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Biden says he disagrees with Catholic Church’s stance on IVF

President Joe Biden tells EWTN News' Owen Jensen he disagrees with the Catholic Church's position on IVF, Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: EWTN News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 29, 2024 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden expressed today his disagreement with the Catholic Church’s position that in vitro fertilization (IVF) is immoral because it kills countless unborn human babies.

As the controversy continues after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling established the personhood of unborn babies conceived through IVF, Biden was asked by EWTN White House correspondent Owen Jensen on Thursday what he thought about the Church’s position on the issue. 

“The Catholic Church says IVF is immoral and wrong because it destroys countless human embryos. What do you say to that?” Jensen asked.

“I don’t agree with that position,” Biden responded before walking away.

IVF is a medical procedure that fuses sperm and egg in a lab environment to conceive a child outside of the sexual act. The live embryo is later implanted into a uterus to continue developing until birth.

While the Church encourages certain fertility treatments for couples struggling to have children, the use of IVF is contrary to Catholic teachings because it separates the marriage act from procreation and destroys embryonic human life.

Although Biden is a professed Catholic, he criticized the Alabama ruling as a “disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families.”

He said that the decision was “outrageous” and “unacceptable,” calling it a “direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

Biden and the Democrats are not the only ones voicing support for IVF in the wake of the Alabama decision. Several leading Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, have urged more legislation to broaden legal protections for IVF.

On Thursday the Alabama House overwhelmingly approved a bill that grants immunity to IVF providers in cases of death or injury to unborn babies during the IVF process. The Republican majority House passed the bill in a 94-6 vote that says that “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization.”

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that ignorance of the Catholic position on IVF is a major issue. 

“If you go to church faithfully for an entire year every Sunday, what are the chances of you hearing the Church’s teaching on IVF mentioned? It’s pretty low,” Meaney said. “There are tons of people who don’t know what the Church teaches.”

Meaney urged Catholics to educate themselves on the topic, pointing to the 1987 Vatican document Donum Vitae as a starting point to understand the Church’s teachings on IVF. 

Putin warns West of nuclear war risk over Ukraine troop deployment

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Gostiny Dvor conference center in central Moscow on Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Feb 29, 2024 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech on Thursday cautioned that any Western military intervention in support of Ukraine could potentially lead to nuclear conflict.

“[The West] must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory,” Putin, who is widely expected to hold onto power in an upcoming election, said in a Feb. 29 speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly. 

Warning of “tragic consequences” if NATO forces were ever deployed to Ukraine, Putin continued, as reported by the Washington Post: “All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don’t they get that? ... [Russia’s] strategic nuclear forces are in a state of full readiness.”

Putin’s speech came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the deployment of foreign forces to Ukraine remained an option.

“We will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war,” Macron said at a news conference. He said there is no consensus to “send in” troops on the ground, but said “nothing can be ruled out.”

In response to Macron’s remarks, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the idea that Europe could send ground troops to Ukraine opens a “frightening scenario” that could “bring about the escalation that we have always tried to avoid from the beginning.”

“It’s a scenario that I wouldn’t call apocalyptic because perhaps that’s an exaggerated word at this moment, but certainly it’s fearsome,” Parolin said Feb. 27, as reported by Vatican News.

The cardinal, who has called for peace in Ukraine but also previously warned of the dangers of escalation, lamented that “no prospect of a solution on the horizon, be it military or negotiated.”

“It would be ideal to really find a way to get the two sides to start talking and dialoguing,” Parolin added to Vatican News. “I believe that if we talk, a solution will be found.” 

Pope Francis has spoken before of the danger of the possibility of a nuclear war “that will extinguish us.” The pope’s words came shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine, at the start of which Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces to be put on high alert, raising fears of the possibility of a nuclear war.

Alabama House passes bill protecting IVF

The Alabama State House, located in Montgomery, Alabama. / Credit: Chris Pruitt|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 29, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Alabama House overwhelmingly approved a bill on Thursday that grants immunity to in vitro fertilization (IVF) providers in cases of death or injury to unborn babies during the IVF process. 

The Republican-majority House passed the bill in a 94-6 vote just a week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that unborn babies conceived through IVF are human children protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

Introduced by Republican state Reps. Terri Collins and David Faulkner, the bill specifically bypasses the court’s reading of the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and says that “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization.”

IVF is a fertility treatment in which doctors fuse sperm and eggs to create human embryos and implant them in the mother’s womb without a sexual act. Embryos that are intended to be implanted later are frozen. Undesired embryos are routinely destroyed or used for scientific research, which kills those preborn children.

The Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to IVF.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and the Alabama Policy Institute issued a joint statement before the bill’s passage criticizing lawmakers for supporting legislation that they claim conflicts with pro-life principles.

“It is unacceptable [that] the Alabama Legislature has advanced a bill that falls short of pro-life expectations and fails to respect the dignity of human life,” the statement read.

“Alabama can do both: allow the continued practice of IVF with care for those suffering from infertility and respect life created through the IVF,” the statement continued. “We have full confidence that the same legislature that passed a law protecting the unborn throughout pregnancy will also take this crucial step to continue protecting all human life in keeping with the people of Alabama, who are ardently pro-life.”

The bill will advance to the Alabama Senate for further consideration.

What happens to the saints whose feast day falls on Feb. 29 when there is no leap year?

null / Credit: Brigitte Pica2/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 29, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585), is used almost throughout the world and establishes that every fourth year is a leap year that has one extra day, Feb. 29. What is little known is that the Church also commemorates some saints on this day — but what happens to them the other three years?

On Feb. 29 the Church commemorates the martyr St. Augustus Chapdelaine, a French priest and member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. In 1852 he traveled as a missionary to China and years later he was denounced as a Christian before an anti-Christian official. He died on Feb. 29, 1856.

Feb. 29 is also the feast day of St. Hilary. “Lives of the Saints” by Father Alban Butler notes that he was elected pontiff while still a deacon. Historians differ whether he died on Feb. 28 or 29, perhaps because he died in the leap year of 468.

St. Oswald, who was the archbishop of York in England, is also commemorated on this day. According to the Franciscan directory of saints, he died Feb. 29, 992, after he had washed the feet of 12 beggars and eaten with them.

The research website on the saints “Santi e Beati” (“Saints and Blesseds”) explains that all these saints, along with the Franciscan Blessed Antonia of Florence, are celebrated on Feb. 29 — but that when there is no leap year their feast day moves to Feb. 28.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

What should a Lenten homily be like? God told a saint

Bishop Thomas Paprocki preaches the opening Mass of the Corpus Christi Priory in Springfield. / Photo credit: Diocese of Springfield

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 29, 2024 / 12:40 pm (CNA).

A little-known story in the annals of the Church is that God gave St. Angelo d’Acri (1669–1739), born in a small town in southern Italy, advice on what homilies should be like during the liturgical season of Lent. Acting on that advice, the saint packed churches with the faithful and obtained many conversions.

The book “Lives of the Saints” by Father Alban Butler recounts how St. Angelo wanted to be a Capuchin Franciscan, but he left the community on two occasions because he couldn’t bear the rigorous way of life. The third time he tried, he stayed and was ordained a priest. It is said that at his first Mass he was transported in ecstasy.

His superiors gave him the assignment to give the sermons during Lent. The saint prepared himself with great care, but when he stepped in the pulpit his memory failed him and he didn’t know what to say. He was greatly discouraged and returned very depressed to his convent before Lent ended.

One day, while reflecting on his failure, he asked God to help him. He then heard a divine voice that told him: “Do not be afraid. I will give you the gift of preaching.” The saint, surprised, asked the voice who he was and the voice answered: “I am who am.”

Something similar happened to Moses when God asked him to free his people from the slavery of Egypt. The Old Testament passage relates: “God said to Moses, ‘I am who am.’ Then the Lord added: ‘This is how you will speak to the Israelites: “I am” sent me to you’” (Ex 3:14).

As St. Angelo’s mystical experiences continued, the story goes, the divine voice gave him the following key for his homilies: “From now on, preach simply, as if you were conversing, so that everyone can understand you.” So the priest stopped consulting his books on oratory and rhetoric and began to prepare his sermons with the Bible and before a crucifix.

Little by little he gained a lot of success in the town, but he didn’t achieve the same results with the nobility and the wealthy. A cardinal asked him to preach during Lent in Naples, Italy, and the priest’s simple homily was ridiculed and dismissed by the wealthy people. For two days the church was almost empty.

The local priest didn’t want the saint to continue preaching, but the cardinal paid no attention. This created a scandal and made the nobility — who were also very gossipy — go to the church to see the outcome. But they were unexpectedly surprised.

In a church packed with the faithful, the saint asked at the end of his sermon that they pray for a person who was present there and who was going to die. The Mass ended and as the people left murmuring about that request, a lawyer who used to mock the priest fell dead to the floor. Everyone was astonished and the priest’s reputation for holiness spread.

The churches where St. Angelo went to preach were always full, and he obtained many conversions. He performed miraculous healings, had the gift of bilocation, could read thoughts, and predicted the future. His feast day is Oct. 30.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Here is Pope Francis’ schedule for Holy Week and Easter 2024 at the Vatican

Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on April 8, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 29, 2024 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has released Pope Francis’ schedule for Holy Week 2024, which will include five papal liturgies, Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, and other traditions to mark the most sacred week of the year.

Easter is the highest feast in the Catholic Church, known as the “solemnity of solemnities,” celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and defeat of sin and death, and the Vatican celebrates Holy Week with pomp, reverence, tradition, and a busy schedule.

The 87-year-old pope is scheduled to preside over liturgies on each day of the Easter Triduum as well as Palm Sunday. 

The Holy See Press Office published the pope’s Holy Week schedule one day after Pope Francis visited the hospital for diagnostic tests. Reuters reported that the pope had a CT scan during the hospital checkup. Last year, Pope Francis was discharged from the hospital one day before presiding over Palm Sunday Mass.

Holy Week 2024 begins on March 24 with Palm Sunday and culminates with Easter on March 31. Here is the Vatican’s full schedule:

Palm Sunday

Pope Francis presides over Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 2, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis presides over Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 2, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

On Sunday morning, March 24, Pope Francis is scheduled to preside over Mass for Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday or the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem.

The Mass, which will be in St. Peter’s Square at 10 a.m. local time, will kick off with a grand procession of deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals, and laypeople carrying palms.

The procession includes olive tree branches, palm fronds, and the large, weaved palms called “parmureli,” all blessed by Pope Francis.

Holy Thursday

Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of 12 young men and women, inmates at Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center on Rome’s outskirts, during a Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, April 6, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of 12 young men and women, inmates at Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center on Rome’s outskirts, during a Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, April 6, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis is set to start Holy Thursday with a chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 a.m. in the presence of cardinals, bishops, and priests living in Rome.

During the Mass, Pope Francis, as the bishop of Rome, will bless the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens, and the chrism oil to be used in the diocese during the coming year.

The Vatican has yet to release the details for where Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass 2024. Last year, the pope offered Mass at the juvenile detention center Casal del Marmo, the same detention center where he offered Holy Thursday Mass in 2013 shortly after his election.

Good Friday

Pope Francis arrives at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday on April 7, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis arrives at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday on April 7, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Continuing the liturgies of the Triduum, Pope Francis is also scheduled to preside over a celebration for the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday at 5 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica.

During this liturgy, which is not a Mass, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, typically preaches instead of the pope.

In the evening, Pope Francis will lead the Stations of the Cross devotion at 9:15 p.m. in Rome’s Colosseum illuminated by candlelight.

Holy Saturday

Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican on April 8, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican on April 8, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

On Holy Saturday, Pope Francis is set to preside over the Easter Vigil at 7:30 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil, which takes place on Holy Saturday night, “is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities,” according to the Roman Missal.

The liturgy begins in darkness with the blessing of the new fire and the preparation of the paschal candle. At the Vatican, cardinals, bishops, and priests process through the dark basilica carrying lit candles to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.

Pope Francis also typically baptizes new Catholics at this Mass.

Easter Sunday

Credit: Pablo Esparza/CNA
Credit: Pablo Esparza/CNA

The morning of Easter Sunday, Pope Francis will preside over Mass in St. Peter’s Square at 10 a.m. on a flower-decked parvise.

After Mass, he will give the annual Easter “urbi et orbi” blessing at noon from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Urbi et orbi” means “to the city [of Rome] and to the world” and is a special apostolic blessing given by the pope every year on Easter Sunday, Christmas, and other special occasions.

In 2023, local authorities estimated that there were close to 100,000 people present in St. Peter’s Square for the blessing.

Vatican reiterates calls for hostage returns, cease-fire in Israel-Hamas war

A picture taken from a position in southern Israel on Feb. 29, 2024, shows smoke billowing over the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. / Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Feb 29, 2024 / 11:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican has reiterated its call for the safe return of the hostages taken by the terrorist group Hamas and for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the ongoing war between the two.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin insisted on Tuesday that a “cease-fire” is the only way for the hostages to be returned to Israel. 

“Our concern is, first of all, to find a way to have the hostages released and for humanitarian assistance, which continues to be very difficult,” he said on the sidelines of an award ceremony of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation on Tuesday. “So the only path is that of a cease-fire.”

Parolin confirmed that there have been “no developments” in diplomatic contacts with Israel. Earlier this month, the Israeli embassy denounced Parolin for calling Israel’s conduct in the war not “proportionate.”

A Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, Issa Kassissieh, meanwhile, met with a top Vatican official on Monday. Kassissieh urged for a cease-fire ahead of the upcoming religious holidays of Ramadan and Easter, as reported by Crux

Kassissieh ​​met with Vatican’s secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, and emphasized the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza and to preserve access to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Kassissieh reportedly urged Israel to remember “they’re living in the Middle East, among Arab and Muslim worlds, so extremism won’t get any results for anyone.” He also thanked the Vatican for its recent statements on the Israel-Hamas conflict and for the Holy See’s “relentless” efforts for peace. 

“We have taken note of what the ambassador has told us,” Parolin told reporters at the Tuesday event. 

“But even there, what we would like is that a dialogue could be initiated beyond the polemics that perhaps are also in a certain sense justified by the passion to which this war has given rise on both sides,” he said. “Obviously on these things we need to reason a little more calmly.”

President Joe Biden said earlier this week that he was hoping for a short-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel said it would agree to it if Hamas released the hostages, but multiple Hamas officials have since rejected the cease-fire proposal.

Earlier this month, Parolin said the Israeli response to the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks, when Hamas brutally killed 1,200 Israeli civilians and took more than 200 hostages, was not “proportionate.” 

The Israeli embassy issued a sharp rebuke in which the embassy called the cardinal’s comment a “deplorable statement.”  

The cardinal reiterated that the Vatican had condemned “what happened on Oct. 7” as well as condemning “every type of antisemitism.” 

Parolin went on to say that “at the same time” the Holy See has requested “that Israel’s right to defense that was invoked to justify this operation be proportionate … and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

“I believe we are all outraged by what is happening, by this carnage, but we must have the courage to move forward and not lose hope,” Parolin said, adding that “we must find other ways to solve the problem of Gaza, the problem of Palestine.”

“It is a deplorable statement,” the Israeli embassy responded in a Feb. 14 statement. “Judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account all relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions.”

“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” the embassy argued. “There is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others.”

“Gaza civilians also actively participated in the Oct. 7 unprovoked invasion of Israeli territory, killing, raping, and taking civilians hostage,” the statement continued. “All these acts are defined as war crimes.” 

The embassy argued that “in stark contrast” to the Hamas assault, “IDF operations are conducted in full compliance with international law.”

The embassy’s press release also addressed the issue of civilian deaths, indicating that in the case of the IDF, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives,” which contrasts favorably with “past wars and operations of NATO forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan … the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.” 

“Any objective observer,” the embassy said, “cannot help but come to the conclusion that the responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza lies with Hamas and Hamas alone.”

Relic of martyr killed by Mafia to be used in prison ministry in Naples

Blessed Rosario Livatino. / Credit: Episcopal Conference of Sicily

Rome Newsroom, Feb 29, 2024 / 09:15 am (CNA).

The relics of Blessed Rosario Livatino, a Catholic judge brutally killed by the Mafia in 1990, will be brought to a prison in Naples on Saturday as his relics tour the southern Italian city plagued by organized crime.

The Archdiocese of Naples has organized a prayer campaign from March 1–4 across schools, prisons, and churches with the relics of Livatino, who was beatified in Sicily in 2021.

Father Vittorio Sommella, the rector of the Cathedral of Naples, has expressed hope that young people in the city in particular will be touched by Livatino’s witness.

“In a city where more and more young people are warring against young people at gunpoint, the example of Judge Rosario [Livatino] spurs us to do more,” Sommella told the Italian newspaper Il Mattino. 

The Mafia in Naples, called the Camorra, is known for loan sharking in poor neighborhoods and extorting local businesses in addition to drug trafficking, counterfeiting, and money laundering.

Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples has frequently spoken out against the Mafia, condemning Naples’ “cancerous Mafia culture” and “the trail of blood” it has left across the city.

“With the arrival of Blessed Livatino’s relic, Naples welcomes yet another message of hope and the rule of law,” Sommella said.

He inspires us “to commit ourselves as a Church and as a civil society to rediscover the values of lawfulness and justice,” he added.

Livatino worked as a prosecutor in Sicily dealing with the criminal activity of the Mafia throughout the 1980s. He confronted what Italians later called the “Tangentopoli,” the corrupt system of Mafia bribes and kickbacks given for public works contracts.

At the age of 37, he served as a judge at the Court of Agrigento.

Livatino was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse when another car hit his vehicle, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.

Today a plaque on the highway marks the spot where Livatino was killed. It reads: “Martyr of justice.” Pope Francis elevated this title in 2020 when he recognized the judge as a martyr killed “in hatred of the faith.”

Livatino’s relics will arrive in the Naples Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary on Friday morning. Cardinal Angelo Comastri will then lead local lawyers and judges in the Stations of the Cross in the presence of his relics in the cathedral in the evening.

The relics will be brought to the Giuseppe Salvia Penitentiary on Saturday morning for a prayer service with the inmates as well as to a juvenile detention center. 

Families of victims of violent crime will also have a chance to pray with the relics in the cathedral during the weekend. 

Livatino is buried in the cemetery chapel of his hometown of Canicattì, Sicily.

Order of Argentine priests spreads the Gospel where the Church has not gone before

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. / Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 29, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

From an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia out of fear of an atheistic government, the intrepid Father Federico Highton devotes his life to announcing the Gospel to all people, especially those living in places where the faith has vanished or never been established. 

Highton and Father Javier Olivera Ravasi are two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. 

The order is dedicated to cultural engagement and sending missionaries “ad gentes” (“to the nations”), in a reference to the Second Vatican Council’s decree that reaffirmed the call for missions and salvation in Christ and highlighted the link between evangelization and charity for the poor.

The order’s website states that its members seek out the lost and the “’immense multitudes who thirst for Christ,’” as cited in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, “even when they do not know they are lost.” They go wherever the Catholic faith has vanished or not penetrated and have gone to Afghanistan, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Benin, Tibet, Laos, China, and India’s northeastern Sikkim region. A recently produced video captured Highton in Malawi.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

CNA asked Highton why he goes so far afield from his native Argentina, which has material and spiritual needs of its own. 

“The Italian writer Vittorio Missori once said the Catholic religion is one of ‘and/and,’ not ‘or/or,’ which is to say it is mystical and ascetical. It seeks the salvation of souls everywhere, not just the slums of Buenos Aires but also in the Himalayan Mountains and deep in China,” Highton said. “The vocation of a missionary is to go anywhere ‘ad gentes,’ just as it is the vocation of Carthusian monks to pray and fast and for journalists to seek the truth.”

The order takes its name from the biblical prophet and saint Elijah, who is also known as Elias. The order’s website expresses admiration for “the heroic spirit of the holy prophet who, with his zeal and tireless preaching, was a fiery missionary. Just as the Carmelite fathers were inspired by him in their contemplative dimension, we seek here to inherit his missionary ‘parrhesia.’” 

In April 2020, fellow Argentine Pope Francis delivered a homily on parrhesia, which is often translated as “boldness,” as found in Acts 4:13-21. The pontiff said of the apostles Peter and John, who faced the Sanhedrin in the Temple: “The gift of the Holy Spirit: frankness, courage, parrhesia, is a gift, a grace that the Holy Spirit gives to him on the day of Pentecost. Right after having received the Holy Spirit they went out to preach courageously, something new for them.”

Olivera Ravasi said that Pope Francis personally received members of the order and instructed them to evangelize in places where the faith had not been shared before while also providing necessary authorization for mission work.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

In addition to parrhesia, the Order of St. Elijah is founded on heroic commitment, fidelity to the divine “mystery” — the equality with which gentiles are to be treated (as mentioned in Ephesians) — and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Their intention is to preach the Catholic faith boldly and proclaim it “upon the housetops” (Mt 10:27) without fearing those “who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). 

“Like the martyrs, such as St. Blaise, we are called to parrhesia even though we are cut into pieces,” Highton said.

While he is across the world in Asia, his brother and co-founder of the order, Olivera Ravasi, remains in Argentina, where he leads the order’s “Catholic counter-revolution” with teaching and outreach to university students and young professionals. 

A lawyer, theologian, blogger, and author who has produced numerous video conferences and interviews on YouTube, Olivera Ravasi told CNA that the Order of St. Elijah recently celebrated its eighth anniversary and is seeking to purchase a house in the heart of Buenos Aires to offer studios, a conference room, and a book store where young people can receive instruction in the faith and exposure to Catholic culture. The order also has a formation house for seminarians in Ecuador under the auspices of an archbishop.

While there are missionaries of other orders in Argentina, Highton said the Order of St. Elijah has its own charism and apostolic dynamism: “We go to the missions with just a backpack and without the bureaucratic apparatus of others. It’s as if we are missionary commandos. In the Church, there are the regular troops, but we are the commandos.

Highton is accompanied on some of his missions by volunteers, seminarians, and laity from Argentina and elsewhere. In Argentina, there are several parishes served by priests associated with the order.

“It’s a great grace he has bestowed,” the priest said. “We are in contact with the bishops and religious, such as the Franciscans, in the countries we visit and cooperate with them. We worked with the Servant Sisters of the Word in Malawi and had great success, for instance. With them, we were able to start chapels where there had not been any.”

Referring to his work in India, which was initially evangelized in apostolic times by St. Thomas and has continued to have a Christian presence, Highton said: “Those were the days of splendid evangelization that were followed by years of lesser splendor. We are being called to another boom in missionary work ‘ad gentes.’ Today, unfortunately, the calls by the popes to evangelization have not been heeded. In much of the world, missionary work is nearly dead. In the 20th century, all of the popes tell us that evangelizing ad gentes is urgent. While the Protestants are advancing successfully in pagan lands, in many places there is no Catholic activity.”

Among his models in the priesthood, Highton mentioned priest/author Leonardo Castellani (1899–1981), who remains influential in the Spanish-speaking world. 

“I started reading Castellani as a layman and then in seminary. His example is in my blood and in my soul,” he said. 

What he learned, he said, is that all believers “are called to evangelize and each of us has a function in the body of Christ to save souls and save their own souls.”

“My greatest challenge would be to evangelize Muslims in Muslim lands,” he continued.

Highton has been jailed in the past for his missionary activity, hassled by pagan shamans, and has suffered several bouts of malaria. He often travels alone or sometimes with dedicated guides.

Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali
Father Federico Highton is one of two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. Credit: Luis M. Piccinali

Highton was asked if he has witnessed diabolic resistance to his mission. 

“In the first place, diabolical resistance affects everyone through temptation. The devil manifests himself by tempting me. Through confession, to the glory of God, I confess my sins and temptations,” he said. 

In Africa, he witnessed diabolical manifestations and possessions. “There was one terrifying case I witnessed, where a bishop gave me authority as an exorcist. It was a girl who would spontaneously strip herself naked at school and go into a trance. Ashamed, her parents stopped sending her to school. But ultimately, the Lord liberated her,” he recalled.

He said that he prepares each day with the Divine Office and fasting, followed by celebrating holy Mass before going out. He and his companions evangelize in the morning and evening while adhering to a rule of prayer and the rosary. There are currently nine priests in the order, and six seminarians are poised to join. They are asking for prayers and donations so they can continue their work.

“The Church doesn’t want the world to trust in her if the price of this trust is for the world to deny God,” Highton said. “The Church doesn’t want the trust of the powerful at the price of renouncing the Word. If the Church ceases to be missionary, it loses its reason for being: The trust of potentates in a non-missionary Church is trust in a prostitute, not a trust in holy mother Church.”

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