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A look at Catholic newsmakers of 2021

December 29, 2021 Catholic News Agency 2
Cardinal Robert Sarah offers Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for his 50th anniversary of priesthood in 2019. / Credit: Evandro Inetti/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 29, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The past year had no shortage of news in the Catholic realm, both in the Vatican and beyond. Read on for a recap of some of the most important – and interesting – figures who made headlines this year. 

President Joe Biden

On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden (D) was sworn in as the second Catholic president of the United States. Born in Scranton, PA and raised in Delaware, Biden attended Catholic grammar and high school before matriculating at the University of Delaware. 

Since becoming president, Biden has faced criticism from both the left and the right over his various positions, as well as his continued reception of the Eucharist at Mass. As president, Biden eliminated many pro-life policies from the Trump era. He met with Pope Francis in late October, where the two purportedly discussed the Eucharist. 

Cardinal Robert Sarah 

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of Guinea, resigned as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in February 2021. Sarah, who had reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2020, was the most senior African prelate at the Vatican. He had been appointed head of the liturgy department by Pope Francis in November 2014.

Sarah had previously served as the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

“Today, the Pope accepted the resignation of my office as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship after my seventy-fifth birthday. I am in God’s hands. The only rock is Christ. We will meet again very soon in Rome and elsewhere,” said Sarah on Twitter following his resignation. 

Jonathan Goodall and Fr. Michael Nazir-Ali


Each year, many people cross the proverbial Tiber and are received into the Catholic Church. This fall, however, the Tiber Swim Team landed two big-name recruits: two former Church of England bishops. 

Jonathan Goodall, the former Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet, announced on Sept. 3, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, that he was stepping down from his position and entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. The date was a nice touch, as St. Gregory the Great launched a mission to convert the then-pagan England to Christianity. 

Goodall was formally received into the Church on Sept. 8. He said his decision came after “only after a long period of prayer, which has been among the most testing periods of my life.” He said he was “abidingly grateful to all who have so generously supported Sarah and me in these years, especially the laity and clergy of the See of Ebbsfleet — who have been the focus and joy of my ministry and devotion since becoming bishop in 2013,” and that it was “an immense privilege” to have been bishop.

Not to be outdone, a few weeks later the now-Fr. Michael Nazir-Ali announced that he, too, would be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, entered into full communion with Rome within the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Sept. 29. He was ordained a deacon on Oct. 28, and then a priest on Oct. 30

Unlike Goodall, who came from a more conservative Anglican background, Nazir-Ali described himself as being part of the “Evangelical” wing of Anglicanism. At one point, he was considered to be a possible future Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world’s 85 million Anglicans. 



Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s bishop. Cordileone and Pelosi are both Catholic. And that’s about where their similarities end. 

Pelosi, a committed Democrat, lamented that the support of pro-life voters for former President Donald Trump was an issue that “gives me great grief as a Catholic.” Pelosi made the comment on a  Jan. 18 podcast with former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“I think that Donald Trump is president because of the issue of a woman’s right to choose,” said Pelosi, implying that pro-life voters boosted Trump to victory in 2016. She added that these voters “were willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”


Cordileone rebuked Pelosi in a statement issued days later, saying, “No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion” and that “Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop,” he said. 

The archbishop also promoted a “Rose and a Rosary for Nancy Pelosi” campaign, which saw more than 16,000 people commit to praying for Pelosi’s change of heart on life issues. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas wrapped up a three-year stint as the head of the USCCB’s pro-life committee in 2021. The outspoken defender of life unleashed on Biden in a Feb. 13 interview with Catholic World Report. 

“The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic, and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching. It would be a more honest approach from him to say he disagreed with his Church on this important issue and that he was acting contrary to Church teaching,” said Naumann

“When he says he is a devout Catholic, we bishops have the responsibility to correct him. Although people have given this president power and authority, he cannot define what it is to be a Catholic and what Catholic moral teaching is,” the archbishop added. He further called for the bishops to “correct” the president, “as the president is acting contrary to the Catholic faith.” 

Sr. Lucile Andre Randon

The coronavirus pandemic continued throughout the world in 2021, killing hundreds of thousands of people. One person who beat it, however, was the world’s second-oldest person: a French nun named Sr. Lucile Andre Randon

Right before Randon’s 117th birthday, coronavirus swept through the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home in Toulon, southern France. Eighty-one of the 88 residents of the facility tested positive in January of this year, and 10 died. 

Fortunately, Randon did not display any symptoms of the disease and recovered in time to celebrate her birthday on Feb. 11. 

Asked if she was scared of COVID, she told France’s BFM television, “No, I wasn’t scared because I wasn’t scared to die… I’m happy to be with you, but I would wish to be somewhere else – join my big brother and my grandfather and my grandmother.”

Hidilyn Diaz

The covid-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally were staged in the Summer of 2021, and Catholic athletes shined on the world stage. 

On the third full day of the games, Hidilyn Diaz won the first gold medal for the Philippines, inspiring an entire nation with her faith, grit, and perseverance. Diaz’s triumph came in the women’s 55-kilogram weightlifting event,  and she won gold with an Olympic record lift of a combined weight of 224 kilograms.

After completing her final lift in a very close competition, Diaz held her hands to her face, burst into tears and clutched at her Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary hanging from her neck. Later, on the podium at the medal ceremony, Diaz pointed skyward after singing the Philippine national anthem, then made the Sign of the Cross before stepping down and shouting “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“Long live the Philippines!”)

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News Briefs

Cardinal Sarah calls Catholic priests to spiritual renewal in new book

November 18, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Cardinal Robert Sarah celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Sept. 28, 2019. / Evandro Inetti/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 18, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

In a new book, Cardinal Robert Sarah calls priests to spiritual renewal, saying that it will not come through structural changes, but through rediscovering the priest’s mission and identity as the presence of Christ in the world.

“Christ never created structures. Of course, I’m not saying they aren’t necessary. Organization is useful in society, but it is not first,” Sarah said in a Nov. 16 interview with the Catholic French weekly Famille Chrétienne.

“What is first is the very first word of Christ in the Gospel of Mark: ‘Convert and believe in the Gospel.’”

The Vatican’s former liturgy chief published “Pour l’éternité: Méditations sur la figure du prêtre” (“For Eternity: Meditations on the Figure of the Priest”) in Europe on Nov. 17.

The book, currently available only in French, includes passages from saints and the Church Fathers to encourage meditation on the renewal of the priesthood, which, according to the cardinal, is a necessary step on the way to resolving the crisis in the Catholic Church.

“If priests, if society look to God, then I think things will change,” he told Famille Chrétienne. “If hearts are not changed by the Gospel, politics will not change, the economy will not change, human relationships will not change. It is Christ who is our peace, who will create more fraternal human relations, of collaboration, of cooperation.”

Structures “are also often a danger, because we take refuge behind them,“ he said. “God will not ask accounts of an episcopal conference, of a synod … It is us, bishops, that he will hold accountable: how did you manage your diocese, how did you love your priests, how did you accompany them spiritually?”

Sarah ended a more than six-year term as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in February.

The 76-year-old from Guinea wrote a book on the priesthood, celibacy, and the crisis of the Catholic Church, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” in 2020. The book attracted controversy centered on whether it was co-authored by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

Sarah said that in his new book he wanted to express his affection and encouragement both to priests who are struggling and those who feel strong in their vocation.

“It is about encouraging them not to lose God, to have the courage to follow Christ as they accepted from the beginning, on the day of their ordination,”he explained. “Because the crisis that we are going through today in the Church depends essentially on the priestly crisis.”

The cardinal also commented on the scandal of abuse in the priesthood, saying that the Church “must not be afraid of the truth.”

“We must feel deeply hurt, suffer from it as Christ suffered when Judas betrayed him, when Peter denied him,” he said, adding that the Church and her priests are supposed to be models, and even one case of abuse is too many.

“The discovery of so many sins committed gives us a better understanding of the apparent sterility of our local churches. How could we bear fruit when such cancer was gnawing at us from within? We must rediscover the meaning of penance and contrition,” he said, urging adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament “in reparation for the profanations committed against his image in the souls of children.”

Sarah added that Catholics should not let themselves be overcome by discouragement, however, because the overwhelming majority of priests are faithful, which is a cause for thanksgiving.

“Their daily and hidden fidelity makes no noise, but it silently carries deep seeds of renewal,” he said.

“It is up to us to see how the guilty priests can be punished and, if possible, cared for, healed, accompanied, so that such acts do not happen again,” the cardinal continued. “Above all, it is up to us not to let these horrors turn souls away from Christ and lock up so many innocent victims in suffering.”

Sarah’s book is dedicated to seminarians, and he said he wanted to encourage them too, because they are studying to become priests at a difficult time.

He said that he wanted to tell them that if Christ has called them to the Catholic priesthood, he will also give them the means to really follow him.

“Try to take this call seriously. The Lord who calls you is not going to leave you alone. He will support you with his grace, but you yourself must be a fully realized man, a true, honest, upright man who has all the human qualities,” he said.

Families play an important role in supporting priests, he noted, encouraging people to invite priests into their homes to pray and converse.

A strong prayer life is vital for every priest, he said, citing the example of the saints such as St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

When his interviewer pointed out that “the France of the Curé of Ars is not the France of the 21st century,” Sarah responded: “Indeed, but man is the same. Man does not change. He has the same ambitions, he has the same flaws, the same vices from Adam until today.”

“It is only the circumstances that we have created that can confuse us, but man does not change,” he insisted, adding that “the Frenchman of the Curé d’Ars is the Frenchman of today, with the difference that the Frenchman of today has a cell phone … But in his ambitions, in his vices, and his faults, he is the same. We still need holy priests identified with Christ.”

The cardinal also commented on the way that France and other Western countries have closed themselves off to God.

“If France, if the West, thanks to the ministry of priests, rediscover that God has come among us, that he loves us, that he wants our salvation, that he wants us to discover the truth and that this truth will help us will set free, then the mission will be possible,” he said.

“But there is no need to despair,” he continued. “That is why priests must rediscover their mission, priests must rediscover their identity. They are the presence of Christ in the midst of this world. If they conduct themselves well, if they are the presence of Christ, then France and the West can rediscover him little by little.”

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