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Thousands of Armenian Christians flee homes: ‘Mass exodus has begun,’ expert says

A girl sleeps in a street in the town of Stepanakert on Sept. 25, 2023. Ethnic Armenian refugees began to leave Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 24, 2023, for the first time since Azerbaijan launched an offensive designed to seize control of the breakaway territory and perhaps end a three-decade-old conflict. / Credit: HASMIK KHACHATRYAN/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

Thousands of Armenian Christians have fled their ancestral homeland in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh over the weekend and more are expected, the government of Armenia confirmed Monday.

“The mass exodus has begun,” Siobhan Nash-Marshall, a U.S.-based human rights advocate who has been speaking to witnesses on the ground, told CNA.

Nash-Marshall founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) in 2011 to help Armenian Christians in the region, and in 2020 she started a school for children and adults in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Now, Nash-Marshall has received word from her school in Nagorno-Karabakh that “all is over” and that “people from all regions, all villages, are homeless” and without shelter, food, and water. 

Hundreds of ethnic Armenians are sleeping in the streets and cannot even drink water because they claim it has been “poisoned by Azeris,” according to Nash-Marshall’s contacts. 

Nash-Marshall was told that there are lines of “2,000 in front of the only bakery” near her school and that “all are hungry, frightened, and hopeless.” 

According to the government of Armenia, 6,650 “forcibly displaced persons” entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh since last week.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Sunday that he expects most of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee the region due to “the danger of ethnic cleansing,” Middle Eastern news source Al Jazeera reported.

Why is this happening? 

Both former soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. With the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan asserted its military dominance over Armenia in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020.

Though Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is almost entirely made up of ethnic Armenian Christians.

Until last week, Armenians in the region claimed self-sovereignty under the auspices of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

On Sept. 19, Azerbaijan launched a short but intense military offensive that included rocket and mortar fire. The offensive, labeled “antiterror measures” by the Azeri government, resulted in the deaths of more than 200 ethnic Armenians and over 10,000 displaced civilians, according to the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Sept. 20, the ethnic Armenians agreed to a cease-fire that resulted in the dismantling of their military and self-governance.

Following the breakaway region’s defeat by Azerbaijan, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh would be integrated and that representatives from the enclave were “invited to dialogue” with the Azeri government.

Despite these promises, widespread fears of religious and cultural persecution have led large swathes of the population to flee to Armenia proper.

Mass exodus begins 

Eric Hacopian, a human rights advocate who has been on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, told CNA that Armenians in the region are facing “horrendous” conditions in which they have “little food” and “no medicine or security.” 

Hacopian called the Azeri actions in Nagorno-Karabakh “genocide” and said that by tomorrow he expects the number of refugees to rise to 15,000 to 20,000. 

Ultimately he believes “95% to 99%” of the Armenian population in the region will flee because of the “risk of being murdered and tortured.” 

Photos posted on social media showed the highways leading out of the region’s largest city, Stepanakert, filled with massive lines of cars filled with refugees.

Many of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have called the region home for centuries. Now, all of that appears to be rapidly changing.

“Armenians cannot survive under Turkish or Azeri rule,” Nash-Marshall told CNA Monday, adding that the Azeri government “thrives on Armenophobia.”

She said that deeply rooted anti-Armenian sentiment in Azeri culture is exhibited by the military’s executions of Armenian prisoners of war in 2022 as well as recently erected memorials in the Azeri capital city, Baku, that depict “grossly exaggerated life-sized figures of dead and dying Armenian soldiers and chained captives.”

“Anyone who knows the history of the Armenian Genocide will recognize the pattern of Azerbaijan’s actions with respect to Eastern Armenians and the Artsakhtsi,” Nash-Marshall said.

According to Gegham Stepanyan, an Artsakh human rights defender, “thousands” more displaced ethnic Armenians “are now waiting for their evacuation to Armenia.”

“Many of them,” Stepanyan said, “simply have nowhere to stay, so they have to wait for their turn in the streets.”

Armenia in danger 

Some experts believe that Armenia itself is in danger of invasion.

Both Azerbaijan President Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have proposed constructing a highway in the far southern portion of the Armenian province of Syunik, which is bordered by Azerbaijan both to the east and the west.

The road would connect the main portion of Azerbaijan to both its western enclave, known as Nakhchivan, as well as to Turkey.

If built, experts fear Azerbaijan could soon move to wrest control of all of Syunik.

“Let us be realistic,” Nash-Marshall said. “Azerbaijan already has grabbed a part of the region … They are also firing on border villages and have been for a year. What, then, is the threat to Armenia? Invasion.”

Aliyev and Erdogan met in Nakhchivan on Monday, further increasing fears that the pair could be eyeing a Syunik takeover.

In a Monday press conference, Aliyev lamented that “the land link between the main part of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan” was “cut off” when Soviet authorities assigned Syunik to Armenia instead of Azerbaijan, according to reporting by Reuters. 

Hacopian also said that he believes an invasion of Armenia is “quite likely” to create a highway in what is currently southern Armenia. 

U.S. response

Samantha Power, chief administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim landed in Armenia Monday.

In a Monday X post, Power said: “I’m here to reiterate the U.S.’s strong support & partnership with Armenia and to speak directly with those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Many still feel that the U.S. is not doing enough to address the situation unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh.

New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith introduced a bill Friday to require the U.S. State Department to take concrete actions to guarantee the human rights of the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Titled the “Preventing Ethnic Cleansing and Atrocities in Nagorno-Karabakh Act of 2023,” the bill is co-sponsored by California Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman and Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill.

If passed, the bill would require the U.S. government to take several actions in support of the impacted Armenians including terminating military aid to Azerbaijan and establishing military financing for Armenia, authorizing humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and dispatching diplomats to the region to monitor the situation and immediately report any further human rights abuses. 

“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in grave danger,” Smith said in a Monday press release. “Tragically, they have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”

Smith went on to say that “we must work with them to ensure that the transition is not marked by continued human atrocities.”

Newsom vetoes bill that would make acceptance of gender identity a factor in custody court

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. / Credit: Matt Gush/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 16:54 pm (CNA).

In a break with his party’s legislators, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have penalized a parent’s custodial claims if he or she does not affirm a child’s self-professed transgender identity.

The Democratic governor vetoed the legislation on Sept. 22 despite the bill passing the state’s lower legislative chamber 61-16 and upper chamber 30-9. It had overwhelming support from Democratic lawmakers but was opposed by Republican legislators.

Per the proposed legislation, courts would have been required to consider “a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or gender expression” when determining the “health, safety, and welfare of the child.” The court would need to determine this affirmation through “a range of actions,” which would be “unique for each child” but must “promote the child’s overall health and well-being.” 

A parent’s rejection of a child’s self-asserted transgender identity would not disqualify a parent from maintaining custody on its own, under the proposal. However, it would be considered in conjunction with other criteria measuring the child’s “health, safety, and welfare.”

In his veto of the legislation, Newsom said courts are already required to consider a child’s health, safety, and welfare, which he claimed includes “the parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity.” The governor urged caution “when the executive and legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate — in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic — legal standards for the judicial branch to apply.”

Newsom said “other-minded elected officials … could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities.” Despite his veto, the governor added that he appreciates “the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill” and said he shared “a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians, an effort that has guided my decisions through many decades in public office.”

Sophia Lorey, the outreach coordinator for the California Family Council, encouraged people to “celebrate this victory!” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. However, she noted that a veto override is still on the table. 

“The legislators can override this veto,” Lorey said. “All they [need] is [two-thirds] of each house to do so.”

More than two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers voted for the legislation. Lawmakers reconvene on Jan. 3, 2024, and have 60 days to override the veto.

About 1,000 Californians rallied at the state capitol in August to protest the legislation and other bills that they feared would take away parental rights. 

One of those bills would allow a minor aged 12 or older to receive transgender medical services without parental consent if a mental health professional “determines that the [parental] involvement would be inappropriate” after consulting with the child. It would also allow a mental health professional to place a minor in a residential shelter if he or she determines the minor is “mature enough to participate intelligently in the outpatient services or residential shelter services.”

This legislation passed both chambers of the California Legislature and was sent to Newsom, but the governor has not yet taken action on the bill. 

Abducted priest in Nigeria released, diocese ‘grateful’

Father Marcellinus Obioma Okide was reportedly abducted from Nigeria’s Enugu Diocese on Sept. 17, 2023. / Credit: Enugu Diocese

ACI Africa, Sep 25, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Enugu in Nigeria has expressed its gratitude to God and the faithful following the release of Father Marcellinus Obioma Okide, who had been abducted on Sept. 17.

In a Sept. 22 statement obtained by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, Father Wilfred Chidi Agubuchie, the chancellor of the Enugu Diocese, said: “We are glad to inform you that our brother and priest, Father Marcellinus Obioma Okide, has been released from the den of the kidnappers.” 

Agubuchie said Okide, a parish priest at St. Mary Amofia-Agu Affa Parish in the Enugu Diocese, was set free on Thursday evening, Sept. 21.

“The Catholic Diocese of Enugu is grateful to the Almighty God for his protection over Father Okide, and thanks you for your prayers and Masses throughout this difficult period,” Agubuchie said. “May Our Lady, Help of Christians, intercede for us and our country Nigeria.”

Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when Boko Haram insurgency began with the aim of turning the country into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets, including religious and political groups as well as civilians.

The insecure situation in the country has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia.

The case of Okide is the latest in a series of kidnappings and murders in Africa’s most populous nation involving members of the clergy, seminarians, and other Christians. 

On Aug. 2, a priest and seminarian were abducted from the Diocese of Minna. Father Paul Sanogo from Mali and seminarian Melchior Mahinini from Tanzania were released on Aug. 23 after three weeks in captivity.

In an interview with ACI Africa on Sept. 1, the two members of the Missionaries of Africa said the trauma they experienced during their three-week captivity was a blessing, as it had strengthened their faith.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

England’s historic Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham gets new rector

The historic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. / Credit: Norman Servais/EWTN Great Britain

London, England, Sep 25, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

The Rev. Dr. Robert Billing became the next rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, the third one in the last eight years, succeeding Monsignor Philip Moger, who was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Southwark in February this year. 

Billing, of the Diocese of Lancaster in northwest England, arrived in Walsingham in the last days of August; however, the official induction took place Sept. 24, on the solemnity of Our Lady of Walsingham — a very special day for all those who love Walsingham. 

The new rector shared his feelings about his first weeks in the new role with EWTN Great Britain: “As I arrive here in Walsingham I am, of course, at a human level, somewhat apprehensive at the task ahead, but at the same time I must trust in the Lord and in his mother. They have, in a mysterious sense, brought me here, after all!” 

The new Rector Father Robert Billing with Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Westminster and the Primate of England and Wales) and Bishop Michael Campbell, OSA (Bishop Emeritus of Lancaster) in the Slipper Chapel on the occasion of Archdiocese of Westminster pilgrimage to Walsingham, the day before Father Billings' official induction as the new Rector. Sept 23, 2023. Credit: Marcin Mliczko
The new Rector Father Robert Billing with Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Westminster and the Primate of England and Wales) and Bishop Michael Campbell, OSA (Bishop Emeritus of Lancaster) in the Slipper Chapel on the occasion of Archdiocese of Westminster pilgrimage to Walsingham, the day before Father Billings' official induction as the new Rector. Sept 23, 2023. Credit: Marcin Mliczko

Walsingham is not a strange place to Billing. In the late 1990s he spent one summer working as a night porter at the Elmham House, the shrine’s pilgrim accommodation, and another summer as a seminarian, working in the shrine’s sacristy. 

Billing has been involved in various roles and projects, including his work as a diocesan spokesperson and personal secretary to three bishops of Lancaster. He also holds a licentiate in sacred theology and a doctorate in canon law. 

One of the main goals of the shrine in Walsingham is to enhance the pilgrim experience. Billing hopes that “pilgrims coming to Walsingham will have an excellent experience of the sacred liturgy,” which will be “solidly based on the sacramental life of the Church and a deeply English Marian devotion.” 

In his vision for the shrine, Billing sees Walsingham as “a place of peace, prayer, and reconciliation” and believes that the positive experience “will draw pilgrims to return again and indeed to stay with us for a few nights, especially as part of the next Holy Year celebrations.” 

Father Robert Billing officially becomes the new rector of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in England, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: Norman Servais/EWTN Great Britain
Father Robert Billing officially becomes the new rector of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in England, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: Norman Servais/EWTN Great Britain

To some extent, Billing arrives at a challenging time for the Walsingham shrine. Soon after the departure of the previous rector, the Order of Friars Minor Conventual of Great Britain and Ireland announced the withdrawal of three of their Greyfriars from Walsingham after six years of service to the shrine. The three Greyfriars were beloved by pilgrims coming to Walsingham, as well as those who watch the shrine’s daily livestreaming of the holy Mass and other services. Nevertheless, Billing looks forward to providing pastoral and spiritual care for the pilgrims. 

Since his arrival, Billing said he has worked hard to get to know the shrine, the people who work there, and the pilgrims flocking to the historic site. “I am keen to listen and to learn,” he said. “I anticipate meeting so many pilgrims and their priests and local organizers, and hearing about how they anticipate the development of the shrine and our facilities going forward.”

The shrine in Walsingham is one of the oldest religious sites in England and considered a very significant place in converting England back to the Catholic faith. Its importance can be summarized by Pope Leo XIII’s famous prophecy: "When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England,” which he said on the occasion of signing the rescript for the restoration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in 1897. 

“All of us need conversion, and there are so many aspects of society in England which need this radical turn towards the Lord,” Billing told EWTN Great Britain. “So many need peace and reconciliation in their relationships and family life and the strength and perseverance to be faithful to the Lord, to one another, and to their faith. Undoubtedly, in silence and stillness, Walsingham has a central place in the ongoing conversion of our country, and of each one of us, to the reign of Christ our king.” 

Outside of Slipper Chapel at Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Credit: Norman Servais/EWTN Great Britain
Outside of Slipper Chapel at Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Credit: Norman Servais/EWTN Great Britain

In May, Bishop Peter Collins of East Anglia, speaking on behalf of the shrine, announced a renewed program of engagement that seeks to “communicate the joy of Walsingham” across the dioceses of England and Wales. 

As its newest rector, Billing looks forward to developing the shrine’s mission, “always in fidelity to the great tradition of Walsingham” to spread the message of this historic pilgrimage destination, which has been largely forgotten by English Catholics. 

Father Robert Billing at his induction Mass as the new rector of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: Norman Servais/ETWN Great Britain
Father Robert Billing at his induction Mass as the new rector of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: Norman Servais/ETWN Great Britain

“I am conscious of the fact that that despite Walsingham having such a strong and central place in the history of the Church in England, many Catholics, in some parts of the country, have not yet been to our Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady at Walsingham,” Billing told EWTN Great Britain. “I wish to significantly improve upon that situation, and for us to reach out to those dioceses, parishes, and parts of England that have not yet come on pilgrimage here, so that they come and experience for themselves England’s Nazareth, at the heart of England, Our Lady’s dowry.” 

To learn more about the Walsingham shrine, the first part of a three-part documentary called “The Mystery of Walsingham,” produced by EWTN Great Britain, can be viewed here:

State of California sues pro-life pregnancy centers over abortion pill reversal drug

Abortion Pill Reversal seeks to counter the effects of the first progesterone-blocking abortion pill, providing an opportunity to save the unborn child. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 13:48 pm (CNA).

California’s pro-abortion attorney general, Rob Bonta, sued five pro-life pregnancy centers Sept. 21 over their promotion of a drug that is meant to reverse chemical abortions.

In his lawsuit against Heartbeat International and affiliated pregnancy center chain RealOptions, Bonta accused the pregnancy centers of using fraudulent and misleading claims when advertising the abortion pill reversal drug.

The state’s lawsuit claims that there is no scientific evidence supporting the safety or efficacy of the abortion pill reversal drug despite the pregnancy centers describing them as an effective and safe way to reverse chemical abortions. It argues that pregnant women must have access to accurate information when deciding whether to use the drug.

“Those who are struggling with the complex decision to get an abortion deserve support and trustworthy guidance — not lies and misinformation,” Bonta said in a statement. 

“HBI and RealOptions took advantage of pregnant patients at a deeply vulnerable time in their lives, using false and misleading claims to lure them in and mislead them about a potentially risky procedure,” Bonta alleged. “We are launching today’s lawsuit to put a stop to their predatory and unlawful behavior.”

The lawsuit accuses the pregnancy centers of violating California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law. It asks the court to order the pregnancy centers to stop advertising the drug as safe and effective. 

In response to the attorney general’s lawsuit, Heartbeat International issued a statement rejecting the claim that their advertisements of the drug are false or misleading.

“All major studies show that using progesterone to counteract a chemical abortion (Abortion Pill Reversal) can be effective since it’s the very same hormone a woman’s body produces to sustain her pregnancy,” the statement read. 

“One study even shows an effective rate of 80%,” the statement continued. “Progesterone has been safely used with pregnant women and their babies since the 1950s. To date, statistics show more than 4,500 women have had successful abortion pill reversals and that number grows higher each day.”

According to Heartbeat International, the organization receives calls through its hotline from women who want to reverse their chemical abortions. 

“Through our Abortion Pill Rescue Network hotline, we know that some women almost immediately regret their chemical abortion choice,” the statement read. “These women deserve the right to try and save their pregnancies. No woman should ever be forced to complete an abortion she no longer wants.”

This is not the first time California has tried to impose pro-abortion talking points on pro-life pregnancy centers. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court struck down a state law that forced the centers to display written notices with state-sanctioned language about abortion.

Other states have also gone after pro-life pregnancy centers this year. In Illinois and Vermont, legislation went into effect that is meant to regulate what pregnancy centers can advertise and say. In both cases, pregnancy centers filed lawsuits against the states because of the laws, which are still being litigated.

Is the era of the traditional family over in America? Survey suggests yes

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Most Americans don’t place a high priority on marriage and children compared with their careers and friends, a new Pew Research Center survey says, and a large minority of Americans are pessimistic about the future of marriage and family.

Patrick T. Brown, a family policy expert and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that the increasing number of people uninterested in having children or getting married “should help us recognize that we are entering a new era.”

“The Pew survey shows what I think a lot of [people] already feel: that the family, as an institution, is under threat, not least from a shifting cultural attitude that treats family and marriage as incidental to long-term well-being,” Brown said.

“The family used to be the core unit of society. Increasingly, it’s now a lifestyle choice. And troublingly, the Americans who could benefit most from the stability of marriage and family life — working-class individuals and those without a college degree — are the least likely to participate in its benefits,” he said.

The Pew Research Center survey of 5,073 U.S. adults took place from April 10–16. Respondents were part of the Pew Center’s American Trends Panel.

“There’s baseline support for a variety of family arrangements, but the public still favors some types of families over others,” the Pew Research Center said Sept. 14. “Families that include a married husband and wife raising children are seen as the most acceptable. At the same time, relatively few Americans say marriage and parenthood are central to living a fulfilling life.”

The Pew survey showed near-unanimous consensus on one point, with 90% saying that a husband and wife raising children together is “completely acceptable.” At the same time, 40% of Americans are pessimistic about the future of the institution of marriage and the family, compared with 26% who say they are optimistic and 29% who say they are neither.

White adults, older adults, and Republicans tend to be more pessimistic.

Only 26% of respondents said that having children is extremely or very important to “living a fulfilling life,” and only 23% said the same about being married. By comparison, 24% said having money was extremely or very important for fulfillment, 61% said this of having close friends, and 71% said this of having a job or career they enjoy.

Men were somewhat more likely than women to prioritize marriage and children, as were married people and parents.

Brown told CNA the survey responses show “the influence of a creeping materialism” and “the tendency to find meaning in career rather than family, community, or faith.”

“Obviously we should all be making the most of our talents, but any trend towards placing career over family life should be something that concerns people of faith,” Brown said.

Pew asked whether various family trends would have a positive or negative impact on the country’s future. Respondents generally preferred to say a trend would have neither a positive nor a negative impact.

About 49% of respondents said it is a negative trend to have fewer children raised by two married parents, while only 11% found this a positive trend. Another 36% said it’s a negative trend that fewer people are getting married, while 9% said this is positive. About 29% said it is a negative trend that more couples are living together without marrying, while 15% said this is positive.

As for the trend that people are having fewer children, 27% of Pew respondents thought this to be negative while 25% thought this to be positive. Respondents said this trend would have a good effect on the environment as well as women’s careers and job opportunities, but a negative effect on social security and the overall economy.

“Overall, there’s a lot here that should worry anyone who believes in the necessity and the vitality of the family,” Brown commented. The survey shows there is limited appeal to proposals to make it easier to have kids or to get married. For Brown, this “should underscore why the world needs the Church to spell out an attractive vision of family life, one that doesn’t rest on tired cliches from the 1950s or gets lost in the morass of today’s individualism.”

Respondents to the Pew Survey said their experience growing up with their own family was most formative for their views about what makes a good family arrangement: 69% said their experience had a fair amount or a great deal of influence over their views.

Only about 44% of respondents said their religious views had a fair amount or a great deal of influence over their family ideals. About 47% of Catholics said their religion has at least a fair amount of influence on their views, compared with 83% of white evangelicals, 62% of Black Protestants, and 48% of non-evangelical White Protestants.

“As Catholics, we will need to continue to explain the fundamental logic of the family as the key social institution geared towards the creation and formation of new human life,” Brown said. “That’s not a message many in our culture want to hear right now. But there’s also widespread discontent with what the sexual revolution has done to family life. You see it in discussions about online dating, porn, even things like commercial surrogacy.”

Regarding acceptable family types, the survey reported the greatest acceptance for a husband and wife raising kids together. Another 81% found it acceptable or completely acceptable for a husband and wife to choose not to have kids, and this situation was somewhat more acceptable than a single parent raising a child alone. A married same-sex couple not having children was accepted by 73% of Americans, about the same response to a cohabiting couple raising their children together, who in turn were more acceptable than a same-sex couple raising kids.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say many family types are acceptable, and women are more likely than men.

Brown said the survey responses suggest a desire to “live and let live,” and many may see the questions as judgmental. He countered: “It’s not being judgmental to say kids have better outcomes when they are raised by two parents.”

Pew’s survey indicated a small majority of Americans think unhappy couples stay married for too long, while under half say such couples get divorced too quickly. Though a majority of Pew respondents rejected open marriages, there was significant support for open marriages among those who self-identify as LGBT, cohabiting, and people under age 30.

“It’s always hard to tell how honest people are in these kind of emotionally-charged surveys,” Brown said. “But if it’s true that one-third of Americans find the idea of an open marriage morally acceptable, it just underscores how thin our understanding of marriage is in contemporary society.”

He suggested the subgroups most likely to view open marriages favorably may be the ones “least likely to have that traditional view of marriage in the first place.”

Diocese of Rome: Thousands expected at Vatican for ecumenical prayer vigil ahead of synod

null / Credit: TTstudio/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Rome on Monday said it is anticipating thousands of pilgrims in attendance at an ecumenical prayer vigil at the Vatican later this week, with the event scheduled ahead of the start of the historic synod taking place in Rome in October. 

The Roman vicariate said in a press release that “approximately 3,000 people” are expected to attend the event “Together — Gathering of the People of God” being hosted in that city over Friday and Saturday. 

The event is advertised on its website as “an ecumenical prayer vigil” that will “take place in Rome in the presence of Pope Francis and representatives of different Churches, to unite us in praise and silence, in listening to the Word.” 

The prayer service is occurring just days before the launch of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome over the course of October. The vigil “will be an opportunity to entrust the work of the [synod] to the Holy Spirit,” the diocese said. 

The Vatican said earlier this month that the event would “emphasize the centrality of prayer in the synodal process” and “underline the articulation between the synodal path and the ecumenical path.”

Hundreds of visitors are expected from numerous countries including France, Hungary, Vietnam, and the United States. Nearly 500 are projected to come from Poland alone.

The event is taking place under the auspices of the Vatican, with the Diocese of Rome having also organized several welcoming events for participants. The diocese said that on Friday “prayer vigils in the local communities and moments of fellowship and fraternity” have been planned, as well as on Saturday “a walk from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the tomb of the apostle Peter.” 

Organizers have also planned several workshops for participants, including one focused on “build[ing] relationships with believers of Islam,” learning about “the real-life experience of refugees,” and a session on “feeding the hungry” that will include a service opportunity in a canteen of Caritas Roma. 

The overall synod itself — dubbed the “synod on synodality” due to its focus on synodality, or collaboration and participation among the Catholic faithful in the furtherance of the Church’s mission — is occurring over the course of several years, with Pope Francis having announced the start of the process in 2021. It is expected to conclude in 2024. 

Next month’s gathering of bishops is the first of two major assemblies of the prelates, with the second projected for October of next year. 

The bishops next month are expected to begin addressing numerous questions raised by synodal guidance documents, including how the Church can “be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity,” as well as how it can “better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel.”

In January, announcing this month’s ecumenical vigil, Pope Francis invited “brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations” to participate. 

“The path to Christian unity and the path of synodal conversion of the Church are linked,” the Holy Father said at the time.

Swiss bishop calls for women’s ordination, end to celibacy ahead of synod

Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel told Swiss newspaper “NZZ am Sonntag” on Sept 24, “It’s time to abolish mandatory celibacy.” / Credit: José R. Martinez / Basel Diocese.

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 11:53 am (CNA).

A Swiss bishop called for the end of mandatory priestly celibacy and for the ordination of women in an interview published Sunday, just days ahead of his participation at the Synod on Synodality in Rome next week. 

“It’s time to abolish mandatory celibacy,” Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag on Sept. 24.

The bishop elaborated: “Celibacy means that I am available to God. But I believe that this sign is no longer understood by society today. Many think: What is wrong with this person, does he have a problem? When a sign is no longer understood, it must be questioned.”

“I have no problem at all imagining married priests,” the 55-year-old bishop added. 

Gmür didn’t stop at questioning celibacy; he also waded into another contentious issue: the ordination of women. “The subordination of women in the Catholic Church is incomprehensible to me. Changes are needed there,” he declared.

“I am in favor of the ordination of women; it will also be a topic at the synod that will soon take place in Rome,” Gmür stated.

While celibacy has been debated and subject to speculation, Pope Francis has repeatedly and unequivocally said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

In his interview published Sunday, Gmür also spoke about a need for a more equitable distribution of power within the Church. 

“We need to distribute power better,” he said, adding that the Swiss Bishops’ Conference is setting up an ecclesiastical criminal and disciplinary tribunal. This tribunal would act independently of the bishops and be staffed with external experts. 

“I will lobby in Rome for the Church to decentralize,” Gmür added.

The Swiss prelate’s provocative statements come against a backdrop of an ongoing clerical abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in the country. 

Over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse have been reported, and the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, under Gmür’s leadership since Jan. 1, 2019, has faced criticism for its handling of these cases. 

Elected as the president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference on Sept. 3, 2018, Gmür acknowledged his own shortcomings. “Yes, I have made mistakes,” he admitted, adding that “every conversation with victims has changed me.”

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference also disclosed an ongoing Vatican-led investigation into handling abuse allegations, expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Allegations against several members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference were forwarded to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome, which has appointed Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of the Swiss Diocese of Chur to lead the inquiry.

According to official figures, the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland had about 3.1 million believers in 2020, corresponding to a population share of 33.8%. The figure for 2010 was 38.6% of the population.

German bishops in tug of war over blessing same-sex unions

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki faces mounting pressure from multiple fronts, including local media — and some clergy: In open defiance, several priests conducted an event blessing same-sex couples outside the iconic Cologne Cathedral Sept 21, 2023. / Credit: Archdiocese of Cologne

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 11:23 am (CNA).

The German Bishops’ Conference convenes its plenary assembly today, setting the stage for what promises to be a pivotal gathering amid a period of unprecedented tension within the Church in Germany — and with the wider Catholic Church. 

On the official agenda for the gathering from Sept. 25–28 in the town of Wiesbaden are topics ranging from handling spiritual abuse to preparations for the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome.

However, overshadowing discussions are the profoundly divisive issues brought to the surface by the controversial German Synodal Way, particularly the blessing of same-sex unions — an issue that has seen acts of open defiance across Germany against clarifications from the Vatican. 

At the center of this maelstrom is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, who faces mounting pressure from multiple fronts, including local media — and some clergy: In open defiance, several priests conducted an event blessing same-sex couples outside the iconic Cologne Cathedral Sept. 21.

According to AP, the ceremony was punctuated by people singing the Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love” while waving rainbow flags. 

Such stunts, covered extensively by the media, are a challenge to Woelki. The Cologne archbishop has reprimanded a priest over blessing same-sex unions, emphasizing that such events are not possible, as explained by the Vatican.

This admonishment drew sharp criticism from Birgit Mock, vice president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who labeled Woelki’s actions “beyond incomprehensible.” Mock, who also heads the Synodal Way’s working group on sexuality, has been a staunch advocate for blessing same-sex unions, putting her at odds with Woelki and the official Vatican stance.

Delegates at the fifth assembly of the German Synodal Way, meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 11, 2023, applaud after the he passage of a text calling for changes to the German Church's approach to gender identity. Credit: Jonathan Liedl/National Catholic Register
Delegates at the fifth assembly of the German Synodal Way, meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 11, 2023, applaud after the he passage of a text calling for changes to the German Church's approach to gender identity. Credit: Jonathan Liedl/National Catholic Register

Adding fuel to the fire, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, on Sept. 14 criticized Woelki for having “lost acceptance” with people, CNA Deutsch reported

Addressing Pope Francis’ criticism of the German Synodal Way, in which the pontiff said Germany does not need two Protestant churches, Bätzing said that he could, in principle, tolerate contradiction. But, “I find the Protestant thing disrespectful; I disagreed. [Pope Francis] also accuses us of being elitist, by which he means the theologians. However, we are envied for [German theologians] in the universal Church.”

Some German theologians have publicly turned their back on the Synodal Way.

Bätzing’s recent public criticism of Pope Francis comes after a July meeting in Rome attempting to bridge the deep concerns and growing divide between the Germans and Rome. 

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a formal declaration on March 15, 2022, stating unequivocally that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The continued open defiance over blessing same-sex unions — supported by prominent prelates such as Cardinal Reinhard Marx — is a symptom of how difficult attempts to dovetail the German Synodal Way with the Synod on Synodality are.

The stakes could not be higher as the German bishops convene in Wiesbaden, and Woelki, portrayed in some German media as a polarizing figure amid the tensions, according to CNA Deutsch, could face a critical juncture. 

With financial, social, and theological pressures mounting across German dioceses, the decisions made this week in Wiesbaden could have far-reaching implications, not just for Woelki and his brother bishops but also for the global Catholic community as it gears up for its synodal gathering in Rome.

The Church in Germany is facing an exodus of historic proportions. More than half a million baptized Catholics left the Church in 2022, the highest number of departures ever recorded. These mass departures led several German bishops critical of the Synodal Way, including Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg, to acknowledge the Church’s need to regain trust with “patience and credibility.”

The meeting in Wiesbaden is a crossroads of whether any agreement about finding the right direction ahead can be achieved — or if concerns over another schism from the land of Luther are justified.

Boston College exhibit showcases Catholic faith in rural China

At the opening reception for the Ricci Center's "On The Road" exhibit in the School of Theology and Ministry Library was held in June 2023. / Credit: Lee Pellegrini

Boston, Mass., Sep 24, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

An exhibition of powerful images documenting the lives of Catholics in rural China is now on view at Boston College, presented by the college’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History.

“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” — which has been extended through Dec. 22 — comprises 60 images taken between 1992 and 1996, when world-renowned photographer Lü Nan traveled on the road through 10 Chinese provinces to document the lives of Catholic villagers. Fifty images are on view at the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) Library Atrium; 10 are displayed at the O’Neill Library Gallery.

One of the most respected photographers in China today, Lü is considered unrivaled in his capacity to capture and reveal human dignity and the poignancy of the human condition, according to exhibition organizers.

“Lü Nan’s corpus of work is very striking,” said Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ, a provost’s fellow and associate professor of history. “His focus, with this project and others, is to explore minorities and communities on the margins of Chinese society. Christians in general and Catholics in particular in remote rural areas, from Yunnan to Tibet, are the focus of this collection of photographs.”

Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ. Credit: Photo courtesy of University of San Francisco
Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ. Credit: Photo courtesy of University of San Francisco

Given that the exhibition subject is Christians in China, the Ricci Institute partnered with STM as its primary venue, Ucerler explained, and three STM students co-curated “On the Road.”

Amid the economic and social complexities of the time, “Lü witnessed nothing short of a miracle,” the curators note in an exhibition description: “people of deep faith, despite constant strife in everyday life, on the road to heaven.” This collection — arranged in five categories that depict different aspects of the life and faith of the people he encountered — is his “attempt to convey to the world the miracle he witnessed.”

The Ricci Institute, an internationally recognized research center for the study of Chinese-Western cultural exchange, collaborated on the Boston College display with Michael Agliardo, SJ, director of the U.S.-China Catholic Association in Berkeley, California, and Jamason Chen at Loyola University Chicago. Chen, who often represents and speaks on behalf of his friend Lü, will appear on campus this fall, at a date to be announced, to discuss the exhibition.

“The visual exploration of the profoundly human experiences of these Christian communities in rural China is very specific in terms of time and place. And yet these stark photographs speak eloquently of a common human condition and of the reality of a lived faith across cultures and borders,” Ucerler said.

He described each photograph as “a mini-meditation that invites the viewer to become attentive to and respectful of the message that it is conveying. Each image reveals the complex reality of the Christian faith well beyond the familiar confines of the Western world, while at the same time appealing to universal themes that are part of a shared humanity.”

Following a five-year affiliation with China Pictorial, Lü worked as an independent photographer and produced a trilogy of acclaimed works that made his international reputation. The second comprises the works in this exhibition; many of them have been displayed around the world and have been published in the book “On the Road” (Ignatius Press, 2021). Agliardo assisted Lü in its publication and wrote an afterword to the volume.

“During the period when Lü Nan shot ‘On the Road,’ he visited over 100 church buildings. However, the emphasis of his photographic journey is on how love and faith are practiced in the everyday life of the believers,” according to a description of the book. “His aim is to show that inner divinity is imbued in the everyday life of these believers, and that their time on earth is but a tempering trajectory: Through enduring the trials of life’s fortunes and mishaps, they are able to find true values in divine grace.”

At a campus opening event held last month, Ucerler said a theme that stands out for him is “transcendent hope through a deep faith in the midst of vulnerability.” The co-curators echoed that observation and shared their personal experiences of interacting with the work of the artist. Their reflections and thoughts on the exhibition all underscored the deep faith and hope of those portrayed by the photographer.

"On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China" exhibit runs through Dec. 22, 2023, at Boston College, presented by the University's Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History. Photo credit: Lee Pellegrini
"On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China" exhibit runs through Dec. 22, 2023, at Boston College, presented by the University's Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History. Photo credit: Lee Pellegrini

“The images depicted might be considered austere, showing poverty and suffering,” said co-curator Wen Jie Gerald Lee, MATM/MBA ’23, of Singapore. “But they communicate profound joy, contentment, peace, and purpose in spite of harsh living conditions.”

Ricci Institute intern and co-curator Zhangzhen Liang MTS ‘23 — who was a young girl when Lü visited her Chinese village for this series — hopes “the perseverance and faith expressed in these photos will empower all of us to move forward together, to live a rich and thriving life, and encourage us to become the light of the world.”

Doctoral student and co-curator Shinjae Lee ‘27, whose family moved from China to South Korea, concluded with a quote from Lü: “I hope that by looking into real life I find something fundamentally and enduringly human.”

The curators, who wrote the accompanying wall text, encourage exhibition visitors to record their reactions to these evocative images, by scanning a QR code available as part of the installation. These responses will be shared with other patrons.

“We sincerely hope that those who view this exhibit will experience a common bond with those who are depicted,” Ucerler said, “and allow themselves to be transported to these faraway communities so that they can learn something from their visual witness.”

According to organizers, in addition to Chen’s appearance, other events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, and the “On the Road” volume is available at a discounted price. 

For more information, visit the BC Events Calendar or contact the Ricci Institute at [email protected].

“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” is co-sponsored by the Ricci Institute and Boston College Libraries, with funding from the EDS-Stewart Endowment for the Study of Chinese-Western Cultural History at the Ricci Institute.

This article originally appeared on Boston College’s website and is reprinted here with permission.