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The nuns who witnessed the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr

We March with Selma. Via Flickr CC BY NC 2.0. / null

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2022 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

Sister Mary Antona Ebo was the only black Catholic nun who marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

“I'm here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness,” Sister Mary Antona Ebo said to fellow demonstrators at a March 10, 1965 protest attended by King.

The protest took place three days after the “Bloody Sunday” clash, where police attacked several hundred voting rights demonstrators with clubs and tear gas, causing some severe injuries among the non-violent marchers. 

She died Nov. 11, 2017 in Bridgeton, Missouri at the age of 93, the St. Louis Review reported at the time.

After the “Bloody Sunday” attacks, King had called on church leaders from around the country to go to Selma. Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter of St. Louis had asked his archdiocese’s human rights commission to send representatives, Ebo recounted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2015.

Ebo’s supervisor, also a religious sister, asked her whether she would join a 50-member delegation of laymen, Protestant ministers, rabbis, priests and five white nuns.

Just before she left for Alabama, she heard that a white minister who had traveled to Selma, James Reeb, had been severely attacked after he left a restaurant.

At the time, Ebo said, she wondered: “If they would beat a white minister to death on the streets of Selma, what are they going to do when I show up?”

In Selma on March 10, she went to Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joining local leaders and the demonstrators who had been injured in the clash.

“They had bandages on their heads, teeth were knocked out, crutches, casts on their arms. You could tell that they were freshly injured,” she told the Post-Dispatch. “They had already been through the battle ground, and they were still wanting to go back and go back and finish the job.”

Many of the injured had been treated at Good Samaritan Hospital, run by Edmundite priests and the Sisters of St. Joseph, the only Selma hospital that served blacks. Since their arrival in 1937, the Edmundites had faced intimidation and threats from local officials, other whites, and even the Ku Klux Klan, CNN reported.

The injured demonstrators and their supporters left the Selma church, with Ebo in front. They marched towards the courthouse, then blocked by state troopers in riot gear. She and other demonstrators then knelt to pray the Our Father before they agreed to turn around.

Despite the violent interruption, the 57-mile march would draw 25,000 participants. It concluded on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, with King’s famous March 25 speech against racial prejudice.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

King would be dead within three years. On a fateful April 4, 1968, he was shot by an assassin at his Memphis hotel.

He had asked to be taken to a Catholic hospital should anything happen to him, and he was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis. At the time, it was a nursing school combined with a 400-bed hospital.

There, too, Catholic religious sisters played a role.

Sister Jane Marie Klein and Sister Anna Marie Hofmeyer recounted their story to The Paper of Montgomery County Online in January 2017.

The Franciscan nuns had been walking around the hospital grounds when they heard the sirens of an ambulance. One of the sisters was paged three times, and they discovered that King had been shot and taken to their hospital.

The National Guard and local police locked down the hospital for security reasons as doctors tried to save King.

“We were obviously not allowed to go in when they were working with him because they were feverishly working with him,” Sister Jane Marie said. “But after they pronounced him dead we did go back into the E.R. There was a gentleman as big as the door guarding the door and he looked at us and said ‘you want in?’ We said yes, we’d like to go pray with him. So he let the three of us in, closed the door behind us and gave us our time.”

Hofmeyer recounted the scene in the hospital room. “He had no chance,” she said.

Klein said authorities delayed the announcement of King’s death to prepare for riots they knew would result.

Three decades later, Klein met with King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at a meeting of the Catholic Health Association Board in Atlanta where King was a keynote speaker. The Franciscan sister and the widow of the civil rights leader told each other how they had spent that night.

Klein said being present that night in 1968 was “indescribable.”

“You do what you got to do,” she said. What’s the right thing to do? Hindsight? It was a privilege to be able to take care of him that night and to pray with him. Who would have ever thought that we would be that privileged?”

She said King’s life shows “to some extent one person can make a difference.” She wondered “how anybody could listen to Dr. King and not be moved to work toward breaking down these barriers.”

Klein would serve as chairperson of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, overseeing support for health care. Hofmeyer would work in the alliance’s archives. Last year both were living at the Provinciate at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka, Indiana.

For her part, after Selma, Ebo would go on to serve as a hospital administrator and a chaplain.

In 1968 she helped found the National Black Sisters’ Conference. The woman who had been rejected from several Catholic nursing schools because of her race would serve in her congregation’s leadership as it reunited with another Franciscan order, and she served as a director of social concerns for the Missouri Catholic Conference.

She frequently spoke on civil rights topics. When controversy over a Ferguson, Mo. police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, a black man, she led a prayer vigil. She thought the Ferguson protests were comparable to those of Selma.

“I mean, after all, if Mike Brown really did swipe the box of cigars, it’s not the policeman’s place to shoot him dead,” she said.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis presided at her requiem Mass in November, saying in a statement “We will miss her living example of working for justice in the context of our Catholic faith.”

A previous version of this article was originally published on CNA Jan. 14, 2018.

Pope Francis: The story of the Holy Land is the 'Fifth Gospel'

Pope Francis met a delegation affiliated with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has urged journalists in the Middle East to keep telling stories from the Holy Land, calling it the “Fifth Gospel.”

“Making the Holy Land known means transmitting the ‘Fifth Gospel,’ that is, the historical environment and geographical area in which the Word of God was revealed and then made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, for us and for our salvation,” the pope said in the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 17.

“It also means making known the people who live there today, the life of the Christians of various Churches and denominations, but also those of Jews and Muslims, to try to build, in a complex and difficult context like that of the Middle East, a fraternal society.”

The phrase “the Fifth Gospel” has been invoked by popes from Paul VI to Benedict XVI to describe the Holy Land.

In his speech, Pope Francis quoted Benedict XVI’s description of the Holy Land as the place where the history and geography of salvation meet.

“There ‘we can see, indeed, tangibly feel the reality of the history that God brought about with men and women; beginning with the places of Abraham's life and including the places of Jesus' life, from the Incarnation to the empty tomb, the sign of his Resurrection. Yes, God entered this land, he acted with us in this world,’” Pope Francis said, quoting Benedict’s Regina Coeli address from May 17, 2009.

“And the Paschal Mystery also illuminates and gives meaning to today's history, to the journey of the peoples who live in the Holy Land today, a journey unfortunately marked by wounds and conflicts even today, but which God's grace always opens to hope, the hope of fraternity and peace,” Francis said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The pope met with a group of journalists from the Jerusalem-based Christian Media Center as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of its flagship Italian magazine, “La Terra Santa.”

Fransican Father Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, led the delegation.

“The service you carry out today is on the line of continuity with the communicative intuition that 100 years ago guided the Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi, and consists - as he wrote in the first issue of the magazine - in ‘making the Holy Land better known, the Land of God, the cradle of Christianity, the venerable sanctuaries where the Redemption of mankind was accomplished,’” Francis told the journalists.

“Through the means of social communication you can enrich the faith of many, even of those who do not have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the holy places,” he said.

Both the media center and the magazine are affiliated with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1217.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Before his speech, Pope Francis apologized that he had to speak while sitting because his leg was in pain.

“Excuse me if I stay seated, but I have a pain in my leg today ... It hurts me, it hurts if I'm standing,” the pope said.

The 85-year-old pope has suffered from sciatica for a number of years. He spoke about it during an in-flight press conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

Pope Francis thanked the journalists in particular for telling the stories of people from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Gaza, where the realities are “most difficult.”

“I know that you try to present stories of the good – those of active resistance to the evil of war, those of reconciliation, those of restoring dignity to children robbed of their childhood, those of refugees with their tragedies but also with their dreams and hopes,” the pope said.

“Thank you because, in order to work in this way, you have not spared the soles of your shoes, and I know that you will not spare them in the future either, in order to be able to tell all of this.”

“When you tell the story of the Holy Land, you tell the ‘Fifth Gospel,’ what God continues to write in history,” Pope Francis said.

Burlington priest asks parishioners to tell bishop of his pastoral care, mental health

Fr. Peter Williams, pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vt. / Holy Family Parish Springfield Vermont screenshot via Youtube.

Burlington, Vt., Jan 17, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Father Peter Williams says the Diocese of Burlington is trying to remove him as pastor of his parish because he will neither be tested regularly for COVID-19 nor be masked. He is asking his parishioners to testify on his behalf, because he says the diocese, and his family, are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unfit for the job.

The priest, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is pastor of Holy Family parish in Springfield, Vermont, 120 miles southeast of Burlington.

“Being more of the ilk of a patriot and being one who is in support of freedom and personal rights, I balk at any incursion into my rights as a human being, certainly a U.S. citizen, and that was my objection when the bishop started directing matters of my health,” Williams said in a Jan. 5 video.

Williams is referring to Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne’s September 2021 letter to clergy in which he requested that they all be vaccinated. Coyne said that alternately, any cleric who choose to remain unvaccinated must test for COVID-19 every other week and be masked during ministry. Williams, who chose to remain unvaccinated, refused.

Williams said that he then received correspondence from Coyne which stated that he had 14 days to comply, or Coyne would suspend him. 

Williams, who maintained he has canonical rights as a pastor to remain in his post, has since hired a canon lawyer and said he will fight the case until Coyne officially removes him through a canonical process. 

“I have no intention of resigning as pastor because that is my job,” Williams’ said. “That is what I do.”

Now, he said, his family and the diocese are trying to prove that he is physically and mentally unhealthy. But he maintains he’s as healthy as ever. 

“Now, I’m not aware of how my family members made that assessment,” he said. “All they needed to do was to watch the videos of Mass that we have ongoing or give me a call, none of which happened.”

Now, he said, “the case seems to be revolving around my health and my mental health.”

Williams said that for the sake of maintaining normalcy in his parish, he chose to keep his correspondences with the bishop to himself. But the pressure became too much of a burden. He added that it broke his heart when his family got involved.

Williams said that his canon lawyer suggested that he gather some names of people who would be willing to testify on his behalf to Coyne.

“So I'm asking all of my parishioners, if you are inspired or if you are interested, to write a letter on my behalf stating how you think I’m doing as a pastor and how you would evaluate my mental health,” he said. 

In the diocese’s statement issued to CNA, Coyne declined to speak on the contents of the video “in order to protect the good name and reputation of all involved.”

“The present pastoral situation in Springfield is a sad and difficult situation that Bishop Coyne is addressing with care for all concerned, most especially the people of Holy Family Parish,” the statement said.

“The number one priority of the Diocese of Burlington is to offer the Sacraments and the fullness of parish life to the Catholic community in a safe environment that protects the health and well-being of our priests and parishioners,” the diocese said.

When asked if Williams’ claims are true, the diocese told CNA it is not commenting on the content of Williams’ video and added that personnel issues are confidential and it cannot discuss any details.

Pope Francis looks ahead to the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025

Pope Francis meets with ecumenical delegation from Finland on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 05:30 am (CNA).

In an ecumenical meeting with a Lutheran delegation on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea as a source of unity between Christians.

“Dear friends, we have set out on a journey led by God’s kindly light that dissipates the darkness of division and directs our journey towards unity,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 17.

“We have set out, as brothers and sisters, on the journey towards ever fuller communion.”

Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland at the Vatican. The group traveled to Rome on pilgrimage for the feast of Saint Henrik, a 12th century bishop of Finland who is revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

In the meeting, the pope pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two major events in Church history as moments that can help Christians to see the goal of unity more clearly.

“In 2025, we will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Trinitarian and Christological confession of that Council, which acknowledges Jesus to be ‘true God from true God’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ unites us with all those who are baptized,” Pope Francis said.

The First Council of Nicaea held in 325 A.D. was called by emperor Constantine to confront the Arian heresy, which denied Christ’s divinity. The council promulgated the Nicene Creed, which is still accepted by Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations.

“In view of this great anniversary, let us renew our enthusiasm for journeying together in the way of Christ, in the way that is Christ. For we need him and the newness and incomparable joy that he brings. Only by clinging to him will we reach the end of the path leading to full unity,” the pope said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Pope Francis also highlighted that 2030 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg Confession included 28 articles presented by Lutheran princes in 1530 for approval by the Catholic Church. The Church responded with a Confutation that accepted 9 articles, approved 6 with qualifications, and condemned 13 articles.

“At a time when Christians were about to set out on different paths, that Confession attempted to preserve unity,” Pope Francis said.

“We know that it did not succeed in preventing division, but the forthcoming anniversary can serve as a fruitful occasion to encourage and confirm us on our journey of communion, so that we can become more docile to God’s will, and less to human strategies, more disposed to prefer to earthly aims the route pointed out by Heaven.”

The delegation from Finland included Jukka Keskitalo, the bishop of Oulu in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and Bishop Teemu Sippo, the retired Catholic bishop of Helsinki.

Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. More than 68% of Finland’s population is Lutheran, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Representatives from the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people – the only indigenous people of the European Union – were also present for the papal meeting.

“It is with particular joy that I welcome and greet the Sámi representatives,” Pope Francis said.

“May God accompany you on the journey towards reconciliation and healing of memory, and make all Christians free and determined in the earnest search for truth.”

The ecumenical meeting occurred one day ahead of the official start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their “difficulties and sufferings” during this week for the unity of Christians.

“When will unity be achieved? One wonders, isn't that right? A great Orthodox theologian who is a specialist in eschatology said, ‘Unity will be in the eschaton.’ But the path to unity is important. It is very good that theologians study, discuss,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.

“But it is also good that we, God's faithful people, go together on the journey. Together. And we make unity through prayer, through works of charity, through working together. I know you are going down that path, and I thank you so much,” he said.

“Let us keep our gaze ever fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and remain close to one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said.

Blessed Mother statues still stand at Colorado family home destroyed by wildfire

A concrete statue of Mary stands near the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. / Bob and Tina McLaren

Denver, Colo., Jan 16, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As Bob and Tina McLaren fled the Superior, Colorado neighborhood they had called home since 1992, Tina looked back and saw flames at the end of their street. 

As the Catholic couple, their daughter and two grandchildren made their way to safety, driving through clouds of ash and smoke, Tina hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe, their house would be spared. 

But a few days later, after the authorities permitted them to return, their fears were confirmed. Their house was ash. 

And yet, amid the rubble, two concrete statues of Mary that had stood on their property remained. 

A statue of St. Jude, who holds special significance for the family, also survived. Bob said when they were first building their house, their original plan for financing the build fell through. He said he credits the intercession of St. Jude — the patron of impossible causes— with helping them get a new financing plan to build their family home. 

The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
The burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

The McLarens, like nearly 1,000 of their neighbors, lost their home in the Marshall Fire, a fast-moving wildfire that consumed hundreds of buildings and businesses in Boulder County, Colorado during the last days of 2021. The towns of Louisville and Superior, roughly halfway between the larger cities of Denver and Boulder, were hardest hit. 

At least one person is confirmed dead as a result of the fires, the most destructive in state history. The initial cause of the fire, which spread rapidly due to high winds and an exceptional drought, remains under investigation. 

The McLarens are currently staying with relatives in Northglenn, Colorado. Bob says they built their Superior home in 1992 and raised their four daughters there— there are “many hearts broken by its loss,” he said. 

A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
A burned-out car sits at the parking lot of the Oerman-Roche Trailhead, overlooking Superior, Colorado, on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire burned some 6,000 acres and 1,000 homes in Boulder County beginning on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Despite the tragedy, the family has been able to find some respite from their local Catholic parish, which set up a donation center to help those in need in the wake of the fire. 

The McClarens have been active parishioners at St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville for nearly 40 years. Tina said they have received a tremendous amount of help from their local faith community; they’ve been almost overwhelmed by donations of basic necessities like clothes, she said. 

And while the monetary and material donations are “incredible,” Tina said the prayers they have received have been even more so. She said old friends that they haven’t spoken to in years, some that they never thought they would hear from again, have reached out to ask how they’re doing, and to offer prayers. 

Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Sign outside St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The parish has been operating an emergency center to distribute supplies to people in need since the Marshall Fire, which destroyed some 1,000 homes, began on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Tina said many family members, some of whom have fallen away from the Catholic faith, have also reached out to offer prayers. 

Colorado’s housing market, spurred by years of high demand as well as by the pandemic, was extremely tight even before the fire displaced 1,000 or so families. Bob says they plan to stay in Superior, in the community they have come to love so much. In the meantime, the family is looking for temporary housing. 

Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren
Tina McLaren surveys the burned home of the McLaren family in Superior, Colorado after the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Bob and Tina McLaren

Tina describes herself as a giving person by nature, but she said being on the receiving end of such an outpouring of support from her fellow Catholics has been an extremely humbling experience. 

She also noted that despite the terrifying ordeal and the loss of their home, the love and memories associated with their happy home of 30 years “can't be burned up.”

She also said she has seen God’s hand working amid the chaos. 

"No matter how bad the situation is, there's always good. He's promised that something better will come from something bad that you're going through,” Tina said. 

The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA
The brick archway of a ruined home near the corner of N McCaslin Blvd and Via Appia Way in Louisville, Colorado on Jan. 8, 2022. The fast-moving Marshall Fire consumed some 6,000 acres of land and 1,000 homes in Boulder County starting on Dec. 30, 2021. Jonah McKeown/CNA

March for Life: What about bathrooms? Food? We’ve got answers here

Pro-life poster / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 16, 2022 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Pro-life Americans from across the country are planning to attend the March for Life on Friday, Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C.

Most years, the No. 1 question marchers have ahead of the event is, “What’s the weather forecast?”

This year, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, those thinking about coming have a host of other pressing questions. That’s because the District of Columbia recently enacted new COVID-19 access rules for businesses in response to a current surge in cases.

There’s a lot you need to know. So let’s get right to it.

What about bathrooms?

The short answer is that accessing bathrooms should not be a problem, whether you are vaccinated or not.

A key reason we can say this is that the district’s rules specify that proof of vaccination is not required to use a restaurant restroom, or to pick up take-out food (more on that in a moment.)

This means that marchers can access their usual bathroom stops, including Union Station, which is conveniently located near the U.S. Supreme Court, where the march concludes. Likewise, national museums along the National Mall, such as the Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art, do not require proof of vaccination for admission.

Will I be able to find food?

Yes. Having said that, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Proof of vaccination or a documented exemption (we’re getting to that next) is required to sit down and eat inside a restaurant within the district. That includes museum cafes and restaurants inside hotels where marchers may be staying.

But as we just mentioned, take-out food does not require proof of vaccination. Also, the restrictions don’t apply to grocery stores and pharmacies, where you can buy drinks and snacks.

Finally, most food delivery apps (Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, etc.) operate in D.C. and do not require proof of vaccination. 

Bottom line: You won’t go hungry or thirsty.

What do the rules actually say?

Having addressed the basic necessities of life, let’s take a closer look at what the new rules say.

Beginning Jan. 15, the District of Columbia is requiring all those 12 and older to show proof of receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot to enter most businesses. The rules apply to indoor food and drink establishments such as nightclubs, taverns, banquet halls, convention centers, food halls and food courts, breweries, wineries, seated dining halls, restaurants, and cafes in museums, libraries, and hotels.

Wait, didn’t you just say the food court at Union Station wouldn’t be an issue?

Ah, you’re paying attention. Good! Yes, you can get take out food and use the bathrooms at Union Station, but if you want to sit down and eat there, those 12 and up need proof of vaccination.

What about churches?

No vaccination proof is required.

And public transportation?

No vaccination proof is required.

Hotels?

No vaccination proof is required, unless you plan to sit down to eat in a hotel cafe or restaurant, or if plan to enter meeting rooms or hotel ballrooms.

What about exemptions?

If a person has a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, he or she must show proof of the exemption along with a negative COVID test within the last 24 hours. Businesses must also verify vaccination with photo identification for those 18 and older.

What proof of vaccination is acceptable?

Vaccinated marchers can prove their vaccination status with vaccination cards, photos of vaccination cards, immunization records, COVID-19 verification apps, or a World Health Organization Vaccination Record.

What are the masking rules?

Masks are required in all public indoor areas, regardless of one’s vaccination status. Masks are also required outdoors if one is unable to social distance, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Mall property. Organizers of the March for Life say marchers should wear masks unless they are eating or drinking.

“Because the protection of all of those who participate in the annual March, as well as all of those who work tirelessly each year to ensure a safe and peaceful event, is a top priority of the March for Life, we encourage anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to remain at home and participate virtually,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said.

“Face masks for those who need them will be available at the rally site, as well as hand sanitizer,” she added.

The rally will be live streamed on the March for Life website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel, beginning at 12 noon EST.

Finally, what’s the weather forecast?

Partly sunny with a high of 29, according to the National Weather Service’s extended forecast for Jan. 21. So dress warmly!

'Prayers answered. All hostages are out.': Texas synagogue standoff ends

A police car sits in front of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles west of Dallas, Jan. 16, 2022. - All four people taken hostage in a more than 10-hour standoff at the Texas synagogue have been freed unharmed, police said late Jan. 15, and their suspected captor is dead. / Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 16, 2022 / 08:25 am (CNA).

An FBI team on Saturday shot and killed a man who had taken hostages during a live streamed service at a Texas synagogue, authorities said.

At 9:30 PM local time, a loud bang followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire was heard, according to media reports from the scene. Shortly afterward, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: “Prayers answered.  All hostages are out alive and safe."

The FBI’s action culminated an 11-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The unidentified man interrupted a service at the synagogue that was being live streamed on Facebook and took four hostages. Among them was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, according to media reports.

According to media reports, the man claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman now serving a prison sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth for attempting to kill U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan.

During the standoff, Saddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, released a statement saying that "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," calling the suspect's actions "heinous and wrong."  

During the standoff Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth made an urgent request to Catholics to pray for those involved in a hostage situation.

"Please pray for the safety of the hostages, their families, this congregation, for the members of law enforcement, and for the peaceful surrender of the perpetrator(s) of this crime," Olson said in a message posted on Twitter.

A nearby parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church, provided first responders and members of the media access to warm shelter, restrooms, coffee, and food, during the standoff.

In a follow-up tweet, Olson said “thanks be to God for their safety. Thank you to the parishioners of @goodshepherd_tx and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages.”

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller also thanked the Catholic parish for its support during the crisis. "I am Christian, I am a believer and I immediately activated a prayer network," Miller told the press.

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan, was detained in July 2008 by Afghan police.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Afghan authorities “found a number of items in her possession, including handwritten notes that referred to a ‘mass casualty attack’ and that listed various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.”

During a subsequent interrogation at an Afghan police compound, Siddiqui “grabbed a U.S. Army officer's M-4 rifle and fired it at another U.S. Army officer and other members of U.S. interview team,” the Justice Department said. She was convicted in September 2010 of trying to kill U.S. soldiers and F.B.I. agents and sentenced to 86 years in federal prison.

The Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has asserted Siddiqui's innocence, announced in July 2021 that she had been attacked by another inmate and was in solitary confinement.

CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell issued a statement Saturday condemning the hostage-taking at the  synagogue.

“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages,” the statement said. “No cause can justify or excuse this crime.”

Pope Francis asks Catholics to offer their sufferings for Christian unity

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address on Dec. 19, 2021. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2022 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their sufferings this week for Christian unity.

During his Sunday Angelus address, the pope called on people to participate in the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity taking place January 18-25.

“We Christians, in the diversity of our confessions and traditions, are also pilgrims on our way to full unity, and we come closer to our goal the more we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, our only Lord,” Pope Francis said from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 16.

“During this week of prayer, we offer our difficulties and sufferings for the unity of Christians,” he told the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to the 19th century when Pope Leo XIII encouraged the practice of a Prayer Octave for Unity. The Vatican and the World Council of Churches came together in 1966 to jointly prepare prayer materials for what has become an annual event.

During the week, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal and other Protestant denominations are invited to pray in a particular way for unity among Christians.

This year the Middle East Council of Churches based in Beirut, Lebanon has prepared the texts for the ecumenical prayers, which will take place each day of the week in Rome with the theme: “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him.”

The pope will mark the end of the week with the praying of vespers for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Jan. 25.

In his Angelus message, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel of John’s account of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus transformed water into wine.

“We notice that the evangelist John does not speak of a miracle, that is, of a powerful and extraordinary deed that provokes wonder. He writes that a sign took place at Cana, a sign that sparked the faith of his disciples,” the pope said.

“A sign is a clue that reveals the love of God, which does not call attention to the power of the gesture, but to the love that caused it. It teaches us something about the love of God, which is always close, tender and compassionate,” he said.

Pope Francis highlighted how Jesus quietly intervened after Our Lady discreetly brought the situation to his attention.

“Everything took place ‘behind the scenes,’” the pope noted.

“This is how God acts, with closeness and with discretion. … This is Jesus. He helps us, he serves us in a hidden way,” he said.

With this Gospel passage in mind, the pope recommended that people take time to think about “the signs” that God has manifested in their lives.

“Let each of us say: in my life, what are the signs the Lord has accomplished? What are the hints of his presence, the signs he has done to show that he loves us?” he said.

“Let us think about that difficult moment in which God allowed me to experience his love. And let us ask ourselves: what are the discrete and loving signs through which he has allowed me to feel his tenderness?”

The pope recommended asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession to contemplate these moments.

“May she, the Mother who is always attentive as at Cana, help us treasure the signs of God’s presence in our lives,” he said.

Use ‘preferred pronouns’ or else, university’s gender inclusion plan warns

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Boston, Mass., Jan 16, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The bishops of Fargo and Bismarck are speaking out against a proposed “gender inclusion” policy that would require everyone at the University of North Dakota — even visitors — to use preferred pronouns and affirm individuals’ chosen gender identities, or face the consequences.

Under the proposed rules, violators risk being expelled, fired, or kicked off campus, as spelled out under the University’s existing discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policies. 

A draft of the policy also obliges the school to provide students with on-campus housing “consistent with their gender identity and expression,” and it applies the same gender identity rules to locker rooms and restrooms.

Located in Grand Forks, the state university has about 13,780 students and some 2,500 employees.

Christopher Dodson, the executive director and general counsel of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, representing the two dioceses, says the proposal as written is unconstitutional.

“We recognize that everyone should be treated with respect and that the university has a role in facilitating a respectful learning environment,” Dodson states in an Oct. 21 letter to Jennifer Rogers, the university’s policy officer.

“However, this proposal goes beyond setting mere rules for administrative tasks. Indeed, it embraces and demands acceptance of a particular ideology about gender and language that infringes upon free speech and religious rights,” Dodson states.

“We are particularly concerned about the proposal’s lack of any exemption for student organizations,” the letter continues.

“Fraternities and sororities are provided a limited exemption, but not student organizations. This means that UND would require student organizations to use preferred pronouns, accept expressed genders, and reject binary understandings of gender even if doing so conflicted with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Dodson states.

“Students and faculty do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the doors of a state university. This is well-established constitutional law,” the letter continues. “The proposed policy by UND amounts to unconstitutionally compelling speech and a particular viewpoint.”

The conference on Jan. 10 sent a second letter outlining its concerns to parents of students in Catholic high schools and, in some cases, other Catholic parishioners with high school students. 

The school's proposal also drew fire from Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, who said in a Facebook post that it "spits in the face of everything we believe in" and called it a "sad day for my alma mater," the Star Tribune reported.

In a 45-minute press conference on Jan. 14, University President Andrew Armacost called Dodson’s input “useful.” He said he is taking his time to slowly draft the next revision of the policy because Dodson brought up important constitutional issues that need to be addressed “the proper way.”

But Armacost, a former brigadier general and retired dean at the Air Force Academy, defended the intent of the proposed policy.

"The draft policy is intended to state our support to our LGBTQ members and, in particular, to our transgender and nonbinary members, with that same guarantee of access to education and fair employment without fear of discrimination or harassment," Armacost said.

Addressing the Catholic conference’s concern about housing arrangements for students, Armacost said students are able to request a roommate change for any reason.

In an interview with CNA, Dodson said he appreciated “clarification on the housing issue,” and said that “future iterations of the proposal, if any, should clearly address this issue.”

“Students should not, however, have to rely on receiving an exemption to the on-campus housing policy or requesting a roommate change to ensure that the student is placed with someone of the same sex,” he added.

Dodson said the conference shares the university’s desire to create a learning environment free of harassment but he called the policy proposal “overbroad.”

Bishop John T. Folda is the leader of the Diocese of Fargo. The Diocese of Bismarck is led by Bishop David D. Kagan.

Bishop of Fort Worth asks for prayers for Synagogue hostage situation involving alleged Al Qaeda terrorist

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Fort Worth, Texas, Jan 15, 2022 / 20:53 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, made an urgent request to Catholics to pray for those involved in a hostage situation that was developing at a synagogue in nearby Colleyville on Saturday.

"Please pray for the safety of the hostages, their families, this congregation, for the members of law enforcement, and for the peaceful surrender of the perpetrator(s) of this crime," said Bishop Olson in a brief message posted on his Twitter account while the hostage situation was still developing. 

A man took hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas during a service that was being live streamed on Facebook on Saturday, Jan. 15. The ranting man, claiming to be Aafia Siddiqui's brother, interrupted the ceremony and took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, demanding either to release Siddiqui or allow him to talk to her. 

At 5:00 PM local time, the man released one hostage, and after more than eleven hours of tense negotiations, an FBI rescue team flown from Quantico freed the remaining hostages unharmed and killed the kidnaper.

At 9:30 PM local time, a loud bang followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire was heard. Three minutes later, Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted: “Prayers answered.  All hostages are out alive and safe."    

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan, is a controversial figure. She is regarded by U.S. intelligence as a dangerous terrorist with deep Al Qaeda connections who plotted against U.S. military forces in Afghanistan; but she is seen as a national hero by Pakistan, who has repeatedly requested her release.

A mother of three and the only woman sentenced for terrorists actions in connection with 9/11, Siddiqui has been jailed at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth since 2008 when she was convicted and sentenced on charges involving assault and firing of a weapon at U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. The Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who defends Siddiqui's innocence, announced in July 2021 that she had been attacked by another inmate and was in solitary confinement.

During the standoff, Saddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, had released a statement saying that "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," calling the suspect's actions "heinous and wrong."  

Aafia has one brother and one sister.

The press covering the live negotiations involving the FBI, local police, and a SWAT team were operating from Good Shepherd Catholic Church, which provided access to a warm area, restrooms, coffee and food.

In a follow-up tweet, Bishop Olson said “thanks be to God for their safety. Thank you to the parishioners of @goodshepherd_tx and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages”.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller also thanked the Catholic parish for its support during the crisis. "I am Christian, I am a believer and I immediately activated a prayer network," Miller told the press.