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What to do about Halloween? Catholic moms – and an exorcist – weigh in

Denver, Colo., Oct 31, 2020 / 04:08 am (CNA).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick-or-treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew it would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize,” the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a Church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off-limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”

 

This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.

Ahead of beatification, priests reflect on McGivney's priesthood, and the miracle he prayed for

New Haven, Conn., Oct 30, 2020 / 09:50 pm (CNA).-  

A prayer vigil for priests on the eve of the beatification of Ven. Michael McGivney took place Friday, October 30, at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, the parish where McGivney served as a priest and founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.

The vigil featured reflections from the father of a boy whose miraculous healing has been attributed to McGivney’s prayers.

The prayer vigil was structured around three lessons: Fr. McGivney as a parish priest of action and courage; Fr. McGivney as a model of co-responsible leadership; and Fr. McGivney’s intercession. Each lesson featured a Bible reading, a story about McGivney’s ministry that related to the theme of the lesson, and a reflection.  

The first lesson included a passage of McGivney’s remarks from a Mass he celebrated for a condemned prisoner, Chip Smith. Smith had been sentenced to death for murdering a police police chief while in a drunken state, and McGivney met him while ministering to prisoners at the jail in New Haven. McGivney became Smith’s spiritual director, and was with him on the day of his execution.

McGivney’s prison ministry was just one of the ministries he undertook as a diocesan priest, said Msgr. Joseph Donnelly. Donnelly provided the reflection for the first lesson.

The life of a diocesan priest “is characterized largely by activity for the sake of the Kingdom of God in which God’s presence is undeniably real,” said Donnelly.

“It draws us to prayer. It calls us to conversion of heart. It strengthens us in holiness,” he said. “Moreover, it strengthens our experience of the bond we share with God and with those we are called to serve.”

“We belong to them, they belong to us, and together we belong to God,” he said. He asked the priests present if this sentiment sounded familiar, and asked if “our diocesan brother,” McGivney, would agree.

“As I have read and reflected upon the story of his very active life and pastoral ministry, I recognize in Father Michael McGivney’s experience as a parish priest a familiar kinship in serving this diocesan Church,” said Donnelly. He said in particular, two examples from McGivney’s life stood out as examples of how he lived out his vocation as a diocesan priest: the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and his dedication to Smith’s pastoral needs in prison.

The Knights of Columbus was founded as a fraternal and charitable organization initially to assist widows and orphans, many of whom were in McGivney’s own flock.

“Prayerful compassion was at the root of his pastoral response to organize a means of offering much needed support to such families in his parish and beyond,” said Donnelly. “With his
vision, skills, energy, and prayer he led the first Knights to establish this global fraternal service order.”

McGivney visited Smith in prison for over a year, and during that time Smith returned to the practice of the Catholic faith.

“As his trial and various legal procedures continued, his conversations with Father McGivney touched something deep in both of them,” said Donnelly. “They both appear to have been profoundly affected by their time together.”

“Who of us has not had similar pastoral relationships that had similar effect on us while at the same time offering us a deeper and richer insight into the meaning of our vocation as diocesan priests,” asked Donnelly. “It strikes me that Father McGivney poured out his life for those he served.”

 

Send in your prayer intentions that will be left at the tomb of #FrMcGivney

Do so here: https://t.co/iIlVpY5sBS pic.twitter.com/LOEoTRj21t

— Knights of Columbus (@KofC) October 30, 2020  

Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell, O.P., spoke about McGivney’s charity, noting that the priest cared for others with “unusual intensity and unstinting self-sacrifice.”

“The climactic expression of his priestly charity was the founding of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal benevolent society entirely based on the virtue of charity,” said O’Donnell. “Charity among the members, brother to brother; charity within the Church in collaboration with the priest; finally, an unbounded charity towards all those in need, regardless of race or creed.”

O’Donnell said McGivney collaborated with lay Catholics in order to tackle the issues facing the Church at that time.

“This spirit of cooperation and a certain sense of equality between priest and layman must be considered a unique aspect of McGivney’s spirituality,” he said. “ He spoke of his fellow Knights as ‘friends’ and had an ability to treat them as such without diminishing the ‘apartness’ of his priestly consecration and identity.”

McGivney’s spirituality, said O’Donnell, was centered on “a reverence for the human person; the dignity of work; and the sacredness of marriage and family.”

Priests today can look to McGivney for an example of how to persevere through difficulty and a culture that is hostile to the Church, said O’Donnell. Now, more than ever, priests “need one another for encouragement and strength to cling to the high ideal of holiness in the midst of real life that so inspired Father McGivney.”

“As inheritors of McGivney’s wisdom we must never forget our need to collaborate with the lay faithful,” said O’Donnell. “They have much to teach us as they look to us for strong spiritual leadership.”

 

Thank you for everyone who joined the prayer vigil. Vivat Jesus! #FrMcGivney https://t.co/pDVcKmNCFq pic.twitter.com/RkucPqDopb

— Knights of Columbus (@KofC) October 31, 2020  

The third lesson of the night was unlike the others, as it featured not an excerpt from McGivney’s life on earth, but a testimony of his intercession from heaven.

Daniel Schachle, the father of Michael McGivney Schacle, discussed the miraculous intervention of McGivney in saving his unborn son in utero from a fatal condition.

When his wife Michelle found out that her 13th child not only had Down syndrome, but fetal hydrops--an uncommon, typically fatal condition where fluid builds up around the vital organs of an unborn child--she and her husband appealed to Fr. Michael McGivney for his prayers. 

The unborn Schachle was given “no hope” for survival due to the combination of fetal hydrops and Down syndrome, and the Schachles were told that continuing the pregnancy could harm Michelle. Out of desperation, and what Daniel described as his “agony in the garden” moment, the Schachles decided to ask their friends to pray for the intercession of McGivney.

In the meantime, Daniel explained, the family had won a trip through the Knights of Columbus to go to Fatima. While they did not tell many people on the trip about their need for a miracle, they continued to pray for McGivney’s intercession. Michelle had a sonogram done before leaving for Europe, which showed fetal hydrops.

After returning from Europe, Michelle had another ultrasound--this time, showing no fetal hydrops. The doctor who read the ultrasound, who was not Michelle’s regular doctor, was unaware that Michelle had previously been told her unborn child had “no hope,” and outlined the medical team that would assist with the birth.

“Michelle told her we were changing the name to Michael McGivney and why,” said Daniel. “The doctor was so happy as her dad was a knight.”

After extensive medical examination, the unexplained healing of Michael was decreed a miracle that arose through the intercession of Fr. McGivney. Pope Francis gave final approval to McGivney’s first miracle in May.

Schachle said his family was “humbled by this extra grace from heaven,” and how God is now using his son’s story to bless the Church with the beatification of McGivney. 

“Reverend Fathers, Our Founder is proof that one good priest can make a difference for the whole world,” said Schacle. “Thank you for being willing to follow in his footsteps. And like the lay men with whom he founded the Knights, count on my support and that of all the Knights, to continue to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a much-loved, but broken world.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, reflecting on Schachle’s testimony, described McGivney as someone whose priestly ministry has a “surprisingly contemporary cast.”

“For that reason, we who are diocesan bishops and priests, as well as those who trying to live the Christian life and the ideals of the Knights of Columbus, can rightly claim Fr. McGivney as the parish priest of our souls,” said Lori.

“We can do so because he lived a life not unlike our own, but he also did so with extraordinary holiness, the kind of heroic virtue and holiness that lies within our reach.”

McGivney is set to be beatified on Saturday, in Hartford, and will be known as “Blessed Michael McGivney.” Beatification is the step before sainthood.

 

Brooklyn auxiliary bishop retires, remains as local pastor

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn announced Friday the retirement of Octavio Cisneros from the office of auxiliary bishop. The Cuban-born bishop will remain in ministry as pastor at a local parish.

Cisneros had turned 75 in July. Diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation to the pope upon reaching age 75. Pope Francis accepted Cisneros’ resignation Friday.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn voiced gratitude for Cisneros.

“I am grateful to Bishop Cisneros for his willingness to serve and was honored to ordain him and consecrate him as an auxiliary Bishop on June 6, 2006,” said DiMarzio in a statement.

“He will remain as pastor at the Church of the Holy Child Jesus & St. Benedict Joseph Labre in Richmond Hill, Queens, and will continue to serve as Vicar for Hispanic Concerns. We thank Bishop Cisneros for his years of Diocesan leadership and are grateful he will continue to serve the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.”

In an Oct. 30 statement, Cisneros expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to serve as a bishop and for the dedication of Pope Francis to the clergy.

“I am most grateful to Pope Benedict and Bishop DiMarzio for giving me the fullness of the priesthood in 2006 so that I can help minister as auxiliary bishop, which has been rewarding and fulfilling for me,” he said.

“I am thankful to Pope Francis for his continued support of our bishops. He is an inspiration for all of us. I have lived a very happy priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn for 49 years and look forward to continuing my priestly ministry.”

Cisneros was born in 1945 in Las Villas, Cuba. During high school in 1961, he moved to the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, an undercover Catholic program that brought 14,000 unaccompanied minors to the U.S. from Cuba as political refugees during the rise of Fidel Castro.

In 1971, he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He served at several local parishes before being appointed as the rector of Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston and the Episcopal Vicar in the Brooklyn East Vicariate. Pope John Paul II named Cisneros a Prelate of Honor in 1988.

Cisneros worked with the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy and the Pastors' Advisory Committee, the Northeast Catholic Center for Hispanics, and the “Instituto Nacional Hispano de Liturgia.” He has served as the president of the Conference of Diocesan Directors for the Spanish Apostolate and on the board of governors for the Immaculate Conception Seminary.

On October 30, Cisneros celebrated a special Mass with the Cuban-American community at Our Lady of Sorrows parish. There, he presented a statue of Our Lady of Charity to Pastor Manuel de Jesús Rodríguez.

 

Despite concerns raised, New Zealand voters back assisted suicide

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- A strong majority of New Zealand voters approved the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia for the terminally ill Oct. 30. Foes of legalization said many voters appeared confused about the measure’s far-reaching effects and warned that the move will have consequences for the vulnerable.

The nationwide referendum passed with support from 65% of voters on Friday. It allows terminally ill persons who are believed to have six months or fewer to live to be euthanized or to take a lethal dose of prescribed drugs themselves, on the condition that two doctors agree the person is well-informed. Patients are eligible if they show significant, ongoing decline in physical ability and experience “unbearable suffering that cannot be eased.” The law will take effect Nov. 6, 2021.

Legalization opponent Euthanasia-Free NZ said some 80% of adult New Zealanders appeared to misunderstand the referendum. Only 20% knew the act would not make it legal to turn off life support machines. Such a practice is not illegal under current law.

“It seems that most New Zealanders voted for an end-of-life choice that is in fact already legal,” Renée Joubert, executive officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ, said Oct. 30.

Surveys indicated similar confusion about eligibility criteria. Only 29% knew that terminally ill people who have depression or another mental illness would be allowed to seek euthanasia. Only 13% of adults knew that the act does not require an independent witness.

The New Zealand law does not require a waiting period before a lethal dose is prescribed, nor does it require a competency test.

In November 2019 the New Zealand Parliament approved the bill, officially called “The End of Life Choice Bill,” by a vote of 69-51. The bill had the backing of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of the ruling New Zealand Labour Party and her main rival, Judith Collins of the center-right National Party, the New York Times reports. Voters had to approve the act in referendum in order for it to become law.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed those with severe or incurable conditions who were not terminally ill to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide as well.

Joubert objected that parliament voted down more than 100 amendments that “could have made this law safer” and said the law lacks safeguards that have been standard in U.S. law.

“It’s disappointing that the New Zealand public were generally uninformed about the details of the End of Life Choice Act,” she said.

When New Zealand's National Party was governing the country, a parliamentary study on assisted suicide and euthanasia proposals concluded that “the public would be endangered” by legalization of the practices.

In 2017, the National Party-controlled Parliament's health committee said submissions on the proposal “cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion.”

“Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended,” the committee said.

In 2018 the Catholic bishops of New Zealand published resources against assisted suicide legislation and encouraged Catholics to oppose legalization. The Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand bishops-founded Catholic bioethics center, posted resources on Church teaching on euthanasia and assisted suicide to their website and social media pages ahead of the referendum.

Ahead of the election, the Nathaniel Centre said the act is “badly drafted and seriously flawed.”

“It will expose many New Zealanders to the risk of a premature death at a time when they are most vulnerable. Whatever one’s views about the idea of euthanasia, it is not compassion to vote for a dangerous law,” the center said. “The group most at risk if we legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide are those vulnerable to the suggestion they would be ‘better off dead’ – our elders, disabled people, and people with depression and mental illness who find themselves fitting the eligibility criteria.”

The center cited the Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders, a group of over 200 lawyers, including some supporters of euthanasia, opposed the act on the grounds it is too broadly drafted, “dangerous,” and “broader in its scope and riskier than comparable laws overseas.”

Other opponents of the act included the New Zealand Medical Association, Hospice New Zealand, Palliative Care Nurses and Palliative Medicine Doctors.

David Seymour, the lawmaker who sponsored the act, praised its passage as “a great day,” the New York Times reports. In his view, the vote made New Zealand “a kinder, more compassionate, more humane society.”

Pope Francis has on multiple occasions spoken out against assisted suicide and euthanasia, both of which are “morally unacceptable” according to Church teaching. In 2016, Pope Francis told medical professionals that assisted suicide and euthanasia are part of the “throwaway culture” that offers people “false compassion” and treats human persons like a problem.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada and Colombia. Doctor-assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. Some U.S. states have legalized assisted suicide.

Also on New Zealand's ballot was a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use, allow adults age 20 and over to buy cannabis from licensed outlets, and allow adults to grow the plant at home. Advertising and smoking the drug in public would be banned. That proposal failed by a vote of 53% to 46%, according to preliminary results.

The country already has legalized medical marijuana.

Critics of the recreational use legalization warned that it would make the drug more accessible to children, Bloomberg News reports. They said cannabis is a serious drug harmful to mental health, especially among adolescents.

For their part, advocates said legalization would weaken the power of drug trafficking gangs, regulate quality and raise awareness of health risk through the use of warning labels. They said indigenous Maori people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for the drug.

Some figures suggest that New Zealanders are among the biggest users of marijuana in the world, with 80% having tried the drug by age 20 and 12% reporting use of the drug in the past year.

Pope Francis criticized drug use and legalization in a 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” the pope said. “To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem. Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”

 

French police make second arrest in Nice attack

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- An unnamed French official told the New York Times on Friday that police have arrested a 47-year-old man in connection with a deadly terrorist attack inside Notre-Dame de Nice.

The attacker on Oct. 29 killed three people in the church, including a 44-year-old mother of three; a 60 year old woman who had come to the church to pray; and the church’s 55 year old sacristan.

The attacker used a knife to carry out the killings and reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he did so.

French police shot and arrested the perpetrator, who has been identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, 21. Aouissaoui reportedly arrived in Europe in late September, first at the Italian island Lampedusa before traveling to France.

The second man arrested is reportedly suspected of being in contact with the assailant, the New York Times reported Oct. 30.

The French bishops asked churches across the country to toll their bells Thursday in memory the three people killed.

The attack in Nice follows the beheading of Samuel Paty, a Paris school teacher, in an Islamist terror attack earlier this month. The attacker in that incident reportedly was angered that Paty had shown cartoons of Muhammad during his classes.

Other attacks took place in France Oct. 29. In Montfavet, near Avignon, a man waving a handgun made threats and was killed by the police two hours after the Nice attack. Radio station Europe 1 said the man was also shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Reuters also reported a knife attack on a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of French Council of Muslim Faith, condemned the terrorist attack and asked French Muslims to cancel their festivities for Mawlid, the Oct. 29 celebration of Muhammad's birthday, “as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, responded to the news of the attack on the basilica, writing on Twitter: “Islamism is a monstrous fanaticism which must be fought with force and determination ... Unfortunately, we Africans know this too well. The barbarians are always the enemies of peace. The West, today France, must understand this.”

Catholic school in Michigan sues over mask mandate for elementary children

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic elementary school in Michigan is suing the state’s health department over a mandate that masks be worn continually during the school day, calling the requirement unnecessary, and harmful to its younger students.

Resurrection School in Lansing, along with two parents of children at the school, are suing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and several other public officials over an Oct. 9 mandate that students wear masks at school all day, even if their desks are spaced six feet apart in the classroom.

“In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith, Resurrection School believes that every human has dignity and is made in God’s image and likeness. Unfortunately, a mask shields our humanity. And because God created us in His image, we are masking that image,” the lawsuit, filed Oct. 22 in the Western District Court of Michigan, reads.

“Wearing a mask conveys the message that the wearer has surrendered his or her freedom to the government...a mask has become a symbol. And because a mask has become a political symbol, the wearing of a mask is a form of symbolic speech,” the plaintiffs argued.

“Consequently, via the mask mandates, Defendants are compelling Plaintiffs to engage in a form of expression and to convey a message with which they disagree.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued nearly 200 executive orders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Her order mandating masks in the classroom for elementary school students, announced Sept. 25, was set to go into effect Oct. 5.

The state Supreme Court invalidated all of Whitmer’s executive orders Oct. 12, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services subsequently revived some, including the elementary school mask mandate, as emergency epidemic orders.

Father Steven Mattson, pastor of the parish church to which the school belongs, and principal Jacob Allstot, sent a letter Oct. 27 to school parents explaining the rationale for the lawsuit.

Resurrection has taken steps to space students’ desks six feet apart in the classroom and is taking measures to disinfect common areas and install UV lights and filtration systems in each room.

The school leaders argued that data from the state shows that young children are unlikely to carry and contract the virus. Mattson and Allstot noted that Michigan has documented 5,816 cases of COVID-19 associated with a school population, only 151 of which arose from preschools and elementary schools.

Resurrection serves students aged kindergarten through eighth grade. As of Oct. 20, Mattson and Allstot wrote, approximately 98% of documented COVID-19 cases associated with a school outbreak in Michigan occurred in children aged sixth grade through college.

Mattson and Allstot related the story of an anonymous kindergartener at Resurrection, who is shy and has a speech impediment. “Wearing a facial covering exacerbates her struggles with speech,” they said.

Students have been back at Resurrection School since August, and the school has not had any cases of coronavirus among students or staff since reopening, the letter reads.

The school has clarified that they are only "contesting masks for younger children when socially distanced in their own classrooms," and not for teachers, older students, or younger students when they are in mixed groups, Fox News reported.

Under an earlier executive order by Whitmer, elementary students didn’t have to wear masks while seated in class, only during transition periods. Whitmer’s later order and the MDHHS order made it mandatory for students to wear masks at all times while learning.

According to state data, no elementary schools in Michigan have experienced an outbreak of coronavirus with more than 10 people infected.

Amid protests, Polish president backs abortion for fatal fetal abnormalities

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Facing protests across the country after a court ruling prohibiting abortion for fetal abnormalities, the Polish president said Friday he would propose a bill permitting abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.

Andrzej Duda said Oct. 30 he would introduce a bill to allow abortion “when prenatal tests or other medical indications show a high probability that the child will be stillborn or have an incurable disease or defect that will lead to the death of the child inevitably and directly, regardless of the therapeutic measures used,” Reuters reported.

Protests across Poland began after the constitutional court ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. The Polish constitution says that the state "shall ensure the legal protection of the life of every human being".

The court was asked to examine the law last year by a group of 119 MPs belonging to the ruling Law and Justice party, as well as two smaller parties.

About 1,000 abortions are legally procured in the country annually, the vast majority of them on the basis of fetal abnormality.

Abortion will continue to remain legal in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the mother’s life.

Duda initially welcomed the court ruling, telling the Warsaw daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna Oct. 23 “that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life.”

The AP reported Oct. 29 that Duda had told RMF FM that abortion should be prohibited for non-fatal fetal conditions such as Down syndrome, but permitted for fatal abnormalities: “it cannot be that the law requires this kind of heroism from a woman.”

He said: “I believe that there should be a regulation which, in case of lethal defects, will unequivocally guarantee the rights on the side of the woman.”

Protesters have been blocking roads and bridges, and disrupting churches, across Poland. A mass protest is occurring Friday evening in Warsaw.

Supporters of abortion rights disrupted Sunday Masses across Poland this weekend. They have also left graffiti on church property, vandalized a statue of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. Roads and bridges have been blocked, and some workers were on strike Oct. 28.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski has said 76 people have been detained in connection with protests at churches, and 101 cases are being prosecuted.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned the protests will contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. Poland has had more than 299,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 4,851 deaths.

Five people have been charged with organizing an illegal protest attended by 850 on Oct. 29 in Police, about 10 miles north of Szczecin.

And the national public prosecutor has said protest organizers will be charged with “causing an epidemiological threat”.

Internationally, protests have been held outside Polish embassies, ranging from tens gathered in Rome, to more than a thousand in Stockholm.

The permanent council of the Polish bishops’ conference said Oct. 28 that the Church makes a “constant call for protection, including legal protection, of the life of every human being, including the unborn.”

“The commandment of love imposes on us an important duty of caring, helping, and giving mothers and families who receive and raise sick children the protection they need,” the bishops reflected. “We thank all communities and institutions that have been doing this for years, and we appeal to parishes, Catholic movements, and other church organizations to undertake specific initiatives to meet those who need and will need both individual and institutional help.”

“The Church will always stand for life and support initiatives that protect it,” they added.

The bishops spoke of their “great pain” at “the escalation of social tension and aggression” during the protests.

“The vulgar language used by some of the protesters, the destruction of social property, the devastation of churches, the profanation of sacred places, or prevention of the liturgy there are also disturbing.”

“We call on everyone to engage in meaningful social dialogue, to express their views without resorting to violence, and to respect the dignity of every human being,” they said.

The bishops commented that “we ask politicians and all participants of the social debate, at this dramatic time, to thoroughly analyze the causes of the situation and look for ways out, in the spirit of truth and for the common good, without instrumentalizing matters regarding the faith and the Church.”

The bishops thanked the pastors and laity “who are courageously defending their churches,” as well as the security services. “The Church wants to remain open to all people, regardless of their social and political affiliation,” they noted.

Reflecting on the impositions due to the coronavirus pandemic, they appealed for “solidarity and compliance with the sanitary safety regulations.”

“We also ask all believers to fast, to give alms, and to pray for social peace, with the intention of protecting life, putting an end to the ongoing crisis, and ending the developing pandemic,” they concluded.

Pope Francis says more action coming in fight against Vatican corruption

Rome Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has said more changes are on the horizon as the Vatican continues to combat financial corruption inside its walls, but he is cautious about success.

Speaking to Italian news agency AdnKronos this week, Pope Francis said corruption is a deep, recurrent problem in the history of the Church, which he is trying to counter with “small, but concrete steps.”

“Unfortunately, corruption is a cyclical story, it repeats itself, then someone comes along to clean and tidy up, but then it starts again waiting for someone else to come and put an end to this degeneration,” he said in the interview, published Oct. 30.

“I know I have to do it, I was called to do it, then the Lord will say if I did well or if I did wrong. Honestly, I’m not very optimistic,” he smiled.

Pope Francis said “there are no particular strategies” to how the Vatican is fighting corruption. “The tactic is banal, simple, to go forward and to not stop. You have to take small but concrete steps.”

He pointed to changes made over the last five years, stating that more changes will be made “very soon.”

“We went to dig into finances, we have new leaders at the IOR, in short, I had to change many things and many will change very soon,” he said.

The interview came as the Vatican City tribunal is reportedly investigating various financial scandals and allegations connected to the former curial official Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Becciu’s lawyers deny he has been contacted by Vatican authorities.

On Sept. 24, Becciu was asked by Pope Francis to resign from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals following reports alleging that he used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, including loans for projects owned and operated by Becciu’s brothers.

Becciu, who was formerly number two at the Secretariat of State, has also been at the center of a scandal involving the controversial purchase of a London building. He was also reportedly behind the hiring and paying of an Italian woman accused of misusing Vatican funds intended for humanitarian work for extravagant personal purchases.    

Becciu has been accused of using Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security consultant, to build “off-books” intelligence networks.

In the Oct. 30 interview, Pope Francis responded to a question about recent criticism he has received, including the renewal of the Vatican-China deal and his apparent approval of the legalization of same-sex civil unions in a recently-released documentary.  

The pope said he wouldn’t be telling the truth if he said criticism does not bother him.

Nobody likes criticism given in bad faith, he added. “With equal conviction, however, I say that criticism can be constructive, and then I take it all because criticism leads me to examine myself, to make an examination of conscience, to ask myself if I was wrong, where and why I was wrong, if I did well, if I did wrong, if I could do better.”

Irish bishops petition government to lift ban on religious gatherings

Rome Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Irish bishops met with the prime minister this week to petition the government to lift the current coronavirus restrictions on public worship as soon as possible.

“We have been doing everything possible to keep our church buildings safe, and there is no evidence that the church buildings and church worship have actually been a source of contagion or spreading the infection, so I have to say that I was disappointed and I said that to the Taoiseach,” Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said in a radio interview Oct. 30, after the meeting.

Public worship has been suspended in the Republic of Ireland since Oct. 7 due to an Irish government decree that placed the entire country under “Level 3” restrictions as a result of an increase in coronavirus cases. It is the second time that public Masses in Ireland have been suspended this year.

Archbishop Martin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly, and Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin Oct. 28 to express their “great desire to return to worship as soon as possible.”

“The Archbishops emphasised that they are fully supportive of the Public Health messages but highlighted that the coming together in prayer and worship, especially for Mass and the Sacraments, is fundamental to Christian tradition and a source of nourishment for the life and well-being of whole communities,” according to a statement from the Irish bishops’ conference.

In the meeting, the bishops also stressed the “mammoth effort that has been made by priests and volunteers at parish level to ensure that gatherings in Church are as safe as possible,” as well as the “importance of gathering for worship as a source of consolation and hope at Christmas time.”

“We were hopeful when we left,” Martin said in an interview with LMFM Radio Oct. 30. “I’m hopeful that the Taoiseach will now bring our message to the cabinet … and the further health authorities.”

The Irish government has yet to announce any changes to the coronavirus restrictions, which are currently at “Level 5”.

Bishops in France also met with their prime minister on the eve of France’s second lockdown to discuss security measures regarding the coronavirus as well as the attack on Notre-Dame de Nice.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rhiems, president of the French bishops’ conference, and Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris met with Prime Minister Jean Castex in Paris Oct. 29.

Arcbhishop Moulins-Beaufort had written to French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week requesting that public worship be allowed to continue during France’s lockdown and that Catholics would be allowed to visit cemeteries for All Souls’ Day.

The bishop also requested that the French government allow Catholic chaplaincies in hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons to continue to take place during the lockdown.

Other French bishops spoke out on social media. Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne wrote on Twitter Oct. 28: “It seems to me that freedom of worship is at stake, especially since schools remain open.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Le Président n’a rien dit sur les lieux de culte, mais Mgr de Moulins Beaufort lui a écrit hier pour lui demander qu’en cas de confinement, les célébrations cultuelles demeurent. Il en va, me semble-t-il, de la liberté de culte, d’autant que les écoles restent ouvertes.</p>&mdash; Mgr Marc Aillet (@MgrMAillet) <a href="https://twitter.com/MgrMAillet/status/1321573765797584896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 28, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

France’s lockdown went into effect Oct. 30 and will last until at least Dec. 1. Under the current restrictions, people are not permitted to go 1 kilometer beyond their homes, except for essential work or medical reasons. All non-essential businesses, including restaurants, are closed, but schools will remain open.

La Croix has reported that the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin specified in a video conference with religious leaders Oct. 28 that churches will be allowed to remain open, however all religious ceremonies throughout the country, including public Masses, weddings, and funerals will be suspended from Nov. 2 until at least Dec. 1.

The French bishops’ conference and local dioceses have not made any official announcements, except to clarify that All Saints’ Day Masses will be allowed to take place.

Europe is currently experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases which has led Italy and Spain to impose curfews and Germany to close all bars and restaurants for one month.

More than 1 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in France, where 35,823 people have died after contracting the coronavirus, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Following the Oct. 29 terrorist attack at Notre-Dame de Nice, a spokesperson for the French Bishops' Conference, Vincent Neymon, argued for the importance of France’s churches to remain open for Christians.

“To close the churches would be to bend one’s knee in the face of this threat which seeks to sow anxiety among our compatriots,” Neymon said in a radio interview with RTL.

Philadelphia archbishop offers prayers, calls for peace after days of unrest

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia has offered prayers for the family of a man recently killed in a police shooting, and decried the violence which has broken out across the city following the incident. 

“In recent days, emotions have again flared and spilled into the streets in the City of Philadelphia as people collectively struggle with the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Walter Wallace, Jr.,” said Perez in a statement provided to CNA on Friday, October 30. 

“I express my deepest and prayerful condolences to Mr. Wallace’s family, loved ones, and all of those seeking to cope with a variety of complex feelings at this time.” 

Wallace, a Black man, was shot and killed by police on October 26. At the time of his death, his family said he was experiencing a “psychological episode,” prompting his family to call for an ambulance. He was shot after police say he advanced towards them while carrying a knife. 

“Like many Philadelphians I have been watching the news with growing anxiety and sadness as civil unrest ensued again in our beloved City,” said Perez. 

“We must not allow the negative and destructive actions of a few to distract from issues and questions that need to be addressed. Violence in any form has no place in our hearts and deepens wounds rather than heals them,” he added. 

Since Wallace’s death, there have been incidents of violence and looting throughout the city of Philadelphia. Two men were arrested and charged with several felonies on Thursday after they were discovered with a van full of explosives. 

At least 11 ATMs have been stolen, and as of Thursday, more than 200 people have been arrested. At least 40 of those arrests were for burglary related to widespread looting on Wednesday night. 

The National Guard was brought into Philadelphia earlier this week, and the city was placed under a 9 p.m. curfew on Wednesday night. 

“May God bring peace to the City of Philadelphia,” said Perez. “May He fill our hearts with goodness so that we might see the Lord in all of our brothers and sisters and treat one another with charity, dignity, and respect.”