The past year had no shortage of news in the Catholic realm, both in the Vatican and beyond. Read on for a recap of some of the most important – and interesting – figures who made headlines this year. 

President Joe Biden

On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden (D) was sworn in as the second Catholic president of the United States. Born in Scranton, PA and raised in Delaware, Biden attended Catholic grammar and high school before matriculating at the University of Delaware. 

Since becoming president, Biden has faced criticism from both the left and the right over his various positions, as well as his continued reception of the Eucharist at Mass. As president, Biden eliminated many pro-life policies from the Trump era. He met with Pope Francis in late October, where the two purportedly discussed the Eucharist. 

Cardinal Robert Sarah 

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of Guinea, resigned as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in February 2021. Sarah, who had reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2020, was the most senior African prelate at the Vatican. He had been appointed head of the liturgy department by Pope Francis in November 2014.

Sarah had previously served as the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

“Today, the Pope accepted the resignation of my office as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship after my seventy-fifth birthday. I am in God's hands. The only rock is Christ. We will meet again very soon in Rome and elsewhere,” said Sarah on Twitter following his resignation. 

Jonathan Goodall and Fr. Michael Nazir-Ali

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Each year, many people cross the proverbial Tiber and are received into the Catholic Church. This fall, however, the Tiber Swim Team landed two big-name recruits: two former Church of England bishops. Jonathan Goodall, the former Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet, announced on Sept. 3, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, that he was stepping down from his position and entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. The date was a nice touch, as St. Gregory the Great launched a mission to convert the then-pagan England to Christianity. 

Goodall was formally received into the Church on Sept. 8. He said his decision came after “only after a long period of prayer, which has been among the most testing periods of my life.” He said he was “abidingly grateful to all who have so generously supported Sarah and me in these years, especially the laity and clergy of the See of Ebbsfleet -- who have been the focus and joy of my ministry and devotion since becoming bishop in 2013,” and that it was “an immense privilege” to have been bishop.

Not to be outdone, a few weeks later the now-Fr. Michael Nazir-Ali announced that he, too, would be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, entered into full communion with Rome within the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Sept. 29. He was ordained a deacon on Oct. 28, and then a priest on Oct. 30

Unlike Goodall, who came from a more conservative Anglican background, Nazir-Ali described himself as being part of the “Evangelical” wing of Anglicanism. At one point, he was considered to be a possible future Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world’s 85 million Anglicans.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s bishop. Cordileone and Pelosi are both Catholic. And that’s about where their similarities end. 

Pelosi, a committed Democrat, lamented that the support of pro-life voters for former President Donald Trump was an issue that "gives me great grief as a Catholic." Pelosi made the comment on a  Jan. 18 podcast with former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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"I think that Donald Trump is president because of the issue of a woman's right to choose," said Pelosi, implying that pro-life voters boosted Trump to victory in 2016. She added that these voters "were willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue."

Cordileone rebuked Pelosi in a statement issued days later, saying, "No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion” and that "Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop," he said. 

The archbishop also promoted a “Rose and a Rosary for Nancy Pelosi” campaign, which saw more than 16,000 people commit to praying for Pelosi’s change of heart on life issues. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas wrapped up a three-year stint as the head of the USCCB’s pro-life committee in 2021. The outspoken defender of life unleashed on Biden in a Feb. 13 interview with Catholic World Report. 

"The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic, and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching. It would be a more honest approach from him to say he disagreed with his Church on this important issue and that he was acting contrary to Church teaching," said Naumann

"When he says he is a devout Catholic, we bishops have the responsibility to correct him. Although people have given this president power and authority, he cannot define what it is to be a Catholic and what Catholic moral teaching is," the archbishop added. He further called for the bishops to “correct” the president, “as the president is acting contrary to the Catholic faith.” 

Sr. Lucile Andre Randon

The coronavirus pandemic continued throughout the world in 2021, killing hundreds of thousands of people. One person who beat it, however, was the world’s second-oldest person: a French nun named Sr. Lucile Andre Randon

Right before Randon’s 117th birthday, coronavirus swept through the Sainte Catherine Labouré retirement home in Toulon, southern France. Eighty-one of the 88 residents of the facility tested positive in January of this year, and 10 died. 

Fortunately, Randon did not display any symptoms of the disease and recovered in time to celebrate her birthday on Feb. 11. 

Asked if she was scared of COVID, she told France's BFM television, “No, I wasn't scared because I wasn't scared to die... I'm happy to be with you, but I would wish to be somewhere else – join my big brother and my grandfather and my grandmother.”

Hidilyn Diaz

The covid-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally were staged in the Summer of 2021, and Catholic athletes shined on the world stage. 

On the third full day of the games, Hidilyn Diaz won the first gold medal for the Philippines, inspiring an entire nation with her faith, grit, and perseverance. Diaz’s triumph came in the women’s 55-kilogram weightlifting event,  and she won gold with an Olympic record lift of a combined weight of 224 kilograms.

After completing her final lift in a very close competition, Diaz held her hands to her face, burst into tears and clutched at her Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary hanging from her neck. Later, on the podium at the medal ceremony, Diaz pointed skyward after singing the Philippine national anthem, then made the Sign of the Cross before stepping down and shouting “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“Long live the Philippines!”)