Articles By: Renee Stamatis

Social justice must be founded on care for others

VATICAN CITY—Guaranteeing justice for all men and women is not possible while a few people control most of the world’s wealth and everyone else’s right to a dignified life is disregarded, Pope Francis said.

In a November 30 video message, the pope encouraged judges from North and South America and Africa not to lose sight of “the distressing situation in which a small part of humanity lives in opulence, while an increasing number of people are denied dignity and their most elementary rights are ignored or violated.”

“We cannot be disconnected from reality,” he said. “This is a reality you must keep in mind.”

The judges were taking part in a virtual meeting November 30-December 1 on “Building the New Social Justice.” The meeting was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Committee of Pan-American Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine.

At “such a critical time for all of humanity,” the pope said, the virtual meeting to discuss the work of building “a new social justice is, without doubt, excellent news.”

Offering a reflection for their discussions, the pope said that building social justice is a “collective work” that must be achieved on a daily basis “because imbalance is a temptation at every minute.”

Working toward true social justice must also be done with an “attitude of commitment” that follows “along the path of the good Samaritan” and that is mindful of not falling “into a culture of indifference,” he said.

People “must recognize the all-too-frequent temptation to disregard others, especially the weakest,” the pope explained. “We have to assume that we have become accustomed to turning a blind eye, to ignoring situations until they hit us directly.”

And, he continued, one must not ignore history with all its “struggles, triumphs and defeats.”

“Therein lies the blood of those who gave their lives for a full and integrated humanity,” he said, as well as the roots of what people are experiencing today.

Pope Francis insisted that true social justice is impossible if the human person is not the center of concern.

“God asks us believers to be God’s people, not ‘God’s elite.’ Because those who go the way of ‘God’s elite’ end up in the so-called elitist clericalisms that work for the people, but do nothing with the people, do not feel like a people,” the pope said.

Lastly, Pope Francis said that solidarity is essential in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Solidarity means “fighting against that culture that can lead to using others, to enslaving others and ends up taking away the dignity of others,” the pope said. “Do not forget that solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves   I   Catholic News Services

Candy Canes & Cocktails

BRIDGEPORT—On December 2, at 7 pm, internationally acclaimed tenor Dennis McNeil will appear in the comfort of your home during a virtual fundraiser to benefit the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport. There’s no need to find something special to wear, consider the weather or, for parents, figure out who will watch the kids.

The school, which educates 800 girls and boys on the four campuses of Sts. Andrew, Ann, Augustine and Raphael, is tasked each year with raising more than $2 million to provide need-based scholarship to the 85 percent of students who cannot afford the annual tuition of $5,150.

“We are so grateful that Dennis has agreed to donate his time and incredible talent to this one-hour event, which will be broadcast free to viewers via Vimeo,” said Angela Pohlen, the Academy’s Executive Director. “It’s really once-in-a-lifetime to have an award-winning singer like Dennis perform your favorite Christmas songs live from his home in Redondo Beach, CA to your home, wherever that may be.”

While McNeil’s career took off at the Los Angeles Opera in 1988 and he has performed in much musical theater—including his role as Mr. Snow in “Carousel” more than 140 times, portraying Nikos to John Raitt’s “Zorba”—he is a versatile singer and has performed with the likes of Lionel Ritchie, Steve Miller, and the Grateful Dead, among countless others. He has sung for several U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices and Queen Elizabeth II. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once even accompanied him on piano. McNeil has recorded numerous albums, sung the National Anthem at many sporting events, been a featured performer honoring Medal of Honor recipients, and sang at the memorial service following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

While it is unquestionable that Candy Canes & Cocktails is a major fundraiser for inner-city education, replacing an Annual Fall Dinner that could not be held due to Covid-19, Pohlen said she wants everyone to have the opportunity to watch regardless of their ability to pay. “There are hundreds of free tickets available in addition to standard tickets costing $50, and there are many sponsorship opportunities. With the kindness and support of people across Fairfield County and beyond, I am optimistic we can raise these much needed monies and keep inner-city education alive and thriving in Bridgeport.”

To learn more, go to, call 203.362.2990, or visit the school’s homepage at

An ‘ordinary man’ encounters God in the ups and downs

Dave D’Andrea describes himself as an ordinary man, perhaps that’s why he tells the story of his life in fewer than 100 pages even though the circumstances of his life are extraordinary—he is a survivor of polio, a survivor of stage-three cancer and a survivor of sexual abuse. And by his reckoning, he has had two, perhaps three, miracles in his life.

On the cover of his book, “Tear Drops: Enjoy Life, Trust in God,” is a simple, yet profound, message:

“This is the life of ups and downs of an ordinary man who went through extraordinary issues.

Whose gratitude is utmost for his faith, family and friends.

Faith, hope and love are paramount in life, and the greatest is love.

Enjoy life no matter the ups and downs … and pray.”

Just who is Dave D’Andrea? He’s the father of a son and daughter and grandfather of two children. He is a Greenwich native who has held different positions, including operations manager for the town’s golf course, landscape consultant, basketball coach, former member of the town’s legislative body and several other volunteer memberships.

He is proud to be an American and even prouder to be an Italian-American. (On the cover of his book are the flags of America and Italy.) Most importantly, he is an “ordinary man” by his own admission—an ordinary man who has suffered and known joy.

You could say that “Tear Drops” isn’t the story of his life, but more appropriately the story of God at work in his life. It recounts the tragic episodes and crises where he often had no recourse other than to turn to God…and God was there. It is the story of the evolution of a strong faith in God and Our Lady.

D’Andrea started life with some hurdles, he says, coming from a low-income family with three older brothers, who lived in a small apartment in one of the world’s wealthiest towns. At the time, his father worked as a landscaper on an estate where President Herbert Hoover’s son lived.

D’Andrea says he was the first person to be cured of polio in the United States in 1958, but the procedure and hospital isolation were extremely challenging for a boy of 8. He recalls the doctors showing him the size of the needle they would use to inject the vaccine and assuring him that he would get the biggest lollipop imaginable if he endured the procedure. He did.

Five years later, he says, the pastor of the church in the Chickahominy neighbor of Greenwich molested him in the rectory while he was there to help move boxes in his office.

For 40 years, D’Andrea kept that secret from the rest of the world, a secret so dark and spiritually corrosive that it affected his health and led to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although his mother knew, she never told her husband for fear of what he might do. Only recently has D’Andrea found peace, hope and fellowship in a survivors group formed by the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“Bishop Frank Caggiano reached out to me, and it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened,” D’Andrea said. “We had a long meeting, more than 2-1/2 hours, and I was amazed at his ability to listen and offer me his deepest apology and whatever else he could do. I learned a lot when he came into my life because he is a strong believer in prayer and Mother Mary.”

Despite torment over the abuse and a series of serious health issues that culminated several years ago with stage-three cancer, he said, “The Lord took me through each time. My faith never wavered, just my respect for some priests…I always trusted in God. I always prayed because I believe in prayer, big time.”

That summer afternoon, his mother rescued him by calling the rectory because he was late for dinner. When he told her over the phone what had happened, she ordered him to leave immediately and met him at the front door of the rectory. For many years, she shared his secret, although they never discussed the incident.

He said, “You ask ‘Why?’ You ask ‘Why me?’ The best thing you can do is to reach deep into your faith, and trust in God and the professionals and the other survivors who can help you. That bond will be life-altering and the healing will begin.”

Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has worked with D’Andrea and says: “David gives courageous witness to the terrifying ordeal of childhood sexual abuse, physical pain and human suffering. His story is inspirational and hopeful. He brings awareness to the issue of child sexual abuse and helps survivors to feel safe coming forward in our diocese. David’s journey demonstrates at every turn of the page that true healing comes from God and from our faith.”

On May 21, 2013, D’Andrea was diagnosed with stage-three rectal cancer, and it was one of the darkest, most painful periods of his life.

“The radiation and chemo were brutally excruciating,” he recalled. “I suffered such great loneliness, and I would pray so much and so hard and cry and wonder why this was happening to me. That’s when you have to trust God the most. The power of prayer is beyond belief. That is one thing I have learned through all the peaks and valleys—you can never waver even on the bad days. One night, the pain and suffering was beyond belief, and I said to God, ‘Why don’t you just take me?’ I got a call from my doctor, Jim Brunetti, and he said, ‘God knows you’re fighting like a heavyweight fighter, and you’re going to make it.’”

Dave’s daughter, Lynn Fein, who worked at Greenwich Hospital, was able to get a consultation with a leading expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who oversaw his treatment, which included six months of chemotherapy followed by 40 days of radiation at Greenwich Hospital. In March 2016, he underwent 12 hours of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

“I have never in my life gone through pain and agony like that,” he says. “It has been many years of recuperating, and today I am in remission, although I am physically disabled to a certain extent with damage to my legs and back from the radiation. But I am dealing with it, and I am extremely grateful that I lived to see my two grandchildren.”

When he talks about his recovery, he always credits Our Lady of Lourdes through the efforts of his cousin, Monsignor Joseph Giandurco, pastor of St. Patrick’s in Yorktown Heights, NY, who celebrated a healing Mass for him and brought holy water from Lourdes to bless him when he began his cancer treatment.

D’Andrea still has that bottle of holy water and continues to share it with others who are suffering or ill. And while he has never gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, he knows Our Lady was instrumental in his recovery.

Last year, D’Andrea reached out to bring the Lourdes experience to the Diocese of Bridgeport through a “Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experience” at St. Mary Church in Stamford at which Bishop Caggiano offered a Eucharistic blessing.

The event featured a candlelight rosary, holy water from the shrine and rocks from the grotto at Massabielle, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old French peasant girl, in 1858.

Every year, 6 million pilgrims travel to Lourdes, one of the most revered Marian shrines in the world, to pray to Our Lady. Many go in the hope they will receive a healing at the spring the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bernadette. In the 160 years since the apparitions, thousands of people have been healed in the waters, and 70 have been recognized as miraculous cures by the Church.

Today, D’Andrea lives his life looking for God’s guidance and professing a strong devotion to Our Lady.

“My faith is deeper than ever,” he says. “Did I ever doubt God? On the dark days, I would say, ‘Why? Why are you letting me suffer like this?’ But even during the abuse, I never doubted God or my religion, especially because of my connection to Mother Mary. It is Mother Mary I would always turn to.”

Dave decided to write his story and share it because he believes that everyone who puts faith and trust in God can enjoy life, regardless of what happens. That, he says, is the secret of an ordinary man … and it will work for everyone.

(“Tear Drops” by David D’Andrea is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)

Catholic Academy of Stamford holds Virtual Open House

STAMFORD—Adapting to coronavirus restrictions, Catholic Academy of Stamford was able to offer a virtual open house to prospective students.

Families were able to log-in at times that were convenient for them, making it accessible to those who may not have been able to attend in person.

In anticipation of this virtual event, Catholic Academy developed a video promoting the Academy and all it has to offer.

About Catholic Academy of Stamford

Since 2017, The Catholic Academy of Stamford has served the Stamford area community. And as our Mission Statement says:

We form and nurture our children–grades Pre-K 3 through grade 8- in the Gospel values of our Catholic Faith. We educate in a superior academic environment where we challenge our children to discover and fully develop their unique talents and abilities. We encourage our children to love God, love learning…and love one another.”

“One of the first things you notice when you visit our school is the environment,” says Patricia E. Brady, head of school. “Here on Newfield Avenue in Stamford, our students are taught in safe, nurturing environments that markedly improve students’ ability to learn.

Our small class sizes are optimized for learning in an effective socially distanced environment. This will continue to allow teachers to help build strong foundations for life-long learning. Indeed, we DO build strong foundations at The Academy.

Our students are formed in the Gospel values of the Catholic faith. Here, your child enjoys a transformative faith-filled experience where our students become whole and giving citizens who, when they graduate, leave us knowing God, loving God, and desiring to serve God in the world that is now open to possibilities for them.

Our students are provided with a superior academic experience. Your child will be challenged through rigorous, personalized learning, advanced robotics, sciences and STEM courses throughout their school experience.

Our students and their parents and grandparents form a family of faith where relationships begin as young as 3 years old and often last a lifetime.

I’ve been an educator and administrator for nearly forty years. I truly believe The Catholic Academy of Stamford is a tremendous value for your family, and an option worth looking into for your child’s education.

And so, I invite you to see for yourselves everything the Catholic Academy has to offer. Come, take a look!

Governor announces new guidelines for Churches

BRIDGEPORT—As the pandemic continues to worsen in our state, Governor Ned Lamont has announced the following new guidelines for Churches. The new guidelines go into effect this Friday, 11/6.

Mass and Liturgical Events
Indoors limited to 50% of capacity, no more than 100 people total
Outdoors limited to 100 people total

Non-liturgical Gatherings
Indoors limited to 25 people
Outdoors limited to 50 people

A reminder that registration is still required for Masses. There are no other changes to the most recent diocesan liturgical guidelines. For a complete listing of diocesan protocols, Covid-19 news and other updates, click here.

Andrew Walther remembered on All Saints’ Day

NEW HAVEN—Andrew Thomas Walther, president and chief operating officer of EWTN News, died Sunday evening in New Haven, Connecticut. Remembered first as a loving husband and father, in his life’s work he was dedicated to serving the Catholic Church and defending persecuted religious minorities throughout the world. Walther was 45 years old.

In June, Walther joined EWTN News as president and COO. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with leukemia. During the course of his treatment, Walther continued to lead the EWTN News team and to serve both his family and the Church.

“Andrew Walther’s death is a source of great sadness for all of us at EWTN and for me personally. Although Andrew had only been in his role as President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News since June, he had already accomplished so much. He had also been a friend and collaborator for many years before joining the Network. His death is a great loss for all who knew him, for EWTN and for the Church,” Michael Warsaw, chief executive officer and EWTN board chairman, remembered November 2.

From 2005 until 2020, Walther worked for the Knights of Columbus, where he was Vice President for Communications and Strategic Planning. In that role, he served as an advisor to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, while overseeing numerous initiatives for the Catholic fraternal organization, including a pandemic response campaign earlier this year and other crisis response projects.

Taking leadership roles in media and religious freedom advocacy, Walther also oversaw the Knights’ polling and book publishing operations, which included several New York Times bestsellers. Together with his wife, Maureen, he co-authored “The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History,” a book released this year.

Long devoted to the canonization cause of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, Walther died one day after McGivney was formally beatified by the Church.

Walther’s work on behalf of Middle Eastern Christians is especially noteworthy, and was particularly close to his heart.

He played an essential role in a Knights of Columbus effort to assist persecuted and refugee Christians, through a fund that has distributed more than $20 million in aid, especially in Syria, Iraq, and the surrounding region. The same effort offered on-the-ground assistance to Christians rebuilding lives, churches, and even towns destroyed by ISIS, including an effort to completely rebuild the Iraqi town of Karamles on the Nineveh Plain.

Walther’s work in the region has been widely praised by bishops and other Christian leaders across the Middle East.

Born November 30, 1974, he was a California native and a lifelong Catholic. Walther earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Classics from the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for several years, and was recognized with the university’s Excellency in Teaching Award.

Walther began his career as a Catholic journalist writing for the National Catholic Register two decades ago.

“He was a man of deep faith and extraordinary gifts who always used his talents to serve others. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy that includes years of service to the Church, to the cause of persecuted Christians around the globe and to building up the culture of life. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen and their four young children. He was a tremendous man and a wonderful friend whom I will miss greatly. That his death came on the Solemnity of All Saints is a great consolation to us all,” Warsaw recalled.

Friends say that while he was accomplished outside the home, it was his family that brought Walther the most joy. Walther and his wife Maureen married in 2010, and are the parents of four children.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

By Catholic News Service

Basilica schedules Solemn High Requiem Mass for All Souls’ Day

STAMFORD—In a special observance of All Souls’ Day, the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist will have a Solemn High Requiem Mass with the schola performing the Missa Pro Defunctus of 16th century Italian composer Giovanni Francesco Anerio.

Father Cyprian P. La Pastina, recently named pastor of the Basilica by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, will celebrate the Mass on November 2 at 7:30 pm.

“It will be an opportunity to exercise a Spiritual Work of Mercy—praying for the dead—in a very beautiful and solemn way,” said Nick Botkins, organist and choirmaster. “Praying for the dead, especially this year, will be even more poignant because we have had more than the usual number of funerals due to the COVID pandemic.”

The commemoration of the faithful departed will also include the Rite of Absolution at the Catafalque—which is a solemn prayer of intercession for the dead to provide relief for souls in Purgatory.

The catafalque is a structure in the shape and size of a coffin, which is placed in the center aisle. From the Italian word ‘catafalco’ for scaffold—the catafalque is meant to represent the body of the deceased and is covered in a black funeral pall. The priest, deacon and subdeacon descend from the altar for the prayers, which appeal for mercy for the souls of the dead.

Botkins emphasizes the importance of praying for the dead as a Spiritual Work of Mercy and quotes Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen, who said, “As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming toward us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say, ‘A poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.’”

Botkins said Giovanni Francesco Anerio was a remarkable composer who is typically overshadowed by his teacher, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music who had a significant influence on the European development of Church and secular music.

“Anerio sang with Palestrina in Rome and made a contribution to the Church repertoire,” Botkins said. “He is reminiscent of Palestrina. What I like about this—and I have done it a few times—is that he quotes from the Gregorian chant nearly verbatim in his music.”

Because of COVID restrictions, a small group from the Basilica schola, under the direction of Botkins, will perform the requiem. The schola, which sings at the noon Sunday Choral Mass, is composed of young professional singers, many of whom are studying choral music at such institutions as Yale School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.

Botkins credits Monsignor Stephen M. DiGiovanni for the creation of the group and his sustained commitment to it.

“They are of a very high caliber because they sing a lot of music week in and week out,” he said. “Their repertoire encompasses eleven centuries of music.”

For ten yeas, Botkins was the director of sacred music and master of the choirs at the St. Francis de Sales Oratory, an apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King in St. Louis. A convert to Catholicism in 2007, he was appointed Director of Music at the Basilica in March 2019.

Last year, on the observance of the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Botkins served as conductor for the U.S. premiere of the Great Mass in G Major by the legendary Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Basilica. There was a full orchestra, the Basilica choir and vocal soloists from the opera program at Yale University.

Investing in their faith and future

BRIDGEPORT—Putting two boys through Catholic school is a labor of love for Janet and Sergio Bran of Bridgeport. It’s also a sacrifice they’re willing to make because they want their sons to carry the gift of Catholic faith throughout their lives.

Eight-year-old Alexander and 13-year-old Sebastian are students at All Saints School in Norwalk. They have been able to attend with the help of donations to the Annual Catholic Appeal’s, Bishop Scholarship Fund, which provides essential tuition assistance for students in diocesan elementary schools.

“This is a big sacrifice for us, but we believe that in today’s world we are making the right choices and decisions. It’s easy for adults and kids to derail from our faith and from God, especially with social media. They need a good foundation and something they can grow with and never forget. If you don’t have that from the beginning, it’s harder to start when the you get older,” says Janet Bran.

Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, says that the mission of the Annual Catholic Appeal in the most basic terms is to help people in the diocese—whether it’s putting their children through Catholic schools, feeding the hungry, working with the most vulnerable or providing faith formation to people across the diocese.

Gallagher says that without the ACA, the cost of Catholic education would be beyond the reach of many families, especially those with more than one child in school.

Both boys were enrolled at All Saints before the family moved to Bridgeport a few years ago, but they loved the school so much, they decided that no matter where they moved, they would continue the boys at All Saints.

Janet says the school feels like one big family, and she has nothing but praise for the staff and faculty particularly as they pull together during the COVID-19 crisis to deliver academic excellence in the framework of a faith based learning community.

“Our school is doing tremendous job and I really give credit to every single person on the faculty and in the school. I believe they’re doing everything possible to keep kids in school and to be safe. What I’ve seen is that we’re in this all together and everyone’s doing their best,” she says.

Janet says that COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on her family’s finances and on many other families from the school.

A self-employed bookkeeper, she has experienced the loss of business clients who have suffered or closed up in the downturn, and her husband Sergio’s work in wine and spirits sales has become more difficult and challenging.

She says that everything in the supermarket has become more expensive, and there are always unforeseen bills that make it difficult to make ends meet, while meeting the cost of tuition.

The financial assistance the family has received from the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund has made it possible for her and her husband to keep their son Alexander at All Saints.

“We don’t go out and spend money on what we don’t need. Our priority is education. We just learn to cut back on other things and we’re happy we can do this for the boys.”

She and Sebastian, who will enter high school next year, attended an open house at Notre Dame High School and loved the school and its many programs.

Janet says she is very grateful for the support of the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund and even hesitant to ask because she knows that some families are in far greater need. But it’s a choice she and her husband have made and an investment in the faith and future of their sons.

“I hope that the boys will always be grateful for what they have and remember what we did for them by providing a solid faith-based education. We’re working hard for them so that they can have things we didn’t have and do better than we have. We want them to take the sacrifices we are making for them and put it to good use,” she says.

“Our schools play a major role in forming young people in the faith. They are safe, vibrant and academically excellent faith-based learning community. Contributions our donors make go directly to the families in need and they truly are a living legacy,” says Gallagher.

Gallagher says that last year, 1,456 students were awarded $2,798,800 in tuition assistance and more than $1.5 million was funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal, Bishop’s Scholarship Fund. With 2,546 families applying and a calculated need of $6,813,995, parents continue to rely on the fund to make Catholic education a reality for their children.

(If you haven’t participated in this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal, please make your gift online at or text the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849 or call 203.416.1470. Thank you for your support.)

By Brian D. Wallace

‘Emergency Funds’ seeks to raise $1.5 million

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has appealed to Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport to raise $1.5 million as part of the Annual Catholic Emergency Appeal because of an increased demand for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused “continuing uncertainty and suffering.”

“In the past six months we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who came to our outreach programs seeking food, housing, educational assistance, psychological support and spiritual consolation,” Bishop Caggiano said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and are unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”

The appeal, which has as its theme “Love never fails,” taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, has raised $6.7 million since it began in February and has allowed the diocese to accomplish the following:

  • Serve an additional 700 meals a day at its soup kitchens and other non-profit nutrition programs and homeless shelters. Catholic Charities served more than 500,000 meals from March through August, almost three times the usual number.
  • Provide housing for more than 70 homeless individuals at a Shelton hotel where they receive three meals a day.
  • Meet the demand for counseling services at a time when depression and anxiety are on the rise.
  • Provide scholarship assistance and distance learning for all diocesan Catholic schools and students receiving sacramental preparation and religious instruction. This year has seen an increase of 800 students in Catholic schools.
  • Celebrate Masses and liturgies online through live-streaming.
  • Support hospital chaplains bringing Christ to patients and families who were often separated during this crisis.

Bishop Caggiano said the pandemic has affected the Church and larger community and that many people find they are in need of assistance for the first time in their lives. He expects there will be more difficult times in the months ahead.

“Suffering has taken its face in those around us,” he said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”

He expressed gratitude to donors who have given to the appeal during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. “Over the last six months, we have seen so much need and suffering in our midst, but through your generosity, the Church has been able to respond generously and in many ways even heroically,” he said. “Given the extraordinary circumstances and the hardships many people are experiencing, the response to the appeal has been gratifying. The diocese has pulled together as a family and has shown a concern that has inspired me and made me proud.”

Joseph Gallagher, who was named chief development officer of the diocese in June, said, “I’ve been with the diocese for four months and have been struck by the overwhelming willingness of parishioners to respond during the crisis. I am very grateful to everyone.”

Gallagher emphasized the importance of the Annual Catholic Appeal, which meets the immediate needs of the diocese, as opposed to long-term needs covered by the We Stand With Christ capital campaign. He stressed that the appeal provides for the faithful in three basic areas—Catholic education, charitable services provided by Catholic Charities, and faith formation.

He said the success of the appeal is based on a partnership with parishes that are working to reach their goals. One of those parishes is St. Pius X of Fairfield, which achieved 111 percent of its goal.

When asked what the secret was, Father Samuel S. Kachuba, pastor, responded, “I did nothing. That’s the absolute truth. The most important thing is that people at St. Pius are extraordinarily generous. This is a parish that has folks who are committed to the good of the Church, and they recognize there are things that not only need to be done at the parish level but also need to be done at the diocesan level. There are people in need and there are causes that the Church must support—and they want to be part of it. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides them with the opportunity to be involved when they might not be personally.”

Father Kachuba said many of his parishioners are committed to the work of Catholic Charities and Catholic education. Some of them were graduates themselves or have children who attended Catholic schools.

“They want to see Catholic education thrive and grow, and they recognize that not everyone can afford Catholic school, so they are very willing to make those gifts so that Catholic education can be strong for others,” he said.

In addition, many St. Pius parishioners are involved with the work of Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and other ministries and have seen firsthand the need that exists in the community.

“They recognize how blessed they are and want to give back,” Father said.

While the parish reached 111 percent of its goal, Father said he wished the rate of participation were higher. “We have a lot more people who participate in the regular parish offertory than who participate in the annual appeal, and that is always the biggest challenge for parishes—how to encourage more people to give.”

He believes the COVID pandemic inspired many to give sacrificially because they realized, “We’ve got to do something because the needs are significantly higher and greater than they have been in the past.”

He has also seen greater participation in the parish’s food drive. “In some ways, I suspect the pandemic has actually brought out the best altruistic characteristics that people have,” he said.

Pamela S. Rittman, director of development and the Annual Catholic Appeal, praised Father Kachuba for the success at St. Pius.

She also said that the diocese responded to the increased need by sending letters to donors, instituting a ministry video, social media outreach and wellness calls to parishioners. She thanked those who participated in the appeal, some of whom were first-time donors and others who made two gifts.

“With the challenges and uncertainty presented by COVID-19, we have found ourselves living in a world very different than it’s ever been before,” Rittman said. “The demand for services increased tremendously, and one thing for certain is our parishioners, in the most difficult situations, continue to reach out in compassion to one another and support not only those in most need, but the programs and services that provide for all ministry and school programs. We still need your help and are grateful for your sacrificial giving.”

By Joe Pisani

Decree for the celebration of earlier Christmas Vigil Masses

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has issued a decree permitting the celebration of Christmas Vigil Masses beginning at 3 pm in parishes throughout the diocese on Saturday December 24, in order to provide more options to the faithful seeking to safely attend the Mass on Christmas.

The decree states that the earlier vigil time represents a one-time exemption for Christmas 2020 because of the extraordinary situation created by the pandemic, the larger number of people expected to attend Mass, and the need to socially distance and follow other restrictions to safeguard health.

“With this provision, it is my desire and hope that each parish priest or rector ensure that enough Masses are celebrated in order to allow the reasonable accommodation of all the faithful who wish to personally attend a Holy Day Mass for Christmas,” the bishop said.

While the exemption is only an hour earlier than the permitted vigil time, it will enable parishes to add one or even two more vigil Mases to their schedule over the Christmas observance.

In a recent virtual conversation sponsored by the Leadership Institute and the Development Office of the diocese, the bishop told those who participated online that he approved the earlier vigil time because given current restrictions he wants to avoid people being turned away from Mass at Christmas—the time of year that many Catholics and their families who are not normally at Mass reconnect with the Church.

During the virtual conversation, the bishop also said he is asking pastors to consider opening parish halls, auditoriums and other spaces as overflow areas where people will be able to remotely participate in the Mass being celebrated in the church and communion will be brought to them.

In announcing the earlier Christmas vigil time, the bishop reiterated that people should register in advance for Mass because it enables a parish to plan and to notify parishioners if someone should test positive for COVID-19 at a Mass they attended.

Click here to view the decree.

Prayer vigil’s mission: change hearts and save lives

BRIDGEPORT—When Dr. Lenore Opalak looks back on the ten years she has been praying outside of abortion clinics, she sees the hand of God at work—in the conversion of hearts, in the prayerful commitment to life, and in babies who were born instead of having their lives ended.

Co-leader of the 40 Days for Life campaign in Bridgeport, Dr. Opalak has seen hundreds of miracles that would not have been possible without the prayerful witness of those holding placards and rosary beads at the entrance to abortion clinics. And while it’s never possible to know just who has been touched, very often people come back to tell their story.

The fall campaign, which began September 23 and will end November 1, can attract from three to 15 people a day at 4697 Main Street, the public entrance to Commerce Park, where there is a Planned Parenthood clinic.

At a recent vigil, a young woman stopped to tell her story to the volunteers.

Last February, she drove past the group as she went for an abortion. During the pre-abortion exam, the doctor asked if it would change her mind to know she was pregnant with twins. At that moment, she recalled the people who were praying and immediately got up and left.

Several weeks ago, she gave birth to twin girls. She showed a picture of them to the volunteers and said she’s convinced many other women have also changed their minds about an abortion after seeing the prayer vigil.

When they heard her story, the volunteers offered her the assistance of St. Theresa’s pro-life group and Hopeline Pregnancy Resource Center, as well as the assurance of their continued prayers.

“We will never know how many other babies have been saved because of our prayerful witness,” Dr. Opalak said. “What an amazing blessing she and her babies are, and what a blessing there were volunteers present at the prayer vigil to hear her story, and to inspire hope in other women.”

Where there is prayer, God is always at work, she says. Since the 40 Days for Life campaign began in September, almost 300 lives are known to have been saved as a result of 588 vigils in 36 countries. And since the first coordinated campaign in 2007, more than 17,230 babies have escaped abortion.

The slogan of 40 Days for Life is “Ending abortion where we live,” and the grassroots campaign is possible because of people of different faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Evangelicals.

“It is really a local action,” Dr. Opalak said. “We are not about defunding Planned Parenthood. We are praying to end abortion. It is a public outreach campaign of prayer. Volunteers do not approach people individually. Our signs are positive, and we are there to get the message across about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Our purpose is not to try to guilt-trip anybody.”

The mission of 40 Days for Life is to bring together Christians of all denominations in a campaign of prayer, fasting and peaceful witness for the purpose of repentance. They seek God’s favor in turning hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life and to bring an end to abortion in America, she said.

“We believe the ultimate solution to the abortion crisis is not politics but faith,” she said.“As long as the attitude out there is that God is not involved in this, it will always be a problem. Regardless of any political solution we may get in this country, it is really about a conversion of hearts. There can be no end to abortion until people truly understand what they are saying when they pray ‘Our Father, thy will be done.’”

“We are praying for an end to abortion … and a lot more,” she says. “We want people to accept God’s gifts in their lives and realize that God has another plan for them in a pregnancy, and to accept that plan because it is for their own good. We are praying they have an increase in faith and trust in God because that is what it takes to accept an unexpected pregnancy.”

Since the vigil takes place on Main Street, women considering abortion often drive by, Dr. Opalak says.

“The sight of people praying seems to inspire them. Some will give a thumbs up, others say thank you and yell encouragement,” she said. “One woman stopped at a red light and prayed the Rosary with us.”

Others, however, respond with anger, profanities and insults, which causes Dr. Opalak to wonder how they could become so outraged at the sight of people praying and holding signs that say “Life is beautiful” and “Pray to end abortion.”

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion, she believes many other social and spiritual problems have resulted in America.

“If we think there is systemic racism, then abortion fits that definition because abortion targets women of color,” she said. “If we don’t address what’s happening with abortion, we are not addressing the crisis in America and in the Church because we are not looking at the cause. As Catholics if we think it is OK to do away with babies and that it is OK to refuse God’s gift, then it is OK to refuse God’s gifts in other parts of our lives. I hope all Catholics will see how important this is because addressing abortion is necessary to address the crisis of our faith. We have to ask whether our faith should be compartmentalized or totally infuse our lives.”

The 40 Days for Life campaign began two decades ago in Texas when four Evangelical Christians decided to take action after an abortion clinic opened in their town. In response, they vowed to stand outside and pray until it closed.

“They just started praying. More people noticed and showed up, and it turned into a huge vigil,” she said. “The clinic closed. Babies were saved and abortion workers were converted. They decided they couldn’t stop there and gradually built their effort into an international organization.”

Each year, there are 40 Days for Life campaigns during Lent and September, along with monthly prayer gatherings. The campaign this fall is the largest ever. The organization claims 1 million volunteers in 36 countries, including many in the former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, in England and a much-needed campaign in Ireland.

In Connecticut, vigils have been held in Bridgeport, Stamford, New Haven, Hartford and Danbury. The Bridgeport group has 100 volunteers from 20 parishes throughout the diocese and several Protestant churches. Dr. Opalak said she is grateful to priests who are committed to the cause, including Fr. Brian Gannon, Fr. Peter Cipriani, Fr. Peter Adamski, Fr. Donald Kloster, Fr. Terrence Walsh, Fr. Greg Markey and Canon Andrew Todd.

A native of San Francisco, Dr. Opalak has lived in Fairfield since 1986. She is board certified internist who has practiced medicine in the area for 30 years. As co-leader of 40 Days for Life, she has visited parishes, called rectories and knocked on doors to spread the group’s message, along with her colleague Joe Sullivan of St. James Church in Stratford and Maureen Ciardiello, coordinator of the Respect Life Ministry of the diocese.

“When I first felt compelled to pray publicly for an end to abortion, I was terrified every time I went out,” she recalled. “I did it because I owed it to God but was scared of what my medical colleagues driving on Main Street to St. Vincent’s would think if they recognized me. It has taken a long time to get over that. Some have recognized me. I got one bewildered comment from a colleague who supports abortion, but for the most part they have been positive.”

As a physician, she believes science is on the side of pro-life and says, “The more we learn through the field of genetics and medical imaging, the more evidence we have that life truly begins at conception.”

She also believes that public pro-life prayer is a form of evangelization that involves outreach and spreading the Truth proclaimed by Christ to convert hearts to him. She has seen the evidence firsthand.

On a recent Saturday, a man named Anthony, who was parked near the prayer vigil, stopped to talk to the volunteers and share his personal experience. Thirteen years ago, he began to pressure his wife to have an abortion when he learned she was pregnant with their fourth child. They were struggling to pay their bills and couldn’t afford to feed another mouth. Two Christian relatives urged him to stop what he was doing, and then, in what he considers a sign from God, he found a pro-life booklet at work.

“He realized God wanted them to have this child,” Dr. Opalak said.

Despite his financial difficulties, he stopped pressuring his wife.

“As soon as he made the decision to accept God’s gift of a new life, the tide of troubles receded,” Dr. Opalak said. “Accepting God’s gift, which at first looked like a hardship, has brought continued blessings into his own life.”

Almost immediately, his situation changed. He got a new job and, more importantly, he experienced what he described as “expanding in his heart.” He became a more responsible and loving husband and father. His marriage became stronger, and his three sons witnessed a powerful example when their father allowed their sister to be born.

“Today he is closer to God in his faith,” Dr. Opalak said, “and he trusts in God’s goodness and mercy.”

(For more information, about the 40 Days for Life campaign or to volunteer, visit

On Wednesday, October 28 at 3 pm, Steve Karlen, National Campaign Director of 40 Days for Life, will speak at the Bridgeport prayer vigil, along with the spiritual director of Malta House for women in crisis pregnancies, and Fr. Brian Gannon, pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, who will lead the group in prayer. The rally will take place, rain or shine, at 4697 Main Street, Bridgeport (the entrance to Commerce Park).


Nurse-midwife: abortion not as an issue of “choice”

STAMFORD—Life experiences shape who we are and who we are to become. Early in my midwifery career I believed abortion was a woman’s “choice.” I knew I could never have an abortion, but felt I had no right to tell someone they had to have a baby.

As a nurse-midwife I occasionally counseled women who sought an abortion. I saw their fear, anguish and hopelessness and my heart broke for them. Some were women I knew for years and I knew how difficult a choice it was for them.

I knew they were good, loving women, who were terrified. They believed it was either their life or the baby’s life. I held their hand during the procedure. I knew exactly what was happening when the suction machine was turned on. A part of me died each time as I witnessed the end of an innocent human life and saw the anguish and regret on the mother’s face.

Over the years several experiences caused me to rethink my belief in “a woman’s choice.” The experience I remember most vividly was when I was examining a teenager who was five months pregnant and the baby kicked my hand. I asked, “Did you feel that? That’s the baby moving.” She and her boyfriend looked at me and she told me, “They said I could still get RID OF IT!” My heart broke and I thought, “What have we taught our children?”

I thought a great deal about that question. I had two small children at the time and thought about what I wanted to teach them and what the world taught them. I came to realize that abortion teaches our children that their very existence depends on someone thinking they are valuable and wanted. They have no intrinsic value, unless someone more powerful gives them value. For that is what abortion does; it gives the power of life or death to another person, not God. That is not the lesson I wanted to teach my children.

That was the last time I facilitated an abortion. It was also the beginning of my conversion to the Catholic faith.

The Church teaching has and always will condemn abortion as intrinsically evil. Good can never come from evil. The ends, no matter how much you want to believe they are good, can never justify evil means. Cooperation with evil taints our soul and separates us from God. I have to live with my choice but no longer will I remain silent.

As a convert to the Catholic faith I learned that “God is love.” Jesus Christ came to save us not only by dying for our sins, but by showing us how to love; to show us what sacrificial love really means.

So I ask, where is love in abortion? Where is love in the taking of innocent life? Where is love in a mother willing the death of her child? Sounds so harsh and ugly, but sometimes the truth is harsh and we must face the ugliness of our actions.

Abortion breeds confusion, despair and death, not only for the innocent babies. It lies to women, saying, “It’s like you were never pregnant.” But she knows the truth. Abortion robs the woman the opportunity to love. To understand that true love and sacrifice go hand in hand. It robs the child of the opportunity to grow and become the person God created them to be. Abortion robs family and friends the opportunity to love the woman and child and to grow in compassion. Abortion robs us of our humanity and distorts us so we are no longer the image of God.

We need to remember that our hope is with our children. It is not with you or me, but with the children, who are here now and those yet to be born. This lesson of hope and love is found at MiraVia on the campus of Belmont Abby College; a residence for single women attending college, who choose to have their babies—to be counter cultural—to choose life. It is a joy and privilege to spend time with these brave, strong young women who choose love and hope instead of despair and fear. They are fully aware of the challenges they face and they do it with grace and dignity every day. Hope is here. Love is here. But not fear.

Hope and love are in the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic teachings on the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death are beautiful. Each of us has dignity and worth because we are created by God in his image and loved by Him. Our dignity does not come from another person, but from God alone. When we lose sight of this truth, we lose what makes us truly human; our ability to love and hope.
As Catholics, as Christians, as human beings we need to believe in the dignity and worth of every person or we will not only cease to be Catholic, but cease to be fully human.

Susan Piening, a long-time parishioner at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, holds a Masters of Science in Nursing from Columbia University, a Masters in Theology from Holy Apostles Seminary and College and is certified by the National Catholic Bioethics Center. She recently retired to South Carolina.

Immaculate Offers Innovative Approaches to Unique School Year

DANBURY—The beginning of this school year may look different than those before it, but Immaculate High School, Danbury has taken the changes in stride, developing plans and strategies to navigate the new challenges. Through their cohort style learning approach, with half the student body in the classroom while the other half participates synchronously virtually using Microsoft Teams, students in both cohorts are receiving the same academic experience while also staying safe and healthy.

Student, faculty and staff safety and well-being have been the primary focus of all planning and reopening processes at Immaculate. With new protocols, such as signage throughout the school building to promote social distancing, wearing of masks by all in the building, three lunch waves instead of two, maintaining an average of 12 students in a classroom during each 55-minute session, Immaculate is doing their part to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Wednesdays are a deep cleaning day using UV and electrostatic cleaners at the school while all students learn virtually on a modified schedule that allows time for club meetings, counselor advisory sessions, other virtual programming such as health and wellness assemblies, and socially distanced PSAT, SAT and ACT testing. The Immaculate Reopening Task Force meets twice a week to track and assess implementation of their plans, sending updates regularly to the school community.

Parents have been noticing the efforts being made by Immaculate. “It is clear that a lot of time and work has been put into developing a plan to keep students and staff safe. I am very happy that safety is the number one priority, as it should be. Excellent work, everyone!”, says Lisa Pierce-Wirth, parent of Peter ‘21​.

Immaculate students are thankful to be able to grow and learn in a comfortable environment. “At Immaculate, I have grown academically and socially because of the comfort the school provides through the support and understanding of the faculty and the kindness of peers. Immaculate has also allowed me to grow in my faith and encourages me to practice it freely and openly. The teachers’ compassion and the students’ inclusivity has made Immaculate feel like a family. I have met some of my closest friends here, and have not only expanded academically, have been able to figure out who I am and who I want to become.” —Amanda ​Tureaud ‘​22.

Immaculate has adapted their annual fall admissions events to maintain personal safety. Open House, planned for October 18, will offer 30-minute tours by appointment only. The original six tour slots filled very quickly, so an additional four tours are being offered. For more information about scheduling a tour or learning more about Immaculate’s programs, please visit our website or contact Denise Suarez, Director of Admissions at ​203.744.1510 x148.

‘Blessing of the Animals’ tradition continues

TRUMBULL—Last Sunday, October 4, was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, merchants and ecology and the occasion of a beloved tradition at St. Catherine of Siena Parish.

Father Joseph Marcello, pastor of St. Catherine’s greeted dozens of the parish’s pets for a prayer and a special blessing.

Every kind of pet was accounted for—from a singing parakeet to an 100-pound turtle, who was a big hit with the crowd.

The beautiful October weather allowed parishioners and pets to gather safely outside.

The Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena warmly welcomes anyone who is new to the area, anyone who is searching for the truth, or anyone who is looking for a spiritual home.

“We are joyfully and faithfully Roman Catholic in belief and practice—a community of faith, worship, service, and formation—and with open hearts we invite all our brothers and sisters into a living and saving friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the communion of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” said Father Marcello.

St. Catherine of Siena Parish is located at 220 Shelton Road in the Nichols area of Trumbull.

Photos by Amy Mortensen

Pope signs new encyclical in Assisi

VATICAN CITY—Bringing the Vatican official in charge of translations with him, Pope Francis signed his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, source of the document’s title and inspiration.

After celebrating Mass at St. Francis’ tomb October 3, the eve of the saint’s feast day, the pope called up Msgr. Paolo Braida and explained to the small congregation that the monsignor is in charge of “translations and the speeches of the pope” in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

“He watches over everything and that’s why I wanted him to be here today,” the pope said. He also brought with him the Spanish official who oversaw the accuracy of the various translations and the official who translated the text from Spanish into Portuguese.

Pope Francis set the text on the altar under the tomb of St. Francis and signed it.

The encyclical was scheduled to be released to the public October 4 just after midday.

Pope Francis arrived late for the Mass in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis after making a brief stop in Assisi at the Basilica of St. Clare, which houses the tomb of the close follower of St. Francis and founder of the Poor Clares.

The pope did not give a homily during the Mass, simply praying silently for several minutes after the reading of the Gospel. The text was that prescribed for the feast of St. Francis, Matthew 11:25-30, which begins, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Because of measures designed to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the Mass was described as “private.” Only about two dozen people were in the small crypt chapel; they sat socially distanced, one person in each pew, and wore masks.

Several Franciscan sisters were present, as were the ministers general of the main Franciscan orders of men: Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans; Father Roberto Genuin, minister general of the Capuchins; and Father Amando Trujillo Cano, minister general of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.

By Cindy Wooden   I   Catholic News Service

Belief in God as creator has practical consequences

VATICAN CITY—Professing faith in God as the creator of all human beings, or even simply recognizing that all people possess an inherent dignity, has concrete consequences for how people should treat one another and make decisions in politics, economics and social life, Pope Francis wrote.

“Human beings have the same inviolable dignity in every age of history and no one can consider himself or herself authorized by particular situations to deny this conviction or to act against it,” the pope wrote in his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

Pope Francis signed the encyclical October 3 after celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Vatican released the more than 40,000-word text the next day.

The pope had been rumored to be writing an encyclical on nonviolence; and, once the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many expected a document exploring in depth his repeated pleas for the world to recognize the inequalities and injustices laid bare by the pandemic and adopt corrective economic, political and social policies.

“Fratelli Tutti” combines those two elements but does so in the framework set by the document on human fraternity and interreligious dialogue that he and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, signed in 2019.

In fact, in the new document Pope Francis wrote that he was “encouraged” by his dialogue with the Muslim leader and by their joint statement that “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters.”

The encyclical takes its title from St. Francis of Assisi and is inspired by his “fraternal openness,” which, the pope said, calls on people “to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.”

The title, which literally means “all brothers and sisters” or “all brothers,” are the words with which St. Francis “addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel,” the pope wrote.

That flavor, explained throughout the document, involves welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, listening to and giving a hand up to the poor, defending the rights of all and ensuring that each person, at every stage of life, is valued and invited to contribute to the community, he said. It also means supporting public policies that do so on a larger scale.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the encyclical as “an important contribution to the church’s rich tradition of social doctrine.”

“Pope Francis’ teaching here is profound and beautiful: God our father has created every human being with equal sanctity and dignity, equal rights and duties, and our creator calls us to form a single human family in which we live as brothers and sisters,” the archbishop said in a statement. “God’s plan for humanity, the pope reminds us, has implications for every aspect of our lives—from how we treat one another in our personal relationships, to how we organize and operate our societies and economies.”

Building on the social teachings of his predecessors, Pope Francis’ document once again strongly condemns the death penalty and makes an initial approach to declaring that the conditions once used to accept a “just war” no longer exist because of the indiscriminately lethal power of modern weapons.

St. John Paul II in “The Gospel of Life,” published in 1995, cast doubt on whether any nation needed to resort to capital punishment today to protect its people; developing that teaching, Pope Francis in 2018 authorized a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to make clear that “the death penalty is inadmissible.”

Signaling the start of a similar effort to respond to the current reality of warfare, Pope Francis in the new encyclical raised the question of “whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians.”

“We can no longer think of war as a solution because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits,” one of the main criteria of just-war theory, he said. “In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’ Never again war!”

At the heart of the new encyclical’s appeal to Catholics is a meditation on Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan and particularly on how Jesus takes a legal scholar’s question, “Who is my neighbor,” and turns it into a lesson on being called not to identify one’s neighbors but to become a neighbor to all, especially those most in need of aid.

“The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the good Samaritan,” the pope said. “Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside.”

“The parable,” he continued, “shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbors, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good.”

Pope Francis used the encyclical “to consider certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity” and acting as a neighbor to one another, including racism, extremism, “aggressive nationalism,” closing borders to migrants and refugees, polarization, politics as a power grab rather than a service to the common good, mistreatment of women, modern slavery and economic policies that allow the rich to get richer but do not create jobs and do not help the poor.

“The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realization of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence,” he said.

Anna Rowlands, a British theologian invited to help present the document at the Vatican, told Catholic News Service the text’s “golden thread” is about discerning “what gives life” and helps everyone to develop their full potential and flourish.

“The whole theme of the document is about the way in which we’re called to attend to the world as Christ attended to the world,” paying attention to reality rather than “evading it and avoiding it,” and praying for the grace to respond as Jesus would.

When people ask, “Who is my neighbor?” often what they really want to know is “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who can I legitimately say is not my responsibility,” Rowlands said.

Pope Francis called for catechesis and preaching that “speak more directly and clearly about the social meaning of existence, the fraternal dimension of spirituality, our conviction of the inalienable dignity of each person and our reasons for loving and accepting all our brothers and sisters.”

He also used the encyclical to strongly reassert a traditional tenet of Catholic social teaching: “the universal destination of goods” or “the common use of created goods,” which asserts, as St. John Paul said, that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.”

The right to private property, and the benefits to individuals and society of protecting that right, Pope Francis wrote, “can only be considered a secondary natural right.”

“The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment,” the pope said. “Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty,” especially through the creation of jobs that pay a living wage.

Pope Francis, Rowlands said, “wants to rehabilitate this idea of social friendship and social peace in the face of an all-pervasive social violence, which he sees running through the economy, running increasingly through politics, running through social media.”

The pope is not despairing, she said, but realistic. “He wants to offer a vision of how you begin from the most local, most every day and most concrete realities to build a culture of peace at every level.”

By Cindy Wooden   I   Catholic News Service