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Texas city votes to become the latest ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’

Lubbock, Texas / Patricia Elaine Thomas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Citizens in Lubbock, Texas voted this past weekend to declare the city a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn,” drawing praise from the diocese’s bishop.

“I join with many others in the city of Lubbock, including many of our Catholic Faithful, who voted for the Ordinance declaring Lubbock a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn,’ Bishop Robert Coerver of the Lubbock diocese said in a statement upon the passage of the ordinance. 

Bishop Coerver said his vote was “in the hope that the ordinance will be successful in bringing about an end to the killing of voiceless innocents through the act of abortion.” Coerver said he hopes that the measure will be an occasion for all residents to grow in their respect for human life, from conception until natural death. 

The city’s measure declares performing or aiding in an abortion unlawful, but will not be enforced by the government until the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling which built upon Roe. 

Private citizens, especially family members of aborted babies, are allowed to bring lawsuits against people or businesses who violate the ordinance by performing or aiding in in abortion; mothers of aborted children are exempt from the penalties under ordinance.

Voters approved the measure on Saturday, with supporters comprising 62% of the unofficial tally. Another attempt to pass the proposition last year was unsuccessful, when the city council rejected it because of fear of a lawsuit, the AP reported. 

The local Planned Parenthood clinic began providing abortions on April 15, and the vote passed on May 1. The ordinance is expected to take effect on June 1 says Mayor Dan Pope, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 

The Journal also reported that Lubbock, with a population of more than 250,000, is the largest city to adopt the sanctuary city policy, as well as the first to declare the ban while having an abortion provider within its boundaries. Other cities in Texas have adopted similar ordinances.

The ordinance makes it unlawful for any person to procure, perform, aid, or abet an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy in Lubbock. No one can provide transportation to or from an abortion provider, give instructions of any kind regarding self-administered abortion, provide money for an abortion or the costs associated with procuring an abortion, or coerce a pregnant mother to have an abortion against her will. 

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the ACLU of Texas both hinted at challenging the ordinance. 

“The ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock,” said Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, responding to the ordinance.

Bishops encourage prayers for victims of Mexico City train accident 

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven in Mexico City, Mexico / Eduardo Berdejo/CNA

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Mexican bishops encouraged prayers and solidarity with the victims following a Mexico City Metro accident that took place the night of May 3. The crash claimed the lives of at least 23 people and left more than 60 injured.

Around 10:20 on Monday evening, the railway overpass of Line 12 of the Mexico City Metro commuter train collapsed, causing one of the passenger cars to crash onto the road below. The accident occurred near the “Olivos” Metro station in the borough of Tláhuac in southeast Mexico City.

Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, the secretary general of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference and auxiliary bishop of Monterrey, told CNA’s Spanish language news partner ACI Prensa that “we received the news last night during a meeting with the auxiliary bishops of Mexico. And they immediately and publicly expressed their condolences along with Cardinal Carlos Aguiar.”

“I immediately joined these expressions of support and solidarity from the Archdiocese of Mexico,” Miranda Guardiola said.

In a Twitter post, the Archdiocese of Mexico, headed by Cardinal Carlos Aguiar, prayed for the victims of the collapse of the railway overpass, and that the toll would not be any worse than already reported. 

In a May 4 press conference, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called for “a thorough and impartial investigation, seeking to know the truth" about what caused the Metro accident.

“Absolutely nothing is going to be covered up. The people of Mexico have to know the whole truth,” he vowed.

The Mexico City Metro system has 12 lines that run through the capital city and some neighboring municipalities. Line 12 was built between 2008 and 2012 during the administration of Marcelo Ebrard, who headed the government of the area then known as the Federal District, which encompassed Mexico City.

Ebrard, the current Secretary of Foreign Relations under the López Obrador administration, said on Twitter last night that “what happened today in the Metro is a terrible tragedy. My solidarity to the victims and their families.”

“Of course, the causes must be investigated and responsibilities determined,” Ebrard said, and pledged to help in the investigation in any way he can. 

Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced a “structural review of the entire Line 12, a report by experts and an in-depth investigation into the causes.”

Bishop Andrés Vargas Peña of the Diocese of Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Milpa Alta - located in the area where the accident occurred - expressed this morning his “great shock” over the Metro accident.

The diocese was erected in September 2019, and was formerly part of the Archdiocese of Mexico.

“My most fervent prayer rises up for the people who have suffered this accident, for the injured who have been taken to different hospitals, that the Lord may have mercy on them and grant them the grace of a swift recovery,” he said. 

“And, for those who have unfortunately passed away, that the Heavenly Father may have mercy on their souls and grant them eternal rest,” he added.

The bishop also encouraged the faithful of his diocese to lift up these intentions in their prayers, and said he is closely following the news so that “as the tragedy becomes clearer, I will give the appropriate guidelines for charitable ministry so you can help as much as possible” through diocesan Caritas.

“I am asking the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Mexico and the diocese of Iztapalapa to join forces to help those who need us,” he continued.

Vargas Peña asked the diocesan priests in the area of the tragedy “to give appropriate spiritual aid” to the injured.

In addition to offering Mass at 8:00 a.m. for the deceased, the injured and their families, the bishop said there will be other actions and times of prayer for the victims of this accident which will be announced “as we have more information.”

“As soon as circumstances make it advisable, I will go to the scene of the accident to pray for those who have perished there and to express to the bereaved relatives the maternal embrace of the Church,” he announced and asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to “accompany all those who are suffering at this time.”

The Archdiocese of Mexico also announced that Holy Mass will be offered for the victims of the accident on May 4 at 7:00 pm, which will be broadcast on Facebook and the YouTube channel of its weekly magazine Desde la Fe (From the Faith).

Court dismisses Catholic school teacher’s employment discrimination claim

Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A federal district court dismissed the employment discrimination claim of a New Jersey Catholic school teacher last week, ruling that she was a religious “minister” and thus exempt from certain employment discrimination laws. 

Joan Simon, a former teacher at Saint Dominic Academy in Jersey City, had claimed that she was terminated by the school because of her “age, disability, and whistleblowing activities.” The academy is an all-girls Grade 7-12 school sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey.

Simon, who is in her late fifties, said she was fired from St. Dominic’s on Oct. 9, 2018, the day after she returned from medical leave following a car accident. She also claimed that the teacher who replaced her was “unqualified” for the position. 

Simon also said in her lawsuit that throughout her employment, she had made numerous complaints to the administration, including to the dean, of “violations of the law and...educational process” at the school.

A federal district court, however, ruled on April 28 that as Simon was both chairperson of the school’s religious department and campus minister, “her duties appear to fit squarely within the ministerial exception.” 

Federal laws against employment discrimination provide certain religious exemptions in the cases of religious ministers. The “ministerial exception” prohibits government interference in the employment decisions of religious organizations that involve ministers; the court determined last week that Simon’s role at the school met the definition of a minister of religion.

The Supreme Court ruled last year in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that two former Catholic school teachers in California could not sue the schools for employment discrimination, as they were functioning as religious ministers in their roles at the schools. 

The high court wrote that “courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions.”

The federal district court last week drew upon this case in its ruling on Simon’s complaint. 

“As pled, Plaintiff falls into the ministerial exception as set forth in Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the court wrote, adding that in her role, she “performed a vital religious duty––teaching and promoting the Catholic faith to students.”

Thus, the district court dismissed Simon’s discrimination and breach-of-contract claims. 

“Plaintiff’s allegations regarding [the school’s] breaches of the employment contract will require the Court to second guess [the school’s] decision to terminate a minister, which is precisely what the ministerial exception is intended to prohibit and will necessarily entangle the Court in internal church governance,” Judge John Michael Vazquez of the U.S. district court for New Jersey wrote. 

Simon told the Jersey Journal that she believes her firing was also connected to a letter she had shared with her students concerning the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the U.S.  

The 2018 letter, entitled “Dear Troubled Catholics,” was written by author Ralph Martin of Renewal Ministries. In his letter, Martin made repeated references to “a huge homosexual problem in the Church,” calling the crisis “primarily a homosexual scandal.”

“We need to remember that the Catholic Church is indeed founded by Christ and, despite all problems, has within it the fullness of the means of salvation. Where else can we go? Nowhere; this is indeed our Mother and Home, and she needs our love, our prayers, and our persevering in the way of holiness more than ever,” the letter reads in part. 

“That isn’t to say that we don’t need to take seriously and do all we can in response to the grave scandal we are facing in our time. And yet we need to remember that all this is happening under the providence of God, and He has a plan to bring good out of it,” Martin wrote.

Simon said she had distributed the letter in September 2018 to the high school students she taught, hoping they would find it “beneficial.” She says she was fired a month later, after returning from medical leave. 

At the time of Simon’s termination, Saint Dominic's head of school, Sarah Degnan Barbi, issued a statement to the Jersey Journal. "The matter raised by Mrs. Simon is a personnel issue, and we will not comment on it. We will say, however, that every decision made within Saint Dominic Academy is in the interest of the young women entrusted to our care,” Barbi stated.

Wealthy corporations back Equality Act stripped of religious freedom protections

Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Federal LGBT legislation that excludes important religious freedom protections has the backing of over 400 American corporations with trillions of dollars in annual revenue. 

More than 400 companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies, have joined a business coalition in support of the Equality Act, the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said on April 27. 

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under federal civil rights law, where race is currently protected. 

The legislation also prevents religious freedom claims from being made by individuals and groups under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The landmark 1993 law has been invoked by many as a defense against various government mandates, but the Equality Act would override those religious freedom protections.  

The U.S. bishops’ conference has thus warned that the Equality Act could “punish” religious groups which do not recognize same-sex “marriage” and transgender ideologies.

“Instead of respecting differences in beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the conference has said in an action alert.

The Equality Act passed the U.S. House in March, and is currently in the U.S. Senate. The 416 businesses supporting the legislation have their corporate headquarters in 33 U.S. states, reporting a combined $6.8 trillion in annual revenue and more than 14.6 million total employees.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, five USCCB committee chairs said that passage of the bill would force “novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.”

They said that the Equality Act would impose coercive mandates on religious institutions and people of faith. For instances, the bill could force church halls to host events that violate their beliefs, or threaten religious adoption agencies that cannot in good faith place children with same-sex couples, the USCCB said. Women would have to share shelters and locker rooms with biological males identifying as transgender females, under the legislation. 

The Human Rights Campaign’s announcement in favor of the bill cited the support of corporate leaders from American Airlines, Levi Strauss & Co., and the Dow Chemical Company.

Carla Grant Pickens, global chief diversity and inclusion officer for the technology company IBM, praised the bill as a positive step for innovation. She said that “a workforce that reflects the diversity of today's society drives new ideas and innovation.”

“At IBM, we seek to hire the most talented individuals regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal characteristics. We also believe that equal protections should extend beyond an employer's four walls, which is why IBM stands with HRC in endorsing the Equality Act,” Grant Pickens said.

“It's time that civil rights protections be extended to LGBT+ individuals nationwide on a clear, consistent, and comprehensive basis,” she said. 

Arguing for the legislation, the Human Rights Campaign said that even if a self-identified LGBTQ person works for an employer with strong anti-discrimination policy, “that employee and their family members can still experience discrimination in other areas of life and have no legal recourse.” The group claimed that a lack of explicit non-discrimination protections mean that employees can be denied healthcare, loans, housing and “basic goods and services.”

The LGBT advocacy group said that corporate endorsements of the legislation have more than doubled since 2019, when the U.S. House passed a version of the bill. It cited a Hart Research Associates poll, which said that 70% of Americans and 50% of Republicans now back the legislation.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was critical of anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation, in a 1992 document. While rejecting violence and malice against people, the CDF said that sexual orientation “does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination.”

“Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder, and evokes moral concern,” said the Vatican document.

“There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment,” said the CDF.

Legislation similar to the proposed Equality Act - barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity - has been enacted in several states and localities. 

Religious adoption agencies in several states have had to close, for declining to place children with same-sex couples as mandated by state or local laws. Business owners have faced lawsuits for declining to bake same-sex wedding cakes or photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies as required by nondiscrimination ordinances. In Connecticut, a state policy allowed for biological males identifying as transgender females to compete in girls’ sports. 

The Human Rights Campaign reported $44.6 million in annual revenue in 2019, according to tax forms. It lists many national corporate partners on its website in a four-tiered system of “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze.”

Current “Platinum Level” sponsors include American Airlines, Apple, the Coca-Cola Company, Smirnoff, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Nationwide, Northrop-Grumman, Pfizer, Target and UPS.

The organization’s gold-level partners include CapitalOne, Carnival, Lexus, Nike, and Nordstrom.

As CNA previously reported, several NGOs are making a major push to strip religious freedom protections where they conflict with LGBT causes, or with access to abortion and contraception. Major donors like the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and the Proteus Fund have dedicated millions of dollars in earmarked grants toward campaigns to redefine or marginalize religious freedom protections.

Such donors poured over $100 million into the decades-long effort to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. The Human Rights Campaign said that in 2015, 379 major corporations signed onto an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to mandate legal recognition of same-sex “marriage.”

USCCB applauds Biden for raising limit on refugee admissions

Jazzmany/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday praised the Biden Administration for its decision to raise the refugee ceiling.

“As a nation of immigrants, we have a moral obligation to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are in need. The updated refugee admissions cap is a step in the right direction to help those who need it most,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and chair of the USCCB’s migration committee, in a statement on Tuesday. 

On Monday, May 3, the Biden Administration announced that it would be increasing the limit on the number of refugees admitted to the United States for the 2021 fiscal year; the new cap for refugee admissions has now been set at 62,500.

Dorsonville said the bishops were “pleased” at the decision, adding that it is “a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled Refugee Admissions Program.”

“We view this number as a stepping stone toward the Administration’s stated goal of 125,000 admissions, a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation,” he said. 

Addressing the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services in November, Biden had announced his goal of eventually resettling 125,000 refugees. In executive actions signed on Feb. 4, he said he intended to make reforms to U.S. refugee admissions, with the goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year.

“For decades, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement,” Dorsonville said on Tuesday. “We are in the midst of the greatest forced displacement crisis of our lifetime and know that there are more than 26 million refugees worldwide and more than 47 million people who are internally displaced.”

The bishop added that it was “imperative” that the United States act to “ensure the safety of these individuals and their families,” and that welcoming refugees is in line with the Church’s teaching on human dignity. 

“It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency,” he said. 

While President Biden had previously signaled his intent to raise the refugee ceiling, he did not issue a final determination to do so during the initial weeks of his administration. The delay frustrated immigration and refugee groups, who told CNA last month they were “disappointed” at the slow pace of refugee admissions.

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, as of mid-April only 2,050 refugees had been admitted to the United States in the 2021 fiscal year. Biden issued a draft “Presidential Determination” in February that would have raised the refugee cap to 62,500, but he did not sign it. 

On April 16, about eight weeks after the draft Presidential Determination was issued, the Biden administration said it would be keeping the refugee cap at 15,000 for the current fiscal year, a number which was set by former President Donald Trump. The limit of 15,000 was the lowest-recorded number in the history of the refugee resettlement program.

Later that day, Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that “The President’s directive today has been the subject of some confusion.” and added that the president “has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1.” 

Psaki said that a new refugee cap would be announced by May 15; on Monday, Biden raised the cap.

According to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is nearly 80 million. There are nearly 26 million refugees around the globe, UNHCR says.

The bishops and Catholic Relief Services did praise previous actions by the Biden administration on immigration, including the lifting of a Trump-era travel ban from several Muslim-majority and African countries. Bishop Dorsonville also praised Biden’s action on April 16 to allow for prompt admission of refugees from certain geographic areas.

The Obama administration had set a target for resettling 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Trump declared a halt to refugee admissions after he took office and ultimately set a limit of 50,000 refugees to be resettled that year. His administration progressively lowered the refugee cap to the initial 2021 limit of 15,000.

Vermont diocese says immigration delays forcing the departure of four priests

Vinokurov Kirill/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, says that four immigrant priests will be forced to return to their home countries for 12 months, due to visa renewal delays in the United States. 

Five Vermont parishes will be left without a priest in residence due to the development. A spokesperson for the diocese explained that the visa renewal process currently takes much longer than it used to.

“We were recently informed that the [visa renewal] process now takes four times longer for several reasons: stricter screening process, reduction of staff to process applications, and the pandemic/remote work," Ellen Kane, executive director of development & communication for the Diocese of Burlington, told CNA on Tuesday. 

According to the diocese, visa renewal applications for the priests were submitted within the typical timeframe, but now will not be renewed in time. 

Three of the priests affected are from the Philippines, while the fourth is from Nigeria. All four were legally residing in the United States under a religious worker visa. 

In a press release from the diocese, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said that this situation was “completely unexpected” and prompted “a significant number” of priest transfers to help fill parish vacancies. The early stage of the visa renewal process usually takes about four months, he said, but now takes around 17-18 months. 

“My staff began the process for the green cards in what we understood to be a timely fashion only to discover that we were at least a year too late for the priests to be able to stay,” said Coyne. “Even though these priests want to stay with their parishes here in Vermont, they must go home now so that they can return to Vermont in 12 months.”

Along with retirements and transfers, five parishes in the diocese will not have a priest in residence for the coming year. The Diocese of Burlington has shuffled priests around in an attempt to mitigate the unexpected shortage of clergy.  

“I’ve tried to do everything I can to make sure that as many parishes and churches will continue to have pastors to care for them and I think we will be okay,” Coyne said. “I know it will be difficult for a while for those ‘priest-less’ parishes, but we will try and provide as much coverage as possible for Sunday Mass and the sacraments.”

The five parishes without a priest in residence are located throughout the state. 

The diocese announced a total of 17 clergy transfers - 16 priests and one deacon who will be serving as a temporary administrator of a parish - in the press release on Monday. Most of the changes will go into effect on July 1. 

The Diocese of Burlington is the only Catholic diocese in the state of Vermont. 

 

 

Former altar boy buys Akron church: ‘I’ll make sure it’s still taken care of’

Photo Spirit/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 10:24 am (CNA).

A former altar boy with close family ties to a former Catholic parish in Akron, Ohio, now has a different connection to the church’s edifice: he owns it. 

Christ the King Catholic Church in North Akron, Ohio has been vacant since November 2009, after the Cleveland diocese merged its congregation with two nearby parishes. Sacred items - including the altar, statues, and stained glass windows - have since been removed from the church, reported the Akron Beacon Journal. 

It was also the Catholic parish where Joe Breiding grew up. Breiding, a former altar boy and now an accountant and businessman, recently purchased the church complex from the Diocese of Cleveland. 

The property reportedly includes the church, rectory, a school building and two ballfields. The school building has been used by a charter school for the past seven years. 

The Breiding family, with parents Dick and Elizabeth and twelve children including Joe, lived across the street from the church as the children grew up. 

Breiding says he bought the building primarily as a “business investment,” but it still retains great sentimental value. 

“I’ll make sure that it’s still taken care of,” he said. 

Breiding and his business partner told the Akron Beacon Journal that they hope to renovate and lease the church building to a new congregation, and plan to market the rectory as a space for professional offices. The school building will remain home to the charter school. 

As a backup plan for the church, if a religious congregation cannot be found, Breiding says he would consider turning it into an “athletic facility.”

Christ the King parish was originally founded in the 1930s with a Croatian congregation; the original church was demolished in the 1950s for the construction of a new expressway, and a new church was consecrated in 1959 with a convent on the property, which has since been demolished. 

Joe Breiding’s grandfather Leonard had offered the congregation the original land on which the 1959 church sits today, near what was once the family farm. 

Breiding says his family was very involved in the parish’s life throughout his entire childhood. He was baptized at Christ the King, and as an altar boy who lived so close to the church, he says he was called in to serve “thousands of Masses and funerals and weddings” over the years. Breiding was also married at the church in 1996. 

He says one of his favorite things to do in the church building he now owns is to play the organ - something the nuns who educated him and his peers never allowed. 

“Growing up, you never were allowed to play the organ,” Breiding said. “So when I bought it, my mission was to figure out how to turn on the organ. And I figured it out.”

Church official visits Cuban dissident leader on hunger strike

San Cristobal Cathedral, Havana / nodff/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana reportedly visited Cuban dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on April 30, and attempted to persuade him to end his hunger strike.

Alcántara heads the civil society San Isidro Movement and has been on a hunger strike without food or water since April 25, demanding the Cuban government respect his freedom of expression.

The Palabra Nueva (New Word) magazine published by the archdiocese of Havana, reported April 30 that “at the request of Cardinal Juan de la Caridad García, Archbishop of Havana, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari, visited this afternoon Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who went on a hunger strike six days ago.”

“The Church official ‘went to see the young artist to ask him to desist from the strike, but he was unsuccessful in his endeavor,” the magazine reported.

Palabra Nueva reported that Polcari and Alcántara “talked for an hour.”

“On behalf of the Church, the Cuban priest said the priority is to save the life of the young man and avoid suicide, however, he acknowledges that the activist remains firm in his decision,” the magazine reported.

The San Isidro Movement, which takes the name of the neighborhood where it is based, is a group of Cuban artists that has carried out protests in the Cuban capital. In November 2020, some 300 people peacefully demonstrated outside the Ministry of Culture for freedom of expression.

The website of the artist group has pointed to “the urgent need to call all Cuban men and women, living inside or outside of Cuba, to a National Dialogue to aspire to build a country that represents a safe home for all its sons and daughters.”

Alcántara charged that several weeks ago, members of State Security came into his house and took away his artwork. The dissident leader has been on a hunger strike in his home, which is under surveillance by government agents.

On May 2, the Havana Provincial Board of Health reported that Alcántara, who was on the eighth day of his hunger strike, was taken early that morning to the General Calixto García University Hospital emergency room. 

According to officials, the dissident was diagnosed with “voluntary starvation” and arrived “in a state of consciousness and walking around without difficulty.” They indicated that “there are no signs of malnutrition,” that the patient “shows normal clinical and biochemical parameters,” and that Alcántara “remains in stable condition." 

“A team of specialists is continuing appropriate medical care. He remains under observation based on the aforementioned reasons” that he was admitted to the hospital, the medical update stated.

However, members of the San Isidro Movement charged on Twitter that their leader “was taken away by force” and questioned how it can be said "he has no signs of malnutrition and dehydration if he has been on a hunger strike without food or water for more than seven days.”

“We demand transparency, and that’s not a favor, you are an institution and you must serve the people. Someone should explain why with that diagnosis it was necessary to be admitted [to the hospital]. If he’s okay, it should come out in the press,” they demanded on social media.

According to the most recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Cuban government cracked down on the San Isidro Movement in November 2020.

“Cuban authorities harassed, surveilled, and stopped some protesters from leaving their homes, including preventing individuals from attending religious services,” USCIRF reported, adding that “Catholic officials were reportedly blocked from visiting protesters.”

New online course aims to foster devotion to St. Joseph

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni. / Public Domain

Denver, Colo., May 3, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new online course to be offered by the Archdiocese of Denver this summer will aim to teach lessons from St. Joseph, in honor of the ongoing Year of St. Joseph. 

The course for both men and women will be taught by Daniel Campbell, director of Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division. He told CNA that the course is intended to offer an intensive, in-depth study of Jesus’ foster father, based primarily on Scripture. 

Pope Francis in December declared a Year of St. Joseph, in honor of the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX declaring the saint patron of the Universal Church. 

"It's not just a great opportunity to learn about Joseph, but in the Year of St. Joseph it's such a great chance to expose ourselves to the graces of his intercession," Campbell told CNA of his course. 

The Denver seminary’s Lay Division holds many programs of study throughout the year, he said, the main two programs being a four-year biblical school and two-year catechetical school. While the courses were previously accessible only to the faithful of Colorado, anyone may now join for the six-week St. Joseph course, as it is being offered online.  

The online course will span six weeks, with lectures taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the mornings (9:30-11:30 a.m.) and evenings (6:30-8:30 p.m.), beginning on Tuesday, July 13. All four lectures each week will be the same, so people can choose the day and time that works best for them each week, Campbell says. 

The course curriculum will use Scripture as its basis, working through the basic chronology of St. Joseph’s life and explaining the theological significance of events involving him. 

The course will also offer meditations on the genealogy of Christ - which is also Joseph's genealogy - as well as on Joseph’s response to significant Scriptural events including the Incarnation, Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Magi and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. 

Joseph is famously silent in Scripture, but Campbell says he also plans to use the writings of Church fathers and various saints to offer insightful meditations and “logical inferences” about St. Joseph, and about what Joseph was likely thinking and experiencing during his life. 

"There's really a lot there, even if it doesn't seem like much," Campbell said. 

The saints are not abstract theories, Campbell noted, emphasizing that they are real people. Thus, he hopes the logical inferences about St. Joseph’s life will help participants to relate to Joseph personally, and thus grow in devotion to him. 

One such inference, he noted, is the fact that Joseph likely was the first to receive the Magi when they came to visit the Christ child following the Nativity. Since Joseph was likely the one to introduce these foreigners to Jesus, Campbell notes that Joseph is a great intercessor to ask for help if we want to introduce others to Christ. 

The course will also seek to teach participants lessons from St. Joseph about the moral life and prayer. 

Campbell says the fact that Joseph was given such an incredible task as Jesus’ earthly father - and that his affirmative response was so immediate - makes him a great example of trust and virtue for all Christians. 

One of the Church’s approved titles for Joseph is “Terror of Demons,” a title that Campbell says makes sense theologically in the context of Jesus as the chief exorcist, the one to Whom all demons are subject. 

Despite Jesus’ obvious superiority as the Son of God, He nonetheless submitted himself to Joseph's authority as His earthly father. Christians should accordingly foster a devotion to St. Joseph because, Campbell notes, Jesus chose to be under his “rule,” care, and guide, and Christians can choose to do the same. 

Campbell said in a course such as this about St. Joseph, husbands, fathers, and men are an obvious target audience. But he said it is his goal to make the course relevant for spouses, parents, and Christians - both men and women. 

“Whoever you are, whatever state in life, he is a great model of virtue and prayer,” Campbell said. 

Campbell noted that the archdiocese is currently running a tuition promotion: the St. Joseph course costs $100, but for those who sign up for both the class and a year-long course in the fall, they receive $100 off the class. 

Biden raises refugee admissions cap to 62,500

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Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden on Monday raised the refugee admissions cap for the current fiscal year, more than quadrupling the current limit.

In a White House statement on Monday afternoon, Biden said he was raising the limit on U.S. refugee admissions to 62,500 from 15,000, for the 2021 fiscal year. The raise comes as the White House was criticized for keeping the Trump-era refugee cap in place – which was at the lowest-recorded level for the U.S. refugee admissions program.

Biden admitted, however, that a goal of resettling 62,500 refugees by the end of September is unreachable.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” he stated on Monday. He said that the current limit of 15,000 refugees “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” and promised to improve the resettlement program, with a goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year.

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he stated.

In November, Biden promised to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000 in his remarks to a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Services.

For months after his inauguration, however, refugee advocates pointed out that he had yet to issue a final determination to officially increase the refugee cap. Meanwhile, refugee admissions had reportedly slowed to a trickle, with the International Rescue Committee noting on April 12 that the United States had only resettled 2,050 refugees in the 2021 fiscal year.

Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee, told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions and added that he was "very disturbed that without a presidential determination, refugee resettlement has effectively been halted."

On April 16, the White House said it would keep the current refugee cap of 15,000; later that day, however, the White House reversed its position and said Biden expected to raise the refugee limit by May 15.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee – Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. – said on April 19 that the cap of 15,000 was “far short of what we can do as a country,” adding that he expected the administration to raise the cap as promised. He pushed for the administration to retool the refugee admissions program with the goal of eventually resettling 125,000 refugees.

Biden also said on April 16 that he would act to allow for refugees from certain regions to begin traveling to the United States within days. Due to this action, travel preparations are currently underway for more than 2,000 refugees who were previously excluded from admissions, the White House said on Monday.

According to Monday's announcement, refugee admissions for 2021 will be allocated by region.

For Africa, the new admissions ceiling is 22,000 refugees; for the Near East and South Asia, a limit of 13,000 refugees will be accepted. For East Asia, the cap is 6,000, while the refugee limit for Latin America and the Caribbean will be 5,000. For Europe and Central Asia, the cap is 4,000 refugees. An “unallocated reserve” is designated for 12,500 refugees.