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New book explores J.R.R. Tolkien’s faith and how it imbued his work

The cover of “Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography” by Holly Ordway. / Credit: Word on Fire

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

Most people are likely aware — at least vaguely — that J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” was Catholic. 

Fewer, perhaps, know how seriously he took his faith, in a time and place where being Catholic carried serious negative societal consequences. 

A new book from Word on Fire — “Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography” — explores the renowned fantasy author’s Catholic faith and how it influenced his stories, delving primarily into Tolkien’s own writings and interviews as well as the testimonies of those who knew him best. 

Holly Ordway, the book’s author, told CNA that she sought to create a book that is inviting and accessible to non-Catholics. The book itself seeks to explain the Catholic faith that Tolkien had, she said, but in an objective way, not in a way that the reader — who is perhaps a Tolkien fan, but has no understanding of Catholicism — is “hit over the head with a heavy-handed Christian message.”

“I was one of those readers, because I am myself a convert. I first read ‘Lord of the Rings’ as a non-Christian and loved it,” Ordway told CNA. 

“I’ve aimed to help readers understand Tolkien’s faith on his own terms, neither praising or criticizing it.”

Holly Ordway. Credit: Devin Dailey
Holly Ordway. Credit: Devin Dailey

Today, Ordway is the Cardinal Francis George professor of faith and culture at the Word on Fire Institute and visiting professor of apologetics at Houston Christian University. She said she was inspired, in part, to undertake the book to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Tolkien’s death on Sept. 2, 2023, but also because she had come to realize that a book solely dedicated to Tolkien’s faith had yet to be written. Humphrey Carpenter’s official biography mentions his faith, she said, but only as relates to the faith of his mother; other biographical media, such as a 2019 biopic, barely mention his faith at all. 

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born in 1892, was baptized an Anglican in South Africa, where his family lived before he; his mother, Mabel; and his brother, Hillary, moved to Birmingham, England. 

Tolkien’s father died suddenly while still in South Africa, leaving Mabel to raise the two boys alone. During this time, Mabel converted to Catholicism. Tolkien made the choice to follow his mother into her new faith, receiving the sacraments of holy Communion and Confirmation at the age of 12. 

It’s hard to overstate how consequential Mabel and John’s conversions were. Mabel’s family cut off all financial and emotional support permanently, leaving the family destitute. Tolkien later described Mabel, who died in 1904 when she was only 34 and he was 12, as a “martyr.” 

Ordway found that it was far from a foregone conclusion that Tolkien would retain the faith he embraced as a child. The familial and societal challenges that presented themselves were bad enough, not to mention Tolkien’s horrific experiences in the trenches of World War I, which challenged his faith and shaped his worldview immensely.

J.R.R. Tolkien. Public domain
J.R.R. Tolkien. Public domain

Additionally, Ordway said her extensive research for the book included a look at the anti-Catholic climate of the time in order to accurately paint a picture of just how consequential Tolkien’s conversion was.

“Recognizing exactly how anti-Catholic English culture was when he was growing up makes it all the more remarkable that he was incredibly generous-spirited towards other traditions,” she commented. 

Father Francis Morgan, a priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London, would later take on a major role in Tolkien’s life as a substitute father figure. Tolkien wrote proudly of his Catholic faith, including his love for the Eucharist, and was strengthened in his Christian convictions by his friendship with C.S. Lewis, a highly renowned Christian author in his own right.

Tolkien is very clear in his writings that “The Lord of the Rings” is not a Christian allegory, contrasting the “Narnia” books by his friend Lewis. He nevertheless described “The Lord of the Rings” as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”

Ordway said it is clear that Tolkien’s Catholic worldview is infused in his stories. 

“There are Marian figures, there are Christ-like figures … what he’s imbuing into the story is the fundamentally religious element. I think he chose that word carefully … fundamentally at the fundamentals, at the roots. So things like his understanding of good and evil, and he has a very clearly Catholic understanding of that,” Ordway said. 

“He says, ‘I don’t believe in absolute evil, but I do believe in absolute good.’ So he’s explicitly rejecting a dualistic view of the world and he’s affirming the fundamental Catholic view. God does not have an ontologically equivalent opposite. God is the supreme, and evil is parasitic.”

Tolkien also prizes in his books the virtues of pity and mercy, which are “fundamentally Christian concepts,” Ordway said. “The Lord of the Rings” also strongly proffers the idea that suffering — while real and painful — can also be redemptive. 

“I think that is a message that is profoundly Christian, profoundly Catholic, and profoundly meaningful. It speaks to people even if they don’t know that it has any connection to the Christian faith,” Ordway said.

“Even if you don’t recognize the fact that these elements are Christian, I think people are still responding to the reality of it. They’re still experiencing the beauty of goodness and the sordidness of evil and wanting goodness to prevail. And that’s a big deal in today’s world, to recognize something as fundamental as the reality of goodness,” she continued. 

“By the time someone who’s not a Christian, by the time they get to the end of [my] book, first of all, they will know a lot more about Christianity and Catholicism than they did before … they’ll see that whatever Tolkien believed, it wasn’t simple or trivial or foolish. It was something substantial. It meant a lot to him. And that opens the door for them to say, ‘Maybe I should look into this some more.’”

Pope Francis’ next environmental document to be called ‘Laudate Deum’

Pope Francis meets with Latin American university rectors on Sept. 21, 2023, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 26, 2023 / 14:18 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ new document on the environment, to be released Oct. 4, will be called Laudate Deum.

The pope shared the name of his latest apostolic exhortation during a meeting with Latin American university rectors on Sept. 21, though the speech was only made public by Vatican News in Spanish on Monday afternoon.

According to Vatican News, while speaking about the environment and the “culture of abandonment,” Pope Francis revealed that his new document on the topic will be titled Laudate Deum, which means “Praise God” in Latin.

It will be, he said, “a look at what has happened and say what needs to be done,” Vatican News reported.

In the same speech to 200 university personnel, Francis reflected on what he has termed a throwaway culture, saying it reveals “a lack of education to use the things that remain, to remake them, to replace them in the order of the common use of things.”

He encouraged a “good use of nature,” including practical actions that can help the environment, such as the installation of solar panels.

The pope also noted how environmental degradation can lead to another kind of “degradation,” namely, in how we treat others, especially those who are already living with fewer resources.

Pope Francis announced last month he would be releasing a follow-up document to the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. He later said it would be published on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Oct. 4 is also the first day of a monthlong assembly for the Synod on Synodality and the conclusion of the Season of Creation, a Vatican-supported ecumenical initiative about caring for the environment.

Laudato Si’ is the second of three encyclicals published in Pope Francis’ pontificate thus far. It was released in June 2015.

The theme of the encyclical, which means “Praise be to you,” is human ecology, a phrase first used by Pope Benedict XVI. The document addresses issues such as climate change, care for the environment, and the defense of human life and dignity.

Pope Francis said Aug. 30 that the second part to Laudato Si’ would be the kind of papal document known as an “exhortation.”

Francis has so far published five apostolic exhortations during his pontificate, including Evangelii Gaudium in 2013 and Amoris Laetitia in 2016.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi was also the date in 2020 that Pope Francis chose to release his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, about fraternity and social friendship.

Pope makes church first co-cathedral in history of British Isles

The Church of St. Mary of the Isle, located in Douglas on the Isle of Man in the British Isles. / Credit: St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Douglas, by Andrew Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

London, England, Sep 26, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has awarded a U.K. church “co-cathedral status,” making it the first of its kind in the history of the British Isles.

The Church of St. Mary of the Isle, located in Douglas on the Isle of Man, has achieved this rare status after Douglas was formally recognized as a city during the late Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee celebrations in June 2022.

St. Mary of the Isle will be co-cathedral along with Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. The two cathedrals are 80 miles apart and are separated by the Irish Sea, but both fall within the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Co-cathedrals are a rarity in the Catholic Church and exist only when two dioceses, each with its own cathedral, are merged, or when one diocese spans two different civil jurisdictions, as in the case of the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Monsignor John Devine, who is parish priest of St. Mary of the Isle, said the process of being granted co-cathedral recognition had lasted a whole year but expressed his delight that it had finally happened. 

In a statement released by the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales on Sept. 22, he said: “I am delighted that St. Mary of the Isle has been granted cathedral status; it is wonderful news for Catholics across the island.”

Devine said he was first approached by Douglas Borough Council, who pointed out that cities have cathedrals and the island already has an Anglican cathedral on the west coast. They enquired whether it would be possible to elevate the Church of St. Mary of the Isle in Douglas to the status of a cathedral.

“The archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon, on the advice of canon lawyers, petitioned the Holy Father, a request supported by both the Anglican bishop of Sodor and Man, the chief executive of Douglas Council, and the president of Tynwald,” Devine explained. 

In the same press statement, McMahon said: “It’s with great joy that St. Mary of the Isle has been granted cathedral status. The Isle of Man is a significant part of our archdiocese; it constitutes one-third of its land mass and the island’s Catholic community has increasing diversity with parishioners coming from many different parts of the world. It is fantastic that we can acknowledge this with the announcement of a co-cathedral — a status that is rare in the Catholic Church. It is something that everyone on the island will take great pride in.”

In the Sept. 22 statement, Devine also observed that the Isle of Man had a “unique faith story.” 

“Christianity in the Isle of Man traces its roots to the time of St. Patrick and St. Maughold in the fifth century. But there is limited appreciation of the unique history and traditions of the Manx Church in the rest of the archdiocese,” he said, adding: “Similarly, few of the island’s Catholics identify with Liverpool. However, rather than separating them further, the granting of co-cathedral status to St. Mary’s will raise consciousness in Liverpool to the riches of the Manx church.”

Devine said the permanent presence of the archbishop’s seat at St. Mary’s will also “serve as a reminder to the people of the island that the archbishop of Liverpool is their archbishop, too.”

The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency situated between Great Britain and Ireland with a population of about 84,000 people.

Family of UK teen who died fighting rare disease speaks out

Sudiksha Thirumalesh died Sept. 12, 2023, after a legal fight to circumvent a ruling in the United Kingdom that she was not competent to make decisions about her care. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

A 19-year-old U.K. woman who died after a legal fight to circumvent a ruling that she was not competent to make decisions about her care, despite her desire to go abroad for experimental treatment, can now be publicly named as Sudiksha Thirumalesh.

Thirumalesh’s family praised her fight to live and forgave those who “seemed only to care about Sudiksha dying,” but they strongly objected to her treatment by the medical system and the courts that obstructed her.

“After a year of struggle and heartache, we can finally say our beautiful daughter and sister’s name in public without fear: She is Sudiksha. She is Sudiksha Thirumalesh, not ST,” Thirumalesh’s family said in a Sept. 22 statement. “Sudiksha was a wonderful daughter and sister who we will cherish forever. We cannot imagine life without her.”

Thirumalesh, from Birmingham, was previously called by the pseudonym “ST” due to legal restrictions on reporting under a court-imposed transparency order dating to March. The family was not allowed to identify the woman as the person connected to the legal proceedings.

The order came at the request of the unnamed NHS trust involved in her case, though an attorney for the trust has now disputed whether the gag order was as far-reaching as the family believed.

The woman had been suffering from a progressively degenerative mitochondrial disorder. She had hoped to travel to Canada to take part in experimental medical trials for nucleoside therapy that might help her survive, but doctors challenged her mental competence and ordered that she receive palliative care. She died from cardiac arrest late on Sept. 12.

“We seek justice for Sudiksha today, and for others in her situation,” the family said before quoting the woman. “Sudiksha said she wanted ‘to die trying to live.’ This is what she did. We are so proud of her.”

Justice Robert Peel of the Family Division of the High Court on Friday ruled that Thirumalesh and her family may now be named. However, the judge postponed a decision on whether to name the hospital, the NHS trust, and the clinicians involved in her case until the following week.

The family has said the ban on naming Thirumalesh and her relatives legally prevented them from publicly commenting and giving media interviews about her situation. They were not allowed to ask for prayers or raise money to pursue extraordinary treatment, estimated to cost about $1.9 million. The family also faces legal fees in her case.

Victoria Butler-Cole, the lawyer representing the NHS Trust, told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian there could have been a misunderstanding about the extent of the gag order. 

“It would be ridiculous to have an order that banned you speaking about a family member completely,” Butler-Cole told The Guardian. In her view, it was “unfortunate the parents have not been made aware of that sooner.”

Before her death, Thirumalesh was conscious and able to speak. She had done well in school but her health declined after she caught COVID-19 in August 2022. Her disease did not affect brain functioning, though she suffered health problems such as impaired sight, hearing loss, chronic muscle weakness, bone disease, and chronic lung and kidney damage.

She had been in intensive care for more than a year. She breathed using an artificial respirator, ate through a feeding tube, and underwent dialysis.

However, legal challenges from her doctors obstructed her efforts to seek experimental care abroad.

On Aug. 25 a judge agreed with an unnamed National Health Service trust’s doctors and ruled that Thirumalesh was unable to make decisions for herself. The medical professionals in charge of her treatment maintained that she was approaching, or had already begun, the final stage of her life and was “actively dying.” The NHS trust had asked the court to approve a palliative care plan for the woman that would have removed her from dialysis and thus resulted in death by kidney failure in a few days.

However, the two psychiatrists the hospital tasked with assessing Thirumalesh ruled that she was free from mental health issues and had the mental capacity to decide for herself.

Both Thirumalesh and her family objected to the ruling and had hoped to appeal it.

“Sudiksha was called ‘delusional’ for saying she wanted to live,” the family said in its Friday statement. “The ruling from Mrs. Justice Roberts was cruel, and no patient and family should be treated in this way.

Thirumalesh’s family said they were “deeply disturbed” by their treatment by the hospital trust and the courts.

“We have been gagged, silenced, and most importantly, prevented from accessing specialist treatment abroad for Sudiksha,” the family said. “Had she been allowed to seek nucleoside treatment six months ago it may well be that she would still be with us and recovering.”

“We did not look for this fight, this fight came to us from a ‘system’ that too readily gives up on life. We were brutally silenced, intimidated, and taken to court in the hour of our need,” their statement continued. “It is shocking that a family in the middle of stress and tragedy had a threat of imprisonment hanging over their heads.

“We have never been out for revenge, we just want justice and to be able to tell our and Sudiksha’s story.”

The family thanked medical practitioners who “did their best for Sudiksha.”

“To those few clinicians who seemed only to care about Sudiksha dying, we forgive you,” they said. “We are a Christian family who believe in life, love, and forgiveness.”

Thirumalesh’s family paid for their own attorneys before they secured assistance from the Christian Legal Centre, a legal group under the umbrella of the advocacy group Christian Concern.

Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, praised the woman’s family.

“This Christian family has shown courage in their most difficult hour facing the loss of their beloved Sudiksha. They stood firm in defending Sudiksha’s life,” she said in a statement Friday.

“This profoundly disturbing case has demonstrated the urgent need for an overhaul into how critical care decisions are made in the NHS and the courts. There is an urgent need for a more open and transparent system,” Williams continued. “We are concerned about how many other patients and families have been through similar ordeals and have had to suffer in silence.”

Williams said there has been “a series of disturbing and upsetting cases” on end-of-life issues and advocated a government inquiry into how the Court of Protection and the Family Division handles these cases.

Christian Concern is helping Thirumalesh’s family raise funds on its website.

Canada health authority criticized for offering medical assistance in dying to pensioners

Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee announces a new hospice for Langley in 2020. Fraser Health is receiving complaints for promoting euthanasia, including to a group of pensioners. Information from the presentation shows 17% of euthanasia deaths in B.C. are performed in hospices. / Credit: Image courtesy of The B.C. Catholic (B.C. Government photo)

Vancouver, Canada, Sep 26, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

In June, Fraser Health in Canada, one of five publicly funded health authorities in British Columbia — which denies it is promoting medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to patients — sent its regional MAiD leader to give a presentation to a meeting of retired municipal employees in Surrey, British Columbia.

Tammy Dyson met with members of the Municipal Pension Retirees Association in Surrey and delivered a PowerPoint presentation in which she explained MAiD eligibility criteria and the process for accessing assisted suicide.

An advertisement for the gathering at the Newton Library promised door prizes, coffee, tea, and goodies and said the association was “very excited” about MAiD being the meeting presentation topic. 

In her presentation, Dyson explained how to obtain a MAiD application form from the Ministry of Health’s website. She also shared statistics showing a steady rise in MAiD requests in the region. A chart showed that deaths per month have risen to 54 from 21, and requests have gone up to 104 from 40.

The audience learned that a previous history of attempted suicide “does not automatically prevent someone from being eligible for MAiD” and that “expressions of wanting to die” are actually “an opportunity for further exploration; be curious.”

The B.C. Catholic spoke with a Catholic who attended the meeting and who was so upset by it that she brought it to her pastor. He urged her to find ways to make it public, and her efforts led to a story in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

A former hospital worker, she was concerned about a presentation on assisted suicide being given to a vulnerable audience such as retirees.

Fraser Health has consistently stated its policy is that the topic of assisted suicide must be entirely patient-driven, a fact acknowledged in the presentation.

Contacted by The B.C. Catholic after the presentation, the health authority said it doesn’t use methods such as presentations to share information with “patients” but didn’t mention its practices involving non-patients.

Slides from Frazer Health presentation to pensioners. Credit: Image courtesy of The B.C. Catholic
Slides from Frazer Health presentation to pensioners. Credit: Image courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

The B.C. Catholic reached out to the retirees association for a comment on whether the presentation was appropriate for a group of pensioners but received no response.

The Catholic woman who was upset by the MAiD presentation said she is disturbed at the growing acceptance and promotion of euthanasia and knows several people who had assisted suicide brought up when speaking with medical personnel. One Catholic friend told her a doctor raised the subject three times before she rebuked him.

The B.C. Catholic reached out to the friend, a 79-year-old parishioner, who described her visit to a hospital in the Fraser Health region last year suffering a potential heart attack. While in the hospital for four days, a doctor visited her to discuss her “wishes” in case anything went wrong during an upcoming stent implant procedure.

“I told him that I wanted to be made comfortable and that no extraordinary measures were to be made to prolong my life. I was at peace with my God and looked forward to being with him.”

Later, the same doctor returned to ask her the same question. “My answer was the same as during his first visit, but this time I emphasized to him that I was a Roman Catholic. I explained to him Church teachings regarding end-of-life care: Keep me comfortable. Do not refuse to give me food and water. No dramatic extraordinary procedures to prolong my life.”

The next day, he visited her again “to once again ask me what my wishes were should something ‘go south’” during surgery.

“By now I was angry because although he did not directly offer me a MAiD send-off, I felt that it was exactly what he was subtly suggesting.”

Her sense was that if she just indicated she was done with life, she could free up a bed and save the medical system thousands of dollars.

She repeated her instructions to the doctor and ended the conversation by telling him, “I DON’T WANT YOU TO MURDER ME!” He left and she never saw him again.

“They put the stent in successfully and I have now celebrated my 80th birthday. Praise God for the gift of my life!”

She hopes the doctor shared her rebuke with anyone else “who might want to take it upon themselves to play God and administer the fatal shot” to a different patient. “I worry about other people who might not be able to state their wishes openly like I did — three times! — or who may not have others to strongly advocate for them.”

The incidents arise at a time when the number of assisted suicides in B.C. is rocketing, up 24% from 2021 to 2022 to a total of 2,515, according to new statistics from the B.C. Ministry of Health published by DailyMail.com. National figures for Canada in 2022 haven’t been released yet, but MAiD critics expect similar increases across the country, especially in Quebec.

“We’re absolutely the worst country in the world for the speed of what has been done, for the way in which governments have allowed and then promoted the killing of patients,” said John Hof, a longtime B.C. pro-life advocate, political activist, and parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Langley. “We’re the worst. Simply the worst.”

In a statement to The B.C. Catholic, Fraser Health spokesperson Nick Eagland wrote: “The MAiD process is entirely driven by the patient. When discussing end-of-life care with a patient, staff will outline possible options that align with the patient’s goals and values. These conversations can include options such as hospice and approaches to symptom management, as well as MAiD.”

Eagland continued: “Conversations about end-of-life care are deeply personal and are specific to each person and their experience of living and dying. As such, we do not share information about medical assistance in dying with our patients via slide deck presentations.”

But the anonymous woman’s experience, as well as the Fraser Health presentation to retirees, seems to challenge the health authority’s claims that it doesn’t promote MAiD. An independent review of the MAiD system in B.C. is reportedly underway.

This article was previously published in The B.C. Catholic and is reprinted here with permission from Canadian Catholic News.

New Catholic clinic in Detroit to provide women, families with care for the ‘whole person’

Dr. Thomas Meyer will be serving as the OB-GYN for the Heart of Christ Medical Clinic and Dr. Lisa Knysz will be the clinic's director. The clinic hopes to open in Detroit in October 2023. / Credit: Heart of Christ Medical Clinic

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

A new clinic focused on providing women with authentic, Catholic care will soon be opening its doors in Detroit. The Heart of Christ Medical Clinic will serve pregnant mothers, individuals, and families of all socioeconomic backgrounds, insured or uninsured, with high-quality care for the whole person — physical, emotional, and spiritual.

The clinic will be located on the grounds of the historic Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit. Family and women’s health care will be provided, including prenatal and postnatal care. The clinic will include a chapel where patients can pray and receive the sacraments. 

The Christ Medicus Foundation, the Knights of Columbus, the Order of Malta, and other nonprofit, faith-based organizations will be hosting the first annual Heart of Christ Fundraising Gala on Sept. 28 to support the Heart of Christ Medical Clinic. Organizers hope the clinic may begin to open its doors as early as October. 

Dr. Lisa Knysz, who will serve as the clinic’s director, and Monsignor Charles Kosanke, rector of the Basilica of St. Anne de Detroit, spoke with CNA about the new clinic and what they hope it will offer the community.

“When an individual comes in, we’re not just looking at their physical condition or their physical symptoms — yes, we, by all means, are going to address those needs, we’re going to treat those needs — but, we’re looking at them with a spiritual lens, an emotional lens, and a physical lens,” Knysz said.

She added: “That whole essence of the person can be cared for and not just them, but their families, their extended families, their partners, their spouses, their children so that the healing love of Christ can be wrapped around any individual that walks in.”

After conducting a needs assessment, Knysz found that in the geographic region in which the clinic will be located about 40% of the population has Medicaid. Additionally, she explained that Detroit does not have many grocery stores. Many are on food stamps, use food pantries, or WIC, a federally-funded supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children.

She said these “social determinants of health” will not matter as each patient who walks in the door will be treated with “dignity and respect.”

Kosanke emphasized the important role the clinic will play in caring for mothers who find themselves in crisis pregnancies and are unsure whether to keep the baby or not. He explained that the clinic has partnered with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan to provide counseling as well as adoption services.

He added that their goal is to have a Heart of Christ Medical Clinic in each of the seven dioceses in Michigan.

“Michigan became a pro-abortion state, which was disappointing to us, but you can’t let the disappointment paralyze you,” he said. “Instead, you have to respond in a positive way to give women and families the assistance they need to make pro-life choices.”

For Kosanke, one of the most critical tools that help women choose life is the ultrasound machine, which the Knights of Columbus has generously donated to the clinic. 

“Studies have shown it has been very effective because once someone sees a fetus on the screen, it’s no longer an abstract concept or an organ. It’s a life, which is the truth,” he shared. “So, confronted with that truth, most of the time … once a woman realizes what she’s really doing, she does not go through with it.”

Knysz added that abortion pill reversal will also be available at the clinic for those women who may have started the abortion procedure but have changed their minds. 

She emphasized the clinic’s goal to support women physically, emotionally, and spiritually in all stages — whether they are looking to place their baby for adoption, reverse an abortion, or are simply in need of prenatal care — “so that they’re not left thinking we only care about their baby, we don’t care about them.”

Knysz shared that this will be her first time working for a faith-based clinic. While she has always been vocal about her faith, she has spent her career in secular organizations. During her time at her previous workplace, two experiences led her to make the decision to leave.

On the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, she was greeted at her clinic by all of the providers holding poster boards preparing to protest. 

On another occasion, as she walked past an exam room, she heard a patient ask the provider if they would pray with her. The provider responded, “I don’t do that,” and walked out. 

“I was seething,” Knysz said. “I’m thinking, ‘Okay, take a deep breath because this is not going to serve you to be angry at the provider.”

She heard the young woman crying in the exam room so she entered, introduced herself, and asked if there was anything she could do to help.

“I said, ‘I overheard you ask the nurse practitioner to pray with you and if it’s OK with you I would be honored to say a prayer with you if you would still like that,’” she recalled.

The two said a prayer together and after the young woman had checked out, Knysz found out that the patient had been raped and was at the clinic getting tested for HIV, STDs, as well as to get a pregnancy test. 

“Not that it should matter, but when a patient asks you to say a prayer with them — it just literally broke my heart that that was the provider’s response and so that very next day I went to the CEO and I gave my 45-day notice,” she said. 

Knysz considers herself blessed to be a part of the Heart of Christ Medical Clinic, where “we will have the opportunity to build relationships with the individuals that come in to be seen” and “where they’re not a number.” 

Pro-democracy Catholic Jimmy Lai marks 1,000th day in jail awaiting trial

Newspaper publisher and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai poses during an interview in Hong Kong in 2020. / Credit: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Vatican City, Sep 26, 2023 / 06:30 am (CNA).

Jimmy Lai, a Catholic pro-democracy activist and former publisher of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper, spent his 1,000th day in jail on Tuesday awaiting his long-delayed trial. 

Lai’s son has expressed fear that Lai could die in prison and human rights groups have urged the U.K. government to take immediate action to free the jailed newspaper publisher, who is a British citizen. 

“I don’t want to see my father die in jail. He’s 75, he’s in prison, he does risk just dying. It is very worrying,” Sebastien Lai told the Associated Press.

Jimmy Lai has been jailed awaiting a trial since he was arrested in December 2020 under Hong Kong’s national security law. The Catholic covert could face life in prison if convicted. His trial is set for Dec. 18, nearly one year after it was originally scheduled.

Lai spends about 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison, a maximum-security facility, according to AP, and is allowed outside to exercise for 50 minutes a day in a small enclosure surrounded by barbed wire.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Amnesty International UK, and eight other human rights groups published an open letter on Sept. 24 calling on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take immediate action to secure Lai’s release.

The letter underlined that the prime minister’s decisive action would be “a fundamental step to safeguard press freedom in Hong Kong.”

“Lai’s crime consists of owning and directing a news organization that was reporting on the concerns and struggles of a pro-democracy movement that has been virtually silenced by the state,” it said.

The jailed media mogul was the owner of the Apple Daily, which was Hong Kong’s most popular Chinese-language newspaper until it was closed in June 2021 after its offices were raided by hundreds of Hong Kong police and its executives detained. The paper was seen as Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper.

Lai is one of more than 250 pro-democracy activists who have been arrested under the national security law since it was imposed by Beijing in response to Hong Kong’s massive pro-democracy protests in which nearly 2 million people took to the streets in 2019.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention raised “grave concern” over Lai’s detention in a communication sent to the Chinese government earlier this year.

Lai is facing several charges, including collusion with foreign forces, sedition, and conspiring to call for international sanctions against Hong Kong or China. He was also sentenced to five years and nine months in prison in December over fraud charges related to lease violations. 

His trial has been repeatedly delayed since it was first scheduled for December 2022. Hong Kong’s High Court upheld a government decision to bar a British lawyer from defending Lai in his national security trial in May. 

The court also rejected Lai’s request to halt the trial due to concerns that his case would be heard by three government-approved judges rather than a jury as practiced under Hong Kong’s common law tradition.

Sebastien Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son, has not seen his father in three years and worries for his health as his father suffers from diabetes and was diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2021 while in prison.

Lai was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Cardinal Joseph Zen and other Hong Kong democracy advocates by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China in February. 

He was also the recipient of the Christifidelis Laici award at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the Freedom of Press Award by Reporters without Borders, and an honorary degree from Catholic University of America.

Lai was born in Guangzhou in mainland China in 1947 but came to Hong Kong at age 12 as a penniless stowaway. After working in a factory in Hong Kong, Lai saw a need for affordable, quality clothing for middle-class people and founded a chain of clothing stores called Giordano’s — a venture that would make him rich and allow him to launch pro-democracy magazines and newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

He was baptized and received into the Church by Cardinal Zen on July 7, 1997, at the age of 49. Before his conversion, the billionaire entrepreneur attended Mass with his wife, Teresa, whom Lai said had always been a devout Catholic. But in 1997, just before the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, Lai said that he realized that he needed the protection and help of a higher power. 

At a time when many pro-democracy activists fled Hong Kong out of fear of the National Security Law, Lai chose to stay. He urged Hong Kongers on social media: “Let us not be afraid and fight on!”

“The way I look at it, if I suffer for the right cause, it only defines the person I am becoming. It can only be good for me to become a better person. If you believe in the Lord, if you believe that all suffering has a reason, and the Lord is suffering with me ... I’m at peace with it,” Lai said in an interview with the Napa Institute after his arrest in 2020.

Pontifical foundation launches two projects for those in need in Colombia

A low-income home in Buenaventura, Colombia. / Credit: ACN

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been developing two vital projects for the most needy communities in Colombia’s Pacific coast region.

Both initiatives — the construction of a church in the port city of Buenaventura and solar panels for the Dominican sisters’ home in Docordó in the Chocó region — are aimed at helping people who suffer from economic deprivation, violence, abandonment, and social conflicts.

“Faithful to its pillars and its charisma, ACN continues to build a bridge of charity between those who need help and those who can help; certainly, we would not achieve this without the generosity of our benefactors,” said María Inés Espinosa Calle, executive director of ACN in Colombia, in a recent interview published by the charity.

According to Espinosa, support for projects like these in the Colombian Pacific region but also in many parts of the world “continues extending a hand so that the Church remains present where the love of God is most needed.”

“We are very happy to help bring relief and true hope to these populations,” she emphasized.

Construction of a parish church

Father Lawrence Ssimbwa, a Consolata missionary from Uganda and pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Buenaventura, and his entire community hope to have a new church thanks to help from ACN.

The territory in this port area includes five neighborhoods and 12 basic Christian communities, with approximately 30,000 Catholic faithful.

“Like many of the parishes in Latin America, that of St. Martín de Porres faces complex challenges: extreme poverty, violence, young people immersed in illegal groups, and pregnancies of girls and teens, among others. ACN’s support for the construction of the church will be the best thing that happens to the parish,” the priest noted.

Currently, the parish literally operates out of a house, using the living room and garage. Space is insufficient, especially on holy days or Sundays. Despite the active and fervent community, community activities are limited by the lack of adequate space.

ACN aims to raise 70,000 euros (about $74,000) to begin making the dream of Ssimbwa and his community come true.

Solar energy in the middle of the Chocó jungle

Dominican sisters Mercy Eneida Mendoza, Rubiela Ramírez Ramírez, and Consuelo Giraldo reside in Docordó in the Diocese of Istmina-Tadó, also in the Chocó region. Earlier this year, they presented an alternative energy project for their community, and in late August, they finally had continuous electricity thanks to the installation of solar panels generously funded by ACN benefactors. This project cost approximately 10,000 euros (about $10,600).

“We benefit a lot; it gives us peace of mind, because, imagine this jungle, this place without energy, that remains, as they say, like the wolf’s den... if anything, the only thing you see is the moon shining on the river. We are extremely grateful to ACN,” Sister Mercy said.

Today, with constant access to electricity, the sisters are able to provide assistance to their neighbors, who are often limited by only a few hours a day of electricity. Furthermore, it allows them to focus fully on their pastoral tasks, especially their educational work for children and young people.

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

Imprisoned Nicaraguan bishop nominated for European Parliament human rights award

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matalgalpa, Nicaragua. / Credit: Archdiocese of Managua

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The European Parliament announced the nominees for the 2023 Sakharov Prize, which honors persons and organizations who exceptionally defend human rights and freedoms. One of the nominees this year is Rolando Álvarez, the bishop imprisoned by the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua, falsely accused of being a “traitor to the homeland.”

The nominations were presented Sept. 20 during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Development committees along with the Subcommittee on Human Rights. The nominations are made by the legislative body’s political coalitions or by at least 40 members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

A total of 43 MEPs supported the nomination of Álvarez and Nicaraguan activist Vilma Núñez de Escorcia.

“Núñez has been fighting for the human rights of Nicaraguans for decades. Despite the persecution, she remains in her country. Álvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, has been one of the most vehement critics of President Daniel Ortega’s regime. In February 2023, after refusing to leave the country, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison and his citizenship revoked,” stated a Sept. 20  publication on the parliament’s website.

Other nominees include entrepreneur Elon Musk; Afghan education activists Marzia Amiri, Parasto Hakim, and Matiullah Wesa; and Nino Lomjaria, former people’s ombudsman of the Republic of Georgia.

Since 1988, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience has been awarded annually to individuals and groups fighting in defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This prestigious award includes a prize of 50,000 euros (about $53,000).

According to the EU Parliament website, Andrei Sakharov, a physicist, was seen in the Soviet Union “as a subversive dissident. In 1970, he founded a committee to defend human rights and victims of political trials,” becoming “one of the regime’s most courageous critics” in the “crusade for fundamental rights.” In 1980 he was arrested and forced to live in internal exile.

On Oct. 12, the Foreign Affairs and Development committees will hold a joint meeting to determine three finalists. On Oct. 19, the president of Parliament and the leaders of the political coalitions will determine the winner. The award ceremony will take place in Strasbourg, France, on Dec. 13.

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

North Carolina passes universal school choice

null / Credit: Cherries/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).

North Carolina last week became the 10th U.S. state to enact “universal” school choice by removing barriers to a state program that provides tuition assistance for students attending private schools.

North Carolina’s General Assembly gave final approval Sept. 22 to a new state budget that aims to triple funding for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program and end income restrictions for getting a private school voucher, the Charlotte News & Observer reported. Every North Carolina family will be able to apply for tuition assistance to attend a K-12 private school beginning in 2024-2025. 

Since 2013, the state has offered the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, an initiative that previously provided funding of up to $5,928 per year for eligible children who choose to attend a participating nonpublic school, a figure that rose to $6,492 for the 2023-2024 school year. 

That program provided assistance to nearly 25,600 students during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the program’s self-reported data. Of the 544 nonpublic schools participating in the program, the top 71 grantees by dollars given were all religious, according to the data.

Under the previous program guidelines — among other requirements — families of four making less than $111,000 would have met the eligibility criteria for the voucher. The new budget eliminates the income requirement and also eliminates a requirement related to prior enrollment in a public school. The budget also gives the state education superintendent authority to recommend a nationally-recognized standardized test for voucher recipients. 

To pay for the program, the North Carolina budget calls for the Opportunity Scholarship program’s funding to nearly triple in the coming decade to more than half a billion dollars in the 2032-2033 fiscal year. 

The individual voucher amount will vary by the family’s income level, the News & Observer reported. The state’s wealthiest families would get 45% of the amount the state spends per public school student, while the lowest-income families would get the full $6,492. 

Jennifer Feldhaus, principal of Infant of Prague Catholic School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, told CNA late last year her school has benefited greatly from the Opportunity Scholarship program and estimated that approximately 42% of the school’s students were making use of the scholarship at that time. 

“It’s been a tremendous program for Catholic schools because what was considered before unreachable, whether on income or location, is now an option for families,” she told CNA at the time. 

‘It’s justice’

Early 2023 data from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) showed that nationwide, 10.5% of Catholic school students use a parental choice program and 27.6% of Catholic schools enrolled students using parental choice programs. In some states, such as Arizona and Indiana, nearly all of the state’s Catholic schools take part in school choice programs.

The NCEA works with the U.S. bishops and other groups to support school choice, the group’s president and CEO Lincoln Snyder told CNA last spring.

“The Church believes very strongly that parents should have the ability to select the best education for their child as their primary educators. Obviously, choice programs are starting to make a huge difference for Catholic schools in enrollment,” Snyder said. 

“[W]ithout these programs, it would be a far greater challenge for our communities to make Catholic education affordable. So we strongly advocate for seeing a growth in choice programs as a Church, no doubt, but it’s not our only strategy. We still also look to communities and philanthropists to help make schools affordable for families as well.”

Seven states “went universal” with their school choice programs during 2023 alone, according to the advocacy group EdChoice. Nearly 1 in 5 students now lives in a state with universal or near-universal school choice, the group says. 

Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, NCEA’s vice president of public policy, told CNA on Monday that she hopes North Carolina schools will encourage parents to apply for the voucher. Public dollars are generated by everyone, including parents and teachers at private schools, and private school students are “entitled a share,” she said.

“It’s fair, it’s justice, to give our kids a share of the money that their parents’ taxes generate,” she said, noting that in North Carolina, the state has only about 18,000 Catholic school students, a relatively small portion of the overall student population. 

Universal school choice has, for the most part, only gained traction in Republican-led states. In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the budget to become law without his signature, despite decrying it as “a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our [public] schools.”

McDonald said making school choice a “bipartisan issue” is “the big challenge right now.”

“Supporting kids should not be political,” she commented, saying school choice programs are about “respecting the needs of kids, not systems.”

What should Catholics think about school choice?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that parents have “the first responsibility for the education of their children” (No. 2223). Mothers and fathers, the Catechism says, retain the right to both teach their children the morals imparted by the Church and “to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions” (No. 2229).

Polling by CNA’s parent organization, EWTN, released late last year found that U.S. Catholic parents broadly back initiatives to support school choice, with two-thirds saying they support a policy that allows students to make use of public education funds for the schools or services that best fit their needs.