St. John Vianney: The Parish Priest Who Took On The Penance For His Parishioners’ Sins

St. John Vianney loved the penitents who came to his confessional so much that he couldn’t bear to give them the heavy penances required by the French Church – and most of Western Europe – at that time.

According to Fr. Patrice Chocholski, current rector of the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France where the saint lived and died, priests in 17th Century Western Europe were given a manual which outlined the penance they were to give for each sin! The priest was told to add these penances up and, at the end of each confession, present the penitent with a kind of bill!

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Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France

“Sometimes, the ‘bill’ could be very heavy for people returning to the Church – to Christ,” said Fr. Patrice. “St. John Vianney said, ‘I will not betray the Church, but I cannot give the bill to these people so I will take the main penance on myself and leave them [my parishioners] only a little penance.’ ‘Tis love, no? It was out of pastoral charity.”

Is it any wonder that the saint slept only three hours a night and eventually died, Fr. Patrice believes, from the strain of all those penances.

In addition to heavy penances, penitents at that time were not given absolution until they returned to the priest and proved they had completed the proscribed penance. Of course, many never did!

chocholski_patrice Recteur Ars

Every eight years, the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France hosts a World Retreat open to every priest in the world! The theme of this year’s retreat, to be held Sept. 24-29, 2018 is “The Fire of the Gospel.” Many priests arrive broken, but Shrine Rector Fr. Patrice Chocholski (above) says they nearly always leave renewed. Find out more at

However, according to Fr. Patrice, St. John Vianney would say, ‘The Lord shows us His love and trust when He gives us absolution on the same day. He trusts us and knows that in this trust we can change.’” So the beloved pastor gave absolution on the same day.

This was a new way of thinking, one taught in Rome by St. Alphonsus Liguori, who would became a doctor of the Church. At that time, the Jansenist heresy, which placed everyone under the heavy yoke of moral rigorism, was rampant throughout Western Europe. St. Alphonsus taught about God’s love and mercy, and a new way to confess.

Father Patrice says that the Pope at that time was so concerned about the “slippery slope” of Jansenism that he invited all the bishops in France to come to Rome for a year of formation. St. John Vianney’s own bishop was one of them. He returned to Ars as a proponent of this new way and Fr. Patrice says that St. John Vianney was among the first to embrace the changes.

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The dome of the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France.

But changes in the confessional weren’t the only reason St. John Vianney was so beloved.

Father Patrice says that in the 17th Century, Ars was well-known for wine, bars, and cabarets, which were little more than brothels. “Unfortunately, many children were generated. Boys were recognized by their parents, but the girls, no. So the orphan girls were thrown away and nobody cared for them.”

St. John Vianney opened a house for these poor orphan girls. With proper formation, he believed “they would become good mums and they would change society. He struggled to have these cabarets closed – and he succeeded!”

Unfortunately, not everyone was happy with the saint’s crusades. St. John Vianney insisted, for example, that poor people, who worked seven days a week for little money, deserved “a day of rest.” The day was to be for family and, if possible, Mass. But the owners of the large farms in the area, who depended on this cheap seven-day-a-week labor, petitioned the bishop numerous times asking him to get rid of the humble priest.

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Statue of St. John Vianney at the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France.

Father Patrice said that one of the saint’s parishioners once came to him and said, “‘I’m ashamed to tell you that there is a petition against you and many parishioners have signed it.’ Do you know what St. John Vianney said? He said, ‘Show me this petition. I will sign it myself!’”

Father Patrice says that’s because St. John Vianney’s deepest desire was “to find a monastery or somewhere in the countryside where he could prepare himself for God’s judgement”. Father says the saint tried at least four times to escape his parish in the dead of the night, but each time hordes of people searched him out and begged him to hear their confessions. He eventually said, “In the country or in my parish, it’s the same noise. I will go back to my parish and listen to confessions and I will be a parish priest until the end of my life!”

Near the end of his life, the Emperor of France presented the popular priest with a medal of honor. He sold it the same day and gave the proceeds to the poor. When the bishop imposed on him to accept the mozzetta, a cape-like garment that comes to the elbows, which is given to designate a higher ranking prelate, he sold that too. When the bishop asked what he did with the mozzetta, the saint asked for another. Father Patrice said after seeing how much it fetched the first time, he intended to sell it again to help the poor!

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Aerial view of the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France.

“The most important thing for him was that healing take place in an encounter with Christ,” said Fr. Patrice. “He loved the holy sacraments and the sacramental encounter in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To prepare the people for confession he wanted them to collect themselves before the wounded love of Christ. He was sure Christ’s wounds would stir up the love of their hearts and they would repent and confess. He said the mercy of God it is like a mighty stream of water bringing with itself human hearts. The mercy of God is that you just have to open your heart and let the Good Lord love you and heal you.”

The story of St. John Vianney’s vocation is so powerful that it has influenced countless vocations – including the vocation of Father Patrice!

“I never thought of becoming a priest,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I had the privilege of reading ‘The Cure D’Ars: St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney’ by Abbe Francois Trouchu. I said, ‘That’s just beautiful.’ I think that my vocation is due, in part, to reading this book of St. John Vianney’s life.” (Find it here:

Father Patrice says the rector of another famous shrine told him that same book influenced his own vocation and that St. John Paul II kept it by his bedside. Is it any wonder that this saint is known as the patron of parish priests – or that his body lies incorrupt?

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The incorrupt body of St. John Vianney at the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France.

St. John Vianney, help us, like you, to examine our consciences before the wounded Christ and to confess our sins as you advised your own parishioners to do – and please pray that we may follow in your charitable footsteps and become saints. Amen.

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‘They Might Be Saints,’ an EWTN Original Docudrama, Premieres This Week on EWTN

ewtn-baragaConsidering the state of the world today, it might surprise you to learn that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is currently considering the canonization causes for as many as 100 people, who have been declared a Servant of God, Venerable, or Blessed. (For more on the steps to canonization, click here:

Michael O’Neill, a man known as the Miracle Hunter, has made it his business to follow such causes. He will be sharing the stories of the most fascinating of these causes with EWTN’s viewers in the new EWTN Original Docudrama entitled “They Might Be Saints” – and you can see the first episode at 10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, April 20! (Find EWTN at

This inspiring occasional special premieres with the story of Bishop Frederic Baraga and includes interviews with two bishops who support his cause for canonization. (Encores 9 a.m. ET, Saturday, April 21.)

Baraga3“We’re always wondering what we can do to evangelize,” O’Neill said. “To me, Bishop Baraga is the ultimate example. He traveled thousands of miles across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – in snowshoes — to teach people about the faith. He’s at the stage of venerable now. The Church is now searching for miracles to get him to those next stages. He is an up and coming saint.”

O’Neill says that Bishop Baraga came to the U.S. from Slovenia at the request of Bishop Edward D. Fenwick, first bishop of Cincinnati, who needed missionary priests to serve in places where there was no Catholic presence. Baraga, a former lawyer who spoke eight languages, was so successful that he not only became a bishop but he inspired 12 other priests from Slovenia to come to the U.S.  – and three of those priests eventually became bishops.

While this week’s episode is the first to be presented under the “They Might be Saints” banner, EWTN viewers may remember “The Journey of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey,” another program O’Neill produced for EWTN last year, which told the story of this French nun serving in Turkey, who is credited with discovering the Virgin Mary’s home in Ephesus.

Baraga2“[Sister Marie] followed the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich,” O’Neill said. “She came from wealth so she was able to buy the house with her family’s funds. It’s an incredible story. We found a replica of Mary’s house in Vermont [and used that for the filming]! It’s an incredible story!”

O’Neill’s third special is on the Martyrs of La Florida, Apalachee natives who lived in Florida in the 1700s and who converted to Catholicism through the influence of Spanish priests.

“Their faith meant so much to them that they were willing to die for it,” O’Neill said. “[In those days], the English … partnered with other Native Americans who did not like that these Indians were converting. It’s a really powerful episode. Hundreds of them died. It’s quite a large cause.”


Michael O’Neill, also known as the Miracle Hunter, hosts an EWTN special “They Might Be Saints” at 10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, April 20 on EWTN,

Viewers will have the opportunity to hear O’Neill talk about his work and the Martyrs of La Florida on a special “EWTN Live” at 8 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 6, and to see the episode itself at 10 p.m. ET, with encores at 3:30 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. ET, Thursday, June 7. Keep watching EWTN’s website ( and Facebook page ( for information about future episodes.

O’Neill says he initially wanted to do a series of programs on different types of miracles, which would flow naturally out of his work as a miracle hunter. “But I realized what people really need are the stories of the faith. We have so many people on the path to sainthood here in the U.S. In every canonization cause, there is a search for miracles. I am so fascinated when the Church looks to canonize saints – to try to look to heaven to see if the person is interceding for us!”

So how does a person make a career of hunting for miracles?

O’Neill is cradle Catholic who took an archeology class at Stanford University in California. The final assignment for the class was to write about an artifact in human history that had some sort of impact. He decided to write about St. Juan Diego’s tilma (or cloak) and its miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Baraga1“I was so fascinated, not only that people have been claiming miracles throughout the centuries, but that the Church would say that that these are supernatural events worthy of belief. I said [to myself], ‘Someday when I grow old, I am going to come back to this stuff and study it.’”

However, when he was graduating he got some life-changing advice from none other than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was Vice Provost of the University at the time. “She said, whatever you do in life, become an expert in something. … It was such good advice.”

O’Neill realized he wanted to become the expert on miracles – and so his website,, was born. The Miracle Hunter calls himself “a skeptic and a believer all rolled into one” and says he has found that a lot of people share his interest in the subject.

“Lots of people have questions about miracles. What is approved by the Church? How do they approve them? I am a miracle researcher. I split my work between researching the miracles and sharing the information.”

He does this through multiple websites, through pilgrimages to places like Italy (where he takes people to sites where miracles not only occurred but, in some cases, are still occurring), and, of course, through a television show like “They Might be Saints.”

Many people think that saints are people who lived in the distant past or who had some rare power that allowed them to live lives of heroic virtue.

However, most readers will remember Venerable Patrick Peyton, the rosary priest, who died in 1992; St. Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997; or St. John Paul II, who died in 2005 – the not so distant past! As Mother Angelica famously said, “We are ALL called to be saints.”

Get inspired to do your part by ordinary people who didn’t let the opportunity of a lifetime pass them by. Tune into the premiere of “They Might be Saints” at 10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, April 20 on EWTN.

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Set Your Hearts on Fire: Join EWTN in Celebrating God’s Redeeming Love and Mercy


Most Catholics are familiar with St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. But few know that the future saint deserted the Napoleonic armies to become a seminarian. He never imagined that this act would lead to the death of his brother, who was sent to the front lines in his place; the death of his mother, who died of despair; and the bitterness of hisIMG_3586 father who blamed his son for destroying the family. However, no one blamed John Vianney more for the family’s misfortunes than he blamed himself. In a letter to his father,  he described himself as “the unworthy son who deserves only contempt.”

This story was relayed last May at the 12th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference in Worcester, Mass by Fr. Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars in France, which is where St. John Vianney lived out his priesthood. In his talk, “The Curé of Ars and Mercy,” Fr. Patrice notes that only God’s mercy could cauterize the wounds caused by this family’s tragedies. As a result, Fr. Patrice says that St. John Vianney became a beacon to pilgrims who traveled to Ars “to draw Mercy. By confessing to him…they encountered the crucified and risen Christ with his words of peace and forgiveness.” As Fr. Patrice concludes: “The saints did not all start well, but they all finished well.”

IMG_3582That’s the key! If you are hesitant to go to confession because you can’t believe that God could forgive what you have done, or if you simply need a boost of God’s healing grace and forgiveness (and who doesn’t!), tune into EWTN’s many programs on Divine Mercy Sunday, a special day celebrating one of Jesus’ defining characteristics – Mercy – and share this Good News with others! As St. John Vianney once noted: “It’s not the sinner who returns to God to ask Him for forgiveness, but God Himself who runs after the sinner … [so he will] return to Him.”

Although the great St. Faustina was born more than 100 years after St. John Vianney, she became known as the Apostle of Mercy because of the messages Our Lord gave her to share with the world. Tune in to learn more from the foremost experts on the Divine Mercy message in the world! Let your hearts be set on fire, just as the hearts of Our Lord’s disciples were on the Road of Emmaus, and “come home!”


8 p.m. ET – Original Image of Divine Mercy – A look at the history of the Original Image of Divine Mercy, from the events that led to its creation under St. Faustina Kowalska’s guidance to its current place in the Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania.


4:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET – Holy Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday – The Holy Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square and followed by the recitation of the Regina Coeli.

10 a.m. ET – Divine Mercy Celebration from Vilnius, Lithuania – Divine Mercy Sunday festivities and Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gintaras Grusas, live from the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Vilnius, Lithuania. This event is preceded by a 30-minute special at 9:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m. ET – Catholic View for Women – Divine Mercy 101 – Elena Rodriguez, Janet Morana, and Teresa Tomeo review the fundamentals of Divine Mercy and its message.

12 p.m. and 12 a.m ET – Divine Mercy Preview Show – A preparation for the celebration of Divine Mercy, hosted by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.

1 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET (Mon.) – Mass and Celebration of Divine Mercy from Stockbridge, MA – The celebration of the Solemn Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday, live from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA.

4 p.m. ET – Divine Mercy Holy Hour from Hanceville, AL – A Holy Hour in honor of The Divine Mercy, live from the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama.

7 p.m. ET – The Face of Mercy – A documentary on the origins of the Divine Mercy devotion and the personal impact it has had on the lives of several Catholics.

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The Story Behind The Filming Of “I Can Only Imagine”


Andy and Jon Erwin, the Birmingham, Alabama-based directors of  the new movie “I Can Only Imagine,” filming a Rock Talk segment for EWTN’s show “Life on the Rock” with LOTR Co-Host Father John Paul Mary (left). Tune in 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, March 18 on EWTN to see the interview!

“This story, if you’ll let it, will change you. It certainly changed us.”

So says Jon Erwin, who with his brother Andy, directed a blockbuster movie that tells the story of Bart Millard of Mercy Me, who wrote “I Can Only Imagine,” the bestselling Christian song of all time, and the first and only Christian single to be certified platinum (twice) for sales of over 2 million digital downloads. The trailer alone has been viewed 125 million times, and has garnered more than 300,000 comments, and is poised to break the record as the most viewed trailer online for a faith film ever. (Go to to see the official trailer and more.)

Quaid facing left

Actor Dennis Quaid, who plays the abusive father in the new film “I Can Only Imagine,”  told Directors Andy and Jon Erwin that he had never played a character who had gone through such a major transformation.

The movie, in theaters March 16, vividly portrays how Millard’s abusive father – a “monster” in his son’s words – is eventually transformed by faith and his impending death. That transformation, played to perfection by Actor Dennis Quaid, leads to the healing of the father/son relationship and, after the father’s death, the writing of the blockbuster song by his son.

The song imagines what it would be like to be in heaven with Jesus, but to get to the place where it could be written, Millard had to go to hell and back. The Birmingham-based Erwin brothers recently visisted EWTN to film a segment for “Life on the Rock,” which airs 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, March 18, with encores at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 22 and 5 p.m. ET, Friday, March 23. (Find EWTN at The movie is all about redemption and forgiveness and, after hearing their stories, it’s obvious that neither the cast, the stars, nor the audience was immune from its power.

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J. Michael Finley plays Bart Millard of Mercy Me in the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

The song itself was personally important to Co-Writer and Co-Director Jon Erwin when it debuted because he had just lost a close family friend, and it became important to him again this past summer when his 3-year-old son had unexpected heart surgery. “That song, which was an anchor of hope long ago, became an anchor again,” he said. “Pain can become your greatest inspiration. Being able to tell this story while that was happening did change me. God has a plan. [Your] pain can become your voice and can morph into the song you’re meant to sing.”

The two co-directors have many wonderful stories about the impact of the film on audiences fortunate enough to preview the film. For example, after screening the film in South Dakota, Jon said a 25-year-old man in the audience told him that while he was watching the movie he had texted his father – who he hadn’t spoken to in 10 years — and invited him to lunch so they could talk. The two later reconciled.

“The wonderful and dangerous thing about film and entertainment in general is that it gives permission for the audience to do what they’ve seen on the screen,” he said. “In this case, it gave someone the courage to make the phone call they should have made 10 years ago.”

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Trace Adkins initially turned down the role of Scott Brickell, manager of the band Mercy Me, according to Andy Erwin, who co-directs the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

As it turns out, the stars of the film were equally impacted by the story. Trace Adkins initially turned down the role of Scott Brickell, the manager of the band Mercy Me, where Bart Millard is the lead singer.

Director Andy Erwin explains: “I asked him why. He said, ‘I’ve had a rough couple years. I don’t feel like I’m good enough to be in a faith-based film.’” That’s a sentiment to which every Christian can relate! So Andy took him golfing, and remembers saying, “The movie is about redemption. It takes you where you are and offers redemption and forgiveness.” That obviously convinced the star, who reportedly told Andy, “I could use a little redemption in my life!”

Like Adkins, Dennis Quaid has had some well-documented hard times. “He talks openly about overcoming drug addiction,” Andy said. But unlike Adkins, Quaid was eager to take on the role. As Andy remembers it, Quaid said: “I want to do this film. I’ve never played a character that’s gone through this kind of transformation. In the end, he’s so childlike and quiet and redeemed. It’s a beautiful thing!”

Bart Millard facing left

Directors Jon and Andy Erwin praised the great natural instincts of Actor J. Michael Finley, who plays Bart Millard in the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

Over the course of the film, Andy says Quaid became “a dear friend.” He says the star was raised by a devout Christian mother, but went on a journey to find God in the 70s. He asked questions of different faith traditions but ultimately found “his life and his comfort were the words of Jesus.”

Twenty-five years ago, Jon Erwin said Quaid wrote a powerful song called “On My Way to Heaven,” but never finished it. “He wrote it in the Gospel tradition. On the set of ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ he came back to it. He wrote the bridge and the final chorus. We’re going to release a music video about it next week!”

When the film was finished, Andy took it to Quaid’s house so he and his twin 9-year-olds could screen it. “At the end of the film, Dennis was sobbing. He said, ‘That was just powerful.’” Quaid also told him that after seeing the film his kids began asking him questions about God.

Teacher who believed in Bart Millard

Priscilla Shirer plays Mrs. Fincher, the teacher who discovers that Bart Millard can sing and pushes him to perform in the school musical in the new film “I Can Only Imagine!”

The Erwin brothers were favored with a lot of “God moments” during the making of the film. They were three weeks into filming in Oklahoma, and they had an “unknown kid” playing Mercy Me’s Millard – but no star. Andy called Stephen Kendrick, who produced the popular Christian film, “War Room,” and explained that he and his brother had a serious problem. “He [Kendrick] said, ‘If this is God’s movie and you really feel he’s leading you, you’ve got to leave it in His Hands.’ So I said, “Okay God, it’s your problem!” Next thing we know, Dennis Quaid is on the phone saying, ‘I want to do this film.’”

How did the film come to Quaid’s attention? Andy says Producer Kevin Downes “suddenly” discovered that Noah Hamilton, one of their cameramen, was the brother of Bethany Hamilton, author of “Soul Surfer”, which was made into a film about the courage of the surfer who lost her arm after a shark attack. Quaid played her dad in that movie and Noah said the family still has a close relationship with him. The rest is history!

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Singer Amy Grant, who was planning to debut the “career-making” song, “I Can Only Imagine,” gives it back to Bart Millard, in an act of selfless generosity, because she believed the song was his to sing.

Another “God moment” came when the Erwin brothers were searching for the finale to the film. The finale came to them as result of a “chance” conversation with someone in the business. When the Erwin brothers told him they were planning to film “I Can Only Imagine,” the man said, “I was in the Ryman that night in Nashville when Singer Amy Grant, [to whom Bart had given his “career making” song for her “comeback”] called Bart on stage and gave him his song back!”

That was a story Jon Erwin hadn’t heard! He realized instantly that this was the elusive finale for which they had been searching! Fortunately, the brothers knew Amy Grant because they had filmed a music video with her earlier in their careers. However, in an incredibly selfless and Christian act, Grant came to believe the song wasn’t hers to sing.

In real life, she called Bart before the concert to tell him he could debut the song himself during one of her own concerts! However, in the film, she has the realization that Bart should sing his own song in the middle of her own concert, and in a surprise move calls the largely unknown singer up to the stage to sing his song before a sell-out crowd. There’s more to the scene, but you have to go to the film to see it.

Bart Millard extra

J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard is watching Amy Grant’s concert when she calls him to the stage to perform his song, “I Can Only Imagine,” during the finale of a new film by the same name.

Will the film become a hit? A movie executive, who declined to distribute “Imagine,” told the Erwin Brothers that he didn’t believe there would be more than 18,000 people who would be interested in a film about Christian music. Yet the Erwin brothers said they believe that by the time the film premieres it will have easily surpassed the 132 million views earned by trailers for the Christian film “Miracles from Heaven.” That would give “Imagine” the distinction of having the most viewed trailers online for a faith film ever. If even a small fraction of the audience that has seen the trailers comes to see the film, that “doubting Thomas” movie executive will undoubtedly be telling stories about “the one that got away” for the rest of his life!

But that’s not something that concerns the Erwin brothers, whose previous films include “October Baby,” “Mom’s Night Out,” and “Woodlawn.” They’re too busy making films that matter.

“For us personally, when we stumbled into [filmmaking], we were kids that had a hobby,” said Andy Erwin, as he and brother recalled their early years making music videos. “I was a Christian. I had entrusted my life to Jesus, but I didn’t have any ambition to have this kind of calling. Along the way, as the Lord has allowed us to tell stories like this, you can’t help but have it shape you. To tell stories to a world that desperately needs the message of Christianity – we have kind of become zealots for the cause!”

Amen brothers!

See you in theaters March 16!

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Building the Body of Christ in Nigeria, One Woman at a Time

Catholic Women Organization Nigeria PHOTO

Can a group of Catholic women save 186 million Nigerians from the horrors of Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills and the heartache caused by same-sex marriage – especially when it’s not their primary mission?

According to Nwanneka Cecelia Okolo, National President of Catholic Women Organisation Nigeria (British spelling!), CWON recently managed to do just that!

“Last Monday, Feb. 19, there was supposed to be a hearing in the Nigerian Senate on the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill,” Okolo said during a recent visit to EWTN to film an episode of “The Church Universal” with two of her colleagues. “The bill was all about Planned Parenthood trying to see if they could push abortion and same-sex marriage. They tried before and failed, but they keep trying.”

As CWON’s National President, Okolo had the ability to ask the Presidents of the 54 dioceses and one vicariate that make up CWON to submit petitions, position papers, and memorandums to the Senate. The women were also asked to flood the Senate, inside and out, on the day of the hearing.

“On Friday, Feb. 16, the message came to us that the Senate had postponed the hearing indefinitely!” Okolo said. “Why? About 95 percent of the position papers were against the bill! The Senate also said they didn’t want women filling the whole place – and not just Catholic women! We get others to move with us!”

Okolo is proud of this accomplishment. But unlike a secular group that might form a lobby to protect its interests, Okolo says that CWON’s successes – which include economic empowerment of women and children – are an outgrowth of one thing: its members’ religious formation in the Catholic Church.

“We encourage Catholic mothers to embrace the life of Christ; to bring their children up in the true Christian manner, knowing what is right and wrong, and with the doctrines of Christ and the sacraments.”

CWO Nigeria Photo 2Okolo says this spiritual formation takes place in monthly meetings in a parish or diocese, each of which is served by a chaplain adviser and a sister adviser. Meetings begin at 4 p.m. with the rosary. This is followed by the Gospel of the day and commentary on that Gospel. Someone then delivers a talk on an assigned topic, which might involve the Church’s social doctrines, encyclicals, or an apostolate. This is followed by a discussion of one of the sacraments, where reference is always made to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Leaders also recommend good books and encyclicals for members to read on their own.

CWON is a member of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations, an international group that encompasses affiliates in almost 100 countries. Their mission: “To evangelize and transform society” by following in the footsteps of Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The 54 dioceses and one vicariate in Nigeria that make up CWON are organized into nine ecclesial provinces. There is a hierarchy that is part of each province. But what is most striking about it is that each province has a vicar in charge of evangelization; that is, a priest who actually teaches the women how to evangelize!

“When we want to train evangelizers for each diocese, we call the vicar,” Okolo said. “He talks about when you evangelize, and how you address people. Before you even start talking, your life needs to reflect what you’re trying to say! Pope Paul VI says that modern man prefers witnesses to teachers. The vicar hammers on the fact that you are supposed to live what you preach and then [takes you through the evangelization process] step by step.

“Pray first, share the word, don’t joke around. He advises us not to focus on ourselves. It’s good if you give examples of others more than yourself. Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ. We are encouraged to read the Bible. The vicar teaches us how to defend the faith.”

CWON Nigerea Photo 3

To empower women and children, CWON provides opportunities for them to learn a simple trade such as sewing, dressmaking, knitting, housekeeping, and computer. “We even have one lady mechanic,’ Okolo said proudly. Okolo herself asks the women she advises to think beyond cultural stereotypes. For instance, when making up their wills, Okolo suggests women consider including their daughters as well as their sons.

While CWON is obviously interested in serving its members holistically, Okolo says, at the end of the day, spiritual formation is what makes everything else possible. “You can’t give what you don’t have. We train our members to be true Christians. If you have a spiritual person, everything else is easier.”

Amen, dear sister in Christ!

Note: If you would like to help CWON in its mission, which includes distribution of free bibles to its members, please go to “The Church Universal” episode with CWON will air in the Fall of 2018 on EWTN. Find us at


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Three Things You Can Do To Help Your Departed Loved Ones, And One To Ask A Priest To Do For the Dying

cemetery 6November is the month when the Church Militant prays for the Church Suffering, meaning the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Most of us submit the names of loved ones to our parish or a Mass society to be remembered during this month. But ask yourself this:

  1. What else can I do to make a difference for my loved ones who may still be suffering in purgatory?
  2. Besides the Anointing of the Sick, is there anything I can do to spiritually assist a loved one who is dying?

For answers to these questions, I turned to EWTN Chaplain Fr. Joseph Mary. Here’s what Fr. Joseph recommends we do in November:

cemetery 3

For the Souls in Purgatory:

  • November 1-8:  You can obtain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory if you “devoutly visit a cemetery and, at least mentally, pray for the departed.”

(That means you don’t have to pray out loud, but you certainly can!) If you are reading this after Nov. 8, don’t worry. You can still receive a partial indulgence by performing the actions above.)

  • On All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2): You can receive a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory, if you “devoutly visit a church or oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.”
  • Daily in November: Here’s a suggestion Father Joseph was given and really likes – so he is passing it on to EWTN’s viewers. Get out your calendar, and write down the name of a deceased family member or friend that you intend to pray for that day. Offer up everything, good and bad, that happens to you that day, and pray as much as you can for their release, if necessary, from purgatory. This is an important spiritual work of mercy!
  • At any time, you can gain a partial indulgence for the poor souls by reciting morning or evening prayer from the Office of the Dead, or devoutly reciting the prayer “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

cemetery 2For Those in Danger of Death:

There are many benefits of working at EWTN. When my husband was dying of cancer, I knew I needed to ask a priest to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In fact, my husband had been anointed a number of times over the eight years he battled the disease.

However, when EWTN Chaplain Father Joseph Mary visited our home in the days before my husband’s death, he asked my husband if he would like to receive an “Apostolic Blessing.” That’s something I didn’t know about. You definitely want to ask your priest to administer this blessing to a loved one who is dying as part of the last rites, which state, “A priest who administers the sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached.”

If a priest is not present as a person is dying, and they haven’t previously received the apostolic blessing during that sickness (which would suffice),  the Church “grants to the Christian faithful, who are duly disposed, a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime; in such a case, the Church supplies for the three conditions ordinarily required for a plenary indulgence” (confession, communion, and prayers for the intention of the pope).  In those situations, the Church also commends the devout use of a crucifix.

cemetery 4All of the above has yet another benefit. Father Joseph says that #958 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that our prayer for the souls in purgatory “is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

Did you know that?  While the Holy Souls can no longer pray for themselves, they can pray for us!  Think of the greeting you will get one day when you meet a soul whom you helped obtain release from purgatory! In helping them, we may very well be one day helping ourselves, when they are in heaven and we are not yet there!

(Note: For the LIVING to receive an indulgence we must go to confession 20 days before or after we perform the indulgenced actions, receive Holy Communion (preferably on the day or days we perform the actions), pray for the Holy Father’s intentions, and be unattached to sin. That latter is a tough one, but all is not lost. Since most of us are attached to something, we may receive a partial indulgence rather than a plenary indulgence.)

Posted in afterlife, Catholic, Death, EWTN, Fr. Joseph Mary Wolfe, Michelle Laque Johnson, Religion | 3 Comments

EWTN Exclusive: Don’t Miss the U.S. Concert Of the World-Renowned Sistine Chapel Choir

EWTN’s viewers are cordially invited to what may legitimately be called the most historic music concert to hit U.S. soil in decades! In September 2017, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Sistine Chapel Choir traveled to the United States for a three-city concert tour. EWTN was there – and you can be too if you tune in this week to “In Concert: Sistine Chapel Choir,” which was recorded at the gorgeous and acoustically immense Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.

Others may have snippets, but EWTN is the only place to see the entire concert as well as behind-the-scenes video and interviews. This 90-minute special will air 6:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Oct. 21; 1:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 22; and 10 p.m. ET, Friday, Oct. 27.

“In Concert” Host Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, Chair of the Department of Music at Birmingham-Southern College, as well as the Artistic Director of its Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts, called the performance “world class,” a return to a “golden era,” and an evangelization tour de force.

What follows are a few of the reasons the Sistine Chapel Choir is so highly regarded:

  • The Sistine Chapel Choir is the Pope’s Choir.

“Their sole duty is to sing at all of the liturgical celebrations of the Holy Father,” Leary-Warsaw said. The papal choir has existed from the first centuries of the Church, but when Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the building of the Sistine Chapel in 1471, she says “the choir was reinvented and became a bigger and more important part of the papal liturgies.”

  • The Pueri Cantores (Latin for child singers) who make up the “white voices” section of the choir are the pride of the entire choir.

The term “white voices” refers to the fact that the young voices don’t sound like a man or a woman, but like a child. “Their origin dates back to the 6th Century when Pope Saint Gregory the Great founded a school of children’s singers to support the adult singers in these papal celebrations,” Leary-Warsaw said. “It’s incredibly competitive for a child to become a member of the five-year program.”

  • Maestro Msgr. Massimo Palombella, Master Director of the Choir, is a “music director of firsts.”

“The choir is not only the oldest choir in the Church, it one of the world class choirs in the world.’ Leary-Warsaw said.  Thanks to the reputation that the choir has developed under Maestro Palombella, who was appointed in 2010, the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon approached him several years ago about making a commercial recording. “Maestro Palombella was the first director to make commercial recordings and, for the first time in history, recordings were made of the choir in its home: the Sistine Chapel. One of them, “Cantate Domino,” received an award as an outstanding recording.”

  • The Sistine Chapel Choir’s purpose is evangelization through music.

To understand how music evangelizes, Leary-Warsaw provides a little history. The choir’s repertoire consists solely of Renaissance music; that is, music from the 15th to the 17th centuries, much of which was written exclusively for the Sistine Chapel Choir.

“Every day Maestro Palombella works with the repertoire of the choir. Everything they do has texts that are taken from Holy Scripture so he says that he gets his inspiration from the music itself. In working with the music, the Maestro has constant contact with Biblical verse. So he says he has no doubt in his mind that when people hear the Sistine chapel choir that music can be a door through which others can meet God!”

You won’t want to miss this special evening, which was hosted by The Catholic University of America.

“It is the first event sponsored by the newly formed Catholic Arts Council, which was created to promote, support and sustain the arts at Catholic University,” Leary-Warsaw said. “They are very happy to invite anybody who would like to be a patron of Catholic arts in the Church to support the artists, particularly young artists who are students at Catholic ( And we certainly have the Basilica to thank for the use of that venue.”

Leary-Warsaw extends an invitation to this historic musical event to one and all: “It was quite something to have the Sistine Chapel choir perform at the Basilica,” she said. “It’s just a superb concert!”

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