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Whitmer ought to back school choice bill, not veto it, Michigan Catholic Conference says

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signs a state budget in Lansing, Mich., Sept. 29, 2021. / Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Lansing, Mich., Oct 27, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The Michigan Catholic Conference has welcomed the passage of legislation that would help fund scholarships for private and religious K-12 schools and pay some expenses for public school students, though Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has promised to veto the bills.

“The legislation will provide parents with greater tools to ensure academic success for their children regardless of the educational setting, represents an important and meaningful policy change, and is a step forward toward helping Michigan catch up to dozens of other states--including almost every state in the Midwest--that are much further along in offering school choice options to parents,” Tom Hickson, the Michigan Catholic Conference vice president for public policy and advocacy, said Oct. 27.

“Parents are the primary educators and have the right to determine which school is best for their children,” Hickson added. “We commend the leadership of the Michigan legislature for passing these bills and encourage the governor to sign them into law, thereby providing parents with an important tool to help toward their children’s educational success.”

The legislation would create Educational Savings Accounts that would give students access to the financial resources to use towards qualified expenses in public and non-public schools, the Catholic conference said.

Private donors could give money to specially created organizations, which would then give funds to qualified students for educational purposes. Donor contributions would be entirely tax-deductible.

Eligible private school students could receive over $7,800 per year from scholarship programs set up under the law, the education news site Chalkbeat reports. Eligible public school students could receive up to $500 or $1,100 if they are in special education programs for various purposes including tutoring, extracurricular activities, books, computers, summer programs, speech therapy, or eligible transportation costs.

There are about 1.8 million Catholics across seven Michigan Roman Catholic dioceses in a state whose population totals just under 10 million. The state’s 36 Catholic high schools have about 12,500 students, while 166 elementary schools have over 33,200 students. Catholic school teachers employ about 3,300 lay teachers and about 50 priests or religious, according to the Catholic conference.

Overall, there are about 150,000 students enrolled in the state’s K-12 private schools. By comparison, nearly 1.5 million students are enrolled in the state’s K-12 public schools, according to a September report on education statistics from the Education Data Initiative.

The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said the bill would reduce state revenue “by as much as $500 million in the first year it was effective, with the potential for the revenue loss to increase 20% per year in later years.”

The revenue would not affect the annual school aid budget, now totaling a record $17.1 billion, which was approved in a bipartisan agreement earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The relevant bills are House Bills 5404 and 5405, respectively sponsored by Republican State Reps. Bryan Posthumus and Phil Green, and Senate Bills 687 and 688, respectively sponsored by Republican State Sens. Tom Barrett and Lana Theis.

“No matter a student’s background, we should be doing more to support parents, so they can have a more active and impactful role in their children’s education,” Theis said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The House bills were first approved in the Republican controlled legislature last week. They passed Oct. 27 by a final vote of 55-49, the Associated Press reports. The Senate has also passed the bills.

Hickson said the bills were “introduced and acted upon quickly”, but after evaluating the bills the Michigan Catholic Conference is now supporting them.

However, Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer, said the legislation was a “nonstarter.”

“The Michigan Constitution sets up a system of school funding designed to ensure the quality of free public education in Michigan,” Leddy said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “This legislation undermines that constitutional guarantee, permitting the diversion of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to private institutions. Michiganders are tired of the attempts to force a Betsy DeVos-style voucher program that drain resources from our public schools.”

DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump, was cited by every Democratic legislator who argued against the bill. They said it served her interests.

DeVos is a wealthy Michigan resident. She and her family are major donors to many Republican-leaning causes and she is a major backer of school choice programs.

Foes of the legislation include the Michigan Association of School Boards, whose membership includes over 600 boards of education.

Critics like Democratic State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a former teacher, said the proposal was unconstitutional.

In 1970, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that bans public funds and public credits for any non-public school. The amendment also bars indirect payments and is considered the strictest ban in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. In the 2000 election, voters strongly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared a constitutional right to school vouchers.

However, the Michigan Supreme Court recently upheld a court ruling that allows the state to reimburse the costs of private schools’ compliance with state-mandated rules, including recordkeeping and background checks for teachers.

According to Chalkbeat, the Michigan legislation is similar to that which passed in Montana, whose ban on state programs for private school tuition was narrowly overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020.

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."

"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children."

Catholic students from Texas universities unite for prayer and worship

Inaugural intercollegiate Catholic Student Summit at Victoria Park in Irving, Texas, Oct. 8, 2021. / Zack Weiss

Washington D.C., Oct 27, 2021 / 16:20 pm (CNA).

Catholic students from multiple Texas universities recently gathered for an evening of prayer and worship that, organizers say, is the start of something new.

“We reserved a park for a couple of hours, just told everyone, ‘Bring a dinner, bring your friends, show up,” said Zack Weiss, a junior pastoral ministry major at the University of Dallas and co-organizer of the event, to CNA.

An estimated 100 young adults attended the first-ever intercollegiate Catholic Student Summit at Victoria Park in Irving, Texas, Weiss said, with roughly 60 of them from the University of Dallas. 

Students from eight other universities also participated in the Oct. 8 event: Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of North Texas, Baylor University, the Baylor University School of Nursing, Texas Woman’s University, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

On a Friday night, they met in a public park for fellowship, games, a talk by UD chaplain Fr. Joseph Paul Albin, and prayer.

“It was just beautiful to see so many young Catholics who were on fire for their faith show up,” Weiss said. “It just showed that there are so many other young Catholics like me who want something more and who just want to grow in faith as a large community.”

Weiss organized the event, together with UD senior pastoral ministry major John Paul O’Brien, after a club meeting of Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. The club, created by the university’s pastoral ministry students, encourages spiritual conversations on campus. At the meeting, Weiss suggested inviting friends from another university to attend their events. His idea quickly expanded to include other universities.

Now, Weiss and O’Brien are planning for the future. After meeting with leaders from Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas last week, Weiss said that they want to organize monthly summits beginning next semester. They also plan to host a special intercollegiate event this winter. 

“We are hopefully going to be doing a winter supply drive and putting together bags for the homeless or meals or something along those lines – coming together as a community to make these things, and then bringing these things back to our respective communities,” Weiss said. 

Right now, Weiss said, he’s placing the summit in God’s hands.

“We just kind of see this as God can take this anywhere that he wants to, and we are going to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit tells us that he wants us to do with the summit,” Weiss said. 

Other students agreed that the first summit was a success. Collin Bass, a sophomore at Baylor University and a professional selling (sales) major, remembered the “evening full of fun, fellowship, and worship.”

“For a first-time event, it was super impressive as well as encouraging to see over 100 students show out just to bond over the love of Jesus!” he exclaimed. His favorite moment, he told CNA, was watching several Dominican priests and brothers walking up and capturing the attention of everyone at the park.

According to Madison Williams, a senior pastoral ministry major with concentrations in theology and Spanish at UD, the event turned out better than she could have imagined.

“I was blown away by the number of students that came out, even students from my school that I didn't expect to be there,” she told CNA. “I had a wonderful time chatting with other Catholic college students from the DFW metroplex, but my favorite moment was witnessing the nascence of a beautiful faith community.”

The summit also impacted her faith, she said. 

“This event was affirming for my faith and gave me hope for the future of our Church,” she stressed. “It is easy to become distressed about the status of young Catholics when you look at social media and modern perceptions of religion. However, this event and the faith that I witnessed assured me that young Catholics are everywhere and they are seeking to build the Church.”

While Weiss says that he and organizers want to focus on the Dallas-Fort Worth Catholic community for now, they are open to expanding their reach.

“We would love to have bigger colleges from the state join us because a lot of us here at UD have mutual friends at these big state schools,” Weiss said. “And of course, if God wants to make this something national, we think that that would be incredible.” 

Founded in 1956, the University of Dallas is located in Irving, Texas. The Cardinal Newman Society, dedicated to defending and promoting faithful Catholic education, recognizes the private Catholic college for its “national reputation for excellence in both its fidelity to Catholicism and its academics.”

Bishop urges international community to promote value of human life after Sudan coup

Sudanese carry a man injured during clashes as part of protests against a military coup that overthrew the transition to civilian rule, on Oct. 25, 2021 in the capital Khartoum. - Sudan's top general declared a state of emergency Monday as soldiers rounded up civilian leaders, with three people killed as soldiers put down furious protests decrying a coup. / -/AFP via Getty Images

El Obeid, Sudan, Oct 27, 2021 / 15:19 pm (CNA).

The international community must to put pressure on Sudan’s military to show respect and value for human life, a Catholic bishop in the country said Tuesday, shortly after a coup.

Sudan’s military launched a coup against the country’s transitional government Oct. 25. Civilian rule was dissolved and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan became head of state. Protesters have been fired on, with 10 reportedly killed.

Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille Andali of El Obeid told ACI Africa Oct. 26 that the coup is a retrogression that brings Sudan “back to the military junta rule.”

“We hear of the death of the people who express their feelings towards the coup against civilian governments,” Bishop Tombe Trille said after multiple protesters were reportedly killed.

“The international community should put their pressure on the junta to value the life of their citizens,” he said.

Bishop Tombe Trille also urged the international community “to assist the military junta to respect and abide with the norms, release the detained civil ministers and dialogue with them to hand back the power to civil government.”

“The message of the scripture remains to be the strength of the people of God in the light of any situation,” the bishop, who is also president of the Sudanese bishops’ conference, commented.

He added, “The Church in Sudan has (never) remained silent under the Cross of Christ despite some changes which took place in Sudan; the attitude of the rulers towards the Church never changed.”

Sudan had been under the military dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir since 1989, but pro-democracy protests led to his overthrow in April 2019 and the installation of a transitional government which had both civilian and military elements.

There was a failed coup in September, but this week Burhan, who was chair of the power-sharing Sovereignty Council, has detained civilian government and political party leaders.

The coup has been widely condemned, with the US and the World Bank withholding aid, and the African Union suspending Sudan from the bloc.

Sudan was listed by the US Department of State as a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom record from 1999 to 2019.

In December 2019, it was moved to the Special Watch List “due to significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s 'systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.'”

At least 90 percent of Sudan's population is Muslim, though Islam was disestablished in 2020.

White House: Pope Francis ‘has spoken differently’ than Biden on abortion

Pope Francis greets then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in this April 29, 2016. / Vatican Media

Washington D.C., Oct 27, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s Oct. 29 meeting with Pope Francis, a White House spokeswoman acknowledged on Wednesday that “the pope has spoken differently” than Biden on abortion.

Biden, a Catholic, “is somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at an Oct. 27 briefing with reporters.

“The pope has spoken differently,” she added, in response to a question by EWTN News Nightly White House correspondent Owen Jensen.

Pope Francis will meet with President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on Friday at the Vatican.

Psaki on Wednesday said that areas of agreement between the two will feature as the “centerpiece” of Friday’s meeting, including the issues of “poverty, combatting the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centerpiece of what their discussion is when they meet,” she added.

Pope Francis has previously called abortion “murder,” compared abortion to “hiring a hitman,” said that unborn victims of abortion bear the face of Jesus, and decried efforts to promote abortion as an “essential service” during the pandemic.

Biden and his administration have taken a number of steps to either fund abortion outright or loosen regulations against funding of pro-abortion groups.

He pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion in Medicare by excluding the Hyde amendment from his FY 2022 budget request to Congress. In a Jan. 28 executive order, Biden repealed the Mexico City Policy, allowing for U.S. funding of international pro-abortion groups. His administration has changed regulations to allow funding of abortion providers in the Title X family planning program.

When Texas’ pro-life “heartbeat” law went into effect on Sept. 1, Biden promised a “whole-of-government” response to maintain legal abortion in Texas. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in federal court over the law, and the Department of Health and Human Services announced increased family planning funding of groups impacted by the Texas law.

In addition, Biden has issued statements supporting legal abortion in the United States and internationally.

Later in Wednesday’s briefing, Psaki expounded upon the president’s “faith” when asked about the meeting at the Vatican.

I think the president’s faith, as you well know, is quite personal to him. His faith has been a source of strength through various tragedies that he has lived through in his life,” she said, noting that “he attends church every weekend.”

“We certainly expect it to be a warm meeting,” she said.  

March for Life announces 2022 theme of 'equality'

2020 March for Life, Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2020 / Peter Zelasko/CNA

Washington D.C., Oct 27, 2021 / 12:18 pm (CNA).

The theme for the upcoming March for Life will be “Equality Begins in the Womb,” event organizers announced at a press conference on Oct. 27. 

“The pro-life movement recognizes the immense responsibility this nation bears to restore equal rights to its most defenseless citizens in the womb,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said at the Wednesday press conference. 

The 49th annual March for Life will be held on Friday, Jan, 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C. According to organizers, it is the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration. 

“Since Roe v. Wade, scientific advances have undeniably confirmed the humanity of the unborn, and today most Americans agree there should be significant limits on abortion,” Mancini said. 

“To this end, we hope the Supreme Court honors the existing constitutional protections for the unborn as they hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” she added, citing the major abortion case before the high court. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Dec. 1. 

Equality, said Mancini, has been a hotly debated topic in the United States as of late. 

“These discussions are crucial for America, for the health of our country,” said Manicini. “There’s little agreement on the definition of what ‘equality’ is and who it applies to.” 

“We want to expand this rigorous debate about equality to unborn children, who are often overlooked because they cannot speak for themselves,” she added.  

“Each of us is a human being, and we have inherent human dignity because of who we are in our essence,” said Mancini. And human beings, she added, “should be protected from the moment of conception or fertilization.” 

Mancini said the Dobbs case at the Supreme Court has the potential to make a “major impact on the unborn and on equality.” The cases focuses on Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. The question at hand is whether all pre-viability state abortion bans are unconstitutional.

“Our hope and our prayer is that this year’s theme, ‘Equality Begins in the Womb’ will allow not only for hearts and minds to be changed,” she said, “but that there will also be, included in this robust debate, the topic of the unborn child.” 

The coming year, she said, has the potential to be “historic” for the pro-life cause. 

“There’s so much ahead of us this year, and I think this will be a special March for Life,” she said.  

The consistently large crowds of the March for Life are proof, explained Mancini, that abortion policy in the United States is anything but “settled law.” 

“It shows them that it’s not settled law,” she said. “We don't get smaller, we don’t draw less of a line in the sand, we get bigger every year.” 

March for Life also announced on Wednesday that the rally preceding the 2022 march will feature speeches from actor Kirk Cameron and Fr. Mike Schmitz, a podcast host and priest of the Diocese of Duluth. The rally will also feature music from Grammy-nominated Matthew West. 

The 2021 March for Life was held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, with a small group of pro-life leaders walking through the streets of the city to lay roses outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. A small number of pro-life activists came to the city despite the march being officially closed to the public. 

Authorities kidnap Catholic bishop in China, says report

St Paul's Cathedral in Wenzhou. / 三猎 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Manila, Philippines, Oct 27, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).

Chinese authorities have kidnapped Catholic Bishop Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, according to a report by AsiaNews on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

The report said the 58-year-old prelate was taken by authorities “on vacation,” adding that it was not the first time the bishop was taken away. He has been arrested several times since he was appointed to the diocese in 2016. 

“Pray that the Lord will give [Bishop Shao] confidence and courage, that he will not be disheartened by what has happened,” read a statement from Catholics in the diocese quoted by the AsiaNews report.

“Pray also that he remains healthy and refreshed, under the guidance of Christ, so that he will come back to us as soon as possible to pasture his flock,” it added.

The Vatican confirmed Bishop Shao to lead the diocese in September 2016, following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, who was imprisoned for 16 years. At the time of his predecessor's death, Zhumin was arrested by police and taken “on a trip,” according to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need. He was then detained by authorities several times after that. 

In April and of May 2017, Bishop Shao was arrested; after the second arrest, he was detained for seven months. In 2018, he was reportedly arrested again and subjected to indoctrination. 

Born in 1963, Bishop Shao Zhumin was ordained a priest in 1989. In 2011, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Yongjia. 

His appointment was, however, not accepted by the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Detentions of underground clergy in China are common, as a means of pressuring them to join the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The “abductions” of religious leaders usually take place on the eve of important Catholic events, such as Christmas, Easter, the Feast of the Assumption, and All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, said AsiaNews. In recent years, authorities have blocked the entrance to the Wenzhou cemetery ahead of All Souls’ Day to prevent Catholics from gathering.

In Zhejiang, the percentage of Christians exceeds 10%, according to AsiaNews, and the faithful “are very zealous.”

Earlier in 2021, Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang disappeared for months after Chinese officials detained him along with other clergy and seminarians opposed to joining the state-run church.

Pope Francis to visit Canada in 'pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation' with Indigenous peoples

Pope Francis at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square June 17, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis is considering an invitation to visit Canada in light of the Canadian bishops’ "pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples."

A communique from the Holy See Press Office on Oct. 27 said that the pope has “indicated his willingness to visit” Canada on a future undetermined date.

The Canadian bishops’ conference welcomed the Vatican announcement stating that “Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.”

“We pray that Pope Francis’ visit to Canada will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing,” Bishop Raymond Poisson, the president bishops’ conference, said Oct. 27.

Pope Francis is already set to meet with delegations of different Indigenous tribes from Canada at the Vatican Dec. 17-20.

The papal meetings with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit delegations were scheduled following the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children at a former Catholic-run residential school in British Columbia and 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

Canada’s residential school system was set up by the Canadian federal government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. Catholics and members of other Christian denominations ran the schools. The last remaining federally-run residential school closed in 1996.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Canadian body set up to investigate abuses in the schools, at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the residential schools.

One of the commission’s calls was for a formal papal apology for the Church’s role in the residential school system.

Pope Francis expressed sorrow at the discovery of Indigenous children’s graves in an Angelus address in June, but did not issue a formal apology.

“The sad discovery further increases our awareness of the pain and suffering of the past. May Canada’s political and religious authorities continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,” the pope said on June 6.

The Canadian bishops’ conference apologized for the Church’s role in the residential school system in September and said that it was working toward the possibility of papal visit to Canada “as part of this healing journey."

The potential visit by Pope Francis would be the first papal trip to Canada since St. John Paul II visited Toronto nearly 20 years ago for World Youth Day 2002.

John Paul II visited Canada three times during his pontificate, making a stop to visit Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories in 1987 and visiting Quebec, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia during an 11-day trip in 1984.

Vatican providing third dose of COVID-19 vaccine

On March 31, 2021, the Vatican vaccinated 100 people staying at homeless shelters in Rome / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Vatican City is providing a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with priority given to the vulnerable and those over 60 years of age, a press release said Wednesday.

The city state's health and hygiene office started administering the third dose in the second half of October, according to a Vatican statement.

The Vatican has provided the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to its residents and employees since January, beginning with the elderly, health and safety personnel, and those in frequent contact with the public.

Pope Francis and Benedict XVI received two doses of the vaccine in early 2021. The second dose was administered in February.

Pope Francis and Benedict, both well over the age of 60, may be among the first group to receive a third dose of the vaccine, though Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni declined to confirm this deduction Wednesday.

On Oct. 1, the Vatican City State introduced a system requiring all employees, officials, and visitors to the territory to show they have been vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus, or have tested negative for the disease within 48 hours.

Employees who do not comply will be considered absent from work and will not be paid.

Vatican City State, the world's smallest independent nation-state, has a population of around 800 people. But together with the Holy See, the sovereign entity that predates it, it employs more than 4,000 people.

The Vatican also administered free doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to people living in poverty; over 1,000 needy people were vaccinated during Holy Week.

Pope Francis blesses pro-life bells going to Ukraine and Ecuador

Pope Francis blessed "Voice of the Unborn" bells for Ecuador and Ukraine on Oct. 27, 2021 / Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2021 / 05:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday blessed two large bells headed to Ukraine and Ecuador, where they will serve as a way for people to express their support for the lives of the unborn.

The “Voice of the Unborn” bells received the papal blessing before the general audience at the Vatican Oct. 27.

The bells are part of an initiative by the Polish Yes to Life foundation. Last year, Pope Francis blessed a bell which has now traveled to nearly 30 cities in Poland to be rung in support of the unborn.

Pope Francis rings one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells on Oct. 27, 2021. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation
Pope Francis rings one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells on Oct. 27, 2021. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation

“Today I blessed the bells that bear the name: ‘The voice of the unborn,’” Pope Francis said in a greeting to Polish pilgrims during his general audience in the Paul VI Hall.

“They are destined for Ecuador and Ukraine. For these nations and for all they are a sign of commitment in favor of the defense of human life from conception to natural death,” he said.

“May their sound announce the ‘Gospel of life’ to the world, awaken the consciences of men, and be a reminder of the unborn,” he added. “I entrust to your prayer every conceived child whose life is sacred and inviolable.”

One bell will be given to the St. John Paul II Shrine in Lviv, Ukraine, and the other will go to the Diocese of Guayaquil in Ecuador. The bells will travel to various events in those cities so that people can ring them as an expression of their pro-life beliefs.

A close-up of one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation
A close-up of one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation

The bells, like the original in Poland, were cast in the bell-making workshop of Jan Felczyński in the southeastern city of Przemyśl. They each weigh more than 2,000 pounds and are nearly four feet in diameter.

They are decorated with a DNA chain and an ultrasound of an unborn child. There is also an image of the stone tables on which God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. The bells bear the words of the fifth commandment -- “Thou shalt not kill” -- in Spanish and Ukrainian.

Details on one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation
Details on one of the "Voice of the Unborn" bells. Courtesy of the Yes to Life foundation

The words of Jeremiah 1:5 -- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” -- are also written on the bells beneath the image of the ultrasound.

They also have a quote from St. Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae: “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!”

Order of Malta thanks Pope Francis for choosing to 'accelerate the process of reform'

Pope Francis meets with the Order of Malta's Fra' Marco Luzzago on June 25, 2021. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

As the Order of Malta continues its reform process, Pope Francis has empowered a special delegate to determine when and how the nearly 1000-year-old order's next Grand Master will be elected.

Pope Francis sent a letter to Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi this week granting him the ability to convene the full Council of State for the election of a new Grand Master and convoke the next Extraordinary General Chapter at a date of his choosing.

“In order to be able to continue this important work of renewal, as my special delegate you have all the powers necessary to decide any questions that may arise in the implementation of the mandate entrusted to you,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter to Cardinal Tomasi signed on Oct. 25.

“As my special delegate, you have the power to take upon yourself aspects of the ordinary government of the Order, even derogating, if necessary, from the current Constitutional Charter and the current Codex Melitense, as well as to resolve all internal conflicts within the Order ex auctoritate Summi Pontificis.”

Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tomasi as his special delegate to oversee the reform of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in November last year after the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Within a week of Tomasi’s appointment, the Order of Malta elected Fra' Marco Luzzago as the Lieutenant of the Grand Master to serve a one year term.

In his letter, Pope Francis extended Fra' Marco Luzzago’s term indefinitely until the election of a new Grand Master, a position that is traditionally held for life.

“It is important that the Extraordinary General Chapter be celebrated in conditions that will ensure the necessary renewal in the life of the Order,” the pope wrote.

Pope Francis thanked Tomasi for “the positive steps taken in the spiritual and moral renewal of the Order” in the past year since his appointment, especially with regard to the order’s professed members and updating its constitution.

His letter outlined five specific powers which the cardinal will have if any problems arise in planning the Extraordinary General Chapter.

Among them is the power to approve the Constitutional Charter and the Codex Melitense and to to “proceed with the renewal of the Sovereign Council in accordance with the new regulatory texts.”

“I have no doubt that the entire Order, at every level, will willingly collaborate with you in a spirit of authentic obedience and respect,” he added near the end of the letter.

The Order of Malta welcomed the pope’s decision in a statement shared with CNA on Oct. 26.

“The Order of Malta is convinced that Pope Francis' decision will accelerate the process of reform of the Constitutional Charter and Code, enabling the Order to elect a Grand Master in the near future, and to continue its mission of service to the poor and the sick,” it said.

Founded in Jerusalem in the year 1048, the Sovereign Order of Malta today operates mainly in the field of medical and humanitarian assistance as a primary body of international law and a lay Catholic religious order.

The order has faced a slow-moving constitutional crisis since Pope Francis compelled the resignation of a previous Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing in 2017.

That decision came after Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager Boeselager in 2016, after it became known that an aid project of the order in Myanmar had distributed thousands of condoms. Boselager insisted that he had not known about the distribution of condoms, and that he had put a stop to it as soon as he became aware.

In 2017, Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor, and Becciu was appointed as the pope's personal delegate to oversee the order's reform, effectively supplanting the role of the order's Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who remains in post only nominally.

As part of its reform, the Order of Malta has considered changes to the office of Grand Master itself, and the role of the first degree of professed knights – those who make perpetual religious vows – in the governance of the order, as opposed to the second and third degrees, who do not.

Today the Order of Malta, with its 13,500 members, 80,000 volunteers, and its staff of 42,000 professionals, has a mission of witnessing the faith and serving the poor and the sick. The Order manages hospitals, medical centers, clinics, institutions for the elderly and disabled, centers for the terminally ill, volunteer corps, and has a relief agency, Malteser International.

Since 1834 the seat of the Government of the Sovereign Order of Malta has been in Rome, where it has guarantees of extraterritoriality.

The Order of Malta has bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 states, official relations with six other states, ambassadorial relations with the European Union and is a permanent observer to the United Nations and its specialized agencies.