The story behind the
cathedral’s newest —
and final — tapestry
January 15, 2021 Vol. 6 No. 1
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1/7/21 9:52 PM
ON THE COVER
A stunning new tapestry of the Virgin Mary by artist John Nava was
unveiled at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on New Year’s
Day. On Page 10, Steve Lowery reports on how the new creation completes
a mission that was left unfinished for more than two decades.
Police officers stand guard Jan. 6 as supporters of
President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol.
Angelus will have more complete coverage of the events
on Capitol Hill and their consequences in the next issue.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/LEAH MILLIS, REUTERS
Pope Watch 2
Archbishop Gomez 3
World, Nation, and Local News 4-6
Scott Hahn on Scripture 8
Father Rolheiser 9
Mentorship program unites LA cops and Catholic school kids 16
How a kidnapped Nigerian bishop’s local fan club came to his rescue 20
COVID-19 vaccine illustrates how Vatican made peace with science 24
Why our changing world needs ‘feminine genius’ 26
Greg Erlandson: 2020’s essential lessons for the new year 28
Separating good intentions from bad theology in Pixar’s ‘Soul’ 30
Heather King on a writer who could paint landscapes with words 32
/21 9:52 PM
January 15, 2021
Vol. 6 • No. 1
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2 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
A time to calm spirits
Pope Francis asked Immaculate Virgin
Mary to help foster a “culture of encounter”
in the United States after the
recent violence in Washington, D.C.
“I extend an affectionate greeting
to the people of the United States of
America, shaken by the recent siege
of Congress. I pray for those who lost
their lives, five lost in those dramatic
moments,” Pope Francis said after his
Sunday Angelus address Jan. 10.
“I reaffirm that violence is always
self-destructive. Nothing is gained with
violence and so much is lost. I urge
the authority of the state and the entire
population to maintain a high sense
of responsibility in order to calm the
spirits, promote national reconciliation,
and protect the democratic values rooted
in American society,” the pope said.
In the midday Marian prayer broadcast
live from the Vatican, Pope Francis
invoked the intercession of the Immaculate
Conception, who was proclaimed
patroness of the United States in
Pope Francis’ comments came four
days after pro-Donald Trump protesters
stormed the U.S. Capitol Building Jan.
6 as Congress was in the process of certifying
the presidential election results,
leading to the evacuation of lawmakers.
At least five people died as a result of
the violence, including a U.S. Capitol
In a video clip published Jan. 9, Pope
Francis said that he was “astonished” by
this incident that occurred in the U.S.
“I was astonished, because they are
a people so disciplined in democracy,
right? But it’s a reality,” the pope said in
the clip published to the website of the
Italian news program TgCom24.
“Something isn’t working,” Pope
Francis continued. With “people taking
a path against the community, against
democracy, against the common good.
Thanks be to God that this has broken
out and there was a chance to see it
well so that now you can try and heal
it. Yes, this must be condemned, this
The pope’s remarks came after U.S.
bishops condemned the violence,
which was described as a “coup” and
an “insurrection” by some in the
“I join people of goodwill in condemning
the violence today at the United
States Capitol,” said Archbishop José H.
Gomez in a statement released the day
of the attack by the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, of which Archbishop
Gomez currently serves as president.
“This is not who we are as Americans.
I am praying for members of Congress
and Capitol staff and for the police and
all those working to restore order and
public safety,” he said.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the
archbishop of Washington, D.C.,
described the events as an attack on
“We Americans should honor the
place where our nation’s laws and
policies are debated and decided,” he
said in his statement. “We should feel
violated when the legacy of freedom
enshrined in that building is disrespected
Reporting courtesy of Catholic News
Agency Rome correspondent Courtney
Editor’s note: Due to deadline
constraints and the changing nature of
developments from Washington, D.C.,
Angelus will have more complete coverage
of the Jan. 6 events on Capitol Hill
and their aftermath in the next issue.
Papal Prayer Intention for January: May the Lord give us the grace to live in full fellowship
with our brothers and sisters of other religions, praying for one another, open to all.
Our urgent duty
BY ARCHBISHOP JOSÉ H. GOMEZ
On Jan. 12, Archbishop Gomez delivered
the keynote address for the annual
conference of the University of Notre
Dame’s De Nicola Center for Ethics
and Culture on the theme, “We Belong
to One Another.” His full address can
be found on AngelusNews.com.
One day, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
found an old and very sick woman
lying on the streets of Calcutta.
The woman was covered in open
sores; she was in a lot of pain, and
many of her wounds were infected.
Mother Teresa took her in and started
cleaning her up.
The whole time, this woman was
yelling at her, cursing at her. At one
point the woman cried out, “Why are
you doing this? People don’t do things
like this. Who taught you?”
Mother Teresa replied simply, “My
God taught me.”
Now, that made the woman calm
down a little. So, she asked, “Who is
And Mother Teresa replied, again
very simply, “You know my God. My
God is called Love.”
This little story gets to the heart of
our responsibilities as Christians because
it tells us two important truths:
who God is and who we are as human
As Christians, we worship a God who
has revealed himself as Love. And
as Christians, we know that human
beings are made in the image of this
God, in the image of Love. We are
created out of love. And we are made
to love — as Jesus loved and as Mother
Teresa and the saints love.
Unless we know these truths, we
can never understand our Christian
commitments — for immigrants and
refugees, for the poor, the unborn, the
imprisoned, the sick, the environment.
Unless we know these truths, we can’t
know how to create a society that will
be good for human beings.
Right now in the West, nations
and corporations and international
agencies are trying to build a global
economic and political order that
does not need to rely on beliefs about
God or traditional religious values and
But what we are finding is that when
we lose this Judeo-Christian idea
— of a God who creates the human
person in his image — then we lose
the basis for all the noble principles
and goals that we have in our society.
We find that unless we believe in a
Creator who establishes values, there
is no foundation for human dignity,
freedom, equality, and fraternity.
To put our challenge in its simplest
terms: unless we believe that we have a
Father in heaven, there is no necessary
reason for us to treat one another as
brothers and sisters on earth.
That is one of the underlying concerns
in Pope Francis’ latest encyclical,
At the heart of the Holy Father’s
appeal is that simple, beautiful truth:
that God is Love, that he is our Father
and we are his children, and he calls
us to form one human family and to
live together in love as brothers and
The Holy Father understands that
many of the troubles in the world
are more than a failure of politics or
diplomacy. They represent a failure
of human fraternity and solidarity. A
failure of love.
And that is our challenge and our
mission as Christians, as the Church.
We have an urgent duty in this
moment, especially in light of the
violence last week at our nation’s
Capitol, and the deep polarization and
divisions in our country.
Our society has lost its bearings. We
are living in an aggressively secular society
that has forgotten the truth about
God and the truth about the human
person. This crisis of truth is the root
cause of pain and hardship in so many
of our neighbors’ lives. It is the cause
of many of the injustices in our society.
But you and I, as Christians, we know
In this moment, we need to bear
witness to the truth that we are all children
of God, that there is a greatness
to human life, that every one of us is
created in God’s image, endowed with
God-given rights and responsibilities,
and called to a transcendent destiny.
As Christians, we need to be models
for a new way of life — a life of love
and compassion and concern for others.
We need to work for dignity and
equality. We need to build a society
where it is easier for people to love and
to be loved.
As Mother Teresa taught us, our God
is called Love. And he calls each one
of us to love.
By our love — by the way we serve
our neighbors, by the way we care
for one another, especially the weak
and vulnerable — we can change the
world. We can help our neighbors to
find and encounter this God who is
To read more columns by Archbishop José H. Gomez or to subscribe, visit www.angelusnews.com.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 3
Farewell to the Vatican’s
A Catholic priest known as the
Church’s top authority on Latin died
Christmas Day in Milwaukee of
complications from COVID-19 at the
age of 81.
Discalced Carmelite Father Reginald
Foster spent four decades at the Latin
Language Department of the Vatican
Secretariat of State after arriving there
Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station in Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec. 27, 2020.
Africa: Post-election strife could get worse in C.A.R.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/ANTONIE ROLLAND, REUTERS
Father Reginald Foster wearing his trademark
plumber’s uniform near the Vatican post office
Despite wearing a plumber’s uniform
to work every day and a penchant for
making irreverent remarks, Father Foster’s
expertise made him indispensable
in the Vatican under three popes. He
also taught Latin at Rome’s Pontifical
Gregorian University, until he was
fired for accepting nonpaying students
into his classes.
He retired to his hometown of Milwaukee
in 2009 and continued writing
and teaching Latin, even remotely in
Father Foster’s death was recognized
by the Vatican in a special message
on behalf of Pope Francis thanking
Father Foster for his contributions to
the Church. It was, of course, written
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/CHRIS WARDE-JONES
Catholics in the Central African Republic are worried that a post-election insurrection
by rebels will result in food shortages and a refugee exodus.
Two-thirds of the country is currently controlled by rebels challenging incumbent
president Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who won the Dec. 27, 2020 elections
with 53% of the vote. However, opposition groups cited irregularities in the elections,
for which half of voters were unable to register because of militia violence.
People are “living in fear and anxiety,” said Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia,
who added that the conflict risked “turning into a nationwide hunt for innocent
people, based solely on their ethnicity or political affiliation.”
The bishop told the French Catholic daily La Croix Jan. 6 that the country’s
main supply route from Cameroon was occupied, causing shortages and surging
Maria Lozano, a Spanish laywoman who works for the papal charity Aid to the
Church in Need, told Crux that Islamic “jihadists want to ransack the country to
have resources they need to deploy elsewhere. Many of the rebels are foreign from
Niger, Chad, or Sudan, who’re fighting in a war that is not theirs for money.”
The violence is a setback for a country praised for slowly returning to peace and
stability in recent years.
Archbishop resigns following return from exile
An archbishop in Belarus resigned less than two weeks after his government
allowed his return from exile.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk submitted his resignation on
Jan. 3, his 75th birthday, in accordance with canon law. The same day, the
Vatican announced that the pope had accepted the resignation.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had been exiled from Belarus since August 2020,
only finally being allowed to return on Dec. 24. The archbishop was barred
from the country due to his public defense of protests against the reelection of
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been accused of electoral fraud.
The sudden resignation led Vatican-watchers to speculate the resignation was
part of a compromise between the Vatican and Lukashenko to allow for Archbishop
Kondrusiewicz to return to Belarus but without the official authority of
The Vatican has not yet named a permanent successor to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz.
4 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
in new Congress
Following last year’s election, not only is a Catholic
president for the second time in American history, but
Catholics are the largest religious group represented in
Thirty percent of the members of the 117th Congress
claim Catholic affiliation, including the Speaker of the
House, Nancy Pelosi. In the House, that breaks down to
77 Democrats and 57 Republicans; in the Senate, there
are 14 Catholic Democrats and 11 Catholic Republicans.
Regardless of shared religion, the two groups seem
diametrically opposed on policy. The Catholic League
reports that 95% of Catholic Democrats in the House
and 79% in the Senate have a pro-abortion voting record,
compared to the pro-life voting recording of Catholic
Republicans in the House and 91% in the Senate.
For many Catholics, these numbers demonstrate the
continued stratification of religious values, with Democrats
focusing on social justice, and Republicans more
concerned with right to life issues.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at last year’s opening Mass of the National
Prayer Vigil for Life.
March for Life prayer vigil
to be held online
Though the March for Life will still be held in person
this year, the annual vigil prayer service that precedes it is
moving online due to the pandemic.
The National Prayer Vigil for Life usually attracts 10,000
people at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception in Washington, D.C.
This year, the service will be broadcast live starting at
5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, Jan. 28, on
EWTN as well as the USCCB and the basilica’s internet
Kansas City Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of
the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that
“now, more than ever, our nation is in need of prayer for
the protection of the unborn and the dignity of all human
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/GREGORY A. SHEMITZ
New York cardinal condemns
FATHER PHILIP BOCHANSKI
SNOW ABSOLUTION — Warmed by a fire, Father Philip Bochanski
offers confession just inside the garage at the rectory of St.
Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull, Connecticut, Dec. 20, 2020.
The parish’s priests normally hear “drive-through” confessions every
Sunday afternoon in the church parking lot, but a snowstorm that
week forced the priest to retreat “inside.”
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan took to his city’s famous
tabloid paper to denounce another act of vandalism to
the exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as “ugly and unlawful.”
The cathedral was graffitied on Jan. 1 by protesters
connected by Black Lives Matter Brooklyn and Justice for
George, according to the New York Post. This act of vandalism
follows similar acts made during protests last summer.
“As a woman from the Bronx e-mailed me to say,” wrote
Cardinal Dolan in his Jan. 5 New York Post op-ed, “ ‘Cardinal
Dolan, it’s time we learn from our Jewish and Islamic
neighbors. A synagogue or mosque is defaced, and they are
quick to condemn it. The governor and the mayor would
join in. They’re right.’ ”
“So is she,” Cardinal Dolan continued. “This attack on St.
Patrick’s was ugly and unlawful.”
Cardinal Dolan also pointed out the city’s various Catholic-affiliated
ministries that seek to bring about the kinds of
racial equality called for by the protests.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 5
LA says farewell to two larger-than-life Catholics
They were two Los Angeles legends
who shared the same first name, the
beginning of a last name (appropriate
for the city they loved), and, most
importantly, the Catholic faith.
And so it seemed too much of a
coincidence that longtime LA city
politician Tom Labonge and legendary
Hall of Fame Dodgers manager
Tommy Lasorda passed away within
hours of each other on Jan. 7 and 8,
Labonge, 67, was one of eight sons
born to his devout Catholic mother,
Mary Louise, and his father, Robert,
who once worked as an editor for The
Tidings, the predecessor of Angelus.
He could often be found at Mass at his
home parish, St. Brendan’s in Hancock
Park, or at the Cathedral of Our Lady
of the Angels handing out pumpkin
bread from the nearby Monastery of
Lasorda, 93, came from an Italian
Catholic immigrant family who liked
to preach that “if you don’t love the
Dodgers, there’s a good chance you
may not get into heaven.” He was
known for his generosity toward priests
and women religious, and credited his
faith for helping him navigate success
and failure during his career.
You can find more coverage of the
two mens’ faith in the next issue of
Angelus and on AngelusNews.com.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/RICK SCUTERI, REUTERS
A passing of the torch
in San Bernardino
Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas has
officially taken the reins in San Bernardino,
after Pope Francis accepted
the resignation of Bishop Gerald R.
Barnes on Dec. 28.
“There is no doubt, when looking at
the events of this past year, that I am
coming to lead the diocese at a very
challenging time,” Bishop Rojas said in
a statement the day of the announcement.
But, he said, he has “always
trusted in God’s plan … and that he
will give me all that I need to do his
Since becoming coadjutor for the
Diocese of San Bernardino last February,
Bishop Rojas had worked alongside
Bishop Barnes in overseeing the
diocese in a transitional period. Before
that, Bishop Rojas had been an auxiliary
bishop in Chicago for eight years.
Bishop Barnes has headed the San
Bernardino Diocese since 1996. He
turned 75 last June, and, as canon law
requires, submitted his resignation to
OneLife LA goes virtual
OneLife LA returns for its sixth year
this month, but with a virtual twist
thanks to the ongoing COVID-19
The annual walk and celebration of
life will be held on Jan. 23, kicking
off with a virtual celebration at noon.
The day’s events still include a lineup
of speakers, singers, and dancing, but
performances will be aired in a onehour
online event, and shared on social
media with the hashtag #onelifela.
This year’s theme is sharing the “Joy
of Life.” For more information, or to
register, visit onelifela.org.
AN EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT — In a local fundraising effort that went global, the Serra Club
raised $25,000 toward the Mission San Gabriel restoration fund. On Dec. 16, 2020, Pat
Livingston, LA district governor, Father Sam Ward, ADLA vocations director, Ed Lupton, Pacific
regional director, and Pat Manzo, board member, presented a check to Archbishop José H.
Gomez, earmarked to help the mission rebuild after last summer’s devastating fire.
6 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
BY SCOTT HAHN
1 Sam. 3:3–10, 19 / Ps. 40:2, 4, 7–10 / 1 Cor. 6:13–15, 17–20 / Jn. 1:35–42
SEEK TRUTH. SERVE OTHERS.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy,
a Catholic, Dominican,
day and boarding school,
educates young women
for a life of
faith, integrity and truth.
440 St. Katherine Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
“Calling of Peter and Andrew,”
artist unknown, Netherlands.
In the call of Samuel and the first
apostles, this Sunday’s Readings shed
light on our own calling to be followers
Notice in the Gospel that John’s
disciples are prepared to hear God’s
call. They are already looking for the
Messiah, so they trust in John’s word
and follow when he points out the
Lamb of God walking by.
Samuel is also waiting on the Lord,
sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant
where God’s glory dwells, taking instruction
from Eli, the high priest.
Samuel listened to God’s word and
the Lord was with him. And Samuel,
through his word, turned all Israel to
the Lord (see 1 Samuel 3:21; 7:2–3).
The disciples, too, heard and followed
— words we hear repeatedly in
Sunday’s Gospel. They stayed with the
Lord and by their testimony brought
others to the Lord.
These scenes from salvation history
should give us strength to embrace
God’s will and to follow his call in our
God is constantly calling to each of
us, personally, by name (see Isaiah
43:1; John 10:3). He wants us to seek
him in love, to long for his word (see
Wisdom 6:11–12). We must desire always,
as the apostles did, to stay where
the Lord stays, to constantly seek his
face (see Psalm 42:2).
For we are not our own, but belong
to the Lord, as Paul says in Sunday’s
We must have ears open to obedience,
and write his word within our
hearts. We must trust in the Lord’s
promise, that if we come to him in
faith, he will abide with us (see John
15:14; 14:21–23), and raise us by his
power. And we must reflect in our
lives the love he has shown us, so that
others too may find the Messiah.
As we renew our vows of discipleship
in this Eucharist, let us approach the
altar singing the new song of Sunday’s
Psalm: “Behold I come ... to do your
will, O my God.”
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.
8 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
BY FATHER RONALD ROLHEISER, OMI
What is your practice?
Today, the common question in
spiritual circles is not, “What is your
church or your religion?” But, “What
is your practice?”
What is your practice? What is your
particular explicit prayer practice?
Is it Christian? Buddhist? Islamic?
Secular? Do you meditate? Do you
do centering prayer? Do you practice
mindfulness? For how long do you do
this each day?
These are good questions and the
prayer practices they refer to are good
practices; but I take issue with one
thing. The tendency here is to identify
the essence of one’s discipleship
and religious observance with a single
explicit prayer practice, and that can
be reductionist and simplistic. Discipleship
is about more than one prayer
A friend of mine shares this story. He
was at a spirituality gathering where
the question most asked of everyone
was this: “What is your practice?”
One woman replied, “My practice is
raising my kids!” She may have meant
it in jest, but her quip contains an
insight that can serve as an important
corrective to the tendency to identify
the essence of one’s discipleship with
a single explicit prayer practice.
Monks have secrets worth knowing.
One of these is the truth that for any
single prayer practice to be transformative
it must be embedded in a
larger set of practices, a much larger
“monastic routine,” which commits
one to a lot more than a single prayer
For a monk, each prayer practice is
embedded inside a monastic routine
and that routine, rather than any one
single prayer practice, becomes the
monk’s practice. Further still, that
monastic routine, to have real value,
must be itself predicated on fidelity to
Hence, the question “What is your
practice?” is a good one if it refers to
more than just a single explicit prayer
practice. It must also ask whether
you are keeping the commandments.
Are you faithful to your vows and
commitments? Are you raising your
kids well? Are you staying within
Christian community? Do you reach
out to the poor? And, yes, do you have
some regular, explicit, habitual prayer
What is my own practice?
I lean heavily on regularity and
ritual, on a “monastic routine.” Here
is my normal routine: Each morning
I pray the Office of Lauds (usually in
community). Then, before going to
my office, I read a spiritual book for at
least 20 minutes. At noon, I participate
in the Eucharist, and sometime
during the day, I go for a long walk
and pray for an hour (mostly using the
rosary as a mantra and praying for a
lot of people by name).
On days when I do not take a walk,
I sit in meditation or centering prayer
for about 15 minutes. Each evening,
I pray vespers (again, usually in community).
Once a week, I spend the
evening writing a column on some
aspect of spirituality. Once a month I
celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation,
always with the same confessor;
and, when possible, I try to carve out
a week each year to do a retreat.
My practice survives on routine,
rhythm, and ritual. These hold me
and keep me inside my discipleship
and my vows. They hold me more
than I hold them. No matter how
busy I am, no matter how distracted
I am, and no matter whether or not
I feel like praying on any given day,
these rituals draw me into prayer and
To be a disciple is to put yourself
under a discipline. Thus, the bigger
part of my practice is my ministry and
the chronic discipline this demands
of me. Full disclosure, ministry is
often more stimulating than prayer;
but it also demands more of you and,
if done in fidelity, can be powerfully
transformative in terms of bringing
you to maturity and altruism.
Carlo Carretto, the renowned
spiritual writer, spent much of his
adult life in the Sahara Desert, living
in solitude as a monk, spending many
hours in formal prayer. However, after
years of solitude and prayer in the desert,
he went to visit his aging mother
who had dedicated many years of her
life to raising children, leaving little
time for formal prayer.
Visiting her, he realized something,
namely, that his mother was more of
a contemplative than he was! To his
credit, Carretto drew the right lesson:
there was nothing wrong with what
he had been doing in the solitude of
the desert for all those years, but there
was something very right in what his
mother had been doing in the busy
bustle of raising children for so many
years. Her life was its own monastery.
Her practice was “raising kids.”
I have always loved this line from
the poet Robert Lax: “The task in life
is not so much finding a path in the
woods as of finding a rhythm to walk
in.” Perhaps your rhythm is “monastic,”
perhaps “domestic.” An explicit
prayer practice is very important as a
religious practice, but so too are our
duties of state.
Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher, award-winning author, and president of the Oblate School of Theology
in San Antonio, Texas. Find him online at www.ronrolheiser.com and www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 9
The completion o
10 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
of a cathedral
Nearly two decades
later, the Blessed Virgin
Mary is finally taking
her place among the
saints at the cathedral
built in her name
BY STEVE LOWERY / ANGELUS
Faithful witnessed the unveiling of the new Marian tapestry at the Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels during Mass celebrating the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on Jan. 1.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 11
“SACRED MATERIAL”/JOHN NAVA, COPYRIGHT 2017. USED WITH PERMISSION.
12 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
As the shrouds were removed
from the five panels of a
stunning new tapestry honoring
the Blessed Virgin Mary in the
apse of the Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels before morning Mass on
New Year’s Day, it seemed fitting that
their removal required the sound of
A necessarily harsh sound to mark
a clean break from a harsh year, one
that, as Archbishop José H. Gomez
acknowledged that morning, may
have felt like a bad nightmare for
But more importantly, the new
tapestry, featuring a 14-foot-high depiction
of the cathedral’s namesake,
hands outstretched, eyes cast toward
the altar and congregation, was
unveiled on the day that the Catholic
Church celebrates the solemnity of
Mary, Mother of God.
And by the time Mass was finished,
it seemed as if it had always been
For those who have called the cathedral
their spiritual home since it was
built two decades ago, the 29-by-50-
foot tapestry seemed to signal an end,
rather than a new beginning.
“That’s always been the whole idea
[of the new tapestry],” said Brother
Hilarion O’Connor, the cathedral’s
operations manager who helped shepherd
the project. “The idea being the
completion of the cathedral, completion
of the tapestries.”
Part of that completion might have
felt long overdue. If you’ve walked
through the long nave of the cathedral,
you’ve likely gazed upon the
more than 130 images of saints depicted
on tapestries hung on opposite
Perhaps the most well-known of the
cathedral’s artistic features, those
tapestries were made by Californian
painter and tapestry designer John
Nava, who used real-life models for
his depiction of the “communion of
But what a visitor did not see until
Jan. 1 was a depiction of the most
important saint of them all: Mary,
whose many titles in Catholic tradition
include “Mother of God” and
especially for Angelenos, “Our Lady
of the Angels.”
“It was always a little strange that I
had [created] 136 figures for the interior
of the church, but the one person
who was not depicted was Our Lady,”
said Nava, who wasn’t the only one to
note the odd contradiction of having
a cathedral dedicated to Our Lady
lacking a prominent image of her.
Among them was Archbishop José
H. Gomez, who, upon arriving in Los
Angeles a decade ago, told Brother
O’Connor: “You know, we need to
get Our Lady into the cathedral.”
And now she has arrived, luminous,
in a blue robe that distinguishes her
from the saints in the nave, who now
seem to look up at her, and that Nava
portrayed in muted, mostly earth
tones that complement the cathedral’s
This is a young Mary, but one whose
countenance contains the unmistakable
duality of the mother who is
a harbor for our pain, and a woman
projecting an air of someone who has
experienced pain herself. She is large
enough to suggest her power, but still
radiates a sense of human vulnerability
that so many people connect with.
“She is the archetypal mother, I
didn’t want her to be imposing, rather,
I wanted her to be open, receptive,
sympathetic,” said Nava, who studied
art in Florence as a young man and
visited many of Europe’s cathedrals, a
good deal of them dedicated to Mary.
As he did with his “communion of
saints” that line the wall, Nava said it
was important for this final tapestry
to integrate the Church’s ancient tradition
and history with contemporary
people and times.
“I wanted to connect it to the New
World,” he said. “The greatest image
of Mary in the new world, I believe, is
the Virgin of Guadalupe. That’s why
in her robe, I put in that floral pattern
from the Virgin of Guadalupe, to
refer to that figure.”
The model for Mary was a woman
in her 20s that Nava has known most
of her life, a DACA recipient who he
said was excited to know that her face
would be used but who will remain
anonymous so as to not confuse
After all, one should be contemplating
Mary, not the model, when
looking at the tapestry.
“The art history of the Church is so
varied, rather than doing a stylized
image, I wanted to make a realistic
portrait that people could connect
with,” said Nava, who took two years
to create the tapestry. “Something
that they could say, ‘I know someone
that looks like that.’ ”
Also recognizable on the tapestry’s
two outside panels, left and right, is a
street map of downtown Los Angeles
that is complete to the point that its
upper right-hand corner contains a
symbol for Dodger Stadium.
Though he had followed the project
from beginning to end, New Year’s
Day marked the first time Brother
O’Connor had seen the tapestry in
its entirety without scaffolding in the
way. It is “magnificent in how Our
Lady is looking out on the congregation,”
he noted, and it represents a
fulfillment of what Archbishop Emeritus
Cardinal Roger Mahony declared
when it was first built: “I have helped
build the cathedral, my successors
will complete it.”
Brother O’Connor marveled at
how Nava was able to meet the size
challenges of the church, the largest
Catholic cathedral in the United
States, while still maintaining an air
of contemplation and scale.
“John has an amazing talent for
getting the images to meet the size of
the cathedral,” he said. “That’s a big
Indeed, with such a project, an artist
At left, above and below: John Nava poses with the central part of his “The Baptism of the Lord” tapestry in 2002, and 18 years later with the “Mary”
tapestry on the opposite end of the cathedral.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 13
“I wanted to make a realistic portrait that people
could connect with. Something that they could
say, ‘I know someone that looks like that.’ ”
An angel hovering over an artistic street map of LA on the new tapestry is seen through scaffolding last September.
14 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
is tasked with creating something that
is visually stimulating without becoming
distracting. The art in a church
should move us to thought, to prayer,
to consideration of our lives, not on
how the art got there.
Nava has thought a lot about the
role of the artist in such circumstances.
When the cathedral first opened,
he remembers that his friend, the
sculptor who created the statue of
Mary at the cathedral entrance, the
late Robert Graham, told him, “This
isn’t about us.”
Instead, he said, it’s about creating a
larger meaning and consciousness for
“When you do a show in a gallery,
the focus is on you,” he said. “You’re
the artist and this is your work. But
this is not about John Nava. This
is about creating a reality that goes
beyond a particular painter.”
And now that it’s done, Nava smirks
when asked if he will be creating any
more tapestries. He said he is happy
that Our Lady has instantly brought a
“rightness” to the cathedral.
Before it was unveiled, it was not
uncommon for congregants to look
toward the back of the church, at
Nava’s equally magnificent “Baptism”
“People used to joke that the church
was backwards because everybody
looked that way,” Nava said, gesturing
toward the rear of the building. “They
looked that way because there was
someone to see.”
Turning his head to look up at the
vision of Mary, Nava added, “Now,
I think we have it in the right balance.”
Steve Lowery is the arts and culture
editor for the Long Beach Post and
a parishioner at American Martyrs
Church in Manhattan Beach.
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 15
second from right, at
her Sept. 18 confirmation
ceremony at St.
Lawrence of Brindisi
Church in Watts. From
left: Her father, Luis
Torres; LAPD officers
Eric Ortiz and Ken
Busiere, and Estefiana’s
Arenas, far right.
Small drops of goodwill
By teaming LAPD officers with Catholic school students,
‘Operation Progress’ is changing attitudes in some of
LA’s toughest neighborhoods
FATHER MATT ELSHOFF
BY TOM HOFFARTH / ANGELUS
In a fine white dress accentuated by
a bright red confirmation stole —
and matching red face mask — Estefania
Torres approached the outdoor
altar in the tented parking lot behind
St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church in
Standing behind the 16-year-old at
a social distance as she declared her
confirmation name and was anointed
on the forehead with sacred chrism
by the church’s pastor, Father Matt
Elshoff, was her sponsor, LAPD Sgt.
Ken Busiere, in full black uniform.
It is the kind of scene that nonprofit
organization Operation Progress has
become known for helping create.
“I know that many young people
today, and many young women, are
drawn in so many difficult directions
that can conflict with their faith and
I think it’s important to have a strong
Catholic mentor in their life,” said
Busiere, a father of three girls and an
18-year LAPD veteran assigned to the
LA Southeast Division.
A grassroots initiative started 20 years
ago by LAPD officer John Coughlin as
a way to better understand the needs
of a community historically fraught by
gang violence and poverty, Operation
Progress currently boasts nearly 100
students at three elementary schools
and three high schools.
Starting as early as third grade, students
grow according to “five pillars of
success”: academics, life skills, health
and wellness, service, and support and
safety. There are also 3.0 grade-point
16 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
FATHER MATT ELSHOFF
benchmark levels of achievement
measured by effort over ability. There
are surveys to measure self-confidence,
leadership, and the ability to share
But the program’s success is something
its leaders say must be “measured
one scholar at a time.”
Take, for example, the trio who
Operation Progress’ executive director
Theresa Gartland calls the program’s
“north stars”: three young women who
joined the expanded pilot program
at St. Lawrence of Brindisi School,
graduated high school last June, and
are now freshmen in college.
Petra Avelar and Meah Watson grew
up in Watts’ Nickerson Gardens
housing development and joined
Operation Progress in 2013. Avelar, a
graduate of Mary Star of the Sea High
School in San Pedro, is now at Stonehill
College in Boston, while Watson
is enrolled at Morgan State University
Araceli Gonzalez, who started this
fall at Texas Christian University, came
into Operation Progress in 2014 while
in the Gonzaque Villages housing
development. Watson and Gonzalez
both went to St. Mary’s Academy in
Avelar’s story was among those told
in the 2017 documentary, “A Week
A poster from the 2017 documentary, “A Week
In Watts,” focused on Operation Progress.
In Watts,” directed and produced by
Gregory Caruso (and son of major Operation
Progress donor Rick Caruso)
and which boasted NBA legend Shaquille
O’Neal as executive producer.
The film followed the impact of the
program on six students living within
a two-mile radius of St. Lawrence of
Brindisi School, an area known for
gang violence between Crips and
Since the film’s release on Netflix,
police departments from across the
country have reached out to Operation
Progress organizers. It has since been
replicated in Ft. Worth, Texas, with the
help of a private Christian school in an
underserved neighborhood near there.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi School
counts some 60 of its current 295
students as program participants, with
a list of kids still waiting to be assigned
a mentor officer.
Some 25 officers at the LA Southeast
Division continue as mentors,
although Gartland would like that
number to grow to more than 50.
Recent officer promotions and
reassignments happened just before
Operation Progress was ramping up
for the 2020-2021 school year, and it
was during a recruitment push when
Verbum Dei High School in Watts
(blocks away from St. Lawrence of
Brindisi School) and St. Mary’s Academy
in Inglewood were two of Operation
Progress’ pilot high schools, and it
recently added St. Pius X-St. Matthias
Academy in Downey.
Besides St. Lawrence of Brindisi
School, there are a handful of students
from nearby Catholic elementary
schools San Miguel and St. Raphael,
some of whom have been paired with
officer mentors from LAPD’s 77th St.
Gartland said she sees a clear
correlation not only between officer
mentorship and the students’ school
performance, but in the attitudes of all
“Families see officers in a different
light,” said Gartland, who has led the
organization since 2013.
But, she added, “the best outcome for
me is seeing how the officers’ mindset
in the community has changed. They
seem more softer as they interact with
Petra Avelar poses next to a poster of herself
in the lobby of a theater at The Grove in LA
during the premiere of the documentary “A
Week In Watts.” Avelar joined Operation Progress
while at St. Lawrence of Brindisi School
in 2013 and is now a freshman at Stonehill
College in Boston.
families, which is something they
usually don’t get a chance to do.”
When Sgt. Busiere was approached
by her mother to
be Estefania’s confirmation
sponsor (her assigned LAPD Operation
Progress mentor, Senior Lead Officer
Roberto Yanez, isn’t Catholic), he considered
it an honor. The program has
given Busiere, who has mentored three
students over the last eight years for
Operation Progress, an intimate sense
of what families like the Torres face.
“I’ve seen how young people have
changed their opinions about police
officers, but it works both ways,” said
Busiere, who attends Saints Peter and
Paul Church in Wilmington with his
“Frankly, a lot of misunderstandings
in this country about race is because
we don’t spend enough time with
each other. And I think the Catholic
worldview is one where you are better
able to serve everyone’s needs and it
encapsulates the core values in the
“If we stray from that, we’re not the
best versions of who we should be. I’m
not sure how I’d do this job without my
If Torres’ life was changed by Oper-
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 17
ation Progress, it is because an LAPD
officer recommended the program to
her mother at a crucial time: she was
about to finish fifth grade when her
family was evicted from their home
amid a situation of domestic violence.
Both her parents were arrested, and she
was sent to foster care.
The turn of events brought her to
St. Lawrence of Brindisi School on
a scholarship when the pastor at the
time, the late Father Jesus Vela, was
helping LAPD officers recruit new
students for the program.
“I was a shy, very quiet kid, and I
didn’t realize how much of a traumatic
phase I was going through,” said
Torres. “I had a difficult time believing
in police officers when they took away
my parents. I was disappointed and
angry and resented the police; it is their
job to protect us. And now they want to
help by sponsoring me?”
Torres said getting to know officers
and the risks they take with their own
lives left an impression on her.
“I can now see the relationship I have
with the officers; it has started small
but it continues to grow, and now it’s
connected to my Catholic beliefs.”
Father Elshoff has a favorite story
he likes to tell when explaining
the positive impact the LAPD has
made on his flock.
Last June, when some 20 children in
St. Lawrence of Brindisi School’s kindergarten
class had a Zoom promotion
ceremony, each was asked from their
home what they wanted to be when
they grow up, and why.
“I believe it was a third of them who
said, ‘I want to be a police officer,’ and
the reason is because ‘I want to help
people,’ ” recalled Father Elshoff, a
lifelong educator who once served as
president of his alma mater, St. Francis
High School in La Cañada Flintridge.
“It wasn’t like they were all telegraphing
this to each other. I believe this
was because they so often see so many
officers on campus mentoring their
St. Lawrence of Brindisi School principal
Alicia Camacho said the officers’
dedication can be seen in their regular
participation in Catholic Schools Week
Career Day every January. They bring
their trained dogs on campus, give
tours of the patrol cars, and even fly a
helicopter overhead for a greeting.
During the COVID-19 pandemic,
the mentor officers continue to check
in on students’ grades and meet over
Zoom welfare updates.
“Our new first-graders are huge fans
of the officers,” Camacho said. “It’s
because the officers have cultivated
long-lasting relationships with our
students and brought a sense of safety
for all of us at school. I am grateful that
our students get to know the police
officers as individuals and caring
The parish’s relationship with the
LAPD has also helped Father Elshoff
stay connected with the community
during the pandemic. He and LAPD
Sgt. Tim Jones have been holding
community public meetings on
Wednesdays in the parking lot of Café
Oaxaca restaurant on Century Boulevard
and Central Avenue in Watts,
making themselves available to locals.
Father Elshoff, who moonlights as
chaplain for LAPD’s Southeast Division,
has taken to sharing experiences
of the encounters on his Facebook
page in a series dubbed “The Police
and the Padre.”
The Capuchin says the meetings have
helped him know people better, and
Father Matt Elshoff with Torres and her sponsor, Sgt. Busiere.
the joy he’s witnessed in them despite
the tough times “reinforces my mission
as a priest and follower of Francis of
“It animates me to give more, and
more often than not, in very ordinary,
18 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
LAPD Sgt. Tim Jones
gets on his knees to
show his badge to a
young boy in Watts
during a meeting of
“The Police and the
Padre” outside of the
Café Oaxaca restaurant
Boulevard near Central
from Ted Watkins
Park in Watts.
basic ways. It really doesn’t have to be
One poignant moment Father Elshoff
captured with his own cellphone
camera was a time when Sgt. Jones was
asked by a young boy if he could touch
his badge. Jones crouched down and
“That’s our future,” Jones said of that
moment. “I think of that moment,
where we have to get down to the same
level where they are comfortable and
talk as equals. You can see people’s
minds shift as I talk about my own life
and my relationship with Father Matt.”
The son of a Southern Baptist minister,
Jones said his relationship with
Father Elshoff can be summed up by
the priest’s recent birthday gift, a St.
Timothy medal that he now wears
every day on patrol.
“I think you can’t know what’s right in
a community if you don’t know what’s
wrong,” said Jones. “I know I have a
better understanding since when I
came in 25 years ago. Small drops of
goodwill will spread the love and communication
that we’re here to serve.
That’s pretty cool.”
FATHER MATT ELSHOFF/FACEBOOK
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January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 19
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January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 19
11/29/20 12:09 PM
Chikwe at his episcopal
in Owerri, Nigeria,
in December 2019.
ARCHDIOCESE OF OWERRI
A New Year’s miracle
When news broke of a Nigerian bishop’s kidnapping
last month, friends of ‘Father Moses’ from his time
in SoCal sprung into action
BY PABLO KAY / ANGELUS
During his nearly 15 years in Southern California,
Father Moses Chikwe was always up to something,
even when he wasn’t taking graduate courses at
Loyola Marymount University and UCLA.
The Nigerian priest helped in parishes, visited the sick
in local hospitals, served as a prayer group chaplain, and
joined soccer matches after Sunday Masses were done. He
even handed out rosaries to strangers on the Venice Beach
So when news reached California that Father Chikwe, now
an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Owerri, Nigeria,
had been kidnapped along with his driver Dec. 27, he had
an extensive network of old friends praying for his release.
“I feared for the worst. I couldn’t sleep,” recalled Patrick
Chikwe, a nephew of the bishop. The younger Chikwe,
who joined his uncle in California eight years ago and today
teaches at an LA area high school, knew who to call first
when he got the news.
“Everybody we asked started prayer chains like crazy,” said
Gary Micaletti, who became friends with “Father Moses”
during his time at the Church of Saint Mark in Venice.
Former parishioners from Saint Mark and parishes in San
Diego where he served spread the word. Family members,
prayer groups, and convents, including the Carmelite Sisters
20 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
in Alhambra, were quickly mobilized to pray. Nigerian
priests serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were on the
phone with updates.
Their efforts were not in vain. Five days after Bishop
Chikwe and his driver, Ndubuisi Robert, were abducted,
the Archdiocese of Owerri announced Jan. 1 they had been
released “unhurt and without ransom.”
“To GOD be the glory,” read a New Year’s Day post on the
archdiocese’s Facebook account.
Owerri Archbishop Anthony Obinna, who visited the
53-year-old Bishop Chikwe soon after his release, said he was
“looking and feeling very weak from the traumatic experience.”
A video circulating on social media later showed
Bishop Chikwe celebrating with well-wishers, dancing in
his white bishop’s cassock and flashing that trademark bright
“He was famous for that smile,” said Father Michael Rocha,
who was pastor at Saint Mark during Bishop Chikwe’s time
there. “He was always happy. That smile, and that laugh —
that’s what endeared him to people here.”
He first arrived in California in 2002, when his home
diocese in Nigeria sent him to Loyola Marymount
University to study educational administration. He
first took up residence at Visitation Church, just blocks from
the school’s campus in Westchester.
Esteban Hernandez, then a middle-schooler at the parish
school, remembered how easily the young priest connected
with students, despite his heavy accent and being new to the
“He was just a lovely guy to be around,” Hernandez
recalled. “You felt like you could always approach him on
the schoolyard during recess or after Mass and talk about
After getting his master’s at LMU, he stayed to pursue a
doctorate in education at UCLA. He briefly lived on the
school’s Westwood campus, until Father Rocha offered to
put him up at St. Mark. He did not have to be asked twice.
“He had that type of outgoing personality,” remembered
Then-Father Moses Chikwe with Gary and Cynthia Micaletti on a visit to
San Simeon during his time as a student priest in California.
GARY AND CYNTHIA MICALETTI
Father Rocha, now pastor of St. Paschal Baylon Church in
Thousand Oaks. “He wanted to be back in a parish, and
people embraced him and welcomed him.”
During his five years in Venice, he helped as a hospital
chaplain and ministered to the parish’s Legion of Mary as
spiritual director. It was there that he grew close to Gary Micaletti
and his wife, Cynthia, whose daughter he baptized.
The Micalettis considered him part of their family, inviting
him often to join them for dinner and excursions to the
“Being who he is, I
wouldn’t be surprised
if he just convinced
[the kidnappers] to let
him go,” said an LA
priest who lived with
Once the Micalettis took him to Universal Studios, where
Cynthia convinced him to get on the Mummy ride. They
recalled with a laugh that he promised he’d never trust her
“Everybody who meets him knows he’s a very humble man,
just a beautiful-hearted man,” said Gary.
In 2011, he moved to San Diego while completing his
doctoral studies. He served there at St. Joseph’s Cathedral
downtown and at St. Mark’s in San Marcos, while also serving
as chaplain at the local veterans’ hospital.
The friendships he formed with the Micalettis and former
parishioners have survived the test of time — and distance.
Even after receiving his doctorate in 2013 and going home
to direct Owerri’s religious education office, he would come
back during summers to help out at St. Mark’s Church in
San Marcos and St. Paschal Baylon Church in Thousand
His friends told Angelus that he always brushed off suggestions
that he might one day move up in the Church’s
hierarchy. But in late 2019, their predictions proved true
when Pope Francis named him auxiliary bishop of his home
Diocese of Owerri, in southeastern Nigeria.
“Several times I said, ‘Moses, I’m telling you right now,
eventually you’re going to become a bishop.’ He would howl
and laugh and say, ‘Absolutely not.’ ”
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 21
Owerri Archbishop Anthony Obinna (left) and Bishop Moses Chikwe.
ARCHDIOCESE OF OWERRI
“He just had that pastoral presence and love of the faith,
and an ability to get the people around him,” said Father
Rocha. “I think that’s what a bishop is called to do.”
Bishop Chikwe’s new assignment meant taking up a
shepherd’s role in one of the most dangerous places in
the world to be Catholic.
Of the more than 4,000 Christians killed for their faith
around the world in 2018, about 90% were from Nigeria,
according to the aid group Open Doors.
Nigerian Christians face violence from Muslim-majority
Fulani herdsmen in the country’s “middle belt,” a region
that separates Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south,
as well as from Islamic terrorists from ISIS affiliate Boko
Haram, and roving criminal gangs.
Since the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in
2015, the security situation in Nigeria has deteriorated, said
Father Chidi Ekpendu, a Nigerian priest who serves as a
judge in the LA archdiocese’s marriage tribunal.
While there has been a recent uptick in priests being seized
for extortion, the kidnapping of a bishop is “unprecedented,”
Father Ekpendu told Angelus.
“There is a lot of confusion,” said Father Ekpendu, whose
home Diocese of Aba neighbors Owerri. “We have to say it
the way it is: There has been a complete breakdown of law
and order in the entire Nigerian state. People live in fear all
Christians have borne the brunt of the suffering under
22 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
Buhari’s rule. The former army general, who ruled as military
head of state from 1983 to 1985, has been accused of
empowering Islamic terrorists targeting Christians.
News of Bishop Chikwe’s kidnapping came as a shock to
the Micalettis, who had exchanged virtual messages just two
days before on Christmas.
Bishop Chikwe was well aware of the dangers of being a
priest in Nigeria, but always expressed calm when asked
about the situation there, the couple recalled.
“He would always say that the more responsibilities you
have, the more you need to pray,” said Cynthia.
Questions about who kidnapped Bishop Chikwe and his
driver and how they were released remain unclear. In a message
to Father Rocha a few days after his liberation, Bishop
Chikwe said he was “gradually healing” from the experience
and asked for prayers, but didn’t offer many details about the
Patrick, who described living the agony of his uncle’s kidnapping
here in LA as a personal “nightmare,” has not heard
who was responsible, either, but added that upticks in crime
in the area are common during the Christmas holidays.
And while he’s sure all the prayers helped, Father Rocha
also likes to imagine Bishop Chikwe’s smile — and his laugh
— winning over even the meanest of kidnappers.
“Being who he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just
convinced them to let him go.”
Pablo Kay is the editor-in-chief of Angelus.
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A poster of St. Stephen holding a “Holy Vaccine,” by the Rome
street artist known as Maupal, near the Vatican Dec. 11, 2020.
From lockdowns to
vaccines, the Vatican
has had few issues
with listening to the
experts on COVID-19
BY ELISE ANN ALLEN /
ROME — When the COV-
ID-19 pandemic began to hit
Europe and much of the rest
of the world early last year, no one, it
seemed, was prepared.
That includes the Vatican, which,
being its own country, has tried from
the beginning to keep pace with
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/CINDY WOODEN
developing knowledge of the disease
and its implications. It has mostly
taken its cues from the advice given
by top medical and science experts.
In many ways, the pandemic has
served as another example in how
faith and science can be natural
allies, assuming, of course, that the
faithful trust the advice of experts to
keep them safe, and that those experts
heed what the Church has to say on
moral and ethical questions.
That intersection of faith and
science has emerged as one of the
consistent themes of Pope Francis’
papacy. Far from being a science
skeptic, the pontiff seems to have
become chaplain of the scientific
consensus on issues from the coronavirus
to climate change.
Since his election in 2013, he has
revamped both the John Paul II Institute
for Marriage and Family Sciences
and the Pontifical Academies for Life
and Sciences, the two Vatican entities
that deal directly with often-thorny
scientific questions, and revised the
curricula for Catholic universities.
In doing so, he has emphasized the
importance of dialogue and consistent
interaction between theologians
and secular experts in the given field.
Pope Francis is also the first pope in
modern times to be a trained scientist.
He graduated from a state-run
technical secondary school in his
native Buenos Aires with a degree in
chemistry, and worked in a chemistry
lab before entering the seminary.
This papacy’s easy relationship with
science helps explain the Holy See’s
reaction to the coronavirus crisis
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/DADO RUVIC, REUTERS
24 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
under Pope Francis’ guidance.
The Vatican’s own COVID-19
taskforce, for example, has five different
working groups, one of which is
dedicated to the research, study, and
analysis of the coronavirus pandemic
from an ecological, economic, political,
labor, health care, and security
Throughout Italy’s spring outbreak
and its three-month coronavirus lockdown,
Pope Francis urged Catholics
in the country, despite their frustrations,
to follow the government’s
restrictive orders, which were based
on advice from a scientific-technical
committee leading the government’s
anti-COVID response. Now, the
Vatican is keeping that cooperative
posture with the scientific community
in its public guidance on the COV-
ID-19 vaccines for Catholics.
Last month, amid heated debate
among some Catholics — bishops
included — over the morality of
using vaccines linked even remotely
to abortion, the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith essentially
greenlighted the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech
and Moderna vaccines.
The two vaccines, which were both
developed using cell lines derived
from aborted fetuses in the 1960s,
were the first to be approved for use
in several countries last month and
claim efficacy rates of more than
In a Dec. 21 explanatory note,
the department said that in cases
in which “ethically irreproachable
COVID-19 vaccines” are not available,
“it is morally acceptable to
receive COVID-19 vaccines that have
used cell lines from aborted fetuses
in their research and production
The reason for this, they said, is that
the abortion from which medical
personnel harvested the cell lines for
the vaccines is “remote” enough that,
in this case, it is not an issue.
While stressing the “moral duty” to
avoid using products made with cells
from aborted fetuses, the department
also stressed that this duty “is not
obligatory if there is a grave danger,
such as the otherwise uncontainable
spread of a serious pathological
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23, 2020.
agent,” in this case, COVID-19.
“It must therefore be considered
that, in such a case, all vaccinations
recognized as clinically safe and effective
can be used in good conscience
with the certain knowledge that the
use of such vaccines does not constitute
formal cooperation with the
abortion from which the cells used
in production of the vaccines derive,”
Now, after announcing its acceptance
of the vaccines for Catholics
all over the world, the Vatican will
actually get to distribute it.
On Jan. 2, the Vatican’s office for
health and hygiene announced it had
acquired the Pfizer vaccine and will
begin distributing it to Vatican City
residents, employees, and their family
members in the second half of the
Doses will be stored in an ultra-low
temperature refrigerator and injections
will be delivered in the Paul VI
Audience Hall, beginning with health
personnel and those with greatest
contact with the public, as well as the
Pope Francis himself said he will
receive the vaccine sometime in
mid-January. Since early in the
pandemic, he has perhaps been
the world’s most vocal advocate for
equitable distribution of the vaccines
among the world’s poor.
Most recently, during his traditional
“urbi et orbi” address on Christmas
day, Pope Francis called the vaccines
a “light of hope” at the end of an
otherwise dark year for many.
Christmas, he said in the address, is
a time to celebrate “the light of Christ
who comes into the world, and he
comes for all, not just for a few.”
He then issued an appeal to all
heads of states, businesses, and
international organizations to seek “a
solution for everyone” in the coronavirus
pandemic, meaning “vaccines
for everyone, especially the poorest
and most vulnerable in every region
of the planet. In the first place, the
most needy and vulnerable.”
Over the next few months, all eyes
will be on how the Vatican handles
distribution of the vaccine for its own
employees and citizens. But whatever
decisions await Vatican officials, we
can expect they’ll be checking with
the experts first.
Elise Ann Allen is a Denver native
who currently works as a senior correspondent
for Crux in Rome, covering
the Vatican and the global Church.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/KAREN CALLAWAY, CHICAGO CATHOLIC
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 25
“Madonna of Mercy,” by Sano di Pietro, 15th century.
Why we need the
In the toughest of times, the Catholic Church has
relied on gifts that only women can offer
BY SIMONE RIZKALLAH / ANGELUS
The COVID-19 pandemic, it
seems, has spared no one.
Sure, some have been blessed
to remain largely untouched physically
or financially by the pandemic.
But the anxiety of these uncertain last
few months, and the consequences of
isolation and loneliness, seem to have
found us all in some way.
As a result, the larger questions about
destiny and meaning — ones that were
dismissed more easily before — today
ask to be revisited in a totally new context.
After the bruising year that was
2020, those questions invite Catholics
to reflect deeply about our place in the
St. Augustine of Hippo lived in a time
of chaos and civilizational collapse,
marked by plague and political strife.
His advice for times like these? Stay
rooted in reality.
“Bad times, hard times, this is what
people keep saying; but let us live well,
and times shall be good,” he wrote in
the year 410. “We are the times: Such
as we are, such are the times.”
Such as we are, such are the times.
The great 20th-century philosopher
Simone Weil described being rooted
as the least recognized and yet most
important need of the human soul.
But what can help us fulfill this need?
Ironically, it was one of Weil’s admirers,
St. Pope John Paul II, who argued
that modern man’s loss of its own
sense of humanity called for a “manifestation
of that ‘genius’ which belongs
“It is commonly thought,” the
Polish pontiff wrote in his 1988
letter “Mulieris Dignitatem” (On the
Dignity and Vocation of Women), that
“women are more capable than men
of paying attention to another person,
and that motherhood develops this
predisposition even more.”
Throughout history, it is the genius
of women that God has designed to
continually root mankind in reality.
And this is reality: Because of Jesus
Christ we are not victims of our
circumstances. We are being found,
cherished, healed, and saved.
This is what women represent and do
— find, cherish, heal, and save. Why?
26 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
Because, as German writer Gertrude
von le Fort observed, “Wherever a
woman is most profoundly herself,
there she is also bride and mother.”
One of the greatest spiritual mothers
is St. Mary Magdalene, celebrated
liturgically as “the Apostle to the Apostles.”
While the apostles were behind
closed doors because of fear after Jesus’
execution, Mary “stood weeping outside
the tomb” of Jesus (John 20:11).
We perceive in her not so much fear
or anxiety, but a solitude born from
her affection for Jesus and the knowledge
that only he could adequately
respond to her insecurity.
When her love and tears are rewarded,
she becomes the first “testis
divinae misericordiae” (“witness of
divine mercy”), and then immediately
evangelizes the apostles: “I have seen
This particular receptivity of women
is why women have always been and
will continue to be the engines of the
Church in their capacity to generate
something new by creating a space for
It is always the temptation of the
Christian to become self-absorbed, to
focus on one’s weakness, to become
angry at one’s limitations, and therefore
behave negatively or reactively.
Especially in times of crisis it is very
easy to fall into obsessions with external
solutions or placing one’s hope or
certainty into politics or ideology. And
since politics are ultimately worldly solutions
to spiritual problems — wherever
you happen to land in the public
landscape — the Christian will always
At the end of the day, when all our
ideologies and formulations fail, we
are reminded that the other demands
to be engaged on an emotional and
And this is precisely the place where
women are experts.
Women ground us and keep us in
the right state of mind because they
remind us of God when we have
forgotten him in one another.
Consider the witness of Christian women
in the early Church. Jesus treated
women with the dignity their nature
deserved and women ran with it and
transformed the Church, the world,
and the very empire that was crumbling
before their eyes. They embraced
their dignity and then generated a
dignified civilization because of it.
“Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena,” by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1835.
This historical reality is why Archbishop
Fulton J. Sheen noted that “to a
great extent the level of any civilization
is the level of its womanhood.”
The first Christians lived in a time
of systematic persecution, plagues,
famines, economic hardship, a culture
of death with soaring rates of abortion
and infanticide (of largely baby girls),
and zero legal rights for women.
And yet, the Christian faith did not
just survive — it flourished.
In the ancient world, a woman’s
testimony meant nothing, culturally or
politically. So paradoxically, it was the
witness and testimony of women that
brought forth the newness of Christianity.
The majority of converts and
therefore evangelizers were initially
The witness of happy marriages and
families attracted pagans to this strange
new monotheistic faith, as did their
often fearless charity in the face of
deadly plagues. Infected pagans were
often abandoned by their own families
and ended up being cared for by
It seems in our own day, it will once
again be the transcendental of the
Good and not primarily the True or
the Beautiful that will be most needed
and persuasive for an unbelieving
The feminine genius is subtle in
expression but phenomenal in consequence.
It is impossible to recount all
its manifestations throughout history,
but for those who have eyes to see and
ears to hear, the presence and prophetic
power of women will always serve
as a reminder that spiritual power is
the only power and that faith is the
victory that overcomes the world (1
For this reason, we can rejoice at
what God has done for us and what
he is doing here and now, even in this.
This particularly feminine perception
and communication is a “vocation
to the other” in a world in desperate
need of motherhood.
Simone Rizkallah is the director of
Program Growth for Endow. She blogs
January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 27
BY GREG ERLANDSON
Health care workers at
United Memorial Medical
Center in Houston treat
patients infected with
COVID-19 on New Year’s
Eve Dec. 31, 2020.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE/CALLAGHAN O’HARE, REUTERS
New year, new normal
The year 2020 ended for me with an emergency root
canal. It seemed a fitting way to close out a year that
had so little to recommend it. It was a ghastly year,
filled with disease and death, upheaval and rumors, ersatz
controversies and real ones. Why shouldn’t it end with an
angry molar whose nerves were calling it quits?
And yet. When we zoom in from the macro dysfunction
to the micro events of our daily lives, there were blessings to
be found in 2020. So my New Year’s resolution of sorts is to
appreciate the silver linings of 2020 in the hope that it will
improve my attitude going into 2021.
Take that root canal, for instance. Thank goodness there
were dentists willing to work during a pandemic and willing
to tackle my “hot tooth,” sticking their hands into my germ
factory of a mouth even when they didn’t know me from
28 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
Adam and didn’t know how well I was abiding by pandemic
A blessing that I hope lingers is my rediscovery of what
“essential” means. In 2020, I was reminded that essential did
not mean powerful, rich, or celebrated. Essential was the
cashier at my grocery store who showed up for work when
there were no Plexiglas protectors and no toilet paper, when
nerves were raw and the risk seemed oppressively real.
Essential was not just the doctors with the big salaries.
Essential meant the nurses in the ICUs and the ERs who did
most of the caregiving and the handholding and too often
lost their lives in service to others. Listening to the tearful testimonies
of nurses who had seen so many people die alone,
I felt for their pain and for the goodness that drove them to
return to work each day and face that pain all over again.
And it wasn’t just the nurses who acted selflessly. Another
blessing easy to miss was that most of us cared about one another.
Despite the blizzard of media reports about pandemic
crazies who refused to believe it was real or who refused to
wear masks, most of us, most of the time, were trying to do
the right thing.
We tried to take seriously the safeguards that were intended
not only to save us but to save others. The pandemic exposed
the selfishness of some, but it also affirmed that many more
of us are guided by an altruism that characterizes humanity
at its best.
I consider it a blessing that in the first months of the
pandemic I recovered the sounds of silence. Traffic was
minimal. Air pollution levels dropped. We walked in our
neighborhoods instead of driving to work. I started noticing
bird songs. When I took breaks from working at the dining
room table (my new office), I fed the mourning doves and
cardinals who were my only regular visitors.
Judging from the profits of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, I’m not
sure how many of us supported our struggling local shopkeepers,
but a lot of us tried to help the hardy entrepreneurs
who make up the backbone of our communities. Many of
us also donated a lot more to caring services as well, grateful
that we had jobs and income. In 2020, need was not something
far away. It was all around us.
This notion of community as something real and tangible
may be a blessing we all share in 2021. In 2020, I found
myself walking more and greeting people more readily. If
our public culture as embodied by social media was degenerating
to the howl of the mob, my neighborhood culture
became, well, more neighborly.
Our Church had a rough go of it in 2020, with closures
and lawsuits and the McCarrick report, but we had blessings,
too. Pope Francis’ remarkable “urbi et orbi” in Rome at
the height of the first wave of the pandemic was perhaps the
most visually striking moment of his papacy.
The livestreamed rosaries and Masses united us not just
with our parish but with Catholics from around the world. I
found the international audience attracted to the livestreamed
Masses of Bishop Robert Barron to be as inspiring
as his homilies.
Even our pang of hunger for the Eucharist was a blessing,
I believe. Surveys may suggest that many Catholics see the
Eucharist as a symbol, but the hunger we felt was for more
than a mere symbol. The challenge we face in 2021 will be
to return to church and accustom ourselves once again to
Mass as a community.
This was a most extraordinary year: painful and yet not
without rewards. I don’t think I will recover my “old normal”
for a long time, if ever. I do hope my “new normal” contains
some of the blessings unexpectedly found in 2020.
Greg Erlandson is the president and editor-in-chief of Catholic
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Pixar’s ‘Soul’ asks all the right
questions, but prefers to leave
the biggest one unanswered
BY PATRICK NEVE / ANGELUS
Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, in Disney and Pixar’s “Soul.”
Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas,
and Kierkegaard have all tried
to answer the question: What
is the meaning of life?
Now, it’s Disney’s turn.
The new Pixar movie “Soul” (now
streaming on Disney+) follows Joe
Gardner, a jazz musician who finally
gets his dream gig of performing
with a famous jazz quartet, and then
immediately dies. Joe’s soul faces a
large glowing light called “the Great
Beyond,” refuses to accept his fate, and
runs in the opposite direction.
Joe ends up in “the Great Before,”
the place where souls are manufactured,
given their “spark” and sent to
earth. The spirits who run the Great
Before confuse him for a mentor soul
and they pair him up with an unborn
soul, the 22nd soul ever created, who
has spent millennia in the Great Before
with no desire to go to earth. After
some spiritual hijinks, both souls end
up on earth with 22 stuck in Joe’s body
and Joe’s soul is in the body of a cat.
“Soul” is standard for Pixar, with
cute character design and a beautiful
score. It is reminiscent of “Inside Out”
in its personification of abstract ideas
like human emotion and the afterlife.
Just like NBC’s “The Good Place,”
the afterlife is imagined as a divine
bureaucracy, where people can slip by
undetected and accidentally be resurrected.
To no Catholic’s surprise, the
movie’s theology leaves something to
be desired. But its philosophy is what
caught my attention.
The characters repeatedly reference
something called a “spark.” In the
Great Before, a soul needs to find its
spark in order to go to earth. Joe thinks
the spark is a soul’s purpose and falsely
deduces that music is his purpose for
living. At the end of the movie, Joe
asks one of the spirits about this and
they say, “Oh, the spark isn’t your life’s
The spark, we learn, is connected to a
soul’s desire to live. 22 eventually finds
her spark after living in Joe’s body. She
realizes life is worth living after she
tries pizza, rides the subway, and sees
leaves falling from a tree. She enjoys
walking so much, she suggests walking
could be her life’s purpose.
In a key line, Joe responds to 22:
“That’s not a purpose. That’s just
Joe realizes the spark isn’t purpose at
all. The spark is what makes a soul enjoy
life. So maybe your spark is music,
math or walking. Whatever makes you
enjoy living life is your spark.
Ultimately, the film seeks to answer
“What is the meaning of life?” but
comes up with a circular answer: The
meaning of life is just to live it. That
might sound like a simple, wise idea,
but it begs another question: What
does it even mean to live in the first
Here, finding an answer is even more
There is a right way and a wrong way
to live, and the movie acknowledges
that. The hippies help a hedge-fund
manager realize he’s wasting his life,
but what makes managing a hedge
fund different from playing music?
Why can’t he live his life that way?
“Soul” doesn’t distinguish between
the right way and the wrong way to
live enough to actually help a viewer
discern what a “spark” really is.
The movie claims its characters are
in search of life’s “big questions,”
but maybe the characters are satisfied
with those questions remaining
unanswered. For some reason, Joe is
fine with knowing what happens after
death and not telling anyone. The
spirits beyond the grave are capable of
communicating the meaning of life
but choose not to. It is left up to individuals
to find out what the meaning
of life is for them.
This answer is pure relativism. Ironically,
“Soul’s” meaning of life is satisfactory
only if you assume an objective
Joe and 22 in “the Great Before.”
30 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
moral code. In other words, the movie
gives viewers license to create their
own meaning for life, assuming that
meaning won’t violate the generally
accepted moral laws. While it does
encourage viewers not to chase after
useless things (money, fame, etc.), it
doesn’t give them a real reason not to
The decision made at the end of the
film by a key character reveals a core
belief of the movie: Life on earth is
better than death. Certainly, if there
is no heaven or hell, no personal,
all-powerful God, and no objective
morality, then this makes sense.
But even if the purpose of life is simply
living, then death is the ultimate
inescapable defeat. And since defeat
is inevitable, why is life worth living
“Soul” deserves credit — and serious
attention — for confronting the
question of existence and purpose
head-on (since it is a movie made for
children, parents should follow it up
with a quick discussion afterward).
And yet, Christianity gives a different,
and radically more hopeful answer to
the apparent hopelessness of death.
Through the historical event of what
was Jesus Christ’s resurrection from
the dead, the Gospel assures victory
over death through death.
The key difference between “Soul”
and say, St. Aquinas, is that the former
Characters from Disney and Pixar’s “Soul.”
embraces hopelessness as if it is hope
itself. The danger here is that if the
hopelessness isn’t felt, God is not
It is a philosophy that could only
come from a culture that has embraced
this hopelessness. A culture, in
other words, that is in desperate need
of the Gospel.
Patrick Neve is a youth minister and
speaker based in Pittsburgh. He hosts
The Crunch Podcast and is studying for
his master’s in theology at Franciscan
University of Steubenville. You can
find his writing on his website, https://
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January 15, 2021 • ANGELUS • 31
BY HEATHER KING
Loch Lomond in southern Scotland.
Longing for a lost Eden
Robert Macfarlane (born 1976) is
an award-winning British writer
on landscape, place, people,
language, memory, and meaning. He’s
also a fellow of Emmanuel College,
“Mountains of the Mind” (Granta
Books, $16) explores the history of
mountaineering and our sometimes
fatal fascination with the metaphysical
dimension of precipitous, perilous
terrain on which we long to be the first
to place our feet or flag.
“The Wild Places” (Penguin Books,
$15) charts a series of journeys made
in search of the ever-shrinking wildness
remaining in Britain and Ireland.
“The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot”
(Penguin Books, $15) is a kind of elegy
to one of Macfarlane’s heroes, the poet
Edward Thomas (1878-1917), who
was a lover of nature, a depressive, and
a passionate lifelong walker, especially
in and around the South Downs. “The
Old Ways” include holloways, pilgrimage
routes, cliff paths, animal passages,
ancient byways, rights-of-way, and foraging
grounds in England, Scotland,
Palestine, Sichuan, and Palestine.
Together, the three form a loose
trilogy about the “landscape and the
human heart,” a subject upon which
Macfarlane speaks eloquently in a
2012 IQ2 talk of that name available
His books have been adapted for television
and film and won many prestigious
awards. There are several more.
“Underland: A Deep Time Journey”
(W. W. Norton & Company, $15), his
most recent, digs deep into catacombs,
caves, nuclear waste facilities, and
other underground physical and imaginative
realms, and was named a New
York Time’s “100 Most Notable Books
of the Year.”
He’s the type of writer who leads you
to 10 other artists, walkers, or poets:
Nan Shepherd’s “The Living Mountain:
A Celebration of the Cairngorm
Mountains of Scotland” (Canongate
Canons, $13), “The Peregrine,” by J.A.
Baker (1967; reissued by New York
Review Books Classics in 2004 with an
introduction by Macfarlane), a kind of
cult classic among the nature literati.
His capacity to conjure landscape
is alone astounding. Add to that an
astonishingly wide-ranging grasp of
geography, geology, natural history,
32 • ANGELUS • January 15, 2021
cartography, and literature. Throw in
the fact that he’s no mere scholar or
Every book is grounded in his
willingness to take on the physical
hardship of mountain climbing, hiking,
camping, sailing, and tramping.
But what makes Macfarlane sublime
is the aching longing for a lost Eden
that sounds like a bass note beneath all
An excerpt from “The Wild Places:”
“In 1977, a nineteen-year-old Glaswegian
named Robert Brown was arrested
for a murder he did not commit, and
over the course of the following days
had a confession beaten out of him by
a police officer subsequently indicted
for corruption. Brown served twenty-five
years, and saw two appeals fail,
before his conviction was finally overturned
in 2002. When he was released,
one of the first things he did was to go
to the shore of Loch Lomond and sit
on a boulder on the loch’s southern
shore in sunlight, to feel, as he put it,
‘the wind on my face, and to see the
waves and the mountains.’ Brown had
been out on the loch shore the day
before he was arrested. The recollection
of the space, that place, which he
had not seen for a quarter of a century,
had nourished him during his imprisonment.
He had kept a memory of
it, he recalled, afterwards, ‘in a secret
compartment’ in his head.”
Robert Frost once said, “A poem
begins with a lump in the throat; a
homesickness or a love sickness.” And
perhaps above all, even when writing
prose, Macfarlane is a poet. “The Lost
Words: A Spell Book” (Anansi International,
$23), however, is a collection
of actual poems, in oversized book
format and gorgeously illustrated by
British writer and artist Jackie Morris.
The idea sprang from Macfarlane’s
discovery that words describing and
expressive of nature were disappearing
from the Oxford Junior Dictionary:
bramble, conker, raven, willow,
wren, Kingfisher, otter, magpie, fern,
The entry for “Heron” begins like
“Here hunts heron. Here haunts
heron. / Huge-hinged heron. Greywinged
weapon. / Eked from iron and
wreaked from blue and / Beaked with
steel: heron, statue, seeks eel.”
Morris’ self-described “gold leaf, iconlike
images” are faithfully realistic and
also hauntingly evoke the supernatural
dimension of reptiles, mammals, and
Children and adults alike went wild.
“The Lost Words” was the bestselling
poetry book of 2018, sold 500,000
copies worldwide and has been adapted
to, among other genres, classical
EMMANUEL COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
music, indie folk, puppet shows, board
games, podcasts, and theater. “Magical,”
“bewitching,” and “the wonder
of nature” are ways people from across
the globe have described verse and
Through crowdfunding campaigns,
copies were purchased and donated to
every hospice and to more than 75% of
the primary schools across the British
Isles. “The Lost Spells” (Anansi International,
$30), a follow-up collection,
began when Macfarlane scribbled
some lines about goldfinches while
keeping vigil over his dying grandmother.
He and Morris hope to inspire hope,
action, and change. And Macfarlane
adds, “that [the work] might touch
readers’ hearts a little in this hard
Perhaps the surest sign that Macfarlane’s
heart is in the right place is
this: he has three young children who,
he notes in “The Lost Words,” have
taught him more about the world than
Heather King is an award-winning author, speaker, and workshop leader. For more, visit
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3333 Foothill Boulevard La Crescenta, CA 91214
(Our Lady of Guadalupe)
Test drive the ALL WHEEL HYBRID
Test drive the ALL NEW
THE DRIVE TEST
The ALL NEW
2021 Toyota RAV4
BOB SMITH TOYOTA | Sales Open: 7 Days a Week | Service Open: Monday - Saturday
12/28/20 1:54 PM