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The Catholic faith of Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 26, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Bryant, the father of four, was Catholic.

In all nine people were killed in the Jan. 26 crash.

Bryant, 41, is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He retired in 2016 after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the shooting guard won five NBA championships, a league MVP award, two scoring championships, and myriad other distinctions.

Beyond basketball, Bryant was a husband and a father who in 2015 attributed his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

Bryant was raised in a Catholic family, and spent much of his childhood living in Italy. He married in 2001 in a Southern California parish.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

A 2004 decision to place deeper trust in God did not mean the basketball star’s life was thereafter without difficulties, or defined by virtue.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from Kobe, citing irreconcilable differences. But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant and his wife have been reported to be regular parishioners at an Orange County, California parish.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

 

       

View this post on Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe. . . . . #kobebryant

A post shared by Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:44pm PST

 

Kobe Bryant's death was reported in the media before the death of his daughter, Gianna. Before the death of Gianna Bryant'was reported, Los Angeles' Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted a tribute to the elder Bryant.


 

So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020  

 

Bryant also had connected his Catholic faith to a family commitment to help the poor, through the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The foundation helped fund youth homeless shelters and other projects aimed at serving the poor.

“You have to do something that carries a little bit more weight to it, a little more significance, a little more purpose to it,” he said in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.”

“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right,” he said.

Funeral announcements for Bryant and his daughter have not yet been announced.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

 

Pope Francis prays for coronavirus victims in China

Vatican City, Jan 26, 2020 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Sunday for people infected by the coronavirus, which has killed 56 people in China.

“May the Lord welcome the deceased in his peace, comfort families and support the great commitment of the Chinese community, already put in place to fight the epidemic,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Jan. 26.

Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the virus has spread to nine countries with 1,975 confirmed cases.

The World Health Organization’s latest report Jan. 25 stated that among the confirmed cases, 237 people have been reported as severely ill.

The number of people with coronavirus has increased by 655 cases in the 24-hours since the WHO report’s release, the Chinese government reported Jan. 26, one day after Lunar New Year. Hundreds of millions of people travel for the holiday, which is the biggest celebration of the year in China.

Wuhan, a city around the size of London, has been on lockdown since Jan. 23 with restrictions on travel by trains, planes, ferries, and cars. The United States Embassy is working to evacuate all American citizens in Wuhan.

A third U.S. case of coronavirus was confirmed in California on Jan. 26.

Outside of China, coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Australia, France, South Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, and the United States in Chicago, Seattle, and Orange Country. There are currently suspected cases among recent travelers from China in Canada, Portugal, and the Ivory Coast.

Before his Angelus prayer, Pope Francis gave thanks for the Church’s first Sunday of the Word of God being celebrated throughout the world on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.

“It is this - the Word of Jesus … the Gospel - which changes the world and hearts! We are therefore called to trust the word of Christ, to open ourselves to the Father's mercy and allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The pope also prayed for people affected by Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, and spent a moment in silence in remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He invited everyone to spend time in prayer on the anniversary, Jan. 27, and to repeat in their hearts: “Never again!”

The coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31. Bishops in the Philippines have urged residents to be vigilant and to quickly check into a hospital if they believe they have been infected with the illness.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga released a special prayer for the prevention of a global outbreak:

“We pray that you control and prevent a global epidemic of coronavirus. We fervently ask that you display your power and stop the rapid spread of this deadly virus. Manifest your presence to those who have already been infected. Give them hope and courage and may your miraculous healing hands be upon them.”

Pope Francis: Keep a Bible close to you for daily inspiration

Vatican City, Jan 26, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis preached Sunday about the life-changing power of God’s word in Scripture, encouraging everyone to keep a Bible close for daily inspiration.

“Let us make room in our lives for the word of God. Each day, let us read a verse or two of the Bible. Let us begin with the Gospel: let us keep it open on our table, carry it in our pocket, read it on our cell phones, and allow it to inspire us daily,” Pope Francis said in his homily Jan. 26.

“The Lord gives you his word, so that you can receive it like a love letter he has written to you, to help you realize that he is at your side. His word consoles and encourages us. At the same time it challenges us, frees us from the bondage of our selfishness and summons us to conversion. Because his word has the power to change our lives and to lead us out of darkness into the light,” the pope said.

Pope Francis inaugurated the first Sunday of the Word of God with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope established the Sunday of the Word of God to take place annually throughout the world on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time.

“On this first Sunday of the Word of God, let us go to the roots of his preaching, to the very source of the word of life,” the pope said.

“We need his word: so that we can hear, amid the thousands of other words in our daily lives, that one word that speaks to us not about things, but about life,” he said.

The pope reflected on Jesus’ preaching in Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

“We can now understand the direct demand that Jesus makes: ‘Repent,’ in other words, ‘Change your life.’ Change your life, for a new way of living has begun. The time when you lived for yourself is over; now is the time for living with and for God, with and for others, with and for love. Today Jesus speaks those same words to you,” he said.

Francis said that Jesus began preaching from the peripheries in Galilee, passing through “all of that varied and complex region.” In the same way, Christ is not afraid to explore the difficult terrain in our hearts.

“Here there is a message for us: the word of salvation does not go looking for untouched, clean and safe places. Instead, it enters the complex and obscure places in our lives,” the pope said.

“Now, as then, God wants to visit the very places we think he will never go. Yet how often we are the ones who close the door, preferring to keep our confusion, our dark side and our duplicity hidden. We keep it locked up within, approaching the Lord with some rote prayers, wary lest his truth stir our hearts,” he said.

Throughout the Mass, the statue of Our Lady of Knock from Ireland was on the altar as the Church celebrates the 140th anniversary of the Marian apparition. Pope Francis blessed this statue of Our Lady of Knock when he visited the Irish Marian Shrine during the World Meeting of Families in 2018.

The relics of St. Timothy were also moved to St. Peter’s Basilica for the Sunday of the Word of God. At the end of Mass, Pope Francis gave copies of the Bible to 40 people as a symbolic gesture.

“To follow Jesus, mere good works are not enough; we have to listen daily to his call. He, who alone knows us and who loves us fully, leads us to put out into the deep of life,” he said.

“We will discover that God is close to us, that he dispels our darkness and, with great love, leads our lives into deep waters,” Pope Francis said.

How family life led this couple back to the Catholic Church

Gallup, N.M., Jan 26, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- With their children getting older, the Aguilars wanted to find a church home for their family. They visited a few Christian churches close to home, but nothing felt right. They were surprised, the couple said, to find that Catholic Church - the Church of their youth - was the place where they realized they were at home.

Michelle and Andres Aguilar decided to reenter the Catholic Church in 2019, finishing Michelle’s confirmation process and validating their marriage in the Church.

The couple now attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Mexico, which is pastored by Fr. Josh Mayer. Michelle, 38, owns the oilfield company Ernie’s Pilot Service, and Andres, 33, works as a parole officer.

Michelle was confirmed by Bishop James Wall of Gallup last Easter. She told CNA that the Easter Mass, where her two children also received their first communion, was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.

“Last April, we all made our sacraments together. I tell everybody that aside from my marriage and my kids’ births, that was the best day of my life. I felt so much joy and it was at the Easter vigil. We [got] home [at] like one in the morning and I could not sleep. I was just so excited from it,” she said.

Michelle and Andres were both baptized and raised in the Church. Michelle attended Mass and catechetical classes with her aunt, but she fell away during her teenage years once her aunt became too busy to take her to Mass. Andres told CNA that he began distancing himself from the Church when he was in his 20s, after a priest who gave a disappointing homily with a judgmental and unkind attitude at his cousin’s funeral.

“The priest at the time made a comment during her funeral. It just kind of shut me out,” he said. “She was murdered … the comment he made was, had she not been living the lifestyle [she] was living, she wouldn't have died. It was like I saw him almost condemn her in the Church.”

“I didn't want to be a part of something group that would condemn people,” he further added.

The couple was civilly married in 2008, three years after their son Augustine was born and a few months after their daughter Cheyann was born - both of whom were baptized in the Catholic Church.

The Aguilars said the family was a major reason for their desire to return to the faith, but they had tried several other denominations before finding themselves in the Catholic Church.

“We wanted to get back into church,” she said. “So we kind of tried different religions. We tried Baptist, we tried Pentecostal, we tried a nondenominational [church]. We just never really liked any of them. It didn't feel like church.”

“Other denominations, it is beautiful there, but they don't have structure, and I need that. I need structure and tradition. … It is so beautiful to see even the older ladies in Mass and it just reminds me of family,” she further added.

Not having found anything that fit, the family took a break from their search. Meanwhile, Augustine started attending Mass with Michelle’s father, who would often have Augustine stay over at his house on Saturday night before Mass. She said, seeing that, she wanted to start attending Mass again as a family.

“I kind of wanted to start going as a family and I spoke to my husband about it and then we decided that we would go,” she said. “We started a friendship with a family here [Adam and Desiraye Benavidez]. They’re really devout and we liked how they put [the faith] first. So we started talking and we decided to join them.”

Andres said the Benavidezs were a big motivator for his rejoining the Church too. He said Adam is a powerful example of a good Catholic father. He said the family possessed a peace and joy he wanted for his own family.

“They have this tradition where they, after mass, all eat breakfast, and I just saw happiness in them,” he said “It just made me want that for my family as well. He owns that peace, like you can't bring that man down. I think his faith has a lot to do with it, and being a part of the church I think really helps him be who he is as a person.”

He said, while he still disagrees with some of the things the priest said at the funeral, he has come to better understand the need to forgive and forget.

“This priest is a human and he sins just as much as I do. He made a mistake. That's the beauty of the church and reconciliation is that you can ask for forgiveness and start fresh.”

Michelle emphasized the important role of the RCIA classes. She said the group watched videos from the Augustine Institute and analyzed scripture prior to the Sunday Mass. She expressed a love for the group, especially Deacon Pat Valdez, who heads the parish’s RCIA class.

“I miss them since I've made my confirmation. I really miss them because it was so fulfilling. I learned so much,” she said.

“[Deacon] would give us the scriptures for the next week and he would break that down. So it was really neat to hear it there, and then on Sunday we'd go and hear it again.”

She said her decision to reenter the Church was verified during the first RCIA class. On the first day, she said, the deacon answered most of the questions she was struggling with, namely the Sacrament of Penance and prayers to the saints.

“I struggled with those growing up. I didn't understand why we were doing that. [During] my first RCIA class, [Deacon Pat] answered both of those without me even asking the question. That was what he talked about. And I was like, okay, this is where I'm supposed to be,” she said.

Both of them described how faith has inspired meaningful interactions with their children, especially for their son who is 15 years old. Michelle said, through the use of the Catechism, she has been able to engage the children in learning, such as looking up answers to moral questions.

“It's been really helpful in those aspects like discipline,” she said. [My son] had messed up and he felt really bad and I could tell it was weighing heavy on him. … [so] he went to confession.”

“We went together and I could just tell when he got out, he felt a relief and I got to explain that to him that you can mess up but you need to ask for forgiveness and then try your best not to make the same mistakes.”

Andres said the faith has given him more patience. He also said that faith has improved communication with Augustine and given him a better perspective on what it means to be a parent.

“Sometimes I can [be] pretty hot-headed and I can be a little strict with the kids, but at the same time I'm learning that being a parent is important in God's eyes,” he said.

“I feel like it's my job now to make sure that my kids have that happiness and the peace that they can find with the Lord and through the church. I feel like I shouldn't deprive them of that anymore.”

Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a homily Saturday at the opening Mass of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” Cupich said Jan. 25. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

French Senate passes controversial IVF bill

Paris, France, Jan 25, 2020 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- The French Senate this week passed a bill that would allow access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for single women and lesbian couples.

The bill passed 160-116 on Wednesday and is part of a larger bioethics law which cleared its first reading in the French National Assembly late last year.

The Senate voted against part of the bill that would have funded IVF through French social security. The National Assembly had approved that provision of the legislation.

Under the current law, IVF is only available to heterosexual couples who are unable to conceive or who may risk passing on a medical condition or sexually transmitted disease.

The new bill has been applauded by LGBT advocates.

“What was recognized to heterosexual couples must be recognized for homosexual couples,” said Socialist Party Senator David Assouline, according to Reuters.

When the bill passed the National Assembly in October, crowds of more than 40,000 people marched in a peaceful demonstration opposing the legislation.

The French Catholic bishops have staunchly opposed the bioethics bill since it was introduced six months ago. The Bishops’ Conference of France has compiled statements from 71 bishops on the subject.

The conference also issued a statement earlier in January titled “No one should treat another as an object.” The statement raises concerns that the bill prioritizes parents’ desire over the good of the child and paves the way for eugenics through preimplantation diagnosis and embryo selection.

“Not only is wanting a child without any genetic variant an illusion, but it would also dehumanize our humanity,” the statement from the bishops’ conference reads.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, who practiced medicine and taught bioethics at a medical school prior to the priesthood, said the bill has potentially harmful consequences for the vulnerable.

“A child is a gift to be received, not an order to be manufactured. The absence of a father is an injury that can be suffered, but it is monstrous to inflict it on purpose,” said Aupetit in a Jan. 15 statement.

“For years, we have been committing ourselves ever further to a commercial drift of wealthy countries which afford the luxury of organizing a eugenic trade with the systematic elimination of the most fragile, the creation of transgenic embryos and chimeras,” he added.

 

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

Pope Francis prays at St. Paul’s tomb with Orthodox and Anglican Christians

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2020 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed at the tomb of St. Paul with Orthodox and Anglican leaders Saturday to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“God’s priority is the salvation of all,” Pope Francis in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Jan. 25.

“This is an invitation not to devote ourselves exclusively to our own communities, but to open ourselves to the good of all, to the universal gaze of God who took flesh in order to embrace the whole human race and who died and rose for the salvation of all,” he said.

On the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the pope presided over ecumenical vespers with Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, and Anglican bishop Ian Ernest, personal representative of  the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope Francis told those gathered in prayer that the Acts of the Apostles speaks to “our ecumenical journey towards the unity which God ardently desires.”

The Christian leaders also venerated the relics of St. Timothy, which were moved to Rome for the Week of Christian Unity, and will be present in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 26 for the Sunday of the Word of God.

Pope Francis quoted St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy in which Paul wrote that God “desires everyone to be saved.”

Ecumenical prayers have been held in Rome each day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18 - 25. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity participated in the preparation of the prayer materials for the week, as it has each year since 1968.

“From this Week of Prayer we want to learn to be more hospitable, in the first place among ourselves as Christians and among our brothers and sisters of different confessions,” Pope Francis said.

“Among Christians as well, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts,” the pope said.

Pope Francis and Iraqi president discuss securing a future for Christians

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met Saturday with Iraqi President Barham Salih, and discussed the need to secure the future of Iraq’s deep-rooted Christian population.

The president and the pontiff spoke privately for about 30 minutes before Sahil met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

A Vatican statement Jan. 25 said the talks focused on “the challenges the country currently faces and the importance of promoting stability and the reconstruction process.”

“Attention then turned to the importance of preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country, of which they are an integral part, and the significant contribution they bring to the reconstruction of the social fabric,” the Holy See said.

During the talks, the Vatican underlined the need to guarantee Christians “security and a place in the future of Iraq.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told EWTN News that Pope Francis also expressed his great concern for persecuted Christians in Iraq in his audience with the pope the day prior.

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plains in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century. However, since the ousting of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Christians have been fleeing the region.

Five years after the Islamic State captured the Christian communities of the Nineveh plains, the region’s diminished Catholic population are still in the process of rebuilding their destroyed homes and churches.

Recent tensions between the United States and Iran have heightened Iraqi bishops’ fears for Iraq’s fragile Christian communities.

“Iraqi Christians “need the certainty, reassurance, hope and the belief that Iraq can be a peaceful country to live in rather than being victims and endless collateral damage,” Archbishop Bashar Warda told CNA following an Iranian attack on an air base in Erbil Jan. 8.

The Holy See said it encouraged “the path of dialogue” and solutions in favor of the Iraqi people and “with respect for national sovereignty” in the meetings with Salih.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis began protesting government corruption and Iranian influence in Oct. 2019 in the largest protests in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The Vatican meeting occurred one day after an estimated 200,000 people protested in Baghdad in a demonstration against the U.S. military presence in Iraq organized by Shiite groups with ties to Iran.

Amid the tensions, Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has called for dialogue.

“The international community has a responsibility for what is happening in the region in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran now. They should help people to sit together and to dialogue in a civilized way and to look for a political solution,” Cardinal Sako told EWTN News Jan. 6.

75 years after Auschwitz liberation, Europe's bishops condemn anti-Semitism, call for peace

Krakow, Poland, Jan 25, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Seventy-five years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the Catholic bishops of Europe condemned racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, calling for a renewed human commitment to peace, and forgiveness.

“75 years have already passed since the liberation of the German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (27/01/1945), and this place still inspires terror,” the leaders of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Union said in a Jan. 25 statement.

“At the hour of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, let us light candles and say a prayer for people murdered in death camps of all nationalities and religions and for their relatives. Let our prayers broaden the reconciliation and brotherhood, of which the opposite is hostility, destructive conflicts and fueled misunderstandings,” the bishops encouraged.

 Auschwitz-Birkenau “became a place of mass extermination of the Jewish people. In the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German National Socialists murdered over a million Jews, tens of thousands of Poles (70-75,000), Roma (21,000), Russians (15,000) and several thousand prisoners of other nationalities,” the bishops said.

“Due to the enormity of the Jewish victims, it is the largest site of mass genocide in the world.”

The camp, located in Poland, was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in January 1945, five months before the surrender of Germany at the conclusion of European fighting in the Second World War.

“Auschwitz has become a symbol of all German concentration camps, and even of all such extermination sites,” the bishops said.

“It is like a climax of hatred against man which took its death toll in the 20th century. It is here that the thesis on the fundamental inequality of people was brought to its final limits. Here, the Nazis took the power to decide who is human and who is not. Here, euthanasia met with eugenics.”

”Auschwitz-Birkenau is a result of the system based on the ideology of national socialism, which meant trampling the dignity of man who is made in the image of God. Another totalitarianism, namely communism, acted quite similarly, also reaching a death toll of millions.”

The bishops noted that Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis all visited the site of the concentration camp.

John Paul II, who himself was Polish, “went through the camp gate that bears the inscription ‘Arbeit macht frei,’ spent a moment in Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s death cell and prayed in the courtyard of block No.11 where prisoners were shot. Then he went to Brzezinka, and there he celebrated Holy Mass,” they said.

the bishops said the anniversary of its liberation “obliges us to expressly fight against all acts that trample on human dignity: racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

“On this anniversary, we appeal to the modern world for reconciliation and peace, for respect for each nation’s right to exist and to freedom, to independence, to maintain its own culture. We cannot allow the truth to be ignored or manipulated for immediate political needs. This appeal is extremely important now, for – despite the dramatic experience of the past – the world in which we live is still exposed to new threats and new manifestations of violence.”

“Cruel wars, genocide, persecution, and different forms of fanaticism are still taking place, although history teaches us that violence never leads to peace but, on the contrary, breeds more violence and death,” they added.

 “May the power of Christ’s love prevail in us,” the bishops’ statement concluded.