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Supreme Courts in three states set to hear abortion case arguments

The Celebrate Life Day rally was organized to commemorate the first anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Supreme Court decision. / Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 11, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

This week state Supreme Courts in Arizona, Wyoming, and New Mexico will hear oral arguments for litigation related to the states’ abortion laws. In all three cases, the pro-life side will be argued by lawyers at the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom. 

Arizona: Defending life from the moment of conception

The Arizona Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Dec. 12, on whether prosecutors can enforce the state’s pre-Roe v. Wade abortion laws, which prohibited most abortions at the moment of conception.

Arizona’s prohibition was declared unconstitutional shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide. Despite the law being unenforceable for about 50 years, the state Legislature never repealed the law and the prohibition is still technically written into the state code.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested that the 50-year-old injunction that blocked the enforcement of the law be lifted.

The law in question prohibits both chemical and surgical abortions in every case, except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. There are no criminal penalties on the books for the mother who procures an abortion, but anyone who “provides, supplies, or administers” drugs or other substances, or “employs any instrument or other means whatever, with the intent thereby to procure the miscarriage” is subject to a prison sentence between two and five years.

Following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This is the threshold that is currently enforced in Arizona.

Wyoming: Lawmakers try to defend state’s pro-life laws

The Wyoming Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Dec. 12, on whether two state lawmakers and a pro-life organization have standing to intervene in a lawsuit about the state’s pro-life laws, which are currently held up in the court system. 

State Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams and Chip Neiman, along with Right to Life of Wyoming, are appealing a trial court decision that blocked them from intervening in a lawsuit that challenges the Life Is a Human Right Act, which prohibits chemical and surgical abortions in most circumstances. 

A district court judge blocked the enforcement of the law in March of this year.

The lawmakers and the pro-life organization argue that they have standing to defend the state law because they “have abiding interests in protecting women and unborn children.”

Abortion is currently legal up to the point of viability in Wyoming. 

New Mexico: County asks court not to recognize a constitutional right to abortion

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday, Dec. 13, on whether the state constitution protects a right to abortion after state Attorney General Raúl Torrez petitioned the court to strike down local pro-life ordinances in a handful of cities and counties. 

In his petition, Torrez asked the court to find a constitutional right to abortion within the New Mexico Constitution and declare the ordinances unconstitutional. There is no explicit right to “abortion” mentioned anywhere in the state constitution, but the attorney general claimed that abortion rights are implied in several sections of the state constitution. 

Roosevelt County is asking the Wyoming Supreme Court to find that there is not a constitutional right to abortion. The county is asking the court to allow its ordinance, which bans the shipment of abortion materials by mail, to remain in effect.

Hearing the pope’s confession: Vatican confessor reflects on sacrament

Pope Francis confesses in St. Peter's Basilica. / Credit: L’Osservatore Romano

CNA Newsroom, Dec 10, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

A 91-year-old Franciscan has spoken about his time as confessor to Pope Francis and stressed the enduring and essential role of the sacrament of reconciliation.

Brother Otmar Egloff served for several years as chief confessor at the Lateran — the storied cathedral of the bishop of Rome — according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

He described being asked to move from his native Switzerland to serve at the basilica in 2004, toward the end of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. “It was probably my talent for languages that was decisive, as I speak Italian, German, and French,” the priest said in an interview published Dec 7 by Swiss portal 

The friar recalled being told: “Tomorrow the pope is coming for confession!” — but that the experience was not so different from hearing confessions from other Catholics.  

“The only difference was that my confessional was cleaned very thoroughly beforehand,” the Franciscan said.

“When you come to the confessional in the morning and see a whole team cleaning and scrubbing your confessional, that’s really something else. I used to go and dust it myself with a cloth.”

“It was also special that Pope Francis confessed kneeling in public and used my confessional afterwards to hear confessions from other priests,” Egloff said.

Ninety-one-year-old veteran Vatican confessor Brother Otmar Egloff. Credit:
Ninety-one-year-old veteran Vatican confessor Brother Otmar Egloff. Credit:

Upholding both the sacred seal of confession and his sense of humor, when asked by the Swiss interviewer what penance Pope Francis would receive from him today, the Franciscan answered with a laugh: “Today, I would give the pope a different penance. A penance of the tongue. His tongue is sometimes too quick.”

Asked by the Swiss journalist where priests live when appointed a confessor at the Lateran, Brother Otmar replied: “Above the roof of the church are the apartments of the eight Franciscan friars who sit in the eight confessionals during the day.” 

Egloff added that Franciscans from all over the world had always been assigned to this service in the Lateran: “That has always been the case and will remain so,” he said.

Celibacy and vocation

From his long experience as a confessor, Egloff stressed that the sacrament “remains important.”

Noting “a decline of the practice in German-speaking countries,” the Swiss religious added: “This is a human need and gives you the chance of a real new beginning. Your conscience shows you what was wrong. God forgives.”

Pope Francis, who has encouraged Catholics to go to confession, recently reiterated his call to German Catholics to remember “the importance of prayer, penance, and adoration.”

In his interview, Egloff also said that celibacy and abuse have nothing to do with each other: “It’s more because unsuitable candidates were accepted due to a shortage of priests. Pedophilia is a serious disorder and an atrocity.”

Asked whether you can already know in your mid-20s whether you can spend your whole life celibate, the Franciscan said: “You do know. You know whether you’ve had relationships, whether you long for a partnership or not. You have to deal with these issues. That was probably not discussed enough [in the past]. For me, it was always important to help the respective priests and candidates to the priesthood — and, if necessary, to advise them against it.”

Pope at Angelus: ‘Through silence and prayer, we make space for Jesus’ 

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus message on Dec. 10, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 10, 2023 / 10:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis highlighted the importance of listening to God by embracing the example of John the Baptist, “the voice of one crying in the desert,” during his Angelus message on the second Sunday of Advent. 

While the desert is “an empty place, where you do not communicate,” it was an important backdrop for John’s ministry as it represents a place of encounter where we can authentically “listen to God,” the pope said to the nearly 25,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Dec. 10. 

Noting that the image of the barren desert as a place of preaching may “seem like two contradictory images,” they are in fact reconciled through the figure of John the Baptist as his voice “is linked to the genuineness of his experience and the clarity of his heart.”

The pope also noted that the desert is a “place of silence and essentials, where someone cannot afford to dwell on useless things but needs to concentrate on what is indispensable in order to live.” 

The desert does not hold a central place in the biblical context, he said, but it is an allegory for us today as a place of contemplation and encounter with God and provides an example for living a good life. 

“To proceed on the journey of life, we need to be stripped of the ‘more,’ because to live well does not mean being filled with useless things, but being freed from the superfluous, to dig deeply within ourselves so as to hold on to what is truly important before God.” 

“Only if, through silence and prayer, we make space for Jesus, who is the word of the Father, will we know how to be freed from the pollution of vain words and chatter,” Francis observed. 

Following the recitation of the Angelus prayer, the Holy Father commemorated the anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948. 

Noting that the 30-article document was a watershed moment that ushered in new norms and a universalized set of fundamental rights, he warned that there was a risk of going “backwards.”

“The commitment to human rights is never finished! In this regard, I am close to all those who, without proclamations, in concrete everyday life, fight and pay personally to defend the rights of those who do not count,” the pope exclaimed. 

The pope also took a moment to draw attention to a recent prisoner exchange between the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

“I watch with great hope at this positive sign for relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for peace in the South Caucasus, and I encourage the parties and their leaders to conclude the peace treaty as soon as possible,” the pontiff said. 

The prisoner exchange, which was announced by both governments on Thursday, Dec. 8, saw two Azerbaijani and 32 Armenian detainees exchanged and has been a major breakthrough in the relations between the two states since tensions flared up over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this year. 

The pope ended his appeal by also imploring for peace as we enter into the Christmas season. 

“We are moving towards Christmas: Will we be able, with God’s help, to take concrete steps towards peace? It’s not easy, we know. Certain conflicts have deep historical roots. But we also have the testimony of men and women who worked with wisdom and patience for peaceful coexistence.” 

“Follow their example! Every effort should be made to address and remove the causes of conflicts. And in the meantime — speaking of human rights — civilians, hospitals, places of worship must be protected, hostages must be freed, and humanitarian aid guaranteed,” Francis emphasized.

Cardinal Sarah addresses First African Congress on liturgy

Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. / Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA

ACI Africa, Dec 10, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The emphasis of cultural elements over Christian ones during liturgical celebrations is a distortion of the paschal mystery that defines the liturgy, Cardinal Robert Sarah has said. 

In his homily during the opening Mass of the pioneer international Congress of African Liturgists that opened in Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, on Dec. 4, Sarah underscored the importance of liturgy to Christians.

“We are working to sprinkle African and Asian elements into the liturgy, thereby distorting the paschal mystery that we celebrate,” he lamented. He faulted prolonged Eucharistic celebrations, saying: “We place so much emphasis on these cultural elements that our celebrations sometimes last six hours.”

The Guinean cardinal, who until his retirement in February 2021 was serving as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, further lamented: “Our liturgies are often too banal and too noisy, too African and less Christian.”

“If we look at the liturgy as a practical matter of pastoral efficiency, we run the risk of turning it into a human work, a set of more or less successful ceremonies,” he further cautioned.

The Dec. 4–8 congress in Dakar examined Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 60 years after its promulgation, under the theme “The state of the liturgical question in Africa: achievements, challenges, and prospects.”

Reflecting on the diamond jubilee of the December 1963 document that was solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, Sarah decried increased “improvisation of creativity,” which he said does not contribute to the renewal of the people of God.

“For 60 years we note that year after year the liturgical reform allied by much idealism and great hopes by many priests and laypeople turns out to be an avalanche of improvisation of creativity and a liturgical desolation instead of the renewal of the Church and the ecclesial life,” he lamented.

He looked beyond Africa, saying: “We are witnessing today, especially in the West, a dismantling of the values of faith and piety that have been handed down to us and instead of a frequent renewal of the liturgy, we are witnessing a destruction of the forms of the Mass.”

“Let us pray, dear brothers and sisters, that we may rediscover the Trinitarian origin of the liturgy,” the 78-year-old cardinal said.

He went on to laud the five-day Congress of African Liturgists as “historic” and an important milestone for the future of the people of God on the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.

“This meeting is historic and of vital importance for the future of the Church of Jesus Christ in Africa, because the liturgy is vital to the Christian religion, and these liturgical specialists are here not just as experts but under the watchful eye of God, they want to help us to live our faith and our Christian religion to the full,” Sarah said.

He added: “Sixty years after the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, African liturgists are organizing this first international congress of African liturgists to compare their thoughts on liturgical practice and the fidelity of African communities to the Christian tradition and the authentic values of African cultures.”

The cardinal went on to highlight three things he said are “needed to make up a religion: first, beliefs; second, rules for living; and third, rites of worship.”

“When beliefs reach a stage of high perfection, they become dogmas or truths of faith,” he explained. “When the rules of life are precise and just, they constitute a divine law, and when the rites are fixed and defined, they are not subject to improvisation, creativity or the imagination of the priests; they form a liturgy.”

“Every religion must be judged by these things: its morality and its liturgy. In this threefold respect, the Christian religion fears no comparison; it is far superior to all the others,” he said.

The hidden life of Nicholas Black Elk revealed in canonization process

Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White. / Credit: Public Domain

Detroit, Mich., Dec 10, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Nicholas Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota Sioux warrior, visionary, and Catholic catechist, is known worldwide but has been misunderstood for decades, according to two Jesuit priests who have emphasized Black Elk’s enduring Catholic faith as his canonization process unfolds.   

First published in 1932, the book “Black Elk Speaks” became especially popular in the 1960s counterculture when many Americans and Europeans were searching for spirituality distinct from Christianity. The acclaimed book is based on conversations the Sioux holy man had with Nebraska poet John Neihardt. Black Elk (1865–1950) spoke in Lakota and was translated by his son, Ben Black Elk, whose words were recorded in shorthand. The book has appeared in several editions for decades to acclaim.

However, it has been criticized by the Lakota as well as by scholars.

Indiana University professor Raymond DeMaille, for example, questioned Neihardt’s faithfulness to Black Elk’s words. Later, Nebraska University Press addressed the controversy by publishing an edition titled “Black Elk Speaks: as told through John G. Neihardt (aka ‘Flaming Rainbow’).”

Father Michael Steltenkamp, SJ, an anthropologist and parish priest, has written several books and journal articles about Black Elk and has prepared biographical materials for the canonization process. For Steltenkamp, Nicholas Black Elk is a model for American Catholics. 

Steltenkamp told CNA that “Black Elk Speaks” really only chronicled the first 25 years or so of Black Elk’s long, momentous life. Referring to its author, Steltenkamp said: “Neihardt reports that Black Elk was born in the Moon of the Topping Trees (December). In fact, Black Elk was born in the summertime, but he used Dec. 6 as his birthdate because that was the day he was baptized” in 1904.

“In his words, not mine, not some fundamentalist’s words,” Steltenkamp said, “he was born again.”

Dec. 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas and was thus the name Black Elk took as he began a new life, Steltenkamp said. 

A series of visions

Black Elk was born on the plains of Wyoming and from an early age had mysterious visions that garnered respect among Lakota medicine men and tribal healers. Hardly more than a boy, and before his conversion, he participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, where he scalped a soldier. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men were killed there in 1876. Black Elk’s cousin, Crazy Horse, was the famed Lakota war chief there.

The 1870s saw the influx of white settlers on the Great Plains and the extermination of millions of bison, which was met with armed resistance by Native Americans. The U.S. Army fought the Sioux and other native peoples who were gradually worn down by the war; forced into reservations; died of exposure, starvation, and disease; and made dependent on government handouts. 

But there was interest in the eastern United States and Europe in the vanishing Native Americans. 

Black Elk joined William Cody’s tour of Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and even gave a command performance for Queen Victoria as part of her 1887 golden jubilee. The monarch solemnly bowed to the Native Americans in a sign of respect shown only to fellow rulers, Steltenkamp said. Black Elk visited European cathedrals where white men worshipped. He understood that not all whites were evil. 

“He had a much more ecumenical, rather than a tribalistic, or parochial, Christian vision,” Steltenkamp said. “He was universal in his preaching. He was Christ-like.” 

The crisis for Native Americans on the plains produced a spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance and swept through the West in the late 1880s, giving them hope that whites would leave, the bison herds would return, and the old way of life would be renewed by an awaited savior. But the army feared the Ghost Dance would embolden Native American resistance. 

Black Elk had a series of visions during a dance — more than a decade before his conversion — in which he saw a man “with wounds in the palms of his hands.” He said: “Once more, I saw the sacred tree all full of leaves and blooming. Against the tree was a man standing with arms held wide in front of him. I looked hard at him and could not tell what people he came from. He was not ‘wasi’chu’ [non-Indian] and he was not Indian. His hair was long and hanging loose… his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light… He spoke like singing: ‘My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me. Your father the Great Spirit has said this. And you too must say this.’”

Steltenkamp said: “He sees this figure calling all people to the flowering tree of ‘Wakan Tanka’ (‘Great Spirit’). That is the resurrected Jesus. He saw all humanity under a flowering tree and the flowering tree as a symbol of the Christian life of all people. I am quoting his daughter, Lucy, on that.”

Serving his people as a healer and holy man, Black Elk rescued the wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, where the army tried to disarm the Lakota, and killed at least 300 — including women and children — on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Native American resistance was effectively at an end. Red Cloud, a Lakota leader, convinced Black Elk to stop fighting and stay at the reservation.

Red Cloud later invited Jesuit missionaries to the Pine Ridge Reservation because of his trust in the Jesuit priests, whom the Lakota called “black robes.” At his request, a Catholic school, which is still in operation, was established there.

As for Black Elk, he married Katie War Bonnet, a convert, in 1892, and their three children were baptized Catholics. In 1903, Katie died. Two years later, after his own conversion, Black Elk married Anna Brings White, who was also Catholic. Among their children was Lucy, who befriended Steltenkamp in the 1970s. Their relationship grew so close in the 1970s that she called Steltenkamp “grandson.”

Black Elk’s Catholicism

Steltenkamp said Black Elk’s Catholic faith only grew after his baptism. He became a catechist at the Pine Ridge Reservation, taking on for nearly 50 years duties resembling those of modern permanent deacons. He preached the Gospel, taught the basics of the faith, and baptized the dying. Steltenkamp said that Black Elk was “really committed to this 24-hours-a-day ministry: a vocation.”

In a 2013 article in U.S. Catholic Historian, Steltenkamp wrote that the “Encyclopedia of Indians” described Black Elk’s Catholicism as calculated in order to “appease his oppressors.” But according to Steltenkamp, Black Elk’s nephew, Pat Red Elk, said that whoever described Black Elk this way “sure didn’t know Uncle Nick.”

Father Joseph Daoust, SJ, who serves at Pine Ridge, said of Black Elk: “He wanted to help his people get the faith which had helped him. He was a man of hope in very difficult times. These were prisoner of war camps and they were deprived of the means of taking care of themselves.”

“Black Elk had credibility,” Daoust continued. “He was used as a missionary even in Wyoming to reservations where they don’t speak Lakota. He didn’t know Arapaho or Shoshone. But he was considered a holy man by them.” 

“The memory of him as an old man was of seeing him every Sunday walk from the general store to St. Agnes Church in Manderson, South Dakota, on the reservation, with his friend John Lone Goose. Black Elk began praying the rosary, ‘Hail Mary full of grace,’ and John responded, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God,’ and they would finish the rosary by the time they reached the church. They would remember Black Elk always had a rosary in hand,” Steltenkamp said.

Another example of his devotion, Steltenkamp said, was that despite advanced age and arthritis, Black Elk would always insist on receiving the Eucharist on his knees at the altar rail, getting help from family to genuflect. During an annual retreat for catechists during Holy Week in 1923, Black Elk approached a Jesuit priest with a “very worthy resolution: ‘We catechists resolve never to commit a mortal sin.’”

In a video documentary titled “Walking the Good Red Road,” sponsored by the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, Steltenkamp said: “I can see why Black Elk and the Jesuits got along. Because part of the mystical tradition of the Jesuits is to find God in all things. How do you find God in the midst of tragedy and tears or loss? You have to seek God in that.”

The Jesuits developed a unique catechism for use among the illiterate on the American Plains. In the video, Steltenkamp described the “Two Roads Map”: a chart with colorful depictions of the Old Testament and the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. A black road lead to perdition, while a red road lead through the Church to salvation.

”Black Elk used the Two Roads Map for 30 years and taught many generations of kids and older people what Christians call salvation history … He said, ‘I saw my vocation as leading my people from the Black Road to the Red Road,’” Steltenkamp said.

“It’s a lot of hogwash that Black Elk didn’t live his faith sincerely. His daughter wanted to make it clear that Neihardt’s depiction of him as a 19th-century figure did an injustice to his life as a whole,” Steltenkamp emphasized.

Canonization process

In an interview with CNA, Daoust said Black Elk is recognized among the people of Pine Ridge as a holy man in both the Lakota and Catholic senses.

“We didn’t run into any opposition to canonizing him, especially among his relatives,” Daoust said, adding that a commemorative Mass is said every year at the church in Pine Ridge on Aug. 17, Black Elk’s death date.

“There are some descendants who are not Catholic, but not anti-Catholic, but who believe the Church was part of colonization, who say this is an honor, and ‘go ahead and do it to my grandpa,’” Daoust said.

“His process of conversion was gradual,” Daoust said, adding that not “everything before his conversion was holy. Catholics should know he was a faithful Catholic, a missionary Catholic, somebody who went to reservations with the Jesuits and spoke very well of Jesus Christ and the faith.”

“He was a great model of being both Catholic and Lakota,” Daoust said, noting that Black Elk continued some Lakota practices that are not at odds with Catholic teaching. As for any lingering doubts about Black Elk’s Catholic identity, Daoust pointed out that even St. Ignatius Loyola — founder of the Jesuits — was a soldier who defended his country from outsiders.

Steltenkamp said that Nicholas Black Elk is now honored as a Servant of God and the cause for his canonization is now before the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican.

Orphan rescued by Mother Teresa promotes cause of Minnesota nun 

Patrick Norton stands near Sister Annella Zervas' grave, October 2022. / Credit: Patti Armstrong

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 10, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pointing toward the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Saint Benedict Monastery cemetery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, 61-year-old Patrick Norton recounts the day 13 years ago when he was painting light posts in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother and encountered who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas, OSB.

Zervas, a Benedictine sister, died in 1926 at the age of 26 of a debilitating skin disease.

Norton, who was plucked from the streets of Bombay as a child by Mother Teresa and later adopted by an American family, had been hired by the College of Saint Benedict on Oct. 27, 2010, to do some painting. He told CNA that while finishing up the last light post in front of the grotto he thought to himself, “I wonder if the Blessed Mother thinks I am doing a good job?” When he looked down, there was a nun in full Benedictine habit.

“‘You are doing a good job,’ she told me. We talked a little, but I don’t remember what it was about. Then I watched as she disappeared,” he told CNA.

The encounter was so astonishing that Norton kept it to himself for a year. But in a chance conversation, he was told “there is a holy nun buried in that cemetery” and he came to learn it was Zervas. Eventually, he saw a picture of her and was certain that she was the one who had appeared to him.

Patrick Norton stands beside the lamp post he was painting near the Marian grotto when he saw a woman in full Benedict habit who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas. Credit: Patti Armstrong
Patrick Norton stands beside the lamp post he was painting near the Marian grotto when he saw a woman in full Benedict habit who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas. Credit: Patti Armstrong

An elderly religious sister at Saint Benedict Monastery — who also happened to be named Sister Annella — shared with Norton pictures of Zervas and a booklet about the young sister’s life called “Apostles of Suffering in Our Day” by Benedictine priest Joseph Kreuter, published in 1929.

“Why isn’t she a saint yet?’ Norton asked.

“Oh, I’m in my 80s and I’m the only one promoting her cause,” she replied.

“Sister, why can’t I help you out?” he replied.

Norton said she just looked at him. “I didn’t have any experience but felt compassion for her, and also, I did see Sister Annella, so I felt I had to promote her cause.”

He read in the booklet that Zervas entered the convent at age 15 and died from a painful, unsightly, and odiferous skin disease at age 26. She was also subjected to attacks from the devil and from a heartburn that made it hard to keep food down. At the time of her death, she weighed only 40 pounds. Yet, she asked God to allow her even more suffering and for the strength to bear it so she could offer it up for the Church. 

Every week, Norton made 10 copies of the booklet to pass out. “I went to Sister Annella’s grave and told her, ‘If I am going to make more books, I need money.’” 

A short time later he had a conversation with someone he had just met and told about Zervas. “How can I help?” the person asked him. 

“Can you help me make 20 books a week instead of just 10?” 

“How about 20,000?” the donor, who wanted to remain anonymous, replied. 

The number of books Norton has now distributed is about 100,000. It was also previously published in French and Sri Lanken. 

Another good Samaritan arranged for Norton to be interviewed for a video called “The Sanctity of Two Hearts.”

A friend of Norton’s located Joanne Zervas, a niece of Sister Annella’s, and Norton met with her. She gave him many of her aunt’s personal effects for safekeeping, including family letters, a silver spoon used to give holy Communion when Zervas was incapacitated, her rosary, a book stained with what is believed to be her blood, and candles that burned in her room when she died.  

Word spread about the sister and there were reports of answered prayers through her intercession. Yet, it seemed unlikely that a cause for her canonization would open. 

Norton recounted that Bishop Donald Joseph Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud encouraged him to keep telling his story but declined to take further steps in order to respect the wishes of the Benedictine sisters who were not interested in opening a cause for Zervas. 

In a SC Times article in 2017, a spokesperson for the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, said it was not the Benedictine way to promote one sister above another as it would “be contrary to humility.” A spokesperson from the diocese said that without their support, there would be no cause. 

But Norton and a small group that had formed to pray that her cause be opened met monthly at the cemetery and kept praying. 

After years of disappointment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis informed Norton that he was appealing to the wrong diocese. Zervas had died in her parents’ home in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is in the Crookston Diocese. But again, there was no interest in opening a cause there.

“I went through darkness,” Norton admitted. “I would say, ‘Really Lord, are you hearing me?’  One day I said, ‘I’m not getting any younger you know.’”

Norton questioned if he was even the right person to promote Zervas. “I’m not a doctor or a lawyer; I’m just a painter,” he said. But he had told the Lord: “Let me live each day for you, and I will tell people about her through my nothingness.”

Patrick Norton speaks during event at the grotto in the cemetery during event where the bishop's letter was read in October 2023. Credit: Patti Armstrong
Patrick Norton speaks during event at the grotto in the cemetery during event where the bishop's letter was read in October 2023. Credit: Patti Armstrong

Then in 2021, Bishop Andrew Cozzens was appointed to the Diocese of Crookston. Norton heard that Cozzens had known about Zervas since he was a boy. Then on Oct. 15 Norton heard — through a letter from the bishop that was read at the cemetery to the prayer group — that initial steps are being put in place by the diocese to begin an investigation into Zervas’ life, which will make it possible for a cause to be opened.

Norton has now been promoting Zervas’ story for more than a decade.

“I couldn’t fall asleep that night,” Norton told CNA. “I was overwhelmed. The first thing I did was to thank Our Lord and Our Lady. Before going to bed, every night, I always kiss the cheek of Our Lady of Fátima statue [in his home] and say, ‘Good night, Mother.’ And I kiss the feet of Our Lord on a big crucifix from a monastery in Spain and say, ‘You are my Lord and my God. There is no other God, and I love you.’”  

“Even before Sister Annella appeared to me, every Mother’s Day, I brought roses to the grotto and would tell [Mary], ‘You are the best Ma in the whole world. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.’ I’d sit there and look at the big crucifix and pray the rosary.” 

Norton said he is at peace with his efforts over the years to make Zervas’ life and holiness known. “Since the diocese is taking over, I’m going to just be silent and do my best to live in humility and pray,” he said. “I will pray a lot and thank the Lord for the work he is doing.”

Vatican unveils Nativity scene honoring St. Francis of Assisi and devotion’s 800-year-old origin 

The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene on Dec. 9, 2023, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800-year anniversary. / Credit: Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene earlier this evening, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800th anniversary. 

The scene in St. Peter’s Square depicts not only Mary and Joseph standing beside the manger but also St. Francis of Assisi, who organized the first Nativity scene in a cave in the Italian village of Greccio on Christmas Eve in 1223.

A close-up of the nativity scene unveiled at the Vatican in St. Peter's Square on Dec. 9, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN
A close-up of the nativity scene unveiled at the Vatican in St. Peter's Square on Dec. 9, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN

Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, presided over the Dec. 9 inauguration ceremony. Over a thousand people gathered in the square for the event, which included moments of catechesis, an explanation of how the scene was put together, and the signing of seasonal hymns. 

The Vatican’s Greccio-inspired Nativity scene does not include live animals and people as St. Francis’ original did, but it does feature life-sized terracotta figures, crafted by renowned Neapolitan sculptor Antonio Cantone.

At the center of the scene is the now-empty manger, where a figure of the newborn savior will be placed on Christmas Eve. On one side of manger, Mary kneels, flanked by Joseph, while on the other side, St. Francis of Assisi stands in a pose of wonder. 

In addition to Mary, Joseph, St. Francis, and the traditional ox and donkey, the 13th-century mayor of Greccio who helped organize the first Nativity scene, Giovanni Velita, is featured in statue form, along with his wife, Alticama.  

Three Franciscan friars, whom St. Francis had tasked with setting up the first Nativity scene as a place where local faithful could come and contemplate the poverty of the incarnate Lord, are also depicted. 

The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene Dec. 9, 2023, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800-year anniversary. Statues of St. Francis and his brothers are part of the scene. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN
The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene Dec. 9, 2023, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800-year anniversary. Statues of St. Francis and his brothers are part of the scene. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN

The backdrop of the scene is a replica of the fresco that decorates the Chapel of the Nativity in Greccio, which is built into the grotto where St. Francis set up the first Nativity scene. On one half of the fresco, he kneels in adoration of the Christ child; on the other side, Mary feeds the newborn savior while Joseph, the ox, and the donkey look on.  

Underneath the fresco, a Franciscan friar is depicted celebrating Mass in the grotto. The friar elevates the body of Christ directly behind the manger. 

In another fitting tribute to the Nativity scene’s origins, this year’s Vatican display was provided by the Diocese of Rieti, which is where Greccio is located. 

The Vatican’s Christmas tree was also lit at the Dec. 9 ceremony. The tree, an 80-foot-tall fir, had been donated by the Italian community of Macra, located in the northwest of Italy. The tree was adorned with edelweiss flowers that are native to the Alpine region. Upon lighting, it glowed with ever-changing patterns of green, blue, and red. 

A spectator takes a photo of the Nativity scene and Christmas tree unveiled in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 9, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN
A spectator takes a photo of the Nativity scene and Christmas tree unveiled in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 9, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN

After the tree’s use in St. Peter’s Square, its wood will be used to make toys for children in need. 
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis spoke to delegations of the two communities that had donated the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree. The pope said that meditating in front of any Nativity scene should “awaken in us the nostalgia for silence and prayer, in our often-so-hectic daily life.” 

The pope also said that the Vatican Nativity scene’s connection to Greccio should in turn prompt people to think and pray for the inhabitants of the Holy Land amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, especially children and their parents affected by the conflict. 

“These are the ones who pay the real price of war,” Pope Francis said. 

Both the Nativity scene and the tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 7, 2024. 

Pope Francis appoints Brazilian native as Boston’s new auxiliary bishop  

Father Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa , 47, was appointed by Pope Francis as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Boston on Dec. 9, 2023. / Credit: Archdiocese of Boston

CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 10:26 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a priest born and ordained in Brazil to serve as the next auxiliary bishop of Boston, the Vatican announced on Saturday. 

Father Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa, 47, will join Cardinal Seán O’Malley and four other auxiliaries as bishops of the archdiocese, a territory that includes nearly 1.8 million Catholics. 

The Boston metropolitan area is also home to a significant Brazilian population — nearly 64,000 people, according to census figures from 2014. Barbosa was chaplain of the archdiocese’s Brazilian-Portuguese community from 2008–2019. 

Currently, Barbosa is the episcopal vicar of the archdiocese’s central region and also serves as the archdiocesan secretary for evangelization and catechesis, roles he will continue in following his episcopal ordination. 

O’Malley cited Barbosa’s experience with the local Brazilian community as well as his theological background and extensive parish experience as factors in the pope’s appointment. 

“I am grateful to our Holy Father Pope Francis for blessing this archdiocese with the appointment of Bishop-elect Barbosa,” O’Malley said in a Dec. 9 statement provided by the Archdiocese of Boston. “He offers a shepherd’s heart and a wide range of experiences that have prepared him for this new role in the life of the Church.” 

In the same statement, Barbosa said he was “humbled” by the “great confidence” shown by the Holy Father in naming him an auxiliary bishop. He also said that he is “happy if I can serve in love God and his people” and described the role of Church ministers as promoting “unity and peace.” 

“I want to thank Cardinal Seán for his confidence and for his great love for the archdiocese and its people in all its cultural diversity,” Barbosa said. 

Barbosa was born in Adamantina in the Diocese of Maríla, Brazil, on Oct. 11, 1976. He received his education in Brazil, including a master’s degree in psychology, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Bauru on Dec. 22, 2007. 

The Brazilian native has served at parishes in Cambridge and Lowell. He earned a licentiate and doctorate in theology from Boston College and was a faculty member at the Pope John XIII National Seminary in Weston and St. John Seminary in Brighton from 2020 until earlier this year. Barbosa was incardinated into the archdiocese in 2021. 

According to the archdiocese, Barbosa speaks Spanish in addition to English and Portuguese. Pope Francis has also assigned him to the titular see of Membressa. 

Pope Francis: Vatican Nativity scene should prompt prayers for the Holy Land 

Pope Francis gazes at a nativity scene during a meeting with two delegations at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2023 — a community from Macra, located in the Alps who provided this year’s Christmas tree, and people from the Diocese of Rieti, who donated this year's Nativity scene. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said today that the Vatican’s Nativity scene this year should compel people to think of the Holy Land — both of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and also of the conflict currently engulfing the region. 

“While we contemplate Jesus, God made man, small, poor, defenseless, we cannot help but think of the drama that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are experiencing, demonstrating to these brothers and sisters of ours, especially to children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support,” the pope said. 

Pope Francis makes his remarks in a Saturday morning audience, Dec. 9, 2023, in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who donated the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis makes his remarks in a Saturday morning audience, Dec. 9, 2023, in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who donated the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope made his remarks in a Saturday morning audience in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who had donated, respectively, the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene, or creche, that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. The unveiling of the Nativity scene and lighting of the Christmas tree are scheduled to take place this evening. 

An annual custom, this year’s Vatican creche pays special tribute to the first known Nativity scene, which was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the small Italian village of Greccio 800 years ago. 

As the pope recounted during today’s audience, St. Francis had just returned from his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1223 and was struck by the similarity of Greccio’s caves to the landscape of Bethlehem. The connection prompted the saint to call together both friars and local men and women to replicate the scene of Christ’s birth.

In turn, this year’s Vatican Nativity scene should help people make the connection to the Holy Land, the pope said, especially to the plight of families caught in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

“These are the ones who pay the real price of war,” the pope said, referring to the conflict that began on Oct. 7 and has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million more. 

Pope Francis speaks to two delegations at the Vatican on Dec. 9, 2023. The community from Macra, located in the Alps, provided this year’s Christmas tree and the Nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis speaks to two delegations at the Vatican on Dec. 9, 2023. The community from Macra, located in the Alps, provided this year’s Christmas tree and the Nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope also said that reflecting in front of every Nativity scene should “awaken in us the nostalgia for silence and prayer, in our often so-hectic daily life.” 

Silence, the pope continued, is the ability to “listen to what Jesus tells us from that singular ‘chair,’ which is the manger.” 

Pope Francis pointed to Mary as the model of this kind of prayerful posture before the Nativity scene. 

“She says nothing, but she contemplates and adores,” he said. 

The pope also commented on this year’s Vatican Christmas tree. The fir tree has been decorated with edelweiss flowers grown in a nursery, as opposed to wild edelweiss flowers, which are legally protected in Italy.

Pope Francis meets with two delegations at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2023 — a community from Macra, located in the Alps, who provided this year’s Christmas tree, and people from the Diocese of Rieti, who donated this year's Nativity scene. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with two delegations at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2023 — a community from Macra, located in the Alps, who provided this year’s Christmas tree, and people from the Diocese of Rieti, who donated this year's Nativity scene. Credit: Vatican Media

“This too is a choice that makes us reflect, highlighting the importance of caring for our common home,” Pope Francis said. “Small gestures are essential in ecological conversion, gestures of respect and gratitude for God’s gifts.” 

The community from Macra, located in the Alps in the far northwest of Italy, provided this year’s Christmas tree. The Nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti, which is located just north of Rome and is the home of Greccio. 

The pope held an audience on Saturday morning, Dec. 9,  in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who had donated, respectively, the Christmas tree and the nativity scene, or creche, that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. Credit: Vatican Media
The pope held an audience on Saturday morning, Dec. 9, in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who had donated, respectively, the Christmas tree and the nativity scene, or creche, that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. Credit: Vatican Media

Following this evening’s ceremony, the Nativity scene and Christmas tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 7, 2024.

Report: Interstate travel for abortion doubled from 2020 to 2023

A pro-life woman kneels in prayer in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center, an abortion clinic, in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 8, 2021. / Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

More people are traveling outside of their state to receive an abortion after more than 20 states enacted pro-life legislation amid the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, new data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute found. 

The percentage of women traveling interstate to receive an abortion nearly doubled in the first six months of 2023 compared with 2020, according to estimates in the report. It estimates that the number of out-of-state abortions jumped from about 9% of all abortions to about 17% of all abortions. The total number of women receiving out-of-state abortions more than doubled from fewer than 41,000 to more than 90,000. 

According to the report, the states with the highest uptick in out-of-state abortion seekers are bordering states that enacted new restrictions on abortion. This includes Florida, which has fewer restrictions than its neighbors Georgia and Alabama; New Mexico, which has fewer restrictions than neighbors Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma; and Kansas, which has fewer restrictions than all of its neighbors, apart from Colorado. 

“We knew that more people have been traveling across state lines for abortion since the end of Roe, but these findings are stunning nonetheless and powerfully illustrate just how disruptive the overturning of Roe has been for tens of thousands of abortion patients,” Guttmacher Institute Data Scientist Isaac Maddow-Zimet said in a statement. 

“Where people are traveling to get care is an important piece of the puzzle in untangling the post-Dobbs abortion landscape,” Maddow-Zimet, who led the project to produce the report, added. “We hope that this data can prove useful to providers, advocates, and policymakers who have been working tirelessly to improve access to abortion in the face of unprecedented challenges.” 

Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that the report’s findings are “tragic, but unsurprising.” 

“After the Dobbs decision, we’ve seen pro-abortion states become even more extreme in their marketing of abortion to women in pro-life states,” Longbons said. “Women deserve to know that there is a network of nearly 3,000 pregnancy centers across the country providing millions of dollars’ worth of services and resources for pregnant women in need. Rather than pushing abortion on demand, states should offer women and their babies real support and comprehensive care.”

The Guttmacher Institute produced these estimates from data samples they received from organizations that perform abortions.

In spite of the increase in out-of-state abortions, pro-life activists have noted that a recent increase in live births nationally shows that pro-life laws are having a positive effect in saving preborn children from abortions.

“Despite the efforts of pro-abortion states, the Institute of Labor Economics recently estimated that states with pro-life laws will welcome approximately 32,000 more babies annually,” Longbons said.