effect and the money flows and it’s successful, then people would have less cause and less reason to leave their home country.”

“I mean, no one wants to abandon their home,” she continued. “No one wants to give up their culture and their way of living simply to come with a hope of potentially getting a job or potentially getting a new life, which is a very treacherous journey.”

Fran Eskin-Royer, executive director of NAC, noted that the bill has bipartisan support.

“What also draws NAC to the legislation is that it’s supported by representatives on both sides of the aisle,” she noted. 

Katie Boller Gosewisch, executive director of AEHT, said the alliance is “exceptionally dedicated to addressing root causes of human trafficking,” noting that “forced migration often leads to human trafficking.”

“This first [bill] is exceptionally timely in that one is going to go to the floor in the house this week, but it is also on Feb. 20, the anniversary of the death of Frederick Douglass,” she added. “So in honor of Frederick Douglass, for whom this legislation is named, we’re exceptionally hopeful that this passes the house, moves on to the Senate, and really gets that overwhelming bipartisan support.”