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Order of Argentine priests spreads the Gospel where the Church has not gone before

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. / Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 29, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

From an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia out of fear of an atheistic government, the intrepid Father Federico Highton devotes his life to announcing the Gospel to all people, especially those living in places where the faith has vanished or never been established. 

Highton and Father Javier Olivera Ravasi are two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. 

The order is dedicated to cultural engagement and sending missionaries “ad gentes” (“to the nations”), in a reference to the Second Vatican Council’s decree that reaffirmed the call for missions and salvation in Christ and highlighted the link between evangelization and charity for the poor.

The order’s website states that its members seek out the lost and the “’immense multitudes who thirst for Christ,’” as cited in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, “even when they do not know they are lost.” They go wherever the Catholic faith has vanished or not penetrated and have gone to Afghanistan, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Benin, Tibet, Laos, China, and India’s northeastern Sikkim region. A recently produced video captured Highton in Malawi.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

CNA asked Highton why he goes so far afield from his native Argentina, which has material and spiritual needs of its own. 

“The Italian writer Vittorio Missori once said the Catholic religion is one of ‘and/and,’ not ‘or/or,’ which is to say it is mystical and ascetical. It seeks the salvation of souls everywhere, not just the slums of Buenos Aires but also in the Himalayan Mountains and deep in China,” Highton said. “The vocation of a missionary is to go anywhere ‘ad gentes,’ just as it is the vocation of Carthusian monks to pray and fast and for journalists to seek the truth.”

The order takes its name from the biblical prophet and saint Elijah, who is also known as Elias. The order’s website expresses admiration for “the heroic spirit of the holy prophet who, with his zeal and tireless preaching, was a fiery missionary. Just as the Carmelite fathers were inspired by him in their contemplative dimension, we seek here to inherit his missionary ‘parrhesia.’” 

In April 2020, fellow Argentine Pope Francis delivered a homily on parrhesia, which is often translated as “boldness,” as found in Acts 4:13-21. The pontiff said of the apostles Peter and John, who faced the Sanhedrin in the Temple: “The gift of the Holy Spirit: frankness, courage, parrhesia, is a gift, a grace that the Holy Spirit gives to him on the day of Pentecost. Right after having received the Holy Spirit they went out to preach courageously, something new for them.”

Olivera Ravasi said that Pope Francis personally received members of the order and instructed them to evangelize in places where the faith had not been shared before while also providing necessary authorization for mission work.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

In addition to parrhesia, the Order of St. Elijah is founded on heroic commitment, fidelity to the divine “mystery” — the equality with which gentiles are to be treated (as mentioned in Ephesians) — and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Their intention is to preach the Catholic faith boldly and proclaim it “upon the housetops” (Mt 10:27) without fearing those “who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). 

“Like the martyrs, such as St. Blaise, we are called to parrhesia even though we are cut into pieces,” Highton said.

While he is across the world in Asia, his brother and co-founder of the order, Olivera Ravasi, remains in Argentina, where he leads the order’s “Catholic counter-revolution” with teaching and outreach to university students and young professionals. 

A lawyer, theologian, blogger, and author who has produced numerous video conferences and interviews on YouTube, Olivera Ravasi told CNA that the Order of St. Elijah recently celebrated its eighth anniversary and is seeking to purchase a house in the heart of Buenos Aires to offer studios, a conference room, and a book store where young people can receive instruction in the faith and exposure to Catholic culture. The order also has a formation house for seminarians in Ecuador under the auspices of an archbishop.

While there are missionaries of other orders in Argentina, Highton said the Order of St. Elijah has its own charism and apostolic dynamism: “We go to the missions with just a backpack and without the bureaucratic apparatus of others. It’s as if we are missionary commandos. In the Church, there are the regular troops, but we are the commandos.” 

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of Saint Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of Saint Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

Highton is accompanied on some of his missions by volunteers, seminarians, and laity from Argentina and elsewhere. In Argentina, there are several parishes served by priests associated with the order.

“It’s a great grace he has bestowed,” the priest said. “We are in contact with the bishops and religious, such as the Franciscans, in the countries we visit and cooperate with them. We worked with the Servant Sisters of the Word in Malawi and had great success, for instance. With them, we were able to start chapels where there had not been any.”

Referring to his work in India, which was initially evangelized in apostolic times by St. Thomas and has continued to have a Christian presence, Highton said: “Those were the days of splendid evangelization that were followed by years of lesser splendor. We are being called to another boom in missionary work ‘ad gentes.’ Today, unfortunately, the calls by the popes to evangelization have not been heeded. In much of the world, missionary work is nearly dead. In the 20th century, all of the popes tell us that evangelizing ad gentes is urgent. While the Protestants are advancing successfully in pagan lands, in many places there is no Catholic activity.”

Among his models in the priesthood, Highton mentioned priest/author Leonardo Castellani (1899–1981), who remains influential in the Spanish-speaking world. 

“I started reading Castellani as a layman and then in seminary. His example is in my blood and in my soul,” he said. 

What he learned, he said, is that all believers “are called to evangelize and each of us has a function in the body of Christ to save souls and save their own souls.”

“My greatest challenge would be to evangelize Muslims in Muslim lands,” he continued.

Highton has been jailed in the past for his missionary activity, hassled by pagan shamans, and has suffered several bouts of malaria. He often travels alone or sometimes with dedicated guides.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

Highton was asked if he has witnessed diabolic resistance to his mission. 

“In the first place, diabolical resistance affects everyone through temptation. The devil manifests himself by tempting me. Through confession, to the glory of God, I confess my sins and temptations,” he said. 

In Africa, he witnessed diabolical manifestations and possessions. “There was one terrifying case I witnessed, where a bishop gave me authority as an exorcist. It was a girl who would spontaneously strip herself naked at school and go into a trance. Ashamed, her parents stopped sending her to school. But ultimately, the Lord liberated her,” he recalled.

He said that he prepares each day with the Divine Office and fasting, followed by celebrating holy Mass before going out. He and his companions evangelize in the morning and evening while adhering to a rule of prayer and the rosary. There are currently nine priests in the order, and six seminarians are poised to join. They are asking for prayers and donations so they can continue their work.

“The Church doesn’t want the world to trust in her if the price of this trust is for the world to deny God,” Highton said. “The Church doesn’t want the trust of the powerful at the price of renouncing the Word. If the Church ceases to be missionary, it loses its reason for being: The trust of potentates in a non-missionary Church is trust in a prostitute, not a trust in holy mother Church.”

Milei ends Argentine government use of 'inclusive language' promoted by gender ideology advocates

Argentine President Javier Milei speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland on Feb. 24, 2024. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 28, 2024 / 19:19 pm (CNA).

Argentine President Javier Milei has ordered the prohibition of inclusive language by the national government, the spokesman for office of the president, Manuel Adorni, announced at his daily press conference.

In Spanish, all nouns have a gender, usually designated by the -o ending for masculine and the -a ending for feminine. In order to make a generically masculine word to cover both sexes, inclusive language proponents have invented gender neutral endings. 

Adorni explained that steps are to be taken “to prohibit inclusive language and everything related to gender perspective throughout the national public administration” and specified that “ the letter 'e', the @, 'x' will not be used along with the unnecessary inclusion of the feminine variation of a word in all public administration documents.”

“The language that covers all sectors is the one we use,” the spokesman continued, “it’s the Castilian language, it’s Spanish,” he said. 

On Feb. 23, the Ministry of Defense released a resolution in which it stated that the use of “so-called 'inclusive language'” does not correspond to the regulations set by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) and the Argentine Academy of Letters.

Therefore, the document states, “it is necessary to adopt a measure to eliminate incorrect forms of language within the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces.”

So-called “inclusive language” promoted by gender ideology advocates usually requires the modification of the grammatical gender of words so that they do not directly refer to masculine or feminine, using letters such as “x” and “e”, or symbols like “@”, thus changing words like “todos” [ a masculine generic for “everyone” whether men or women] for the gender neutral “todxs,” “todes” or “tod@s.” 

Another common usage is to take a generically masculine word such as “ciudadanos”  (citizens, whether male or female) and make a distinction by using the separate masculine and feminine forms of the word. An English equivalent would be instead of just saying “citizens,” saying “men and women citizens.” 

According to the United Nations, inclusive language serves to “promote gender equality and combat gender prejudice.”

Royal Spanish Academy rips “inclusive language”

On more than one occasion, the RAE, which officially determines the correct use of Spanish, has made a pronouncement on so-called “inclusive language,” considering it “unnecessary” and alien to “the morphology of Spanish.”

The institution has also maintained that the generic grammatical masculine “is firmly established” and “does not imply any sexist discrimination.”

The director of the RAE, Santiago Muñoz Machado, told the Spanish newspaper ABC in 2021 that inclusive language “disfigures the language in an unsustainable manner.”

What has Pope Francis said about gender ideology?

On several occasions, Pope Francis has referred critically to gender ideology. The most recent instance was in January 2024, during a speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, when he stressed that gender ideology is “extremely dangerous” because “it erases the differences in its claim to make everyone equal.” 

In March of 2023, the Holy Father spoke along similar lines, saying: "Gender ideology, at this moment, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations. It goes beyond the sexual. Why is it dangerous? Because it dilutes differences and the value of men and women and of all humanity." 

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

Catholic chapel where two men celebrated 'marriage' now subject to deconsecration

Both the pastor of nearby San Bernabé parish in El Escorial, Fr. Florentino de Andrés, along with the Archdiocese of Madrid, anticipate the deconsecration of the chapel as a result of the ceremony. / Credit: Zarateman/Wikimedia Commons

Madrid, Spain, Feb 28, 2024 / 18:28 pm (CNA).

The private Catholic chapel where two Spanish men celebrated their civil “marriage” last weekend is subject to “canonical effects” and deconsecration, according to the Archdiocese of Madrid and a Catholic priest with jurisdiction in the area.

The Holy Trinity chapel, located on the grounds of the Finca El Campillo, a property used as a wedding venue in the town of El Escorial, was the scene of a celebration of the two men’s civil marriage last Saturday.

Cristina González Navarro, who owns the property, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that at the event inside the chapel “there was no priest” and that “a wedding wasn’t held,” but she refused to offer more details about what the ritual consisted of.

What is known, through images posted on social media, is that the chapel was full of guests and that the men, dressed in formal attire and holding hands, left the chapel walking down the aisle as a Catholic bride and groom do at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony for the sacrament of marriage. 

According to photos on social media, some elements of the Catholic liturgy apparently were used during the ceremony, including an image of the Virgin of Hakuna by sculptor Javier Viver. 

The two men exchanged rings and at one point knelt on white kneelers in front of the sculpture of the Virgin and before a cross made of two branches tied together.

On the shoulders of the men was draped a white cloth with blue stripes in a gesture similar to the one used in the veiling rite of the Mozarabic liturgy. In this Catholic rite, the wife's head and the husband's shoulders are covered and as they kneel they receive a blessing.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Madrid 

Father Florentino de Andrés, pastor of St. Bernabé parish in El Escorial, told ACI Prensa that the chapel has not been deconsecrated and that the ceremony was carried out without his knowledge. The priest was emphatic that “it was not with my permission.”

De Andrés also said that he will speak with the owners of the property to determine what took place and if confirmed as reported, he will call for the chapel to be deconsecrated.

The Archdiocese of Madrid also weighed in with a statement confirming that "it was not informed or consulted about the possibility of holding said celebration, being a unilateral act of the property [owners] that will have canonical effects in this regard. In no case is it permitted to perform a civil marriage within a religious venue.”

The Feb. 26 statement stressed that “family chapels can only be used for the purpose that the Church grants them,” and therefore “they cannot be a place for public religious celebrations, unless expressly authorized by the diocese.”

In addition, the archdiocese specified that “they cannot be used for commercial purposes or as places for civil celebrations of any kind. In fact, at the time [they were built] they were intended to be solely for the private devotional use of the family that owned it and in no case to be offered as an optional for-profit service of a company that plans social events.”

Beyond the controversy over the improper use of a Catholic church, those who own chapels that are located on private land are subject to ecclesiastical regulations (canons 1115 et seq.) for the correct use of these sacred places, as summarized by the Archdiocese of Madrid in its statement.

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

What is the Catholic Church’s position on IVF?

null / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 18:13 pm (CNA).

Since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) are human children, debate over fertility treatment has erupted anew.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is IVF? 

IVF is a medical procedure that fuses sperm and egg in a lab environment to conceive a child outside of the sexual act. The live embryo is then later implanted into a uterus to continue developing until birth. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, IVF is typically used as a “treatment for infertility” that “also can be used to prevent passing on genetic problems to a child.” 

Is the Catholic Church against IVF? 

Yes. While the Church encourages certain fertility treatments for couples struggling to have children, the use of IVF is contrary to Catholic teachings.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraph 2377) states that IVF is “morally unacceptable” because it separates the marriage act from procreation and establishes “the domination of technology” over human life. 

According to Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the 1987 Vatican document Donum Vitae established the moral framework for Catholics with regard to IVF. Donum Vitae said that “the gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union.” 

This teaching, Meaney told CNA, laid out a “fundamental distinction” between treatments meant to assist the marital act in conceiving a child versus treatments that replace the marital act. 

Donum Vitae compares IVF to abortion, saying that “through these procedures, with apparently contrary purposes, life and death are subjected to the decision of man, who thus sets himself up as the giver of life and death by decree.”

Meaney explained that in IVF “there's an objectification of the child because essentially they're producing children almost on an industrial scale.” 

“It's treating the human person not as a gift, but rather as an object to be created and that can be subjected to quality control and discarded.” 

How does IVF separate sex from procreation? 

An IVF pregnancy is achieved through the removal of some of a woman’s eggs, collected by inducing what is called “superovulation,” where a drug is administered so the woman releases multiple eggs in one cycle. The eggs are combined with a man’s sperm retrieved through masturbation. 

Ultimately, IVF involves the use of artificial means to achieve pregnancy outside of the marriage act. The Church holds that this disassociation is contrary to the dignity of parents and children. 

Donum Vitae says that because conception through IVF is “brought about outside the bodies of the couple through actions of third parties,” such fertilization “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.” 

“Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the human person,” Donum Vitae teaches. 

How are children harmed through IVF? 

During the IVF process, multiple human embryos are made and then evaluated in a “grading” process that determines their cellular “quality.” There are multiple grading methods that IVF providers use to examine embryos with an eye for which may be the most suitable for implantation into the uterus.   

Almost half of the human embryos created through IVF are “discarded” during the process, according to the Center for Genetics and Society. This has led to millions of human embryos being discarded, something that in the Church’s eyes amounts to the killing of millions of innocent lives. 

Additionally, the use of IVF has resulted in a surplus of an estimated 1 million human embryos being kept frozen in laboratories across the country where they are often stored indefinitely or destroyed in embryonic scientific research

Aren’t more children good? 

The Church supports a couple's desire for children. The problem arises when that desire leads couples to seek children by any means.  

John Di Camillo, an ethicist at The National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained to CNA that “we cannot do evil that good may come.” 

“The Church teaches that children have a right to be conceived, gestated, born, and raised within marriage,” he said. “Each human person is in the image and likeness of God, made by God — a body-soul unity of infinite value to be welcomed, loved, and cherished rather than forcibly produced.”

What are the alternatives to IVF for Catholics? 

The Catechism (Paragraph 2375) teaches that “research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged.” 

According to Donum Vitae, fertility treatments meant to replace the marriage act are morally wrong while those meant to assist it in conceiving life may be permitted. 

Methods such as Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro Technology), that focus on treating the underlying bodily or hormonal issues causing infertility rather than attempting to skirt around them, are considered morally licit by the Church.

According to Veritas Fertility & Surgery, NaPro Technology treatments often involve medications to improve ovulation and hormone levels for a woman as well as “improve sperm count or quality” for men. NaPro Technology can also involve surgical interventions aimed at restoring the natural procreative functions of the body.

The Church also encourages couples to use Natural Family Planning (NFP), which tracks the fertile and infertile cycles of a woman’s body to either achieve or postpone pregnancy. There are multiple NFP tracking methods such as the Creighton Model Fertility Care System and Billings Ovulation Method which are considered licit by the Church.

“The Church supports married couples struggling with the cross of infertility by encouraging medical interventions to heal the couple, restoring their health and fertility so they are more likely to receive the gift of a child through sexual intercourse,” Di Camillo explained.  

What is the Alabama IVF ruling? 

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 20 that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could affect the way IVF clinics operate in the state.

The 8-1 ruling said that the state’s “Wrongful Death of a Minor Act” “applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation” and “regardless of their location.”

It should be noted that the Alabama ruling is not part of a federal case and so only affects the law within the state, leaving all other states unaffected. 

Jordan Peterson discusses wife's 'miraculous' recovery from cancer and her embrace of Catholicism

Psychologist and author Dr. Jordan Peterson was interviewed by EWTN's Colm Flynn on Feb. 11, 2024. / Credit: Screenshot/EWTN News in Depth

Denver Newsroom, Feb 28, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

In an interview with EWTN News, renowned psychologist and author Jordan Peterson shared his perspective on his wife’s “miraculous” recovery from cancer and his view of her embrace of the Catholic faith.

Peterson recounted that upon learning of his wife Tammy's diagnosis, the couple sought treatment options in various hospitals across North America. Wherever they turned, he said, they were told available treatments had “no evidence for success”  and the one-year survival rate for the cancer afflicting Tammy "was zero."

But as Tammy Peterson also told EWTN News in a separate interview, she ultimately fully recovered from her cancer — and connected with a close friend's as well as her grandmother's Catholic faith in the process. 

Dr. Peterson, known for his biblical lectures, noted that the Gospels contain numerous accounts of miraculous healings.

“And for anyone who's conventionally scientific in his or her thinking, those stories are hard to understand,” he said. 

Speaking of his scientific background, Peterson said he is not a “reductive materialist.” “I think we would see the miraculous constantly if we weren't blind,” he observed.

Peterson said his wife's newfound faith has strengthened her ability to share her “light” in ways she hadn’t previously. 

“She's speaking publicly, which she wouldn't have done before, although she may have liked to,” he said. 

“People hide, even, their desire to have their light shine, much less the light,” Peterson continued. “They hide that from themselves. That's lack of faith. They're afraid that if they admitted to the ambition and pursued it, it would come to naught.” 

She has also “recovered that state of childhood that Christ associates with the kingdom,” he noted. 

“And that's a remarkable thing to see, because I also knew her as a child, and so I can actually see that re-emerge,” he continued. “And that's quite the bloody miracle, that is.”

Peterson’s faith

Dr. Peterson’s own relationship to the Christian and Catholic faith is not as clear as that of his wife, who is scheduled to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter.

Though he has said in the past that Catholicism "is as sane as people can get," when asked by Flynn if he feels a tug toward Catholicism, he opted instead to say he has an “appreciation” for Catholicism. 

“There’s plenty of things the Catholic faith got right,” he told Flynn. 

“At some point, every question bottoms out in a mystery, and that's where the faith has to be,” he said. “Faith is necessary in part because you don't know everything.”

While Peterson said he is not on the same Catholic faith journey as his wife, he emphasized that the “original proposition” of Christ's invitation to "take up your cross and follow me" is “obviously” correct.

“Christ faced, and triumphed, over death and hell, and you might say, well, why is that relevant?” he said. “And the answer is, because that's what you have to do.”

Peterson said it’s important for the Church to stay focused on that original proposition.

“If it’s all guitar and hippies, who the hell cares?” Peterson said, emphasizing that the Church should not try to “be more relevant” by taking up other causes, such as the climate crisis.

“It's supposed to be an invitation to the great adventure of life,” he said of the Christian faith. “What's the great adventure of life? Pick up your cross and follow me. Well, what's more relevant than that?” 

In sum, Peterson concluded, "everybody has their own path.” “Tammy's on hers; I'm on mine.” 

The complete EWTN News interview with Dr. Jordan Peterson can be viewed below.


Alabama Republicans introduce bills that would let IVF clinics destroy human embryos

null / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Republicans in both chambers of the Alabama Legislature are introducing bills that would shield clinics from civil and criminal liability when destroying human embryos during the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The legislation comes after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the "Wrongful Death of a Minor Act" applies to “all children, born and unborn,” including human embryos. In 2018, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment via a referendum that affirmed "the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.”

Lawmakers intend to bypass the Supreme Court’s decision by providing clinics immunity from criminal prosecution and civil litigation when providing IVF services. This applies in all cases, except when there is an intentional “act of omission” that is unrelated to IVF services. The bills were introduced on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

IVF is a fertility treatment in which doctors fuse sperm and eggs to create human embryos and implant them in the mother’s womb without a sexual act. Embryos that are intended to be implanted at a later date are frozen. Undesired embryos are routinely destroyed or used for scientific research, which kills those preborn children.

As initially drafted, the legislation does not include immunity for patients who receive IVF treatments, but Rep. Tim Melson said during a news conference that such protections would be added to the legislation before it comes up for a vote. 

“This isn’t about politics,” Melson, who introduced the House version of the bill, said. “This is about patients and we want to make sure we take care of patients today.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and the Alabama Policy Institute issued a joint statement criticizing the lawmakers for supporting the legislation, which they claim is in conflict with pro-life principles. 

“It is unacceptable [that] the Alabama legislature has advanced a bill that falls short of pro-life expectations and fails to respect the dignity of human life,” the statement read. 

“Alabama can do both: allow the continued practice of IVF with care for those suffering from infertility and respect life created through the IVF,” the statement continued. “We have full confidence that the same legislature that passed a law protecting the unborn throughout pregnancy will also take this crucial step to continue protecting all human life, in keeping with the people of Alabama who are ardently pro-life.”

Both bills are still in committee and have not yet come up for a floor vote. 

The court’s ruling stems from a lawsuit in which three families argued that an IVF clinic should be held accountable for the accidental death of their preborn children, which were frozen embryos under the clinic’s care. Some Alabama clinics suspended IVF procedures after the ruling.

Numerous Republicans in Congress have recently come out in support of IVF and criticized the Alabama ruling even though the destruction of human embryos remains an integral part of the industry. 

Former President Donald Trump, the Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Congressional Leadership Fund (which is the largest political action committee focused on electing Republicans to the House of Representatives) have all encouraged Republican lawmakers and candidates to voice support for IVF procedures.

Pope Francis visits the hospital: His health issues through the years

Pope Francis greets the faithful from his wheelchair during his Feb. 28, 2024 general audience at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 16:49 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis was hospitalized Wednesday morning after a public audience, with the Vatican confirming that he underwent unspecified “diagnostic tests.” 

The 87-year-old pope was taken to the Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital before returning to his Vatican residence shortly after noon. The Vatican says the pope has had “a mild flu-like condition” since at least Saturday, when he canceled his scheduled public appearances.

Pope Francis has faced numerous health challenges in recent years, and yet still has maintained a busy schedule of meetings, Masses, and travel since 2020. 

Diverticulitis and other abdominal issues

July 2021:

A problem with his colon lands the pope in the hospital on July 4, 2021.

Pope Francis undergoes surgery to relieve stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery includes a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

The pope spends 11 days in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital recovering from the surgery.

Jan. 2023:

In an interview published by the Associated Press on Jan. 25, Pope Francis announces that his diverticulitis has returned. He emphasizes that he is in “good health” and that, for his age, he is “normal.”

June 2023:

Pope Francis undergoes a three-hour abdominal surgery to repair an incisional hernia on June 7.

A team of surgeons removes scar tissue and operates on a hernia in the pope’s abdominal wall at the site of a previous surgical incision in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. 

The pope is discharged on June 16 after an eight-day stay in the hospital recovering from the operation.

Bronchitis and other lung issues

March 2023:

On March 29 the Vatican announces that Pope Francis is expected to remain in a hospital in Rome for “some days” due to a respiratory infection. It had announced earlier in the day that he was in the hospital for previously scheduled medical checkups.

Nov. 2023: 

Pope Francis goes to the hospital on Nov. 25 for precautionary testing amid a “mild flu.” A CT scan at the hospital rules out pneumonia, but shows that the pope has lung inflammation causing breathing difficulties. The pope is treated with antibiotics intravenously as he recovers, and he manages to keep his scheduled appointment with the president of Paraguay the following day. 

Despite being strongly committed to attending, Pope Francis ultimately on Nov. 30 cancels his trip to Dubai for a climate conference amid “very acute infectious bronchitis.” Despite feeling under the weather, the pope maintained a very full schedule that day with nine official meetings scheduled for the morning. Amid the pope’s recovery, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin instead headed the Vatican’s delegation to the COP28 climate conference. 

Colds, flus, and miscellaneous

Aug. 2022:

On Aug. 4, the Vatican announces that Massimiliano Strappetti, a Vatican nurse, has been appointed as Pope Francis’ “personal health care assistant.”

Feb. 2023:

On Feb. 23 the Vatican announces that Pope Francis had a “strong cold.” The pope distributes copies of his speeches at two morning appointments rather than reading them aloud as usual.

Late Feb. 2024:

Pope Francis cancels his public appearances amid “mild flu,” which the Vatican later describes as a cold. 

Knee issues

Jan. 2022:

Pope Francis shares that he was having problems with his knee necessitating that he remain seated. Francis tells the crowd at his general audience that the reason he is unable to greet pilgrims as usual is because of a temporary “problem with my right leg,” an inflamed knee ligament.

Feb. 2022:

Pope Francis cancels two public events at the end of February due to knee pain and doctors’ orders to rest. In the month that follows, he receives help going up and down stairs but continues to walk and stand without assistance.

April 2022:

During a trip to Malta, Pope Francis uses a lift to disembark the papal plane and a special lift is also installed at Malta’s Basilica of St. Paul in Rabat, so that Francis can visit and pray in the crypt grotto without taking the stairs.

On the return flight on April 3, Francis tells journalists, “my health is a bit fickle, I have this knee problem that brings out problems with walking.” 

At the Vatican’s Good Friday service, the pope does not lay prostrate before the altar, as he has done in the past.

He also does not celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass on April 16 or participate in the paschal candle procession, but sits in the front of the congregation in a white chair.

On April 22 and April 26, Francis’ agenda is cleared for medical checkups and rest for his knee. The following day, the pope tells pilgrims at his general audience that his knee prevents him from standing for very long.

Pope Francis also begins to remain seated in the popemobile while greeting pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

On April 30, he says that his doctor has ordered him not to walk.

May 2022:

The pope says at the beginning of May that he would undergo a medical procedure on his knee, “an intervention with infiltrations,” by which he may have meant a therapeutic injection, sometimes used to relieve knee pain caused by ligament tears.

Two days later, he uses a wheelchair in public for the first time since his July 2021 colon surgery. Throughout May he continues to use the wheelchair and avoids most standing and walking.

Francis also undergoes over two hours of rehabilitation for his knee every day, according to an Argentine archbishop close to the pontiff.

June 2022:

In early June, the Vatican postpones Pope Francis’ planned visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan for health reasons. The trip was planned for July 2–7 but is put off “at the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee,” according to the Vatican.

Less than a week later, the Vatican announces that Pope Francis will not preside over the June 16 Corpus Christi Mass because of his knee problems and “the specific liturgical needs of the celebration.”

Nov. 2022:

José María Villalón, the head doctor of the Atlético de Madrid soccer team, is recruited to assist Pope Francis with his knee problems. He says the pope is “a very nice and very stubborn patient in the sense that there are surgical procedures that he does not want” and that “we have to offer him more conservative treatments so that he will agree to them.”

Here’s a breakdown of Pope Francis’ notable health issues in the past several years. 

Sciatic nerve pain

Dec. 2020:

A bout of sciatic pain in the final days of 2020 keeps Pope Francis from presiding at the Vatican’s liturgies on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Francis has suffered from sciatica for a number of years; he spoke about it during an in-flight press conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

“Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone,” he said about the condition, which starts in the lower back and can cause pain running down the back of the thigh and leg to the foot.

Jan. 2021:

Pope Francis cancels three more public appearances at the end of January due to sciatic nerve pain.

Pro-lifers hold prayer rally in response to ‘satanic’ statue at University of Houston

Texas Right to Life President John Seago speaks to ENN Anchor Tracy Sabol on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 / EWTN

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 28, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Texas pro-lifers are rallying in prayer against a “satanic” statue on display at the University of Houston that a pro-life leader says is “advocating for abortion rights.”

The 18-foot tall golden statue, titled “Witness” by artist Shahzia Sikander, depicts a woman with braids twisted in the shape of ram horns. She is held up by a metal frame meant to proclaim her “authority in the world.”  

John Seago, president of Texas Right to Life, the group that organized the Feb. 28 prayer rally, told EWTN News Nightly on Tuesday that the commissioners of the statue are “embracing satanic imagery.” Ram horns are often associated with Satan and satanism in Western art. 

The statue, one of two sculptures constituting a project called “Havah…to breathe, air, life,” was transported from Madison Square Park in New York City to Texas. The statue was on display from Jan. 17 to June 4, 2023 in New York and is set to be displayed from Feb. 28 to Oct. 31, 2024 in Houston. 

Sikander in her artist statement specifically referenced the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade. The artist alleged that the court’s decision was associated with “the dismissal … of the indefatigable spirit of women who have been collectively fighting for their right to their own bodies over generations.” 

“However, the enduring power lies with the people who step into and remain in the fight for equality,” she said. “That spirit and grit is what I want to capture in both the sculptures.”

Seago told ENN Anchor Tracy Sabol this week that the sculpture is “concerning to Texans” and “disappointing from a public institution.” 

The sculpture, he argued, is intended “to celebrate disobedience from God while advocating for abortion rights.”

“The artist and the commissioner of the statue are very clear that this statue is to celebrate abortion rights,” Seago said. “This is to actually celebrate disobedience from God through imagery that we find in the Bible.”

“In the documents talking about the art, they're very clear that the idea is to turn horns into a piece of pride, not a piece of shame associated with Satan and satanic forces,” he continued. 

After the statue’s move, there was “immediate blowback” from alumni, other elected officials, and supporters of the university, Seago said. The university said they would cancel the statue’s installation, but the school later decided to display it on campus. 

Seago said that what is “most disappointing” is that the decision “shows that the university administrators and leaders really think that that is the best that they have to offer their students.”

“Right now, college students are being targeted by the abortion industry, even in a pro-life state where they're mailing abortion pills directly to students on campus,” he said. 

“We want the message to be clear. There are better options. There is support,” Seago continued. “There are those that are here dedicated to supporting those students in the community around the university. There's a great pro-life group that is serving students every day.” 

“We have more to offer than abortion,” he said. “And unfortunately, the University of Houston is sending the wrong message with this statue.”

In January 2023, a similar statue of a horned figure was installed on top of a New York courthouse, as reported previously by CNA. That statue was also part of Sikander’s “Havah” project.

God is close, assures archbishop after fire destroys Spanish apartment complex

This photograph shows flowers and candles laid out on the sidewalk after a huge fire killed ten people in a multi-story residential block, in Valencia on February 26, 2024. Ten people have died in a vast fire that ripped through a 14-story apartment block in Valencia in eastern Spain. / Credit: Photo by MAO/AFP via Getty Images)

Valencia, Spain, Feb 28, 2024 / 14:37 pm (CNA).

“The fire spread super quickly, but people’s response has been even quicker.” That’s how Manuel, a resident of a 14-story apartment building demolished by fire, described the reaction of neighbors, businesses, the local government, and “the whole world” after a blaze on February 22 destroyed an entire residential complex in Valencia, Spain, within minutes.

Manuel was speaking with local RTVE news, recounting his perilous escape from the 12th floor with his 80-year-old mother. He took the stairs down after ringing the doorbells of every neighbor possible. The double towers of the complex included 138 apartments.

“We want to thank the whole world,” he said, explaining how the clothes on his back had been donated by a local store, and how surrounding businesses had come forward with donations of food, clothes, and every imaginable necessity.

It was shortly after 5:30 pm, Thursday, Feb. 22, when the fire broke out in a northwestern residential neighborhood of Spain’s fourth largest city, located on the Mediterranean coast. Ten people died in what commentators called the biggest blaze the city had ever seen.

How fragile we are

Though the city was set to kick off almost a month of annual celebrations leading up to St. Joseph’s feast day, on Feb. 23, Valencians entered into three days of mourning.

“In certain moments of life, we experience how fragile we are, our weakness — at a personal level and also at a collective level,” reflected Archbishop Enrique Benavent at the feet of Our Lady of the Forsaken, the city’s much beloved patroness.

Leading a vigil in the Marian basilica just over 24 hours after the fire broke out, the archbishop insisted that the sensation of fragility and sorrow “doesn’t destroy our hope in the Lord. And because we do hope in God, we come here to the Virgin to ask her help, that she reveal to us the consolation of the Lord.”

The archbishop quickly announced that the Masses of the city would be offered for the victims and for all those who had been affected.

From Rome, Pope Francis sent his condolences the day after the blaze.

'I set about helping …'

Among those who perished was a whole family: the mother, father, a toddler, and a newborn.

Six firemen were among the couple dozen people taken to the hospital in the minutes and hours after the blaze started. And of these, one had nearly lost his life trying to save the young family. 

He was the only one of his team who was even able to make it to the 8th floor, where the family was sheltering in the bathroom. But the numbers marking the apartment doors had melted, and flames were everywhere, making it impossible for him to find where the family was located amidst the dense smoke. 

Right before fainting, he was able to get out of the hallway. Three days later, the fireman was still in the hospital receiving treatment from smoke inhalation and burns.

More stories of heroism quickly came to light, particularly that of the doorman, Julián. 

Although he lamented, “I couldn’t get everyone,” countless neighbors spoke of him going floor by floor, particularly aiming for the apartments with elderly residents.

“Julián is the hero of Valencia, the hero of Spain, the one who everyone is greeting and embracing with tears, because of everything he did while the building burned,” said one report.

Julián himself gave a less dramatic account. “I went up because there was a lot of smoke … The fire took over the whole building so quickly.

"I set about helping the people get down… The fire went so fast. … First, I went for the elderly. … I’m here to help them. I’ve always been here to help them.”

“There came a point where the firemen didn’t let me go up anymore,” he said. And the people who call him a hero? “Boy. I’ve done this from my heart. I wanted to help them.”

Flammable cladding

The city of Valencia maintains a deep Catholic culture and tradition, with several thriving ecclesial movements. The celebration of St. Joseph is the highlight of the year, as each neighborhood collaborates in an artistic offering, and a multi-story statue of Our Lady is created with flowers in the city’s main plaza. Sunday would have been the start of the fireworks that mark each day of that annual celebration, with an early-morning pyrotechnic event getting the festivities rolling.

All of this has been postponed for a week, as the city observes the three-day mourning period. Food that had been prepared for those festivities and couldn’t be preserved was donated to local nuns who run a care home for the elderly.

Meanwhile, talk continues about how and why the complex was consumed so quickly.

“It was worse than the unimaginable,” reported one off-duty firefighter who showed up to help, and fought against the fire from 6:30 p.m. until 5 the next morning. “It was hell on earth.”

Early reports suggest that the aluminum and polyurethane cladding of the complex — lightweight and effective in insulating against heat and cold — was flammable and led to the rapid spread of the fire, which crawled up the exterior walls of the building. It was also an uncommonly windy day in Valencia, which added to the speed of the flames. Construction of the complex was completed in 2009.

On the evening of Feb.  24, Archbishop Benavent celebrated the 8 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of Mercy parish, very near to where the fire occurred.

God is not far from human suffering, he said. “We don’t believe in a far-off God, in an unfeeling God. We believe in a God in solidarity with the suffering of humanity, and who has made his own in his Son Jesus Christ all the sufferings of society. We believe in a God who has experienced all of the sorrow of humanity and is not oblivious to this suffering, but in fact, has made it his own.”

This is Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his Sunday Angelus on Feb. 18, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 13:37 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for the martyrs of our day and witnesses to Christ.

“This month, I want to tell you a story that is a reflection of the Church today. It is the story of a little-known witness of faith,” Pope Francis stated in a video released Feb. 27.

“Visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, a man told me, ‘Father, I am Muslim. My wife was Christian. Terrorists came to our place, looked at us and asked what our religion was. They approached my wife with a crucifix and told her to throw it on the ground. She didn’t do it, and they slit her throat in front of me.’ That’s what happened.”

The Holy Father added, “I know he held no grudges. He was focused on his wife’s example of love, a love for Christ that led her to accept, and to be faithful to the point of death.”

He reminded the faithful that “there will always be martyrs among us” and that it is a “sign that we’re on the right path.”

“A person who knows told me there are more martyrs today than at the beginning of Christianity,” he explained. 

“The courage of the martyrs, the witness of the martyrs, is a blessing for everyone.”

Pope Francis concluded with a prayer: “Let us pray that those who risk their lives for the Gospel in various parts of the world might imbue the Church with their courage and missionary drive. And to be open to the grace of martyrdom.”

Pope Francis’ prayer video is promoted by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, which raises awareness of monthly papal prayer intentions.