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Biden administration to mandate employers grant leave for workers to obtain abortions

null / Credit: Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is set to change federal regulations regarding pregnant workers’ fairness to mandate employers make “reasonable accommodations,” including granting leave, for workers to obtain abortions.

The new rule, which is set to take effect 60 days from its publication on April 19, is part of the commission’s efforts to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), according to a final EEOC rule change announcement.

The final rule expands the scope of accommodations that employers must make for “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” to also include workers’ decisions about “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The rule applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more workers and is contingent on the accommodations not presenting an “undue hardship on the operation of the business of the covered entity.” 

The commission said the rule change is part of its effort to “carry out the law” in accordance with the PWFA, which was passed in 2022.

The 19th, a pro-abortion nonprofit, celebrated the rule change, saying that, “at a minimum,” it means employers must provide unpaid time off for abortion.

After first announcing the planned change in the Federal Register in August 2023, the commission allowed 60 days for public comment. During that time the commission received 54,000 comments against the inclusion of abortion and 40,000 in support.

Despite the 54,000 comments against it, the EEOC said it would move forward with the rule change. The commission said that though it “recognizes these are sincere, deeply held convictions and are often part of an individual’s religious beliefs,” it believes that the decision to include abortion is “consistent with the plain language of the statute, congressional intent, and federal courts’ interpretation of the statutory text.”

“The commission agrees with comments expressing support for inclusion of abortion in the proposed definition of ‘pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions’ for which a qualified employee could receive an accommodation, absent undue hardship,” the EEOC said.

EEOC Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal said the change is consistent with the PWFA and “advances the promise that pregnant and postpartum workers should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

The PWFA was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) when it was being considered by Congress, despite some concerns at the time that the bill could be used to force employers to pay for abortion expenses.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed such concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA at the time that “the bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

One of the comments submitted to the EEOC against the inclusion of abortion was a 20-page joint statement issued by the USCCB and the Catholic University of America.

Signed by three USCCB attorneys and Catholic University President Peter Kilpatrick, the statement said the rule change presents dangers to human life, religious liberty, and free speech.

“In passing the PWFA,” the statement said, “Congress had no intention to create conscience problems for employers.”

“Although the USCCB and Catholic University share the goals of better supporting pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, we are deeply concerned about the EEOC’s insertion of a right to abortion-related accommodations into a legal regime where it has no place,” the joint statement said.

The commission claimed that concerns about employers’ religious objections were unwarranted because, it noted, “nothing in the PWFA shall be construed ‘by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment.’”

Pro-life Democrats champion government aid to pregnancy resource centers in Louisiana

Louisiana legislators are sponsoring legislation to support women in crisis pregnancies by setting aside millions in funding for pregnancy resource centers and other social services. / Credit: Jeffrey Schwartz|Wikipedia|CC BY 2.0

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Louisiana legislators are advancing a measure to support women in crisis pregnancies by setting aside millions in funding for pregnancy resource centers and other social services, as part of a bill approved by the Louisiana Senate last month. 

Republican Rep. Jack McFarland and Democratic Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews are co-sponsors of the legislation, which puts money set aside for Alternatives to Abortion toward the new Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative. 

The program would increase the total spending on the Alternatives to Abortion program from $1 million this cycle to between $3 million and $5 million, beginning on July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. 

According to the bill, SB 278, the initiative will “act as a statewide social service program to enhance and increase resources that promote childbirth instead of abortion for women facing unplanned pregnancies and to offer a full range of services, including pregnancy support.”

The Louisiana Senate passed the bill 34-3 on March 26, and it’s expected to pass in the House. 

The initiative would include parenting classes and baby supplies such as diapers and cribs. It would also provide counseling and care coordination for mothers, referrals, and even classes on budgeting, job training, and stress management. These resources would be available to program participants for up to three years after the child’s birth. 

The program services will not only be accessible for a pregnant mother; it’s meant to serve the biological father of an unborn child or even an adoptive parent of a young child (age 3 or younger).

Currently, abortion is only legal in Louisiana if the life of the mother is at risk, or if the child is diagnosed with a disability in utero or could be stillborn. 

Jackson-Andrews, a pro-life Democrat who spoke at the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2016, is the primary author of the bill. 

She championed an amendment in 2020 that prevented Louisiana from enshrining a “right to abortion” in its state constitution and banned public funding of abortion. The Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative would be managed by a general contractor who would subcontract with existing nonprofit pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes, and social service organizations “that promote childbirth instead of abortion,” the bill noted. 

The money would also go toward marketing expenses so that mothers in need would be aware of the services, McFarland and Jackson-Andrews explained in the bill. 

The initiative also has a transparency provision to require the nonprofit organization overseeing the program to report what services are offered and how many people are served.

Funds from the initiative cannot go toward performing or referring for abortions, nor toward any organizations that promote abortion. 

Catholic sculptor readies monumental Stations of the Cross in Orlando, Florida

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz told CNA that his monumental Stations of the Cross to be installed on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida, is the fruit of nearly constant work over the last three years and is expected to draw thousands of visitors once completed this fall. / Credit: Timothy Schmalz

Ann Arbor, Michigan, Apr 16, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz told CNA that his monumental Stations of the Cross to be installed on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida, is the fruit of nearly constant work over the last three years and is expected to draw thousands of visitors once completed this fall.

The 2,000-seat shrine is the closest Catholic church to Disney World in Orlando and is already well known for its striking works of sacred art. In addition, the church’s 17-acre tract features a spacious esplanade and rosary garden. 

To all of this will be added a Gospel Garden that will feature massive bronze Stations of the Cross sculpted by Schmalz. Some of the stations are slated to be 30 feet wide and as high as 14 feet tall, weighing thousands of pounds. Inauguration of the project is expected to take place around November, although a precise date has yet to be determined.

“Some of Christ’s parables are embedded in the sculptures. In the foreground of each station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols,” Schmalz told CNA. “It is an unusual version of the stations in the sense that it is filled with the New Testament. For instance, station 13 has more than 100 saints. It is unlike any other sculpture I have ever created.”

Schmalz explained that the 14 stations will be his most complex sculpture yet, second only to his acclaimed Angels Unawares that is now in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican and at Catholic University of America.

Now that his creative clay sculpting for the project is complete, Schmalz said that casting the final sculptures in bronze remains to be done by a specialized foundry. Initial installation of the bronzes should begin this autumn in Orlando. 

Orlando may be an especially fruitful locale for this work of evangelization, given that more than 58 million people throng each year to Disney World alone. 

Speaking to the importance of visual arts, especially sculpture, Schmalz said that unlike film, “sculpture placed in a city center is like a film running 24/7 year after year. When I do a sculpture, I am conscious of the fact that it is frozen theater being performed and has to be right.” 

“I wanted it to be called the Gospel Garden rather than Stations of the Cross because when speaking of the stations, you are bringing your ideas of what they are. For some, it might be a boring experience. In many churches, the stations were made without much care. I wanted to make stations that are more intense than what is seen on film; so intense, that if you are not Catholic, you would want to become Catholic. You would want to learn more,” Schmalz said. 

In the foreground of each Station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols, Schmalz explained. Credit: Timothy Schmalz
In the foreground of each Station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols, Schmalz explained. Credit: Timothy Schmalz

Because so many children come to nearby Disney World, Schmalz also made certain that plenty of children appear in the work and see themselves in it. Saying that a sculpture such as the immense Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may make viewers disconnected from its theme, he said: “When I started making the stations, I wanted them to be life-size. I wanted people to touch the hands of Jesus who is reaching out after falling with the cross.” 

Reflecting on the challenges faced by artists working on religious themes, he said: “Unless you do something spectacular, it’s going to be invisible. That’s how we are today. We have a society today where the Catholic Church is competing with mainstream culture. We have to be tough and strong. Even though we are dealing with the Gospels, with eternal truths, the execution often falls short.”

“When I was growing up, I heard the famous quote attributed to Michaelangelo that the sculpture is in the stone and the artist’s job is to release it. I believe that in some Platonic sphere or paradise there are great masterpieces, so it’s my job as a sculptor to pull them to earth for people to see,” Schmalz said.

Schmalz recounted that at age 19, he dropped out of a prestigious art school in Canada. “Pope John Paul II spoke of the culture of death. If you really want to see that, go to an art school. It is nihilism on acid.” 

Rather than clash with his instructors, Schmalz left for schooling on his own but with traditional masterworks as his guide to create Christian art.

“I was the most radical artist in Canada,” he said, “because what I was doing with representing Jesus and the Virgin Mary was the only thing that was not allowed in an art gallery. There they wouldn’t even call it art.”

“Just like the Impressionists of the 1800s, who weren’t accepted in the salons of the day, Christian art is not wanted in today’s salons,” Schmalz noted.

Schmalz came to world attention with his Homeless Jesus statue, which was first installed at Regis College in Toronto in 2013. The bronze depicts a human figure reclining on a park bench, which has been mistaken at times for a living person. Upon close inspection, viewers can see the marks of the crucifixion on its feet. Copies have since been installed in Capernaum, Israel; Fátima, Portugal; as well as many cities, including Detroit and Pope Francis’ native Buenos Aires, Argentina. Schmalz’s works are found in churches, universities, and public places in cities around the world.

Among Schmalz’s other projects, he is also working on making sculptural representations of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which laments consumerism, global warming, and environmental degradation. He also has a project in the works depicting the holy Eucharist and Blessed Carlo Acutis, the Italian teen who documented Marian apparitions and Eucharistic miracles.

Schmalz is also the official sculptor for the coming National Eucharistic Congress to be held this July 17–21 in Indianapolis.

Conference in Mexico City to explore philosophical vision, theology of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI on April 21, 2007, in Vigevano, Italy. / Credit: miqu77/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The International Ratzinger Foundation will hold the first international congress “Cooperatores Veritatis” (“Co-workers of the Truth”) at Pan American University in Mexico City from April 17–19 to explore the dialogue between Pope Benedict XVI — who would have turned 97 years old today, April 16 — and philosophical traditions.

According to the event’s website, the congress came about as a result of a research project initiated by the International Ratzinger Foundation, which seeks to “to establish an extensive network of researchers across various fields of knowledge to perpetuate systematic studies on the profound intellectual and spiritual legacy of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.”

As part of this project, the collective work “Joseph Ratzinger in Dialogue with Philosophical Traditions: From Plato to Vattimo,” was published in which 19 authors explore how Pope Benedict XVI “engages with the great philosophers of the Western tradition and dialogues with them from his unique theological perspective.”

During the three days of the event, the book’s authors will present their research, offering keynote lectures on their respective studies. There will also be time to get together and share ideas.

The researchers come from 15 countries including Spain, the United States, England, Ireland, Australia, France, and Germany. In addition, distinguished winners of the Ratzinger Prize will be present, such as Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz from Germany, Tracey Rowland from Australia, and Pablo Blanco from Spain, recognized for their valuable contributions to philosophical research and publication.

As part of the congress, the book “Joseph Ratzinger in Dialogue with Philosophical Traditions” will be officially presented in the Spanish and English editions. 

The event is free, but pre-registration through the event website is required to ensure participation.

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

Survey: New priests are young and involved in their community 

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CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The incoming class of seminarians who will be ordained in 2024 is young and involved in their community, an annual survey released April 15 found.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the Center for Applied Research (CARA) at Georgetown University for an annual survey. From January to March of this year, CARA surveyed almost 400 seminarians who are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in 2024. 

More than 80% of respondents were to be ordained diocesan priests, while almost 20% were from a religious order. The largest group of respondents, 80%, were studying at seminaries in the Midwest.  

The survey found that half of the graduating 2024 seminarians, “ordinands,” will be ordained at 31 years or younger — younger than the recent average. Since 1999, ordinands were on average in their mid-30s, trending slightly younger. 

This year’s ordinands were involved in their local communities growing up. As many as 51% had attended parish youth groups, while 33% were involved in Catholic campus ministry. A significant number (28%) of the ordinands were Boy Scouts, while 24% reported that they had participated in the Knights of Columbus or Knights of Peter Claver.

Involvement in parish ministry was also a key commonality for this year’s ordinands. Surveyors found that 70% of ordinands were altar servers before attending seminary. Another 48% often read at Mass, while 41% distributed Communion as extraordinary ministers. In addition, just over 30% taught as catechists. 

The path to priesthood

Most seminarians first considered the priesthood when they were as young as 16 years old, according to the survey. But the process of affirming that vocation and studying to be a priest takes, on average, 18 years. 

Encouragement helps make a priest, according to the CARA survey. Almost 90% of ordinands said that someone (most often a parish priest, friend, or parishioner) encouraged them to consider becoming priests. 

Discerning the priesthood is not always an easy path, and 45% of ordinands said they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by someone in their life — most often a friend, classmate at school, mother, father, or other family member.

The survey also found that most ordinands had Catholic parents and were baptized Catholic as infants. Eighty-two percent of ordinands reported that both their parents were Catholic when they were children, while 92% of ordinands were baptized Catholic as an infant. Of those who became Catholic later in life, most converted at age 23. 

Catholic education and home schooling were also factors for this year’s ordinands. One in 10 ordinands were home-schooled, while between 32% and 42% of ordinands went to Catholic elementary school, high school, or college. 

Seeing religious vocations in the family also helped seminarians find their vocation, the survey indicated. About 3 in 10 ordinands reported that they had a relative who was a priest or religious. 

Eucharistic adoration was the most popular form of prayer for this year’s graduating seminarians. Seventy-five percent reported regularly attending Eucharistic adoration before entering seminary. The rosary was also important to those discerning vocations: 71% of ordinands said they regularly prayed the rosary before joining seminary. Half said they attended a prayer or Bible group, and 40% said they practiced lectio divina.

The survey also found that 60% of ordinands graduated college or obtained a graduate-level degree before joining the seminary. The most common areas of study were business, liberal arts, philosophy, or engineering. 

This leads to many seminarians — about 1 in 5 — carrying educational debt into the seminary. On average, each ordinand had more than $25,000 in educational debt. 

Most seminarians don’t come straight from school, however. Seventy percent reported having full-time work experience before joining the seminary. Very few served in the military, with only 4% reporting having served in the U.S. armed forces. 

About a quarter (23%) of ordinands were foreign-born — down from the average of 28% since 1999. Ordinands not born in the U.S. were most commonly born in Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, and the Philippines. The survey found that 67% of ordinands were white; almost 20% were Hispanic or Latino; about 10% identified as Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian; and 2% were Black. 

Australian archbishop, religious leaders urge calm after violent attack on Sydney bishop

Forensic police are seen at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in the Sydney suburb of Wakeley, Australia, on April 16, 2024. Hundreds clashed with police in western Sydney on April 15 after Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed at the alter during a service at an Assyrian church in Wakeley. New South Wales police have declared the attack a terror event. Police apprehended a 16-year-old in connection with the attack. / Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydney, Australia, Apr 16, 2024 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Following the knife attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel on Monday, which left three people wounded, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney decried the act and reinforced the sanctity of worship. 

“Every person in this country, be they bishop or priest, rabbi or imam, minister or congregant, should be able to worship in safety, without fear that they might be subject to acts of violence while gathering in prayer,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement released on X.

“I urge the faithful to not respond to these events with fear, avoiding places of worship because they are worried about further attacks, nor with anger, engaging in acts of reprisal or revenge. The best response to violence and fear is prayer and peace.” 

Australian police and New South Wales state premier Chris Minns confirmed the stabbing incident in Wakeley was being treated as a terrorist act. “We believe there are elements that are satisfied in terms of religious motivated extremism,” Police Commissioner Karen Webb told journalists, according to Reuters.

Shocking video footage of a man attacking Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, former member of the Ancient Church of the East and prominent leader of Christ the Good Shepherd Church, went viral on social media on April 15. 

The footage was taken from a livestream — now removed — of a Bible study session at the church.

The perpetrator of the stabbing, a 16-year-old male, was subdued by church attendees. Bishop Emmanuel, Father Isaac Royel, and another parishioner sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Paramedics treated the wounded on site before transporting them to Liverpool Hospital.

The aftermath saw tensions rise, resulting in demonstrations around the church precinct. Two police officers were injured, and several police vehicles were damaged, authorities said.

The Australian Catholic weekly reported leaders across Christian denominations and the Muslim community, including Archbishop of the Assyrian Church of the East Zaia Mar Meelis, Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona, Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, and Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat, jointly condemned the violence, urging calm.

The Monday attack followed a separate knife rampage in Bondi Junction on Saturday, which resulted in six fatalities. The assailant in that incident, who did not survive, had a mental illness and was not motivated by ideology, police told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sainthood cause of Father Luigi Giussani: Milan Archdiocese to begin collecting testimonies

1960. Varigotti (SV). Father Luigi Giussani with students during the Tower Ray. / Credit: Communion and Liberation Official Site

Rome Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Milan announced on Monday that it will begin collecting testimonies for the canonization cause of Servant of God Luigi Giussani, the founder of the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.

Archbishop Mario Delpini will hold the first public session of the testimonial phase of Giussani’s cause in the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio on May 9, the solemnity of the Ascension. 

During this new phase in Giussani’s sainthood cause, people who knew the Italian priest will share their testimonies with a specially formed commission. 

Giussani (1922–2005) founded Communion and Liberation in the 1950s in Milan in response to “having felt the urgency to proclaim the need to return to the elementary aspects of Christianity.” 

In the 70 years since its founding, the movement has grown to have 60,000 members in 90 countries. 

During his life, Giussani encountered many young people as a teacher, author, and university lecturer and developed an educational method that emphasized encounter, as outlined in one of his many books, “The Risk of Education.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who delivered the homily at Giussani’s funeral in 2005, said that Giussani “understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism; Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.”

Giussani’s beatification process was first opened in 2012. Two miracles attributed to his intercession are required for him to be named a saint in the Catholic Church.

Communion and Liberation’s President Davide Prosperi welcomed the news that Giussani’s cause is advancing “with great joy” in a statement released on April 15.

“This is a fundamental step in the beatification process of our dear Father Giussani,” he said.

“We are also very grateful to Pope Francis for the attention and esteem that he has repeatedly expressed, also publicly, for the figure of Father Giussani and for the path that the movement is taking in this period,” he added.

Prosperi said that members of Communion and Liberation will continue to ask for Giussani’s intercession in prayer, “placing the irrepressible desire we carry in our hearts to soon see Father Giussani counted among the blessed and saints of the Lord in the hands of the Church.”

Chiara Minelli is the postulator for Giussani’s cause for the Archdiocese of Milan.

“I was given the gift of faith so I could give it to others, communicate it,” Giussani said.

“That people come to know Christ, that humanity comes to know Christ, this is the task of those who are called, the task of the people of God, the mission: ‘I have chosen you, that you may go forth.’”

Popular Catholic influencer: ‘We need to use our social media platforms’

Sachin Jose reaches more than 148,000 people with the Catholic faith with his digital apostolate on X (formerly Twitter). He works as a journalist and social media consultant. Sachin has been reporting on Church topics for over five years. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Sachin Jose

CNA Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Sachin Jose reaches more than 148,000 people with the Catholic faith through his digital apostolate on X (formerly Twitter). Working as a journalist and social media consultant, he has been reporting on Church topics for over five years. CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, spoke to him recently about faith and media.

In an interview, you said that the most important thing in your life was your Catholic faith. Why is that?

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Jesus to teach the faith — a task it has fulfilled for two millennia. It was through the Church that I came to know Jesus, and it continues to guide me on my earthly path. That’s why I declared that the Catholic faith is the most important thing in my life.

I also deeply admire the contributions the Church has made to the world in various areas, including education and health care. The best educational institutions of the Middle Ages in Europe were founded by the Catholic Church. The modern health care system worldwide owes much to the contribution of the Church, including in the United States. For example, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, considered one of the best hospitals in the United States, was originally founded with financial contributions from Catholic nuns.

You mentioned that you believe faith should not be hidden in public. Why do you see it that way?

Faith is not something that should be hidden. When we get to know Jesus, we feel the urge to share his love with others. We are called to live this faith openly in public.

You have also said that the book “Pardon, I Am a Christian” by C.S. Lewis was an important turning point for you. What do you mean by that?

As you may know, C.S. Lewis, the author of well-known books such as “The Chronicles of Narnia,” was an atheist before his conversion. In “Mere Christianity” he formulates Christianity on a philosophical and theological level with remarkable clarity. As someone in search of the truth, I found his book fascinating when I first read it, and it gradually led me to the realization that Christianity is the most rational faith.

Many Western nations are in a state of “self-destruction,” some claim. What are your thoughts?

The German-speaking people reading this can see the self-destruction of their nation if they look around. This also applies to other Western countries. I would like to quote one of my favorite pastors, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who once said: “The West has denied its Christian roots. A tree without roots dies.”

Western civilization began denying its Christian roots several decades ago, which has led to the acceptance of all kinds of immorality and confusion, including the confusion of gender theory. Furthermore, the resulting vacuum appears to be filled by individuals and groups who harbor hatred for the West and its Christian origins.

What can we do to save the Western nations? 

The only answer is a return to the Christian faith, which should happen immediately, otherwise there will be no return. Even the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins recently lamented the decline of Christian culture. At the very least, these events should open our eyes. However, I really hope that people start to realize the mistakes they have made.

Immigrant Christians are doing their best to reevangelize Western nations. During Holy Week their churches were overcrowded. I believe this has inspired the people who have lived there for centuries to reconnect with their Christian faith and heritage. It is worth noting that many churches in the West reported high attendance for this year’s Easter Vigil.

On social media, you have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. How is it possible to effectively proclaim and evangelize the Catholic faith in the digital age?

When I started being active on social media, I had no idea that I would reach so many people. Lots of good things are happening around us. During the Easter Vigil, thousands of people became Catholic, including in the United States, where we had the largest number of converts.

We need to use our social media platforms to spread this great news that is happening around us. Furthermore, there are many people out there who truly live the Catholic faith even under difficult circumstances. If we shared their stories, thousands would be inspired. Social media is so powerful at this time that God will work miracles through us if we use it effectively.

This article was first published by CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language partner, and has been translated and adapted for CNA.

Ferrero Rocher: The chocolate inspired by Our Lady of Lourdes

The popular chocolate Ferrero Rocher actually honors Our Lady of Lourdes. / Canva Stock Images

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Many know Ferrero Rocher for its popular hazelnut chocolates, but the company’s tie to Our Lady of Lourdes is lesser known.

Michele Ferrero, the company’s founder and a devout Catholic, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and wanted to honor her through his work. It is reported that he named his company “Rocher” after the rock grotto, the Rocher de Massabielle, which marks the location where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France.

In fact, “rocher” means “rock” in French. With this in mind, many point to the chocolate’s crunchy coating and uneven gold wrapping as Ferrero’s attempt to resemble this rock formation at Lourdes, which had a special meaning to the chocolatier. 

At the 50th anniversary of the founding of the company, Ferrero said: “The success of Ferrero we owe to Our Lady of Lourdes; without her we can do little.”

In an interview with CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, ACI Prensa, in 2023, Father Mauricio Elias, a chaplain at the Sanctuary of Lourdes, said: “Mr. Ferrero had a lot of devotion to the Virgin of Lourdes; he came a lot to Lourdes and was a benefactor.”

“He was a man who always came here, he had a lot of devotion to the Virgin, he confessed, he led a Christian life,” Elias added.

It was said that Ferrero made annual pilgrimages to Lourdes and also organized a visit for his employees. He also had a statue of the Virgin Mary in each of his company’s 14 production facilities around the world. 

Ferrero passed away on Feb. 14, 2015, at the age of 89. Shortly before his death, a flood damaged the sanctuary at Lourdes. Ferrero promised “a great donation to recover what was lost,” Elias shared. After his death, his children kept their father’s promise and helped with the repairs. 

The family-run business continues its tradition with Michele’s son, Giovanni Ferrero, running the company today. Founded in 1946 in Alba, Italy, by Pietro Ferrero, Michele’s father, today Ferrero Rocher is the third-largest chocolate producer in the world. Since its launch in other European countries in 1982, the company has expanded to include other brands such as Nutella, Tic Tac, and Kinder, among others.

Catholics in Gaza are burying dead in Muslim cemeteries

People gather at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family on Palm Sunday in al-Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on March 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. / Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Jerusalem, Apr 16, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

In the chaos of the Israel-Hamas war, where any movement can be fatal, even burying the dead is not guaranteed. Hundreds still lie under the rubble across the Gaza Strip, and transporting bodies to cemeteries is nearly impossible. This is compounded by the heartbreak of mass graves.

The challenge is even greater for Christians, whose cemeteries are all in the northern part of Gaza, next to their places of worship. For those who die in the south, receiving a Christian burial is impossible.

Recently, two Christians passed away in the South of Gaza — Hani Suhail Michel Abu Dawood and Haytham Tarazi. Their families could not bid them a final farewell and, for now, have been unable to return their loved ones’ bodies to Christian cemeteries in the north. However, the doors of Muslim cemeteries have opened to receive their bodies and give them a dignified burial.

Reuters reported the testimony of Ihsan al-Natour, a worker at the Muslim cemetery in Tal al-Sultan in Rafah, who mentioned the burial of a Christian, Abu Dawood. 

“He’s buried amongst Muslims and there are no signs that indicate he is Christian,” al-Natour said. “He is a human being; we respect human beings and appreciate humanity and we love every person on earth.”

The pastor of the Latin parish of Gaza, Father Gabriel Romanelli, reached by CNA, first expressed gratitude “for the compassion of this man [Ihsan al-Natour], who truly performed an act of compassion, humanity, and respect toward Hani’s body.” 

At the same time, he said he hoped that “it will be possible, at a later time, to return the body to Gaza City and give it burial in a Christian cemetery because it is good for the bodies of the baptized to be buried in Christian cemeteries.” 

Since Abu Dawood belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, it would be natural for him to be buried in the cemetery of that church.

Abu Dawood was married with four children, the youngest of whom was just a few months old. He worked as a blacksmith, handling iron, but his health was fragile. Since 2018, Abu Dawood had been on dialysis and would visit Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City three times a week for treatment. 

After the first wave of bombings rendered the dialysis unit unusable, Abu Dawood had to move south, hoping to continue his treatments there. With the help of the Latin Patriarchate, he managed to reach Khan Yunis and receive care.

However, when the diesel needed to operate the machinery ran out after the bombings, there was nothing more that could be done. He tried to return to the north to bid farewell to his family, who had taken refuge in the Latin parish of the Holy Family. Unfortunately, he could not obtain permission to do so and passed away on Feb. 1, shortly after his 45th birthday.

Tarazi, 34, was already in the south of Gaza, in Zawayda, where he had taken refuge with his wife and two young children, when he experienced a severe appendicitis attack. He also did not have the opportunity to obtain permission to return to the north for medical treatment and when he managed to reach Khan Yunis Hospital, his appendicitis had already turned into peritonitis. There was nothing that could be done.

“He, too, is buried in the south,” Romanelli told CNA. “The family has already requested to have the body returned, but we have not yet been granted permission. The idea is to bury our brothers in Christian cemeteries and perform the funeral rites on their bodies, in addition to praying for their souls because, for us, the body is sacred. Those same bodies, by the power of the risen Christ, will rise again. Those bodies are sacred for what they were in life and for what they will become with the Resurrection.”