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Pope Francis looks ahead to the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025

Pope Francis meets with ecumenical delegation from Finland on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 05:30 am (CNA).

In an ecumenical meeting with a Lutheran delegation on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea as a source of unity between Christians.

“Dear friends, we have set out on a journey led by God’s kindly light that dissipates the darkness of division and directs our journey towards unity,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 17.

“We have set out, as brothers and sisters, on the journey towards ever fuller communion.”

Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland at the Vatican. The group traveled to Rome on pilgrimage for the feast of Saint Henrik, a 12th century bishop of Finland who is revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

In the meeting, the pope pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two major events in Church history as moments that can help Christians to see the goal of unity more clearly.

“In 2025, we will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Trinitarian and Christological confession of that Council, which acknowledges Jesus to be ‘true God from true God’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ unites us with all those who are baptized,” Pope Francis said.

The First Council of Nicaea held in 325 A.D. was called by emperor Constantine to confront the Arian heresy, which denied Christ’s divinity. The council promulgated the Nicene Creed, which is still accepted by Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations.

“In view of this great anniversary, let us renew our enthusiasm for journeying together in the way of Christ, in the way that is Christ. For we need him and the newness and incomparable joy that he brings. Only by clinging to him will we reach the end of the path leading to full unity,” the pope said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Pope Francis also highlighted that 2030 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg Confession included 28 articles presented by Lutheran princes in 1530 for approval by the Catholic Church. The Church responded with a Confutation that accepted 9 articles, approved 6 with qualifications, and condemned 13 articles.

“At a time when Christians were about to set out on different paths, that Confession attempted to preserve unity,” Pope Francis said.

“We know that it did not succeed in preventing division, but the forthcoming anniversary can serve as a fruitful occasion to encourage and confirm us on our journey of communion, so that we can become more docile to God’s will, and less to human strategies, more disposed to prefer to earthly aims the route pointed out by Heaven.”

The delegation from Finland included Jukka Keskitalo, the bishop of Oulu in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and Bishop Teemu Sippo, the retired Catholic bishop of Helsinki.

Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. More than 68% of Finland’s population is Lutheran, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Representatives from the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people – the only indigenous people of the European Union – were also present for the papal meeting.

“It is with particular joy that I welcome and greet the Sámi representatives,” Pope Francis said.

“May God accompany you on the journey towards reconciliation and healing of memory, and make all Christians free and determined in the earnest search for truth.”

The ecumenical meeting occurred one day ahead of the official start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their “difficulties and sufferings” during this week for the unity of Christians.

“When will unity be achieved? One wonders, isn't that right? A great Orthodox theologian who is a specialist in eschatology said, ‘Unity will be in the eschaton.’ But the path to unity is important. It is very good that theologians study, discuss,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.

“But it is also good that we, God's faithful people, go together on the journey. Together. And we make unity through prayer, through works of charity, through working together. I know you are going down that path, and I thank you so much,” he said.

“Let us keep our gaze ever fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and remain close to one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said.

Blessed Mother statues still stand at Colorado family home destroyed by wildfire

A concrete statue of Mary stands near the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. / Bob and Tina McLaren

Denver, Colo., Jan 16, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As Bob and Tina McLaren fled the Superior, Colorado neighborhood they had called home since 1992, Tina looked back and saw flames at the end of their street. 

As the Catholic couple, their daughter and two grandchildren made their way to safety, driving through clouds of ash and smoke, Tina hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe, their house would be spared. 

But a few days later, after the authorities permitted them to return, their fears were confirmed. Their house was ash. 

And yet, amid the rubble, two concrete statues of Mary that had stood on their property remained. 

A statue of St. Jude, who holds special significance for the family, also survived. Bob said when they were first building their house, their original plan for financing the build fell through. He said he credits the intercession of St. Jude — the patron of impossible causes— with helping them get a new financing plan to build their family home. 

The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

The McLarens, like nearly 1,000 of their neighbors, lost their home in the Marshall Fire, a fast-moving wildfire that consumed hundreds of buildings and businesses in Boulder County, Colorado during the last days of 2021. The towns of Louisville and Superior, roughly halfway between the larger cities of Denver and Boulder, were hardest hit. 

At least one person is confirmed dead as a result of the fires, the most destructive in state history. The initial cause of the fire, which spread rapidly due to high winds and an exceptional drought, remains under investigation. 

The McLarens are currently staying with relatives in Northglenn, Colorado. Bob says they built their Superior home in 1992 and raised their four daughters there— there are “many hearts broken by its loss,” he said. 

A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Despite the tragedy, the family has been able to find some respite from their local Catholic parish, which set up a donation center to help those in need in the wake of the fire. 

The McClarens have been active parishioners at St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville for nearly 40 years. Tina said they have received a tremendous amount of help from their local faith community; they’ve been almost overwhelmed by donations of basic necessities like clothes, she said. 

And while the monetary and material donations are “incredible,” Tina said the prayers they have received have been even more so. She said old friends that they haven’t spoken to in years, some that they never thought they would hear from again, have reached out to ask how they’re doing, and to offer prayers. 

Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Tina said many family members, some of whom have fallen away from the Catholic faith, have also reached out to offer prayers. 

Colorado’s housing market, spurred by years of high demand as well as by the pandemic, was extremely tight even before the fire displaced 1,000 or so families. Bob says they plan to stay in Superior, in the community they have come to love so much. In the meantime, the family is looking for temporary housing. 

Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

Tina describes herself as a giving person by nature, but she said being on the receiving end of such an outpouring of support from her fellow Catholics has been an extremely humbling experience. 

She also noted that despite the terrifying ordeal and the loss of their home, the love and memories associated with their happy home of 30 years “can't be burned up.”

She also said she has seen God’s hand working amid the chaos. 

"No matter how bad the situation is, there's always good. He's promised that something better will come from something bad that you're going through,” Tina said. 

The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

March for Life: What about bathrooms? Food? We’ve got answers here

Pro-life poster / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 16, 2022 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Pro-life Americans from across the country are planning to attend the March for Life on Friday, Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C.

Most years, the No. 1 question marchers have ahead of the event is, “What’s the weather forecast?”

This year, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, those thinking about coming have a host of other pressing questions. That’s because the District of Columbia recently enacted new COVID-19 access rules for businesses in response to a current surge in cases.

There’s a lot you need to know. So let’s get right to it.

What about bathrooms?

The short answer is that accessing bathrooms should not be a problem, whether you are vaccinated or not.

A key reason we can say this is that the district’s rules specify that proof of vaccination is not required to use a restaurant restroom, or to pick up take-out food (more on that in a moment.)

This means that marchers can access their usual bathroom stops, including Union Station, which is conveniently located near the U.S. Supreme Court, where the march concludes. Likewise, national museums along the National Mall, such as the Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art, do not require proof of vaccination for admission.

Will I be able to find food?

Yes. Having said that, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Proof of vaccination or a documented exemption (we’re getting to that next) is required to sit down and eat inside a restaurant within the district. That includes museum cafes and restaurants inside hotels where marchers may be staying.

But as we just mentioned, take-out food does not require proof of vaccination. Also, the restrictions don’t apply to grocery stores and pharmacies, where you can buy drinks and snacks.

Finally, most food delivery apps (Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, etc.) operate in D.C. and do not require proof of vaccination. 

Bottom line: You won’t go hungry or thirsty.

What do the rules actually say?

Having addressed the basic necessities of life, let’s take a closer look at what the new rules say.

Beginning Jan. 15, the District of Columbia is requiring all those 12 and older to show proof of receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot to enter most businesses. The rules apply to indoor food and drink establishments such as nightclubs, taverns, banquet halls, convention centers, food halls and food courts, breweries, wineries, seated dining halls, restaurants, and cafes in museums, libraries, and hotels.

Wait, didn’t you just say the food court at Union Station wouldn’t be an issue?

Ah, you’re paying attention. Good! Yes, you can get take out food and use the bathrooms at Union Station, but if you want to sit down and eat there, those 12 and up need proof of vaccination.

What about churches?

No vaccination proof is required.

And public transportation?

No vaccination proof is required.

Hotels?

No vaccination proof is required, unless you plan to sit down to eat in a hotel cafe or restaurant, or if plan to enter meeting rooms or hotel ballrooms.

What about exemptions?

If a person has a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, he or she must show proof of the exemption along with a negative COVID test within the last 24 hours. Businesses must also verify vaccination with photo identification for those 18 and older.

What proof of vaccination is acceptable?

Vaccinated marchers can prove their vaccination status with vaccination cards, photos of vaccination cards, immunization records, COVID-19 verification apps, or a World Health Organization Vaccination Record.

What are the masking rules?

Masks are required in all public indoor areas, regardless of one’s vaccination status. Masks are also required outdoors if one is unable to social distance, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Mall property. Organizers of the March for Life say marchers should wear masks unless they are eating or drinking.

“Because the protection of all of those who participate in the annual March, as well as all of those who work tirelessly each year to ensure a safe and peaceful event, is a top priority of the March for Life, we encourage anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to remain at home and participate virtually,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said.

“Face masks for those who need them will be available at the rally site, as well as hand sanitizer,” she added.

The rally will be live streamed on the March for Life website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel, beginning at 12 noon EST.

Finally, what’s the weather forecast?

Partly sunny with a high of 29, according to the National Weather Service’s extended forecast for Jan. 21. So dress warmly!

'Prayers answered. All hostages are out.': Texas synagogue standoff ends

A police car sits in front of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles west of Dallas, Jan. 16, 2022. - All four people taken hostage in a more than 10-hour standoff at the Texas synagogue have been freed unharmed, police said late Jan. 15, and their suspected captor is dead. / Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 16, 2022 / 08:25 am (CNA).

An FBI team on Saturday shot and killed a man who had taken hostages during a live streamed service at a Texas synagogue, authorities said.

At 9:30 PM local time, a loud bang followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire was heard, according to media reports from the scene. Shortly afterward, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: “Prayers answered.  All hostages are out alive and safe."

The FBI’s action culminated an 11-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The unidentified man interrupted a service at the synagogue that was being live streamed on Facebook and took four hostages. Among them was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, according to media reports.

According to media reports, the man claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman now serving a prison sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth for attempting to kill U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan.

During the standoff, Saddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, released a statement saying that "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," calling the suspect's actions "heinous and wrong."  

During the standoff Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth made an urgent request to Catholics to pray for those involved in a hostage situation.

"Please pray for the safety of the hostages, their families, this congregation, for the members of law enforcement, and for the peaceful surrender of the perpetrator(s) of this crime," Olson said in a message posted on Twitter.

A nearby parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church, provided first responders and members of the media access to warm shelter, restrooms, coffee, and food, during the standoff.

In a follow-up tweet, Olson said “thanks be to God for their safety. Thank you to the parishioners of @goodshepherd_tx and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages.”

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller also thanked the Catholic parish for its support during the crisis. "I am Christian, I am a believer and I immediately activated a prayer network," Miller told the press.

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan, was detained in July 2008 by Afghan police.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Afghan authorities “found a number of items in her possession, including handwritten notes that referred to a ‘mass casualty attack’ and that listed various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.”

During a subsequent interrogation at an Afghan police compound, Siddiqui “grabbed a U.S. Army officer's M-4 rifle and fired it at another U.S. Army officer and other members of U.S. interview team,” the Justice Department said. She was convicted in September 2010 of trying to kill U.S. soldiers and F.B.I. agents and sentenced to 86 years in federal prison.

The Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has asserted Siddiqui's innocence, announced in July 2021 that she had been attacked by another inmate and was in solitary confinement.

CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell issued a statement Saturday condemning the hostage-taking at the  synagogue.

“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages,” the statement said. “No cause can justify or excuse this crime.”

Pope Francis asks Catholics to offer their sufferings for Christian unity

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address on Dec. 19, 2021. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2022 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their sufferings this week for Christian unity.

During his Sunday Angelus address, the pope called on people to participate in the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity taking place January 18-25.

“We Christians, in the diversity of our confessions and traditions, are also pilgrims on our way to full unity, and we come closer to our goal the more we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, our only Lord,” Pope Francis said from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 16.

“During this week of prayer, we offer our difficulties and sufferings for the unity of Christians,” he told the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to the 19th century when Pope Leo XIII encouraged the practice of a Prayer Octave for Unity. The Vatican and the World Council of Churches came together in 1966 to jointly prepare prayer materials for what has become an annual event.

During the week, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal and other Protestant denominations are invited to pray in a particular way for unity among Christians.

This year the Middle East Council of Churches based in Beirut, Lebanon has prepared the texts for the ecumenical prayers, which will take place each day of the week in Rome with the theme: “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him.”

The pope will mark the end of the week with the praying of vespers for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Jan. 25.

In his Angelus message, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel of John’s account of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus transformed water into wine.

“We notice that the evangelist John does not speak of a miracle, that is, of a powerful and extraordinary deed that provokes wonder. He writes that a sign took place at Cana, a sign that sparked the faith of his disciples,” the pope said.

“A sign is a clue that reveals the love of God, which does not call attention to the power of the gesture, but to the love that caused it. It teaches us something about the love of God, which is always close, tender and compassionate,” he said.

Pope Francis highlighted how Jesus quietly intervened after Our Lady discreetly brought the situation to his attention.

“Everything took place ‘behind the scenes,’” the pope noted.

“This is how God acts, with closeness and with discretion. … This is Jesus. He helps us, he serves us in a hidden way,” he said.

With this Gospel passage in mind, the pope recommended that people take time to think about “the signs” that God has manifested in their lives.

“Let each of us say: in my life, what are the signs the Lord has accomplished? What are the hints of his presence, the signs he has done to show that he loves us?” he said.

“Let us think about that difficult moment in which God allowed me to experience his love. And let us ask ourselves: what are the discrete and loving signs through which he has allowed me to feel his tenderness?”

The pope recommended asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession to contemplate these moments.

“May she, the Mother who is always attentive as at Cana, help us treasure the signs of God’s presence in our lives,” he said.

Use ‘preferred pronouns’ or else, university’s gender inclusion plan warns

null / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Jan 16, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The bishops of Fargo and Bismarck are speaking out against a proposed “gender inclusion” policy that would require everyone at the University of North Dakota — even visitors — to use preferred pronouns and affirm individuals’ chosen gender identities, or face the consequences.

Under the proposed rules, violators risk being expelled, fired, or kicked off campus, as spelled out under the University’s existing discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policies. 

A draft of the policy also obliges the school to provide students with on-campus housing “consistent with their gender identity and expression,” and it applies the same gender identity rules to locker rooms and restrooms.

Located in Grand Forks, the state university has about 13,780 students and some 2,500 employees.

Christopher Dodson, the executive director and general counsel of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, representing the two dioceses, says the proposal as written is unconstitutional.

“We recognize that everyone should be treated with respect and that the university has a role in facilitating a respectful learning environment,” Dodson states in an Oct. 21 letter to Jennifer Rogers, the university’s policy officer.

“However, this proposal goes beyond setting mere rules for administrative tasks. Indeed, it embraces and demands acceptance of a particular ideology about gender and language that infringes upon free speech and religious rights,” Dodson states.

“We are particularly concerned about the proposal’s lack of any exemption for student organizations,” the letter continues.

“Fraternities and sororities are provided a limited exemption, but not student organizations. This means that UND would require student organizations to use preferred pronouns, accept expressed genders, and reject binary understandings of gender even if doing so conflicted with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Dodson states.

“Students and faculty do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the doors of a state university. This is well-established constitutional law,” the letter continues. “The proposed policy by UND amounts to unconstitutionally compelling speech and a particular viewpoint.”

The conference on Jan. 10 sent a second letter outlining its concerns to parents of students in Catholic high schools and, in some cases, other Catholic parishioners with high school students. 

The school's proposal also drew fire from Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, who said in a Facebook post that it "spits in the face of everything we believe in" and called it a "sad day for my alma mater," the Star Tribune reported.

In a 45-minute press conference on Jan. 14, University President Andrew Armacost called Dodson’s input “useful.” He said he is taking his time to slowly draft the next revision of the policy because Dodson brought up important constitutional issues that need to be addressed “the proper way.”

But Armacost, a former brigadier general and retired dean at the Air Force Academy, defended the intent of the proposed policy.

"The draft policy is intended to state our support to our LGBTQ members and, in particular, to our transgender and nonbinary members, with that same guarantee of access to education and fair employment without fear of discrimination or harassment," Armacost said.

Addressing the Catholic conference’s concern about housing arrangements for students, Armacost said students are able to request a roommate change for any reason.

In an interview with CNA, Dodson said he appreciated “clarification on the housing issue,” and said that “future iterations of the proposal, if any, should clearly address this issue.”

“Students should not, however, have to rely on receiving an exemption to the on-campus housing policy or requesting a roommate change to ensure that the student is placed with someone of the same sex,” he added.

Dodson said the conference shares the university’s desire to create a learning environment free of harassment but he called the policy proposal “overbroad.”

Bishop John T. Folda is the leader of the Diocese of Fargo. The Diocese of Bismarck is led by Bishop David D. Kagan.

Bishop of Fort Worth asks for prayers for Synagogue hostage situation involving alleged Al Qaeda terrorist

Breaking News / CNA

Fort Worth, Texas, Jan 15, 2022 / 20:53 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, made an urgent request to Catholics to pray for those involved in a hostage situation that was developing at a synagogue in nearby Colleyville on Saturday.

"Please pray for the safety of the hostages, their families, this congregation, for the members of law enforcement, and for the peaceful surrender of the perpetrator(s) of this crime," said Bishop Olson in a brief message posted on his Twitter account while the hostage situation was still developing. 

A man took hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas during a service that was being live streamed on Facebook on Saturday, Jan. 15. The ranting man, claiming to be Aafia Siddiqui's brother, interrupted the ceremony and took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, demanding either to release Siddiqui or allow him to talk to her. 

At 5:00 PM local time, the man released one hostage, and after more than eleven hours of tense negotiations, an FBI rescue team flown from Quantico freed the remaining hostages unharmed and killed the kidnaper.

At 9:30 PM local time, a loud bang followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire was heard. Three minutes later, Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted: “Prayers answered.  All hostages are out alive and safe."    

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan, is a controversial figure. She is regarded by U.S. intelligence as a dangerous terrorist with deep Al Qaeda connections who plotted against U.S. military forces in Afghanistan; but she is seen as a national hero by Pakistan, who has repeatedly requested her release.

A mother of three and the only woman sentenced for terrorists actions in connection with 9/11, Siddiqui has been jailed at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth since 2008 when she was convicted and sentenced on charges involving assault and firing of a weapon at U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. The Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who defends Siddiqui's innocence, announced in July 2021 that she had been attacked by another inmate and was in solitary confinement.

During the standoff, Saddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, had released a statement saying that "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," calling the suspect's actions "heinous and wrong."  

Aafia has one brother and one sister.

The press covering the live negotiations involving the FBI, local police, and a SWAT team were operating from Good Shepherd Catholic Church, which provided access to a warm area, restrooms, coffee and food.

In a follow-up tweet, Bishop Olson said “thanks be to God for their safety. Thank you to the parishioners of @goodshepherd_tx and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages”.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller also thanked the Catholic parish for its support during the crisis. "I am Christian, I am a believer and I immediately activated a prayer network," Miller told the press.

Cardinal Dolan laments attacks on houses of worship in Religious Freedom Day message

Remains of statues vandalized at Our Lady of Mercy parish in New York City, July17, 2021. Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 15, 2022 / 12:47 pm (CNA).

Attacking houses of worship and religious art is akin to attacking the community who prays there, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York ahead of Religious Freedom Day, observed Jan. 16. 

“For nearly two years, the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed,” said Dolan in a statement released Jan. 14 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan is the chairman of the USCCB’s religious liberty committee. 

“We are not alone. Our friends from other faith groups experience these outbursts too, and for some communities, they occur far more frequently,” he said. 

“An attack on a house of worship is certainly an assault on the particular community that gathers there. It is also an attack on the founding principle of America as a place where all people can practice their faith freely,” said Dolan. “And it is an attack on the human spirit, which yearns to know the truth about God and how to act in light of the truth.”

Dolan praised the “great tradition of religious freedom” in the United States, which has “allowed beauty to flourish,” for the benefit of all.  

Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, "to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church."

Dolan said in his statement that “Diverse religious communities have built beautiful houses of worship, adorned with stained glass, statues, and symbols of faith, in earthly reflection of the glory and majesty of God.” 

“In the midst of a popular culture that too often caters to our basest appetites, sacred art and architecture calls all of us to think about ultimate things. All Americans benefit from these religious displays.” 

Religious art, said Dolan, “reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors.” The destruction of this art and other sacred things, he explained, “degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

Recently, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, was defaced by a vandal. In response to the vandalism, and in honor of National Religious Freedom Day, the shrine will be hosting a rosary on Jan. 16. In the statement, Dolan  encouraged all Catholics to join in and pray the rosary on Sunday, “as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country.” 

“On this National Religious Freedom Day, let us resolve to promote religious freedom for all people, and to honor the place of the sacred both in our lives and our landscapes,” he said.

Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit reforms the Church through the saints

Pope Francis at the general audience on April 25, 2018. / Shutterstock/CNA

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Saturday that it takes saints to reform the Church and for this each Catholic is called to a deeper “second conversion.”

“It is the Holy Spirit who forms and reforms the Church and does so through the Word of God and through the saints, who put the Word into practice in their lives,” Pope Francis said Jan. 15.

In an audience with the religious order founded by Saint Cajetan, the pope underlined that “reform must begin with oneself.”

A 16th century contemporary of Martin Luther, Cajetan sought to reform the Catholic Church, especially the clergy, but from within the Church itself.

Pope Francis said that when Saint Cajetan “came to Rome to work in the papal curia, he noticed the unfortunately widespread spiritual and moral degradation.”

“And while he carried out his office work, he frequented the oratory of Divine Love, cultivating prayer and spiritual formation; and then he went to a hospital to assist the sick. This is the way: to begin with oneself to live the Gospel more deeply and coherently,” the pope said.

“All the saints show us this way. They are the true reformers of the Church,” he said.

Pope Francis underlined that every saint is “a plan of the Father to reflect and incarnate, at a specific moment in history, an aspect of the Gospel.”

Cajetan and a small group of like-minded priests founded the Congregation of Clerics Regular, which became known as the Theatines, in 1524.

The community of priests sought to save souls primarily through living moral lives, through sacred studies, through preaching, and through tending to the sick and the poor.

Like many saints, Cajetan had a “vocation without a vocation,” or what could also be called “a second conversion,” the pope said.

“It is about the passage from an already good and esteemed life to a holy life, full of that ‘more’ that comes from the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

“This breakthrough is what makes not only the personal life of that man or woman grow, but also the life of the Church. This is what, in a certain sense, reforms it by purifying it and bringing out its evangelical beauty.”

The Theatine order became known as strong Catholic reformers even before the Protestant Reformation had fully taken hold.

“Saint Cajetan evangelized Rome, Venice, Naples, and he did so above all through the witness of life and the works of mercy, practicing the great ‘protocol’ that Jesus left us with the parable of the final judgment, Matthew 25,” Pope Francis said.

In 1527, the house of the Theatine order in Rome was sacked by troops of Emperor Charles V, and the members fled to Venice.

At the age of 42, Cajetan founded a hospital for "incurables" in Venice, and worked to comfort and heal the sick during times of plague.

In 1533, the pope sent Cajetan to Naples, where he founded another oratory. The corresponding church, San Paolo Maggiore, became an important hub of Catholic reformation.

While in Naples, Cajetan also founded a charitable nonprofit bank designed to protect the poor from usury - or lending money at exorbitant rates of interest. Eventually, the bank became the Bank of Naples.

Cajetan became dangerously sick and offered his sufferings for the conversion of the people of Naples. He died on August 6th 1547, the feast of the Transfiguration, and is buried in the San Paolo Maggiore Basilica in Naples.

Today the Theatines are present in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Italy. The order met with the pope at the Apostolic Palace as it conducts its 164th General Chapter.

“I encourage you to move forward ... with docility to the Holy Spirit, without rigid schemes … but firmly established in the essential things: prayer, adoration, common life, fraternal charity, poverty and service to the poor,” Pope Francis said.

“All this with an apostolic heart, with the good evangelical eagerness to seek first of all the Kingdom of God.”

Pro-life congressional leaders praise pledge to oppose federal abortion funding

The US Capitol / Nicholas Haro/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

One hundred and eighty one members of the House of Representatives signed a letter praising the pro-life leadership of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as promising to vote against any appropriations bill that does not include a prohibition of the use of federal funds for abortion. 

“Thank you for the consistent pro-life leadership you have shown even as House and Senate Democrats have demonstrated their plan to use Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Appropriations legislation to strip out longstanding pro-life protections that have been in place for decades,” the House members wrote in a letter. The letter was led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and Jim Banks (R-IN), who leads the Republican Study Committee.  

“For decades, federal appropriations legislation has included language to protect taxpayer money from funding and facilitating the killing of children alive but not yet born,” they said. “The most famous of these protections, the Hyde Amendment, prevents direct taxpayer funding of abortion through programs like Medicaid.” 

The Hyde Amendment is a rider to appropriations bills. It has received consistent bipartisan support since it was first written in 1976. 


“Abortion is not health care unless one construes the precious life of an unborn child to be analogous to a tumor to be excised or a disease to be vanquished—pregnancy is not a disease,” said Smith. “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortion nor should anyone or any entity be coerced against their conscience to perform or facilitate the killing of an unborn child.”

Banks concurred, saying that removing the Hyde Amendment would be both “wrong and unpopular.”

“But today’s Democrat party only caters to their far-left base who demand the government provide taxpayer-funded abortions up until the point of birth,” he said. “Pro-life conservatives stand united against their radical agenda.”

In 2016, the Democratic National Committee’s official party platform called, for the first time, for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment. 

“Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion domestically or internationally,” said the letter. 

“The consciences of health care providers who do not want to participate in abortion should be respected. Funding should not go to international organizations that are complicit in forced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” referring to what is commonly known as the “Mexico City Policy.”

As president, Donald Trump (R) expanded the Mexico City Policy. When President Joe Biden (D) was inaugurated, he repealed the policy in the first days of his presidency, similar to what his Democratic predecessors Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did during their presidencies. 

The letter called for “all longstanding pro-life provisions to be retained” in the appropriation bills, noting that the majority of Americans are opposed to the use of taxpayer funding to pay for abortions. 

The lawmakers quoted then-Senator Biden, who, in a 1994 letter to one of his constituents, wrote “those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.” 

Biden repeatedly voted for and voiced public support for the Hyde Amendment throughout his time serving as a member of the Senate. In 2019, over a 24-hour period, Biden announced that he no longer supported the Hyde Amendment.