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Judge throws out Missouri lawsuit that challenged abortion ban on religious grounds

A bridge over the Mississippi River near St. Louis. / Credit: Checubus/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 18, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A pro-abortion lawsuit filed by a number of religious leaders in Missouri was thrown out after a judge ruled that the state’s pro-life laws do not infringe on Missourians’ freedom of religion.

In a June 14 order, the Missouri District Court for the 22nd Judicial Circuit ruled that the references to “Almighty God” in the statutes are similar to references found in the Missouri Constitution, which in turn are similar to sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

A coalition of more than a dozen Missouri religious leaders, including Jews, Christians, and Unitarian Universalists, filed the lawsuit in 2023, alleging that Missouri’s near-total abortion ban, which passed in 2019 and took effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, violates their religious freedom by invoking God as the creator of human life. 

Missouri law currently protects all unborn babies from abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk. 

The religious leaders had argued that Missouri’s abortion laws, which acknowledge “Almighty God [as] the author of life” and also state that life begins at conception, violate the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

The Jewish leaders who joined the lawsuit, in particular, argued that Judaism does not recognize unborn children as being alive until after birth.

In the June 14 ruling, Judge Jason Sengheiser also ruled that the outside of the preamble to the law, the rest of Missouri’s abortion law language does not contain any explicit religious language, with the judge finding that the state’s recognition that life begins at conception is not “only a religious belief” but a “medical and scientific” determination.

Jamie Morris, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), said in a statement to CNA that the group is “pleased that common sense prevailed and the lawsuit was dismissed.”

“The statement ‘life begins at conception’ is a scientific reality, not a religious belief. As a broader point, many lawmakers rely on their faith in making all types of policy decisions, including those related to welfare, immigration, and the death penalty,” Morris said.

“Legislators should not be required to leave their faith at the Capitol door,” he said.

In a June 14 statement, the legal team representing the faith leaders said they “respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.”

“Missouri’s abortion ban is a direct attack on the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and reproductive freedom,” the statement said.

“Missouri lawmakers made clear that they were imposing their personal religious beliefs on all Missourians when they enacted these laws. We remain committed to restoring abortion access in Missouri.”

Like numerous other states, Missouri is facing the prospect of a vote on a ballot initiative this November that, if passed, would erode the state’s protections for unborn children.

The MCC is encouraging all Catholics to pray that the state’s abortion laws remain in place.

Federal court shields U.S. bishops from abortion mandate as lawsuit plays out

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Monday protected the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from a new federal abortion rule as litigation over the directive plays out in court. 

The USCCB will not be “forced to support employee abortions against their religious beliefs” while a federal lawsuit works its way through the courts, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a Monday press release.

The bishops, along with several other Catholic plaintiffs including the Catholic University of America, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration last month over regulations that would require that employers accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The new regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were related to the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The pregnancy law itself does not mention abortion.

The regulation also includes a prohibition on interference with the accommodations; it further forbids retaliation against a person who uses the accommodations.

The Monday ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found that the EEOC “exceeded its statutory authority to implement the PWFA” and in doing so “both unlawfully expropriated the authority of Congress and encroached upon the sovereignty” of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction “until final judgment is entered” in the case, the ruling said.

District Judge David Joseph said in the decision that the PWFA was not originally passed to include abortion accommodations.

“If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation at this time,” the judge said.

The federal government “failed to include a broad religious exception” in the abortion mandate, Joseph wrote. The bishops, the ruling said, “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on their claims of statutory and constitutional overreach.”

The USCCB praised the decision on Tuesday. 

“We have said from the start that abortion has no place in the pro-life, pro-woman Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said. 

“We’re grateful the court has agreed and look forward to full and permanent respect for our rights and this law’s noble purpose,” she added. 

Becket senior counsel Laura Wolk Slavis, meanwhile, said in the legal group’s press release on Monday that the pro-abortion mandate from the government was “unacceptable and unlawful.”

“This ruling is an important step in ensuring that American workplaces can be free to continue serving their communities consistent with their beliefs,” she said.

Catholic pilgrims at Pittsburgh processions evangelize about Christ and the Eucharist

Hundreds of Catholics participate in Eucharistic procession in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. / Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jun 18, 2024 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

As hundreds of Catholic pilgrims processed through the streets of Pittsburgh as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, some of the faithful saw the procession as an opportunity to evangelize about Jesus Christ and the Catholic doctrine that he is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Pilgrims on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, traveling across the United States, spent four days last week in Pittsburgh, beginning on June 13. 

The city’s rich Catholic heritage — about one-third of the residents are Catholic — made it an essential stop on the pilgrimage, which is part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s National Eucharistic Revival initiative.

Two Eucharistic processions went through the city’s streets, stopping to celebrate Mass, vespers, and adoration at local parish churches. 

Sue O’Keefe, who lives in the South Hills suburbs of Pittsburgh, told CNA that she has kept an eye on the pilgrimage since its inception and was “super excited they’ve come through Pittsburgh.” She commended “the idea of the [Eucharistic] revival and bringing Jesus to the streets.”

“I’ve been praying that the Spirit moves people to see the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and [to see that] he’s walking with us,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe and a few hundred other Catholics joined the pilgrims for their first procession, which went through the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Thursday morning. The procession covered a one-mile stretch of the business district, which includes restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and a variety of other businesses. It began at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish and concluded at the St. Pius Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish.

Dozens of people paused to watch the procession as it passed by — some were seen coming out of the district’s businesses to see what was happening. One woman gazed at the size of the crowd in the procession, looked back at the Eucharist, and made the sign of the cross before moving on.

The procession makes it way through a busy Pittsburgh business district. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA
The procession makes it way through a busy Pittsburgh business district. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

A few pilgrims, including Sister Theresa Marie of the Daughters of Mary, approached people who stopped to watch the procession and people who were waiting in their vehicles as the procession crossed the street. She handed them cards that included a QR code, which sent them to the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s website to learn more about processions, other events, and Catholic teaching about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

“We met a lot of people in the streets,” Sister Theresa told CNA. “... We were able to encounter the people who were wondering what this is.” 

Sister Theresa noted that “most of the people were very positive,” although some declined to take a card. For those who didn’t take one, she said, “We pray for the openness of their heart.”

Pilgrims handed out cards to passersby that included a QR code directing them to the National Eucharistic Revival's website. Credit: National Eucharistic Revival
Pilgrims handed out cards to passersby that included a QR code directing them to the National Eucharistic Revival's website. Credit: National Eucharistic Revival

Mark Palaski, a Pittsburgh resident, told CNA: “So many people were driving by and stopping,” adding that they “showed us respect.” 

Bob O’Mara, a teacher living in Brookline, attended the procession with his wife and seven children, ages 1 through 14. He said the neighborhood was “very ideal” for a procession because “Brookline has a large young Catholic population.” 

Asked why he participated in the procession, O’Mara said: “[Christ is] the king of the universe and he deserves our praise.”

The pilgrims held a bilingual “happy hour” at St. Catherine of Siena Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish later that evening, followed by a reception with testimony from the pilgrims. The following day, at the same parish, the pilgrims celebrated Mass and embarked on another 1.8-mile procession to the St. Michael the Archangel-St. Bernard Church, where adoration was held. 

Catholics kneel before the Eucharist at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Pittsburgh before the start of the procession. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA
Catholics kneel before the Eucharist at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Pittsburgh before the start of the procession. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

After adoration, pilgrims prayed the Akathist to the Blessed Virgin Mary, sung by the Ukrainian Catholic Choir. This was followed by Holy Hour with sung vespers and another reception with pilgrim testimonies.

On Saturday, the pilgrims celebrated Mass at St. Mary of Mercy Church of Divine Mercy Parish, and on Sunday at St. Paul Cathedral, they celebrated Mass, which was said by Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

The pilgrimage is continuing through western Pennsylvania before traveling across Ohio and eventually heading to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress.

Pope Francis erects new metropolitan see in Zambia, appoints pioneer archbishop

Archbishop-elect Benjamin Phiri of the newly erected Archdiocese of Ndola in Zambia. / Credit: Archdiocese of Ndola

ACI Africa, Jun 18, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has erected the Archdiocese of Ndola in Zambia and appointed Bishop Benjamin Phiri as its first archbishop.

The southern African nation has had two metropolitan sees — the Archdiocese of Lusaka, headquartered in the country’s capital city, and the Archdiocese of Kasama in northern Zambia.

The latest administrative changes in the southern African nation were made public by the Holy See Press office on Tuesday, June 18.

The newly erected metropolitan see is located in the central region of ​​Zambia and measures 32,000 square kilometers (about 12,400 square miles) and has a population of 3.2 million, of which 1.9 million are Catholic, representing 59.6% of the total population of the archdiocese, according to the Holy See Press report.

With Kabwe and Solwezi as suffragan dioceses, the new metropolitan see has begun with 187 priests (106 diocesan and 81 religious), 151 religious brothers, 340 religious sisters, 143 major seminarians, and several catechists.

Phiri has been serving as bishop of Ndola since his installation in August 2020.

Born in June 1959 in the Diocese of Chipata, Phiri was ordained a priest of the same episcopal see in September 1986. He holds a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical Urban University (Urbaniana) in Rome.

Phiri previously served as the national director of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral office and director of the vocational pastoral ministry in his native Diocese of Chipata, where he also began his episcopal ministry as auxiliary bishop in April 2011.

Previously as a priest, he also served as a personal secretary of the former bishop of Chipata, Medardo Mazombwe, who in November 1996 was appointed archbishop of Lusaka and, after his retirement in October 2006, elevated to cardinal in November 2010. He died in August 2013.

In his 2024 Lenten message, Phiri called on Christians in Zambia to nurture a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ and maintain their focus on him amid “many” challenges. 

He also cautioned Christians against sinful behavior, saying: “Remain focused on Christ, regardless of the many political, social, economic, and spiritual challenges that we are going through.”

Phiri called for steadfastness in the ways of the Lord, adding: “The angels of God are and shall remain to administer to us.”

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

UPDATE: ‘Jesus Thirsts’ film announces extended release

"Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist" will be shown in theaters June 18-26, 2024. / Credit: "Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist"

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Fathom Events announced June 18 that it has decided to give “Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist” an extended release beyond its planned two-day encore of June 18–19. The film will now be in theaters from June 18–26.

The documentary scored big at the box office, grossing $2,141,273 and landing at the No. 1 spot in per screen average for all three days of its initial release earlier this month. 

According to Fathom Events, the film’s distributor, the movie is Fathom’s highest-grossing documentary of 2024 and is currently in second place among all documentaries released in 2024 so far.

The feature-length documentary by executive producer Deacon Steve Greco and producers Tim Moriarty and James Wahlberg was shown in theaters nationwide June 4–6.

Through dialogue with notable Catholic figures, the documentary takes viewers on a journey to rediscover the transformative power of the Eucharist by exploring the biblical origins of the Eucharist and sharing personal stories from those whose lives have been impacted by the Blessed Sacrament.

“My greatest hope for this film has been and continues to be winning souls for Jesus Christ,” Greco said in a June 7 press release. “I’m incredibly grateful to the moviegoers for showing up! Now, we need to show up again and with others.”

“The last three days have revealed the profound impact of our movie and now we have to get outside of the pew and lead our fallen-away brothers and sisters home,” Wahlberg said in the press release.

He added: “The feedback has been incredible — we have heard about packed theaters, minds and hearts deeply moved, and an urgency to tell others. The surge of posts on social media have moved like wildfire and we hope this leads to many who will become curious.”

Moriarty, writer and director of the film and founder of the production company Castletown Media, said in a press release: “Our team at Castletown Media has been profoundly moved by the overwhelming responses to ‘Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist.’”

“Viewers, often with tears in their eyes, have rediscovered a beauty in their faith that they had perhaps only glimpsed before. Many fallen-away Catholics and those outside the Church have shared how the film illuminated for them the very heart of Catholicism,” he said.

“Let this film be a clarion call to all Catholics: The time for being ashamed of our faith has ended,” he added. “Now is the moment to rediscover the boundless love of God, who meets us in the humble guise of bread and wine, and to share this love with a world in desperate need.”

On May 7, Moriarty spoke with CNA at the premiere of the film in Orange County, California, and shared that when he was first approached with the idea he believed it was “the perfect film for our times.”

“We are in a time in our Church where we need to get back to fundamentals,” he said. “We need to get back to what is at the heart of our faith, which is the ongoing incarnation of Christ in the Eucharist.”

Moriarty shared that despite being raised Catholic, there was a period in his life where he fell away from the faith and it was the Eucharist that brought him back.

“It’s the greatest gift in the world,” he said. “It’s Jesus himself and there is nothing on Earth that can satisfy that deepest longing in us.”

This story was updated June 18, 2024, with the information regarding the extended release of the film.

Judge blocks Biden gender identity protection rule in 6 states

null / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked a new Biden Title IX rule in six states that included “gender identity” in Title IX’s long-standing protection against discrimination by sex.

“There are two sexes: male and female,” began Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in his opinion.

In his ruling, Reeves said the rule was an attempt to “dramatically alter the purpose” of the law, which was originally set to protect women’s equal opportunity to education. 

The U.S. Department of Education issued new regulations in April that radically redefined long-standing federal sex discrimination policy under federal Title IX provisions. The new rules in part redefined “sex discrimination” under Title IX to include protections for “gender identity.” Title IX rules apply to any educational institutions that accept federal money. 

Reeves halted the enforcement of Biden’s changes to Title IX in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, explaining that Title IX was set to enable women to receive equal educational opportunities. 

“The new rule contravenes the plain text of Title IX by redefining ‘sex’ to include gender identity, violates government employees’ First Amendment rights, and is the result of arbitrary and capricious rulemaking,” Reeves wrote. 

The ruling follows that of another federal judge who temporarily blocked the new rule in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana following April lawsuits by the states. More than a dozen other states have pending lawsuits against the rule.

The new law bans “different treatment or separation on the basis of sex,” which includes a prohibition on any policy or practice that “prevents a person from participating in an education program or activity consistent with their gender identity.”

Opponents have argued that the law could damage the safety of women’s spaces such as bathrooms, sports, and locker rooms.

At the recent U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the conference, reiterated the incompatibility of “sex change” with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Teaching about the need to respect the natural order of the human person, Pope Francis affirmed that ‘creation is prior tous and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created,’” he said, quoting Pope Francis.

In April, the bishops came out against a New Biden HHS Obamacare rule for advancing an “ideological view of sex.”

“These regulations … advance an ideological view of sex that, as the Holy See has noted, denies the most beautiful and most powerful difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said in the April 30 press release.

Two years after overturning of Roe, pro-lifers come to DC to ‘Celebrate Life’

Pro-life activists chant during a Celebrate Life Day Rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the first anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C. / Credit Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2024 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

With the second anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by the U.S. Supreme Court approaching, thousands are expected to travel to the nation’s capital to partake in the second annual Celebrate Life Conference from June 21–23.

In response to the June 24, 2022, ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade and the authority to regulate abortion to states, the Pro-Life Women’s Conference and National Sidewalk Advocacy Center have joined forces to convene the upcoming Celebrate Life Conference, offering attendees opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and strategizing to protect unborn children.

Among many events scheduled to take place at this year’s conferenceMarch for Life President Jeanne Mancini will deliver the opening keynote session on the next steps for the pro-life movement following the Dobbs decision.

In addition to Mancini, the lineup of speakers includes Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None and ProLove Ministries; Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America; Shawn Carney, president of 40 Days for Life; and Lauren Muzyka, founder of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, among others.

In their talks, the speakers will address ways the pro-life movement can engage younger generations, the ongoing sex-trafficking crisis, and healing those affected by abortion, among other subjects. 

Apart from these various breakout sessions, the conference will host the Celebrate Life Gala, featuring speaker Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire’s “The Matt Walsh Show.” On Saturday morning thousands will gather at the Celebrate Life Rally, held at the Lincoln Memorial to hear more calls to action by pro-life leaders and representatives.

This three-day conference comes just over a week after the unanimous Supreme Court ruling unanimously ruled against a physician-led challenge to the abortion pill, rejecting an attempt by advocates to impose stricter regulations on the drug.

In a setback for the pro-life movement, the ruling will allow abortion pills to continue to be mailed to patients without an in-person doctor’s visit under the Food and Drug Administration.

Since the Dobbs ruling, the pro-life movement has suffered several defeats at the ballot box and in the courts. Initiatives protecting the “right to abortion” passed in California, Vermont, Michigan, and Ohio. There are currently four states with abortion on the ballot in 2024, as well as an additional nine states considering ballot measures pertaining to the issue.

In addition to these legislative setbacks, the Biden administration has aggressively targeted pro-life advocates for peacefully protesting and blockading the inside of abortion clinics. Several of these individuals, including elderly women, have recently been sentenced to years in prison for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. 

While the Celebrate Life Conference promises to commemorate the victory of the overruling of Roe v. Wade, its main focal point will center on continuing the fight for the unborn amid such setbacks.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, shared a similar sentiment following the recent ruling on abortion pills:  “The fight for life is far from over.”

Jesuits in Bolivia admit their actions were ‘disastrous’ in dealing with sexual abuse

Photograph of Father Luis María Roma, SJ, in the auditorium of the John XXIII boarding school in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the place where another Jesuit priest, Alfonso Pedrajas (“Padre Pica”) allegedly committed most of his abuse of minors. This image was taken there in October 2023. / Credit: Andrés Henríquez/ACI Prensa

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Jesuits of Bolivia admitted that their actions were “negligent, indolent, and disastrous” in response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests such as the late Luis María Roma, who kept a diary and had photographs and videos of the Indigenous girls he allegedly abused. 

In another notorious case, “Padre Pica” also kept a diary in which he admitted abusing up to 85 boys and adolescents.

In a statement dated June 16, the Society of Jesus in Bolivia recognized “with deep regret that the actions of those who were in charge of addressing the complaints of sexual abuse of girls, boys, and adolescents and acting on behalf of the victims were negligent, indolent, and disastrous.”

The Jesuits in Bolivia noted that this took place “without placing the victims at the center of their attention such that those who acted in this way must be held responsible for their actions in the handling of such situations, as established by the Bolivian justice system in the framework of due process.”

The statement was posted on the Jesuits’ website a day after the Spanish newspaper El País published a report on Roma, the Spanish priest who is alleged to have “abused hundreds of Indigenous girls in Bolivia for decades. He photographed them, recorded them on video, and recorded everything in writing.”

“On this occasion, the order carried out an internal investigation that confirmed the crimes and their cover-up. The Jesuits, after the death of Roma in 2019, kept the findings in a drawer where they have remained unpublished, until today,” the newspaper stated.

In their statement, the Jesuits pointed out that “the current authorities in charge of the government of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia have the moral obligation not to act as was done in the past, worthy of strong condemnation.”

“For this reason, in addition to having actively cooperated with the investigations carried out by the public prosecutor’s office by filing complaints with that agency with the documentation that was available, with the aim of absolute transparency so that the truth of the facts may be known, we urge  the state prosecutor’s office to reopen the case of the Catalan Jesuit Luis María Roma and those it deems appropriate,” the statement explained.

The Jesuits made this recommendation “given the evidence of the testimony of victims and the material collected in the raids, to establish the responsibilities of those who may have known the facts and did not act in accordance with the law.”

The Jesuits of Bolivia have ordered that “a commission, led by the current head of Healthy and Safe Environments, a lay professional and psychologist, immediately begin the work of contacting the victims in the Roma case, and others who have made complaints to determine with them the best way to care for their particular situation.”

Who was Roma?

In May 2023, and as part of the investigations into the abuse committed by the Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas “Padre Pica,” new accusations arose against Luis María Roma Padrosa and Alejandro Mestre, also a Jesuit, who had been the coadjutor archbishop of La Paz in Bolivia. 

Both complaints were filed with the authorities by former Jesuit provincial Osvaldo Chirveches, who stated that they had already been investigated by the order and that the next step was for the prosecutor’s office to pursue the cases.

The case of Roma, who was a priest for 66 years, came to light in 2019, the year in which he died, based on an investigation by the EFE news agency. 

Although the number of victims is not known, it is known that Roma was accused of abusing minor girls between 7 and 12 years of age in the town of Charagua in southern Bolivia. The complaint was supported by photographs that were the property of the priest.

The priest lived in that town in the Santa Cruz district from 1994–2005; while the abuse would have occurred between 1998 and 2002.

According to what was reported by the Página Siete portal, the case took four years before it was reported to the public prosecutor’s office. Página Siete stated that “neither the Church nor the state pushed for a public investigation or a judicial process.”

Once the investigation was completed by the Jesuits, the final report was sent, along with all the documentation, to the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome for study and consultation with the Congregation (today Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In September 2022, the credibility of the accusations was determined.

Roma was also a teacher at San Calixto School in La Paz, at San Clemente School in Potosí, and was director of the Tacata Children’s Home in Cochabamba.

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

Three young adult pilgrims walk from Paris to Jerusalem ‘to deepen our faith’

The sisters Madeleine and Marie-Liesse together with Louis Antona at the entrance of Greece. The three young people covered the distance from Paris to Jerusalem on foot, arriving in mid-May 2024. “I needed to walk 4,500 kilometers to understand that Jesus is not just in Jerusalem, but was by my side every step of the way,” Antona told CNA. / Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse

Jerusalem, Jun 18, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

On Sept. 17, 2023, two sisters left Paris and walked for approximately eight months to Jerusalem. Madeleine and Marie-Liesse, 19 and 22, who grew up in a Catholic family, decided to become pilgrims to grow in their faith. 

“We needed to make the faith our own,” they told CNA. “This pilgrimage was to discover God, to truly search for him and deepen our faith. We learned that we can trust God; he takes care of us in everything. The Gospel is not a joke.”

Two months later, in mid-November 2023, Louis Antona, 24, also left Paris on foot, bound for Jerusalem. The three young people met providentially in Albania, walked together through Turkey, then parted ways and reunited in Jerusalem. They shared the story of their pilgrimage with CNA.

“I needed to walk 4,500 kilometers to understand that Jesus is not just in Jerusalem but was by my side every step of the way,” Antona told CNA. He walked a total of 189 days and arrived in Jerusalem on May 18.

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse — who asked that their last name not be used — left from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre in the center of Paris with the blessing of their parents and a priest.

“It was a calling from God,” Madeleine said of the decision she and her sister made to leave. “There’s no need for reasons when God calls; you simply need to follow what he tells you.” 

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse during a moment of their journey, between Slovenia and Croatia. “The faith of the people struck us: during Advent, tradition dictates that Mass be attended every morning at 6, and every time we went, the church was packed with people,” they told CNA. The two sisters left Paris on September 17, 2023, and walked for about eight months to Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse
Madeleine and Marie-Liesse during a moment of their journey, between Slovenia and Croatia. “The faith of the people struck us: during Advent, tradition dictates that Mass be attended every morning at 6, and every time we went, the church was packed with people,” they told CNA. The two sisters left Paris on September 17, 2023, and walked for about eight months to Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse

The sisters created a simple blog to keep friends and family updated on their pilgrimage. The photos and brief stories reveal all the freshness of two young people on a journey while not hiding moments of doubt and difficulty.

“We chose to embark on this journey as beggars,” Marie-Liesse told CNA. “We left with just a few clothes and nothing else — no food, no money. We wanted to surrender ourselves into the hands of providence. Every evening, we knocked on people’s doors asking for shelter, a bed, and food. The Lord always provided.”

Their days were marked by walking and prayer. 

“We didn’t have a strict rule because we had to adapt every day to the people who hosted us, the place, and the situation,” Marie-Liesse explained. “But we had a framework: We knew we had to pray in the morning, at midday, at night… It was important for us to be faithful to God. Every day, we also recited a rosary, praying for the intentions entrusted to us.”

The most challenging moment was making the decision to continue the journey after hearing that war had broken out in the Holy Land. “We were in Germany and full of doubts about whether to go on.”

Their journey led them to cross Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. In Croatia, “the faith of the people struck us: during Advent, tradition dictates that Mass be attended every morning at 6, and every time we went, the church was packed with people,” the sisters wrote on their blog.

They stopped for a month in Medjugorje (Bosnia and Herzegovina), where their family joined them for Christmas. 

“It was a difficult time. Again, we didn’t know what to do. But after a period of discernment, we realized that Christ was calling us back on the road again,” Madeleine said.

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse crossed Montenegro and arrived in Albania, where they encountered Antona.

“I had just finished my studies and wanted to offer something to God,” Antona told CNA. “I wasn’t sure what, but I thought that the best thing I had at that time was time itself. So, I decided to offer God a year of my life by embarking on a journey. It was a challenge; I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy walking and being alone.”

Louis Antona, 24, during a moment of his journey. “I had just finished my studies and wanted to offer something to God,” he told CNA. “I thought that the best thing I had at that time was time itself. So, I decided to offer God a year of my life by embarking on a journey." Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona
Louis Antona, 24, during a moment of his journey. “I had just finished my studies and wanted to offer something to God,” he told CNA. “I thought that the best thing I had at that time was time itself. So, I decided to offer God a year of my life by embarking on a journey." Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona

Antona decided to leave, despite the war. “I believe the hardest part of a pilgrimage like this is deciding to start. I knew that if I gave up because of the war, I would never do it again. Anyway, I thought that by the time I arrived, the war would already be over.”

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse are filled with wonder at the manifestation of providence in every detail of their pilgrimage, in the beautiful weather and in the rain, in every small encounter — those who hosted them after seeing them at the bus stop, those who taught them how to make bread, the gentleman who opened his door just before a downpour. “If we had arrived a minute later, we wouldn’t have met him,” they said.

The encounter with Antona wasn’t coincidental either. The two sisters had prayed to God to give them a travel companion.

“We planned to not go through Turkey because we were two women alone, but we would have liked to go that way. So we asked God to meet one pilgrim, and we met him,” the sisters explained. 

The three crossed Macedonia and Greece, arriving in Turkey on Palm Sunday. In this predominantly Muslim country, they celebrated Easter, warmly welcomed by the small French-speaking community there.

The sisters Madeleine and Marie-Liesse together with Louis Antona received a blessing from a priest during a Mass in Turkey. They arrived in Turkey on Palm Sunday 2024. In this predominantly Muslim country, they celebrated Easter, warmly welcomed by the small French-speaking community there. Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona
The sisters Madeleine and Marie-Liesse together with Louis Antona received a blessing from a priest during a Mass in Turkey. They arrived in Turkey on Palm Sunday 2024. In this predominantly Muslim country, they celebrated Easter, warmly welcomed by the small French-speaking community there. Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona

“Every day of this pilgrimage was a miracle,” Antona said. “Every day we have met people who smiled or were nice to us. I have to say that in Turkey we found the most welcoming people.”

“It is not uncommon for the Turks to spontaneously lend us a hand,” Madeleine and Marie-Liesse wrote on their blog. “In Turkey, we encountered an infinite respect for passing strangers and for Christianity, even though Christians here are forced to protect themselves from regular attacks.”

The arrival of Madeleine and Marie-Liesse in Albania. In the photo, Marie-Liesse is in front of a statue of Mother Teresa, who was originally from this country. "Every evening, we knocked on people’s doors asking for shelter, a bed, and food. The Lord always provided," they told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse
The arrival of Madeleine and Marie-Liesse in Albania. In the photo, Marie-Liesse is in front of a statue of Mother Teresa, who was originally from this country. "Every evening, we knocked on people’s doors asking for shelter, a bed, and food. The Lord always provided," they told CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse

Upon leaving Turkey, the paths of the three pilgrims split again. The sisters’ route went through Cyprus but they could not find a way from there to Jerusalem by sea due to suspension of transportation because of the war. Providentially, they met someone in Cyprus who offered to pay for airfare, and the sisters arrived in Tel Aviv on May 6. Three days later, on the feast of the Ascension, they were in Jerusalem.

“Many times, we thought we couldn’t reach Jerusalem,” Madeleine said. “We learned that the journey is even more important than reaching the goal. Being here is a great gift, just to be here.”

“We unpacked our bags once and for all, knelt before this Holy Land, and prayed. What peace, what a moment of grace! As we admired the sunrise and the golden light that brought color to the roofs of the old city, we could reread the wonders of God and meditate on the Gospels. His infinite love overwhelmed us,” the two sisters wrote on their blog.

The sisters Madeleine and Marie-Liesse received a blessing from a Franciscan friar at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher after their arrival in Jerusalem. “The greatest gift is to be here and understand what happened here, to see with our own eyes, to witness the actual places,” Madeleine said. “We were able to pause in every place, to pray and meditate in silence.” Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse
The sisters Madeleine and Marie-Liesse received a blessing from a Franciscan friar at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher after their arrival in Jerusalem. “The greatest gift is to be here and understand what happened here, to see with our own eyes, to witness the actual places,” Madeleine said. “We were able to pause in every place, to pray and meditate in silence.” Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse

Madeleine has no doubts: “Prayer is what carried us. When you’re weak, that’s when you’re strongest because that’s when God can act in you; you don’t take up all the space. Trusting in God can be challenging, but when you understand that God only wants you to be happy and will give you everything you need, then you realize you have everything to be happy in this moment; you can trust him.”

Ten days later, on the eve of Pentecost, Antona also arrived in Jerusalem. “Even if I had to stop somewhere else, at least I would have aimed to reach Jerusalem. This is a very important city for Christians, but the journey you take to reach it is also very important.”

French pilgrim Louis Antona arrived in Jerusalem on May 18, at the vigil of Pentecost. “Every day of this pilgrimage was a miracle,” he said. Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona
French pilgrim Louis Antona arrived in Jerusalem on May 18, at the vigil of Pentecost. “Every day of this pilgrimage was a miracle,” he said. Credit: Photo courtesy of Louis Antona

The three pilgrims are still in the Holy Land. They have had the opportunity to participate in various celebrations and to visit the holy places in addition to many other sites in the area.

“The greatest gift is to be here and understand what happened here, to see with our own eyes, to witness the actual places,” Madeleine said. “We were able to pause in every place, to pray and meditate in silence.”

A journey like this isn’t for everyone, but all three of the pilgrims agree that “if God calls you, go in peace. If God helps you, everything becomes possible.” 

The French pilgrims rest under the portico of the Church of the Beatitudes on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. In the photo is Louis Antona. A journey like this isn't for everyone, but, the three young people said, “if God calls you, go in peace. If God helps you, everything becomes possible.” Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse
The French pilgrims rest under the portico of the Church of the Beatitudes on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. In the photo is Louis Antona. A journey like this isn't for everyone, but, the three young people said, “if God calls you, go in peace. If God helps you, everything becomes possible.” Credit: Photo courtesy of French pilgrims Madeleine and Marie-Liesse

Catholic migrant shelter calls ‘human smuggling’ accusations ‘utter nonsense’

Migrants mostly form Central America wait in line to cross the border at the Gateway International Bridge into the U.S. from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, on June 4, 2024. / Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening to shut down a Catholic nonprofit known as Annunciation House for allegedly facilitating illegal border crossings from Mexico, a lawyer for the group has called the state’s claims “utter nonsense.”

Attorneys representing both sides argued before El Paso District Judge Francisco Dominguez in a hearing on Monday.

Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), which is representing Annunciation House, claimed that Paxton’s actions constitute an attack on the free exercise of religion and violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rob Farquharson, an attorney with the Texas attorney general’s office, claimed that Annunciation House has been breaking portions of the Texas penal law that prohibits “knowingly encourag[ing] or induc[ing] a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.” 

He said the nonprofit has “expressly said that the federal government knows that undocumented persons reside at Annunciation House” and the shelter “publicizes its willingness to shelter [illegal] immigrants and yet the federal government does not prosecute.”

Meanwhile, Wesevich called the state’s accusations “utter nonsense,” saying that “there’s no legitimate dispute that Annunciation House serves undocumented persons as an expression of the Catholic faith and Jesus’ command to love one another, no exceptions.” 

“I would submit that if religious freedom does not allow Annunciation House to obey Jesus’ primary command to love another by providing a child a safe and warm place to sleep on a cold night, then there is no religious freedom in Texas,” Wesevich said. 

What is Annunciation House?

Located just a few minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Annunciation House is a lay-run Catholic organization that offers migrants temporary shelter, food, and clothing and advocates on their behalf. 

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in unlawful activities. 

On Feb. 20 Paxton filed a lawsuit against Annunciation House, accusing the nonprofit of being “engaged in the operation of an illegal stash house by potentially allowing others to use its real estate to engage in human smuggling.” 

Dominguez issued a temporary ruling in March in which he said that Paxton could not revoke Annunciation House’s license to operate or force it to turn over documents immediately.

In a court document filed by Paxton in May, he claimed to have “reviewed and obtained sworn testimony” indicating that the nonprofit is engaging in illegal immigration activities.

Paxton said the group’s “own sworn testimony” as part of ongoing legal proceedings show that Annunciation House “knowingly shelters illegal aliens” and “even goes into Mexico to retrieve aliens who[m] border patrol denied.”

In response, Annunciation House has called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” 

What happened at the hearing?

During the hearing, which according to Dominguez was held online due to “security concerns,” Farquharson claimed that the nonprofit’s refusal to comply with the order to turn over documents relating to its operations “demonstrates concealment, harboring, and shielding” of illegal activity.

He also claimed that Annunciation House has been violating the Emergency Food and Shelter Act’s requirement to keep daily logs of the migrants they serve.  

Dominguez pressed Farquharson on whether Paxton’s lawsuit diminishes Annunciation House’s Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and to due process.

“Are you saying that Annunciation House, regardless of what they do or who they are harboring, to use your language, are you saying they have a diminished Fourth Amendment right?” the judge asked.

Farquharson responded that nonprofits are not guaranteed the same degree of Fourth Amendment protections as individuals.

Wesevich countered that “corporations have Fourth Amendment rights” and said that Paxton has no authority to shut Annunciation House down because “there has been no clear proof of any violation of law.”

“The attorney general is not looking for documents,” Wesevich said. “What the attorney general is looking for is an excuse to close Annunciation House.”

Wesevich went on to say that the “burden of proof of reasonableness” for Paxton’s records request “belongs only to the attorney general.”

TRLA held a press conference after the hearing during in which Wesevich said that Texas’ actions are “an obvious attack on Annunciation House’s fundamental right to practice the Catholic faith.”

Wesevich told CNA during the press conference that if Paxton were to be successful in his actions against Annunciation House the result would be “more people out on the streets” and “everywhere more chaos.”

“If the attorney general were successful, it would result in no decreased immigration whatsoever and only increased chaos,” he went on. “For us, for the business community, for the community at large, for the religious community, as well as for the government.”

What’s next?

Dominguez said during the hearing that he plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

Wesevich said that though he is optimistic, he believes that Dominguez’s ruling will likely be appealed and that the case will go on to higher courts.

Paxton’s office did not reply to CNA’s request for comment.