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Pope Francis undergoes successful three-hour surgery for hernia

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis was conscious and alert after a three-hour abdominal surgery that was performed "without complications" to treat a hernia, the Vatican said.

The 86-year-old pope was taken to Rome's Gemelli hospital shortly after his general audience June 7. He was put under general anesthesia and underwent abdominal surgery to treat a hernia that developed at the site of abdominal incisions from previous operations, Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the chief surgeon operating on the pope, said at a news conference at the hospital following the operation.

Speaking to journalists after the surgery, Alfieri said Pope Francis had a number of internal scars and adhesions from two operations many years ago, possibly in Argentina; one was to treat peritonitis -- inflammation of abdominal tissue -- caused by an infected gallbladder and another to treat hydatid disease caused by cysts containing a parasite. It was this last operation that had left behind scars in the pope's abdominal tissue where another hernia had developed.

Alfieri said that during the three-hour operation adhesions were found between the intestine and the membrane that lines the abdomen, that for months caused an "aggravating, painful" intestinal blockage.

The adhesions were freed during the surgery and the opening in the abdomen's wall that led to the hernia was repaired with prosthetic mesh.

Alfieri, who also operated on the pope in 2021, said the pope had no complications and responded well to the general anesthesia he was administered during this surgery and the one in 2021 that removed part of his colon.

The chief surgeon underscored that, in both operations, all affected tissue had been benign.

"The pope does not have other illnesses," he said.

Alfieri explained that while the medical team that follows the pope had been discussing the scheduled operation for several days, the final decision to operate was not taken until June 6, when Pope Francis briefly visited the hospital for a medical checkup and tests.

"It was not urgent," he said, "or else we would have operated on him then."

Before going to the hospital the pope seemed well and in good spirits, holding his general audience as usual, riding in the popemobile, blessing babies, walking with a cane and meeting special guests afterward. He had held two private meetings before the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Vatican News reported he arrived at the Gemelli hospital around 11:30 a.m. local time in the compact Fiat 500 he often rides in. The windows of the papal suite on the 10th floor of the hospital were opened just after 6 p.m.

Alfieri noted that shortly after the surgery Pope Francis was already working and making jokes, and had asked the surgeon in jest: "When are we doing the third (surgery)?"

While Alfieri said recovery for this operation typically lasts about seven days. Vatican News reported that the pope's audiences have been canceled until June 18 as a "precaution."

Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with 29 Nobel Peace Prize winners at the Vatican June 10 for an event to celebrate human fraternity. Before going to the hospital, the pope encouraged its organizers to continue with the event as planned, a statement from the foundation organizing the event said.

This was Pope Francis' third hospitalization at the Gemelli hospital, the most recent was from March 29 to April 1 when he was admitted for an acute respiratory infection.

As Pope Francis Recovers From Surgery, U.S. Bishops’ President Offers Prayers for the Holy Father

WASHINGTON - On Wednesday, June 7, Pope Francis underwent abdominal surgery at Gemelli Hospital in Rome. Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement regarding the Holy Father:

“As Pope Francis recovers from surgery, he is strengthened by faith in the healing power of our merciful God. Please keep Pope Francis and all those in the hospital in your prayers today and every day. Jesus always walks with us and is even closer whenever we need healing and comfort.”


Bishop Chairmen Call on Lawmakers to Protect Children Online

WASHINGTON - In a letter to members of the U.S. Congress, four bishops who serve as chairmen of committees in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) encouraged lawmakers to address the growing problem of the exploitation of children over the Internet and through mobile technology. The bishops lead committees that include among their purview the issues of protecting children and the vulnerable and upholding healthy individuals and families.

“As pastors, we have seen the destructive effects of the reprehensible offenses of child exploitation firsthand,” the bishops wrote. “And as leaders of an institution that, for many years, failed to meet its responsibility to protect all children, we know all too well the consequences of a culture that fails to give adequate attention to the problem of child sexual exploitation.” The bishops noted that the exploitation of children has always been a problem but has increased exponentially over the last several years in large part due to the Internet and mobile technology. 

“Online child exploitation threatens the safety and well-being of our young people and destroys families and communities. The ability of a child to grow into adulthood in peace and security is both a human right and a demand of the common good: the dignity of the human person requires protections for our young people so that they may flourish as they mature,” they said. They encouraged lawmakers to consider three longstanding moral principles in discerning legislation that addresses the protection of children online:

  • Respect for life and dignity
  • The call to family
  • The call to community and participation

The signatories of the letter are Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, chairman of the Committee on Protection of Children & Young People; Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Robert P. Reed, auxiliary bishop of Boston, and chairman of the Committee on Communications; and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, and chairman of the  Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

A copy of the bishops’ letter to Congress may be found here.  


Pope plans to write document dedicated to St. Thérèse of Lisieux

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Individuals become Christian because they have been touched by Christ's love, not because they have been convinced or coerced by someone else, Pope Francis said.

The Catholic Church needs missionary disciples who have hearts like St. Thérèse of Lisieux and who "draw people to love and bring people closer to God," he told people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square June 7.

"Let us ask this saint for the grace to overcome our selfishness and for the passion to intercede that Jesus might be known and loved," he said.

The pope continued his series of talks about "zeal" for evangelization by focusing on St. Thérèse, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is patron saint of missions and a doctor of the church.

Before beginning his general audience talk, the pope walked with his cane to a large reliquary containing the relics of St. Thérèse that was placed on a table near where he sits to deliver his catechesis. He placed a large white rose before the ornate reliquary and stood a few moments in prayer.

During his catechesis he announced was planning to dedicate an apostolic letter to her to mark the 150th anniversary of her birth this year.

Pope Francis has said he has a special devotion to the saint, once telling an interviewer that he used to keep a photo of this 19th-century French Carmelite nun on his library shelf when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He told journalist Sergio Rubin in 2010, "When I have a problem I ask the saint, not to solve it, but to take it in her hands and help me accept it, and, as a sign, I almost always receive a white rose."

St. Thérèse displayed patience, trust in God and a "spirit of humility, tenderness and goodness," that God "wants from all of us," Pope Francis has said.

During his Wednesday general audience talk, the pope asked Christians to find inspiration in the life of St. Thérèse, who lived "according to the way of littleness and weakness," defining herself as "a small grain of sand."

She lived in poor health and died at the age of 24, but "her heart was vibrant, missionary," the pope said.

The Carmelite nun wanted to be a missionary and served, from her monastery, as a "spiritual sister" to several missionaries, accompanying them through her letters and prayers, he said.

"Without being visible, she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward," Pope Francis said. "Such is the power of intercession moved by charity; such is the engine of mission!"

Therefore, missionaries are not only those who "travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works and are good at proclamation," he said. "No, a missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God's love where they are" so that "through their witness, their prayer, their intercession, Jesus might pass by."

St. Thérèse's daily resolution was to "make Jesus loved" and to intercede for others, the pope said. "Following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, her zeal was directed especially toward sinners."

Apostolic zeal never works with proselytism or coercion, he said. "One does not become a Christian because they are forced by someone, but because they have been touched by love."

"The church needs hearts like Thérèse's, hearts that draw people to love and bring people closer to God," he said.

The pope ended the audience with his usual greetings to special guests and then went to Rome's Gemelli hospital for abdominal surgery that was scheduled for that afternoon. He was expected to remain for several days, according to the Vatican press office.

U.S. Bishops’ Pro-Life Chairman on the Anniversary of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health

WASHINGTON – On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. In advance of the anniversary of the Court’s landmark decision, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement celebrating Dobbs and explaining how the Court’s decision marked the beginning of a critical new phase in protecting human life.

“June 24, 2023, marks the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and we have much to celebrate,” Bishop Burbidge said. “By the grace of God, the nearly fifty-year reign of national abortion on demand has been put to an end. Roe v. Wade—a seemingly insurmountable blight on our nation—is no more!”

“Over the past year, while some states have acted to protect preborn children, others have tragically moved to enshrine abortion in law—enacting extreme abortion policies that leave children vulnerable to abortion, even until the moment of birth…The work that lies ahead continues to be not just changing laws but also helping to change hearts, with steadfast faith in the power of God to do so,” he said.

“The task before us begins with the knowledge of the truth and our courage to speak it and to live it with compassion,” he said, and stated that we are each called to “radical solidarity” with women facing an unexpected or challenging pregnancy and doing whatever we can to provide them with the care and support they need to welcome their children.”

Read Bishop Burbidge’s statement in its entirety here.


Pope has quick medical checkup at Rome hospital

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis returned to the hospital for a brief medical checkup June 6, the Vatican said.

In a statement to journalists, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, said Pope Francis visited Rome's Gemelli hospital the morning of June 6 "to undergo some clinical examinations and returned to the Vatican before noon."

According to Italian news agency ANSA, the pope entered the hospital at 10:40 a.m. for a visit to the hospital's geriatric medical center. He reportedly left the hospital at 11:20 a.m. to return to the Vatican.

Citing Vatican sources, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica said the visit had been scheduled, and consisted of an exam using radiation to provide information about internal organs and tissues.

A CT scan is a commonly used medical scan which uses radiation to obtain images of internal images of the body, but the Vatican did not provide any details about what tests were done.

In March, Pope Francis spent four days in the papal suite of Rome's Gemelli hospital for treatment for a respiratory infection.

He also spent 10 days there in July, 2021, after undergoing a three-hour surgery that removed part of his large intestine. In January, Pope Francis told the Associated Press that his diverticulosis, the inflammation of bulges in the intestinal wall that led him to get the operation, had returned.

The 86-year-old has said his health is "not like at the beginning of the pontificate," and has canceled some events due to medical reasons. He canceled his day's audiences May 26 due to a fever but returned to his normal schedule the following day and presided over Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica May 28.

Pope Francis Names New Auxiliary Bishops of San Diego

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has appointed the Rev. Michael Pham and Rev. Felipe Pulido as auxiliary bishops of San Diego. Bishop-elect Pham is a priest of the Diocese of San Diego and currently serves as vicar general of the Diocese of San Diego and pastor of Good Shepherd parish in San Diego. Bishop-elect Pulido is a priest of the Diocese of Yakima, and currently serves as vicar for clergy and director of vocations for the Diocese of Yakima, and as pastor of St. Joseph parish in Kennewick, Washington. The appointments were publicized in Washington, D.C. on June 6, 2023, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Father Pham was born January 27, 1967, in Da Nang, Vietnam. He graduated from San Diego University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He attended Saint Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, and in 2020 completed a Licentiate in Sacred Theology. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of San Diego on June 25, 1999.

Bishop-elect Pham’s assignments after ordination include: parochial vicar at St. Mary, Star of the Sea parish in Oceanside (1999-2001); diocesan vocation director (2001-2004); pastor at Holy Family parish in San Diego (2004-2014); and pastor at St. Therese parish in San Diego (2014-2016). In 2016, he was named pastor of Good Shepherd parish in San Diego, where he currently serves. He has been episcopal vicar for ethnic and intercultural communities since 2017, and since 2018, he has served as vicar general of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop-elect Pham is a native speaker of Vietnamese, and also speaks English and Spanish.

Father Pulido was born January 13, 1970, in Dos Aguas, Michoacan, Mexico. He began his priestly formation at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon (1994-1998) where he graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1998 and continued at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy and received a Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology with high honors at the Angelicum in Rome in 2000. He studied at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome from 2001 to 2002. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Yakima on June 28, 2002.

Bishop-elect Pulido’s assignments after ordination include: parochial vicar at Holy Family parish in Yakima (2002-2003) and at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Moses Lake (2003-2006); and pastor of Our Lady of the Snows parish in Leavenworth (2006-2008). In 2008, he was named pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Moses Lake, and of Queen of All Saints parish in Warden where he served the two parishes concurrently until 2012. In 2011, he was appointed to serve the Diocese of Yakima as vicar for clergy and director of vocations, while continuing his service as pastor of two parishes. In 2012, he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph parish in Yakima where he served until 2020. Since 2020, Father Pulido has been pastor of St. Joseph parish in Kennewick, in addition to continuing his role as the vicar for clergy and director of vocations for the Diocese of Yakima. Bishop-elect Pulido speaks English and Spanish.

The Diocese of San Diego is comprised of 8,852 square miles in the State of California and has a total population of 3,478,336 of which 1,391,334 are Catholic.


Pope asks Catholics to welcome everyone, create communion

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Holy Spirit invites the faithful to share in God's love and to make the church a loving home whose door is open to everyone, Pope Francis said.

"Our God is a communion of love: and this is how Jesus revealed him to us," the pope said before praying the Angelus with some 20,000 visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square June 4.

In his talk, Pope Francis reflected on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit celebrated that day.

He said this "God of communion" can be seen "through the image of a family gathered around the table, where life is shared."

The Holy Spirit invites the faithful "to sit at the table with God to share in his love," which is "what happens at every Mass, at the altar of the Eucharistic table, where Jesus offers himself to the Father and offers himself for us," he said.

The pope asked that Catholics reflect on the following questions: "Do we bear witness to God-as-love? Or has God-as-love become in turn a concept" that no longer invigorates or generates life?

"If God is love, do our communities bear witness to this? Do they know how to love?" and "do we know how to love in the family? Do we keep the door open always, do we know how to welcome everyone -- and I emphasize, everyone -- to welcome them as brothers and sisters?" he asked.

"Do we offer everyone the food of God's forgiveness and Gospel joy?" he asked, or does the Christian community feel less like a home and more like an office or privileged place "where only the elect can enter?"

Pope Francis asked that the faithful "commit ourselves to bear witness to God-as-love, creating communion in his name" and living "the church as that home where one loves in a familiar way, to the glory of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

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A short video by the CNS Rome bureau of the pope's Angelus address can be found here: https://youtu.be/2yQNdCmJXHE

A host of sacramental statistics: Vatican tracks practice of the faith

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As first Communion season winds down and wedding fever rises, Catholic counters are busy.

The Central Office of Church Statistics, a department of the Vatican Secretariat of State, keeps track of baptisms, first Communions, confirmations and Catholic marriages reported by dioceses around the world.

The statistics are one way of "showing adherence to the church," including the continuing practice of the faith over time, said the introduction to the chapter "Practice of Religion" in the 512-page volume, Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2021.

Using statistics reported as of Dec. 31, 2021, the book was published in February this year. It counted more than 1.3 billion Catholics in the world or 17.7% of the global population.

Dioceses and other church territories around the world reported more than 13.7 million baptisms in 2021 and more than 11.1 million of those, 81%, were baptisms of children under the age of 7. The yearbook for 1991 reported 18.1 million baptisms worldwide, 89% of which involved welcoming into the church children under the age of 7.

The statistical yearbook noted "a general downward trend in the relative number of baptisms, following closely the trend in the birthrate in most countries."

The yearbook also provided a look at the percentage of baptisms of people over the age of 7 by continent from 2016 to 2021, providing an indication that missionary activity is holding steady everywhere but the Middle East.

Africa leads the world in the percentage of baptisms in which the new Christian was over 7 years of age. In 2016 close to 33% of the baptisms on the continent involved older children and adults; by 2021, it had grown to 36%.

Both the Middle East and Europe reported in 2016 that about 4.5% of all baptisms involved people over the age of 7; by 2021, the Middle East reported only 2.9% of baptisms involved that population, while Europe stood steady at 4.5%. North American dioceses reported 8.7% in 2016 and 8.6% in 2021.

The number of Catholic weddings celebrated around the world in 2021 was over 1.8 million; of those, only 9.2% involved a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic. On the low end, only 1.7% of marriages in Central America were between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, while in Oceania the figure was 28.3%. North America was close with 20.2 percent of all sacramental marriages involving a Catholic and a non-Catholic.

The yearbook for 1991 reported more than 3.8 million Catholic weddings with 8.9% of them involving a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic.

In 2021, the yearbook said, 8.5 million people received their first Communion, and 7.3 million people were confirmed.

In addition to listing the number of first Communions and confirmations reported country by country and continent by continent, the 2021 yearbook also gives the number of those sacraments per 1,000 Catholics in the country or region, giving a sense of how many children those Catholics are having and how they are or are not bringing their children up in the faith.

The global average was 6.2 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics; in Asia the ratio was highest at 9.1, while the Americas were on the low end with 5.2. The yearbook said there were 7.3 first Communions per 1,000 Catholics in the United States in 2021 and 3.1 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics in Canada.

St. Peter's Basilica opens exhibit on Marian coronations

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Of the more than 1,300 Marian images crowned around the world, one of the first to receive this honor does not have a crown today.

For over 350 years, Michelangelo's Pietà, instantly recognizable by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, was one of several "crowned Madonnas" in St. Peter's Basilica. Until 1924, the disproportionately large Mary bore a golden crown supported by two angels, and over the head of the limp Jesus in her lap was a halo. Coronated in 1568, the sculpture was at the beginning of a wave of Marian coronations which took off in the 17th-century.

"In the early 1600s, a Capuchin friar had the nice idea of officially coronating the Marian images that had a certain devotion, and so he went around towns and began this practice," said Pietro Zander, curator of a Vatican exhibit on Marian coronations, during a tour of the Marian imagery in St. Peter's Basilica May 30.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo's Pietà is seen in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 30, 2023. The sculpture was coronated in 1568, but Mary's crown and Jesus' halo were removed in 1924. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

In 1636, the Vatican began supporting, and regulating, Marian coronations. The local community, typically a church or Marian shrine, was required to write to the Vatican confirming that the image was of "continuous and ancient devotion, used for religious purposes and generated an increase in Marian devotion," said Zander.

Once the image was crowned, the community was obliged to send a letter to the Vatican guaranteeing that the act of coronation followed the prescribed rules along with a painting of the coronated image.

"These images started arriving -- these paintings, since there wasn't photography at the time --are beautiful since they were commissioned by artists," said Zander. The paintings acted as a type of postcard meant to share each community's particular Marian devotion with the Vatican. Often, text at the bottom of the painting explained the community's devotion and told of the coronation event.

Hundreds are still preserved in the Vatican and, beginning on the feast of the Visitation of Mary May 31, 15 of them from throughout Italy will be on display in St. Peter's Basilica. The exhibit, titled "Crowned Madonnas," is organized by the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for maintaining St. Peter's Basilica.

Each image comes from a different region in Italy and is accompanied by the story of a community's source of devotion. One image, called "Our Lady of the Stone," shows Mary with a wound on her right arm which is said to have begun bleeding after a drunken soldier threw a small rock at it. Another tells of monks finding a worn and discolored statue of Mary that miraculously returned to its original form and color during Mass and brought the withered flowers nearby back to life.

Marian exhibit
Paintings of "Our Lady of the Stone," "Our Lady of the Bridge" and "Our Lady of Graces" are displayed as part of the "Crowned Madonnas" exhibit open in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 31 to Oct. 7. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Zander said the exhibit, which runs until Oct. 7, adds to the rich history of Marian devotion already present in the pope's basilica. He recalled that the first image brought into today's St. Peter's Basilica was a 12th-century fresco of Our Lady of Perpetual Help taken from the wall of the old basilica that once stood in its place.

Additionally, the image of "Mater Ecclesiae" (Mother of the Church) in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column is taken from a piece of a column that stood in front of the old St. Peter's Basilica. Zander explained that that after the assassination attempt on St. John Paul II in 1981, the pope requested that an enlarged image of "Mater Ecclesiae" be placed above a window of the Apostolic Palace over the colonnade in St. Peter's Square to welcome visitors. The last Marian image to be crowned in the Vatican was Our Lady of Czestochowa, widely venerated in Poland and by the Polish pope, just hours before his death in 2005.

While the current exhibition shows Marian paintings from all of Italy, Zander said he hopes the basilica will rotate through its collection of "crowned Madonnas" to give a glimpse of how the mother of Jesus is venerated around the world.