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Seven things to know about March for Life speaker Father Mike Schmitz

Father Mike Schmitz / Courtesy of Ascension

Denver Newsroom, Jan 21, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Tens of thousands of pro-life advocates are expected to gather at the National Mall in Washington later today for the annual March for Life. The march will kick off with a noon rally featuring speakers including the host of the “Bible in a Year” podcast, Fr. Mike Schmitz. Here are seven things to know about the priest:

1. Schmitz was raised Catholic. He is one of six kids. But his faith was not a priority in his life until he had what he described as an encounter with Christ in Confession at the age of 15. “That really affected me such that I said to myself, ‘This is real.’,” Schmitz said in an interview with Legatus magazine. “There was an interior recognition that I need this, I need Jesus. It led me down the road to asking God what He wants.”

2. He was ordained a priest in 2003 for the Diocese of Duluth. He is Director of Youth Ministry for the diocese, and chaplain at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He has said his favorite part about being a priest is celebrating the sacraments. “I love offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said in a Q&A with the Newman Center where he is chaplain. “I love preaching. I love hearing confessions. There is nothing that I know of that can compare with getting to be a part of someone’s Great Story, the story that God is calling His children to live.”

3. He left a relationship to enter the seminary. Schmitz shares his vocation story in a 2021 episode of his podcast. 

4. He gained national attention through a video series he started in 2015 with Ascension Press. The videos have covered topics including forgiveness, the saints, and relationships. He continues to produce those videos today

5. He is perhaps best known for hosting The Bible in a Year podcast. The podcast jumped to the top of Apple Podcasts charts within hours of publishing its first episode on Jan. 1, 2021, surpassing secular podcasts produced by organizations including The New York Times and National Public Radio. In 2021, it hit 142 million downloads, and 3.3 billion minutes of listening worldwide.

6. Though The Bible in a Year is complete, Schmitz will be involved in an upcoming virtual retreat for the community that grew around the podcast. The three-day retreat will take place Feb. 18-20. Schmitz is also in the early stages of developing a catechism-in-a-year podcast. 

7. Schmitz has long been a staunch pro-life advocate. The priest has said someone cannot be both Catholic and pro-abortion. “Abortion is one of the “deal breaker” issues,” he wrote in a 2014 Q&A. “If my conscience leads me to the place where I think it is okay for a person to be able to murder another innocent person, then I’m not Catholic. By that point, I’ve left the Church. No one is “kicking me out”; I’ve already left.”

Pope Francis declares St. Irenaeus ‘Doctor of Unity’

St. Irenaeus of Lyon. / Wolfymoza via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2022 / 04:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday officially declared St. Irenaeus of Lyon as the 37th Doctor of the Church, with the title “Doctor Unitatis” (“Doctor of Unity”).

“May the doctrine of such a great Master encourage more and more the path of all the Lord's disciples towards full communion,” the pope wrote in a decree signed on Jan. 21.

The pope signed the decree mid-way through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, taking place on Jan. 18-25.

“St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West: he was a spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians,” Pope Francis wrote.

“His name, Irenaeus, expresses that peace which comes from the Lord and which reconciles, restoring unity.”

St. Irenaeus is a 2nd-century bishop and writer revered by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians and known for refuting the heresies of Gnosticism with a defense of both Christ’s humanity and divinity.

While some of St. Irenaeus’ most important writings have survived, the details of his life are not as well preserved. He was born in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, likely in the coastal city of Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, around the year 140 A.D.

As a young man, he heard the preaching of the early Christian bishop St. Polycarp, who had been personally instructed by the Apostle John. Irenaeus became a priest, serving the Church in the region of Gaul, in what is now France, during a difficult period in the late 170s.

During this time of state persecution and doctrinal controversy, Irenaeus was sent to Rome to provide Pope St. Eleutherius with a letter about the heretical movement known as Montanism.

After returning to Lyon, Irenaeus became the city’s second bishop, following the martyrdom of his predecessor St. Pothinus.

In the course of his work as a pastor and evangelist, the second bishop of Lyon came up against heretical doctrines and movements that insisted that the material world was evil and not part of God’s original plan.

Irenaeus recognized this movement, in all its forms, as a direct attack on the Catholic faith. He rebutted the Gnostic errors in his lengthy book “Against Heresies,” which is still studied today for its historical value and theological insights.

A shorter work, the “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching,” contains Irenaeus’ presentation of the Gospel with a focus on Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Several of his other works are now lost, though a collection of fragments from them has been compiled and translated.

Irenaeus died in Lyon around 202, when Emperor Septimus Severus ordered the martyrdom of Christians.

The U.S. bishops voted in 2019 in favor of having St. Irenaeus named a Doctor of the Church at the request of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the then archbishop of Lyon, and sent their approval to the Vatican for the pope’s consideration.

Pope Francis previously declared St. Gregory of Narek, a 10th-century Armenian monk, a Doctor of the Church in 2015.

Benedict XVI named Sts. John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen Doctors of the Church in 2012.

Seventeen of the 36 figures declared Doctors of the Church by the Catholic Church lived before the Great Schism of 1054 and are also revered by Orthodox Christians.

St. Irenaeus could be the first martyr to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

His entry on the website of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints says: “He died in 202, but his martyrdom is not certain. In the 4th century St. Jerome and two centuries later Gregory of Tours stated that Irenaeus ‘ended his life in martyrdom,’ which would have happened during a bloody persecution, most likely that of Septimius Severus, which took place between the years 202-203.”

Pope Francis: The Church is firmly committed to justice for abuse victims

Pope Francis meets participants in the plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Jan. 21, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Friday that the Catholic Church is firmly committed to bringing justice to victims of clerical abuse through the rigorous application of canon law.

In a speech to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the pope spoke of recent changes he made to the Church’s Code of Canon Law with the goal of making its “legal action more effective.”

“The Church, with God’s help, is vigorously pursuing her commitment to bringing justice to the victims of abuse perpetrated by her members, applying the established canonical legislation with particular attention and rigor,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 21.

The pope highlighted the changes he made last month to the CDF’s procedural norms for the most serious crimes, including the abuse of minors.

“This alone is not enough to stem the phenomenon, but it is a necessary step toward restoring justice, repairing the scandal, and correcting the offender,” Francis said.

The pope’s comments came a day after the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising released a report on the handling of abuse cases that faulted Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, generating international headlines.

Pope Francis underlined that discernment is always needed “in the fight against abuses of all kinds.”

He added that discernment is also needed in the Church’s “synodal path.” Last October, the pope launched the diocesan stage of the two-year process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

In this global consultative process of “listening and dialogue,” the Vatican has asked all Catholic dioceses worldwide to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

“A synodal path without discernment is not a synodal path,” the pope told the CDF.

“In the synodal path, it is necessary to continuously discern opinions, points of view, reflections, but one cannot go in the synodal path without discernment.”

“This discernment is what will make the synod a true synod for which the most important character is the Holy Spirit, and not a parliament with the exchange of opinions that can take place in the media,” he said.

Discernment, the pope added, is key in the Vatican congregation’s work regarding marriage annulment or dissolution cases.

He spoke in particular about the dissolution of marriage “in favorem fidei” (in favor of the faith), which can only be approved on a case-by-case basis and solely by the pope.

“When, by virtue of Petrine power, the Church grants the dissolution of a non-sacramental marriage bond, it is not only a matter of canonically putting an end to a marriage, which has already failed in fact, but, in reality, through this eminently pastoral act I always intend to foster the Catholic faith — in favorem fidei — in the new union and in the family, of which this new marriage will be the nucleus,” the pope said.

Pope Francis told the CDF that there are currently many social and political tensions that threaten human fraternity.

“The temptation is growing to consider the other as a stranger or an enemy, denying him real dignity,” he said.

“Therefore, especially at this time, we are called to repeat, ‘at every convenient or inconvenient occasion’ (2 Timothy 4:2), faithfully following the 2,000-year-old Church teaching, that every human being has an intrinsic dignity that is valid from the moment of conception until natural death,” Pope Francis said.

“Precisely the affirmation of such dignity is the essential precondition for the protection of a personal and social existence, and also the necessary condition for fraternity and social friendship to be realized among all the peoples of the earth.”

“Let us not be satisfied with a lukewarm, habitual, textbook faith. Let us collaborate with the Holy Spirit and collaborate among ourselves so that the fire that Jesus came to bring into the world can continue to burn and inflame the hearts of all,” Pope Francis said.

‘A Wonderful Life’: Meet the woman with Down syndrome speaking at March for Life

Pro-life advocate Katie Shaw / Courtesy of March for Life

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 21, 2022 / 02:00 am (CNA).

Katie Shaw is many things: a champion for the unborn, an advocate for those with disabilities, a faithful Catholic, and, now, a March for Life speaker. She also happens to have Down syndrome.

Her message to the world, she says, is Psalm 139:14.

“The main reason I became a national pro-life speaker is because of God calling me to tell everyone Psalm 139:14: ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly in 2020. 

On Friday, the 37-year-old pro-life advocate will witness to this message when she speaks to the tens of thousands of marchers expected at the Washington, D.C., March for Life, the largest pro-life event in the country that condemns abortion and celebrates life.

Shaw serves on the board of Down Syndrome Indiana, meets with politicans such as then-president Donald Trump, and lobbies for pro-life legislation, particularly legislation prohibiting the discrimination of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. Estimates suggest that nearly 70% of these babies are aborted in the United States.

But Shaw’s story begins in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

“My dad and mom found out I had Down syndrome when mom was pregnant with me,” she said at Rehumanize Conference 2018. “My mom's doctors never mentioned abortion. My parents feared the unknown and were sad that I was going to have surgery as soon as I was born, but the doctors started helping my parents plan what would help me have a wonderful life.”

She grew up in a Catholic family, she said, and was baptized the day after she was born. She later received First Holy Communion and confirmation. 

“My Catholic faith keeps me strong and knowing God is behind me,” she told EWTN.

While Shaw progressed through school, she picked up hobbies such as violin and softball. She earned her GED, the equivalency of a high-school diploma. 

As an adult, she worked in child care and retail. Now, she also dedicates her life to the unborn.

“My parents have always been pro-life, so they have always taught me that every life is a gift, that every life is wonderful, but the older I get, the more I realize not everyone sees that,” she said during the Rehumanize conference. “Ableism is not just seen in the medical field. As we all know, many people would prefer to end the pregnancy if there even might be a problem and they might ‘try again.’”

“That is why,” she added, “I want to help unborn babies, and their moms, and everyone see what a wonderful life we can all have.” You can watch Katie's interview with EWTN in the video below.

According to Shaw, “people with Down syndrome are just like everyone else.” 

“I play sports, I'm in a book club, I like hanging out with my friends and family, and I do the mini marathons, and I volunteer at my parish and Down Syndrome Indiana,” she told EWTN.

While she admitted “we have ups and downs like everyone,” she added that “I always say I have a wonderful life.”

During an interview with Life Issues Institute in 2020, Shaw emphasized the beauty of every life, regardless of disability.

“Even though babies — the most defenseless — have a disability or not, you should not just kill them,” she said. Because we have wonderful lives and all lives should be about celebrating anybody and people with disabilities too.”

Speaking with EWTN, she shared advice for moms and dads who might be expecting a baby prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“I want them to know that the child is a gift from God and to cherish every moment with them,” she said. “Their child is beautifully and wonderfully made too, and who knows what God has chosen them to be.”

She concluded, “Help your baby's life be wonderful and your life will be wonderful.”

Activist group projects pro-choice messages on Washington basilica on eve of March for Life

Twitter post by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2022, reacting to an activist group's projection of pro-choice messages on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. / Screen shot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 20, 2022 / 23:16 pm (CNA).

Pro-life Catholic leaders reacted with shock and disgust at an activist group's projection of pro-choice messages on the fascade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Thursday night in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the annual March for Life.

The group Catholics for Choice took responsibility for the images, which were beamed from a median across the street from the basilica while a prayer vigil to end abortion was going on inside.

In large letters visible blocks from the basilica, the messages read “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” “1 IN 4 ABORTION PATIENTS IS CATHOLIC,” and “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS.”

Other slogans included the words “STOP STIGMATIZING” and “START LISTENING” on the church. The words were projected on both the 329-foot bell tower and upper facade of the church above the front entrance.

Ashley Wilson, director of communications and strategy for Catholics for Choice, tweeted an explanation of the group’s protest. 

“I know that my faith teaches Catholics to honor personal conscience,” she wrote. “And yet, the Catholic hierarchy seeks to polarize pro-choice Catholics and villainize people who make the moral choice to have abortions.”

“I am tired of feeling shame and stigma for being a pro-choice Catholic,” Wilson added. “And I’m not here for people to judge my own personal relationship with God.”

At 6:42 p.m. EST Catholics for Choice tweeted “FACT: 68% of Catholics want #RoeVWade to remain the law of the land. The #MarchForLife & @usccb want folks to think they speak for Catholics, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

The images were first reported on Twitter at 6:31 p.m. EST by reporter Jack Jenkins of Religious News Service. Widely shared on social media, the images drew some support but also sharp denunciations.

"The attempted desecration is enormous. Diabolical," Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco tweeted. "Mother Mary, pray for them, now and at the hour of death. Amen."

"Just when you thought @Catholic4Choice couldn’t sink any lower. The group inside is praying for babies and mothers—and for the group outside to repent and believe the Gospel," tweeted Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

"The President of the United States is the most prominent Catholic in America.  He must condemn this immediately," tweeted "His implicit defiance of Catholic social teaching on life has fueled this division in our church that activists are now exploiting."

Others were incredulous at the images they saw of the basilica.

"If this is real it is an atrocity. Support of murder projected on the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception???" tweeted Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas. "I pray that it is a fake photo photoshopped for evil purposes. If it is real it is horrible & even faking it is evil."

The provocative action by Catholics for Choice underscores a rise in hostility toward this year's March for Life, when many pro-life Americans are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. A decision in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is expected in June.

On Saturday, a group called NYC for Abortion Rights plans to hold a rally titled "F--- the March for Life" outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan. "Come picket and MAKE SOME NOISE with us!! We're disrupting the Catholic Church's anti-abortion bull--- on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision,” the group tweeted Wednesday.

“MEANWHILE, we're going to commemorate by disrupting their bull---- as much as we can, at the symbol of the Catholic Church's grotesque power in NY. Come speak out, sing, play, and show the antis that abortion isn't going away, and we aren't either,” the tweet says. 

St. Agnes

St. Agnes

Feast date: Jan 21

On Jan. 21, the Roman Catholic Church honors the virgin and martyr St. Agnes, who suffered death for her consecration to Christ.

Although the details of Agnes' life are mostly unknown, the story of her martyrdom has been passed on with reverence since the fourth century. On the feast day of the young martyr – whose name means “lamb” in Latin – the Pope traditionally blesses lambs, whose wool will be used to make the white pallium worn by archbishops.

Born into a wealthy family during the last decade of the third century, Agnes lived in Rome during the last major persecution of the early Church under the Emperor Diocletian. Though he was lenient toward believers for much of his rule, Diocletian changed course in 302, resolving to wipe out the Church in the empire.

Agnes came of age as the Church was beginning to suffer under a set of new laws decreed by Diocletian, and his co-ruler Galerius, in 303. The emperor and his subordinate called for churches to be destroyed and their books burned. Subsequent orders led to the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons, for the sake of compelling them to worship the emperor instead of Christ.

Meanwhile, Agnes had become a young woman of great beauty and charm, drawing the attention of suitors from the first ranks of the Roman aristocracy. But in keeping with the words of Christ and Saint Paul, she had already decided on a life of celibacy for the sake of God's kingdom. To all interested men, she explained that she had already promised herself to a heavenly and unseen spouse.

These suitors both understood Agnes' meaning, and resented her resolution. Some of the men, possibly looking to change her mind, reported her to the state as a believer in Christ. Agnes was brought before a judge who tried first to persuade her, and then to threaten her, into renouncing her choice not to marry for the Lord's sake.

When the judge showed her the various punishments he could inflict – including fire, iron hooks, or the rack that destroyed the limbs by stretching – Agnes smiled and indicated she would suffer them willingly. But she was brought before a pagan altar instead, and asked to make an act of worship in accordance with the Roman state religion.

When Agnes refused, the judge ordered that she should be sent to a house of prostitution, where the virginity she had offered to God would be violated. Agnes predicted that God would not allow this to occur, and her statement proved true. Legends say that the first man to approach her in the brothel was struck blind by a sudden flash of light, and others opted not to repeat his mistake.

But one of the men who had at first sought to make Agnes his own, now lobbied the judge for her execution. In this respect, the suitor obtained his desire, when the public official sentenced her to die by beheading. The executioner gave her one last chance to spare her life, by renouncing her consecration to Christ – but Agnes refused, made a short prayer, and courageously submitted to death.

St. Agnes, who died in 304, was venerated as a holy martyr from the fourth century onward. She is mentioned in the Latin Church's most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

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