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Christianity without the Cross is ‘sterile,’ says Pope Francis at Byzantine Divine Liturgy

Pope Francis presides at the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Prešov, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Around 40,000 people attended the liturgy in Prešov, Slovakia.

It's time to start telling the truth about St. Junípero Serra

Statue of St. Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park. / scupperssf/wikimedia. BY CC 2.0.

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 13, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Misinformation and deliberate disinformation continue to surround the memory of St. Junípero Serra, the Apostle of California. 

Most recently, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that essentially declares Serra to be a kind of moral monster: “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra.”

Assembly Bill 338, which passed 66–2 in the Assembly and 28–2 in the Senate, has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom. It repeats the unsubstantiated allegations found in online petitions and other misinformation spread last summer by Black Lives Matter and other activist groups to justify vandalizing statues of the saint in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and at the Capitol in Sacramento.  

The legislature’s claims are a “slander” against Serra and push a “false narrative” about the missions, say Archbishop José H. Gomez and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco in a new opinion essay published in the Wall Street Journal. “None of that is true,” they write. “While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system.”

Pope Francis canonized St. Junípero Serra personally in Washington, D.C. on September 23, 2015, the first-ever canonization on American soil.

It is rare for popes to celebrate canonizations outside of Rome. But Francis, an immigrant’s son and the first pontiff from the New World, emphasized Serra’s holiness, his historic significance as America’s first Hispanic saint, and called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”

Prior to the canonization, Pope Francis took part in a day-long symposium hosted by the Pontifical North American College and organized by the Knights of Columbus, that included presentations by Archbishop Gomez and top scholars from the United States.

St. Pope John Paul II, who beatified Serra in 1988, prayed at his tomb at Mission San Carlos Borroméo in Carmel, and praised his “heroic spirit and heroic deeds,” and called him a “defender and champion” of the indigenous Californians.

“Very often at crucial moments in human affairs,” the pope said, “God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. … So it is with Junípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be.” 

The best biographers of Serra and historians of California’s early history are Robert Senkewicz, Professor of History Emeritus at Santa Clara University and his wife, Rose Marie Beebe, Professor of Spanish Emerita at Santa Clara University.

Their book, “Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary,” is the definitive academic study and includes original translations of Serra’s letters.

Beebe and Senkewicz were featured participants in the symposium on the legacy of St. Junípero Serra hosted by Pontifical North American College May 2, 2015.

The leading archeologist of the California missions is Rubén Mendoza, Professor of Archaeology and Social and Behavioral Sciences at the California State University, Monterey Bay. Mendoza, a Yaqui Indian and Mexican American, is a prolific author and has spoken movingly about his “conversion” on Serra, based on his academic research at the missions.

Mendoza discovered the so-called “Serra chapels” at the Royal Presidio of Monterey in 2008, the rectangular adobe buildings located directly in front of the present San Carlos Cathedral, built in the early 1790s. The Serra chapels mark the spot where, in 1770, St. Junípero celebrated the earliest Mass in a church on the California coast.

In addition, Mendoza’s research has discovered that Mission San Juan Bautista and at least 12 of the California missions were designed according to an ancient practice of enabling the sun to illuminate specific areas of the sanctuary during the winter or summer solstice.  

Mendoza was a featured participant in the symposium on the legacy of St. Junípero Serra hosted by Pontifical North American College May 2, 2015.

Gregory Orfalea, a noted journalist and essayist, has written a fine biography, Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California, and an excellent book for students and families, Junipero Serra and the California Missions: A Family Guide.

A version of this article first appeared at Angelus News. It has been adapted and reprinted with permission.

Bishops report 95 attacks on Catholic churches in US since May 2020

The door of St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, Ca. / null

Denver Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

There have been at least 95 reported incidents of vandalism of Catholic churches across the United States since May 2020, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.

Incidents include arson, the destruction of statues, and the defacement of church buildings and gravestones with swastikas and anti-Catholic language. 

“Whether those who committed these acts were troubled individuals crying out for help or agents of hate seeking to intimidate, the attacks are signs of a society in need of healing,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Maimi, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in a July 2020 statement. 

“In those incidents where human actions are clear, the motives still are not. As we strain to understand the destruction of these holy symbols of selfless love and devotion, we pray for any who have caused it, and we remain vigilant against more of it,” the bishops wrote. 

The latest incident included in the report took place Sept. 5. Vandals graffitied a door and two signs at a Catholic church in Louisville, Colo., about 20 miles northwest of Denver.

Incidents occurred across 29 states.

The report referenced 12 incidents in California since May 2020, including the defacement and removal of a statue of St. Junipero Serra in October 2020, and arson in July 2020 that destroyed parts of a 249-year old mission church in San Gabriel.  

The report also cited 14 incidents in New York, including anti-Catholic and anti-police graffiti on the exterior of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in January. 

In some cases, dioceses have requested increased security following vandalism.  

The Diocese of Brooklyn requested increased police presence in May, after two incidents of vandalism at church properties in three days. A statue depicting the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus was discovered vandalized outside the diocesan administrative offices, with Christ decapitated. A crucifix display outside a parish was also found toppled over, with an American flag outside the rectory burned. Both incidents were investigated as potential hate crimes. 

“We are definitely concerned that there is a pattern of hate crimes against Catholics,” said Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, the moderator of the curia for the diocese, in a statement following the attacks. 

“Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict,” Archbishops Wenski and Coakley wrote. 

“The path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Let us contemplate, rather than destroy, images of these examples of God’s love. Following the example of Our Lord, we respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love.”

‘A willingness to start with ‘yes’’: How one Catholic school graduated its first student with Down syndrome

Pastor of St. Augustine's, Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. (right) and admissions director Paula O'Dea (left) hand Abby Aguedelo her diploma on graduation day. / Wendy Agudelo

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

Tears flowed down the faces of Abigail “Abby” Agudelo’s classmates, as earlier this year she became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from St. Augustine’s School in Andover, Massachusetts. 

“We know other parochial schools in Massachusetts are striving to do the same today,” Abby’s mother, Wendy Agudelo, told CNA in an interview in August. “And because of Abby’s experience, other families who desire a Catholic school education for all of their children, including those containing a family member with special needs, are now looking at parochial school education as opportunistic.”

Because of her own mother’s strong Catholic faith, Wendy Agudelo had always wanted a Catholic education for all of her children. She also hoped Abby would have an academic path with “full inclusion,” and would not be placed in a classroom separate from other students. 

After Abby’s time in public preschool, however, her mother was not certain of a combination of Catholic education and full classroom inclusion.

“We noticed a divide between what we wanted for Abigail and what the school felt she should receive given her diagnosis,” she said in an email to CNA. 

It was during Agudelo’s search for a school that then-St. Augustine principal Paula O’Dea and pastor Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. stepped into the breach, and decided that St. Augustine’s would accommodate Abby's needs. 

“When Abby and her wonderful parents first made their inquiry to us at St. Augustine School about enrolling, the principal and I were concerned that we might not have available all that Abby would need for a successful experience,” Gori told CNA in an email. “We and Abby's parents all agreed to give it a try and that there would be no hard feelings if things didn't work out.” 

Gori said that Abby’s parents were “right all along” in believing that Abby would thrive at St. Augustine’s. “We received from her as much or more than she did from us,” Gori said. “It was a delight and a blessing every day and every year to have Abby at St. Augustine School.”  

Wendy Agudelo told CNA that, in general, parochial schools may not have a significant amount of resources. She noted organizations that exist to educate and support parochial schools interested in broadening their demographics. She named the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion and the FIRE Foundation as a few examples of these groups.

“Not every parochial school, or administrator for that matter, is interested in this path,” Wendy Agudelo said. “It comes with its set of challenges, but also great reward.”

She said that those who choose the path that St. Augustine’s School chose “ultimately earn the greatest return on investment.” 

“Nine years ago,” Paula O’Dea told CNA, “we didn't have any teachers with a moderate disabilities certification. Now, we have a lot of teachers with that as their second degree, and we'll have two full-time special ed teachers on site.” O’Dea is currently admissions director for St. Augustine’s.

O’Dea, who was the school’s principal at the time of Abby’s entrance, believes that St. Augustine’s was the only elementary school in the Archdiocese of Boston to accept a student with Down syndrome.

She told CNA that in Abby’s time at public school, her parents observed her in the corner of the classroom with a special education teacher, “not really being included in anything in the classroom.”

When Abby first arrived at the school, O’Dea said the school decided that, in order to properly live out its Catholic mission, it needed to find ways to support any student who wanted to attend. 

The school partnered with local Merrimack College to hire a student studying moderate disabilities as a subsidized, full-time teacher to support Abby. O’Dea said the school’s decision was a success, because it was affordable and effective for Abby. St. Augustine continues to have a “Merrimack Fellow” today.

O’Dea said that hiring the Merrimack Fellow was “a very small investment financially for us to have such a great outcome in the end.” She says she would recommend it as an alternative to hiring a full-time special education teacher for the classroom. 

Abby’s parents said that they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the administration and staff throughout Abby’s schooling. They encouraged teachers at every grade level to gain more professional development and experience with special needs through local conferences and workshops. 

While working full time, both of Abby’s parents spent much of their time at St. Augustine’s volunteering at Kindergarten centers, the lunchroom, as a chaperone on numerous field trips, and as active guild members helping to run events and fundraisers.

Wendy Agudelo said that partnering and collaborating with the school “every step of the way” bore amazing results.  

“In my opinion,” Agudelo said, “it’s not about available resources as much as it is a willingness to start with ‘yes’ and work together towards a shared goal.” 

“We’re not alone and believe that the more families know, the more armed with opportunity they become,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have found such great academic partners for our children, but pepper in some serious faith and a sprinkling of compassion, and nothing is impossible!” 

“Abby’s achievement is very impressive,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, to CNA. “But the biggest impact is the effect she had on the entire school community.  They all were blessed to have her as a classmate or student.”

Former Archbishop of Canterbury opposes proposed UK assisted suicide law

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (left) at the 2012 London Paralympic Games / rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org

Denver Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 14:03 pm (CNA).

A prominent Anglican archbishop has added his voice to those of several Catholic bishops in England and Wales opposing the legalization of assisted suicide. 

Archbishops criticize ‘outrageous’ claims against St Junipero Serra

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco (left) and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles (right) / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

A California bill to replace a statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol unfairly slanders the saint’s legacy, two archbishops claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Sunday, Sept. 12. 

Last month, California lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass Assembly Bill 338, which would replace the statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol with one honoring local Indigenous populations. The bill text claims that Serra and his missions were responsible for a host of atrocities against native peoples. 

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, becoming the first saint to be canonized on American soil. A Franciscan friar from Spain, he left a prestigious university chair in Majorca for what is now the United States in 1749, founding a system of missions to evangelize the Indigenous in modern-day California. He celebrated more than 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations.

The bill text states that “[Indigenous] history and contributions have been relatively ignored, written with great discrepancies and false mythologies.” 

“One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra,” the bill states, claiming that Serra oversaw the mission system which included “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

These claims about Serra are false, said Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in their op-ed. 

“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they wrote.

The archbishops wrote that the lawmakers drew from “a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.” That book, “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” is cited in the bill as “a more accurate and complete account of the period.” 

“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”

The archbishops described Serra as a “complex character,” but one who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” 

Serra, the archbishops noted, traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City when he was aged and infirm “to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written.”

“Mr. Newsom knows California history well enough to see that the claims against Serra aren’t true,” they said. “In 2019 he apologized for the state’s history of injustice against native people, acknowledging that it was California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, who launched what Burnett called ‘a war of extermination.’”

That “war of extermination,” the archbishops pointed out, began more than 60 years after Serra had died. 

“The destruction of the state’s native people happened long after he was gone and many of the missions had been taken over by the government,” they said. 

The statue of St. Junipero Serra was toppled by protesters in June 2020, and has since been in a storage area. Instead of replacing the statue, however, the archbishops proposed adding an additional statue at the capitol to honor the state’s Indigenous populations. 

“How we choose to remember the past shapes the people we hope to be in the future,” they said. “We can think of no better symbol for this multiethnic state committed to human dignity and equality than to place two statues at the California Capitol—one celebrating the living heritage of California’s indigenous peoples, another reflecting the faith and leadership of their defender St. Junípero Serra.”

Pope Francis to Slovakia’s Jewish community: ‘Your sufferings are our sufferings’

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Jewish community in Rybné Square in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal visit pool.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 10:19 am (CNA).

He recalled the community’s suffering during the Holocaust.

Pope Francis visits former ‘Bronx of Slovakia’ transformed by Mother Teresa’s nuns

Pope Francis visits the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal visit pool.

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sep 13, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The pope toured the Bethlehem Center, which has helped the homeless since 1997.

Pope Francis: We need ‘creativity of the Gospel,’ not ‘a defensive Catholicism’

Pope Francis addresses bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists in St Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal trip pool.

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sep 13, 2021 / 05:40 am (CNA).

He was speaking to clergy and lay people in Bratislava’s largest church.

Pope Francis urges Slovakia to follow the Beatitudes to build a just society

Pope Francis meets with authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal trip pool.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).

He addressed political authorities on his first full day in the country.