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Vatican confirms Pope Francis will visit 3 cities in Canada in July

Pope Francis meets members of the First Nations at the Vatican on March 31, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 04:15 am (CNA).

The Vatican confirmed on Friday that Pope Francis will visit three cities in Canada during the last week of July.

The pope will travel to Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit on July 24-30, the Holy See press office said on May 13.

The pope had announced last month that he planned to meet indigenous peoples in Canada this summer for the feast of St. Anne on July 26.

“You have brought the living sense of your communities here in Rome. I will be happy to benefit again from meeting you by visiting your native lands, where your families live,” he said during a meeting with Canadian Indigenous leaders at the Vatican on April 1.

The Canadian bishops said last year that they would welcome Pope Francis’ visit as a “pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.”

The pope’s full schedule in Canada will be published in the coming weeks, the Vatican said.

In Canada, Francis is expected to issue an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church for the abuses committed against Indigenous students in Catholic-run residential schools.

The Canadian bishops said on May 13 that Pope Francis would leave Canada on July 29, landing in Rome on July 30.

Bishop Raymond Poisson, the bishops’ conference president, said: “We are immensely grateful that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation to continue the journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of this land.”

“In late July, Pope Francis will have the opportunity to visit Indigenous Peoples here in their homeland, as he promised when he met them recently in Rome. We pray for the health of the Holy Father as we undertake the intensive planning for this historic visit.”

This story was updated at 7:24 a.m. MDT with the information from the Canadian bishops.

‘Everyone was crying’: An eyewitness recalls the attempted assassination of St John Paul II

Pope John Paul II collapses after being shot on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square. / Audycje Radiowe/YouTube.

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 03:47 am (CNA).

On May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II and critically injured him. The pictures of the pontiff in a blood-soaked cassock in a jeep went around the world. David DePerro, who was nine years old at the time, saw the assassination attempt at close range.

In an interview, the now 50-year-old speaks about how he experienced the attack and explains why he only talks about it decades later.

Markus Vögele: On May 13, 1981, you were in St. Peter’s Square when Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II. From what distance did you see the assassination attempt?

David DePerro: We were close enough to the assassination attempt for the priest in our group to see the gun itself.

And what exactly did you see?

The pope had spent a long time working through the crowd, shaking the hands of all those crowded to the alley barrier. A few minutes later, the vehicle came around to the other side of the alley across from us. As the pope was greeting those people, I heard the sound of firecrackers popping. It was very confusing. At some point, the crowd descended into confusion and grief. Everyone was crying. I was in shock but I could not cry and I felt guilty about that. An annoying voice came on the loudspeaker to pray in Italian. My little sister was scared and wanted Mom. They took all of our camera film as evidence. It took hours to get back on our bus, which came into St. Peter’s Square to get us. The crowd across from us had descended on the gunman. I did not see this, but there are many things I know without having seen them myself because we were all in the same group and saw different things and talked about them later. 

David DePerro, who lives today in Virginia. Magda Gorman, (c) 2022
David DePerro, who lives today in Virginia. Magda Gorman, (c) 2022

One of the bullets fired at the also hit a tourist you knew.

Rose [Hall] was a member of our group. She was not at the front but was standing further back away from the alleyway and the vehicle. Her elbow was resting on the shoulder of the religious sister in our group — that was the elbow that the bullet went through. It was sad to leave her behind. But the L’Osservatore Romano from that time has a photo with her visiting John Paul in his hospital room, so I am glad she got to do that. My father tells me that we had a prayer service in our later stop in Assisi to pray for Rose and the pope. 

Immediately after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, the cameras were confiscated and not returned to their owners. Do you have any memorabilia from that day?

One of the rare photos we have is a great side-by-side photo of my older sister Lisa and the Holy Father John Paul from that day. My sister Lisa died last year. We have photos that we bought from L'Osservatore Romano showing each of us in different angles with the pope from that day. I was in the background of a photo in Die Aktuelle from July 1981. The pope is seen slumped in the arms of his attendant, and I am in the background wearing a blue hat. The hat was, sadly, later lost. The headline of the article asked if the shooting of the pope was related to the Third Secret of Fatima. The Vatican revealed in May 2000 that it was related and described that relationship.

The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II took place on the anniversary of the Marian apparition in Fatima. In 1917, three shepherd children are said to have seen the Blessed Mother and to have received three secrets from her.

The secrets of Fatima encompass the children’s vision of hell (and personal promise of heaven), the prayers for Russia and the ending of the war, and finally, the pope struck down, among other disturbing visions. Indeed, when John Paul was in the hospital, he asked to see the Fatima records. He turned to the Blessed Mother, he turned to the Fatima children. I was only nine when the pope was shot. So Jacinta and Francisco and Lucia, the sainted Fatima children, are my special comfort, my special companions. That is the outcome of May 13, 1981.

A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

How did your pilgrimage actually come about?

We were a busload of American tourists from Leighton Barracks in Würzburg, West Germany. My father was the logistics officer for the air defense artillery missile battalion. My mother and two sisters and myself were in St. Peter’s Square. Dad was not in St. Peter’s Square that day because he went to his ancestral village. But he remembers many things that he saw after the shootings, and he also remembers what he heard secondhand about the day itself. 

You were a nine-year-old at that time. Did anything change in your life as a result of that day?

Only after many decades did I start speaking about what I saw that day. I’ve spent decades processing this, learning how to stay safe and keep others safe, how to recover from trauma. I had no counselors or therapists in the early days back then. Shootings are no longer rare, they are in the news all the time. Children are traumatized and even their own parents and teachers (and counselors) do not know what they are really feeling and what to say to them. The most important thing is to listen to the child and not try to tell the child what to feel.

Did anything change in your life as a result of that day in May 1981?

As a result of that day in 1981, I am a person who sees the action of God in history. I feel the pain that children feel when they are witnesses or victims of violence. I search for the meaning of events. I search for how healing can be obtained. I try to reconcile justice with mercy and forgiveness. As life goes on, there is more to forgive, and it is harder to forgive. It is even harder, as life goes on, to forgive myself too. The example of John Paul is like a ghost that haunts. He forgave his attacker because he felt the hand of God in his affliction, he saw God’s plan. He trusted that plan.

How will you spend May 13 this year? 

The Blessed Lady of Fatima spoke through these children: she asked us to pray for Russia. The Church and the people have forgotten to do that. Maybe that’s why all this madness is happening. A few years ago, I started to teach myself Russian, to study Russian history, and to meet ordinary Russian people in America. I deepened my understanding of the events I saw that day. On May 13, I will follow Mary’s request. I will pray for Russia. I will pray the rosary and make many other private prayers.

This interview by Markus Vögele was first published by CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language news partner.

PHOTOS: Pilgrims honor Mary in St. Peter’s Basilica

Prayer for Mary in St. Peter's Basilica on May 11, 2022 / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, May 12, 2022 / 10:02 am (CNA).

On Wednesdays during the month of May, pilgrims can gather in St. Peter’s Basilica for a prayer service honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On May 11, the prayer began at the entrance of the basilica, in front of the holy door, and was followed by a procession through the basilica, stopping at images of the Virgin Mary.

The Marian artistic works in the basilica include Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pietà, the ancient image of Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church), a small painting of Mater Peregrinorum (Pilgrim’s Mother), and large mosaics of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven and the Presentation of Mary.

Mass at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter concluded the prayer service.

Pope Francis: Low birth rate is a ‘social emergency’

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 12, 2022 / 05:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis decried the low birth rate in Western countries on Thursday, describing it as an urgent social emergency and a “new poverty.”

“It is not immediately perceptible, like other problems that occupy the news, but it is very urgent: fewer and fewer children are being born, and this means impoverishing everyone’s future; Italy, Europe, and the West are impoverishing their futures,” Pope Francis said in a message to a May 12 event on the birth rate in Italy.

The pope’s message was read during the second edition of the meeting “The General State of the Birth Rate,” held in Rome on May 12-13. Pope Francis spoke at the meeting in 2021.

“Sorry that I cannot be among you physically this year,” he said. “But I will follow your work closely, because the issue of birth rate represents a real social emergency.”

“The General State of the Birth Rate” brought together political, business, and organization leaders to reflect on Italy’s demographic crisis, caused by one of the lowest birth rates in Europe: 1.24 births per woman.

“The data, the forecasts, the numbers are now known to all: we need concreteness,” Pope Francis said in his message.

“It is time to give real answers to families and young people: hope cannot and must not die of waiting.”

Francis said there was an invisible “existential periphery” in the West, consisting of the men and women who want to have children but are unable to achieve it.

Struggling to realize their dream of children, some people settle for “mediocre substitutes,” he added, such as work, cars, travel, and leisure time.

“The beauty of a family full of children is in danger of becoming a utopia, a dream difficult to realize,” he said.

“This is a new poverty that scares me,” the pope commented. “It is the generative poverty of those who discount the desire for happiness in their hearts, of those who resign themselves to watering down their greatest aspirations, of those who settle for little and stop hoping big.”

“Yes,” he continued, “it is a tragic poverty, because it affects human beings in their greatest wealth: bringing lives into the world to care for them, passing on to others the received existence with love.”

Pope Francis: Migrants and refugees have ‘enormous potential’ to help society

Pope Francis visits a reception center for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, Italy, on March 24, 2016. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 12, 2022 / 04:27 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Thursday that migrants and refugees have “enormous potential” to help society if they are given a chance.

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, issued May 12, the pope said history showed that new arrivals played a “fundamental role” in social and economic growth.

“This continues to be true in our own day. Their work, their youth, their enthusiasm, and their willingness to sacrifice enrich the communities that receive them,” he wrote.

“Yet this contribution could be all the greater were it optimized and supported by carefully developed programs and initiatives. Enormous potential exists, ready to be harnessed, if only it is given a chance.”

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees, instituted in 1914 by Pope Pius X, is celebrated annually on the last Sunday in September. This year it falls on Sept. 25.

The theme of the 108th World Migrant and Refugee Day is “Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees.”

In his 1,200-word message, dated May 9, the pope described the presence of migrants and refugees as both “a great challenge” and “an immense opportunity.”

He noted that migration had enriched Catholic communities around the world.

“As we have seen, the arrival of Catholic migrants and refugees can energize the ecclesial life of the communities that welcome them,” he said. “Often they bring an enthusiasm that can revitalize our communities and enliven our celebrations.”

“Sharing different expressions of faith and devotions offers us a privileged opportunity for experiencing more fully the catholicity of the People of God.”

Pope Francis closed his World Day of Migrants and Refugees message with an appeal to young people to “build the future” together with migrants and refugees.

“We cannot leave to future generations the burden of responsibility for decisions that need to be made now, so that God’s plan for the world may be realized and his Kingdom of justice, fraternity, and peace may come,” he said.

The pope concluded with a prayer:

Lord, make us bearers of hope,
so that where there is darkness,
your light may shine,
and where there is discouragement,
confidence in the future may be reborn.

Lord, make us instruments of your justice,
so that where there is exclusion, fraternity may flourish,
and where there is greed, a spirit of sharing may grow.

Lord, make us builders of your Kingdom,
together with migrants and refugees
and with all who dwell on the peripheries.

Lord, let us learn how beautiful it is
to live together as brothers and sisters. Amen.

Pope Francis meets wives of Ukrainian soldiers fighting to defend Mariupol

Pope Francis meets Kateryna Prokopenko and Yulya Fedosiuk in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 11, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met on Wednesday morning with the wives of two Ukrainian soldiers who are currently fighting to defend the besieged city of Mariupol.

After his general audience on May 11, the pope held the hands of the Ukrainian women, Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, and Yulya Fedosiuk, 29.

Prokopenko is married to Ukrainian Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko, the man currently leading the Ukrainian last stand to defend the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol.

“You are our last hope. We hope that you can save their lives. Please don’t let them die,” Kateryna Prokopenko can be heard telling Pope Francis in a short video of their five-minute meeting.

After the audience, Prokopenko told journalists in St. Peter’s Square: “We hope that this meeting will just give us the chance to save their lives.”

“Now we are ready for the actions from the pope, from his delegation. And our soldiers are ready to be evacuated to a third country. They are ready to lay down their arms in case of evacuation to the third country.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Fedosiuk, who is married to Ukrainian soldier Sgt. Arseniy Fedosiuk, said in a video interview recorded by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that they told the pope about the severe conditions within the Azovstal steel plant, where their husbands are fighting.

“We told the pope that 700 of our soldiers are injured. They have gangrene, amputations, their flesh is rotting, and many of them are dead. We couldn’t bury them. We couldn’t bury them [according] to Christian tradition and we ask pope to help us,” she said.

The Ukrainian women also handed the pope two letters, according to the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The first letter was signed by Metropolitan Onufriy, who was elected Orthodox Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine in 2014, in which he reportedly appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to let the Azovstal fighters go.

The second letter was from the women themselves, who asked the pope during their meeting to “come to Ukraine and to speak with Putin.”

“We ask pope to help us. We ask pope to be the third party of this war and to let them go through the green corridor, and he told us that he will pray for us and he is doing everything for that,” Fedosiuk said.

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis also greeted Vietnam War photographer Nick Ut.

The former Associated Press photographer is known for his 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, “The Terror of War,” which is also known as the “Napalm Girl.”

Pope Francis meets Vietnam War photographer Nick Ut and Phan Thi Kim Phuc in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets Vietnam War photographer Nick Ut and Phan Thi Kim Phuc in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. Vatican Media.

Ut, who is Vietnamese American, met the pope with Phan Thi Kim Phuc, who is the young girl pictured in the photo. She was nine years old at the time the photo was taken in her hometown of Trảng Bàng during the Vietnam War.

Kim Phuc, who is now 59 years old, lives in Toronto with her family.

Vatican News reported that she said: “That image continues to remind me that I lost my childhood. Only over time, however, did I understand its value.”

Vatican following news of Cardinal Zen’s arrest ‘with concern’

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun departs the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, Nov. 18, 2014. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, May 11, 2022 / 09:11 am (CNA).

The Vatican said on Wednesday that it was concerned to hear of reports of the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen by authorities in Hong Kong.

“The Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” said a May 11 statement from the Holy See press office.

The 90-year-old former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong was reportedly detained on May 11 in his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees.

The Standard newspaper reported that the trustees were arrested on Wednesday evening local time, according to sources.

The fund, which was founded in 2019, disbanded last year after the national security police ordered it to share operational details, the newspaper said.

Zen, who stood down as Hong Kong’s Catholic bishop in 2009, is an outspoken supporter of the pro-democracy movement.

In 2020, a sweeping National Security Law came into force, criminalizing previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion.”

Reuters reported that Zen and four others — Canadian-Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho, academic Hui Po Keung, and former opposition lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho — were arrested for alleged “collusion with foreign forces.”

Before the law’s implementation, many Catholics, including Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong.

Pope Francis’ advice on retirement: Leave ‘a legacy of good, rather than just goods’

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 11, 2022 / 04:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis offered advice on Wednesday about how to live in retirement fruitfully by leaving “a legacy of good, rather than just goods.”

Speaking during his general audience on May 11, the pope said that retirement can be a “time to leave a good legacy of wisdom, tenderness, and gifts for the family and the community.”

“When we think of an inheritance, at times we think of goods, and not of the goodness that is done in old age, and that has been sown. That goodness is the best legacy we can leave,” he said in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope commented that true heroism was not only found in great events of history, but also in the “love poured out in a difficult family and on behalf of a threatened community.”

Pope Francis highlighted the biblical example of Judith, whom he praised for her heroism and her faith.

The Book of Judith in the Old Testament relates how Judith saved the city of Bethulia by cutting off the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes, who was besieging the city.

“After her great adventure, Judith returned to live in her town, Bethulia, where she lived her old age beautifully, until she was 105,” the pope noted.

In her “retirement,” Judith continued to provide a heroic example by dedicating her time to her family and her community, as well as through charitable works, like that of granting “freedom to her favorite handmaid,” the pope said.

Pope Francis pointed to how many retirees can devote themselves to the joy of helping to look after grandchildren, providing them with “irreplaceable lessons.” But he also noted that “today fewer and fewer children are born, and parents are often more far away.”

He said: “Judith was soon widowed and had no children, but, as an old woman, she was able to live a season of fullness and serenity, in the knowledge that she had lived to the fullest the mission the Lord had entrusted to her.”

“When we are old, we lose some of our sight, but our inner gaze becomes more penetrating – one sees with the heart. We become capable of seeing things that previously escaped us … It is true: the Lord does not entrust his talents only to the young and the strong. He has talents for everyone, made to fit each person, the elderly too,” he said.

“The life of our communities must know how to benefit from the talents and charisms of so many elderly people who are already retired, but who are a wealth to be treasured.”

Pope Francis arrived at his live-streamed general audience sitting in the popemobile and greeted pilgrims while making several laps around St. Peter’s Square.

At one point, the pope asked the popemobile to stop and invited some children to ride on board with him.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

After greeting the pilgrims, the pope slowly walked up from the popemobile to his chair, where he remained seated for most of the audience. The pope concluded by leading the crowd in praying the Our Father in Latin.

The 85-year-old apologized again for not being able to stand to greet pilgrims during the traditional blessings of newlyweds at the end of the audience due to pain in his right knee.

“I would like to apologize because I will not be able to come to you today to greet you because of my knee: it is still hurting. You will have to walk a little to me, but it is all the same and I receive you with my heart in my hand,” Francis said.

The pope also offered a spontaneous prayer for the people of Sri Lanka, where eight people have died and 200 have been injured in violent protests in the past few days, according to the Associated Press.

Two Ukrainian women were in attendance at the pope’s audience: Kateryna Prokopenko, wife of Ukrainian Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko, and Arseniy Fedosiuk’s wife, Yulya. Their husbands are currently fighting in the last stand to defend the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

Pope Francis meets Kateryna Prokopenko and Yulya Fedosiuk in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets Kateryna Prokopenko and Yulya Fedosiuk in St. Peter’s Square on May 11, 2022. Vatican Media.

Also among those in the crowd were major superiors of women religious from the United States and newly ordained priests with the Legionaries of Christ.

In the pope’s greeting to Polish pilgrims, he asked for the intercession of St. Stanislaus for vocations.

“May this strenuous defender of the divine moral order, especially in this week of prayer for vocations, obtain for all young people the gift of wise discernment of the path of life, of entrustment to Christ, and fidelity to evangelical values. I bless you from my heart,” he said.

Bishop: New Vatican constitution gives value to Catholic bishops’ conferences

St. Peter’s Basilica, pictured on March 19, 2013. / Mazur/

Vatican City, May 10, 2022 / 09:05 am (CNA).

In a speech to dicastery leaders on Monday, a bishop said that the new Vatican constitution gives value to Catholic bishops’ conferences and their potential to foster communion between bishops and the pope.

The preamble of Praedicate evangelium, Bishop Marco Mellino said, affirms that bishops’ conferences “are currently one of the most significant ways of expressing and serving ecclesial communion in the different regions together with the Roman Pontiff.”

Mellino, who is the secretary of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, said the constitution’s intention is “that of valuing the episcopal conferences ... in their potential for implementing the communion of the bishops among themselves and with the Roman Pontiff.”

He went on to say that this works to the extent that each of the bishops’ conferences “is a valid instrument which contributes, in a manifold and fruitful way, to the realization of the collegial affection among the members of the same episcopate and provides for the common good of the particular Churches.”

Mellino’s speech was published on May 9 in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. It included reflections on the role of laity, synodality, and the Roman Curia’s orientation toward service, as outlined in the apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium.

The new Vatican constitution, whose title means “Preach the Gospel,” was published on March 19 after nine years in production by the pope’s Council of Cardinals.

It replaces Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1988, and later modified by popes Benedict and Francis.

Praedicate evangelium will take effect on June 5, the Solemnity of Pentecost.

In the constitution, Mellino said, bishops’ conferences “are not considered intermediate hierarchical structures, but rather bodies of subsidiarity, which do not interfere with the Petrine office or the governance of particular Churches.”

“They express and foster the exercise of ‘co-responsibility in the communio’ for the pastoral benefit and common good of the particular Churches through the joint exercise of certain functions proper to them,” he said.

The bishop also drew attention to the use of the word “jointly” in Church law about bishops’ conferences.

In canon law, canon 447 says “a conference of bishops, a permanent institution, is a group of bishops of some nation or certain territory who jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the Christian faithful of their territory in order to promote the greater good which the Church offers to humanity.”

The word “jointly” is used “in order to avoid the idea that in episcopal conferences is exercised the collegial power of the bishops, which can be exercised by them only when the whole College is convoked,” he said.

“Moreover, by making reference to the joint exercise of only ‘some pastoral functions’ and not all, the canon seeks to protect the responsibility that by divine right the bishops have for the Church entrusted to their care and not to affect the proper power that they have in the exercise of their pastoral ministry.”

Who are the 4 women being canonized this weekend?

The canonization of John Henry Newman in St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 13, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 10, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will preside over the first canonizations in more than two years this weekend.

Ten people will be officially recognized as saints by the Catholic Church on May 15. Among them are some relatively well-known figures, like Charles de Foucauld, Titus Brandsma, and Devasahayam Pillai.

Less well known are the four Catholic female leaders who will be canonized alongside them. Each of the women founded religious orders which have grown worldwide and made a lasting impact on the Church.

Here are the stories of these four holy women, who all happen to be named for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A detail from a stained-glass window featuring Marie Rivier in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, France. Public Domain.
A detail from a stained-glass window featuring Marie Rivier in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, France. Public Domain.

Marie Rivier

As the French Revolution forced convents and monasteries across France to close and priests and nuns were martyred under the Reign of Terror, this 28-year-old Frenchwoman founded a religious order in 1796.

Marie Rivier founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, dedicated to the education of young girls in the faith. The congregation received official approval in 1801 and expanded across France.

Rivier struggled for much of her childhood from a debilitating disability that caused her joints to swell and her limbs to shrink. She could hardly stand with the help of crutches, according to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Her health problems also hindered her ability to enter religious life, but Rivier persevered and helped to educate unemployed women in her parish before the founding of her congregation.

Within a few decades of Rivier’s death in 1838, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary spread to Canada and the United States. Today the sisters are present on five continents.

Maria Francesca of Jesus (Anna Maria Rubatto). Public Domain.
Maria Francesca of Jesus (Anna Maria Rubatto). Public Domain.

Maria Francesca of Jesus (Anna Maria Rubatto)

Mother Maria Francesca of Jesus was a 19th-century missionary foundress who crossed the Atlantic Ocean seven times by boat to establish an order of Capuchin sisters in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

The Italian religious sister, originally from the province of Turin, was born Anna Maria Rubatto in 1844. She lost her mother at the age of four and her father when she was 19 years old.

She worked as a servant and cultivated a deep spirituality, visiting a church daily to pray. But she did not discover her vocation until she was 40 years old.

One day when she was leaving a church, she heard the cries of a construction worker who had been injured by a stone that fell from the scaffolding onto his head. Maria helped to wash and treat his wounds. She discovered that the building he had been working on was a convent. The Capuchin friar who was overseeing its construction invited her to join as a founding member and then the first superior of the Institute of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of Loano.

Within just seven years, Mother Maria found herself traveling to South America to found new houses as her religious order grew. Today, the sisters are known as the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto and are present in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other countries across South America, Europe, and Africa.

Maria Domenica Mantovani, depicted in a church in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy. Threecharlie via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Maria Domenica Mantovani, depicted in a church in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy. Threecharlie via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Maria Domenica Mantovani

Maria Domenica Mantovani served as the first general superior of the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, which she co-founded to serve the poor, orphaned, and the sick.

At the age of 24, she made a vow of virginity on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in her hometown of Castelletto di Brenzone in northern Italy.

She co-founded the Little Sisters of the Holy Family in 1892, at the age of 29, along with Blessed Giuseppe Nascimbeni, a priest who had been her spiritual guide since she was 15 years old.

Serving as the order’s superior general for more than 40 years, Mantovani wrote the constitutions of the order and oversaw the opening of numerous convents.

By the time she died in 1934, the Little Sisters of the Holy Family had grown to have 1,200 sisters present in 150 convents in Italy and abroad.

Maria of Jesus Santocanale. Public Domain.
Maria of Jesus Santocanale. Public Domain.

Maria of Jesus Santocanale

Mother Maria of Jesus founded the Capuchin Sisters of Immaculate Mary of Lourdes in Sicily in 1910.

Born in Palermo in 1852, Carolina Santocanale felt a desire to consecrate herself to God from an early age despite her father’s wishes. Under the spiritual guidance of Father Mauro Venuti, she discerned to devote her life to works of charity for the poor rather than entering the cloister.

At the age of 32, she began to experience significant health problems. Severe pain in her legs led her to be bedridden for more than a year. After her illness, she embraced an even more radical Franciscan spirituality.

After making simple vows at the age of 39, she spent most of her free moments, day or night, in front of the tabernacle. She oversaw the establishment of an orphanage and a nursery school, and nurtured many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.

Today, Santocanale’s sisters are present in Albania, Brazil, Italy, and Madagascar. She wrote that the mission of her Capuchin sisters was “to be bread broken for the hunger and the life of our brothers and sisters, in the image of Mary Immaculate in the mystery of salvation.”