Posted on 05/30/2023 19:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
ACI Africa, May 30, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).
Father Matthias Opara, a Nigerian Catholic priest who was abducted on May 26 while returning from a funeral, has been released.
The parish priest of Holy Ghost Obosima Catholic Parish of Owerri Archdiocese in Nigeria regained his freedom on Pentecost Sunday, May 28, the chancellor of the Nigerian Metropolitan See, Father Patrick Mbarah, announced in a statement.
“We thank God almighty for his infinite mercy and for answering our prayers,” said Mbarah, who also thanked the people of God for their “fraternal solidarity and prayers.”
“To God be the glory,” Mbarah added.
In an earlier statement following the abduction of Opara, Mbarah said the local ordinary of Owerri, Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, had directed him to appeal for prayers for the release of Opara, who has been a priest since 1990.
The May 26 abduction of Opara was the latest in a series of kidnappings that have targeted members of the clergy in Africa’s most populous nation.
On May 19, Father Jude Kingsley Maduka, a Nigerian priest serving in the Okigwe Diocese, was kidnapped and freed after three days of captivity.
Father Chochos Kunav and Father Raphael Ogigba, who had been abducted on April 29 from Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Warri, were released on May 4.
On April 15, Father Michael Ifeanyi Asomugha, the curate of St. Paul’s Parish, Osu, in the Okigwe Diocese, was kidnapped and later released.
The West African nation has faced a surge of violence orchestrated by gangs whose members carry out indiscriminate attacks, kidnap for ransom, and in some cases, commit murder.
Since 2009, Nigeria has experienced an insurgency of Boko Haram, a group that allegedly aims to turn it into an Islamic nation.
This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.
Posted on 05/30/2023 19:05 PM (CNA Daily News)
Rome Newsroom, May 30, 2023 / 12:05 pm (CNA).
The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book “Blessed Carlo Acutis: A Saint in Sneakers” by CNA Rome Correspondent Courtney Mares.
Blessed Carlo Acutis inspired the son of a Brahman Hindu priest to be baptized as a Catholic through the young boy’s joyful witness to Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and his love for the poor.
In an interview, Rajesh Mohur shared the story of his spiritual journey and how he came to know Acutis, the computer-coding teen who was the first millennial beatified in the Catholic Church and a patron of the upcoming World Youth Day.
Mohur grew up on a small island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, about 500 miles east of Madagascar. Like most of Mauritius’ population, Mohur was a Hindu. He grew up speaking Creole and studying Sanskrit, the ancient language used in Hindu scriptures.
The Mohur family was of the Brahman priestly caste, the highest of the four castes in Hindu society. Mohur’s father was a Hindu priest who served as the president of the Hindu Association in Mauritius.
Mohur recalled: ‘‘[My father] used to teach me from the early beginning about all of their prayers ... about the scriptures, Indian scriptures.”
At the age of 16, Mohur’s father sent him to India to continue his education in Gujarat, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born. During his time in India, Mohur was even more fully immersed in Hindu culture and religious practice.
‘‘I’ve been to so many temples. I met so many gurus in the meditation center, and I met swamis,” Mohur said.
‘‘I witnessed all of those places. It was peaceful, you know. Nice. But your life doesn’t change. ... I was in search of a living God.’’
‘‘My journey was always to find something that ... from myself, deep down, I could not fulfill.”
After he was accepted to a university in Rajasthan, Mohur ended up staying in India, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in physics. He was planning to enroll in a master’s degree program in England when he received news that his father had died. Because his family was having financial problems, he felt compelled to go back to Mauritius to help his family.
Mohur increased his devotion to his Hindu prayers after the death of his father. He prayed every day, often with a sense of anger and bitterness. ‘‘I always prayed: ‘Why am I in such a situation?’’’ he said.
At that time, work was hard to find in Mauritius. Mohur had heard that Italy was not as strict as some other countries with work visas at the time, so he immigrated there to find work in the mid-1980s. After more than a decade of living and working in Italy, Mohur was employed by the Acutis family in December 1995 to help take care of Carlo.
‘‘And I met Carlo, such a small child,’’ Mohur remembered.
His first impression of Acutis, with his brown curly hair, was that he looked like the little cherubs seen in paintings and sculptures around Milan. On his second day working for the family, Mohur remembered that little Carlo approached him with a big smile and a gift — a piece of chewing gum.
On rainy days, Acutis would sometimes watch videotapes of cartoons based on the Bible and the lives of the saints together with Mohur, who watched with some interest because he had not had much exposure to Catholicism.
After Acutis made his first Communion at the age of 7, Mohur would walk with him to the church around the corner from his house for Mass or to pray on his way to and from school.
Mohur observed how young Acutis’ behavior changed when he entered a church. While Acutis prayed in front of the tabernacle, Mohur would quietly sit in the back and watch the young boy as he prayed earnestly.
‘‘His behavior changed when he was inside the church, with all respect. He knew that there was something different where Jesus lives. ... That touched my heart ... when I saw Carlo’s behavior,’’ he said.
Acutis was eager to talk to Mohur about the things that he loved: heaven, the Mass, and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He explained everything with ‘‘such a sweetness,” Mohur said.
‘‘He talked always about the Eucharist, Jesus, how he suffered for us ... sacrificed his life for us,’’ Mohur said. ‘‘Carlo, he told me that ... wherever you go, you may find Jesus present in Flesh, Soul, and Blood [in the tabernacle].’’
Mohur also observed Acutis’ care and concern for others. He said that young Carlo once gathered up his toys, including some nice Christmas presents from his grandparents and parents, and asked Mohur to accompany him to the park to sell his toys to give the money to the poor.
‘‘He collected the money, and there were some poor people lying there in front of the church. They were sleeping on the floor during winter. It was quite cold. ... He said that they were suffering, you know. They needed help,” Mohur said.
‘‘When I saw Carlo’s acts, you know, of such a small child, then I got converted.’’
Acutis helped Mohur learn how to pray the rosary and invited him to pray it together with him and his parents.
“He had formed the habit ... of reciting the holy rosary every night before going to bed,’’ Mohur remembered.
Acutis told Mohur that a person can pray the rosary without being baptized, but only practicing Catholics can receive the holy Eucharist. Acutis explained that the Eucharist is the culmination of charity and that the virtues are acquired through a sacramental life.
‘‘He knew the Catechism of the Catholic Church almost by heart and explained it so brilliantly that he managed to excite me about the importance of the sacraments,” Mohur said.
‘‘So, slowly, slowly ... he used to tell me the importance of baptism and so many other things also,’’ he added. ‘‘All those experiences changed my life. And I could see the living God.’’
Four years after first meeting Acutis, Mohur was baptized. He was in his late 30s at the time, and as an adult entering the Catholic Church, he received at once all the Catholic sacraments of initiation: baptism, first Communion, and confirmation in a Mass at Acutis’ parish in 1999.
The Acutis family threw a party afterward for Mohur and his friends, sharing sweets and snacks at their apartment. Mohur let Carlo pick where to go out for dinner. He said that Carlo proposed: ‘‘Let’s go to the Chinese restaurant today because it’s a special day.’’
Mohur joked in reply: ‘‘It’s special for me, but it’s more special for you because you like Chinese food.’’ Joking aside, Acutis later told his parents: ‘‘There are many people who do not realize what an infinite gift it is to receive baptism.’’
After his baptism and first Communion, Mohur joined Acutis in attending daily Mass, but as a full participant in Communion rather than as an observer.
When Mohur’s mother came from Mauritius to visit her son in Milan a few years later, Acutis invited Mohur’s mom to come with them to Mass; she said afterward that she did not understand anything. Besides having little familiarity with the Catholic faith, Mohur’s mom did not speak Italian, so Acutis would speak with her in English.
He would sit in the kitchen with Mohur’s mother and tell her in English about Jesus and the Catholic faith. He told her the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, in such a compelling way that she wanted to visit the pilgrimage site. With the help of the Acutis family, Mohur’s mother stayed in Lourdes for a week.
When she returned to Mauritius, she asked to be baptized. After her baptism, Mohur’s mother visited the sick in Mauritius and prayed with them, using some of the holy water from Lourdes.
‘‘That was Carlo’s magic,’’ Mohur said. ‘‘He could convert me and my mom, too.’’
Posted on 05/30/2023 18:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
Rome Newsroom, May 30, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).
Pope Francis welcomed pediatric cancer patients from Poland to the Vatican on Monday, telling them “Jesus is always close to you.”
Children being treated at the Wrocław Oncology Clinic and their families prayed a Hail Mary together with the pope, who greeted each child individually and gave them rosaries.
“Dear children, Jesus is always by our side to give us hope. Always, even in the moments of sickness, even in the most painful moments, even in the most difficult moments. The Lord is there,” Pope Francis said.
“God loves you, dear children. You are loved by him: Do you want to be apostles of God’s love in the Church and in the world? Jesus needs you for this witness. He entrusts his plans to you and he asks: Do you want to be my apostles of God’s love? Answer ‘yes’ to him with enthusiasm and bring the joy of God’s love to others.”
“If someone finds himself alone and feels abandoned, let us not forget that Our Lady is always close to us, especially when the burden of illness, with all its problems, makes itself felt: She is there close by, just as she was next to her Son, Jesus, when everyone had abandoned him. Mary is always there, next to us, with her maternal tenderness. Let us think often of Our Lady, reciting a Hail Mary … I bless you from my heart.”
Posted on 05/30/2023 13:10 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 30, 2023 / 06:10 am (CNA).
Pope Francis created a new ecclesiastical province in the United States on Tuesday by elevating Las Vegas to a metropolitan archdiocese.
The Vatican announced on May 30 that Bishop George Leo Thomas will be the first metropolitan archbishop of Las Vegas. Thomas has served as the bishop of Las Vegas since 2018.
The new Ecclesiastical Province of Las Vegas will include the suffragan dioceses of Reno and Salt Lake City.
Las Vegas, which has had the notorious nickname “Sin City” since the 1930s, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.
The Archdiocese of Las Vegas has a total population of 2.3 million people, of whom 620,000 are Catholics, according to the U.S. bishops’ conference.
In the Catholic Church, an ecclesiastical province is a territory consisting of at least one archdiocese and several smaller dioceses known as “suffragan sees.”
Formerly, the dioceses of Las Vegas, Reno, and Salt Lake City were all suffragan dioceses of the ecclesiastical province of the metropolitan Archdiocese of San Francisco. With the new changes, the ecclesiastical province of San Francisco still has 14 million people, 3.3 million of whom are Catholics.
The Diocese of Las Vegas was created in 1995 when Pope John Paul II divided the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas into the two separate dioceses of Reno and Las Vegas.
Thomas, 73, is the third bishop of Las Vegas. He was consecrated as a bishop in 2000 and spent four years as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle before John Paul II appointed him bishop of Helena, where he ordained Father Stu Long to the priesthood.
Originally from Montana, Thomas wrote a doctoral dissertation on “Catholics and the Missions of the Pacific Northwest” while completing his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. He also received a master’s degree in counseling and community mental health after being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Seattle in 1976.
The Catholic Church in the United States now has 35 metropolitan archdioceses, including two Eastern-rite metropolitan archeparchies.
Posted on 05/30/2023 04:50 AM (Fides News English)
Posted on 05/30/2023 04:42 AM (Fides News English)
Posted on 05/30/2023 03:02 AM (CNA Daily News)
Gower, Missouri, May 29, 2023 / 20:02 pm (CNA).
The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, an African American nun whose surprisingly intact remains have created a sensation at a remote Missouri abbey, was placed inside a glass display case Monday after a solemn procession led by members of the community she founded.
About 5 p.m., dozens of religious sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, carried their foundress on a platform around the property of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, reciting the rosary and singing hymns. Some of the thousands of pilgrims who visited the abbey over the three-day Memorial Day weekend followed behind.
Beautiful procession of the remains of Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster, a Benedictine nun who died in 2019 and now appears to be in an unexpected state of preservation. Her new resting place is inside the church at the sisters’ monastery in Gower, MO. pic.twitter.com/Ax9uYPKXYv— Joe Bukuras (@JoeBukuras) May 29, 2023
The procession, held in bright, late-afternoon sunshine, culminated inside the abbey’s church, where the nun’s body was placed into a specially made glass case. Flowers surrounded her body and decorated the top of the case, where there is an image of St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus. The church was filled with pilgrims, including many priests and religious sisters from other orders.
Sister Wilhelmina, who founded the Benedictine order in 1995 when she was 70 years old, died in 2019. Expecting to find only bones, her fellow sisters exhumed her remains on April 28 intending to reinter them in a newly completed St. Joseph’s Shrine, only to discover that her body appeared astonishingly well-preserved.
The sisters say they intended to keep their discovery quiet, but the news got out anyway, prompting worldwide media coverage and a flood of pilgrims arriving at the abbey in Gower, a city of 1,500 residents about an hour’s drive from Kansas City, Missouri. A volunteer told CNA that more than 1,000 vehicles came onto the property on Monday but no official count was available.
There has been no official declaration that Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are “incorrupt,” a possible sign of sanctity, nor is there a formal cause underway for her canonization, a rigorous process that can take many years. The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, has said that a “thorough investigation” is needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body, but there has been no word on if or when such an analysis will take place.
Before Monday’s procession, pilgrims again waited in line throughout the day for an opportunity to see and touch Sister Wilhelmina’s body before its placement in the glass case, where it will remain accessible for public viewing.
Among those who came on Monday were Tonya and William Kattner of Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
“You've got to experience the magic and the miracle of it,” Tonya Kattner said.
“It’s a modern-day miracle and it was just something we had to come to,” William Kattner said. “Especially with everything going on in the world today, something like this brings hope.”
Kate and Peteh Jalloh of Kansas City, Missouri, also didn’t want to pass up the chance to see Sister Wilhelmina.
“I strongly believe in the Catholic faith. I believe in miracles and I have never seen anything like this before. I’ve got a lot going on in my life and this is the best time to get that message from a nun,” Kate Jalloh said.
“It could take another hundred years for us to see something like this,” she added.
Janie Bruck came with her cousins, Kristy Cook and Halle Cook, all from Omaha, Nebraska.
“I came to witness the miracle. I believe we’re in a Jesus revolution and he’s sending us lots of signs,” Bruck said. Kristy Cook, a former Omaha police officer, said she was surprised that Sister Wilhelmina’s body had no odor of decay.
The sisters have publicly thanked the many local law enforcement officers, medical personnel, and volunteers who helped manage the influx of pilgrims over the holiday weekend.
Among the volunteers was Lucas Boddicker, of Kearney, Missouri, who joined members of his Knights of Columbus council based at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in nearby Plattsburgh, Missouri, to guide visiting vehicles to a makeshift parking lot in an open field. Other knights from local parishes helped set up tents and handed out free hamburgers, fruit, and bottles of water.
“That’s one thing the Knights do pretty well,” Boddicker said. “They get the word out when we need manpower.”
Priests heard confessions in a large grass field for hours, some using trees for shade, as young children played on the abbey grounds.
Three religious sisters from the Poor of Jesus Christ order, based in Kansas City, Kansas, said they were inspired by seeing Sister Wilhelmina’s body.
One of the religious, Sister Azucena, said she “wanted to cry,” while praying at the nun’s side. “I just had this feeling of peace and love. We share a vocation. Her fidelity to the Lord and her love, I could feel that there,” she said.
A married couple, Jason and Jessica Ewell, both of whom are blind, were visiting Kansas City, Missouri, from Pennsylvania when they heard Monday morning about Sister Wilhelmina’s body.
“It’s just kind of a neat thing to be a part of the beginning of this story,” Jessica Ewell said.
“I was asking for her intercession for children for our marriage,” she said. “A lot of people think ‘Oh, it’s the blindness,’ but no, it’s not that at all,’” she said.
“Yesterday I was kind of in a place where I said, ‘God, I need something right now,’” she said. “We always hear about these miracles. But they’re long ago and far away and always happen to other people.”
Trish Bachicha, Jessica’s mother, said she believes that God is sending a message.
“He saying ‘I’m alive and well and I haven’t forgotten you,’” she said.
Editor's note: This story was updated on June 2 to correct the date that Sister Wilhelmina's body was exhumed.
Posted on 05/30/2023 01:01 AM (Fides News English)
Posted on 05/29/2023 17:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 29, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).
To honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Vatican offers a special Marian pilgrimage within St. Peter’s Basilica each Saturday afternoon during the month of May.
The Marian itinerary brings pilgrims from Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of the Pieta to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a 12th-century painting brought into the basilica in 1578 in a solemn procession.
For those unable to travel to the Eternal City, CNA is providing the following “virtual tour” with photos by Daniel Ibañez of eight beautiful images of Our Lady in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.
In the basilica’s Chapel of the Choir, a large altarpiece reveals Mary, Virgin Immaculate, in the glory of heaven above angels and saints. The mosaic based on an 18th-century painting by Italian artist Pietro Bianchi depicts St. John Chrysostom, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Anthony of Padua venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The chapel is located on the left side of the basilica behind an iron gate designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. John Chrysostom is buried beneath the altar, which also contains relics of St. Francis and St. Anthony.
When Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary on Dec. 8, 1854, he had a golden crown added to the mosaic of Mary. Pope Pius X later added a larger diamond crown to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration in 1904.
The original painting by Bianchi can be found in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
The basilica contains an icon of the Virgin Mary titled “Mater Ecclesiae,” which means “Mother of the Church.”
The original image of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child was painted on a column in old St. Peter’s Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. It was later transferred to the 16th-century St. Peter’s Basilica. Paul VI honored the icon with the title “Mater Ecclesiae” after the Second Vatican Council.
The icon can still be seen above one of the basilica’s side altars in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column, which also contains the remains of St. Leo the Great (440–461).
A mosaic of the Virgin Mary overlooking St. Peter’s Square was inspired by the original Mater Ecclesiae image. The mosaic was installed after the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II in 1981.
When he blessed the mosaic, John Paul II prayed “that all those who will come to this St. Peter’s Square will lift up their gaze towards you [Mary], to direct, with feelings of filial trust, their greetings and their prayers.”
In 2018, Pope Francis added the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church to the liturgical calendar for the Monday after Pentecost.
A restored 16th-century painting of Our Lady holding her son can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica above the sarcophagus of Pope Gregory XIV.
The image is titled “Mater Peregrinorum,” or Mother of Pilgrims. The original artist is not known, but Italians also refer to the painting as the “Madonna di Scossacavalli” because it came from Rome’s Church of San Giacomo Scossacavalli, which was demolished in 1937 to create the current Via della Conciliazione leading to St. Peter’s Basilica.
A 12th-century painting on wood titled Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Succor, was transferred to an altar in St. Peter’s Gregorian Chapel on Feb. 12, 1578, with a solemn procession.
The painting was the first artistic restoration completed under Pope Francis’ pontificate during the Year of Faith, according to a book published by the Knights of Columbus.
The remains of the doctor of the Church St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390) are preserved in an urn beneath the Altar of Our Lady of Succor in the Gregorian Chapel, found on the right side of the basilica.
A colorful mosaic altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple brightens the wall above the tomb of St. Pius X (d. 1914) in the Presentation Chapel near the left-front entrance of the basilica.
A young Mary is depicted on the steps of the Temple with her parents, Sts. Anne and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus.
The mosaic completed by Pietro Paolo Cristofari in 1728 is based on a painting by 17th-century artist Giovanni Francesco Romaneli, the original of which can be found in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
The central door leading to the basilica was retained from the old St. Peter’s Basilica and is known as the Filarete Door. Created by a Florentine artist in 1455, the door depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul.
According to Father Agnello Stoia, the pastor of the parish of St. Peter’s Basilica, the 15th-century image of Mary on the door is a reminder of Mary’s title “Gate of Heaven.”
Looking up at the soaring cupola, or dome, of St. Peter’s Basilica, one sees mosaics depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary next to Christ the Redeemer, along with St. John the Baptist and the apostles.
The mosaic of the Virgin Mary on the Great Dome, completed in 1610 by Orazio Gentileschi, is based on drawings by Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Cesari.
Michelangelo Buonarroti carved the Pieta from a single slab of Carrara marble when he was 24 years old. The sculpture was unveiled in St. Peter's Basilica for the Jubilee of 1500.
The moving sculpture conveys the faith and emotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she cradles in her arms the dead body of her only son after witnessing him crucified.
The sculpture sits above a side altar near the front entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica, where Mass was sometimes offered before recent restrictions. Visitors to the basilica can only see the Pieta behind bulletproof glass after a man attacked the sculpture with a hammer in May 1972.
The Pieta was the only work of art that Michelangelo ever signed.
Posted on 05/29/2023 14:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., May 29, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
In a “Shark Tank”-style competition with a twist, Catholic founders recently pitched their startups and faced questions from a panel of judges while highlighting the importance of the Catholic faith in their businesses.
The event was the culmination of the SENT Ventures Summit at The Catholic University of America last month, a gathering of Catholic CEOs and founders looking to foster connections and grow in their faith.
Zak Slayback, a partner with the 1517 Fund, a venture capital fund supporting startups at early stages, is on the management team at the new Catholic investor group Catholic Angels, which hosted the event.
Slayback told the National Catholic Register that the competition “provided a chance for faith-driven entrepreneurs to present their startups to an audience of aligned partners and investors.” The winner took home $5,000 cash for their business as well as “credits for various startup resources, swag, and direct opportunities with SENT’s Catholic Angels investor network.”
The four early-stage startups selected as finalists were chosen out of more than 60 teams that applied to present at the competition. These four finalists told their stories to the judges, emphasizing their faith alignment, qualified team, user growth, the market for their product, and why the product works in today’s market.
Nigel Mould, CEO at StackCare, talked about how his business was born out of the growing need to care for the elderly while preserving both their dignity and the peace of mind of caregivers.
“StackCare delivers alerts directly to family members and/or caregivers, and we do it all without being intrusive, while being HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant, and making sure that we deliver on our core promise of dignity and independence for seniors and peace of mind for families,” Mould explained.
While their system is not a medical device, it does provide “insight to developing and/or potential problems: poor sleep, frequency or length of bathroom visits, skipping meals, activity levels, and much more.”
Mould said StackCare already has paid contracts in several states from Connecticut to California and is also establishing partnerships with paid installations at national home-care providers.
“The plea of the elderly in Psalm 71, ‘Do not cast me away when I am old,’ and the lack of caregivers today and in the future, for us is almost an invitation to use technology to allow seniors to age in place as they want to,” he said, “but at the same time letting families and caregivers know when they might need help.”
Tania Kottoor, founder and CEO of West by East, began her presentation by telling the story of a first-generation Indian-American woman who grew up in a Catholic community and also enjoyed watching Bollywood films, envisioning herself as a traditional bride in a sari.
When her wedding planning actually came around, she discovered a shortage of traditional options both online and in the few stores that were hours away. This scenario is how her company, West by East, was born, Kottoor recounted.
“Our customers can go to our website, they can select a silhouette, color, fabric; and then they can use their phone to take their measurements virtually in 60 seconds,” she said. “This allows us to capture their avatar, to create a 3-D rendering of the complete outfit on their actual body.”
“My co-founder and I have 20 years of experience in luxury fashion and manufacturing,” she said. “We both grew up in an Indian-Catholic community, as well as an immigrant household, and we realized that you need faith to succeed.”
“The values that we learned in church we brought into our business,” she continued. “Now, we have a crazy waitlist of over 2,000 folks, which equates to over half a million dollars in potential revenue. We have demand, but we’re at capacity. Now, we’re raising $1.2 million to be the market leader and to unlock that waitlist.”
She told the judges that their business has sold more than 1,500 units and 500 of those were to people of Catholic backgrounds. “We really lean into our own community to grow the business,” she said.
She hopes their business can one day expand to other diasporas like East Asian, African, and Middle Eastern communities. “I’ve seen so many brands come and go in the past few years,” she said. “No one’s doing it for other Catholics as well in all these diasporas.”
Paddy McNamara, the founder of Allera Tech, asked audience members to raise their hands if they knew someone with a food allergy.
“Almost all of us do,” he pointed out, then he shared a near-death experience he had due to his tree-nut allergy.
“It taught me that allergens are not just a problem for individuals with food allergies but [for] food manufacturers as well,” he said. “The average recall costs $10 million, and allergens are the No. 1 reason for recalls — so allergens are expensive. They’re also life-threatening.”
He said that for some of these food-manufacturing companies, “their quality-assurance data is entirely pen and paper. So right now, someone on the floor writes it down, pen and paper, hands it to a manager, who manually types it into Excel, and then it’s put into a filing cabinet for five to seven years for FDA audit.”
Allera Tech is addressing this circumstance with a software platform to input, store, and analyze data. The system, he said, would replace “pen and paper, which is prone to error.”
He explained that sanitizing and testing equipment for allergens currently takes a company about 15 minutes.
“For a food manufacturer, an hour of down time equates to about $40,000,” he said. “Some of these companies do hundreds of tests per week.”
In the longer term, his company is attempting to shorten the time involved in testing.
The company has several contracts with companies utilizing their software as well as a partnership with a top-10 food producer to build an allergen testing solution.
McNamara was raised Catholic but drifted from the Church. He had a turning point during volunteer experiences serving the poor in AmeriCorps for a year in Missouri and a few months in El Salvador.
“It was the mystics like Thomas Merton and Teresa de Ávila that taught me how God sustains us through intense service experiences,” he said. “I found myself just always returning to the Catholic expression that I left.”
Francisco Cornejo, co-founder and CEO of the “Storybook” app, and his wife and co-founder, Daniela Vega, came up with the business idea after their experience moving from Ecuador to Australia with their two young children, then ages 1 and 3, as Cornejo was completing his master’s degree. Due to their busy schedule, there was stress and anxiety at home.
“Daniela realized that she needed to connect with the kids,” he said. “Through faith and prayer, she found out about infant massage and how this was such an important tool to connect through the importance of physical affection; and while she was practicing this with the kids, she used to tell them stories. She had an iPad and candles, and she’d create this fantastic bedtime routine.”
“The kids started to fight each other about who’s going to go first,” he said, “but, more meaningfully, that was the moment we started to really bond with them.”
Their award-winning Storybook app combines relaxation techniques like guided reading and infant massage with bedtime stories and music to improve families’ emotional well-being and physical health. The app is free to download with yearly subscription plans and also has partnerships with schools and health providers.
Their database of more than 100 original audio stories in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, including Bible stories, continues to grow and is for children ages infant through 12.
“Seventy-nine percent of the parents using Storybook told us that their kids are sleeping better [and] are sleeping up to four times faster,” Cornejo said. “Eighty-nine percent of them told us that they feel more connected with their kids. We have been the No. 1 app in 90 countries. We have been called the ‘best for bedtime’ by Apple. We have surpassed 2.5 million downloads, more than 10,000 five-star reviews.”
While the judges showed interest and appreciation for all the pitches, the Storybook app won the evening. “The Storybook team impressed our panel of judges with their ability to identify a real problem and bring Christ in a solution to their audience,” Slayback said.
Cornejo told the Register via email that “being among faith-driven founders was inspiring, and winning was a true blessing. It has already opened doors, leading to promising conversations with potential advisers and investors.” He also praised the SENT Summit, calling it “a unique blend of faith and business, a testament to the transformative work God is leading us all to undertake.”
Vega saw the win as “a deeply touching affirmation of our mission.”
“We know that God does not inspire the impossible; we are sure that our company is the work of God and that he uses our small forces to put us to work to rescue the family that today is so attacked,” she said. “This is more than a job for us — it’s a calling.”
This article was first published May 18, 2023, at the National Catholic Register and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.