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Pastoral genius of St. John Paul II: 40 years ago, he laid foundation for World Youth Day

Pope John Paul II's helicopter flies over the huge crowd in Manila's Luneta Park prior to celebrating an open-air mass for an estimated two-million people gathered for the 10th World Youth Day on Jan. 15, 1995. / Credit: JUN DAGMANG/AFP via Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Nearly 40 years ago, an event was held in Rome that laid the foundations for what today is World Youth Day (WYD). On April 14, 1984, Pope John Paul II met in Rome with 300,000 young people from all over the world who were hosted by some 6,000 Roman families.

WYD is an encounter of young people from all over the world with the pope that takes place every two or three years in different cities around the world. The first one took place in Rome in 1986. Since then, the fruits of each WYD have flowed: conversions, vocations discovered, and even alleged miracles.

The seminal event was part of the 1984 Holy Year of Redemption, held near Palm Sunday. On that occasion, the pope told the assembled young people that “the real problem of life is, in fact, that of verifying, first of all, what is the place of youth in the present world.”

St. John Paul II then addressed each of those present personally, explaining that young people are called to make the love and message of Jesus Christ present in each of their own lives.

“If you know how to look at the world with the new eyes that faith gives you, then you will know how to face it with your hands outstretched in a gesture of love. You will be able to discover in it, in the midst of so much misery and injustice, unsuspected presences of goodness, fascinating perspectives of beauty, well-founded reasons for hope in a better tomorrow,” he told them.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II met in Rome with 300,000 young people from all over the world in a meeting that laid the foundations for today’s World Youth Day. Credit: Gregorini Demetrio, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
In 1984, Pope John Paul II met in Rome with 300,000 young people from all over the world in a meeting that laid the foundations for today’s World Youth Day. Credit: Gregorini Demetrio, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Holy Father stressed that that this can only be achieved through a deeply rooted faith in Jesus.

“True strength lies in Christ, the redeemer of the world! This is the central point of the whole discourse. And this is the moment to ask the crucial question: This Jesus who was young like you, who lived in an exemplary family and knew the world of men in depth, who is he for you?” the pope asked.

At that time, St. John Paul II presented the famous “Youth Cross” to the organizers of the event, with the mission of taking it throughout the world “as a sign and reminder that only in the dead and risen Jesus is there salvation and redemption.” 

This wooden cross has become a symbol of WYD, traveling throughout the dioceses of the world and in all the places where the event takes place.

The cross is kept today by the San Lorenzo International Youth Center (CSL), which together with the sponsorship of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life and the John Paul II Foundation for Youth, have organized a series of events to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this first encounter of the Polish pope with young people.

On April 13, the “Youth Cross” will go on a pilgrimage from St. Peter’s Square to the CSL and a Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça. The day will conclude with a prayer vigil and adoration of the cross, known as “Rise Up.”

On Sunday, April 14, Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, will offer the Mass and later there will be a time for young people to give their testimonies.

The San Lorenzo International Youth Center is a reception and information center for young pilgrims in Rome as well as a place of prayer. It also serves as headquarters for making preparations for World Youth Days.

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

Catholics who participate in Eucharistic Pilgrimage, Congress can receive plenary indulgences

A Massgoer prays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City before a Eucharistic procession through the streets Oct. 10, 2023. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced April 9 the opportunity for Catholics who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress to receive plenary indulgences.

Broglio requested that the Apostolic Penitentiary, the office in charge of granting plenary indulgences within the Roman Curia, grant a plenary indulgence to all those who take part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. 

It was also requested that he or another prelate be designated to impart the apostolic blessing with a plenary indulgence to the faithful present at the National Eucharistic Congress, which takes place July 17–21 in Indianapolis.

“It is with gratitude to the Holy Father that we receive his apostolic blessing upon the participants in the National Eucharistic Congress and for the opportunity for Catholics in our country to obtain a plenary indulgence by participating in the events of the Eucharistic Revival,” Broglio said in a statement released by the USCCB. 

He added: “Through the efforts of the revival over the last two years, we have been building up to the pilgrimage and congress that will offer Catholics a chance to experience a profound, personal revival of faith in the Eucharist. Pope Francis continues to encourage and support us as we seek to share Christ’s love with a world that is desperately in need of him.”

A decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by the Holy Father states that the plenary indulgence will be granted to the Christian faithful who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at any point between May 17 and July 16.

The indulgence will also be granted to the elderly, the infirm, and all those who cannot leave their homes for a grave reason but who participate “in spirit,” uniting their prayers with the pilgrimage.

A second decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by Pope Francis grants Broglio, or any other prelate of episcopal rank assigned by him, the ability to impart a papal blessing with a plenary indulgence to those who participate in the National Eucharistic Congress following the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The faithful who, “due to reasonable circumstances and with pious intention,” have received the papal blessing through media communications can also obtain a plenary indulgence.

Both indulgences are granted under the usual conditions of confession, receiving the Eucharist, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

The National Eucharistic Congress is a monumental moment for the U.S. bishops’ three-year initiative, the Eucharistic Revival, which began on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2022 and continues through 2025.

Japanese company’s pivot to adult diapers underscores crashing fertility rates worldwide

null / Credit: ucchie79/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

“Growth is anticipated.”

That’s how the Tokyo-based company Oji Holdings described the Japanese adult diaper economy last week. The company announced in a press release that it would be terminating its “domestic disposal diaper business for babies” later this year.

The baby diaper market in Japan is a “low-growth business,” the company indicated, though the 150-year-old company said it will not exit the diaper business altogether.

The company “aims to continue … focusing its resources on the market for the domestic disposable diapers business for adults, where growth is anticipated,” the press release said. 

Oji’s pivot toward adult diaper manufacturing underscores an ongoing crisis facing many developed nations around the world, Japan in particular: cratering fertility rates. 

Global fertility has been falling for decades, though the problem is often most acute in industrialized nations with high standards of living.

Many of these countries are well below the “replacement rate” of fertility — generally about 2.1 births per woman over her lifetime — needed to keep a population stable. In the U.S. the overall fertility rate is about 1.7; in the U.K. it’s about 1.5; in Germany it’s about 1.4. 

Japan, meanwhile, sits at about 1.3 births per woman. The country’s severely low fertility rate has persisted for decades; it has not been at replacement rate since roughly the 1970s. 

With so relatively few births of children, the country is growing steadily older: The International Monetary Fund in 2020 said that “with a median age of 48.4 years, Japan’s population is the world’s oldest,” with the government predicting that by 2060 “there will be almost one elderly person for each person of working age.”

Church has warned of cratering fertility for years

Catholic leaders have for years been warning of the decline in fertility rates worldwide. In 2022 Pope Francis described the ongoing collapse of fertility in Western countries as a “social emergency” and a sign of “new poverty,” with the Holy Father arguing that the “beauty of a family full of children” is “in danger of becoming a utopia, a dream difficult to realize.”

Vincenzo Bassi, the president of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, told CNA in 2020 that “without children, without future workers, we cannot maintain the generational balance which is essential for the future, the economic future of Europe, of my country [Italy], and of the whole world.”

Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, meanwhile, told Crux in 2021 that in addition to major “societal consequences” of low fertility, “the decrease of births means a decrease in our capacity to love and to cherish life.”

Laurie DeRose, an assistant professor in Catholic University of America’s sociology department, told CNA this week that aging and fertility crises have their roots in birth rates that began years ago. 

“[It] doesn’t matter so much what age people are dying on average (60, 70, 80, 90) as whether the number of new zero-year-olds is plentiful,” she said. 

“The average age is going to change a little if people die at 90 instead of 80 (a bit older), but it is going to change a whole lot if a newborn isn’t born,” she noted. 

“In other words, a baby not being born makes the population older for a long, long time whereas an elderly person not dying makes the population older for at most 30ish years.”

Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia as well as the director of the school’s National Marriage Project, told CNA that Japan “is an example of where things can go.” 

“I don’t think the U.S. is going to reach that point, but it’s emblematic of the demographic problems many countries are facing,” he said. 

Wilcox, who recently published the book “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization,” said Japan’s “workist” culture is partly responsible for its low fertility rate. 

“There’s an excessively intense work ethic in Japan, as with many East Asian countries, where people are expected to spend many long hours in the office,” Wilcox said. “A lot of Japanese women are not looking forward to a family life where the husband is going to be away from the home so frequently and for so long.”

Japan’s “struggling” demographic of young men is another factor, he said, with many young men floundering at schools and retreating to heavy internet usage, rendering them less suitable as potential boyfriends and husbands. 

“Young women [in Japan] are flourishing, educationally and otherwise, and are expecting a lot more from potential mates,” WIlcox said, “and their expectations are not always being met in significant numbers. That means less dating, less marriage, less children.”

Japan is also a “profoundly secular place,” he pointed out. Religious communities and institutions “tend to foster marriages and childbearing and parenthood, in part because of the social support, in part because they endow meaning and purpose to the sacrifice and suffering that’s attendant to family life.” 

DeRose said combatting workism in Japan could be a path forward to reversing its fertility woes. In a 2021 essay at American Affairs, she argued that policymakers “should think more in terms of enabling men and women to work less rather than seeking to help them still ‘do family’ while remaining career-centric.” 

Some solutions include “encouraging more flexible work arrangements” and “rolling back strict licensure and certification rules for work,” she wrote. 

Another solution could be “working toward gender egalitarianism in the home,” she told CNA. 

“Research on developed countries show that couples are much more likely to have another child if the father is involved in the domestic sphere,” she said

Wilcox, meanwhile, was not hopeful about Japan’s prospects. “There’s already an effort to manage the demographic decline,” he said. “We’re talking about care robots [and] the age of retirement being raised.” 

Wilcox also warned about the likelihood of pressure mounting to provide assisted suicide to elderly adults, including through Canadian-style “medical assistance in dying (MAID)” programs.

“The practical and financial ability of the government and society to support older people will be strained,” he said. “There will be pressure to introduce measures.”

Japan’s endonym, Nippon, is translated as “the sun’s origin”; Japan itself has consequently often been referred to as “the Land of the Rising Sun.” Wilcox, however, said the country’s cratering fertility paints a grimmer picture for the ancient country and for others that soon may follow. 

“I call it the ‘Land of the Setting Sun,’” he said. “It’s certainly a harbinger of where many advanced countries are heading.”

New Idaho law aims to protect against forced use of incorrect pronouns, names

null / Photo credit: Kryvosheia Yurii/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho on Monday signed a law designed to protect government employees and students at public schools from being forced to use names and pronouns that violate their sincerely held beliefs. 

HB538, which the Idaho Legislature passed last week, is set to take effect July 1. The new law provides for “a prohibition on any governmental entity in the state of Idaho from compelling any public employee or public school student to communicate preferred personal titles and pronouns that do not correspond with the biological sex of the individual seeking to be referred to by such titles or pronouns.”

“Such prohibition is essential to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech of every person in the state of Idaho is respected,” the bill reads.

Government, public school, and higher education employees “shall not be subject to adverse employment action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person with anything other than his or her legal name. The act also covers students, saying they “shall not be subject to adverse disciplinary action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person by a name other than his or her legal one. 

In terms of enforcement, the act provides for a “private cause of action for injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and any other appropriate relief.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, praised the governor’s actions, saying: “All of society benefits when freedom of speech and conscience flourish.”

“No one should lose their job or face punishment at school for declining to say something they believe is false,” ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp said in a statement.  

“Words and language carry meaning, and when used properly, they tell the truth about reality, feelings, and beliefs. Yet forcing individuals to say things that are untrue — such as inaccurate names, pronouns, and titles — imposes real harm on the speaker. In no world is it acceptable for schools to force good teachers out of a job all for the sake of promoting gender ideology to vulnerable children. Now and always, there are only two sexes — male and female — and denying this basic truth only hurts kids.”

The Idaho bill comes in response to a number of cases throughout the country in recent years of teachers and students facing disciplinary action for expressing Christian beliefs about gender. 

In August 2021, Virginia’s Supreme Court sided with a teacher after he challenged a school district policy requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns.

And in 2022, Ohio’s Shawnee State University and Nicholas Meriwether agreed to a $400,000 settlement after the professor faced disciplinary action for declining to use the preferred pronouns of a self-identified transgender student. The university denied claims it had violated the professor’s free speech and religious freedom, though the professor’s attorneys claimed victory.

Later that year, a Kansas middle school teacher was awarded a $95,000 settlement with her school district, which had suspended her in an effort to force her to comply with its gender policies, which included a mandate to lie to parents about their children’s gender transitions.

Trump says he will not sign a national abortion ban if reelected

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta airport on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Megan Varner/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would not sign a national abortion ban if reelected to the office of the presidency in November. 

The Republican presidential candidate was at an event in Atlanta on Wednesday when a reporter asked him: “Would you sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent it to your desk?” 

“No,” Trump said in response. 

Asked by the reporter: “You wouldn’t sign it?” Trump responded again: “No.”

Trump had minutes earlier indicated that he disagreed with this week’s historic ruling at the Arizona Supreme Court. That court on Monday ruled that state law does not guarantee a right to an abortion and that an 1864 law prohibiting all abortions can take effect later this month.

Asked in Atlanta on Wednesday if that ruling “went too far,” Trump responded: “Yeah they did, and that will be straightened out.”

“I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think very quickly,” the former president said. 

Trump has been steadily positioning himself as more of a centrist on abortion in recent months. 

On Monday he said in a social media video that “at the end of the day” abortion law in the U.S. is “all about the will of the people” and that “now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.” 

Last September, meanwhile, he called Florida’s six-week abortion ban “a terrible thing” and “a terrible mistake.”

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, last month promised to support a law that would legalize abortion nationwide in response to the repeal of Roe v. Wade two years ago.

Indian bishops’ ‘guidelines’ for Catholic schools elicit mixed reaction

Students in morning assembly prayer in Catholic school at Seppa in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Bangalore, India, Apr 10, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

New guidelines for Catholic schools from the Catholic bishops of India have elicited mixed reactions in the country, with many applauding the move to respect “all faith traditions” while others have accused the Church of bending to pressure from Hindu fundamentalists.

The 13-page document issued to India’s 15,000 Catholic educational institutions includes a recommendation that schools display the preamble to the Indian Constitution at school entrances and that children recite the preamble during daily assemblies.

The bishops’ education commission said the document was written “to face the emerging challenges due to the current socio-cultural-religious-political situation in India.” Its release comes ahead of elections that will take place between April 17 and June 1.

The guidelines come at a particularly tense time in India, where Hindus make up 79.8% of the population. The Hindu fundamentalist group Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (Family Safety Council) in Assam launched a protest in February demanding a ban on Christian symbols such as crosses and statues, the religious dress of priests and nuns, and Christian prayers in educational institutions.

The Indian bishops’ recommendations have been widely hailed as a bold initiative by the Church and are in stark contrast to Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) efforts to delete the word “secular” from the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

The secular media applauded the Church guidelines with front-page headlines such as “Church calls for making constitution a shield” and “Recite preamble, don’t force Christian traditions: Catholic body to its schools.”

Besides calling for respecting “all faith traditions without any discrimination [and to] not force our religious traditions on students of other faiths,” the guidelines also prescribe the promotion of “religious and cultural sensitivity and respect for diversity with separate interreligious prayer rooms in the school, celebrating all important religious festivals.”

“Reciting the preamble is a great idea that the government and Hindu schools should also follow instead of religious morning assembly,” remarked John Dayal, a Catholic columnist, in his commentary in The Wire news portal on April 8. 

However, he decried what he said was “a response to the demands that have been made on institutions by state governments and non-state actors [Hindu fundamentalist groups].”

“Article 30 allows all religious and linguistic minorities to run educational institutions to nurture their core values, including faith, for future generations,” Dayal said.

“The Church has unnecessarily succumbed to the pressure tactics of the Hindu fundamentalists,” outspoken Jesuit activist Father Cedric Prakash told CNA on April 8. 

“These guidelines have not been made under pressure from any group,” Father Maria Charles, secretary of the Indian bishop’s education committee, told CNA when asked about recent threats from Hindu fundamentalists in northeastern states such as Assam and in central India. 

“There has been a lot of misunderstanding. The guideline calls for respect for other faiths in our institutions. But that does not mean that customary [Christian] prayers in the schools will stop. It will go on as usual,” Charles said. 

The guidelines, he said, were drafted following the November 2023 conference of 250 Catholic education experts from the Church, including diocesan education directors, hailing from across the country.

“The guideline addresses various challenges in dealing with admissions to administration in our Catholic institutions,” Charles explained. 

The Catholic Church in the country, he said, runs more than 14,000 schools, 720 colleges, seven universities, five medical colleges, and 450 technical and vocational training institutions. 

After protest from Catholics, blasphemous potato chip ad ordered pulled in Italy

null / Credit: Pixabay

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 10:50 am (CNA).

An Italian Catholic watchdog group says a blasphemous ad featuring a priest consecrating potato chips in place of Eucharistic hosts has been ordered pulled from the airwaves.

The Italian Association of Radio and Television Listeners (Associazione Italiana Ascoltatori Radio e Televisione, AIART) on Monday had called for the immediate suspension of an advertisement by the Italian company Amica Chips, one that the group said “offends the religious sensitivity of millions of practicing Catholics.” AIART says on its website that its mission is “inspired by Catholic principles.”

In the advertisement, an abbess fills a ciborium with potato chips instead of Eucharistic hosts prior to Mass, after which a priest distributes one of the potato chips to a nun during holy Communion. 

As the communicants are visibly surprised to discover the chips in place of hosts, the abbess looks on unconcernedly as she eats from the bag of crisps. 

The commercial evinced a “lack of respect and creativity,” AIART said this week, arguing that the ad was a “telltale sign of disrespect for users, their cultural and moral identity, and their dignity as persons.”

On Tuesday AIART said on its website that the Institute of Advertising Self-Discipline, Italy’s private advertising standards authority, had “upheld our appeal for the immediate suspension of the commercial.”

The Institute’s Control Committee “has enjoined the parties involved to desist from the broadcast of such a campaign,” AIART reported, with the committee citing regulations that commercials “must not offend moral, civil, and religious convictions.”

Giovanni Baggio, the president of AIART, said in the Tuesday release that the group “​​urge[s] creatives to be more respectful of cultural and religious identities and to work for commercials that are inclusive and that appeal to all users in a way that is careful not to create discomfort and disapproval.”

“Let us work together for a civilization that needs to grow in respect for cultural and religious identities," Baggio said.

Amica Chips did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA on Wednesday morning.

Pope Francis: ‘A Christian without courage’ is ‘a useless Christian’

Pope Francis greets pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 10, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday dedicated his general audience catechesis to the virtue of fortitude, observing that it consists of the ability to live with courage and to confront the inner — and outer — turmoils of life.

“A Christian without courage, who does not turn his own strength to good, who does not bother anyone, is a useless Christian,” the pope declared during the general audience held on a windy, overcast morning in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis receives a baby for a blessing as pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s general audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis receives a baby for a blessing as pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s general audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope opened his reflection by chronicling the development of fortitude, pointing to its philosophical roots in antiquity as well as its development in the Christian tradition.

“Ancient thought did not imagine a man without passions; he would be a stone,” the pope said. The pope linked this idea to Christ, noting that he is not a “diaphanous” or “ascetic” God but instead expressed the full range of human emotions. 

Yet the pope cautioned that passions, while “not necessarily the residue of a sin,” need to be tempered, or “educated, channeled, purified with the water of baptism, or better with the fire of the Holy Spirit.” 

The pope noted that fortitude develops in a twofold manner, being composed of both an inner, or passive, dimension as well as an active, or outer, orientation that allows humans to respond to adversity. 

“Fortitude is first and foremost a victory against ourselves,” the pope said. “Most of the fears that arise within us are unrealistic and do not come true at all.”

Pope Francis blesses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis blesses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“It is better, then, to invoke the Holy Spirit and face everything with patient fortitude: one problem at a time, as we are able, but not alone!” the Holy Father said. “The Lord is with us, if we trust in him and sincerely seek the good. Then in every situation we can count on God’s providence to shield and armor us.”

Reflecting on the second, or passive, characteristic of fortitude, the pope noted that there are also external tribulations to overcome, such as “persecutions” and “external enemies.” 

“Fortitude is a fundamental virtue because it takes the challenge of evil in the world seriously. Some pretend it does not exist, that everything is going fine, that human will is not sometimes blind, that dark forces that bring death do not lurk in history.” 

Highlighting the myriad social problems present in the world today, from war and famine to slavery and the oppression of the poor, the pope said that it is the gift of fortitude that enables human beings to “cry out an emphatic ‘no’ to all of this.” 

At the end of the catechesis, the pope repeated his appeal for peace amid the ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Holy Land. 

“Let us ask the Lord for peace, and may we not forget these brothers and sisters of ours who suffer greatly in these war-torn places,” he said. 

Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the people of Kazakhstan, where more than 100,000 people have been evacuated near the Ural Mountains due to the worst flooding seen in the region in decades.

Foundation releases never-before-seen images of Padre Pio

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States on April 29, 2024, will release 10 never-before-seen photographs of Padre Pio. The foundation’s director, Luciano Lamonarca, discovered the photos when visiting photographer Elia Saleto’s studio. / Credit: Courtesy of the St. Pio Foundation

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States is releasing 10 never-before-seen photographs of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio, on April 29. 

The candid images show the Italian priest celebrating Mass and deep in prayer but also in lighter moments of laughter, rarely captured of the friar. The foundation’s director, Luciano Lamonarca, discovered the photos when visiting photographer Elia Stelluto’s studio.

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States on April 29, 2024, will release 10 never-before-seen photographs of Padre Pio. The candid images show the Italian priest celebrating Mass and deep in prayer but also in lighter moments of laughter. Credit: Courtesy of the Saint Pio Foundation
To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States on April 29, 2024, will release 10 never-before-seen photographs of Padre Pio. The candid images show the Italian priest celebrating Mass and deep in prayer but also in lighter moments of laughter. Credit: Courtesy of the Saint Pio Foundation

EWTN News Vatican correspondent Colm Flynn sat down with Lamonarca in a recent interview for “EWTN News Nightly” to discuss the images. One of the most surprising photos was of Padre Pio smiling. 

“One is nice because [it shows everybody] hey, Padre Pio is smiling. Yes, he was smiling because he was a man. So we always think that Padre Pio was a serious man. We know that faith is also about laughing … sometimes,” Lamonarca said.

The professional opera singer grew up in Italy aware of the giant figure that Padre Pio was in the Catholic Church but didn’t have a particular devotion to the saint until he and his wife faced the great suffering of having a stillborn baby and receiving the news that they would probably not be able to have more children. 

It was then that the couple turned to St. Pio’s intercession and, in the process, began to learn more about his life. 

Lamonarca said he learned about St. Pio’s “simplicity and humility.” 

“He was the grandfather I never had,” he told Flynn.

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States on April 29, 2024, will release 10 never-before-seen photographs of Padre Pio. The candid images include scenes of the Italian priest celebrating Mass and deep in prayer. Credit: Courtesy of the Saint Pio Foundation
To mark its 10th anniversary, the Saint Pio Foundation in the United States on April 29, 2024, will release 10 never-before-seen photographs of Padre Pio. The candid images include scenes of the Italian priest celebrating Mass and deep in prayer. Credit: Courtesy of the Saint Pio Foundation

Lamonarca said he felt such a connection to the saintly friar that he wanted to help bring his story and message to as many people as possible — especially in the United States — so he founded the Saint Pio Foundation.

Today Lamonarca and his wife live in the United States with their son, Sebastian, who was born the year after Lamonarca founded the foundation. As an Italian living in the U.S., he is passionate about strengthening the ties between the two countries in the name of St. Pio.

In addition to the release of all the photos to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the foundation has also produced a documentary drama about Padre Pio, which will air on EWTN later this year.

A flyer advertising the upcoming docudrama "Saint Pio of Pietrelcina" about the life of Padre Pio, which will be released in September 2024 by the St. Pio Foundation. Courtesy of the St. Pio Foundation
A flyer advertising the upcoming docudrama "Saint Pio of Pietrelcina" about the life of Padre Pio, which will be released in September 2024 by the St. Pio Foundation. Courtesy of the St. Pio Foundation

The full interview with Lamonarca on “EWTN News Nightly” can be viewed below.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

Catholic bishops say abortion can ‘never be a fundamental right’ ahead of EU charter vote

A plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. / Credit: MichalPL via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in the European Union on Tuesday reiterated that a right to abortion can never be a “fundamental” right ahead of a Thursday vote related to the insertion of a “right to abortion” in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

A draft resolution set to be voted on April 11 would amend the EU’s charter, which first came into force in 2009, to include the assertion that “everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, to free, informed, full, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to all related health care services without discrimination, including access to safe and legal abortion.”

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), based in Brussels and made up of bishops delegated by the bishops’ conferences of the more than two dozen member states of the European Union, speaks frequently in support of Catholic values in Europe, particularly against abortion and for the protection of persecuted Christians in other countries.

“The promotion of women and their rights is not related to the promotion of abortion,” COMECE said in an April 9 statement.

“We work for a Europe where women can live their maternity freely and as a gift for them and for society and where being a mother is in no way a limitation for personal, social, and professional life. Promoting and facilitating abortion goes in the opposite direction to the real promotion of women and their rights.”

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights cannot include rights that are not recognized by all and are “divisive,” the bishops noted. 

“The right to life is the fundamental pillar of all other human rights, especially the right to life of the most vulnerable, fragile, and defenseless, like the unborn child in the womb of the mother, the migrant, the old, the person with disabilities, and the sick. The Church has always taught this,” the bishops continued. 

The European Parliament is a directly-elected body made up of over 700 legislators from EU member states and tasked with adopting EU legislation. Changing the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to include abortion would require unanimous agreement from all member states, the body says. 

The enshrining of abortion rights in the EU’s rights charter has long been debated. Abortion activists have for years pushed for the modification to union law, with initiatives such as the Simone Veil Pact calling for broad abortion rights throughout the continent. 

In contrast to the highly permissive legal framework found in many U.S. states before and after Roe v. Wade, many European countries restrict abortion after 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy; some European Union member countries also impose waiting periods and other regulations. 

In January 2022, French President Emmanual Macron called upon the European Union to enshrine abortion in law, which Macron said would “give new life to our set of rights” there. In a statement at the time, COMECE expressed “deep concern and opposition” to the idea. COMECE noted at the time that that there is no “right” to abortion enshrined in European or international law.

Earlier this year, France became the first country in Europe to enshrine a “right to abortion” in its constitution.