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College football coach, Ignatian scholar team up for video project

Mike Gutelius (center), head football coach of The Catholic University of America, watches the action on the sidelines. / The Catholic University of America

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

If you visit The Catholic University of America’s campus in Washington D.C., you will be sure to notice members of the school’s football team walking around with a “chip” on their shoulders. 

That chip is figurative and literal, as head coach Mike “Gut” Gutelius has commissioned team shirts that say “All Gas, No Breaks” on the front, and the word “chip” located on the back right shoulder.

Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America
Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America

The symbolism appears to be having the desired effect, as Gutelius’s team is 5-2 and undefeated in its conference heading into its Oct. 23 game against the Merchant Marine Academy.

The Cardinals’ success this season is a product of Gutelius’ efforts to change the culture of the football program, a slow but steady process that began with his hiring after the 2016 season. His approach encompasses a special emphasis on faith: Team Bible studies, pre-game rosaries, and discussions about the Cardinal Virtues all figure into his plan for developing young men with character.

Although Gutelius describes himself as “just a coach,” his success and faith life on and off the field drew the attention of Ablaze Family Ministries (AFM) and world-renowned Ignatian spirituality speaker, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. 

AFM, a nonprofit organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland, with a mission to strengthen Catholic families, has teamed up with Gallagher to find a way to make St. Ignatius of Loyola’s 14 Rules for Discerning the Will of God more accessible and relatable to a younger audience. 

“St. Ignatius of Loyola has crafted an invaluable set of 14 practical guidelines (rules) to understand and respond to this daily ebb and flow in the spiritual life,” Gallagher told CNA. “As I know from almost 40 years of experience, people love the concrete wisdom of these rules that help them know what is of God and what is not, and how to accept the one and reject the other.”

Gallagher, a frequent speaker on EWTN, has an extensive international ministry providing retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching about the spiritual life. He currently holds the St. Ignatius Chair for Spiritual Formation at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.  

Because of his platform as a college football coach and his authenticity as a faithful Catholic, Gutelius was a clear choice for AFM and Gallagher to help bridge the gap between the academic nature of Ignatian spirituality and a younger audience that could greatly benefit from Ignatius’ rules for discernment. 

Gallagher told CNA that Gutelius “brings a wealth of experience to help make this bridge between St. Ignatius’s words and our daily experience.”

The project, produced by AFM, is called the “Playbook for the Spiritual Life,” and features 10 videos explaining how to apply St. Ignatius’s rules for discernment. 

The 10-minute videos feature Gutelius, filmed in the locker room or on the field, giving a unique game situation and explaining how to act during that time of adversity. After the coach's brief introduction of the football concepts, Gallagher then explains how the football analogy is similar to a particular Ignatian rule.

"In football you have to be aware of what's going on, you have to understand the game, and you have to execute. It's the same in your spiritual life,” Gutelius told CNA. 

“You have to be aware of the traps that can be set for you. You have to be aware of your own limitations. You have to be aware of your own physical desires. And then you have to understand them in relation to God's plan. And then the real trick is, can you execute?"

In one video the two men discuss St. Ignatius' fourth rule, which states, “When your heart is discouraged, you have little energy for spiritual things, and God feels far away, you are experiencing spiritual desolation. Resist and reject this tactic of the enemy!” 

Gutelius first explains the necessity of lifting weights in order to succeed in the game. However, sometimes, he says, players are physically drained and are unmotivated to work out. The coach says the decision to either take a day off or push through the temptation makes the difference between winning and losing come gametime. 

Gallagher then likens the challenge of lifting weights during a time of unmotivation to a young man who “has no energy for prayer” and is tempted to scroll through his phone, rather than read scripture as he planned. Gallagher says that the choice to scroll through the phone will leave the young man feeling empty, while if he chooses to read scripture as planned, he will feel more fulfilled.

“Football is an analogy for life in general and in that sense you can find a lot of connections between football done well and spirituality done well,” Gutelius told CNA. “Both require practice, commitment, and a desire to get better, and you’re going to have bumps and bruises in both football and your spiritual life.”

Executive Director of Operations at AFM, Deacon Steve Sarnecki said the combination of all these elements make the videos effective.

“Father Gallagher’s theological excellence when it comes to Ignatian spirituality, Ablaze’s unique ability to create family friendly, approachable, accessible content, and Coach Gut’s ever-present witness and understanding of strategy and the spiritual life came together in a beautiful weave for this project,” he said.

Gutelius said he was enthusiastic to be included in the project. "I hope that if I have any small part in maybe reducing a barrier for young people, then I am fired up to do it,” he said.

“I feel like I have a little bit of a pulpit as the head football coach at the Catholic University of America, and if I don't use it to help people understand the truth, to help people understand that God has a plan for them that they have to figure out, if I don't use that, then I might wind up at the pearly gates and not get the reception I'm looking for."

Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America
Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America

Gabe Aparicio, the team’s senior captain, told CNA that Gutelius has been a spiritual and fatherly role model for the whole team. 

“Gutelius’ office door is always open for us and I’ve had multiple conversations with him about life and faith, and honestly, he’s the type of person, the type of Catholic I aim to be someday,” Aparicio said. 

Gutelius graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1992 with a major in politics and a minor in philosophy. When he is not on the field or in the game-film room, he can often be found attending a campus Mass or showing prospective players around campus. He currently resides in Maryland with his wife Kimberly, and children Michael, 21, Sam, 19, and Mary, 16.

“I firmly believe St. Ignatius will be pleased with how this series presents his rules for discernment,” Gutelius said.

“Maybe even pleased enough that he might intercede a little bit to help the Cardinals get a big win this weekend?” he added. “We can always use a little heavenly help in worldly matters but especially this weekend vs the Merchant Marine academy!"

That time a priest was reprimanded by a saint

St. John Paul II, circa 1992. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 14:28 pm (CNA).

When white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on October 16, 1978, Fr. Eamon Kelly, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time, couldn’t have known that he was witnessing the election of a future saint.

Nor did he know that more than a dozen years after that election, he would be reprimanded by that same future saint, John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday general audiences.

It was Holy Week of 1992, and Fr. Kelly, a priest with the Congregation of the Legion of Christ, was on his annual pilgrimage to Rome.

But this year was different.

His youth group had brought along eight Russian young people, the tension of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War just barely in the rearview mirror of history.

Fr. Kelly had done some strategizing to make sure the Russian youth got a good seat.

“We had our tickets and we went in early, and we did get positions up against the barrier of the corridor,” Fr. Kelly said. “So that was fantastic, we were going to see Pope John Paul II.”

His German students gave up all of the seats closest to the aisle, so that the Russian young people would get to shake the Pope’s hand as he walked through the Paul VI audience hall.

“I had the kids observe how he did it – he’d shake hands but by that he’d already moved on to talking to the next person, greeting them,” Fr. Kelly recalled.

“So I told them this pope knows Russian, and you need to greet him politely when he’s two or three people away; say some nice greeting in Russian.”

They did, and it worked: sure enough, the Pope’s ears perked up when he heard the Russian greetings. As soon as he got to the group, he stopped walking.

“He started talking to them in Russian, and there was a tremendous chemistry going on, and everybody was super excited. Our six rows of kids had assimilated into about two,” Fr. Kelly said.

Eventually the Pope asked, in Russian, how the group was able to make it to Rome. All the Russian students turned and pointed at Fr. Kelly.

He was a head taller than most of the students, so Fr. Kelly suddenly found himself in straight eye contact with John Paul II.

“There was so much joy and appreciation and gratitude in his eyes that these kids were there,” Fr. Kelly said.

“But then, his look turned like a storm with a critical question – ‘Why didn’t you tell me before they came?’” the Pope demanded of the priest.

“You know, like I could call up the Pope and tell him we’re coming,” Fr. Kelly recalled with a laugh.

“I tried to give an excuse, I said it was hanging by a thread that it was going to happen, I just fumbled my way through it. What are you going to do when the Pope is asking you for accountability?” Fr. Kelly said.

In hindsight, Fr. Kelly said he maybe could have called an office in the Vatican to alert them of the Russian students, but he didn’t realize that this visit would be so important for the Pope.

But Russia was dear to St. John Paul II’s heart, as he had played a critical role in the peaceful fall of communism and the Soviet Union. Just a few years prior, he had met for over an hour with President Mikhail Gorbachev, who later said the peaceful dissolution of the USSR would have been impossible without the Roman Pontiff.

Perhaps their meeting in 1989 had also softened Gorbachev’s heart prior to World Youth Day 1991, when the leader allowed some 20,000 Russian youth to attend the event in Poland for the first time ever. The conciliatory move was the whole reason the Russian students were now meeting John Paul II in Rome.

“He said to me, 'This is the first group of Russians I’ve ever greeted in the audience hall',” Fr. Kelly said.

It’s possible that it may have been the first youth group from Moscow to visit Rome ever, Fr. Kelly said.

“I don’t want to claim that title, because there may have been others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to come before the start of communism,” he said.

He said the Pope was visibly moved by the Russian students.

“He was happy, he was happy. He said if he would have known that they were there, he would have greeted them formally from the stage.”

And the Russian students?

“They were elated.”

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 22, 2016.

Adults from Afghanistan, Iran, prepare to be baptized as Catholics in Vienna

A baptismal font in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. / Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vienna, Austria, Oct 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Eleven people from Afghanistan are among the 27 adults who will soon be baptized as Catholics in Austria’s Vienna archdiocese.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna formally welcomed the candidates for adult baptism at a ceremony on Oct. 20 at a Carmelite church in the city’s Döbling district, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In addition to the 11 Afghans, there are six Iranians and four Austrians, with the remainder from five other countries.

More than two-thirds of the catechumens are male and between the ages of 20 and 40.

The 76-year-old cardinal told the candidates: “Being a Christian imparts a hope that is greater than the problems and crises of this world and also greater than the personal blows of fate that some of you have already experienced.”

Afghanistan is the world’s second-worst country in which to be a Christian after North Korea, according to the advocacy group Open Doors, which ranks Iran in eighth place.

Daniel Vychytil, who oversees the adult catechumenate in Vienna and at a national level, told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress that some of those seeking adult baptism had gained asylum.

Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in August, Afghans in Austria are likely to receive residence permits.

But baptized Afghans are often anxious about family members who remain in their homeland.

“Even if they have been granted asylum themselves, relatives must first manage to flee to Pakistan and apply there to the Austrian embassy for family reunification,” Vychytil said.

He added that most of the Afghan baptismal candidates first encountered Christianity on their journey out of Afghanistan or in Austria itself.

He noted that some had had “very deep religious experiences.”

“Some came to believe in Jesus Christ through conversations with compatriots who have already converted and are active in missionary work, others through visits to church spaces, where they felt a profound peace and quiet and encountered God,” he said.

He added that he knew Afghans who in previous years had been deported from Austria after being baptized.

Kathpress said that in Austria the number of adult baptisms — involving people aged 14 and over — has risen since the turn of the millennium, peaking in 2017.

In common with other Austrian dioceses, the Vienna archdiocese admits baptismal candidates each year in the spring, but has another ceremony in the fall for adult candidates who began their preparation later.

The baptisms take place in local parishes around the Feast of Christ the King, which falls this year on November 21.

Vychytil estimated that there would be around 200 adult baptisms in Austria this year, 80 of them in the Vienna archdiocese.

There are around 45,000 infant baptisms annually in Austria, a central European country of nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics.

While there is an established trend of people leaving the Church in Austria, the Vienna archdiocese reported a rise in the number of men training for the priesthood last year.

Vatican steps in to help failing Catholic hospital in Rome

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, on Rome’s Tiber Island. / Dguendel via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has stepped in to help a nearly bankrupt Catholic hospital in Rome run by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God.

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which sits on Rome’s Tiber Island, has been in dire financial straits since 2013, with hundreds of millions of euros in debt pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy.

In June, the hospital was all but sold to the San Donato Group, one of the largest private hospital groups in Italy, which had signed an agreement with the hospital’s creditors.

Now, in a statement on Oct. 21, the Vatican thanked the leadership of the San Donato Group, while saying that Church authorities had started a “recovery plan” to keep the hospital under management by the Catholic religious order.

“A recovery plan has been launched that, in compliance with the regulations in force and in dialogue with the parties involved in various ways, will allow [the hospital] to continue to play the role that has characterized it so far in the field of Catholic healthcare,” the statement from the Holy See press office said.

It added that Church authorities would collaborate with other non-profit institutions “to resolve the economic and management crisis” at the hospital, officially known as the Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli.

The Vatican statement pointed to Pope Francis’ comments on July 11, when he gave his Angelus address from Gemelli Hospital, where he had undergone surgery a week prior.

“In the Church too it happens that at times some healthcare institution, due to poor management, does not do well economically, and the first thought that comes to mind is to sell it,” Pope Francis said.

He added: “But the vocation, in the Church, is not to have money; it is to offer service, and service is always freely given. Do not forget this: saving free institutions.”

In the Oct. 21 press release, the Vatican thanked the vice presidents and CEO of the San Donato Group for the agreed-upon intervention, “aimed at preventing a further worsening of the current crisis and finding a definitive solution.”

The Vatican did not elaborate on what the “intervention” consists of.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis created a new foundation offering financial support to Catholic hospitals.

The more than 400-year-old hospital in Rome is well known for its obstetrics ward, where an average of 3,200 births take place each year. This year, during one weekend in July, the hospital made headlines for having had a record 36 births in 30 hours.

The hospital on Tiber Island is one of a number of religious-run healthcare centers facing financial crisis in recent years.

One of the hospitals is the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI) in Rome, which has been plagued by problems for more than decade.

After years of systematic theft and fraud by hospital administrators, the structure was left with 800 million euros (around $930 million) in debt and declared bankrupt in 2012 by Italy.

In 2013, Benedict XVI appointed a Vatican commissioner to look into the hospital’s finances. In 2015, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State stepped in, arranging to purchase the hospital out of state-administered bankruptcy through a for-profit partnership with the religious order that owned and managed the hospital — an arrangement that also ended in financial scandal.

In March this year, the Vatican appointed the former commander general of Italy’s financial police force as president of the foundation overseeing the IDI.

Saverio Capolupo, 70, was named president of the board of directors of the Luigi Maria Monti Foundation.

Capolupo succeeded Fr. Giuseppe Pusceddu, superior of the Italian province of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, who had been appointed interim president of the foundation in 2020.

Pope Francis says he wants to travel to Oceania and Africa

Pope Francis pictured on April 17, 2013. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said in an interview published Friday that he has several international trips in mind for 2022, as he picks up pace following a slower schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Télam, Argentina’s national news agency, Pope Francis said that he would like to visit “the Congo and Hungary” next year, though he admitted the ideas have not yet reached the planning stages.

Pope Francis made a stop of less than a day in Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, on Sept. 12, for the final Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, before making a longer visit to Slovakia.

In March, he went to Iraq, his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

In the Oct. 22 interview, the pope said that in 2022 he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.

For the rest of 2021, Pope Francis confirmed that a trip to Cyprus, which a local official said would take place Dec. 2-3, is still on his program.

“The first weekend in December I am going to go to Greece and Cyprus,” the pope confirmed to Télam, noting that the final agenda of the trip was still being worked out.

The Vatican has not officially announced the trip. But in an interview broadcast on Sept. 1, the pope said he hoped to visit the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, which has a population of around 875,000 people, including approximately 10,000 Catholics.

It is rumored that the trip could also include a stop on the Greek island of Lesbos, which Pope Francis visited in April 2016, bringing back 12 refugees to Rome with him.

Close to the coast of Turkey, Lesbos is affected by the European migrant crisis, and has several large refugee camps. In 2020, fires broke out at the overcrowded Moria camp, causing many migrants to flee.

Francis had also indicated in the Sept. 1 interview with Spain’s COPE radio station that he hoped to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in early November.

But the Vatican, which had never officially confirmed the visit, indicated earlier this month that the pope will not attend.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, said on Oct. 8 that the Vatican’s delegation to COP26 will be led by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Pope Francis, who will turn 85 on Dec. 17 and underwent colon surgery in July, has visited 54 countries during the eight and a half years of his pontificate.

He visited 11 countries in 2019 before his travels were halted in 2020 due to the pandemic. His four-day trip to Iraq in March 2021 was his first international trip after a pause of 15 months.

BREAKING: Supreme Court to hear challenges to Texas heartbeat law

Breaking News / CNA

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 11:40 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider two legal challenges to Texas’ pro-life heartbeat law, just weeks before it hears oral arguments in another major abortion case.

Both the Biden administration and abortion providers had challenged the Texas Heartbeat Act, a law which went into effect Sept. 1 and which restricts most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law is enforced through private civil lawsuits.

On Friday, Oct. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider both challenges to the law and expedited the cases, with oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 1. The court will consider whether the federal government can sue to block implementation of the law by the state, state courts, and private citizens; it will also consider whether lawsuits under the law can move forward, according to the website SCOTUSBlog.

In the meantime, the court is leaving the law in place as it considers both cases.

In her opinion accompanying the court order on Friday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the court’s refusal to temporarily block the law while considering challenges to it.

“The promise of future adjudication offers cold comfort, however, for Texas women seeking abortion care, who are entitled to relief now,” Sotomayor wrote. “These women will suffer personal harm from delaying their medical care, and as their pregnancies progress, they may even be unable to obtain abortion care altogether.”

The law is unique in that it is enforced through private civil lawsuits against those performing or, in some cases, those assisting in illegal abortions. Successful lawsuits can net at least $10,000 in damages.

Certain parties are barred from filing lawsuits, such as men who impregnate women who then have abortions; women who have illegal abortions also cannot be sued under the law.

The Justice Department challenged the law in court, and on Oct. 6 a federal district judge barred the state from enforcing judgments or awarding damages in successful lawsuits against illegal abortions. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily reversed that decision on Oct. 8, and on Oct. 14 allowed the law to remain in effect.

The Justice Department then appealed its case against the law to the Supreme Court on Oct. 18.

In the second case that the court is taking up, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, a coalition of abortion providers, staff, and patients had sued to prevent lawsuits over illegal abortions from going forward in Texas.

The high court is considering the cases ahead of another major abortion case in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Oral arguments in that case, which involves Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, are scheduled for Dec. 1.

Shortly after the law went into effect in September, the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision.

In its Oct. 21 brief before the Supreme Court, Texas argued that the court should reconsider landmark abortion cases if it took up the Biden administration’s appeal.

“The Court erred in recognizing the right to abortion in Roe and in continuing to preserve it in Casey,” the brief read. “The heartbeat provisions in SB 8 reasonably further Texas’s interest in protecting unborn life, which exists from the outset of pregnancy.”

“If it reaches the merits, the Court should overturn Roe and Casey and hold that SB 8 does not therefore violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” the state argued. 

Texas had accused the Biden Administration of overreach after the Justice Department challenged the law. The brief called the Justice Department’s challenge “extraordinary in its breadth and consequence” and asked the Supreme Court to decline its request. 

This article was updated on Oct. 22.

Vatican issues decree clarifying responsibilities for translation of Latin liturgical texts

Archbishop Arthur Roche at the Vatican press office on Feb. 10, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican issued a decree on Friday guiding bishops’ conferences on the proper protocol for the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into vernacular languages.

Published on Oct. 22, the feast of St. John Paul II, the decree, called Postquam Summus Pontifex, clarifies changes already made by Pope Francis to the process of translating liturgical texts.

The decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship builds on a motu proprio Pope Francis issued in September 2017 shifting responsibility for the revision of liturgical texts toward bishops’ conferences.

The motu proprio, Magnum Principium, modified Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law, which addresses the authority of the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences in preparing liturgical texts in vernacular languages.

The decree implementing this change to canon law comes four years after Pope Francis’ motu proprio was first published and a few months after the appointment of Archbishop Arthur Roche as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, succeeding Cardinal Robert Sarah.

“Fundamentally the aim is to make collaboration between the Holy See and the bishops’ conferences easier and more fruitful,” the 71-year-old English archbishop said in an interview with Vatican News.

“The great task of translation, especially translating into their own languages what we find in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, falls to the bishops.”

Roche, who also published a commentary on the new decree, underlined that the translation of liturgical texts is “a great responsibility” because “the revealed word can be proclaimed and the prayer of the Church can be expressed in a language which the people of God can understand.”

With the 2017 motu proprio, the text of Canon 838 changed to read: “It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognize adaptations approved by the episcopal conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”

The text of the following paragraph added that it was the responsibility of bishops’ conferences “to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.”

The new decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship presents the norms and procedures to be taken into account when publishing liturgical books.

It says that the Holy See remains responsible for reviewing the adaptations approved by bishops’ conferences and confirming the translations that are made.

“This reform of Pope Francis aims to underline the responsibility and competence of the bishops’ conferences, both in assessing and approving liturgical adaptations for the territory for which they are responsible, and in preparing and approving translations of liturgical texts,” Roche said.

“The bishops, as moderators, promoters, and custodians of liturgical life in their particular church, have a great sensitivity, due to their theological and cultural formation, which enables them to translate the texts of Revelation and the Liturgy into a language that responds to the nature of the People of God entrusted to them,” he said.

Father Bill Atkinson canonization cause completes first phase, moves onto Rome

Father Thomas Dailey, O.S.F.S.; Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Perez; Msgr. Gerald Mesure, archdiocesan chancellor; and Father Sean Bransfield, vice chancellor, hold the official documents for the canonization cause of Father Bill Atkinson during the closing ceremony on Oct. 19, 2021. / Sarah Webb

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 22, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Father Bill Atkinson, an Augustinian priest from Philadelphia who died in 2006, is one step closer in the cause for canonization. In a ceremony on Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia officially closed the diocesan phase, which is the first step in the process. The archdiocese will now hand over all materials to Rome for further examination.

“He was really a very quiet man, a humble man, but a very dedicated and devout individual in terms of his commitment to religious life, to his Augustinian identity, and to his service working for 30 years with young men in one of our high schools,” said Father Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A., prior provincial of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova, of which Father Bill was a member.

Father Bill was the first priest to be ordained who was a quadriplegic. He was paralyzed from the neck down in a sledding accident during his first year in the novitiate for the Order of Saint Augustine, also known as the Augustinians.

“He was always responsive to requests that were made of him to use his ministry on behalf of other people who were in situations that could be identified with his own in terms of his disability,” Father Michael said.

He often visited hospitals and spoke to veterans who had been injured, using his own experience as a paraplegic to minister to those who had disabilities.

“There’s something very ordinary about Father Bill in terms of how he did his work,” Father Michael said. “The extraordinary part was that he did his work, his ministry, exercised his priesthood in the context of great limitation—a physical limitation, but certainly not any limitation in terms of his mental ability or his will and his desire to be of service.” 

Born in Philadelphia in 1946, Father Bill entered the novitiate following a year as a postulant at Augustinian Academy in Staten Island, New York. In the accident, it was unclear if Father Bill would survive, so he was given the opportunity to profess first vows from the hospital bed. He began a long and extensive rehabilitation process and continued in the novitiate.

“I really noticed most of all that he was just one of the rest of us,” said Father Michael, who lived with Father Bill during several years of formation. “He was in a wheelchair and needed the assistance of others around him all the time, but he participated in everything that we did. He was always at prayer. He came to meals with us. He fit right in, and never saw himself or wanted others to see him as different from the rest of us.” 

Almost nine years after the accident, Father Bill completed his studies and petitioned St. Paul VI to be ordained a priest. The pope granted a dispensation and on Feb. 2, 1974, Father Bill was ordained a priest. 

“He did what he needed to do without any assurance of where it would lead—it had never been done before,” Father Michael said. “He wrote his letter to Pope Paul VI and the answer came back, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’”

“Perseverance was a great hallmark of his life, but it wasn’t guaranteed. It was always a trust that whatever God’s will is here, that’s what will happen,” Father Michael said.

Father Bill died Sept. 15, 2006, at Saint Thomas Monastery at Villanova University. Several years later, the Augustinians decided to examine the possibility of introducing a cause for canonization. The postulator general met with relatives, friars, friends, and caretakers of Father Bill, and asked them to explain to him their reasons for wishing to have Father Bill’s cause introduced.

“Father Joseph, who was the postulator, said, ‘Well, you have convinced me that this is a cause that we should undertake.'” Father Michael said. 

The postulator gathered written material over several months and made an appointment with Archbishop Charles Chaput, then the Archbishop of Philadelphia, who then took it to the USCCB for a confirmation.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive, if not unanimous,” Father Michael said.

In 2015, Archbishop Chaput appointed a tribunal and an historical commission to look at documentation about Father Bill. The tribunal was charged with the task of interviewing people who knew Father Bill and who wanted to offer testimony toward the cause. 

“This is where all the ground work is done in speaking to people, in gathering information,” Father Michael said. 

The closing ceremony, which was held at Saint Thomas of Villanova Church Oct. 19, marked the official end of the first phase of the process. The materials were bound and sealed in preparation for the transfer to Rome, where the cause will go before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to make sure the process was completed correctly.

“Then we need to wait for a miracle—a miracle can happen at any time along the process,” Father Michael said. “There are some favors that have been presented to us that we forwarded to our postulator general.” 

If a miracle happens, it can speed up the process and put someone in a higher priority for review, Father Michael said. 

“From our perspective, what seems to have been given as a great cross became a great opportunity, because he was able to touch and influence the lives of people precisely through his challenge that he might never have had the opportunity to touch otherwise,” Father Michael said.

John Paul II’s mom chose life after her doctor advised an abortion

Karol Wojtyla with his parents. Photo courtesy of the Dicoese of Krakow. / null

Rome Newsroom, Oct 22, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Over one hundred years ago on May 18, Emilia Wojtyla gave birth to her second son, Karol, after a difficult and life-threatening pregnancy. The child would grow up to be St. John Paul II.

In a new book published in Poland, Milena Kindziuk describes how St. John Paul II’s mother was advised to get an abortion.

“She had to choose between her own life and that of the baby she was carrying, but her deep faith did not allow Emilia to choose abortion,” Kindziuk said in an interview with ACI Stampa.

“Deep in her heart she had to be ready to make this sacrifice for the baby she was carrying,” she said.

In her book, “Emilia and Karol Wojtyla. Parents of St. John Paul II,” Kindziuk cites the testimony of a midwife, Tatarowa, and the reports of her two friends, Helena Szczepańska and Maria Kaczorowa, as well as the memories of other Wadowice residents. She said that these showed that Emilia Wojtyla was depressed by the insistence of her first doctor, Dr. Jan Moskała, that she have an abortion.

She said that Emilia and Karol Wojtyla “made a bold decision that, regardless of everything, their conceived baby was to be born. And so they started looking for another doctor.”

They ultimately chose Dr. Samuel Taub, a Jewish doctor from Krakow, who had moved to Wadowice after the First World War.

“Emilia's friends have kept memories of that visit. The doctor confirmed that there was a risk of complications during childbirth, including Emilia's death. However, he did not suggest an abortion,” Kindziuk said.

“Emilia had a bad pregnancy: she spent most of her time lying down and still had less strength than usual,” she said. “In this situation, Dr. Taub recommended the woman to lie down, rest often and feed herself very well.”

On the day of the birth, May 18, 1920, “Emilia lay in her apartment in Kościelna street, in the living room … in the presence of a midwife,” Kindziuk explained.

At the same time Karol Sr. and their 13-year-old son Edmund had gone out around 5 p.m. to participate in the prayer of the Divine Office in the parish church across the street where they sang the Litany of Loreto, she added.

“We know from the messages that Emilia asked the midwife to open the window: she wanted the first sound her son could hear to be a song in honor of Mary. In short, Emilia Wojtyla gave birth to her son, listening to the song of the Litany of Loreto,” she said.

St. John Paul II also told his personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz that he was born to the litany in honor of the Mother of God, she said, adding that he was elected pope at the same time of day that he was born.

The sainthood causes of St. John Paul II’s parents were formally opened in Poland in May. Karol, a Polish Army lieutenant, and Emilia, a school teacher, were married in Krakow Feb. 10, 1906. The Catholic couple gave birth to three children: Edmund in 1906; Olga, who died shortly after her birth; and Karol in 1920.

Before she died of a heart attack and liver failure in 1929, Emilia was a staple of faith for the household. At the time of her death, the young Karol Wojtyla was a month away from his ninth birthday.

This article was originally published on CNA on May 18, 2020.

Catholic, Anglican, and Jewish leaders urge UK Parliament to reject assisted suicide bill

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attend a vigil in London, England, March 24, 2017. / AFP via Getty Images.

London, England, Oct 22, 2021 / 06:35 am (CNA).

Catholic, Anglican, and Jewish leaders have issued a joint appeal to U.K. lawmakers to reject a bill that would legalize assisted suicide.

In a letter issued on Oct. 19, they expressed “profound disquiet” over the Assisted Dying Bill, which has its second reading in the upper house of the U.K. Parliament on Friday.

The private members’ bill, introduced in the House of Lords in May by Molly Meacher, seeks to “enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life.”

“As leaders of faith communities, we wish to express our profound disquiet at the provisions of the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill currently in the House of Lords,” said the religious leaders in the letter sent to members of the Lords.

The text was signed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

The trio noted that Meacher introduced the bill with the stated aim of alleviating suffering.

“This motivation we share wholeheartedly, but we disagree on the means advanced to address this very real concern,” they said.

“In particular, we are conscious of the risks and dangers entailed in the provisions of the bill and the ‘real-life’ practical inadequacies of the proposed safeguards.”

The bill is the latest in a long line of attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the U.K.

The proposed legislation would authorize people in England and Wales who have signed a declaration expressing “a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish,” countersigned by two “suitably qualified” registered medical practitioners, to seek consent for assisted suicide from the Family Division of the High Court in London.

The bill is facing opposition from medical professionals, as well as Catholic leaders such as Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham, and Westminster auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington.

Nichols, Welby, and Mirvis said that their opposition to the bill was rooted in a conviction that every human life is sacred.

“By the faiths we profess, we hold every human life to be a precious gift of the Creator, to be upheld and protected. All people of faith, and those of none, can share our concern that the common good is not served by policies or actions that would place very many vulnerable people in more vulnerable positions,” they wrote.

“We appeal to people of whatever faith or belief to join us through our common bond of humanity in caring for the most vulnerable people within our society.”

The three men called for “high-quality palliative care” to be made available to everyone nearing death.

“We believe that the aim of a compassionate society should be assisted living rather than an acceptance of assisted suicide,” they said.

In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Since then, supporters of the practices have made gains in several European countries.

In March, Spain’s legislature approved a bill legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, making Spain the fourth country in Europe to endorse the practice, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.