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Supreme Courts in three states set to hear abortion case arguments

The Celebrate Life Day rally was organized to commemorate the first anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Supreme Court decision. / Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 11, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

This week state Supreme Courts in Arizona, Wyoming, and New Mexico will hear oral arguments for litigation related to the states’ abortion laws. In all three cases, the pro-life side will be argued by lawyers at the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom. 

Arizona: Defending life from the moment of conception

The Arizona Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Dec. 12, on whether prosecutors can enforce the state’s pre-Roe v. Wade abortion laws, which prohibited most abortions at the moment of conception.

Arizona’s prohibition was declared unconstitutional shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide. Despite the law being unenforceable for about 50 years, the state Legislature never repealed the law and the prohibition is still technically written into the state code.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested that the 50-year-old injunction that blocked the enforcement of the law be lifted.

The law in question prohibits both chemical and surgical abortions in every case, except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. There are no criminal penalties on the books for the mother who procures an abortion, but anyone who “provides, supplies, or administers” drugs or other substances, or “employs any instrument or other means whatever, with the intent thereby to procure the miscarriage” is subject to a prison sentence between two and five years.

Following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This is the threshold that is currently enforced in Arizona.

Wyoming: Lawmakers try to defend state’s pro-life laws

The Wyoming Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Dec. 12, on whether two state lawmakers and a pro-life organization have standing to intervene in a lawsuit about the state’s pro-life laws, which are currently held up in the court system. 

State Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams and Chip Neiman, along with Right to Life of Wyoming, are appealing a trial court decision that blocked them from intervening in a lawsuit that challenges the Life Is a Human Right Act, which prohibits chemical and surgical abortions in most circumstances. 

A district court judge blocked the enforcement of the law in March of this year.

The lawmakers and the pro-life organization argue that they have standing to defend the state law because they “have abiding interests in protecting women and unborn children.”

Abortion is currently legal up to the point of viability in Wyoming. 

New Mexico: County asks court not to recognize a constitutional right to abortion

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday, Dec. 13, on whether the state constitution protects a right to abortion after state Attorney General Raúl Torrez petitioned the court to strike down local pro-life ordinances in a handful of cities and counties. 

In his petition, Torrez asked the court to find a constitutional right to abortion within the New Mexico Constitution and declare the ordinances unconstitutional. There is no explicit right to “abortion” mentioned anywhere in the state constitution, but the attorney general claimed that abortion rights are implied in several sections of the state constitution. 

Roosevelt County is asking the Wyoming Supreme Court to find that there is not a constitutional right to abortion. The county is asking the court to allow its ordinance, which bans the shipment of abortion materials by mail, to remain in effect.

Hearing the pope’s confession: Vatican confessor reflects on sacrament

Pope Francis confesses in St. Peter's Basilica. / Credit: L’Osservatore Romano

CNA Newsroom, Dec 10, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

A veteran Vatican confessor spoke about his time as confessor to Pope Francis, stressing the enduring and essential role of the sacrament.

The hidden life of Nicholas Black Elk revealed in canonization process

Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White. / Credit: Public Domain

Detroit, Mich., Dec 10, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Nicholas Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota Sioux warrior, visionary, and Catholic catechist, is known worldwide but has been misunderstood for decades, according to two Jesuit priests who have emphasized Black Elk’s enduring Catholic faith as his canonization process unfolds.   

First published in 1932, the book “Black Elk Speaks” became especially popular in the 1960s counterculture when many Americans and Europeans were searching for spirituality distinct from Christianity. The acclaimed book is based on conversations the Sioux holy man had with Nebraska poet John Neihardt. Black Elk (1865–1950) spoke in Lakota and was translated by his son, Ben Black Elk, whose words were recorded in shorthand. The book has appeared in several editions for decades to acclaim.

However, it has been criticized by the Lakota as well as by scholars.

Indiana University professor Raymond DeMaille, for example, questioned Neihardt’s faithfulness to Black Elk’s words. Later, Nebraska University Press addressed the controversy by publishing an edition titled “Black Elk Speaks: as told through John G. Neihardt (aka ‘Flaming Rainbow’).”

Father Michael Steltenkamp, SJ, an anthropologist and parish priest, has written several books and journal articles about Black Elk and has prepared biographical materials for the canonization process. For Steltenkamp, Nicholas Black Elk is a model for American Catholics. 

Steltenkamp told CNA that “Black Elk Speaks” really only chronicled the first 25 years or so of Black Elk’s long, momentous life. Referring to its author, Steltenkamp said: “Neihardt reports that Black Elk was born in the Moon of the Topping Trees (December). In fact, Black Elk was born in the summertime, but he used Dec. 6 as his birthdate because that was the day he was baptized” in 1904.

“In his words, not mine, not some fundamentalist’s words,” Steltenkamp said, “he was born again.”

Dec. 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas and was thus the name Black Elk took as he began a new life, Steltenkamp said. 

A series of visions

Black Elk was born on the plains of Wyoming and from an early age had mysterious visions that garnered respect among Lakota medicine men and tribal healers. Hardly more than a boy, and before his conversion, he participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, where he scalped a soldier. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men were killed there in 1876. Black Elk’s cousin, Crazy Horse, was the famed Lakota war chief there.

The 1870s saw the influx of white settlers on the Great Plains and the extermination of millions of bison, which was met with armed resistance by Native Americans. The U.S. Army fought the Sioux and other native peoples who were gradually worn down by the war; forced into reservations; died of exposure, starvation, and disease; and made dependent on government handouts. 

But there was interest in the eastern United States and Europe in the vanishing Native Americans. 

Black Elk joined William Cody’s tour of Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and even gave a command performance for Queen Victoria as part of her 1887 golden jubilee. The monarch solemnly bowed to the Native Americans in a sign of respect shown only to fellow rulers, Steltenkamp said. Black Elk visited European cathedrals where white men worshipped. He understood that not all whites were evil. 

“He had a much more ecumenical, rather than a tribalistic, or parochial, Christian vision,” Steltenkamp said. “He was universal in his preaching. He was Christ-like.” 

The crisis for Native Americans on the plains produced a spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance and swept through the West in the late 1880s, giving them hope that whites would leave, the bison herds would return, and the old way of life would be renewed by an awaited savior. But the army feared the Ghost Dance would embolden Native American resistance. 

Black Elk had a series of visions during a dance — more than a decade before his conversion — in which he saw a man “with wounds in the palms of his hands.” He said: “Once more, I saw the sacred tree all full of leaves and blooming. Against the tree was a man standing with arms held wide in front of him. I looked hard at him and could not tell what people he came from. He was not ‘wasi’chu’ [non-Indian] and he was not Indian. His hair was long and hanging loose… his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light… He spoke like singing: ‘My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me. Your father the Great Spirit has said this. And you too must say this.’”

Steltenkamp said: “He sees this figure calling all people to the flowering tree of ‘Wakan Tanka’ (‘Great Spirit’). That is the resurrected Jesus. He saw all humanity under a flowering tree and the flowering tree as a symbol of the Christian life of all people. I am quoting his daughter, Lucy, on that.”

Serving his people as a healer and holy man, Black Elk rescued the wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, where the army tried to disarm the Lakota, and killed at least 300 — including women and children — on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Native American resistance was effectively at an end. Red Cloud, a Lakota leader, convinced Black Elk to stop fighting and stay at the reservation.

Red Cloud later invited Jesuit missionaries to the Pine Ridge Reservation because of his trust in the Jesuit priests, whom the Lakota called “black robes.” At his request, a Catholic school, which is still in operation, was established there.

As for Black Elk, he married Katie War Bonnet, a convert, in 1892, and their three children were baptized Catholics. In 1903, Katie died. Two years later, after his own conversion, Black Elk married Anna Brings White, who was also Catholic. Among their children was Lucy, who befriended Steltenkamp in the 1970s. Their relationship grew so close in the 1970s that she called Steltenkamp “grandson.”

Black Elk’s Catholicism

Steltenkamp said Black Elk’s Catholic faith only grew after his baptism. He became a catechist at the Pine Ridge Reservation, taking on for nearly 50 years duties resembling those of modern permanent deacons. He preached the Gospel, taught the basics of the faith, and baptized the dying. Steltenkamp said that Black Elk was “really committed to this 24-hours-a-day ministry: a vocation.”

In a 2013 article in U.S. Catholic Historian, Steltenkamp wrote that the “Encyclopedia of Indians” described Black Elk’s Catholicism as calculated in order to “appease his oppressors.” But according to Steltenkamp, Black Elk’s nephew, Pat Red Elk, said that whoever described Black Elk this way “sure didn’t know Uncle Nick.”

Father Joseph Daoust, SJ, who serves at Pine Ridge, said of Black Elk: “He wanted to help his people get the faith which had helped him. He was a man of hope in very difficult times. These were prisoner of war camps and they were deprived of the means of taking care of themselves.”

“Black Elk had credibility,” Daoust continued. “He was used as a missionary even in Wyoming to reservations where they don’t speak Lakota. He didn’t know Arapaho or Shoshone. But he was considered a holy man by them.” 

“The memory of him as an old man was of seeing him every Sunday walk from the general store to St. Agnes Church in Manderson, South Dakota, on the reservation, with his friend John Lone Goose. Black Elk began praying the rosary, ‘Hail Mary full of grace,’ and John responded, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God,’ and they would finish the rosary by the time they reached the church. They would remember Black Elk always had a rosary in hand,” Steltenkamp said.

Another example of his devotion, Steltenkamp said, was that despite advanced age and arthritis, Black Elk would always insist on receiving the Eucharist on his knees at the altar rail, getting help from family to genuflect. During an annual retreat for catechists during Holy Week in 1923, Black Elk approached a Jesuit priest with a “very worthy resolution: ‘We catechists resolve never to commit a mortal sin.’”

In a video documentary titled “Walking the Good Red Road,” sponsored by the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, Steltenkamp said: “I can see why Black Elk and the Jesuits got along. Because part of the mystical tradition of the Jesuits is to find God in all things. How do you find God in the midst of tragedy and tears or loss? You have to seek God in that.”

The Jesuits developed a unique catechism for use among the illiterate on the American Plains. In the video, Steltenkamp described the “Two Roads Map”: a chart with colorful depictions of the Old Testament and the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. A black road lead to perdition, while a red road lead through the Church to salvation.

”Black Elk used the Two Roads Map for 30 years and taught many generations of kids and older people what Christians call salvation history … He said, ‘I saw my vocation as leading my people from the Black Road to the Red Road,’” Steltenkamp said.

“It’s a lot of hogwash that Black Elk didn’t live his faith sincerely. His daughter wanted to make it clear that Neihardt’s depiction of him as a 19th-century figure did an injustice to his life as a whole,” Steltenkamp emphasized.

Canonization process

In an interview with CNA, Daoust said Black Elk is recognized among the people of Pine Ridge as a holy man in both the Lakota and Catholic senses.

“We didn’t run into any opposition to canonizing him, especially among his relatives,” Daoust said, adding that a commemorative Mass is said every year at the church in Pine Ridge on Aug. 17, Black Elk’s death date.

“There are some descendants who are not Catholic, but not anti-Catholic, but who believe the Church was part of colonization, who say this is an honor, and ‘go ahead and do it to my grandpa,’” Daoust said.

“His process of conversion was gradual,” Daoust said, adding that not “everything before his conversion was holy. Catholics should know he was a faithful Catholic, a missionary Catholic, somebody who went to reservations with the Jesuits and spoke very well of Jesus Christ and the faith.”

“He was a great model of being both Catholic and Lakota,” Daoust said, noting that Black Elk continued some Lakota practices that are not at odds with Catholic teaching. As for any lingering doubts about Black Elk’s Catholic identity, Daoust pointed out that even St. Ignatius Loyola — founder of the Jesuits — was a soldier who defended his country from outsiders.

Steltenkamp said that Nicholas Black Elk is now honored as a Servant of God and the cause for his canonization is now before the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican.

Orphan rescued by Mother Teresa promotes cause of Minnesota nun 

Patrick Norton stands near Sister Annella Zervas' grave, October 2022. / Credit: Patti Armstrong

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 10, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pointing toward the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Saint Benedict Monastery cemetery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, 61-year-old Patrick Norton recounts the day 13 years ago when he was painting light posts in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother and encountered who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas, OSB.

Zervas, a Benedictine sister, died in 1926 at the age of 26 of a debilitating skin disease.

Norton, who was plucked from the streets of Bombay as a child by Mother Teresa and later adopted by an American family, had been hired by the College of Saint Benedict on Oct. 27, 2010, to do some painting. He told CNA that while finishing up the last light post in front of the grotto he thought to himself, “I wonder if the Blessed Mother thinks I am doing a good job?” When he looked down, there was a nun in full Benedictine habit.

“‘You are doing a good job,’ she told me. We talked a little, but I don’t remember what it was about. Then I watched as she disappeared,” he told CNA.

The encounter was so astonishing that Norton kept it to himself for a year. But in a chance conversation, he was told “there is a holy nun buried in that cemetery” and he came to learn it was Zervas. Eventually, he saw a picture of her and was certain that she was the one who had appeared to him.

Patrick Norton stands beside the lamp post he was painting near the Marian grotto when he saw a woman in full Benedict habit who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas. Credit: Patti Armstrong
Patrick Norton stands beside the lamp post he was painting near the Marian grotto when he saw a woman in full Benedict habit who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas. Credit: Patti Armstrong

An elderly religious sister at Saint Benedict Monastery — who also happened to be named Sister Annella — shared with Norton pictures of Zervas and a booklet about the young sister’s life called “Apostles of Suffering in Our Day” by Benedictine priest Joseph Kreuter, published in 1929.

“Why isn’t she a saint yet?’ Norton asked.

“Oh, I’m in my 80s and I’m the only one promoting her cause,” she replied.

“Sister, why can’t I help you out?” he replied.

Norton said she just looked at him. “I didn’t have any experience but felt compassion for her, and also, I did see Sister Annella, so I felt I had to promote her cause.”

He read in the booklet that Zervas entered the convent at age 15 and died from a painful, unsightly, and odiferous skin disease at age 26. She was also subjected to attacks from the devil and from a heartburn that made it hard to keep food down. At the time of her death, she weighed only 40 pounds. Yet, she asked God to allow her even more suffering and for the strength to bear it so she could offer it up for the Church. 

Every week, Norton made 10 copies of the booklet to pass out. “I went to Sister Annella’s grave and told her, ‘If I am going to make more books, I need money.’” 

A short time later he had a conversation with someone he had just met and told about Zervas. “How can I help?” the person asked him. 

“Can you help me make 20 books a week instead of just 10?” 

“How about 20,000?” the donor, who wanted to remain anonymous, replied. 

The number of books Norton has now distributed is about 100,000. It was also previously published in French and Sri Lanken. 

Another good Samaritan arranged for Norton to be interviewed for a video called “The Sanctity of Two Hearts.”

A friend of Norton’s located Joanne Zervas, a niece of Sister Annella’s, and Norton met with her. She gave him many of her aunt’s personal effects for safekeeping, including family letters, a silver spoon used to give holy Communion when Zervas was incapacitated, her rosary, a book stained with what is believed to be her blood, and candles that burned in her room when she died.  

Word spread about the sister and there were reports of answered prayers through her intercession. Yet, it seemed unlikely that a cause for her canonization would open. 

Norton recounted that Bishop Donald Joseph Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud encouraged him to keep telling his story but declined to take further steps in order to respect the wishes of the Benedictine sisters who were not interested in opening a cause for Zervas. 

In a SC Times article in 2017, a spokesperson for the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, said it was not the Benedictine way to promote one sister above another as it would “be contrary to humility.” A spokesperson from the diocese said that without their support, there would be no cause. 

But Norton and a small group that had formed to pray that her cause be opened met monthly at the cemetery and kept praying. 

After years of disappointment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis informed Norton that he was appealing to the wrong diocese. Zervas had died in her parents’ home in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is in the Crookston Diocese. But again, there was no interest in opening a cause there.

“I went through darkness,” Norton admitted. “I would say, ‘Really Lord, are you hearing me?’  One day I said, ‘I’m not getting any younger you know.’”

Norton questioned if he was even the right person to promote Zervas. “I’m not a doctor or a lawyer; I’m just a painter,” he said. But he had told the Lord: “Let me live each day for you, and I will tell people about her through my nothingness.”

Patrick Norton speaks during event at the grotto in the cemetery during event where the bishop's letter was read in October 2023. Credit: Patti Armstrong
Patrick Norton speaks during event at the grotto in the cemetery during event where the bishop's letter was read in October 2023. Credit: Patti Armstrong

Then in 2021, Bishop Andrew Cozzens was appointed to the Diocese of Crookston. Norton heard that Cozzens had known about Zervas since he was a boy. Then on Oct. 15 Norton heard — through a letter from the bishop that was read at the cemetery to the prayer group — that initial steps are being put in place by the diocese to begin an investigation into Zervas’ life, which will make it possible for a cause to be opened.

Norton has now been promoting Zervas’ story for more than a decade.

“I couldn’t fall asleep that night,” Norton told CNA. “I was overwhelmed. The first thing I did was to thank Our Lord and Our Lady. Before going to bed, every night, I always kiss the cheek of Our Lady of Fátima statue [in his home] and say, ‘Good night, Mother.’ And I kiss the feet of Our Lord on a big crucifix from a monastery in Spain and say, ‘You are my Lord and my God. There is no other God, and I love you.’”  

“Even before Sister Annella appeared to me, every Mother’s Day, I brought roses to the grotto and would tell [Mary], ‘You are the best Ma in the whole world. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.’ I’d sit there and look at the big crucifix and pray the rosary.” 

Norton said he is at peace with his efforts over the years to make Zervas’ life and holiness known. “Since the diocese is taking over, I’m going to just be silent and do my best to live in humility and pray,” he said. “I will pray a lot and thank the Lord for the work he is doing.”

Pope Francis appoints Brazilian native as Boston’s new auxiliary bishop  

Father Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa , 47, was appointed by Pope Francis as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Boston on Dec. 9, 2023. / Credit: Archdiocese of Boston

CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 10:26 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a priest born and ordained in Brazil to serve as the next auxiliary bishop of Boston, the Vatican announced on Saturday. 

Father Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa, 47, will join Cardinal Seán O’Malley and four other auxiliaries as bishops of the archdiocese, a territory that includes nearly 1.8 million Catholics. 

The Boston metropolitan area is also home to a significant Brazilian population — nearly 64,000 people, according to census figures from 2014. Barbosa was chaplain of the archdiocese’s Brazilian-Portuguese community from 2008–2019. 

Currently, Barbosa is the episcopal vicar of the archdiocese’s central region and also serves as the archdiocesan secretary for evangelization and catechesis, roles he will continue in following his episcopal ordination. 

O’Malley cited Barbosa’s experience with the local Brazilian community as well as his theological background and extensive parish experience as factors in the pope’s appointment. 

“I am grateful to our Holy Father Pope Francis for blessing this archdiocese with the appointment of Bishop-elect Barbosa,” O’Malley said in a Dec. 9 statement provided by the Archdiocese of Boston. “He offers a shepherd’s heart and a wide range of experiences that have prepared him for this new role in the life of the Church.” 

In the same statement, Barbosa said he was “humbled” by the “great confidence” shown by the Holy Father in naming him an auxiliary bishop. He also said that he is “happy if I can serve in love God and his people” and described the role of Church ministers as promoting “unity and peace.” 

“I want to thank Cardinal Seán for his confidence and for his great love for the archdiocese and its people in all its cultural diversity,” Barbosa said. 

Barbosa was born in Adamantina in the Diocese of Maríla, Brazil, on Oct. 11, 1976. He received his education in Brazil, including a master’s degree in psychology, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Bauru on Dec. 22, 2007. 

The Brazilian native has served at parishes in Cambridge and Lowell. He earned a licentiate and doctorate in theology from Boston College and was a faculty member at the Pope John XIII National Seminary in Weston and St. John Seminary in Brighton from 2020 until earlier this year. Barbosa was incardinated into the archdiocese in 2021. 

According to the archdiocese, Barbosa speaks Spanish in addition to English and Portuguese. Pope Francis has also assigned him to the titular see of Membressa. 

Report: Interstate travel for abortion doubled from 2020 to 2023

A pro-life woman kneels in prayer in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center, an abortion clinic, in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 8, 2021. / Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

More people are traveling outside of their state to receive an abortion after more than 20 states enacted pro-life legislation amid the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, new data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute found. 

The percentage of women traveling interstate to receive an abortion nearly doubled in the first six months of 2023 compared with 2020, according to estimates in the report. It estimates that the number of out-of-state abortions jumped from about 9% of all abortions to about 17% of all abortions. The total number of women receiving out-of-state abortions more than doubled from fewer than 41,000 to more than 90,000. 

According to the report, the states with the highest uptick in out-of-state abortion seekers are bordering states that enacted new restrictions on abortion. This includes Florida, which has fewer restrictions than its neighbors Georgia and Alabama; New Mexico, which has fewer restrictions than neighbors Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma; and Kansas, which has fewer restrictions than all of its neighbors, apart from Colorado. 

“We knew that more people have been traveling across state lines for abortion since the end of Roe, but these findings are stunning nonetheless and powerfully illustrate just how disruptive the overturning of Roe has been for tens of thousands of abortion patients,” Guttmacher Institute Data Scientist Isaac Maddow-Zimet said in a statement. 

“Where people are traveling to get care is an important piece of the puzzle in untangling the post-Dobbs abortion landscape,” Maddow-Zimet, who led the project to produce the report, added. “We hope that this data can prove useful to providers, advocates, and policymakers who have been working tirelessly to improve access to abortion in the face of unprecedented challenges.” 

Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that the report’s findings are “tragic, but unsurprising.” 

“After the Dobbs decision, we’ve seen pro-abortion states become even more extreme in their marketing of abortion to women in pro-life states,” Longbons said. “Women deserve to know that there is a network of nearly 3,000 pregnancy centers across the country providing millions of dollars’ worth of services and resources for pregnant women in need. Rather than pushing abortion on demand, states should offer women and their babies real support and comprehensive care.”

The Guttmacher Institute produced these estimates from data samples they received from organizations that perform abortions.

In spite of the increase in out-of-state abortions, pro-life activists have noted that a recent increase in live births nationally shows that pro-life laws are having a positive effect in saving preborn children from abortions.

“Despite the efforts of pro-abortion states, the Institute of Labor Economics recently estimated that states with pro-life laws will welcome approximately 32,000 more babies annually,” Longbons said.

Christmas 2023: A Catholic gift guide for the little ones on your shopping list

null / Credit: New Africa/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 9, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

With Christmas quickly approaching, it’s time to find gifts for the little ones on your shopping list. Faith-based toys and gifts are quickly becoming more and more popular among Catholic families who wish to instill a love of the faith in their children starting from a young age.

We’ve compiled a list of small Catholic companies that offer a variety of faith-based items for young children on your Christmas list. Many of these offer gifts for older children and adults as well.

The Nativity Wooden Puzzle from Be A Heart. Credit: Be A Heart
The Nativity Wooden Puzzle from Be A Heart. Credit: Be A Heart

Be a Heart

Striving to offer “hope to the hopeless and bring light into the shadows,” Be a Heart designs products for all stages of life. The company started as a simple blog, but Erica Campbell, the company’s founder, says she felt called to design her own products.

Be a Heart offers a wide range of gifts for babies and kids including swaddles, pajamas, dolls, bibs, placemats, and more. The Nativity Wooden Puzzle is a perfect gift for a child who is learning his or her shapes. There are 14 wooden pieces that are thick enough that they can also stand on their own for multiple ways to play.

A little girl holds several of the plush saint Shining Light Dolls. Credit: Shining Light Dolls
A little girl holds several of the plush saint Shining Light Dolls. Credit: Shining Light Dolls

Shining Light Dolls

Shining Light Dolls was created to teach children Catholicism through proven play-based learning. One of the company’s most popular items are the plush dolls of several saints including St. Joseph, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Francis of Assisi, the archangels, St. Joan of Arc, and many more. These are the perfect gift for any boy or girl who loves to cuddle up with their favorite plush toy. The Catholic company also has books, puzzles, and wooden playsets. 

Theotokos Kids

Husband and wife Allan and Veronica Caballero created Theotokos Kids to help parents in their mission of being primary educators of the faith for their children. Their company offers children’s books on the lives of the saints as well as introductions to prayer, heaven, the Eucharist, and God’s love for us. Plus, Theotokos Kids offers books in Spanish for any bilingual families seeking faith-based items in Spanish. The available books tell the story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, Our Lady of Fátima, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, among others. 

The Little Flower silicone rosary from Chews Life. Credit: Francesca Pollio Fenton/CNA
The Little Flower silicone rosary from Chews Life. Credit: Francesca Pollio Fenton/CNA

Chews Life

Do you know someone who has a little one on the way or who has just given birth? The Chews Life silicone rosary teethers are the perfect gift. Inspired by St. Padre Pio’s words “The rosary is the weapon for these times,” Chews Life strives to equip even the youngest of Catholics with a rosary. Each silicone rosary is made with high-quality components, lab tested for safety, and CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) certified. 

The "quiet books" from The Little Rose Shop. Credit: The Little Rose Shop
The "quiet books" from The Little Rose Shop. Credit: The Little Rose Shop

The Little Rose Shop

The “quiet books” from The Little Rose Shop introduce kids to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith in a captivating and interactive way. Through the flipping and pulling of moveable objects, children uncover hidden truths of the faith. There are three quiet books to choose from: “Where Is Jesus Quiet Book,” “Catholic Mass Quiet Book,” and “Rosary Quiet Book.” These are sure to keep little ones quietly entertained while fostering a deeper connection with the faith.

The rosary poppers which help kids to keep their place while praying the rosary from Gather and Pray. Gather and Pray
The rosary poppers which help kids to keep their place while praying the rosary from Gather and Pray. Gather and Pray

Gather and Pray

Inspired by the desire to pray the rosary as a family, Gather and Pray offers tools to aid families trying to pray together as a family with little ones. A rosary popper helps kids to keep their place while praying the rosary. Plus, the popper has the mysteries of the rosary printed directly on it. Gather and Pray also has decade rosary pop-it keychains, a wooden rosary board, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary pop-its, the sacraments pop-its, and much more.

The Catholic Mass felt book. Credit: Brick House in the City
The Catholic Mass felt book. Credit: Brick House in the City

Brick House in the City

A new item from Brick House in the City is bound to keep little ones entertained during Mass while still learning about the faith. The Catholic Mass Felt Book Kit includes 18 pieces that represent a part of the Mass. The compact and portable felt book has plenty of space for kids to place the items on. Some of the pieces you will find are a cross, candle, chalice, Bible, monstrance, Eucharist hosts, tabernacle, altar, stained-glass window, and more.

Pope marks 800th anniversary of Nativity scene, asks prayers for Holy Land

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Away in a cave near Greccio, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi had the first Nativity scene -- a live one -- staged for the faithful on Christmas Eve in 1223. A 15th-century fresco now decorating the cave inspired the Nativity scene erected in St. Peter's Square for the 800th anniversary celebrations.

Before the scene was unveiled and the Christmas tree in the square was lighted Dec. 9, Pope Francis met with the more than 100 people involved in erecting the creche, officials from the Rieti Valley, which includes Greccio, and from the little town of Macra, in northern Italy, which donated the silver fir tree.

For St. Francis of Assisi, who had traveled to the Holy Land, "the caves of Greccio reminded him of the landscape of Bethlehem," the pope said. The saint asked that a donkey and an ox, some hay and a manger be brought to the cave on Christmas Eve and invited other friars and people from the village, "creating a living Nativity scene. Thus, the tradition of the Nativity scene as we understand it was born."

Pope Francis at a Nativity scene
Pope Francis stops to pray in front of a Nativity scene in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2023, after meeting with donors, artists and local government officials responsible for the Christmas decorations at the Vatican. The scene is a mosaic of Venetian glass tiles created by Alessandro Serena and features St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi in celebration of the 800th anniversary of St. Francis staging the first Nativity scene. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Remembering Greccio today, the pope said, people should also think of Bethlehem. "And as we contemplate Jesus -- God made man, small, poor, defenseless -- we cannot but think of the tragedy that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are living, expressing to those brothers and sisters of ours, especially the children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support. They are the ones who pay the true price of war."

Whether the Nativity scene is in St. Peter's Square, in a church or in one's home, the pope said, people passing one should remember Jesus' birth 2,000 years ago and be moved to "silence and prayer in our often so hectic daily lives."

"Silence to be able to listen to what Jesus tells us from the unique 'cathedra' of the manger," he said. "Prayer to express grateful wonder, tenderness and perhaps the tears that the Nativity scene stirs in us."

Enrico Bressan, co-curator of the Nativity scene in the square, told reporters that when he and Giovanna Zabotti were asked two years ago to create the Vatican creche for the anniversary, "We felt like Giovanni Velita and his wife, Alticama," who helped St. Francis of Assisi stage that first scene.

Pope Francis, who usually visits the scene after vespers Dec. 31, stopped by Nov. 29 to see the work in progress and bless the workers, Bressan said. "It was a great joy for us and gave us strength."

Among the 103 people who worked on the scene, he said, one of the first was Francesco Artese, a master creche maker, who used the fresco now in the cave to design the scene. Antonio Cantone, who has been making Nativity scene figures in Naples for more than four decades, created the life-sized figures of the Holy Family, St. Francis of Assisi, other friars and the Velita couple. Set and lighting designers from Cinecittà, the famed Rome movie studio, created the cave and the lighting.

Cantone also created the figures for Nativity scenes in the square in 2013 and 2017. But those had the facial features and clothes of Neapolitans in the 1700s, which is now the standard for Italian Nativity scenes. However, this year's figures resemble how people would have looked and dressed in central Italy in the 1200s, he said.

Vatican police band
Members of the Vatican Gendarmerie band perform as the Christmas tree is lighted in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 9, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

"For an artist who lives making Nativity scenes year-round," he said, being part of the 800th anniversary celebration "is like winning an Oscar for the years of sacrifice and the creches of the past."

The figures include a Franciscan priest celebrating Mass, just as one of St. Francis' confreres did in the cave on Christmas Eve in 1223.

Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, head of the office governing Vatican City State, told those gathered in the square in the evening for the unveiling that the representation of the Mass at the manger "emphasizes how the incarnation of the son of God has remained among us through his body and blood in the Eucharist."

Zabotti said that for her, Nativity scenes were always part of a family celebration of Christmas, but the two-year project for St. Peter's Square made her realize how St. Francis was trying to tell the simple people of Greccio that "whenever in the world people gather on that night in Jesus' name, there is the Incarnation."

"Whenever someone sets up a Nativity scene," she said, "there is not just Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. We are there. The people of today. We are the shepherds now."


Vatican Nativity scene highlights St. Francis, Holy Land

Vatican Nativity scene highlights St. Francis, Holy Land

Pope Francis met donors responsible for the Nativity scene and tree in St. Peter's Square; the creche was unveiled and the tree lighted that evening.

Pope Francis Names New Auxiliary Bishop of Boston

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has named Rev. Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, and current secretary for evangelization and discipleship, and episcopal vicar for the central region of the archdiocese, as the new auxiliary bishop of Boston. The appointment was publicized in Washington, D.C. on December 9, 2023, by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The following biographical information for Bishop-elect Barbosa was drawn from preliminary materials provided to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Father Barbosa was born October 11, 1976, in Adamantina, Brazil. He received a licentiate of philosophy from the Universidade do Sagrado Coração at Bauru in Sao Paolo, Brazil (2004), a master’s degree in psychology from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais at Belo Horizante, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, a licentiate in Sacred Theology (2011) and doctorate in sacred theology (2019) from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He was ordained to the priesthood in Brazil on December 22, 2007; Father Barbosa was incardinated to the Archdiocese of Boston in 2021.

Bishop-elect Barbosa’s pastoral assignments in the Archdiocese of Boston include: chaplain to the Brazilian-Portuguese Community (2008-2019); parochial vicar at Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Francis of Assisi parishes in Cambridge (2019), and Holy Family, Immaculate Conception, and Saint Anthony of Padua parishes in Lowell (2019-2020). He has been a faculty member of the Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston (2020-present); and a faculty member of Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton (2020-present). Since 2023, he has served as secretary for evangelization and discipleship and as episcopal vicar for the central region in the Archdiocese of Boston. Bishop-elect Barbosa speaks English, Portuguese (Brazilian), and Spanish.

The Archdiocese of Boston is comprised of 2,465 square miles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has a total population of 4,496,207 of which 1,794,260 are Catholic.


Italian bishop suspends selecting godparents for baptism and sponsors for confirmation

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ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Bishop Mario Vaccari of Massa Carrara-Pontremoli in Italy said he made his decision because “emotional ties” have been prioritized over pastoral ones.