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Police arrest man suspected of robbing Catholic parishes in fake priest scam

Police in California on April 11, 2024, announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. / Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn; Riverside County Sheriff

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Police in California have announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. 

Multiple Catholic parishes in both New York and Texas over the last several months reported encountering a man who in some cases identified himself as “Father Martin” and who managed to gain access to private parish areas and steal hundreds of dollars. 

The scammer was most recently reported at several New York-area parishes; at one he succeeded in stealing nearly $1,000.

On Thursday of this week, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Riverside, California, announced in a media release that they had apprehended the individual suspected of perpetrating those scams. 

The sheriff’s department said that on Wednesday they had located a car matching the description of the vehicle connected to the robberies. 

“The driver of the vehicle, identified as 45-year-old Malin Rostas, a resident of New York, was taken into custody for an outstanding felony warrant out of Pennsylvania for burglary,” the department said.

Local investigators “discovered Rostas was ‘Father Martin’ and had just attempted to burglarize a local church,” the sheriff’s office said. 

Rostas was booked on the outstanding warrant, police said, and he will additionally be charged with the attempted burglary. 

The sheriff’s office “believes there may be additional burglary victims,” they said. Investigation of the case is ongoing. 

In New York last month, the scammer gained access to a Queens parish as well as the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse on Long Island. He also reportedly attempted the scam at a Brooklyn parish last year.

Last fall, meanwhile, he showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas and also managed to steal several hundred dollars from a Houston parish.

Pope Francis’ approval rating remains high in the U.S. but has slipped since 2021

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square gathered for his weekly general audience on April 3, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

new Pew Research study has found that three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped 8% since 2021. 

In addition, the Pew report suggests that a majority of Catholics in the U.S. want the Church to change its teaching on a number of key issues, including the all-male priesthood, contraception, and so-called same-sex marriage. But broken down by political affiliation, significant differences in opinion emerge. 

“Regardless of their partisan leanings, most U.S. Catholics regard Francis as an agent of change. Overall, about 7 in 10 say the current pope represents a change in direction for the Church, including 42% who say he represents a major change,” the new April 12 Pew report reads. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

Broken down by self-described party affiliation, 35% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners said they have an “unfavorable” view of Pope Francis, compared with just 7% of Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners. Catholic Republicans’ views of Pope Francis have gotten more negative over the past decade, while the views of Catholic Democrats have not changed much, Pew says. 

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” Pew noted.

“Roughly 9 in 10 Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party hold a positive view of him, compared with 63% of Catholics who are Republicans or lean Republican.” 

Pew asked respondents about their opinions on several hot-button issues related to the Church’s teaching and found that the Catholics most likely to be in favor of changing Church teaching largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), and many say they seldom or never attend Mass (56%).

In contrast, Catholics who mostly say the Church should not change its teachings are predominantly Republicans or lean Republican (72%), and many say they attend Mass at least once a week (59%).

Of those surveyed, 83% said they favored a change of the Church’s teaching on contraception; 75% said the Church should allow Catholics to take Communion even if they are unmarried and living with a romantic partner; 69% said priests should be allowed to get married; 64% said women should be allowed to become priests; and 54% said the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. (These findings are not markedly different from those of a decade ago, Pew says.)

Catholics who attend Mass regularly — once a week or more — are far more inclined than those who go less often to say the Church should take a “traditional or conservative” approach on questions about the priesthood and sexuality, Pew says. 

Argentine archbishop found guilty of gender-based violence against nuns

Archbishop Mario Antonio Cargnello of Salta, Argentina. / Credit: Archdiocese of Salta

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A civil court judge in Argentina’s Salta province ruled in favor of the Carmelite sisters in Salta, the provincial capital, in a case of gender-based violence against the local archbishop, Mario Antonio Cargnello, a bishop emeritus, and two priests, ordering them to undergo psychological treatment and training on gender issues in addition to an existing restraining order.

The case involves the Discalced Carmelite sisters of San Bernardo convent, who have been in conflict with the archdiocese for years. In addition, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Nuevo de Julio, Martín de Elizalde, is also among the defendants along with the judicial vicar, Father Loyola Pinto y de Sancristóval, and Father Lucio Ajaya.

According to the Argentine news site Infobae, the issue underlying this situation is the conflict over the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary to María Livia Galliano de Obeid in Salta, a phenomenon that has received support from the women religious but has not yet been approved by the Catholic Church.

The phenomenon began more than two decades ago and led to attributing to Mary the title of “the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,” which is under observation and study by the Church but each year attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Salta.

From the time the apparitions were made public, the Carmelites gave their support to the visionary. However, the Archdiocese of Salta questioned the authenticity of the phenomenon.

In the ruling issued April 5 by Judge Carolina Cáceres Moreno, the underlying issue was not addressed but specifically the object of the complaint: the relationship between the archbishop and the nuns, which reached the maximum point of conflict when the sisters became part of a foundation that gave a sort of legal status to the apparitions.

Consequently, in 2021 the Holy See sent Bishop de Elizalde, accompanied by Sister Isabel Guirov, as apostolic visitors in order to “analyze the problems raised.”

The following year, the Holy See ordered the religious congregation to “not in any way get involved in activities linked to the so-called spiritual work ‘I am the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus’ and ‘I am the Most Sacred Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,’” the name of the spiritual movement formed around the alleged apparitions.

The meetings the sisters had with the archbishop, the apostolic visitors, and other factors are apparently what led the nuns to file a complaint for gender-based violence.

According to Infobae, the judge concluded that the Discalced Carmelites “have suffered acts of gender violence of an institutional scope of a religious, physical, psychological, and financial nature for a period of more than 20 years.”

She also pointed out “the obstruction/delay/refusal in the election of the prioress and the loan of money to the bishop, which hasn’t been returned to date, which constituted psychological and financial gender violence.”

The judge also made reference to “what happened during the apostolic visit carried out by Bishop Martín de Elizalde, in which they suffered psychological gender violence.”

As a result of these events, the judge determined that the four defendants must “undergo psychological treatment with a gender perspective in order to work on patterns of relationships and acts of violence.” Therefore, for six months they must submit monthly proof of compliance to the court. In addition, they must undergo training on gender violence “in order to modify behavioral patterns.”

The judge also enjoined women religious to go on “retreats and/or do spiritual exercises in order to psychologically process the consequences of the gender violence suffered; being required to present the respective proofs to this court on a monthly basis for a period of six months.”

Eduardo Romani, Cargnello’s defense lawyer, criticized the verdict as “flawed” and lacking any foundation in the law. He has already filed an appeal.

“We are facing a totally flawed process where the basic norms established for gender issues were not met. In our understanding the ruling exceeds the powers granted to Ms. Judge Cáceres Moreno, by which she clearly failed to comply with her duties,” Romani told Nuevo Diario de Salta, stressing that the judge’s decision doesn’t comply with Law 7888, which deals with protection against gender violence.

For the lawyer, these alleged errors make it clear that his client was not fairly treated nor in accordance with the law and that he was prejudged “from the beginning of the case,” pointing out that there “was a marked lack of respect on the part of the magistrate, who at all times addressed in a derogatory manner the highest authority of the Church in the province of Salta, something she did not do with the rest of those involved in this trial.”

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

‘Irena’s Vow’: The true story of a Polish Catholic nurse who hid Jews during the Holocaust

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in the new film "Irena's Vow." / Credit: Quiver Distribution

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new film depicting the incredible true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic nurse who risked her own life to hide Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II, debuts in theaters across the country April 15-16. 

“Irena’s Vow” is told through the eyes of strong-willed 19-year-old Irena Gut. When Gut is promoted to be the housekeeper in the home of a highly respected Nazi officer after learning that the Jewish ghetto is about to be liquidated, she makes it her mission to help the Jewish workers.

Gut decides to shelter them in the safest place she can think of — the basement of the German major’s house. Over the next two years, she uses her creativity and quick thinking to keep her friends safe until she is able to help them escape. 

Actress Sophie Nélisse portrays Gut in the film. She and Jeannie Smith, Irena’s real-life daughter, spoke to CNA about what they hope viewers will take away from the film and what it’s like for Smith to share and watch her mother’s story on the big screen.

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution
Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution

“I immediately fell in love with Irena’s story because I felt it was just so relevant to this day, and I think there’s so much to learn from her story and a tale that brings a lot of hope, I find, despite all the horrific events,” Nélisse said. 

As a Catholic, Smith shared that her mother’s faith “100% played a role” in the work she did to save the lives of Jews. 

“She was raised that people mattered and that the differences in people did not matter,” she said. “They were all human beings and part of one human family and stood under God created by him.”

Smith added that Gut had “childlike trust.”

“[God] would open a path and she would walk in it and then it was up to him to take care of her, and her job was just to do what she was supposed to do — to follow. She kept that her whole life. It just was part of her. It wasn’t even something she had to think about,” Smith said.

Gut had no intention of ever sharing her story when she came to the United States, Smith explained. It wasn’t until she crossed paths with a “Holocaust denier” that she opened up about her experience. 

“She was faced with a Holocaust denier, over the phone, a young man who was just doing a report in school about the propaganda of it all,” Smith recalled. “That’s when she realized that if she didn’t start talking, history could easily repeat itself.”

From then on, her mother slowly began talking, but it was evident to Smith “how hard it was for her, especially that first time, and I stayed away from the subject.” 

“It wasn’t until I went with her to a school — I was almost 20, [and] I took her to a school so she could talk to kids — that I not only heard her story but saw the saw amazing reaction … and I thought, ‘Man, this story is powerful.’”

Gut received several recognitions for the work she did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, including being honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust Commission. This title is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jewish people during WWII. She also received a Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among other recognitions.

One that particularly meant a lot to Gut was the papal blessing she received in 1995 from Pope John Paul II for her sacrifice. Smith explained that her mother had a very painful experience when she went to confession, after enduring sexual abuse and being forced to have sexual relations with the German major.

Unable to confess to her usual priest one day, Gut went to a young priest who Smith said was “more anti-Semitic and told her she didn’t have a part in the Catholic Church, which broke her heart.”

“So [there was] this papal blessing where Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope, sent a delegation from the Vatican, and we had a ceremony in a Jewish synagogue in Irvine, California,” she said. “So the mixture was amazing, and it was just coming home for her. It meant a lot.”

Nélisse pointed out that Irena Gut’s life can inspire everyone. 

“I think we as individuals think that we can’t really make a difference or that we’re too small to really have an impact, and I think that she’s the perfect example that — I mean, she obviously did heroic things — [but] by doing tiny things that seem so simple, it could be smiling to someone or helping them with a bag or complimenting them, it does have a ripple effect,” Nélisse said.

Smith added that she has heard from kids who were thinking about taking their lives by suicide, but one day someone sat with them at lunch and that changed their minds. She hopes that her mother’s story reminds people that “we are all able to do amazing things.”

“People will call my mom a hero or somebody who’s special, and she wouldn’t have liked that and I don’t either, because you label somebody that way and it gives them permission to do things that you can’t, [but] the bottom line is we are all able to do amazing things,” she said.

Myanmar priest shot while celebrating Mass amid violent conflict 

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A Myanmar priest was shot this week while celebrating Mass in the state of Kachin, according to media reports, with the assault coming amid ongoing violent conflict between the military junta and resistance forces in the region. 

Masked assailants shot Father Paul Khwi Shane Aung as he celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in the town of Mohnyin in the northern region of Myanmar.

The priest “was rushed to a hospital in Mohnyin and was later moved to a hospital in Myitkyina,” according to UCA News.

The reason for the attack is unknown and the shooters are reportedly still at large. Aung is listed on the Myitkyina Catholic Diocese’s website as a priest in the Mohnyin Zone. He was ordained in 2013. 

In February, the aid group Christian Solidarity International warned of a rise in violence against the persecuted Christian minority in Myanmar, with an advocate warning that ethnic-minority Christians there “are subjected to cruel ethnic-cleansing campaigns.”

Since a military coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, Myanmar has for years been wracked by violent conflict.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Burmese bishops’ conference, in 2021 urged Catholics in Myanmar to share God’s mercy amid the suffering caused by the military coup there.

That year the prelate noted that Myitkyina had been the victim of a “great tragedy” of “killing the innocents in the streets.” 

“We need the light of God’s mercy in Myanmar,” Bo said at the time. 

The shooting of Father Aung comes just weeks after the fatal shooting of a Baptist pastor, also in Kachin, while the pastor worked at his computer shop. 

Polish bishops launch ‘day of prayer’ for unborn after lawmakers advance pro-abortion bills

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (front, center), leader of the Law and Justice political party (PiS) in Poland, takes part in the voting on four draft projects on abortion rights at the Polish Parliament (SEJM) on April 12, 2024, in Warsaw, Poland. / Credit: Omar Marques/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Poland are asking the faithful to make Sunday a “day of prayer” for unborn children after the country’s lawmakers advanced four pro-abortion bills in the heavily Catholic country on Friday.

“I warmly encourage you to make the coming Sunday a day of special prayer in defense of the unborn,” Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda, the chair of the Polish Episcopal Conference, said in a statement.

“I ask that in all churches in Poland, at every holy Mass, we pray for this intention,” Wojda said.

Lawmakers on Friday advanced four pro-abortion bills to be considered by a special committee in the Sejm, which is Poland’s lower legislative body. This was the first major action on abortion taken by the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk after voters ousted the Law and Justice party from leadership of the country. 

Two of the bills would legalize abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy, which would be a sharp departure from the country’s strong pro-life laws. Under current law, abortion is only legal when the mother’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy occurred from illegal sexual activity, such as rape or incest.

A third bill would decriminalize abortion. Although women who procure abortions do not face criminal penalties under current law, anyone who assists a woman in carrying out an abortion could land up to three years in prison. The proposal would eliminate those criminal penalties for abortionists and other accomplices.

The fourth bill, which was proposed by the center-right Third Way party, would maintain most of the current abortion laws but expand legal abortion to instances in which the unborn child has a fetal abnormality.

In his call for a day of prayer, Wojda referenced his “Statement on Respect for Human Life in the Prenatal Phase,” which he published on Thursday amid the ongoing abortion debate in Poland.

“Life is a gift of God and as such is an inalienable right of every human being; therefore, it must be protected and supported at every stage of its development,” the archbishop said. “Respect for life, which belongs to the most important values, is one of the fundamental duties of every human being.”

The annual March for Life in Poland is also scheduled to take place in Warsaw, the country’s capital, on Sunday. The pro-life demonstration routinely draws thousands of people to the city.

A long abortion debate ahead

Several left-wing lawmakers in Poland cheered the result of the vote on Friday, but other members of Tusk’s coalition government took a more nuanced approach, which suggests that it’s still uncertain whether the proposals will make their way through the committee or whether they would pass the Sejm.

“We got it!!” Robert Biedroń, a member of the Polish New Left, said in a post on X

“The Sejm voted on the abortion [proposals] prepared by the Left and referred them to a special committee in the Sejm,” Biedroń said. “This is good news, especially for Polish women who have been fighting for their rights for 30 years. We keep working!”

Sejm Marshal Szymon Hołownia, a member of the center-right Third Way and chair of the legislative body, did not indicate that he would vote for the proposal. Rather, in a post on X, he said the chamber’s decision to advance the bills was based on respect for the democratic process.

“We promised to stop arguing and we kept our word,” Hołownia said. 

“We believe that the greatest chance for change is provided by a referendum, but we voted for all the [proposals],” he added. “We did it out of respect for democracy and concern for the durability of the coalition. Now we leave the fate of these bills in the hands of the committee members.”

Third Way has not formally endorsed the plan to legalize abortion through 12 weeks of pregnancy. Rather, the party’s official position has been that the Polish people should decide the country’s abortion laws via a national referendum. 

The country is governed by a three-prong coalition. The New Left and Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition have both endorsed the plan to legalize abortion through 12 weeks. Third Way, which is part of that coalition, has not formally endorsed the plan. The conservative Law and Justice and the Confederation Liberty parties, which are in the minority, are opposed to the proposals. 

Dariusz Matecki, a member of Law and Justice, handed out figurines of an unborn child that show the child’s development by 10 weeks of pregnancy — a time in which the child could be aborted under the proposals. 

“This educational model raises awareness of what a 10-week-old unborn baby looks like,” Matecki said in a post on X. “... Many [members of Parliament] from Tusk’s coalition reacted with simple aggression and vulgarity.”

Poland and Malta are the only two countries in the European Union that have strong pro-life protections for unborn children.

Former porn actress embraces Catholic faith after trip to Italy that changed her life

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year on March 30, 2024. / Credit: Miss B Converted in X

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church this Easter, leaving behind her life of “countless sins” and embracing the Catholic faith.

Solstad told ChurchPop that prior to her conversion, she led a life full of promiscuity and self-obsession, which spiked when a “recruiter” reached out to her.

“I was drinking more heavily and started a blog about my hedonistic behavior. The blog caught the attention of a successful sex worker, who reached out to me and essentially recruited me,” she said. “She showed me how to get set up and introduced me to some important people in the industry who could help me make as much money as possible. I had no moral compass and was all about myself anyway.”

Solstad, who now goes by Miss B Converted on X and presents herself as “a repentant sinner who converted to Christ; former porn actress and producer,” announced on Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, her decision to “quit sex work. To repent of my countless sins. To give up my life of sin, wealth, vice, and vain self-obsession.”

She shared with her followers that her decision came after a trip to Rome and Assisi in Italy, where touched by the beauty of the art she saw in the churches she visited and the theology it represented, she experienced “what can only be described as a life-altering conversion.”

“This is a humbling experience and one that I know may be mocked or questioned by many. I am giving up all my income and turning my life over to Christ. I am leaving behind my life of rampant sin, vice, pride, debauchery, vanity, and lies to — with God’s grace — live a life of truth, beauty, obedience to God’s divine will, virtue, and humility,” she wrote on X. 

Solstad, who had an account on various pornographic content platforms, said that she had been preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for some time and that she planned to be confirmed and receive her first Communion during the Easter Vigil this Holy Week. She made her first confession on Spy Wednesday.

“Thank you, Jesus,” she prayed on X, “for not giving up on such a wretched sinner. Thank you Blessed Mary, Mother of God, for your immense love and consolation.”

The young convert added that “God’s forgiveness and mercy is real. If someone as broken and sinful as me can be redeemed and converted, there is no doubt anyone reading this can also be saved by his divine mercy.”

The Virgin Mary and St. Clare of Assisi

Solstad was baptized as a Lutheran when she was 8 years old and considered herself at least “nominally Christian,” she explained April 5 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

However, during college she lived a life of “drunkenness, drugs, and promiscuity.” Experiencing a tragedy in her life, she prayed hard but, she said, “I felt like God had turned his back on me and so I did the same to him,” Solstad commented to ChurchPop.

In 2023 she traveled to Italy, where she always noticed the crucifixes in the churches she visited. However in Sorrento, she said, “I noticed the Virgin Mary on street corners all over the place. All of a sudden, I felt like Mary was calling me in the strangest way. Each time I entered a church, I felt compelled to seek her out.”

At Assisi, she said, “I was impressed by St. Francis, but I was moved to tears by St. Clare. I knelt by her tomb and again asked for assistance. I felt like St. Clare was actually present with me and that she was going to take all the pain and anxiety from me and somehow give it to God,” Solstad told ACI Prensa.

After that experience and returning home, “I quickly realized that I didn’t like what my life was like,” she said. “I hated my job. I felt disgusting and guilty for the work I had been doing for a decade. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things that I had done and all the lives I negatively affected through pornography. I felt grotesque.”

Solstad soon looked for a priest and spoke with him and his secretary, who told her “God loves you,” words that were like “a waterfall of light” and made her long “to be someone better. I wanted to be clean, I wanted to be happy and a great example of God’s love.”

While in RCIA, she said, she had to overcome some anti-Catholic prejudice she inherited from the Lutheran background, but she diligently researched everything “and I always came to the realization that what the Catholic Church was teaching was true.”

“I have honestly fallen in love with the Catholic Church,” she continued,  “There is such richness in the faith. The Holy Trinity, the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary the Mother of God, all the inspiring, heroic, and beautiful saints, the sacraments, the history, the tradition, everything! But what has touched me the most is the Eucharist … something so surprising for me with Jesus physically present.”

Entry into Catholic Church, first Communion

On April 3, Solstad shared on her social media some photos of her first Communion at the Easter Vigil on March 30.

“These five seconds will forever be emblazoned in my heart, mind, and soul. This is the best moment of my life,” the young woman wrote. 

“My life has changed for the better so much during these past several months, but it pales in comparison to how much this moment of receiving my first Eucharist permanently transformed me,” she recounted.

“I will never be the same again and I thank God for this undeniable fact. I am so in love with you, Jesus. Never allow me to move even one inch from your most Sacred Heart,” she wrote.

Solstad concluded her post with the first part of the Magnificat, the prayer the Virgin Mary exclaimed when she was pregnant with Jesus and met her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation,” she wrote, quoting Mary’s response to Elizabeth as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. 

Solstad’s sole source of income now is from her religious goods store, which can be found here.

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

Germany thwarts terror plot: Teenage suspects reportedly planned attacks on churches

German police cars (file image) / Mike Baumeister via Unsplah (CC0)

CNA Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

German authorities have reported the arrest of four suspects allegedly planning terror attacks in Germany. According to Bild newspaper, the group intended to target Christians attending church services and police stations with knives and Molotov cocktails.

The Düsseldorf public prosecutor’s office revealed that the suspects, who are between 15 and 16 years old, were apprehended over the Easter weekend.

“The suspects are strongly suspected of having planned an Islamist-motivated terrorist attack and of having agreed to commit it,” authorities stated, as reported by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The arrests were conducted following an investigation by the Public Prosecutor General’s Office and the anti-terror unit, ZenTer NRW. North Rhine-Westphalia’s interior minister, Herbert Reul, detailed the case at a press conference in Düsseldorf on Thursday, noting that the suspected terror plans were “quickly and purposefully thwarted.”

Reul mentioned that it took only five days from the initial findings by German security authorities to the arrest. “We succeeded in preventing worse things from happening,” he stated, as quoted by FAZ newspaper.

These arrests are not isolated incidents. In November 2023, two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were arrested on suspicion of terrorism. They reportedly sympathized with the Islamic State and were believed to have planned a Christmas market attack using a vehicle, CNA Deutsch reported.

In December and early January, several of Europe’s most renowned cathedrals, including those in Cologne and Vienna, were on high alert due to concerns about a planned attack for New Year’s Eve. Authorities detained but later released three suspects; the men were reportedly members of the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), the same group linked to the March 25 Moscow concert hall attack.

In July 2023, German police arrested seven members of an alleged Islamist terror cell in the same region. According to public broadcaster ZDF, similar arrests were made simultaneously in the Netherlands. The men of Tajik and Turkmen origin reportedly traveled to Western Europe via Ukraine.

Pope Francis makes surprise visit to 200 children for catechism in Rome suburb

Pope Francis meets with a group of 200 children studying catechism and in a relaxed manner answered some of their questions on April 11, 2024, at St. John Mary Vianney Parish in Borghesiana, Italy. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis made a special “getaway” from the Vatican yesterday afternoon and met with a group of 200 children at a parish in metro Rome.

A brief statement released by the Holy See’s Press Office said that the Holy Father went to St. John Mary Vianney Parish in Borghesiana, east of the Italian capital.

There Pope Francis met with a group of 200 children studying catechism and in a relaxed manner answered some of their questions.

Pictures from the meeting posted on social media show the Holy Father happily greeting the children and even giving them playful “high fives.” 

According to the Dicastery for Evangelization, for approximately one hour, the “pope catechized with the children.”

Responding to their questions, he offered a brief catechesis on the topic of the prayer of thanksgiving, emphasizing that it is one of the most important in the Christian life.

“It’s important to give thanks for everything. For example, if you enter a person’s house and don’t say thank you, or don’t say hello, is that good? The first word is ‘thank you,’ so the second is ‘permission,’” he told the children at the parish in suburban Borghesiana, located in the eastern part of the diocese.

“The third word is ‘forgiveness,’” the pope continued. “Is a person who never asks for forgiveness good? It’s difficult to ask for forgiveness, sometimes shame and pride go with it. But it’s important when you say I’m sorry a lot. Three words: thank you, permission, sorry.”

Pope Francis meets with a group of 200 children studying catechism and in a relaxed manner answered some of their questions on April 11, 2024, at St. John Mary Vianney Parish in the Borghesiana area of Rome, Italy. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with a group of 200 children studying catechism and in a relaxed manner answered some of their questions on April 11, 2024, at St. John Mary Vianney Parish in the Borghesiana area of Rome, Italy. Credit: Vatican Media

Next, Pope Francis asked the children: “But do you pray? How do you pray? What can you say to the Lord?” One of the children said that he and his family pray before eating.

“He said something important. But do you know that there are so many children who don’t have food? Do I thank the Lord for giving me food? Do I thank you for giving me a family?” he asked.

The last question touched on the topic of faith. “But are you Christians?” Pope Francis asked. “Do you have faith? Let’s say it together. Thank you, Lord, for giving me faith.”

During the exchange, one of the children’s most emotional questions was from a 10-year-old named Alice: “How can I thank the Lord in my illness?”

Pope Francis meets with a group of 200 children studying catechism on April 11, 2024, at St. John Mary Vianney Parish in the Borghesiana area of Rome, Italy. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with a group of 200 children studying catechism on April 11, 2024, at St. John Mary Vianney Parish in the Borghesiana area of Rome, Italy. Credit: Vatican Media

“Even in dark moments, we have to thank the Lord, because he gives us the patience to tolerate difficulties. Let’s say it together: Thank you, Lord, for giving us the strength to tolerate pain,” the pontiff said. The children also asked him why there was death and loneliness.

“We must always thank him, at all times. I give you some advice,” Pope Francis said. “Before going to sleep, think: ‘What can I thank the Lord for today?’ Give thanks,” he encouraged the children.

At the end of the meeting, the children together with the Holy Father recited a “Prayer of Thanksgiving” composed for the occasion, which will serve as a reminder of an extraordinary moment in their lives.

Before leaving, Pope Francis, greeting and joking with them, gave each of the children a chocolate egg.

To the priests and the 20 catechists present he gave the first six volumes published in the series “Notes on Prayer.”

What is the School of Prayer?

This is the pontiff’s first meeting for the so-called “School of Prayer,” an initiative promoted by the Vatican as part of this Year of Prayer in preparation for the Jubilee Year 2025.

As part of the project, Pope Francis will hold different meetings “with some different categories of people to pray together, including some forms of prayer.”

As Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, these prayer meetings “will depend on the commitments of Pope Francis and will possibly include people and families from the Diocese of Rome.”

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

Papal Foundation announces nearly $15 million in global grants, humanitarian aid

Pope Francis blesses an unborn baby during the Papal Foundation's annual pilgrimage in Rome on Friday, April 12, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

The Papal Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that provides funding for Catholic projects around the world, announced on Friday the distribution of nearly $15 million in grants, scholarships, and charitable aid “to care for those in need and grow the Catholic faith around the world.”

The group said in a press release that it would be distributing nearly $10 million in 2024 alone to more than 100 projects and recipients in several dozen countries. Among the beneficiaries include efforts at “providing for basic needs such as access to clean water,” “constructing schools and renovating classrooms,” and “translating Church teachings for evangelization.”

The money will also go toward “restoring Churches, convents, and seminaries in desperate need of repairs,” “providing students in remote areas with transportation to further their education,” and “building health care facilities.”

The foundation was founded 35 years ago in response to a wish from Pope John Paul II. Stewards with the organization donate their personal money to support projects specifically identified and requested by the pope, who is made aware of needs through his nuncios, or ambassadors, around the world.

Pope Francis meets with members of the Papal Foundation on Friday, April 12, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with members of the Papal Foundation on Friday, April 12, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The Papal Foundation describes itself as “the only charitable organization in the United States that is exclusively dedicated to fulfilling the requests of the Holy Father for the needs of the Catholic Church.” On Friday the organization said it would also be providing more than $800,000 via its St. John Paul II scholarship program, which “will enable more than 100 priests, women religious, and seminarians to study in Rome.”

The Holy Father met with the Papal Foundation on Friday during the group’s annual pilgrimage to Rome this week. The organization was scheduled to be in Rome from April 9–13. 

During the audience at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis told the group’s members that their work “enhances the integral development of so many, including the poor, refugees, immigrants, and nowadays the increasingly large numbers of those affected by war and violence.”

“Through these various worthy initiatives,” the pope said, “you continue to help the successors of Peter to build up many local Churches and care for large numbers of the less fortunate, thus fulfilling the mandates entrusted to the apostle by Our Lord.”

David Savage, the group’s executive director, on Friday described it as a “a blessing to support this mission of cooperation and collaboration, bringing together laity, clergy, and Church hierarchy to address priorities identified by the Holy Father and care for his flock around the globe.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the chairman of the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees, on Friday quoted the Gospel of Luke, saying: “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”

“In a society where the divide between rich and poor continues to grow, stewards of St. Peter of the Papal Foundation recognize their responsibility to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first,” the prelate said.