Sisters from Minnesota Catholic schools play on separate Olympic teams
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Few schools can claim an Olympic athlete among their alumni base.
Even fewer schools have more than one, especially from the same family. But Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood and St. Odilia School in Shoreview — both Catholic schools — are proud to make this claim.
That’s because Hannah and Marissa Brandt, graduates of both schools, play on women’s Olympic ice hockey teams competing in this year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Hannah Brandt, a recent standout with the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team, is a forward for the U.S. Olympic team, which defeated Finland 3-1 on Feb. 11 and played Olympic Athletes from Russia Feb. 13. Marissa Brandt, who was adopted as a baby from South Korea, used her birth name, Park-Yoon Jung, for the Olympics and plays defense for the combined Koreas, which lost 8-0 to Switzerland Feb. 10.
Hill-Murray and St. Odilia recognized the sisters’ achievements in the weeks leading up to the games. The St. Odilia school office has a display of the Brandts’ successes.
Brian Ragatz, St. Odilia principal, said students are encouraged knowing that these athletes sat in the same desks as they do. He said it “really inspires them a little bit more to go out and reach their goal, because it seems a little bit more attainable.”
Students at Hill-Murray held a red, white and blue dress-up day during National Catholic Schools Week. They wore the colors to raise funds for parents of Olympians to attend the games.
Hill-Murray had T-shirts and sweatshirts made to celebrate the Brandts. The school will also televise their games in the commons area.
Principal Erin Herman said the Brandt sisters excelled on and off the ice in high school.
“Not only are they great athletes, both Hannah and Marissa were outstanding students and all-around wonderful young women,” Herman said. “They are both humble and kind; you would not have known they were Olympic athletes when you met them in the hall.”
At St. Odilia, music teacher Carrie Northrop told the elementary school students about the schools’ two Olympians, whom she taught.
“This had been a goal of Hannah’s since she was a little girl. This was something she talked about when she was going through elementary school,” Northrop said.
Northrop said Marissa Brandt originally was more of a figure skater but chose hockey because of her closeness to her sister. Marissa Brandt had a standout career at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter before making the Korean team.

Update: Report shows NGOs follow policy barring use of aid for abortion
WASHINGTON (CNS) — A Trump administration report on its reinstatement of the “Mexico City Policy” shows that nongovernmental organizations “are willing and able to comply with this policy,” said the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee chairman.
“That compliance does not appear to undermine delivery of appropriate health services,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York in a Feb. 8 statement.
The cardinal, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made the comments in reaction to the administration’s release of a six-month report on implementation of the policy, now called Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.
The policy ensures that U.S. foreign aid does not subsidize foreign nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortion on demand.
In a Jan. 23, 2017, executive memorandum — issued three days after his inauguration — President Donald Trump, reinstated and expanded the policy, which his predecessor, President Barack Obama, rescinded Jan. 23, 2009, three days after his inauguration for his first term.
In May 2017, the U.S. State Department put the reinstated policy into effect. Trump’s memorandum directed the U.S. secretary of state “to implement a plan to extend the Mexico City Policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies.’”
“Global health assistance” includes funding for international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.
Cardinal Dolan said the Trump administration has restored “our foreign assistance to its rightful goals of promoting health and human rights.
“Abortion undermines basic human rights, certainly for the child, and it also can wound the mother emotionally and physically,” he continued.
“U.S. tax dollars have no business going to organizations that are unwilling to pursue health outcomes for every person and instead insist on promoting and imposing their abortion ideology on women and children.”
He said the six-month report “provides early evidence” that 729 out of 733 NGOs are complying with the policy.
The Mexico City Policy was first put in place by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was named for the city that hosted the U.N. International Conference on Population that year and where Reagan, then in his first term as president, unveiled it.
It was in place until President Bill Clinton took office. He revoked it in 1993, doing away with it so quickly following his inauguration that some participants in the March for Life, conducted two days after the inauguration, carried “Impeach Clinton” signs.
In 2001, President George W. Bush reinstated it in two days into his presidency, expanding it to include all voluntary family planning activities, then Obama rescinded the policy.

Church leaders decry situation in Syria
ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan (CNS) -- As Syria’s war soon enters its eighth year, many decry the recent dangerous escalation in the conflict, whether in the country’s north, between Turkey and the Kurds, or in the south, between Iran and Israel.
Speaking from the sprawling Zaatari Refugee Camp housing 80,000 Syrians near Jordan’s border with Syria, the head of the U.N. refugee agency condemned the recent Israeli-Iranian confrontation over Syria, which threatens to open a new and unpredictable front in the war.

Pope, Melkite patriarch formalize full communion
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Formalizing their unity in the intimate setting of the chapel of the papal residence, Pope Francis and Melkite Patriarch Joseph Absi concelebrated Mass together in the presence of members of the Melkite synod of bishops.
Instead of giving a homily at the early morning Mass Feb. 13, Pope Francis explained the special nature of Patriarch Absi’s visit.
“He is the father of a church, a very ancient church, and he comes to embrace Peter, to say, ‘I’m in communion with Peter,’” Pope Francis said during the Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The Melkite church, one of the many Eastern churches in full union with Rome, “has its own theology within Catholic theology, it has a marvelous liturgy and a people of its own.”
“At this time, a large portion of that people is being crucified like Jesus,” the pope said, referring especially to Melkites who, like Patriarch Absi, are from Syria. “We offer this Mass for the people, for the people who suffer, for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.”
The 71-year-old patriarch, who was elected in June, told Pope Francis, “I cannot describe how beautiful this moment is,” but he said he was “very moved by your fraternal charity, by the gestures of fraternity and solidarity you have shown our church.”
At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis asked the patriarch to join him in giving the final blessing to the few dozen people invited to the morning Mass.
The pope, patriarch and bishops also had met Feb. 12 in the papal library.
“At this difficult time, many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to live their faith in the Lord Jesus in the midst of many trials,” the pope told them. He prayed that the patriarch, bishops and priests of the Melkite church would live in a way that would encourage all the faithful “to remain in the land where divine providence wanted them to be.”
Pope Francis urged them to be “pastors — like the Lord with his disciples — who reanimate the hearts of the faithful by staying close to them, consoling them, reaching down to them and their needs; pastors who, at the same time, accompany them up, to seek what is above, where there is Christ, and not the things of earth.”