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Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference: God accompanies people with same-sex attraction

Pope Francis speaks to the media on Feb. 5, 2023, during his return flight to Rome from his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 5, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

On his return flight from South Sudan on Sunday, Pope Francis said that God loves and accompanies people with same-sex attraction. 

When asked by a journalist what the pope would say to families in Congo and South Sudan who reject their children because they are gay, Pope Francis responded that the catechism teaches that people with same-sex attraction should not be marginalized. 

“People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God loves them. God accompanies them,” the pope said during an in-flight press conference on his return from Juba on Feb. 5.

“To condemn someone like this is a sin. Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice,” he added.

In a first for a papal trip, Pope Francis was joined for the in-flight press conference by two other Christian leaders: his Anglican counterpart, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, who also took part in the “ecumenical pilgrimage of peace” in South Sudan Feb. 3-5.

Together the three Christian leaders answered questions and spoke about South Sudan’s peace process, the war in Ukraine, and mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Welby said that he “wholeheartedly agreed” with what Pope Francis said about the Congo that it is “not the playground of great powers.” 

Greenshields added that in South Sudan’s peace process “actions speak louder than words.”

Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, speaks to reporters aboard the papal flight to Rome on Feb. 5, 2023, as Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, looks on. The two religious leaders accompanied Pope Francis on his visit to South Sudan. Vatican Media
Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, speaks to reporters aboard the papal flight to Rome on Feb. 5, 2023, as Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, looks on. The two religious leaders accompanied Pope Francis on his visit to South Sudan. Vatican Media

Pope Francis alone answered a question about tensions in the Catholic Church after the death of his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalized by people who want to serve their own interests,” Francis said.

People who instrumentalize such a good and holy person, Francis added, are partisans and unethical.

Looking ahead at potential upcoming papal trips, Pope Francis said that he wants to go to India next year.

The 86-year-old pope confirmed that he also plans to travel to Marseille, France, in September to participate in a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and added that “there is a possibility from Marseille to fly to Mongolia.”

In his response to the question about the acceptance of people with same-sex attractions, Pope Francis noted that he has spoken on the topic multiple times during in-flight press conferences.

The pope reiterated what he said on his return flight from Brazil in 2013: “If a person with homosexual tendencies is a believer, seeks God, who am I to judge him? This is what I said on that trip.”

He added that during an in-flight press conference returning from Ireland in 2018 he said that parents should not kick out children with this orientation out of their homes.

Pope Francis noted that he recently spoke about the criminalization of homosexuality in an interview with the Associated Press and emphasized again that it is unjust.

“I want to say, I wish I had spoken as elegantly and clearly as the pope. I entirely agree with every word he said there,” Welby said.

“Over the next four days in the General Synod of the Church of England, this is our main topic of discussion, and I shall certainly quote the Holy Father,” he added.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people with homosexual tendencies should be treated with respect, and unjust discrimination against them should be avoided, while “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Pope Francis: Partisans have used Benedict XVI’s death ‘to serve their own interests’

Pope Francis speaks to journalists on Feb. 5, 2023, during his flight back to Rome after his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. / Vatican Media

Rome, Italy, Feb 5, 2023 / 11:35 am (CNA).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s death was used by people in a self-serving way, Pope Francis said aboard the papal plane returning from South Sudan on Sunday.

“I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalized by people who want to serve their own interests,” he said during an in-flight press conference Feb. 5.

People who instrumentalize such a good and holy person, Francis added, are partisans and unethical.

There is a widespread tendency to make political parties out of theological positions, he said. “I leave it alone. These things will fall on their own, or if they don’t fall they will move on as has happened so many times in the history of the Church.”

Pope Francis’ comments were made aboard the papal plane from Juba, South Sudan, to Rome, at the end of a six-day trip that also included nearly four days in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a papal first, the in-flight press conference included the participation of the pope’s Anglican counterpart, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

Welby and Greenshields had joined Pope Francis in South Sudan for an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace and reconciliation. The two Christian leaders responded to some, but not all, of the questions on the papal flight.

Near the end of the nearly hour-long press conference, Pope Francis was asked if his papal ministry had become more difficult since Benedict’s death in light of growing division in the Church.

Francis reiterated that he was able to speak about everything with Benedict, even to change his own mind.

“He was always by my side, supporting me. And if he had any difficulty he would tell me and we would talk and there was no problem,” the pope said.

He went on to describe a moment in which it appeared that someone may have wanted to pit Francis and the pope emeritus against each other.

Pope Francis recalled once referencing civil solidarity pact, a law in France that allows nontraditional civil unions between two people to receive certain benefits without all of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. Francis had suggested this type of partnership as a possible solution for homosexual couples for the purpose of “securing property.”

After Pope Francis had made these comments, “a person who thinks he is a great theologian, through a friend of Pope Benedict, went to him and made a complaint against me,” the pope said.

Benedict’s response was not to be “shocked,” the pope added, but to call together “four top theological cardinals” to explain the concept to him.

“And that’s how the story ended,” he said. “[This was] an anecdote to see how Benedict moved when there were complaints.”

Benedict XVI, he emphasized, “was not a bitter man.”

Pope Francis visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan Jan. 31-Feb. 5. Over the six days, he had moving meetings with local leaders, Catholics, and victims of war and conflict.

Saint John Damascene

Icon of Saint John Damaskinos
Image: Saint John Damaskinos | unknown

Saint of the Day for December 4

(c. 676 -749)
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Saint John Damascene’s Story

John spent most of his life in the Monastery of Saint Sabas near Jerusalem, and all of his life under Muslim rule, indeed protected by it.

He was born in Damascus, received a classical and theological education, and followed his father in a government position under the Arabs. After a few years, he resigned and went to the Monastery of Saint Sabas.

He is famous in three areas:

First, he is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him.

Second, he is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers, of which he became the last. It is said that this book is for Eastern schools what the Summa of Aquinas became for the West.

Third, he is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known.

Saint John Damascene's liturgical feast is celebrated on April 30.


John defended the Church’s understanding of the veneration of images and explained the faith of the Church in several other controversies. For over 30 years, he combined a life of prayer with these defenses and his other writings. His holiness expressed itself in putting his literary and preaching talents at the service of the Lord.

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More than 100 pilgrims cross the Andes in a show of love for the Virgin Mary

More than 100 pilgrims arrived at the Bellavista Shrine in Santiago, Chile, Feb. 2, 2023. / Credit: Instagram Cruzada de María

CNA Newsroom, Feb 5, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

With the theme “Pilgrim of the Andes, lift up your gaze,” more than 110 youths began the trek known as the Crusade for Mary on Jan. 16 starting out from Mendoza, Argentina, and hiking 415 kilometers (260 miles) over the Andes to arrive on Feb. 2 at Bellavista Shrine on the other side of the mountains in metro Santiago, Chile.

The initiative is coordinated by the young men in the Schoenstatt Movement, including priests and seminarians. Youths from Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile also participated, as well as a seminarian from Mexico and another from Switzerland.

Father Emmanuel Tropini, vicar of the St. Rose of Lima Parish in Villaguay, Argentina, joined the more than 100 youths in a great demonstration of love for the Virgin Mary, crossing on foot the Andes Mountains in a pilgrimage.

In comments on the Mirador Entre Rios portal, the priest recalled their passage by Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the mountain range with “all its wonderful magnitude” and the landscape, “which remains in each of us in an unforgettable way, surprising us at every step by the message of creation.”

“All this reveals to us the importance of knowing our country through its beauties and from our faith,” the priest said. “This challenge of the pilgrimage and its route also fill our souls.”

There were 110 youths on the pilgrimage who made the journey “strengthened by faith, prayers, and also the interchange that this type of event brings about at the places where a break is taken to recharge and continue.”

“It’s a very enriching experience from the spiritual and human point of view,” he said.

“It’s a grace from God that we must interpret as an opportunity to think about over and over again. We walked surrounded by imposing sights and creation shows us how small we are,” the priest noted.

“However, we must think about how much each one of us can do, along with others, to change and engender empathy that allows us to look with the desire to help to bring the word of the Creator to those who feel discouraged in this complex world,” Tropini said.

Regarding the theme of the pilgrimage, the priest explained that it was about “raising our gaze to heavenly things, to the things of God, so as to not dwell on earthly realities but with faith, hope, and ideals. Something that we work on a lot are values and aspiration to the great things in life. Not settling for small things but fighting for the convictions that are related to all this.”

In addition to “the way the landscape refreshes” the soul, the parochial vicar appreciated being in the midst of the mountains because it “puts us in the position to understand that we are a small speck in the grand creation.”

Tropini also mentioned the difficulties of the journey. “We went through different moments and circumstances where the trek gets very hard, with an average of about 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day,” he explained.

“With the sun, blisters on the feet, and some pain it gets complicated and even uncomfortable,” he added. “It’s very cold, without snow on the route, but there is some higher up in the mountains.” (It is now summer in the southern hemisphere.)

There was a climate “of contagious joy,” due to the number of young people who “participated a lot in prayer, singing, and daily Mass,” the priest shared.

“There was a spiritual atmosphere, but we also played the guitar, and since there are kids from other countries, they talked about soccer and they observed their local customs, some that we know and others that we’re learning about in the daily interchange, in an atmosphere of wonderful communion,” he recounted.

At the last stop before arriving at Bellavista, Argentine pilgrim Tomás Ugarte gave his testimony on social media: “I am counting the kilometers to get there, my heart starts pounding, you can begin to sense the Bellavista Shrine is there; [I’m] very happy there’s no more to go.”

Vicente, a young Chilean, was thankful for the “very great” affection they experienced during this time together. “Thanking the Blessed Mother for what this crusade has been like and to meet Jesus, with this tremendous energy and love for God that we have,” he commented.

Matías Estigarribia from Paraguay shared: “Excited, happy to arrive after much suffering, wanting to arrive and give to the Blessed Mother all the sacrifice and dedication that we made during these days.”

When they reached the doors of the shrine, the “crusaders” sang and waved the flags of their countries.

History of the Crusade for Mary

The pilgrimage has its origin in an international meeting of the Boys’ Youth of the Schoenstatt Movement, which was held in 1999 in Bellavista, Chile.

As an activity prior to the gathering, there was a pilgrimage on foot that started from the shrine in Mendoza and crossed the Andes mountain range through Christ the Redeemer pass.

The purpose was to symbolize the magnitude of the event that they were about to celebrate, with the particular stamp of the Boys’ Youth, and covering the route that the troops of Generals José de San Martín and Bernardo O’Higgins made in their struggle for the independence of their nations from colonial Spain.

The future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, visited the Schoenstatt Movement’s Bellavista Shrine in 1988.

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

Pope at Mass in South Sudan: In the name of Jesus, lay down the weapons of hatred

Pope Francis greets a young boy a Mass in Juba, South Sudan on Feb. 5, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 5, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

At a Mass in South Sudan on Sunday, Pope Francis urged Christians in the war-torn African country to make “a decisive contribution to changing history” by refusing to repay evil with evil.

“In the name of Jesus and of his Beatitudes, let us lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge, in order to take up those of prayer and charity,” Pope Francis said in his homily in Juba on Feb. 5.

“I gather here with you in the name of Jesus Christ, the God of love, the God who achieved peace through his cross. … Jesus, crucified in the lives of so many of you, in so many people in this country; Jesus, the risen Lord, the victor over evil and death,” he said.

Pope Francis presides over a Mass in Juba, South Sudan, on Feb. 5, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis presides over a Mass in Juba, South Sudan, on Feb. 5, 2023. Vatican Media

More than 100,000 people attended the papal Mass in Juba held on the grounds of a mausoleum commemorating John Garang, a liberation leader known as the “father of South Sudan,” though he died in a helicopter crash before the newest African country gained its independence in 2011 and plunged into a brutal civil war two years later.

South Sudan’s civil war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400,000 people. And while the country reached a formal peace agreement nearly three years ago, violent conflicts continue in parts of the country.

People attending Pope Francis' Mass in Juba on Feb. 5, 2023. Elias Turk/EWTN
People attending Pope Francis' Mass in Juba on Feb. 5, 2023. Elias Turk/EWTN

Pope Francis underlined that South Sudan’s Christians are called to be “light that shines in the darkness” by living out the Beatitudes.

“This country, so beautiful yet ravaged by violence, needs the light that each one of you has, or better, the light that each one of you is,” he said.

During the Mass, dancers wearing bright yellow sashes adorned with a large photo of Pope Francis and photos of other clergy danced in the field below the altar. Elias Turk/EWTN
During the Mass, dancers wearing bright yellow sashes adorned with a large photo of Pope Francis and photos of other clergy danced in the field below the altar. Elias Turk/EWTN

During the Mass, dancers wearing bright yellow sashes adorned with a large photo of Pope Francis and photos of other clergy danced in the field below the altar as a 300-person choir sang hymns and waved their hands.

The first and second Scripture readings were read by religious sisters who care for orphans in Rejaf, South Sudan.

President Salva Kiir Mayardit attended the Mass sitting with South Sudan’s five vice presidents, 10 state governors, and other key political leaders.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that Christians are called to be “people capable of building good human relationships as a way of curbing the corruption of evil, the disease of division, the filth of fraudulent business dealings and the plague of injustice.”

He explained that the Beatitudes “revolutionize the standards of this world and our usual way of thinking” by telling us that “we must not aim to be strong, rich, and powerful but humble, meek, and merciful; to do no evil to anyone, but to be peacemakers for everyone.”

More than 100,000 people attended the papal Mass in Juba, according to local authorities. Elias Turk/EWTN
More than 100,000 people attended the papal Mass in Juba, according to local authorities. Elias Turk/EWTN

Several African cardinals concelebrated the Mass, including Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew, archbishop of Addis Abeba; Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, archbishop of Kinshasa; and Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako, archbishop emeritus of Khartoum, Sudan.

Pope Francis spent a moment in prayer before a large statue of Our Lady of Africa located beside the altar at the end of the Mass.

Pope Francis spent a moment in prayer before a statue of Our Lady of Africa. Vatican Media
Pope Francis spent a moment in prayer before a statue of Our Lady of Africa. Vatican Media

In his Angelus message, he entrusted South Sudan’s peace process to Our Lady of Africa, reminding the crowd that the Virgin Mary is the Queen of Peace.

“We pray to her now, and we entrust to her the cause of peace in South Sudan and in the entire African continent, where so many of our brothers and sisters in the faith experience persecution and danger, where great numbers of people suffer from conflict, exploitation, and poverty,” he said.

Pope Francis also recalled the testimony of Sudan’s St. Josephine Bakhita, whom he called “a great woman who by God’s grace transformed into hope all the sufferings that she endured.”

“Hope is the word I would leave with each of you, as a gift to share, a seed to bear fruit,” he said.

People attending Pope Francis' Mass in Juba on Feb. 5, 2023. Elias Turk/EWTN
People attending Pope Francis' Mass in Juba on Feb. 5, 2023. Elias Turk/EWTN

The Mass concluded Pope Francis’ three-day trip to South Sudan. The pope will fly from Juba to Rome together with the archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the church in Scotland on a six-hour flight, where he will give an in-flight press conference to journalists.

The pope has called his Feb. 3-5 visit to Juba alongside Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields a “pilgrimage of peace.”

Catholic Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba thanked Pope Francis for making the “bold decision to visit our country, which is suffering due to the consequences of the civil war.”

In the pope’s last words to the South Sudanese people before heading to the airport, Francis expressed how much he was touched by the long-awaited trip.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I return to Rome with you even closer to my heart,” he said. “Let me repeat: You are in my heart, you are in our hearts, you are in the hearts of Christians worldwide.”

“Never lose hope. And lose no opportunity to build peace. May hope and peace dwell among you. May hope and peace dwell in South Sudan!”

Surprise hit ‘Lourdes’ documentary, coming to U.S. theaters, captures miracles of a different sort

The documentary "Lourdes," showing in theaters on Feb. 8 and 9, follows the experiences of sick and disabled pilgrims who often seek consolation rather than cures. / Bosco Films

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The French documentary film “Lourdes” will be shown in 700 theaters in the U.S., for a special two-day screening, on Feb. 8 (in French with English subtitles) and Feb. 9 (in Spanish with English subtitles).

The film presents a unique and affecting view of the Catholic pilgrimage site as seen through the eyes of several of the sick pilgrims and their caregivers.

A surprise hit in France among critics and audiences, the award-winning documentary follows several sick and disabled pilgrims who travel to Lourdes in search of consolation, if not miracles, at the Marian shrine in the French Pyrenees. It was there on Feb. 11, 1858, that 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous witnessed the first of 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

The filmmakers received unprecedented access to the sacred site from the Catholic Church. The sick and disabled pilgrims are seen praying at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, worshipping at the grotto where the visions took place, being immersed in the baths, and perhaps most affectingly, being cared for and assisted by volunteers or “hospitaliers.”

The U.S. tour follows the film’s debut in France, where in 2020 it was nominated for best documentary at the Cesar Awards. Tickets for the Feb. 8 and 9 showings can be purchased online at Fathom Events or at participating theater box offices. 

As many as 6 million people visit Lourdes each year to pray and to touch, bathe in and drink from the spring water that flows under the grotto where the apparitions of the Virgin first took place. More than 7,000 cures have been attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, with 70 officially recognized by the Catholic Church. A 15-minute-long “bonus” film following the presentation of the movie, distributed by Spain’s Bosco Films, features a Catholic physician discussing the miraculous cures attributed to Lourdes.

The movie “Lourdes,” however, is not exactly a movie about miracles. Audiences eager to be blown away by visible proof of the existence of a loving God who answers prayers may at first be disappointed when they realize it is not that kind of movie. What follows are miracles of a different sort: the gift of faith that makes possible peace and even joy through suffering, and the exercise of loving one’s neighbor in charity and compassion.

“Lourdes” is not always easy to watch — not only because it’s uncomfortable to see suffering at such close range, but also because the unfamiliarity with that feeling is an indication that one tends to go through life avoiding being exposed to it.

A despondent teenage girl has come on an annual pilgrimage with her unemployed father to bathe in Lourdes’ spring water. Her father hopes to cure her of the cysts forming in her arm, but she prays before the statue of the Virgin Mary for relief from the kids who bully her at school.

A mother and father travel by bus with their 40-year-old son who can’t stand or feed himself, as his mother confesses that she still blames herself for the accident that changed their lives forever.

A father and his son, who himself is sick, seek healing for a terminally ill younger brother suffering from a painful skin condition. The faith of the two is palpable as is that of the boys’ mother, who manages to radiate joy as she sees them off.

A man afflicted in the last stages of ALS explains that he is grateful for the gift of peace he feels he has been given.

A group of prostitutes from Paris makes a solemn annual “Magdalena” pilgrimage to Lourdes in the company of a Catholic priest who gently counsels one to consider giving up his way of life.

Another man communicates by pointing to letters on a sheet of paper. The wry, intelligent look on his face seems to invite people to engage in conversation with him. We later learn that he has attempted suicide twice.

The inspiration for the movie came from its writer, veteran journalist Sixtine Léon-Dufour, who first went to Lourdes as a volunteer, very reluctantly, on the occasion of her mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Once there, she was profoundly moved by the work, bathing, dressing, feeding, and talking to the pilgrims, and now returns with her family every year.

When she is volunteering at Lourdes, she told CNA that she is struck by the faith of the pilgrims, who, she said, come for consolation more than for a cure.

“What they all say is that when you go to the grotto and you spend some time praying — or not — at the feet of this statue of the Virgin Mary, you find peace, a real peace,” she said.

While Léon-Dufour is Catholic, the film’s directors, Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, are nonbelievers, she said.

In the months they spent interviewing people to feature in the movie, she said, the directors would always ask the same question: “You’re very Catholic, you pray a lot. Tell me, you are absolutely looking for a miracle, right?”

“And each time all the people you saw in the documentary, they said, ‘No, no!”

“No matter how hard I tried to explain that people come to Lourdes not especially looking for a miracle they would not understand that it was much more about faith and being together to find some comfort,” she said.

And despite the directors’ initial confusion and purported lack of faith, they managed to capture traces of the divine in the interactions between the sick and the volunteers who assist them. The word “miracle” comes from the Latin miraculum or “thing of wonder,” which perfectly describes these encounters.

The film shows the sick and disabled pilgrims light up when they are with others who treat them with love and respect. Volunteer nurses are seen engaging with their charges, talking to them, and drawing them out. For some pilgrims, it is clear that just being touched or held as they are bathed and dressed delights them.

For other sick pilgrims, it is the conversation that brings them joy. A sad-looking woman in her 90s appears completely transformed after talking with a young volunteer who engages with her as she would a friend. At first quiet and guarded, the encounter leaves the woman smiling, telling stories, and even singing.

A volunteer at Lourdes pilgrims sharing a laugh with a pilgrim. Bosco Films
A volunteer at Lourdes pilgrims sharing a laugh with a pilgrim. Bosco Films

The young faith-filled boy who is at Lourdes to pray for his sick brother seems to know what these pilgrims need. He makes a habit of reaching out to hold the hands of those who seem barricaded in their wheelchairs, eliciting shy smiles on their faces.

When a disabled woman begins to thrash and cry and it’s explained to the group of volunteers with her that she is sad to be leaving Lourdes, the young women soon have tears rolling down their cheeks.

Léon-Dufour told CNA that she thinks the sick and disabled find Lourdes a respite from what can be a cruel world.

“To be able to be in that place without any judgment from society because you are surrounded by disabled people, sick people. The poor, ‘the invisibles,’ are on the front stage, which doesn’t happen in our real lives. Here in Lourdes, you don’t have any judgment. So I think that the first cure you can get is that you don’t have ‘funny eyes’ on you.”

“And oh, all the people you will find on your way! Either they’re as sick as you or as poor as you. Either. They’re here just to help you,” she said.

The volunteers, many of whom are college students, usually stay for one week and receive training upon arriving at one of the welcome centers. The film shows a group of new volunteers being instructed on how to bathe their patients, how often to change their urinary incontinence pads, and the importance of drying them off completely. Many of the female volunteers wear nurses’ uniforms, complete with starched caps, a tradition that dates back to the 19th century, Léon-Dufour said.

“It was a matter of hygiene, and it was also because you used to have a lot of people, and especially women, from the French aristocracy [volunteering]. They didn’t want to have any difference, between the, let’s say the farmer and the aristocrats, so we kept these uniforms,” she said.

Lourdes, she said, is one of “the rarest places in the world,” because the volunteer nurses continue to come from all walks of life as do the pilgrims, she said.

“You have to give the showers, you have to dress the people, you have to entertain them, etc. And so, it’s one of the places in the world where you will see a very successful CEO giving a shower to, let’s say, a maid. And it’s great sometimes to have this kind of reminder, you know?” she said.

In making a movie about Lourdes, Léon-Dufour hoped to share with others something she discovered as a reluctant volunteer years ago.

“It’s about giving back. Of course, you can give back everywhere — you can give back when you see a homeless person or whatever, but I think that you receive so much joy spending one week [at Lourdes],” she said. “I can assure you that that is very, very rewarding. The thing is that you keep going back because you receive much more.”

Watch the trailer here:

Meet the ‘Lone Survivor’ priest and ‘Grunt Padre’ author who’s now the head chaplain of the Coast Guard

Father Daniel L. Mode, chaplain of the Coast Guard, stands in the large atrium of the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., in front of a massive wall of flags and insignia of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard. / Credit: Leslie Miller/Arlington Catholic Herald

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 5, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Father Daniel Mode was the chaplain for the “Lone Survivor” SEAL team in Afghanistan and has authored a book about the famed “Grunt Padre,” Father Vincent Capodanno.

Now there’s a new distinction on Mode’s impressive service record: leading the chaplaincy efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard, the first Catholic priest to hold that important role in 12 years.

Yet Mode, 57, says his greatest mission is bringing the peace of Jesus Christ to the service members and civilians to whom he ministers.

“Peace is kind of my mantra,” Mode told CNA.

Mode grew up in a Navy family and moved around frequently, attending Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, as a teen. He was ordained in 1992 in the Diocese of Arlington, where he served for 13 years, pastoring Queen of the Apostles Parish in Alexandria from 2001 to 2005.

Mode was deployed as a chaplain to Afghanistan in 2005, and within the first 24 hours of being in theater he came face-to-face with the realities of war.

“I had my first death,” he said. “The soldier died in my arms in a field hospital in Kandahar.”

After ministering to service members in Afghanistan for 22 months, Mode said he realized the “amazing need for chaplains” and felt a “call within a call” to continue serving those who serve.

Since receiving his bishop’s permission to become a full-time, active military chaplain in 2007, Mode has worked to share God’s peace in his ministry all over the world. He has spent nine years overseas, seven of those years on ships and aircraft carriers.

“I’ve served in very remote places and very overseas places, and it’s just reinforced … that service members need their shepherds, they need their chaplains,” Mode said.

How has he sustained such incredible challenges as a priest and a military chaplain?

Mode, now a Navy captain, explained that “God is preeminent in my life. My savior Jesus gives me hope for the future. I believe in grace, and I believe that God gives us the grace to continue.”

A SEAL team’s grief

In June 2005, Mode was serving as a Navy chaplain, moving from one Forward Operating Base (FOB) to another every few days.

One day Mode received word that SEAL Team 10 was in dire need of a chaplain after an elite group of SEALs had been ambushed and killed by Taliban warriors, leaving only a lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell.

“When that happened, the Navy SEALs specifically requested a Navy chaplain,” Mode explained. “There were very few of us in the country at the time … So, I was sent in there for those weeks to care for them.”

“It was indeed tragic and very historic, especially for the Navy SEALs, and actually the largest loss of life, to that time, of American service members in Afghanistan,” Mode said.

Luttrell went on to write a book about his horrific experiences, titled “Lone Survivor” (Back Bay Books, 2008), which was later turned into a major motion picture starring Catholic actor Mark Wahlberg.

Yet very few know that when disaster struck SEAL Team 10, the man who responded to the call for help was a Catholic priest.

Mode described his time serving the tragedy-stricken unit as “several weeks of intense ministry.” Besides ministering to those left behind, he accompanied the fallen service members back home and participated in their “ramp ceremonies,” where their sacrifices were honored at their home base.

“It underlines the reality that there’s a lot of difficulties like that, a lot of tragedies that happen in conflict and war, and chaplains are always there on the front lines,” Mode said of those experiences. “The key with any difficulty that you enter into is just to give them (the soldiers) space and time to be able to talk.”

Inspired by the ‘Grunt Padre’

When Mode, who has advanced degrees in theology and Church history, went to Navy chaplain school in Newport, Rhode Island, he realized that a nearby-anchored ship, a nearby street, and even the school itself were all named after Medal of Honor recipient Father Vincent Capodanno, a Navy chaplain during the Vietnam War.

Capodanno dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the Marines in his care, giving special care to the lowest-ranking service members, called the “grunts.” Capodanno became a beloved companion and father of the soldiers, living, eating, and sleeping in the harshest conditions alongside them. His dedication earned him the nickname the Grunt Padre.

On Capodanno’s second tour in Vietnam in 1967, his unit got pinned down by a North Vietnamese ambush. Already seriously wounded himself, Capodanno rushed to the aid of a wounded man and was gunned down by enemy fire.

“That inspired me. I was still in the seminary at the time, and I decided to write my master’s thesis on him. So, I spent the next two and a half years researching and writing about his life,” Mode explained.

Mode’s thesis ultimately became a book, “The Grunt Padre: Father Vincent Robert Capodanno, Vietnam, 1966-1967” (CMJ Marian Publishers, 2000).


Mode told CNA that Capodanno’s cause for canonization has cleared the diocesan level and is now underway in the Vatican. With one miracle already attributed to the intercession of Capodanno, his cause is now being considered for the next level, “venerable.”

As an expert on Capodanno’s life and service, Mode continues to be called in by the Church hierarchy to advise on his canonization process.

As a Navy chaplain himself, Mode says the Grunt Padre has had an incredible impact on his ministry.

“His life, his witness, his spiritual care has affected me,” Mode said. “In Afghanistan, I often would say, ‘What would Father Capodanno do in this situation?’ Whether with the Navy SEALs, whether with all the other units I was with, whether with this death or this person who’s coming for a difficult counseling situation, what would Father Capodanno do?”

New role, same mission

In April 2022, Mode was appointed head chaplain for the U.S. Coast Guard, a role based in Washington, D.C., in which he oversees 157 other chaplains of different faiths.

Wherever he goes, Mode said, “the biggest thing I hear from everyone is, ‘We would like another chaplain,’ and it goes back to what we said: People want their shepherds.”

Even in this new role, Mode continues to hear the same clear call from God to share Christ’s peace.

In the military, there is a tradition of commanders giving out memento coins as symbols of honor.

“When I became the chaplain of the Coast Guard,” Mode said, “I got to design that coin. And at the bottom of that coin, I had the word ‘PAX’ — ‘peace’ in Latin.”