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Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Vocations and the 2018 synod

  • Russell Shaw, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • October 28 2016
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

When bishops gather at the Vatican two years from now, they’ll have the opportunity to make a much-needed course correction

When the pot is boiling, turn down the heat. You can’t be sure, but that could well have been part of the reasoning behind Pope Francis’ decision to choose as topic of the next world Synod of Bishops "Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment."

For months, speculation out of Rome had focused on the possibility that the pope would tell the 2018 synod to debate ordaining married men as priests in countries with an acute clergy shortage. Francis himself was said to be interested in that.

If so, it’s not unreasonable to think that topic may have been set aside in view of the surprisingly contentious synods on marriage in 2014 and 2015 as well as the ongoing debate on how to understand Pope Francis’s followup document, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). That’s enough excitement for now, someone might reason.

However that may be, the theme chosen — youth, faith and discernment — should not be dismissed as an option in favor of blandness. When 250 or so prominent bishops from around the world gather at the Vatican two years from now, they’ll have an opportunity to make a much-needed course correction in thinking about vocations.

The key to it is "vocational discernment." As matters stand, there are two common ways of understanding vocational discernment — and neither is quite right.

One is to suppose that the big decisions young people face are only about things like choosing a college major and prepping for a career, and that the relevant question is: How can I make the most money and have a comfortable life? Much bigger issues are at stake, and a question of far greater importance comes first: What does God want?

The other mistake is to think vocational discernment is mostly or exclusively for people who think that God may be calling them to the priesthood or religious life. Discernment certainly is essential for this group. But not only for them.

In fact, discernment is necessary for everybody, including those called to be lay Christians in the world. "Every life is a vocation," Pope Paul VI once said. Pope St. John Paul II couldn’t have been clearer in his 1989 document on the laity: "The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission ... . This personal vocation and mission defines the dignity and responsibility of each member of the lay faithful and makes up the focal point of the whole work of formation" (Christifideles Laici, 58).

Vocational discernment is a lifelong task — we have to examine our life situations constantly to see what God asks of us here and now. But, as the synod theme suggests, it’s especially important in the formative years when young people are weighing large choices that will shape the rest of their lives.

Good programs to help them exist some places, but elsewhere the old, narrow thinking about vocations prevails. The Synod of Bishops could help change that. In doing that, it would be helping to remedy the shortage of priests and religious. As more people practice vocational discernment, more will hear God’s call to be priests and religious — as well as committed lay Catholics.

A canny friend of mine frets that ordaining married men as priests could slip into the synod debate under the rubric of vocational discernment. Here’s hoping it doesn’t. The vocational questions I’m talking about are important enough to merit discussion in their own right.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope: Protect child migrants, refugees who face greater risk of abuse

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 14 2016
CNS photo/Armando Babani, EPA

Children are the most vulnerable and hardest hit among the world's migrants and require special protection, Pope Francis said.

"Children are the first among those to pay the heavy toll of emigration, almost always caused by violence, poverty, environmental conditions, as well as the negative aspects of globalization," he said.

"The unrestrained competition for quick and easy profit brings with it the cultivation of perverse scourges such as child trafficking, the exploitation and abuse of minors and, generally, the depriving of rights intrinsic to childhood as sanctioned by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child," he said.

The pope made the comments in a message on the theme of "Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless" for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees 2017; the text was released at the Vatican Oct. 13.

The World Day for Migrants and Refugees is observed Jan. 15. In the United States, National Migration Week will be celebrated Jan. 8-14.

In his message, the pope called for greater protection and integration of immigrants and refugees who are minors, especially those who are accompanied.

Minors are especially fragile, vulnerable and often invisible and voiceless -- unable to claim or unaware of their rights and needs, he said.

In particular, they have "the right to a healthy and secure family environment, where a child can grow under the guidance and example of a father and a mother; then there is the right and duty to receive adequate education, primarily in the family and also in the school," the pope said. Unfortunately, "in many areas of the world, reading, writing and the most basic arithmetic is still the privilege of only a few."

"Children, furthermore, have the right to recreation," he added. "In a word, they have the right to be children."

Christians must offer a dignified welcome to migrants because every human being is precious and "more important than things," the pope said. "The worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants."

He urged long-term solutions be found to tackle the root causes of migration such as war, human rights violations, corruption, poverty, environmental injustice and natural disasters.

In so many of these scenarios, Pope Francis said, "children are the first to suffer, at times suffering torture and other physical violence, in addition to moral and psychological aggression, which almost always leave indelible scars."

Among the many factors that make migrants, especially children, more vulnerable, and need to be addressed are: poverty; limited access to the means to survive; "unrealistic expectations generated by the media"; poor literacy; and ignorance about the law, culture and language of host countries, he said.

"But the most powerful force driving the exploitation and abuse of children is demand. If more rigorous and effective action is not taken against those who profit from such abuse, we will not be able to stop the multiple forms of slavery where children are the victims," he said.

Immigrant adults must cooperate more closely with host communities "for the good of their own children," he said.

Countries need to work together and communities need to offer "authentic development" for all boys and girls "who are humanity's hope," he said.

Saying inadequate funding often "prevents the adoption of adequate policies aimed at assistance and inclusion," the pope said that instead of programs that help children integrate or safely repatriate, "there is simply an attempt to curb the entrance of migrants, which in turn fosters illegal networks" or governments forcibly repatriate people without any concern "for their 'best interests.'"

While nations have the right to control migration and protect and safeguard their citizens, Pope Francis said it must be done while carrying out "the duty to resolve and regularize the situation of child migrants," and fully respecting the rights and needs of the children and their parents "for the good of the entire family."

The pope praised the "generous service" of all those who work with minors who migrate, urging them to "not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable."

Speaking to reporters at the Vatican press office, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, said Christians cannot be xenophobic and they cannot refuse to help welcome immigrants.

While it is impossible for one country "to receive everyone," he said, that doesn't mean the problem will be solved by telling immigrants to leave or saying that no one may come.

"It's a problem that needs to be solved, seek a solution," he said.

Unfortunately, the cardinal said, people tend to be self-centered and bothered by the presence of "the other." People prefer to keep to their "ivory tower, their gilded cage and do not want any disturbance" or threats to "the beautiful things we have."

"This is egoism. This is not human or Christian," he said.

- - -
The text of the migration message in English can be found online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world-migrants-day-2017.html

The text of the migration message in Spanish can be found online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world-migrants-day-2017.html

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Pope chooses youths, vocational discernment as theme for next synod

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 07 2016
CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

Following up on the Synod of Bishops on the family, a synod in 2018 will focus on accompanying young people on the path of faith and in discerning their vocations, the Vatican said.

Pope Francis chose "Young people, faith and vocational discernment" as the theme for the 15th general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2018, the Vatican announced Oct. 6.

The theme of young people and their path of discernment is a continuation of "what emerged from the recent" synod on the family and the pope's apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" on family life, a Vatican statement said.

The synod will look at the best ways to accompany young people on their path toward maturity and providing a process of discernment so "they may discover their life plan and fulfill it with joy, opening themselves to an encounter with God and with men and women, and actively participating in the building of the church and society," the Vatican said.

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told journalists Oct. 6 that the synod will focus on the transmission of faith and helping young people make their "spiritual decision" to choose marriage or religious life.

According to the statement, the pope chose the theme after consulting the bishops' conferences, the Eastern Catholic churches and the men's Union of Superiors General. He also consulted with bishops and cardinals who took part in the previous synod of bishops.

The council helping to prepare the next synod assembly includes two North Americans: Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

For grandparents, living the Faith is sharing the Faith

  • Susan Klemond, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 29 2016
Courtesy photo

Passing their Catholicism onto younger generations starts with grandparents being generous with time and spirit

The births of Adam and Anna Drost’s six grandchildren filled the couple with deep love and a desire to pass on their Catholic faith.

Patiently, they waited to start the “passing” — not wanting to pressure their children about baptism while they were dealing with other issues.

“It was a burning in my heart, but I didn’t want to alienate my children from me,” Anna said. “I just kept going to church and praying about it.”

In answer to the couple’s prayers, all six grandchildren were baptized in the Church. The Drosts, who live in Dunwoody, Georgia, continue to pray for their grandchildren, ages 2 to 11, and share their Catholic faith with them through their own example, both in the mysteries of faith and ordinary moments of life.

Many Catholic grandparents, whose children for whatever reason have not yet accepted the inheritance of faith they hope to give, are sensing a need to share this gift with the next generation — their grandchildren — who might not learn about the Faith from another source.

With their prayer, example and other unique qualities, grandparents often hold a position of loving influence with their grandchildren.

Finding the tools to help

It’s not always clear to grandparents when and how to pass on the Faith. To help with the tools and support, as well as ways to grow in personal faith, an international grandparents organization called the Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) is encouraging formation of parish support chapters and providing resources to individual grandparents. In addition, dioceses are creating ministries for grandparents. Many other resources are also available.

The last several generations of youth have been catechized differently than in previous years, and now young adults range in their faith from not having been baptized to practicing members, said Michael La Corte, U.S. director of CGA, based in Delray Beach, Florida. Launched in Ireland 10 years ago, CGA has been working in the United States for two years to support grandparents individually and through parish chapters. Currently a private association of the faithful, it is hoping to become a public association, at which point its work becomes the mission of the Church, La Corte said.

There will be a break in the generational link unless grandparents help, said Crystal Crocker, interim director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which recently launched its ministry for grandparents. The ministry offers resources for grandparents and for establishing parish groups.

“Young children who do not know and love Jesus are growing into young adults who do not know and love Jesus,” she said.

But grandparents are in a good position to help with this problem, said Adam Drost, who with his wife helped establish a CGA chapter at their parish, St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta.

It’s important to reach children when they’re very young, he said. “Simple, meaningful things make an imprint on a child,” he said. “We may not see the fruits of those labors, but hopefully we can make the right imprint on the children so they can carry it into their futures.”

Power of prayer

Grandparenting is a vocation, but there is no failing grade, only the desire to try, La Corte said.

“When you say to grandparents that the mission is to help grandparents pass on the Faith and keep prayer at the heart of family life, it’s immediately understood and it immediately addresses a problem that they have.”

Though they may not know how to tackle the problem, grandparents aren’t alone; their vocation is from Christ.

“In this Year of Mercy, the image of the Divine Mercy is always very important for all of us — particularly for grandparents,” said Capuchin Father Michael Ramos, spiritual adviser of the CGA chapter and associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in New Paltz, New York. “We’re trying to bring people back to the Faith or ensure that young people have faith: This is the work of Jesus. We have to work. We have to pray that we’re cooperating with Jesus and realize it’s not all about us.”

Grandparents are natural evangelizers and represent to grandchildren calmness, tenderness, knowledge and wisdom. They are master storytellers and teach humility when they share their experiences, Crocker said.

Prayer is essential for grandparents’ mission, not only for their family but to strengthen their own relationship with Christ, Crocker said.

Learning more about the Faith through Scripture, the Catechism and other sources is also good preparation, said Brandon Vogt, author of “Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church” (Numinous Books, $17).

Grandparents who are unable to share the Faith with their grandchildren because of distance or because their children don’t allow it can always pray for them directly and also that God will bring someone into their grandchildren’s lives who can reach them, he said.

“No matter what your situation is, no matter how broken the relationship is or how tricky it is to navigate, everybody can at least do this: Everybody can pray, fast and sacrifice for the sake of their family members,” Vogt said.

Setting an example

Along with prayer, grandchildren need to see grandparents living their faith rather than to be catechized through lectures, La Corte said.

“Allow the child to understand, to see them when they come to their home, to see the crucifix, see a statue of Mary or pictures on the wall, meal grace, evening prayer, go to Mass with us even though you don’t usually.”

One way to witness by example is by offering to help the parents.

Kathleen Mironchik and Donna Dietz, co-coordinators of the CGA chapter at St. Joseph’s in New Paltz provide child care for some of their grandchildren, which gives them time alone with them. Especially beneficial for evangelization are the car rides they share.

“We can sing and we can pray,” Mironchik said. “And we show them that God is everywhere. These are little seeds of faith for them, even if it’s just bringing them to church and letting them see the stained-glass windows and explaining what it’s all about.”

Car rides are an opportunity to share materials about the Faith and the Mass, said Crocker, who also recommended making short pilgrimages to local churches, cathedrals or other religious sites.

“What you are doing is holding out an invitation to the child or grandchild to experience all the gifts that God has for them in the Church,” Vogt said.

Nonreligious activities such as spending time in nature, doing works of mercy together, cooking and community events also offer “Godlike moments.” Storytelling is another fun activity.

“I think grandparents are in a position as storytellers to teach so much to grandchildren,” Anna Drost said. “They love the stories.”

Grandparents should not think they are “done” since they have already raised their own kids, nor should they be timid about passing on the Faith.

“I encourage parents to take seriously the stakes of this particular realm: our child’s or our grandchild’s eternal relationship with God,” Vogt said. “Making sure that’s right is worth a few minutes of awkwardness or the risk of having a bad conversation here or there. I think some grandparents need to take a step out of the boat more than they need to back off.”

Joy puts the Faith in a good light for grandchildren, Vogt said.

“All you can do is live your faith and lead by example, and hopefully they’re watching,” Anna Drost said. “You can’t preach it. If you preach, you might pull them away even further. It will get caught if they see something special about you.”

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Parishioners say visit by Fatima pilgrimage statue emotional experience

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 23 2016
CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion

SELLERSBURG, Ind. (CNS) — As the rosary was prayed aloud, 16-year-old Rebecca Reynolds knelt with her parents and three siblings near the altar of St. Paul Church in Sellersburg. Her eyes were turned upward toward the illumined statue of Mary.

She described the experience as "emotional."

"I felt like she was actually with us while I was praying," she said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

It was not just any statue that Rebecca and her family venerated. It was the traveling pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, a twin to the statue at the shrine in Fatima, Portugal, where Mary appeared six times to three shepherd children in 1917.

The statue is on a nearly two-year mission, from March 2016 through November 2017, to all 50 states in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the final apparition of Mary at Fatima Oct. 13, 1917. The journey is called the "Tour for Peace."

It is one of two statues commissioned in 1947 with the purpose of bringing the message of Fatima to the world. It was blessed in 1947 by the bishop of Fatima, and later by Pope Pius XII. It has been traveling for almost 70 years.

"The statues were commissioned for the millions of people who may never have the chance to go to Fatima in Portugal," said Patrick Sabat, the statue's custodian and tour coordinator. "Our Lady of Fatima comes to us."

"I think this beautiful country, the United States, could lead this world to peace by means of prayer, penance and conversion, which is the message of Fatima," Sabat told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. "The goal is to make it to 100 dioceses. As of now we already have 90 scheduled, so we're very close to making that goal already."

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the statue visited St. Michael Parish in Brookville Aug. 18-20, and St. Paul Church of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg Aug. 21.

Rebecca and her family are members of St. John Paul II Parish. They visited St. Paul specifically to see the traveling pilgrim statue.

"Nothing big ever happens in little Sellersburg," said Rebecca. "This is just amazing."

Charles Whittaker, a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus, processed into the church with the statue. He said it was an honor to participate in the event.

"The (shepherd children) got to see how beautiful (Mary) was," said Whittaker, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Jeffersonville. "We ... felt her presence, and just that was beautiful."

When asked about the statue, Father Thomas Clegg, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish, said it was "a great honor" to host it, and gave credit to parishioner Phyllis Burkholder for making the statue's visit possible.

She said she got information from the World Apostolate of Fatima about the statue going throughout the U.S. as part of a world tour. Burkholder found out it would be in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, "so I asked if she could come here."

"I think people are really thrilled about seeing her. You can see that in their expressions and in their piety, praying before Our Lady," she said.

Such prayer is precisely what Our Lady of Fatima called for, said Sabat during a talk he gave in the church.

"On the 13th of every month between May and October (in 1917), she held up the rosary and said to pray it every day," he said. "Every time we have a problem? No, every day. Every week? No, every day. Every 13th day? No, every day.

"She said this prayer will bring peace. The Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, has said, 'There will be peace if you do what I ask.' That's why the church calls it the 'peace plan from heaven.'"

Sabat shared how on May 5, 1917, after several years of violence and death during World War I, Pope Benedict XV wrote a letter asking Catholics to invoke the name of Mary for peace. He declared that a new name would be added to the end of the "Litany of Loreto": "Our Lady, Queen of Peace."

"Eight days later, she came to Fatima," Sabat said.

But the message Mary declared was not just for the people of Portugal, nor just for the circumstances of that time, he explained.

Turning to Jesus through Mary will result in peace, said Sabat.

"Those simple requests for prayer, penance and conversion, our consecration to her Immaculate Heart, to save souls, is the most important thing to do today to bring about the peace she promised," he said.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope urges Christians to believe in the ‘logic’ of the resurrection

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 16 2016
CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians are called to believe in the logic of the resurrection of the body and not succumb to heresies that reduce it to a mere spiritual experience, Pope Francis said.

When looking toward the future, the uncertainty about what happens after death often can lead to not understanding Christianity's "logic of the future," which proclaims that believers will rise will rise again in body and soul like Jesus did, the pope said Sept. 16 during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"A spiritualistic piety, a nuanced piety is much easier; but to enter into the logic of the flesh of Christ, this is difficult. And this is the logic of the day after tomorrow. We will resurrect like the risen Christ, with our own flesh," he said.

In his homily, the pope reflected on St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in which the apostle admonishes some of the early Christian community for saying "there is no resurrection of the dead."

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty, too, is our preaching; empty, too, your faith," St. Paul wrote.

The pope said that, for some, it is difficult to understand and accept the "logic of the future" regarding what happens after death. The belief that, like Jesus, Christians will experience the resurrection of the body "is not easy."

"Yesterday's logic is easy, today's logic is easy. Tomorrow's logic is easy: We will all die. But the logic of the day after tomorrow, that is difficult," he said.

Some Christians "are afraid of the flesh" and may fall prey to "a certain type of gnosticism" that reduces the resurrection to a purely spiritual experience; a belief that was "the first heresy" denounced by the apostle John, the pope explained.

Believing and having faith that Christ did not rise from the dead "as a ghost" but rather in flesh and blood is "the logic of the day after tomorrow that we find hard to understand," he said.

While it is a sign of maturity to see the logic of the resurrection, Christians must also pray for the grace to understand it, Pope Francis added.

"You also need the great grace of the Holy Spirit to understand this logic of the day after tomorrow; after the transformation, when he will come and will carry us transformed above the clouds to be with him always. Let us ask the Lord for the grace of this faith."

Lesson Connections, Catholic Schools

Five U.S. Paralympic swimmers train at Loyola University Maryland

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 09 2016
CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

BALTIMORE (CNS) — One of the proudest moments of Brian Loeffler's 26 years as a swim coach at Loyola University Maryland came at the 2012 Paralympics in London when he helped Brad Snyder, a blind military veteran, atop the podium during a medal ceremony.

"I got to position him on the medal stand, then step off to the side and watch the flag be raised and the national anthem be played," Loeffler said. "It really felt like I was a part of that ceremony, being so close. It was pretty powerful."

Snyder is among five swimmers who train under Loeffler at the Catholic university in Baltimore and are representing the United States at the Sept. 7-18 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Although Paralympic practices are adjusted to each athlete's ability, there are few visible differences between them and a standard college swimming practice.

For Snyder, who grew up in Reno, Nevada, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, it is an opportunity to add to his international honors, which include two Olympic gold medals and a silver.

Snyder lost his sight in combat in Afghanistan while serving in the Navy in 2011. One year to the day after being blinded, he won gold medals in the 100 and 400 freestyle at the London Paralympics.

"To participate in an event that is as immense and impressive as the Paralympic Games, it was hard for me to take everything in for what it was," he said. "It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before."

For others, it their first opportunity to compete on a global scale.

McKenzie Coan, a junior at Loyola from Clarkesville, Georgia, started swimming at age 5, as aquatic therapy for her osteogenesis, also known as brittle bone disease. She earned a berth at the 2012 London Paralympics, where she heard of Loyola's aquatics program from another Paralympian.

She committed to the school after touring the campus and talking to Loeffler.

"People are friendly, everything is state-of-the-art," Coan said.

Alyssa Gialamas, a junior from Naperville, Illinois, was also drawn to the program by Loeffler's record. Gialamas, who is studying communications, has arthrogryposis, congenital joint contractures.

Elizabeth Smith, originally from Muncie, Indiana, trains with Snyder. Born without most of her left arm, she holds American records for her competitive classification in the 50, 100, and 200 butterfly.

Cortney Jordan, a Loyola graduate student from Henderson, Nevada, has cerebral palsy and has been on the U.S. Paralympic team for 10 years.

"My main goal," she said, "is just to be satisfied with my swims, to leave knowing that I gave it everything that I had, and to be content with where I end."

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

  • Our Sunday Visitor, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 02 2016
Newscom photo

How this humble woman opened her heart to the poor and, as a result, changed the world

Explore the lasting legacy of the Church's newest saint:

Mother Teresa Special Section

Answering the call to quench the 'thirst of Jesus'

Family of orders carries on legacy of service to the poor

Mother Teresa at the movies

Discover Mother Teresa in the written word

Remembering a saint

A model of mercy

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Aleppo archbishop: ‘Enough is enough’

  • Gretchen R. Crowe, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 18 2016
CNS photo/Ali Mustafa, EPA

From the ground in Syria, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart pleads for peace

Syria is now 5 1/2 years into a violent war, and one of its ancient cities, Aleppo, has found itself constantly under siege. For years, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, the current Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Aleppo and apostolic visitor of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Western Europe, has been working to bring the attention of the world to the plight of the region’s Christian population. In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor on Aug. 12 from Aleppo, he continued his plea.

Our Sunday Visitor: What is happening on the ground right now in Aleppo?

Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart: On the ground, it’s very hard, fighting and bombing, and we are in a very difficult time. We are not able to sleep by night because the bombing continues. We are afraid of what can happen next. We hope that this fight may stop, the war may end and peace could come to help us and our people continue to live in this country. We rely on the help of our brothers to do what they can to help reach an agreement for peace and find a way to get back our peace, serenity and what is our right — the right to live in our country, our home, and to continue to be with others as brothers and sisters.

OSV: What does the international community need to be doing more of?

Archbishop Jeanbart: We are wondering, what are their intentions? What are the intentions of the nations? Are they really willing to help us, or are they interested (in) destroying our country? What they are doing is unjust and a denigration against our people and our country. People are dying; people are really suffering. Enough in enough. In Aleppo, it’s five years of fighting. We cannot support anymore to live in this hardship and to live in this situation.

OSV: What are your current needs?

Archbishop Jeanbart: We need everything. We do not have water, we do not have power, we do not have food, we do not have medicine. They have destroyed our schools, our hospitals, our industries. One of the most wealthy cities in Syria, they have destroyed all its industry and business. We do not know what they are going to do and where they are going with all this strategy and destruction. We need our friends and brothers and the people who fear God to do something. To push to have peace, to push to have dialogue and understanding. I hope that the meeting in Geneva that is promised to be at the end of August will bring some solutions and ... help us to find a way to live with serenity and security in our country.

OSV: Who remains in Syria?

Archbishop Jeanbart: Half the population is out of their homes and houses. Many have been killed. They have lost all that they have; their houses, their factories ... they have no interest in thinking about the future. What they need is to live day by day, hour by hour.

The fighting could be the end of all the Christians and other minorities and even other Muslims who do not want this kind of terrorism and also violence. We used to live with Muslims for decades and decades and centuries. They were here in the seventh century in Syria, and we found a way to live together, respecting each other and trying to do our best. But this war, which was supposed to bring us democracy and a better life, has destroyed everything.

OSV: What is life like for Christians in Syria right now?

Archbishop Jeanbart: They are around us. They come to church. We do what we can to help them. They feel protected by the Church as much as we can. We offer them what we can and what is very important for them to be able to continue living ... and we are sure that what we are doing is just minimum. But we cannot do more, and we need, of course, to encourage our people. I hope that one day that we can help them to find peace. Of course, we can expect some friends abroad to support our request and to (put) pressure on people who can decide. I hope the U.S. will change its policy, get more interested in peace and in our lives — more than in our wealth and the wealth of the region — so that it may come that human beings may be put in the first place and not in the last place ... of the interest of the nations. (The region) has become a kind of product to exploit and to sell and buy. What for? To get more power, more influence, more money, more wealth? [The international community and its leaders] will have to present to the Lord the report of what they have done — the good they have done, the bad they have done. Nobody is eternal. Nobody can live forever, and one day, they will have to present themselves, and the Lord will judge (on) the charity and the love they have offered others in need of their love. I think they have forgotten all about what they should do. As human beings, they are responsible. What is happening in our country is not a local war. It is an international war.

OSV: You recently spoke at the Knights of Columbus convention in Toronto. How has that organization assisted those in Syria and the Middle East?

Archbishop Jeanbart: I think that the Knights of Columbus have been wonderful. They have understood what is going on, and they are supporting us, trying to do what they can to make people aware — particularly also about preventing the destruction of the Church and the disappearance of Christians. The radicals are perpetrating a genocide among groups of people who want to live peacefully, who do not want war, who have a right to go on living. I am afraid that if your people do not do something to help us to live, who knows what will be the future? We are thankful, and we recognize all the efforts the Knights of Columbus have done to help us in many ways. We thank God that we have the United States and this kind of organization, the Knights, who are willing to do their best to help people, who are faithful to their duty. They are honest; they want to make sure that the law is observed, human beings are protected and life is respected.

OSV: Can you tell me a little bit about the initiative “Build to Stay”?

Archbishop Jeanbart: It’s a movement we have organized to help our people to take their situation in hand and to help them to find work, to start up a small business, to be able to restore their houses, to give them education in several ways. To offer them also some medical help. To try to make them work with us, to take their responsibility themselves, and to be an actor with us in this effort to continue to live in this part of the world. We’ll build our country, our society ... even though some people want to destroy it. And ‘Built to Stay’ is a movement open to any Christian who wants to stay, to remain in this part of the world. This will be to help people live a better life for suffering people. We need to have understanding, but also moral support, political support, financial support.

OSV: Why is this so important?

Archbishop Jeanbart: I can tell you in a very real way, we believe that the Church must continue to live in this country where it has been founded. The Church began in Syria and should continue living in Syria until the coming back of the Lord. Just a few hours after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit came to the apostles, 3,000 were baptized, and these 3,000 were people of Syria. We are in between the Old and the New Testament; we are the real son of Abraham. We were members of the chosen people. We became also members of the chosen coming of Jesus Christ. And we have millions and millions of baptized to keep our faith and to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Our land is irrigated by the blood of millions, and our land is mixed with the relics of millions of holy people — brothers of the Church, the apostles, the disciples of Jesus Christ. This is very important. As a pastor, as a recent successor of the apostles, I have this responsibility to help the people of the world to understand that. That we may fight, we may resist in order to remain where the Church was born. We do whatever we can to continue this presence, and we need you to help us remain where we are — to continue the life of Jesus Christ, of the Church, in this land.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope Francis General Audience August 10: Holy Door as an encounter of mercy

  • OSV Staff, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • August 12 2016
CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

In his general audience Aug. 10, Pope Francis compared the encounter of Christ and the widow of Nain to the encounter any Christian can have when they cross the threshold of a Holy Door and experience the mercy of God.

Vatican Radio reports:

Pope Francis on Wednesday during the General Audience said God is telling everyone to “Rise up,” and that the Holy Door of the Jubilee is the door where the pain of humanity and the compassion of God meet.

The Holy Father was recounting the story of the Widow whom Jesus met at the city gate of Nain, which the Pope compared to the Holy Door. She was leaving the city in the funeral procession of her son, whom Jesus raised from the dead with the words “Rise up!”

“The passage of Luke's Gospel we have heard presents us with a truly great miracle of Jesus, the resurrection of a young boy,” – Pope Francis said – “Yet, the heart of this story is not a miracle, but Jesus' tenderness towards the mother of this boy. Here, mercy takes the name of great compassion towards a woman who had lost her husband and now travels to the cemetery with her only son. The great pain of this mother moves Jesus and causes the miracle of the resurrection."

Read more here.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope names six women, six men to panel to study women deacons

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 05 2016
CNS photo/Paul Haring

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has appointed six men and six women to a commission to study the issue of women deacons, particularly their ministry in the early church.

In addition to the 12 members named Aug. 2, the pope tapped Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to serve as president of the commission.

The pope set up the commission at the request of the International Union of Superiors General, the organization for the leaders of women's religious orders around the world. Meeting the group in May, Pope Francis said that while his understanding was that the women described as deacons in the New Testament were not ordained as male deacons are today, "it would be useful for the church to clarify this question."

The International Theological Commission, a body that advises the doctrinal congregation, included the question of women deacons in a study on the diaconate almost 20 years ago. While its report, issued in 2002, did not offer recommendations for the future, it concluded that biblical deaconesses were not the same as ordained male deacons.

In June, Pope Francis told reporters that he had asked Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, and Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the superiors' group, to suggest scholars to include in the study group.

At least one of the members Pope Francis named to the commission — U.S. scholar Phyllis Zagano — has written extensively on the role of women deacons in the early church, arguing that they were ordained ministers and that women can be ordained deacons today. Zagano is a senior research associate in the religion department at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Another U.S. scholar also is among the 12 commission members: Augustinian Father Robert Dodaro, president of the Pontifical Augustinian Institute in Rome and a professor of patristic theology specializing in the works of St. Augustine.

The other members of the commission are:

— Spanish Sister Nuria Calduch-Benages, a member of the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family and member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

— Francesca Cocchini, a professor of church history at Rome's Sapienza University.

— Italian Msgr. Piero Coda, a professor of systematic theology and member of the International Theological Commission.

— Spanish Jesuit Father Santiago Madrigal Terrazas, professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid.

— Angeline Franciscan Sister Mary Melone, a theologian and rector of Rome's Pontifical Antonianum University.

— Father Karl-Heinz Menke, retired professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn and member of the International Theological Commission.

— Rwandan Salesian Father Aimable Musoni, professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.

— Jesuit Father Bernard Pottier, professor at the Institute of Theological Studies in Brussels and member of the International Theological Commission.

— Marianne Schlosser, professor of spiritual theology at the University of Vienna and member of the International Theological Commission.

— Michelina Tenace, professor of fundamental theology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

In Krakow, Francis challenges youth to engage

  • Christopher White, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 01 2016
CNS photo/Bob Roller

Pilgrims, estimated in the millions, cheered the pope’s call to serve others, not be 'couch potatoes'

In his inaugural homily in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 22, 1978, Pope St. John Paul II urged the world to “open wide the doors for Christ!” He would go on to repeat that plea throughout his 26-year papacy.

This week, in the homeland of John Paul II, Pope Francis used the events of World Youth Day as a platform to echo that call anew, both in tribute to the nation’s beloved saint but also intent on reframing current political and religious debates in a divided Europe. 

Prior to his arrival, there was much speculation as to what extent Pope Francis would push the issue of immigration in a country where both leaders of Church and state have been hesitant to heed his call to welcome refugees fleeing the Middle East.

Yet from the moment he touched down in Poland, Francis preached a message of openness — both in matters of faith and migration. During his welcoming ceremony at Wawel Castle, Francis encouraged the Polish nation to embrace “a spirit of readiness to welcome those fleeing from wars and hunger, and solidarity with those deprived of their fundamental rights, including the right to profess one’s faith in freedom and safety.”

He revisited this message in various ways throughout his five-day visit, as he directly tied the World Youth Day theme of “Blessed are the merciful” to a willingness to open hearts and borders to those in need, be it in Poland or in the peripheries of our own communities.

“People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded,” he told the crowd at the final Mass.

'Millions of young people'

Since 1986, World Youth Day has been celebrated every two to three years in a different city (Rome has played host twice) and has become not just the Catholic Church’s largest event but the largest gathering of people in the world. Krakow 2016 proved no exception, with numbers swelling to an estimated 2 1/2 to 3 million for the final Mass according to a World Youth Day spokeswoman.

The weeklong festival brought together young people from 187 countries for catechesis, athletic and cultural events, and liturgies. The apex of the event was the Saturday overnight vigil and Sunday Mass with the pope, which required a 10-mile hike on the part of most pilgrims.

“Seeing the millions of young people from every continent bowed in prayer, who could doubt the vitality of the universal Church?” asked Brother Samuel Burke, a World Youth Day pilgrim from Oxford, England.

Nearly 100 bishops and more than 40,000 pilgrims attended from every state in the United States, making it the third largest World Youth Day delegation in U.S. history and the largest outside of North America.

Somber and celebratory

While World Youth Days are marked by an atmosphere of celebration, the gruesome murder of Father Jacques Hamel in France on the eve of World Youth Day cast a shadow over the event’s start. Such a tragedy, however, gave particular resonance to the theme of sacrifice that the Holy Father revisited throughout the week.

Pope Francis also used his first visit to Poland to pay tribute to the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he met with 12 survivors of the concentration camps and prayed in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in the camp. While he spoke no words during the visit, the message was clear: Mercy and suffering are inevitably linked, and it is only through faith that we are provided hope.

Yet there were also lighthearted moments throughout the week that captured the sheer joy of the occasion. Pope Francis’ spontaneous invitation to six young people to accompany him in the popemobile prior to the Saturday vigil and the young girl accompanying her parents to deliver the gifts for the final Mass who reached up her arms and received a warm papal embrace will doubtlessly be remembered as some of the most iconic moments of the event.

The final send-off event in the Tauron Arena was a bittersweet occasion where Pope Francis thanked the volunteers for their service, many of whom dedicated a year or longer to prepare for the event.

“My own experience at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 forever changed the way I see the world and my place in it,” said Jamie Lynn Black, who volunteered on the international communications team. “It’s been a real honor and joy to help other young people encounter our faith through another World Youth Day.”

In keeping with his style, Francis abandoned his five pages of closing remarks at the volunteer send-off and switched over to Spanish so he could speak from the heart. His words were frequently interrupted by chants of “Papa Francesco” from the young people who had given so much of their time and energy these past months and were not ready for the event come to a close.

Panama 2019

In keeping with World Youth Day tradition, Pope Francis announced at close of the final Mass the location of the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama in 2019. At a news conference following the announcement, Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán said he hoped in the same way the country’s famed canal connected different parts of the world in new ways, that this event would produce a similar result.

Before leaving Krakow, Francis told the young people present that he did not know whether he would be in Panama but that Peter would be. And with that, he offered a final reminder that World Youth Day is not a cult of personality but rather a sign of continuity of the universal Church, regardless of who holds the office of pope.

While some critics may seek to dismiss World Youth Day as a “Catholic Woodstock” or one large party for wealthy Catholics, the week’s events were a reminder of Pope Benedict XVI’s words that it is a “long exterior and interior path” — indeed, a pilgrimage. Though there was much fun to be had, the pope consistently sought to challenge the young people present, pleading with them not to be “couch potatoes” and not to live “halfway lives.”

“Mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone,” he said at the July 28 welcoming ceremony in Blonia Park.

With this, Pope Francis memorably tied together both the events of World Youth Day with his aspirations for the nation of Poland and the rest of the world: to soften their hearts and not to be frightened by the unfamiliar, but to embrace fraternity.

Like Pope St. John Paul II before him, he encouraged young people on the final day, saying “Do not be afraid.” Looking past the current leaders of the Church or civil society, he aimed to shape the future. If the roaring crowds that consistently met him throughout the week are any indication, he had a welcome audience ready to accept that call.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Family gives ‘hearts to soles’ for homeless

  • Paula Smith, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 25 2016
Courtesy photo

Running their own nonprofit, Pennsylvania family performs corporal work of mercy giving shoes to those living on the streets

The next time you ponder which pair of shoes to wear in your closet, consider the homeless who wear the same pair every day.

That’s what Dr. Matt Conti, 27, a graduate of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and a first year resident at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, recalled thinking the first time he volunteered at the wound care center of Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh at age 14.

“It was an eye-opening experience, because the wounds that people came in with can be really horrific,” he said. “Spending time in the wound center showed me how much people take for granted, for example, properly fitted shoes.”

In 2004, his high school volunteer experience inspired him to found a nonprofit, charitable organization in Pittsburgh called Our Hearts to Your Soles to provide free foot care, fittings and comfortable shoes to the homeless.

“I think homeless men and women are more active than people believe and often walk many miles a day, and if they’re walking a lot, they can be vulnerable to pressure ulcers,” Conti said. “Just to be able to help someone walk around in a comfortable pair of shoes is worth pursuing. It can make a big difference in someone’s quality of life.”

Tom Kneier, administrator of St. Joseph House of Hospitality, a residential program for older homeless men or men at risk of homelessness, in Pittsburgh, sees residents with diabetes and serious conditions that require professional foot care. Most homeless do not have the means to access public transportation and walk to medical appointments, mental health appointments, recovery meetings, job sites, food stores and interview locations.

Kneier said homeless have the pair of shoes they’re wearing. “The men at St. Joe’s and men at temporary shelters typically rely on places that give out donated items,” he said. “But there’s no guarantee that their shoe size is in stock. So they often end up taking whatever is available.”

Currently, Our Hearts to Your Soles annually serves 8,000 homeless men and women in 35 to 40 sites across the United States, including Puerto Rico. So far, they have shoed more than 50,000 people since they started. It is the first charity to provide free medical foot care, fittings, new shoes and socks for the homeless in the country.

Matt’s first step in setting up the organization was to speak with his father, Dr. Stephen Conti, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh. Together, they developed a business plan and ways to obtain donations.

After a year of planning, the first event was held on Feb. 24, 2006, at Light of Life Rescue Mission on Pittsburgh’s north side. Matt, Stephen Conti and some of his colleagues, Colaizzi Pedorthic Center in Bellevue and Hanger Orthopedics Group treated toenails, calluses and sores, completed fittings and gave new orthotic shoes to approximately 50 homeless men.

A few months later, a second event was held in central Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and provided foot care and shoes to some 50-75 homeless men.

By November 2007, the organization had expanded nationally with sites in 23 states and served approximately 3,000 homeless. The same year, they partnered with Soles4Souls, an international nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee, that distributes the shoes to sites, and Red Wing Shoes, an American footwear company in Red Wing, Minnesota, that donates 6,000 pairs of Red Wing boots every year.

Besides his father, Matt is supported by his sister, Laura, with national outreach; brother, Chris, who started a supplemental charity called Socks2Soles in 2010; and their mother, Carol, who manages and coordinates locations. The family belongs to Sts. John and Paul parish in Franklin Park outside of Pittsburgh.

The family’s support enables every dollar donated to stay within the organization. There are no administrative expenses and they don’t hire anybody — it’s just the five of them with support from companies. Their annual cost to sponsor the charity is $30,000. The estimated cost for new shoes and socks is more than $1 million.

Every site is operated by orthopaedic surgeons and staff consisting of orthotists or pedorthists and volunteers. The five- to 10-minute procedure includes a foot examination, proper fitting for correct shoe size, a new pair of shoes and two pairs of new socks.

Since 2009, Our Hearts to Your Soles holds an annual event the day before Thanksgiving and helps an average of 400 homeless men and women at Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

In 2010, the organization partnered with Dignity U Wear in Jacksonville, Florida, that gives 8,000 pairs of socks yearly with a total of 70,000 pairs of socks; and in 2015, Superfeet Worldwide Inc., in Ferndale, Washington, donated 300-400 custom-fit orthotics.

In 2009, Bishop David A. Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh presented the Caritas Award for Service to Matthew and Laura Conti on behalf of the diocese.

In 2010, Stephen Conti was awarded the 2009 Jefferson Award and was named one of seven finalists for the Most Outstanding Volunteer Award.

The Vatican

Pope calls attack on Nice act of ‘blind violence’

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 15 2016
CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis condemned the attack on Bastille Day celebrations in France, calling it an act of "blind violence."

The pope expressed his "deep sorrow" and "spiritual closeness" with the French people in a message to Bishop Andre Marceau of Nice. The message, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis entrusted the victims and their families to God's mercy.

"The pope expresses his sympathy to those injured and to all those who have contributed to rescue efforts, asking the Lord to sustain each one in this trial," the cardinal wrote. He said Pope Francis imparted his blessing on grieving families while invoking "God's gift of peace and harmony" upon the people of France.

France declared three days of mourning and extended its state of emergency after the July 14 attack along Nice's seaside promenade; more than 80 people were killed and the death toll was mounting. The three days of mourning were to begin July 16.

Bishop Marceau told Vatican Radio he experienced shock and fear following news of the terrorist attack.

"(The attack) was one of those insane acts that can arise in the hearts of men — and in this case, one man. How can it be reasonably possible that man can be the author of such carnage?" he asked.

The bishop said he hoped compassion and closeness would overcome the "scandal of evil" that might "rightly arouse hate, misunderstanding and closed-mindedness."

"We must find a way to avoid this at all cost," he told Vatican Radio. "The message I bring is that which, above all, calls people to be close to one another, to speak, to meet with each other."

In a statement posted on the French bishops' website, he said: "We can't understand such an inhuman act. Nothing can legitimize deadly craziness, barbarism."

He urged people not to keep their emotions bottled up. "Let' not hesitate to tell each other what hurts our hearts; this is what being human is."

"Don't be afraid to go meet priests, people that can help you. Don't keep for yourself what might become violence, hate maybe. This man cannot succeed in arousing what was in his own heart," he said.

Adding that churches in Nice will be open for continuous prayer, Bishop Marceau said that in times of distress, the key word guiding the Catholic Church's mission is "closeness." The church is called "to be close and to also have the courage to take (people) by the hand, because words often can't be understood. It is difficult, but we are there."

"Christians, Catholics, let us bring around us this message of love. Our brothers need it. We need it. Our society needs it," he said. "Let us bring a message that tells the strength of the heart of man. Death will not have the last word."

Reaction from church leaders in France came quickly.

Msgr. Olivier Dumas Ribadeau, secretary general of the French bishops' conference, called for solidarity and prayer in a post on Twitter early July 15. French bishops reacted to the tragedy on social media and in statements, calling on people to pray for the victims and their families.

Churches around France set up special Masses. In Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral scheduled a Mass July 17 to commemorate the victims.

The French bishops' conference said it "fully shares the grief of relatives and families of the victims."

"This tragedy is added to the sad list of terrorist acts that have marred our country and other countries in the world for many months," the bishops said. "Whatever the reason, this barbarism is unacceptable, intolerable. ... More than ever, national solidarity must be stronger than terrorism. In pain of the day, we need to keep the certainty that unity is greater than division."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prayed for wisdom as people in the United States "seek the best way to help in the days ahead."

He thanked God for the first responders and prayed for the families and the dead. He also expressed solidarity with the people of Nice.

"The more cooperation exists between governments and citizens, the more we will frustrate the forces of evil," he said.

Appalled by the dramatic news of the attack in Nice, the Belgian bishops said they shared the emotions of their southern neighbors and assured them of their unity in prayer.

"May real encounters consolidate the bonds of fraternity and respect between all citizens," they said.

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

U.S. pilgrims to World Youth Day reflect new church demographics

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 08 2016
CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — As the church in the U.S. has shown an increasing presence of Spanish-speaking Catholics, so will the tens of thousands of young people traveling to the 2016 edition of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.

"There are more groups coming from heavily Hispanic/Latino dioceses, and in a particular way from apostolic movements like Charismatic Renewal, Focolare, and others," said Paul Jarzembowski, World Youth Day USA national coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

World Youth Day will take place in and around Krakow July 26-31, with Pope Francis leading events July 27-31, including a closing overnight vigil and Mass that is expected to draw as many as 2 million attendees from around the world.

From the U.S., there are more than 30,000 fully registered pilgrims and another 10,000 partially registered pilgrims, which indicates at least some of those may translate into last-minute travelers to Poland.

The USCCB, Jarzembowski told Catholic News Service, has been working collaboratively on some of its Spanish language World Youth Day resources -- including the WYDUSA pilgrim prayer, the stateside leader's guide, the WYD hymn -- and through organizations such as the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana and the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami, both of which are also sending delegations of Hispanic/Latino pilgrims to Krakow.

"We do not have an exact number of Hispanics going from the USA, but by the increased number of groups from movements, Pastoral Juvenil outreaches, and heavily Hispanic areas, we feel this (increase) is happening," Jarzembowski said.

Mark Gomez, 20, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah, a largely Cuban and Hispanic city in Florida, is a leader of Encuentros Juveniles, a local lay organization for youths and young adults.

"I think (Pope Francis) is by far a great example of humility and love and a Christ-like figure," he told CNS.

Gomez, who saw Pope Francis up close during the U.S. papal visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, plans to attend World Youth Day in Poland with his parents and two brothers, all of whom will experience the event together for the first time.

The most recent international World Youth Day, in 2013, took place in Rio de Janeiro, just a few months after Pope Francis' election. Poland and its historic city of Krakow are hosting this year's event that Polish St. John Paul II initiated as a Vatican-sponsored tradition in the late 1980s.

"Pope Francis knows the church has a need, and in a time when you see broken families, drugs, crime -- the world needs to know there is something more," said Gomez, who studies politics and international studies at the University of Miami.

Reflecting another trend, while the general range for World Youth Day pilgrims is about 16-35, many diocesan delegations to Poland are comprised primarily of young adults over the age of 18, mostly in their 20s and older, according to Jarzembowski.

"WYD does not provide exact numbers, but by the communication we have had with diocesan leaders and bishops we have learned about the increased number of young adults," Jarzembowski said. "In our dialogue with the international organizers, we learned that there is an increased amount of pilgrims over age 30 this year."

The U.S. participants will travel from every state and from more than 1,000 dioceses, parishes and apostolic movements. Also registered are some 85 U.S. bishops who will be among an expected 800-1,200 cardinals and bishops and 13,000 priests worldwide who are set to travel to Krakow.

Jarzembowski noted this year's pilgrims continue to come from several large metropolitan areas -- including New York, Chicago, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, Portland, and Miami -- along with rural areas in Wyoming, Texas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and throughout the Midwest. Participants represent a good cross-section of U.S. Catholics who are moderately to highly involved in church life at home, he added.

A considerable emphasis is also being placed on engaging youth and young adults who will attend various stateside World Youth Day celebrations as well as maximizing the experience after the delegations return from Poland, Jarzembowski said.

"The USCCB has developed tools to help leaders accompany their pilgrims 'down the mountain' from World Youth Day and help them to put what they learned and were inspired to do into real action ... through the follow-up and aftereffects," Jarzembowski said.

"This has been a dream of St. John Paul II, and Popes Benedict and Francis after him: that World Youth Day does not end at the closing Mass, but becomes a catalyst for building up missionary disciples and agents of mercy and faith in the everyday lives of young adults today."

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope Francis homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

  • OSV Staff, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • July 01 2016
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Celebrating the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis spoke on how both apostles showed an openness to the grace of Christ and overcame obstacles and fear through prayer.

In a report by Vatican Radio:

In his homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis focused on the themes of “closing” and “opening” in the lives of the two patrons of Rome.

The Church must avoid the risk of closing in on itself out of persecution and fear, the Pope said. At the same time, she must be able to see “the small openings through which God can work.” Prayer, he said, “enables grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy.  And we can add: from division to unity.”

Read the full text of Pope Francis’ prepared homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul:

The word of God in today’s liturgy presents a clear central contrast between closing and opening.  Together with this image we can consider the symbol of the keys that Jesus promises to Simon Peter so that he can open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not close it before people, like some of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reproached (cf. Mt 23:13).

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-11) shows us three examples of “closing”: Peter is cast into prison; the community gathers behind closed doors in prayer; and – in the continuation of our reading – Peter knocks at the closed door of the house of Mary, the mother of John called Mark, after being set free.

In these three examples of “closing”, prayer appears as the main way out.  It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear.  It is a way out for Peter who, at the very beginning of the mission given him by the Lord, is cast into prison by Herod and risks execution.  While Peter was in prison, “the church prayed fervently to God for him” (Acts 12:5).  The Lord responds to that prayer and sends his angel to liberate Peter, “rescuing him from the hand of Herod” (cf. v. 11).  Prayer, as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming “closed”, as individuals and as a community.

Read more here.

Lesson Connections

Early Christianity comes to life in Holy Land museum

  • Judith Sudilovsky, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 24 2016
Elie Posner

New exhibit route at the Israel Museum highlights origins of Christianity and pilgrimage in Jerusalem

For many Christian pilgrims worldwide, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a once-in-a-lifetime highlight of their faith. Few, however, may reflect on the fact that they are a link to a religious ritual that has played out for centuries — one that dramatically changed the landscape of Jerusalem during the Byzantine era of the fourth and seventh centuries A.D.

It was during this period that the Byzantine Empire began funneling tremendous amounts of funds to support infrastructure for the growing flow of Christian pilgrims who were coming to venerate holy sites connected to the life of Jesus. Interestingly, these vast numbers of churches, shrines, hospitals, guest hostels and souvenir shops catering to the pilgrims were built side by side upon a landscape where there were already Jewish synagogues, and in later times shared the space with Muslim mosques as well.

Side by side

This whole context of the early years of Christianity is easily lost on pilgrims coming to the Holy Land today, noted David Mevorach, senior curator of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine archaeology of the Israel Museum. While able to visit the holy sites themselves, pilgrims are unable to witness the context in which these places existed at the dawn of Christianity.

Therefore, the Israel Museum recently inaugurated a special tour emphasizing artifacts from early Christianity. The new “Cradle of Christianity” route aims to place the story of Jesus into a broader historical context by providing a window into the development of the period, he said. The route takes visitors to 12 exhibits located throughout the permanent collection, allowing them to view archeological artifacts specifically reflecting ancient Christian history. The route is self-guided but can also be taken as a preregistered tour with a museum guide. It includes objects that had been put together in a special exhibit of the same name for the Jubilee Year 2000.

“It gives the visitor a chance to touch upon crucial moments in the history of Christianity within the context of its time,” Mevorach said.

The last stop of the route is in the Byzantine gallery, where a reconstruction of an early church is juxtaposed to a reconstruction of a synagogue from the same period reflecting their similar structure and furnishing. A nearby display of the various souvenirs, trinkets and religious mementos such as small bottles filled with earth reveals how similar pilgrimages have remained over the ages. The souvenir and tourism/pilgrimage industry continues playing an important role not only for pilgrims but also for the local economy some 1,500 years later.

“It is striking to see how similar the practices are from then and today. It continues exactly the same way, though the materials may have changed. The iconography, the idea, the belief is the same. People still come here to touch, to breathe and to take some of the holiness back with them,” Mevorach said.

“I think it is interesting to see that all this happened here concurrently, with the development of Christianity and Judaism [side by side]. We had here churches and synagogues which were very similar in structure and furnishings. That is something people can see and understand here,” said Mevorach, noting that this final exhibit, which shows the close interconnection of the religions, is his favorite stop of the tour. “This development was not happening in two different worlds. Their closeness and differences where happening [next to each other]. And then a third religion, Islam, came. It all happened here in this place at the edge of the map and this gallery allows people to see that.”

Biblical connections

Other stops along the route include stone inscriptions from the Second Temple that would have been familiar to Jesus, a Latin dedicatory inscription bearing the name of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate and the ossuary, or burial box, of the high priest Caiaphas — two men associated with the trial of Jesus.

“It is extraordinary to find names of Biblical figures [in archaeological finds] and it is extraordinary to have the names of two key figures ... who played a role in the crucifixion of Jesus,” Mevorach said.

Another inscription includes a reference to the Davidic dynasty, the only such evidence ever found to have a possible connection with the biblical King David, from whom Jesus, as the Messiah, was descended.

Also on exhibit is a sample of the Tyrian half-shekels from A.D. 47-48 used to pay the yearly tax to the Temple required of every Jewish male over the age of 20. These coins were not common and needed to be purchased from money changers in the Temple. These were the money changers whose tables Jesus overturned when he cleansed the Temple.

Crucifixion evidence

The route also features a replica of a human ankle bone pierced by a nail — the only direct archeological evidence ever found of Roman crucifixion. Due to religious sensitivities regarding ritual purity of Orthodox Jews, the actual crucified ankle bone — or any bone — cannot be exhibited at the museum, explained Mevorach. Thus, the bone on display in the museum is a replica, while the real bone is kept in storage.

Archaeologists cannot determine why the man was crucified, but because the bone was found on-site in a family tomb in north Jerusalem, they know his name was “Yehohanan son of Hagkol” and that he was crucified approximately around the same time as Jesus, Mevorach said. The bones discovered in the tomb allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the method used for the man’s crucifixion, leading them to determine that his legs had been nailed to the sides of the crucifixion post while his hands were tied or nailed to the crossbar.

“It is the only find in the world of such a phenomenon, even though crucifixion was a common Roman punishment. Thousands and tens of thousands of people were killed this way,” Mevorach said.

The find may be so rare because perhaps crucifixion nails were taken to be reused once the person was taken down from the post, he said, or because, as he tends to believe, the nails were seen as powerful amulets and were taken for protection.

When faced with this proof of a crucifixion, some Christian groups visiting the museum stopped for a moment of prayer in front of the display, which includes numerous ossuaries from that time, Mevorach said.

A visit to the Shrine of the Book, which houses sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including a full scroll of the Book of Isaiah — the oldest copy of the Bible to be found, believed to be from some time between the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. — reveals the philosophical and religious turmoil rampant in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, Mevorach said.

A miniature model of the Old City from the Jewish Second Temple period located in a courtyard outside the museum building provides a full overview of the layout of the city as it was during Jesus’ time.

“These objects can help pilgrims complete the picture and shed a bit more light on Jesus’ life,” Mevorach said.

Exhibit online

Click here to learn more about the items in the exhibit through the museum’s archives.

The Vatican

Pope Francis homily June 16: Calling on our Father

  • OSV Staff, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • June 17 2016
CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

In his homily for Thursday, Pope Francis gave a reflection on the words of the Our Father, noting that the prayer reminds us of our identity as children of God.

According to Vatican Radio:

Pope Francis said that prayers are not magic words for Christians and when we pray the ‘Our Father’ we can feel God looking at us and this prayer should be the cornerstone of our prayer life. His words came during his mass celebrated on Thursday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence.

Taking his inspiration from the gospel reading where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the “Our Father, the Pope’s homily was a reflection on the value and meaning of prayer in the life of a Christian. He noted that Jesus always used the word “Father” in the most important or challenging moments of his life, saying our Father “knows the things we need, before we even ask Him.” He is a Father who listens to us in secret just like Jesus advised us to pray in secret.

“It’s through this Father that we receive our identity as children. And when I say ‘Father’ this goes right to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is to be his child and this is a grace of the Holy Spirit.  Nobody can say ‘Father’ without the grace of the Spirit. ‘Father’ is the word that Jesus used in the most important moments: when he was full of joy, or emotion: ‘Father, I bless you for revealing these things to little children.’ Or weeping, in front of the tomb of his friend Lazarus: ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer,’ or else at the end, in the final moments of his life, right at the very end.”

Read more here.

Reaching Families

Steps to help children cope with tragedies / Pasos para ayudar a los ninos a afrontar las tragedias

  • Joseph D. White, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 13 2016
CNS photo via Reuters

Age-appropriate responses can help minimize fear and confusion to shootings, attacks in the news

Read in Spanish
Click here to read this article in Spanish

Recent news of terrorist events and shootings have caused us all to be concerned and alarmed. We may feel more vulnerable than before, and sometimes it’s hard to know which threats to take seriously and how best to protect ourselves. Children experience many of the same feelings as adults — sometimes to an even greater degree. Their dependence on adults and limited experience with danger can make news of threats and attacks especially terrifying for them. How can we reassure them in times of increased anxiety? Here are some tips for helping children cope with news of mass shooting and terrorist events:

Limit exposure

There has been a dramatic change in how (and how often) the news is reported. A sensationalistic, 24-hour news cycle is pervasive in our society, such that we (and our children) can be subjected to constant news of violence. Using the child’s age and maturity level as a guide, parents and other caretakers can be intentional about how information about world events is conveyed to their children. Here is a guideline:

Bishop John Noonan's Statement on the Orlando massacre

The June 12th attack at a nightclub in Orlando killed 50 people, including the gunman, and injured at least 53 others. In response to the tragedy, Orlando Bishop John Noonan wrote, "A sword has pierced the heart of our city." He called for prayer for all of the victims, families, and first responders, and urged the faithful "to turn their hearts and souls to the great physician, our Lord Jesus Christ, who consoles and carries us through suffering with mercy and tenderness. He further stated, "The healing power of Jesus goes beyond our physical wounds but touches every level of our humanity: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Jesus calls us to remain fervent in our protection of life and human dignity and to pray unceasingly for peace in our world."

Ages 0-6:— No news is good news. Children below the age of 7 not only have trouble understanding much of what is in the news but also have difficulty putting the information into perspective because of their limited experience with the outside world. If a terrorist is on the loose, many 5- and 6-year-olds will be sure he’s coming after them. It will likely be difficult to shield children from news of national events such as terrorist attacks, but even information about such widely reported news stories should come through a trusted adult who can help them understand, using age-appropriate language, what everyone is talking about.

Ages 7-12:— Parental guidance suggested. If children this age are in the room (or car) when the news is on, parents should be especially vigilant for stories that are too graphic for their young ears. They might understand more than we think or interpret information erroneously. Be especially careful to shield elementary-age kids from stories of crimes against children. There’s no evidence that exposure to these events via the news helps to protect them from harm, and it may make them fearful.

Ages 13 and up:— Talk about it. While young children might think everything will happen to them, teens often have the opposite problem. Their belief in their own invincibility can sometimes be tempered by healthy exposure to news about others their age, and it’s important for teens to be knowledgeable about current events at a time when you still have the opportunity to give them your take on what’s going on in the world.

Reassure children

Let children know that such violent events are rare, and that you are working to keep them safe. Unfortunately, we can’t promise our children that a terrorist attack will never hit close to home, but we can reassure them that while the news might make them feel like these events happen all the time, they are actually very rare. In my own psychology practice, I often help children understand how rare these attacks are by asking them if anyone they know — at home, school or church — has ever been the victim of a terrorist attack. Generally, they answer “no,” to which I respond, “If it’s never happened to anyone we know, it can’t be that common, right?” Let children know that you are always working to keep yourself, and them, safe. Tell them you know what to watch for when you are in large gatherings and public places, and that’s one reason why you want them to stay close by, where you can see them.

Watch for anxiety

There has been a dramatic rise in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders in children in recent years, and news exposure may be one of the contributing factors. If your child expresses extreme and atypical fears about separating from you, frequent nightmares or physical symptoms of stress, like headaches, stomachaches and difficulty sleeping, it may be advisable to speak with a child psychologist or counselor about working on coping skills you or the counselor could teach your child to better manage his or her anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which involves identifying and changing habits of anxious thoughts as well as learning new behaviors for controlling anxiety, has been shown to be especially effective.

California Shootings

Following the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people were killed and 17 more wounded by two suspects — Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, both of whom were killed by police — the city’s bishop, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, urged people to pray for unity and healing. “For those who lost their lives, we pray for their eternal rest and God’s strength to their loved ones left behind; for those who are wounded, we pray for their health and healing,” Bishop Barnes said in a statement.“Our community of San Bernardino has faced great challenges through the years. Let us come together now in unity to bring light to the darkness of this day.”

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez in a Dec. 3 statement said, “It is hard to understand this kind of violence and the hatred that motivates it. We ask how people can do such things, what is in their hearts? In these times, we need to trust in the providence of God and rely on his mercy. ... Our Christian faith tells us that we must overcome evil with good and respond to hatred with love. So this is our challenge in the days ahead.”

Be peacemakers

Christ calls each of us to follow his example, loving others as he has loved us. This begins in our own homes. Prompt children to look for ways they can help others at home, at school and in the community. Teach them how to be accepting of differences and find common ground. Coach them through conflicts with siblings and peers so they can learn effective ways to solve problems and get along with others.

Sometimes children (and adults) ask why God allows terrorist attacks and other tragedies. While this is difficult to understand, one thing we can know is that God is always near to people who are suffering. We believe in a God who suffers with us and helps us through even the most difficult of times. We also see his presence in all of the helpers who respond to such attacks and tragedies. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are vivid examples of the worst in humankind, but our response to them can often bring out the best in us. We must never become callous or desensitized to acts of violence in our world, but instead we should ask ourselves, “How can we help?”

Let us not let terrorism keep us from living our lives with confidence, joy and hope. One of the most commonly repeated sayings in Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” Instead, let’s turn to God and work together with him to build a world where all can live in safety and peace.

En español

Pasos para ayudar a los niños a afrontar las tragedias

Respuestas adecuadas para cada edad para ayudarles a reducir el miedo y la confusión causados por los tiroteos y ataques que aparecen en los noticieros

Las noticias recientes sobre tiroteos y ataques terroristas nos causan preocupación e inquietud. Probablemente nos sentimos más vulnerables que nunca y en ocasiones, es difícil saber cuándo debemos darles importancia a estas amenazas y cómo podemos protegernos de ellas.  Al igual que los adultos, los niños experimentan estas emociones, algunas veces de manera más intensa.  Los niños todavía dependen de los adultos y tienen poca experiencia con lo relacionado al peligro; es por eso que les resulta particularmente aterrador escuchar o ver noticias sobre amenazas y ataques. ¿Cómo podemos darles seguridad en estos momentos de ansiedad? A continuación presento algunas ideas para ayudar a los niños a hacer frente a las noticias sobre tiroteos en masa y actos de terrorismo:

Mensaje del Obispo John Noonan sobre la masacre en Orlando

El ataque a una discoteca en Orlando el 12 de junio dejó un saldo de 50 personas fallecidas, (incluyendo el atacante) y por lo menos 53 personas heridas. Como respuesta a esta tragedia, el obispo de la diócesis de Orlando escribió: “Una espada ha traspasado el corazón de nuestra ciudad”. El pastor pidió oraciones por todas las víctimas, familiares y socorristas, y exhortó a los fieles a “volver sus corazones y sus almas hacia el gran médico, nuestro Señor Jesucristo, que nos consuela y nos lleva a través del sufrimiento con misericordia y ternura”. Prosiguió: “El poder sanador de Jesús va más allá de nuestras heridas físicas, ya que toca todos los niveles de nuestra humanidad: físico, emocional, social, espiritual. Jesús nos llama a seguir firmes en nuestra protección de la vida y la dignidad humana y a orar incesantemente por la paz en nuestro mundo.”

Limitar su acceso a las noticias

Hoy en día, las noticias se reportan de una manera muy diferente y con mucha más frecuencia.  Actualmente, las noticias se repiten de manera sensacionalista una y otra vez durante todo el día, por lo que nosotros (y nuestros hijos) estamos expuestos constantemente a la violencia. Para que los padres y los encargados del cuidado de los niños puedan determinar el tipo y la cantidad de información que los pequeños deben recibir, es aconsejable tomar en cuenta la edad y el nivel de madurez de estos. Aquí presento una guía:

0-6 años: — Para los niños menores de 7 años no solo es difícil entender lo que sucede en las noticias, sino que también es difícil poner esta información en perspectiva, ya que tienen muy poca experiencia en el mundo real. Si un terrorista anda suelto, muchos niños de 5 o 6 años van a creer que seguramente va a venir a buscarlos a ellos. Como son acontecimientos que andan en boca de todos, indudablemente será difícil evitar que los niños se enteren de ciertos sucesos como un ataque terrorista; por eso es importante que esta información provenga de un adulto de confianza que pueda ayudarles a comprender lo que sucede, utilizando lenguaje apropiado para su edad.

7-12 años: — Si algún niño de esta edad se encuentra en la misma habitación (o en el coche) durante el noticiero, los padres deben prestar mucha atención y estar alertas en caso de que las historias que se reportan sean demasiado gráficas. Probablemente nuestros hijos entiendan más de lo que creemos o interpreten la información de forma errónea. De manera particular, asegúrese de evitar que su hijo de esta edad escuche noticias sobre delitos cometidos en contra de niños. No existe evidencia que pruebe que estar expuestos a este tipo de noticias los proteja de algún daño, y lo más probable es que esta información les cause mucho temor.

13 años y mayores: — Hable con ellos. Mientras que los niños pequeños tienden a creer que todo les puede suceder a ellos, los adolescentes con frecuencia piensan lo contrario. Su sentido de invencibilidad podría moderarse un poco si se les expone de manera cuidadosa a las noticias. Además, es importante que los adolescentes estén informados de los hechos de actualidad, ahora que usted todavía tiene la posibilidad de compartir con ellos su punto de vista sobre lo que sucede en el mundo.

Darles seguridad

Hágales saber a sus hijos que eventos como estos no son muy comunes y que usted siempre trata de mantenerlos a salvo. Desafortunadamente, no podemos prometerles a los niños que no va a suceder un ataque terrorista en nuestra ciudad; pero podemos recordarles que aunque los noticieros nos hacen sentir que este tipo de acontecimientos sucede todo el tiempo, en realidad no es así. Como psicólogo, ayudo a los niños a comprender que estos ataques no suceden con tanta frecuencia como parece. Les pregunto si conocen a alguien en la casa, la escuela o la iglesia que haya sido víctima de un ataque terrorista. Por lo general la respuesta es “no”, a lo que yo contesto, “si nunca le ha sucedido alguien que conocemos, entonces no es algo tan común, ¿cierto?”. Hágales saber a los niños que usted siempre está haciendo todo lo posible para estar a salvo y para mantenerlos a salvo. Dígales que usted sabe reconocer situaciones de peligro en lugares públicos, y que es por eso que les pide que estén siempre cerca, donde pueda verlos.

Reconocer indicios de ansiedad

Recientemente se ha incrementado de manera notable la detección de trastornos de ansiedad en los niños, y es probable que estar expuestos a las noticias sea uno de los factores que contribuyen a esto. Si su hijo manifiesta miedo extremo y atípico a separase de usted, tiene pesadillas con frecuencia o muestra síntomas físicos derivados del estrés como dolores de cabeza, de estómago o padece de insomnio, es recomendable hablar con un psicólogo o consejero infantil sobre algunas técnicas que podrían enseñarle a su hijo a manejar mejor su ansiedad. Un método que ha comprobado ser particularmente efectivo es la terapia conductiva-conductual, que ayuda al paciente a identificar y cambiar los pensamientos de ansiedad y a aprender nuevos comportamientos para controlarla.

Tiroteo en California

Después de la masacre del 2 de diciembre del 2015 en San Bernardino, California en la que 14 personas fallecieron y 17 más fueron heridas a manos de Syed Farook de 28 años y de Tashfeen Malik de 27, mismos que fueron abatidos por la policía, el obispo de la Ciudad, Gerald R. Barnes, exhortó al pueblo a orar por unidad. “Rezamos por el eterno descanso de los que han fallecido y para que Dios dé fortaleza a sus seres queridos. Oramos también por los heridos, para que pronto sanen”. Monseñor Barnes dijo en un comunicado: “Nuestra comunidad de San Bernardino ha enfrentado grandes desafíos a través de los años. Unámonos para traer luz a la oscuridad de este día”.

Por su parte, el Arzobispo de Los Ángeles, José H. Gómez expresó: “Es muy difícil entender este tipo de violencia y el odio que la motiva. Nos preguntamos, ‘¿cómo pueden algunas personas hacer algo así? ¿Qué tienen en su corazón?’. En momentos como este, tenemos que confiar en la providencia de Dios y apoyarnos en su misericordia…Nuestra fe cristiana nos dice que debemos vencer al mal con el bien y responder al odio con amor. Este es el desafío que tenemos ante nosotros”.

Ser conciliadores

Cristo nos llama a seguir su ejemplo: amar a los otros como Él nos ha amado. Esto comienza en nuestros propios hogares. Anime a los niños a buscar maneras en las que puedan ayudar a otros en la casa, en la escuela y en la comunidad. Enséñeles a aceptar las diferencias y a encontrar cosas en común con los demás. Guíelos cuando tengan conflictos con sus hermanos y amigos para que aprendan a encontrar maneras para resolver sus problemas y a llevarse bien con otros.

Algunas veces, los niños (y los adultos) se preguntan por qué Dios permite los ataques terroristas y otras tragedias. Aunque es difícil de comprender, una cosa que sabemos con certeza es que Dios siempre está cerca de la gente que sufre. Creemos en un Dios que sufre con nosotros y que nos ayuda en los momentos más difíciles. También podemos ver su presencia en todos los socorristas que responden a estos ataques y tragedias. Los ataques terroristas y los tiroteos son vivos ejemplos de lo peor que existe en la humanidad entera, pero nuestra respuesta ante ellos con frecuencia saca lo mejor de nosotros. Nunca debemos volvernos indiferentes o insensibles a los actos de violencia en nuestro mundo, más bien debemos preguntarnos, “¿Cómo podemos ayudar?”.

No permitamos que el terrorismo nos impida vivir nuestras vidas con confianza, gozo y esperanza. Una de las frases más repetidas en las Sagradas Escrituras es: “No teman”. Por el contrario, volvámonos a Dios y trabajemos junto con Él para construir un mundo en el que todos podamos vivir seguros y en paz.

The Vatican

Pope elevates memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to feast day

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 10 2016
CNS photo/NBC

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Recognizing St. Mary Magdalene's role as the first to witness Christ's resurrection and as a "true and authentic evangelizer," Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast on the church's liturgical calendar, the Vatican announced.

A decree formalizing the decision was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship June 10 along with an article explaining its significance.

Both the decree and the article were titled "Apostolorum Apostola" ("Apostle of the Apostles").

In the article for the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the congregation, wrote that in celebrating "an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter," St. Mary Magdalene's feast day is a call for all Christians to "reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy."

"Pope Francis has taken this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the relevance of this woman who showed great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ," Archbishop Roche wrote.

While most liturgical celebrations of individual saints during the year are known formally as memorials, those classified as feasts are reserved for important events in Christian history and for saints of particular significance, such as the Twelve Apostles.

In his apostolic letter "Dies Domini" ("The Lord's Day"), St. John Paul II explained that the "commemoration of the saints does not obscure the centrality of Christ, but on the contrary extols it, demonstrating as it does the power of the redemption wrought by him."

Preaching about St. Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ's mercy toward a woman who was "exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous," but she was loved and forgiven by him.

Her tears at Christ's empty tomb are a reminder that "sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus," the pope said April 2, 2013, during Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis also mentions her specifically in the prayer he composed for the Year of Mercy: "Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured paradise to the repentant thief."

Archbishop Roche explained that in giving St. Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection, "Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering."

Drawing a comparison between Eve, who "spread death where there was life," and St. Mary Magdalene, who "proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death," the archbishop said her feast day is a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ who is "alive and risen."

"It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who is an example and model for every woman in the church."

The Vatican

Pope Francis Homily for the Sacred Heart of Jesus

  • OSV Staff, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • June 03 2016
CNS photo/Paul Haring

On June 3, Pope Francis concluded the celebration of the Jubilee for Priests with a Mass in St. Peter’s Square.  Celebrating the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis spoke on the conformity between the heart of the priest and the Heart of the Good Shepherd.

Read the full text of Pope Francis’ homily.

This celebration of the Jubilee for Priests on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus invites us all to turn to the heart, the deepest root and foundation of every person, the focus of our affective life and, in a word, his or her very core. Today we contemplate two hearts: the Heart of the Good Shepherd and our own heart as priests.

The Heart of the Good Shepherd is not only the Heart that shows us mercy, but is itself mercy. There the Father’s love shines forth; there I know I am welcomed and understood as I am; there, with all my sins and limitations, I know the certainty that I am chosen and loved. Contemplating that heart, I renew my first love: the memory of that time when the Lord touched my soul and called me to follow him, the memory of the joy of having cast the nets of our life upon the sea of his word (cf. Lk 5:5).

Read more here.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

10 things you didn’t know about the Eucharist

  • Bill Dodds, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 27 2016
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

The source and summit of our faith, there is always more to discover about the mystery of the Eucharist

Yes, there’s a lot you know about the Eucharist — the Blessed Sacrament, holy Communion — but have you ever heard of these 10 fun facts about it?

1. Feast day

The solemnity of Corpus Christi — the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — is a holy day of obligation. While it’s prescribed as such in the general law of the Church, it’s not observed as one in the United States. It, along with the Epiphany, is transferred to a Sunday. (Also not observed as holy days of obligation in America are the solemnities of St. Joseph, March 19, and Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29).

2. Origins

The feast originated in Liège, Belgium, in 1246 and was extended throughout the Church in the West a little later by Pope Urban IV. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote the Liturgy of the Hours for it. And St. Juliana of Liège, also known as St. Juliana of Cornillon (see sidebar), played a key role in getting the feast established.

Yes, you’ve heard of Aquinas but, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in a general audience in 2010: “She [St. Juliana] is little known, but the Church is deeply indebted to her, not only because of the holiness of her life but also because, with her great fervor, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important solemn liturgies of the year: Corpus Christi.”

3. Consecration customs

It was during that period that the priest began elevating the host and chalice at Mass after the consecration. Back then, people received holy Communion infrequently but at least they could see the host and cup. And, yes, that seems to be when the custom of ringing a bell at the elevation came into practice. At some churches, it was the tower bell that was rung. The use of a hand bell apparently began in England.

One more item from the 13th century. That was when churches began placing the host in a monstrance to be exposed on the altar. And they started carrying it in a procession in the church or out through the streets as part of the Corpus Christi celebrations.

4. Early Christians speak

As you may know from modern-day RCIA practices, in the very early days of the Church those in the congregation who had not yet been baptized left Mass before the consecration. It was the apologist St. Justin (d. 165), among others, who spilled the beans on what came next, describing what was what and who did this or that.

Needless to say, that didn’t mean the people could really understand what happens to the bread and wine. (Neither can we!). He wrote: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist. ... For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but ... we have been taught that this food ... is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

5. Word choice

Here’s one you probably know: the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” Why that word? It has its origin in Jesus’ giving thanks at the Last Supper (Mt 26:27). In our own time, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the sacrament is called “Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek word eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim — especially during a meal — God’s works: creation, redemption and sanctification” (No. 1328).

6. Names

The Eucharist has a lot of other names, too. The breaking of the bread, Eucharistic assembly, memorial of the Lord’s passion and resurrection, Holy Sacrifice, Holy and Divine Liturgy, holy Mass, Sacred Mysteries, Most Blessed Sacrament and holy Communion.

And, perhaps nowadays in our own parish, we refer to as “the Saturday evening” or “the 9 o’clock.” As in, “This weekend I’m going to ... ”

There’s no mention of those in the Catechism.

Nor is there a paragraph about coffee and donuts following in the parish hall.

7. Parts of the prayer

The Mass’ Eucharistic prayer is divided into distinct parts:

A prayer of thanks, including the preface. The acclamation (the Sanctus; Holy, Holy, Holy). The epiclesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit. (Here the priest puts his hand over the bread and wine.) The institution narrative and consecration.

The memorial acclamation. (For example, one begins “When we eat this bread ...”) The anamnesis, focusing on Christ’s passion, resurrection and ascension.

The oblation, an offering from us: “Therefore as we celebrate the memorial of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the bread of life and the chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you” (Eucharistic Prayer II). Intercessions, when the priest, in our name, prays for and with all the Church.

And the concluding doxology (“through him, with him, and in him) to which the congregation responds “Amen.”

8. Gluten content

Yes, the host must be made of wheat, but there are extremely low-gluten hosts for those who have celiac disease.

In 2012 the U.S. bishops wrote: “Given the serious health risk for those suffering gluten intolerance, it is important for pastors and other Church leaders not only to be aware of the reality, but prepared to address the situation of Catholics with celiac disease who come to parishes and seek to receive holy Communion in a safe, sensitive and compassionate manner.”

You can read more at tinyurl.com/CeliacCommunion.

9. First Communion

St. Pius X (1835-1914) lowered the age limit for first holy Communion. When he was elected pope in 1903, children didn’t receive until they were as old as 14. He dropped it down to the “age of reason,” or about 7.

10. How often?

OK, one last quick one. How many times in a single day can you receive holy Communion? Two, provided the second reception is in the context of a Mass and not a Communion service. But Communion given as viaticum may be received at any time. Viaticum is Communion given to one who is in danger of death.

Let’s end with one of the concluding lines from St. John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia (“On the Eucharist and its relationship to the Church”), the last of his 14 encyclicals, which was published two years before his death:

“In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope” (No. 62).

Living Your Faith, Pastor and Priest

Friars to make pilgrimage on foot, will say Mass, promote vocations

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 20 2016
courtesy Southern Dominican Province

Dominican fathers will begin a 478-mile, one-month pilgrimage from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn., May 29

The idea of making a walking pilgrimage in the United States took root about four years ago when Dominican Fathers Francis Orozco and Thomas Schaefgen were studying together for the priesthood.

They saw the movie, "The Way," featuring Martin Sheen, who portrayed a father honoring his late son's memory by completing the 450-mile Camino de Santiago, the "Way of St. James," a pilgrimage route across Spain taken for centuries by pilgrims.

"We had both studied abroad in Spain, but we thought, why don't we do something more local, something in this country?" said Father Orozco, chaplain of the Catholic Student Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. "We looked up places, and there really weren't any established pilgrimages in the U.S., so we said, 'Let's make up our own.'"

From that seed sprouted "Friars on Foot," a 478-mile pilgrimage on foot from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee, which will begin after the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Orleans May 29 and arrive in Memphis June 29.

Folks can follow the two young friars and their travels at the website friarsonfoot.wordpress.com.

Father Orozco, 33, and Father Schaefgen, 32, who is director of the Catholic Student Center at Tulane University, will wear their white Dominican habits and take small backpacks with water and other essentials such as sunscreen, but they will carry no money or cell phones.

"We want to do this very minimally," Father Orozco told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.said. "We will not carry any money and we will sort of beg. We hope people will provide us with apples and granola bars. We don't plan to use any money. We will carry ID cards and medical insurance cards in case that's needed. We've compromised with our superior that we will have somebody update the website every time we reach a destination."

The friars plan to stay overnight at Catholic churches or with Catholic families along the way, celebrating Mass and even giving history and vocation talks about the 800-year-old congregation -- the Order of Preachers -- whose earliest members were itinerant preachers, walking from town to town.

They will average about 16 miles a day. There are only two stops in Mississippi without Catholic churches -- Pickens and West -- and on those nights they probably will stay at a local Protestant church.

The friars are encouraging people to join them on the walk, if only for an hour or two.

"We will have a pilgrim rule, and part of it will be to the pray the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours every day, but that won't take up the entire time," Father Orozco said. "If there are people with us, we can talk about whatever they would like to talk about."

Since walking along interstate highways is prohibited, the Dominicans will take local and state highways. The pilgrimage route will basically track Highway 51 north to Memphis.

The pilgrimage will conclude June 29 at St. Peter Church in Memphis, the National Shrine of St. Martin de Porres.

So what do their families and their fellow friars think?

"As we progressed, the first reaction was the question 'why'?" Father Orozco admitted. "Then it was just a matter of explaining. In many ways, I'm glad it's taken four years to plan it because it gave them time to soften up to the idea. We presented this to the province a couple of years ago, and I think the vague response was, 'These are young guys. Once they're ordained priests they'll forget about it.'"


"I bet some of the friars forgot about it," Father Orozco said. "Some said, 'I guess they're really going.' I had one student tell me, 'You know, it's very humid in Mississippi, right?' By and large, 99 percent are excited about it."

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Ex-big leaguer fields questions on faith

  • Eddie O'Neill, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 13 2016
Photo courtesy of Catholic Athletes for Christ

Former pitcher Jeff Suppan says obtaining the sacraments can be a challenge to Catholic athletes

After spending 17 seasons pitching for seven Major League Baseball teams, Jeff Suppan knows well the inner workings of a big league clubhouse. As a Catholic, he also knows the struggles players face in trying to juggle hectic game and travel schedules with going to Mass and receiving the sacraments.

The 41-year-old husband and father of three, who retired in 2012, recently spoke to Our Sunday Visitor about his journey as a Catholic in the major leagues.

Our Sunday Visitor: What has your faith journey been like since you were a kid growing up in California?

Jeff Suppan: I grew up a cradle Catholic, the youngest of five children. When I signed to play professional baseball, I could no longer say I believe what the Church teaches because my mom taught it to me. I had to have the answers. I was 20 years old, and it was my first time being around Protestants, and some were aggressive, really challenging me.

OSV: Were you able to find the answers?

Suppan: It was amazing. God put a player in my path one year in spring training. We got to talking in the outfield, and it turns out he was Catholic. After practice, we went to get a Catholic Bible, and throughout that whole spring training, he taught me basic apologetics. So, I learned about where we find the papacy in the Bible, and the Eucharist.

He never made it out of spring training, nor did I hear from him again. He put me on the path to want to know more and more about what I believed in already.

OSV: How did you get involved with Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC)?

Suppan: When I first got to the big leagues, it was so hard to get to Mass. On Sundays, we played day games. That really bothered me, to the point where I said, “I don’t care if I’m pitching or not, I am waking up and going to Mass.” I checked every bulletin in all the cities where we played.

I got to know all the cathedrals well and would try to go to daily Mass at noon sometimes. These were the days before Parishes Online.

Somewhere along the line, I met Ray McKenna, founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ, and stressed to him the need for Mass and ministry.

OSV: Why is an organization like Catholic Athletes for Christ important?

Suppan: When I started with the Red Sox [in 1995], there were only two ballparks that had Catholic Mass, and those were geared toward that staff and those who had to work on Sundays.

Today, there are 26 thanks to CAC. They organize a Mass on Saturday and Sunday as well as making confession available.

When a player leaves home, he really doesn’t have a parish, but these weekend Masses and the local priest really become his Catholic community.

OSV: The average length of a Major League Baseball career is just less than six year; your career almost tripled that length. What kept you going?

Suppan: I could have called it quits at any time. I felt that I wanted to play as long as I could play. I felt like my talent was a gift, and it was important to me to give everything.

OSV: As we know, Pope St. John Paul II was a strong advocate of sports as a noble activity and a training ground for virtue. Would you agree?

Suppan: Absolutely. In baseball, you are always being challenged. It’s easy to be the hero when you are pitching well. On the other hand, when things are going bad, it is hard to keep your head up. So how you act and handle those challenges is really important. Who I am as person in my call to be a good follower of Jesus Christ doesn’t change whether I am pitching well or not.

I had a wise baseball coach tell me that there are two types of players in baseball: those who are humble and those who are about to be humble. That’s been a great life lesson for me.

OSV: How involved are you these day with Catholic Athletes for Christ?

Suppan: Not as much as I was in years past, but you never know what God has in store for you. CAC is part of the New Evangelization, and I’ve loved being a part of that. It has put my Catholic faith in the spotlight, and thanks to CAC, I have a podium to share the Faith and to allow my own faith to grow. I’ll never forget what my mom told me, “Keep Jesus number one.” I’m still working on that one.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

‘We pray with our whole person’

  • Dennis Emmons, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 06 2016
CNS photo

Each of our postures and gestures is significant as we reverently honor Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass

Mankind has always used body language — posture, gestures, physical movements — to communicate with one another. We wave goodbye, shake hands, shrug our shoulders, cup our ear when we can’t hear, stand when greeting someone, put our finger on our lips seeking silence. Most of these signs are recognized throughout the world.

There is also a well-known body language used and recognized in the Western Church when entering into the presence of Our Risen Lord, especially during the Mass (Ordinary Form).

Before, during and after every Mass, we genuflect, kneel, bow, stand, sit, and beat our breasts as described in the Roman Missal. Most of these postures — these expressions of love ­­­— are also identified for us in our worship aids in the pews.


Approaching “our pew” before Mass, we carefully genuflect in reverence and acknowledgement of the real presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. A genuflection is made by touching the right knee to the floor while focusing on the Blessed Sacrament. We genuflect not to demonstrate how holy we are or in compliance with some ancient decree, but because Our Savior is present, either reserved in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. Whenever made, the genuflection is never done in a careless, routine manner (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 274).


In our culture, standing is a sign of respect; it is a position of attentiveness, readiness, alertness. In the United States, parishioners stand for the entrance procession and until the collect prayer is completed. We stand for the Alleluia chant, while the Gospel is read, when saying the creed and during the Prayer of the Faithful. Standing is also our posture when the priest says “pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours ...” The posture for the Our Father and receiving Communion is standing. Kneeling also is acceptable when receiving Communion. Finally, we stand for the final blessing including the recessional (GIRM, No. 43).


This is a special time for attentive listening and meditating, contemplating what has taken place, all that we have seen and heard. We sit during the first two readings and the responsorial psalm, as well as during the homily and the offertory, and we have the option of sitting or kneeling after holy Communion (GIRM, No. 43).


There are two types of bows used during the Mass. First, we reverently nod our head at the names of Jesus, Mary, the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and the saint, if one is being celebrated during the Mass. The second type of bow is a more profound act, bending from the waist. We profoundly bow toward the tabernacle if physically unable to genuflect. This type bow is likewise made to the altar, if for some reason the tabernacle is not visible. We bow during the creed at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate...” Approaching the minister to receive Holy Communion, we also profoundly bow (GIRM, Nos. 160, 275).


On Sunday mornings, we arrive early to spend a few precious moments on our knees preparing our hearts and minds to enter into the mysteries of the Mass, preparing to pour out our litany of prayers and to proclaim the name of Jesus. During Mass, we kneel at the Holy, Holy, Holy for the consecration through the Great Amen; following the Lamb of God, we kneel down, humbling ourselves for holy Communion. Once in Church history, kneeling was regarded as a posture only for penance; today, it is also an act of adoration (GIRM, No. 43).

Sign of the Cross

The first thing many Catholics do when entering the Church is to dip their fingers in the holy water font and trace the Sign of the Cross on their bodies. By this act, we are remembering our baptism and acknowledging that we have entered a sacred space. We left the internet and the chaos of life outside and turn all our attention to Our Lord Jesus and the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Sign of the Cross is made with the right hand, all fingers pointing up (the five wounds of Jesus), while touching our foreheads, our breast and our shoulders (left to right): Father, Son, Holy Spirit — the Trinity. Making this sign during Mass is mentioned throughout the General Instructions. We also make a smaller version using our thumb just before the Gospel, marking our forehead, lips and breast: “may the words of the Gospel be in our minds, on our lips and in our heart” (GIRM, No. 134).

Sign of peace

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “The rite of peace follows [the Lord’s Prayer], by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament. As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner” (No. 82).

In the Early Church, the kiss of peace was included in the Mass at the offertory when the gifts were brought up. Those first Christians connected the bringing up the gifts with the Gospel: “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).

By the fifth century, placement of the kiss of peace in the Mass had been changed to where it is located today. Up until the late Middle Ages, there were no pews in churches, the congregation stood during Mass and, even centuries later, men and women were separated; so the kiss, or an arm’s-length embrace, was between members of the same sex. Somehow, this arrangement became problematic, and by the 13th century, the pax board was introduced into the Mass.

In “The Mass of the Roman Rite,” Jesuit Father Joseph Jungmann wrote that, “the pax board consisted of a small tablet of wood or ivory or metal (even gold or silver) upon which was graven or painted the figure of Our Lord or of a saint or sometimes symbolic figures and usually encased in a frame with a handle at the back so that it could stand on the altar during Mass.”

The pax board would first be kissed by the priest and then others in the congregation, normally when they came to the altar rail for Communion. Eventually, the pax board mostly disappeared from the Mass, and the 16th century Council of Trent restricted the kiss of peace to the priest, ministers and servers. The Second Vatican Council reinstated the ritual into the Mass for the congregation and in the spot just after the Our Father, where it had been for centuries.

There has been discussion since Vatican II as to whether the sign of peace should be moved to be part of the offertory, as in the early Church. In 2014, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a circular letter emphasizing the ritual remain just where it is in the Mass:

“It should be made clear once and for all that the rite of peace already has its own profound meaning of prayer and offering of peace in the context of the Eucharist. An exchange of peace appropriately carried out among the participants at Mass enriches the meaning of the rite itself and gives fuller expression to it.”

The letter states that the ritual, in accordance with the GIRM, is optional, and when included in the Mass, it should be done in a manner “to avoid the movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves.”

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families

Program outfits kids with clothes for first Communion

  • Hannah M. Brockhaus, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 27 2016
Courtesy photo

Archdiocese of Newark collects new, gently used dresses, suits to give to families in need

A program providing new or gently used first Communion outfits for children whose families cannot afford them is having great success in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

This spring, the program, which is in its third year, has received more than 500 dresses, 250 suits, 125 veils and 20 pairs of shoes, said Lynn Gully, the associate director of development for the archdiocese, who spearheads the program. “We had not one piece left over here last year.”

The program began by chance when a local boutique called the archdiocese to ask if they would be able to accept several donated first Communion dresses. As Gully carried them into the chancery buildings, people inquired about them. The program grew from there. “I wasn’t surprised at the generosity of the people of Newark,” Gully said. “But I was taken aback by the need.” When one woman came to pick up a dress for her daughter, she “gave me a box of Girl Scout cookies because we gave her a dress. She was almost in tears.”

Free of worry

The Communion dresses and suits are donated by individuals or through parishes, Gully said. Twenty parishes participated this year; approximately 15 participated in 2015.

“To us, it doesn’t matter what your situation is,” added Kelly Marsicano, public relations specialist for the archdiocese. “This is a day of celebrating the Sacrament of first holy Communion. It’s a special day, and these kids will now get to enjoy that instead of worrying about what they are going to wear.”

St. Augustine Parish in Newark is one of the churches that received Communion outfits this year. A religious order of sisters based out of the church, the Missionaries of Charity, run the religious education program at the parish.

“Whenever there was someone who could not afford an outfit, the sisters would provide an outfit. But now that we know about this program, and actually I mentioned it at the meeting to the parents, more people raised their hands,” said Diana Pendas, director of religious education at St. Augustine. “The parents picked them up this past Sunday — and the children’s eyes when they saw their dresses! These children are poor ... and they live in troubled homes and the parents struggle to live day to day.”

A holy day

Brianna Inga is one of the children who received a dress from the program this year. She is one of 85 children in the CCD program at St. Augustine and will receive her first holy Communion on May 22.

“Brianna is one of my students, and she is a very quiet, cheerful child, who likes to participate and answer questions during our catechism classes,” Pendas said. “When she saw her new dress and veil for the first time, her eyes lit up, and she said, ‘I love it!’ Her brother, Reyli, who was standing right next to her, immediately exclaimed, ‘You’re going to look beautiful!’”

Brianna’s mother, Melida, told Pendas that receiving the dress meant so much to her. “Because it is the day that my daughter receives the holy sacrament — her first Communion. It is such an important day. I give thanks to the archdiocese for helping us, because everything costs so much now. We could not have bought something like that for her. Now my daughter is so happy waiting for her holy day. And I am, too.”

Several other parishes in the area have already contacted Gully to learn how they can participate next year. She received an email from a parish in Vermont wanting to learn more about how the program is run.

“It’s something that people didn’t give much thought to or didn’t think there was a need for, and now that we’ve brought it to their attention, people are willing to give, and that’s what matters,” Marsicano said.

“Many of these children are poor, living in run-down housing and playing in troubled neighborhoods,” Pendas said. “The Missionaries of Charity provide a little oasis for them, where they are cherished, attend Mass, share meals and are taught the truths of our Catholic faith. Thanks to the Archdiocese of Newark donation program, many like Brianna will be wearing a bright and beautiful veil this May.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Sculpture of Padre Pio a dramatic testimony to beauty of Lord’s forgiveness, mercy

  • Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 14 2016
Photo by Richard Dedo

The piece of art found in Greensburg, Pa., is an ideal destination for a Year of Mercy pilgrimage.

Timothy P. Schmalz worked for days on end in a disturbing silence in his studio with his mind racing back to “everything horrible” he had done in the last 25 years. The darkness became more encompassing, he said, when he also thought about the things that others had done.

“Then I looked at who I was sculpturing — St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the patron saint of confessions — and I thought, why don’t I bring him into this horrible mindset?” he said. “Throughout all this, I had not asked God for forgiveness, not even once.”

That epiphany turned him around.

Every time Schmalz’s own sins and the transgressions of others came into his mind, he turned the thoughts into prayers for forgiveness and mercy. Each piece of clay that he applied to the emerging work of art was a prayer.

“The whole sculpture became my rosary beads,” Schmalz said. “It became a mystical experience for me. I would say that I was the first person to benefit from this sculpture. One of the deepest ways that it affected my Catholic faith is that it brought to me a kind of spiritual wonder and awe.”

He calls the sculpture “I Absolve You,” and as he worked on it in 2014, he was doing what Pope Francis in February told international Padre Pio Prayer Groups when they visited Rome. The Holy Father told them to let their devotion to Padre Pio help them to rediscover each day “the beauty of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy,” and to heed the saint’s words that prayer is “a key that opens God’s heart.”

Schmalz, a world-renowned sculptor from Toronto, Canada, was commissioned by an anonymous benefactor to create the life-size sculpture of the saint for St. Emma Monastery in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. It was dedicated in late November. Now that spring has arrived, the Benedictine sisters and their volunteers are completing the landscape around the installation.    The small community welcomes thousands of visitors every year to their retreats, shrines, public events and prayer services.  “I Absolve You” has been drawing even more.

Mother Mary Anne Noll, OSB, told OSV that there’s a reason that the path leading to the shrine on the hill is not straight.

“Straight is too legalistic, too exact, like there’s no wiggle room, kind of like the rigidity of law,” she said. “God’s mercy meets us where we are, and his mercy will move us from where we are. It’s a curved path that will welcome you right into the merciful embrace of Jesus.”

Padre Pio was the saint, Pope Francis said, who unleashed “the river of mercy” through the sacrament of reconciliation. He often spent 12 hours a day hearing the confessions of people who stood in line for hours.

Schmalz captured that intensity in the 900-pound bronze sculpture centered by a 9-foot crucifix.  Padre Pio sits on one side of the confessional wall with his bandaged hand bearing the stigmata reaching to the screen. His face is pressed forward to listen.

On the other side, where there’s a seat to sit and pray, it’s the face and bleeding hand of the crucified Christ that the visitor encounters.

“When you see Padre Pio reaching out and then you walk to the other side, it’s an awesome lesson thrust at you when you see who that hand is imitating, that it’s Jesus,” Schmalz said. He credits that artistic inspiration to “the God of surprises.”

The man who commissioned the sculpture had never heard of St. Pio until a homeless woman told him about the humble Capuchin from San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Italy. She gave him a prayer card, and he later prayed for his wife when she was seriously ill.

He credits the saint’s intercession for a series of healings. In gratitude, he asked Mother Mary Anne if there was a place at St. Emma’s for a statue so that others could learn about Padre Pio. She put him in touch with Schmalz, who previously created for the monastery a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus at the Last Supper. The seated figure holds the bread of the First Eucharist close to his heart. The bronze chalice is set before him on a concrete table with 12 empty seats that invite people to sit with Jesus. That shrine is near the monastery’s Rosary Path that meanders through the wooded hillside.

Schmalz has done a number of religious sculptures, including the provocative “Homeless Jesus” — a figure of a man lying under a blanket on a park bench, with a visible nail-pierced foot. Copies of that bronze statue are being installed in a dozen cities around the world.

A copy of the original “I Absolve You” was cast for installation at the friary where St. Pio spent a lifetime bringing the mercy of God to the penitent.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Communities lean on prayer in times of need

  • Patti Maguire Armstrong, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 08 2016
CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

Amid violence and natural disasters, power of group prayer helps comfort, promotes healing

As communities across the world strive to heal from recent terrorist attacks — in Pakistan and Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino, to name only a few — and others continue to suffer through ongoing violence, both secular and religious leaders have called upon the global community to extend its prayers to all those affected by the tragedies.

Prayer can be particularly effective in a community setting. St. Louis de Montfort, in his book, “The Secret of the Rosary,” explained that community prayer is powerful because the prayer of each individual belongs to the whole group. Thus, a person reciting a single Rosary gains the merit of one Rosary, while a person praying with 30 others gains the merit of 30 Rosaries.

“When we pray in common, the saint said, “it is far more formidable to the devil than one said privately, because in this public prayer, it is an army that is attacking him,” de Montfort wrote.

The light of Christ

Group prayer is not just for faith communities, said Msgr. John Esseff, a priest in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, since 1953. He was the spiritual director for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and continues to provide spiritual direction for priests and seminarians and gives retreats to religious and laypeople throughout the world.

“The Holy Spirit is hovering over the entire world, calling us into unity so that we can all be drawn into him who longs for union with each of us,” he said. “As we pray, the light will dawn more and more in our dark world. Each one of us can radiate with light.”

By praying with others, he said that the light from God binds us more closely together.

“If there is any hatred in any of the hearts, it pushes out the light,” Father Esseff said. For instance, if Christians respond to terrorism or abortion with hatred, he said, they push the light of Jesus out of their own hearts.

“Think of the tremendous power God keeps pouring into creation despite how we have darkened our world,” Father Esseff said. “He continues loving every human being no matter how dark and violent. Prayer helps us see with the eyes of Christ and to hear the cry of the Father for his family to come together.”

Father Esseff said that when Christians join and pray with non-Christians, God’s light is in everyone, but Jesus, who dwells in baptized Christians, will echo and re-echo to others through us.

‘The same God’

If two groups with centuries-old animosity can come together and pray, it is a powerful example to the world to do likewise. The interfaith initiative Two Faiths One Prayer is a public witness of Muslims and Jews coming together in prayer. It began as a project for members of NewGround, which is a Los Angeles-based partnership between Muslims and Jews dedicated to improving community relations.

“We are building strong bonds through prayer and working together,” Saaliha Khan, the communications and project manager for NewGround said.

Last spring, the group organized a day of public prayer. They made five different stops around Los Angeles, including on a beach and in front of City Hall. The public was invited to join them and a video of the day was posted on YouTube.

“It illustrated to the world that we are all — everyone — praying to the same God,” Kahn said.

Pope Francis preaches the same message. During his visit to New York in September, he led the interdenominational prayer service at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The Holy Father prayed with nearly 500 clergy and laypeople representing more than a dozen faiths. He asked God to bring “peace to our violent world” and “to turn to your way of love, those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred and who justify killing in the name of religion.”

When the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot sponsor prayer, it did not take away our First Amendment right to pray publicly. Although confusion and legal challenges can cloud that right, there are examples of community prayer on government territory.

In Jackson, Mississippi, Police Chief Lee Vance began holding prayer services on the steps outside of the department in early 2015. He credits the power of prayer with a 14 percent drop in crime in all four of the city’s precincts compared to 2014.

“It’s in the best interest of this city,” he told a TV reporter. “It [praying to God] is a personal belief, and I’m asking anyone who shares those beliefs to pray with us.”

Similarly, several years ago in Peoria, Illinois, 2,500 people took part in “40 Days of Prayer” to pray for the safety of their community. The following year, murder rates dropped by two-thirds.

Power to unite

Last August at Charles Henderson High in Troy, Alabama, more than 200 members of the community met at the school to pray together.

“We had a rough year [in 2014],” said Lynn Melton, the school bookkeeper. “People felt we needed to do something.”

Two of its students had died; one from football injuries and another through suicide. The gathering which included Protestants, Catholics and Mormons, met at the flagpole and then prayed throughout the campus.

“We prayed for our students and our school and the city as a whole,” Melton said. “It was an emotional night and very uplifting. We pledged to do this again.”

The movie “Woodlawn,” released last October, recounts how the power of prayer, which came to the school through the intervention of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes (FCA), eased racial tension and violence at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1973. The FCA chaplain to the school then is the father of Jon and Andrew Erwin, directors of the film.

“Woodlawn was one of the last schools to integrate, and there was a lot of violence,” Jon Erwin said. “There was talk of shutting it down, but the spiritual awakening changed things.”

According to Erwin, 44 of the team’s 48 players from all faith backgrounds became committed to Jesus Christ and living his message. That commitment spread throughout the school and changed the dynamics from hatred to love.

“I think it’s a great reminder of the power of love and prayer to conquer human nature,” Erwin said. “Woodlawn is proof that it works, and that is a very relevant message today.”

Pope Francis agrees. Following the March 22 attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people, the Holy Father called upon the world to lean on prayer.

“To all, I ask that you persevere in prayer and in asking the Lord ... to comfort the hearts of the afflicted and to convert the hearts of those people taken in by cruel fundamentalism.”

Catholic Schools, Living Your Faith

A higher calling for higher education

  • Chris Hazell, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • April 01 2016
Shutterstock image

Colleges and universities are failing their students by not forming their moral compass

For a long time, institutions of higher education have been heralded as guardians of intellectual progress — precursors to a life of success, worth and greater happiness. Most would agree that when it comes to at least the nation’s premier institutions, a college diploma offers admittance to the good life: hefty Roth IRAs, spacious homes, coveted careers and a slew of invitations for the head of the societal table. However, recently, this long-held belief has come into question by even secular members of society. Higher education, if not blatantly under fire, has drawn the aim of quite a few barrels.

Although our universities churn out some of the nation’s brightest and most promising students — many of whom go on to do wonderful things in the realm of technology, medicine, science, law and so on — there seems to be something missing. Students are graduating full of promise but emptied of meaning.

David Brooks, the well-known political and cultural commentator for The New York Times, offered an insightful and interesting interview in the Jewish publication Moment magazine called “The Evolution of David Brooks.” It’s an encouraging read to witness a man, who for much of his writing career dwelled comfortably in the secular space, gradually begin to take keen interest in the spiritual. He seems to be in the midst of a spiritual awakening, much of which, as he shares, aided by the seeds of Christian thought and doctrine.

In the interview, he speaks of the hunger he notices not only within himself but also in many young people at universities. He believes strongly that our best universities are undermining the moral fabric of our society with their commitment to, well, being noncommittal.

“Universities and a lot of institutions became very amoral because they didn’t know what to say. ... That’s led to a belief that everyone should come up with their own values and no one should judge each other. That destroys moral conversation and becomes just a question of feelings.”

This trend has resulted in students being shoved out into the world sans a holistic, liberal arts education — one that affirms the dignity of the human person, trumpets the reality and necessity of moral responsibility and reveals humanity’s transcendent destiny. Instead, students are leaving campus with the prowess to craft polished resumes, orchestrate professional relationships and put their best foot forward — and, if necessary, on anyone who might be in the way. Brooks relates this clearly in the interview.

“I was having coffee with one of my students at Yale, and he said, ‘We’re so hungry.’ Because they’ve been raised with so little moral vocabulary and so much achievement orientation.”

The Catholic Church has always placed tremendous value on the university, especially since the Church can claim responsibility for its existence in the first place. And while these institutions should enable the pursuit of truth in all of the secular fields, such a pursuit should be tied to a comprehensive understanding of the person made in the image and likeness of God and angled toward the noble mission of maximizing human flourishing.

In Thomas Merton’s sagacious “No Man Is An Island,” he speaks of the university’s role in revealing man to himself.

“The function of a university is, then, first of all, to help the student discover himself: to recognize himself, and to identify who it is that chooses.”

He continues, fleshing out the grave responsibility of such an institution.

“To put it in even more outrageous terms, the function of the university is to help men and women save their souls and, in so doing, to save their society: from what? From the hell of meaninglessness, of obsession, of complex artifice, of systematic lying, of criminal evasions and neglects, of self-destructive futilities.”

It’s not hard to imagine starved students with a repertoire of superficial skills and embellishments sinking into the hell that Merton envisions. As universities continue to accept greater and greater numbers of students, especially institutions that brandish a Catholic heritage and tradition, it will be all the more imperative to nurture individuals’ deep calling to transform the world and bring about the Kingdom of God here and now, as opposed to settling for building a kingdom of mammon in vain.

There is cause for hope, though, in witnessing cultural influencers like David Brooks begin to see what the Church has always spoken of: an education that doesn’t take into account humanity’s transcendent destiny is doomed to fail us all.

The Vatican

Pope to celebrate Holy Thursday with young refugees

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 24 2016
CNS photo via Tony Gentile, Reuters

Holy Father to wash feet of eight men and four women, including some non-Catholics

Pope Francis will celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper with young refugees in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome.

"Washing the feet of the refugees, Pope Francis is asking for respect for each one of them," wrote Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the main organizer of the Vatican's Year of Mercy initiatives.

Announcing the location for the pope's celebration March 24, Archbishop Fisichella noted that many of the young people at the Center for Asylum Seekers are not Catholic, which makes Pope Francis' decision to wash their feet "even more eloquent."

"It indicates respect as the main path to peace," he said March 22. Respect means recognizing the other as a person, one who "walks with me, suffers with me, rejoices with me."

"Pope Francis will bow down and wash the feet of 12 refugees as a sign of service and attention to their condition," the archbishop said.

The Auxilium Social Cooperative, which runs the center, told reporters that the 12 chosen for the foot-washing ritual include four women and eight men. An Italian Catholic woman who works at the center and three women who belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church were chosen, as were four Nigerian Catholic men, a Hindu man, and Muslim men from Syria, Pakistan and Mali.

The center in Castelnuovo di Porto has 892 guests and 114 staff members.

With tens of thousands of people fleeing persecution and violence in many parts of the world, too many countries seem to think the best solution "is to close their borders to feel safer or to build new walls," the archbishop said.

But one of the traditional "corporal works of mercy" is to welcome the stranger, Archbishop Fisichella wrote in an article for the Vatican newspaper. "Welcoming refugees then becomes for Christians a tangible expression of living the Jubilee of Mercy."

The Vatican

Mother Teresa to be canonized Sept. 4

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • March 18 2016
CNS photo/Jayanta Shaw, Reuters

The humble founder of the Missionaries of Charity, champion of the poor will be declared a saint 19 years after her death

On March 15, Pope Francis presided over an Ordinary Public Consistory of Cardinals in the Vatican for the final approval for the canonization of several new saints. While there were a number of women and men being considered, most of the world’s attention has focused on just one of them: Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, whose canonization will be held on Sept. 4 at the Vatican, with likely celebrations in Kolkata, India, where she is buried.

Ordinary consistories — public gatherings of the cardinals in the presence of the pope — are usually held for the creation of new members of the College of Cardinals, but they are also intended to advance causes for canonization or to give final approval for beatifications and canonizations. They are largely ceremonial events, but every so often the unexpected can happen. On Feb. 11, 2013, for example, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy at the conclusion of a consistory for the canonization of several blesseds.

Pope Francis had no earth-shattering proclamations at the consistory on March 15, but the news coming out of the Consistory Hall in the Apostolic Palace still was extremely noteworthy.

One of the most beloved figures in the history of the Church, Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997, at the age of 87, and in 1999, Pope St. John Paul II waived the customary five-year waiting period before the start of a cause for canonization in answer to so many international appeals from the faithful. The cause officially began in the Archdiocese of Kolkata and was subsequently one of the swiftest in modern times. 

Even as investigations into possible miracles through her intercession were taking place around the world, in 2001, on the feast of the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 15, officials closed the diocesan inquiry into her holiness and sent the case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The main work of the cause then fell to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Canadian priest who has served as the postulator, or chief advocate. 

In 2002, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized as a miracle the medically inexplicable healing of a tumor in the abdomen of a non-Christian Indian woman after members of the Missionaries of Charity prayed for their founder’s intercession. The healing took place on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death.

Mother Teresa was beatified on Oct. 19, 2003, and Pope St. John Paul II, who had been a witness to the process, said of her, “How often, like the psalmist, did Mother Teresa call on her Lord in times of inner desolation: ‘In you, in you I hope, my God!’ Let us praise the Lord for this diminutive woman in love with God, a humble Gospel messenger and a tireless benefactor of humanity. In her, we honor one of the most important figures of our time.”

A second miracle was still needed for canonization. That occurred in 2008 and involved a Brazilian electrical engineer in his 30s who had suffered a viral brain infection that caused multiple abscesses and eventually left him in a terminal coma. His wife prayed for months for the intercession of Mother Teresa, and the man was miraculously healed.

Years of investigation followed, and only in September of last year did the cause’s medical commission vote unanimously that the cure was miraculous.

On Dec. 17, the Vatican publicly confirmed that Pope Francis had recognized the second miracle, ending speculation in Italian media that had been percolating for several months. Part of the speculation had been that Mother Teresa would be canonized on Sept. 4, 2016, the vigil of the 19th anniversary of her death and the day for the celebration of the Jubilee of Workers and Volunteers of Mercy. They were correct.

The canonization is expected to draw millions to Rome, and look for intense, sometimes hostile, media coverage of Mother Teresa’s labors and spiritual life.

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Massgoers urged to be open to Lord’s mercy, be ‘instruments of his mercy’

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 11 2016
CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

The "annual retreat" of Lent is the "opportune moment to re-establish the Lord" as the center of one's life and quiet time spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a chance to really listen to what God is saying, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio said in a homily March 3.

"We must be attentive," he said, even "when the Gospel seems demanding, out of touch, or opposed to our desires, apparent gain or whatever."

The archbishop, who heads the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, was the main celebrant at an early evening Mass in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to open the shrine's observance of "24 Hours for Lord," a worldwide Year of Mercy project initiated by Pope Francis.

At the Vatican, in Rome and in many dioceses around the world, Catholic churches were to have extended hours for confessions as part of the project.

In Washington, a 48-hour period for the observance was scheduled at the national shrine, with continuous exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout that time, including overnight hours. An early evening closing Mass March 5 was to be celebrated by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, followed by a eucharistic procession.

Archbishop Broglio told the more than 200 people attending the opening Mass they were gathered at a most appropriate place to mark "this special day of mercy" proclaimed by the pope, because the national shrine is "a place of constant healing where priests are available to administer divine pardon to those who seek it."

He opened his homily by sharing an allegory often used by best-selling author Matthew Kelly to illustrate the importance of the Eucharist.

The story is of a mysterious fatal infection spreading around the world, devastating populations, forcing physicians and scientists to work "night and day to find an antidote," Archbishop Broglio said. One day they find a young boy who has a natural immunity that could produce a vaccine. His parents are told their son could save the world, but that he must make the ultimate sacrifice -- his life.

"The parents are beside themselves, but they see there is no choice," the archbishop said. "The vaccine is successful and the human race is saved."

When the boy's parents want to commemorate the first anniversary of the sacrifice of their son, "the response is tepid," he said. Most have somewhere else they need to be -- a sports event, "a sale not to be missed," chores -- and had no time to give thanks.

"We gather this evening to give thanks," Archbishop Broglio said. "First we must listen and then respond with decisiveness. The whole process is prayer."

Being able to listen "is no mean feat in contemporary society," he continued. "Everyone buries his or her head into an electronic device. Family conversation can be ruined. Human interaction is faulty."

In the day's first reading, the prophet Jeremiah "is clear," he said. "Essential to conversion is hearing the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts," Archbishop Broglio said.

The day's Gospel passage from the prophet Joel warns against closing one's heart and mind to the Lord and his message, he said.

"We place our trust in the Lord and listen to his voice," Archbishop Broglio said. "Otherwise all our works are in vain."

Returning to the story he began his homily with, the archbishop said that just as the parents of the child who was sacrificed to give life "invited others to commemorate his loving gesture, the Lord allows us to participate, to be present and to share in his one sacrifice that gives eternal life."

He urged Massgoers "to be open to the Lord's mercy and to be instruments of it."

At the start of Mass, Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the national shrine, welcomed the congregation to the Crypt Church and noted that Pope Francis had described the special observance taking over the next two days as a "moment of intense prayer" that "will enable people to touch the grandeur of God's mercy."

"May these days of eucharistic adoration, these '48 Hours for the Lord,' bring God's mercy, abundant blessings upon all who come before the Lord in Mary's shrine as well as for those who unite themselves with us in spiritual communion at home."

The Eternal Word Television Network was broadcasting the opening and closing Masses live. The liturgies were also being aired on Catholic TV and New Evangelization Television.

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Ordination is call to service, says new Bishop Tighe

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 03 2016
CNS photo/Paul Haring

In the presence of family, bishops and priests from Ireland and colleagues from the Vatican, Irish Msgr. Paul Tighe was ordained a bishop Feb. 27 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Although he said his mother had told him, "Don't make a show of yourself," the new bishop's voice broke with emotion as he thanked his parents, the church in the Archdiocese of Dublin and Archbishop Claudio Celli, his former boss at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

In December, Pope Francis named Bishop Tighe, former secretary of the communications council, to be adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

"With his exemplary behavior and his teaching, he is called to be a sign of divine mercy, to give rise to a yearning for a life inspired by the Gospel and lived in fraternity," Cardinal Parolin said in his homily.

"A bishop is called to enter into the patience of God, to take care of the most difficult situations and to never despair, not even of those people who seem furthest off," the cardinal said.

Using his remarks at the end of Mass to share an accounting of his blessings, Bishop Tighe said, "The original blessing of my life has been and is a great sense of God's love and closeness to me." That experience, he said, is symbolized by the anchor he chose to have on his coat of arms.

Bishop Tighe, who had served as director of the Communications and Public Affairs Office of the Dublin archdiocese before being appointed to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said much of his official ministry has been "with words, but love calls for something more. My motto, 'Estote factores verbi,' 'Be doers of the word,' is a little reminder to myself that our faith is not a theory, but a call to service."

Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

How to make the most of leap day

  • Emily Stimpson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • February 18 2016
Shutterstock photo

Strategies to help Catholics use 2016's extra 24 hours to the fullest

Every new year starts off full of promise and full of hope.

“This year,” we tell ourselves, “will be the year we finally make it to daily Mass ... or go on pilgrimage ... or clean out the basement.”

Quickly, though, those great expectations fade in the harsh light of reality. There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met and children to be shuttled from one part of town to the next. Finding the time to face the basement, let alone go on pilgrimage, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, can start to feel like the stuff of dreams: unrealistic, impossible, completely beyond our reach. But not this year.

In 2016, time is on our side. In order to better reflect the actual amount of time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun, the Gregorian calendar tacks an additional day onto February (almost) once every four years; 2016 is one of those years. Which means that this month, we have the very thing we need to accomplish all (or at least one) of our New Year’s goals: more time.

Now, would it have been preferable if Pope Gregory XIII had tacked that extra day onto June or July? For us folks living in the Northern Hemisphere, yes. Undoubtedly. But, Feb. 29 is what we’ve got, so despite the wind, the cold, the gray skies and the snow-covered roads, we might as well make good use of it. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Get your spiritual house in order

Go to daily Mass. Go to confession. Go to Eucharistic adoration and spend 15 minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. While you’re there, pray the Rosary ... or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy ... or the Divine Office. If you don’t have a breviary of your own, you can find Morning Prayer, Night Prayer and all the prayers in between online. You can also read a book about the Faith.

Alternately, you can hop online and search for Catholic shrines within easy driving distance. Then, get in the car and go. Take the kids or a friend along with you. While you’re there, see if there is a church nearby with a Door of Mercy, established in most major Catholic cathedrals, basilicas and shrines this year. Walk through them reverently, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, receive Communion, go to confession, reject your attachment to sin, and you’ve got yourself a plenary indulgence — either for yourself or a departed loved one.

Get your relational house in order

Do you owe a friend a phone call? Do you owe a relative a letter? Then, get to dialing or writing. Reach out to that long-lost college friend. Take your estranged sister out to lunch. Pay a visit to your Great Aunt Helen. Maybe just sit down and write those thank-you notes for all the Christmas gifts that came your way in December.

You also can come home from work early and have dinner with your family. Or, better yet, take a vacation day and plan something special with those you love. Go for a drive. Play a game. Build a snowman. And invite others to join you. Ask the new family at church or a single friend over for dinner. Ask a bunch of friends over for dinner. Throw that party you’ve been wanting to throw. Practice hospitality. It comes with its own reward.

Get your actual house in order

By a happy twist of fate, leap day 2016 falls within Lent 2016. Sure, this means you have to live one extra day without chocolate. But it also means you have one extra day to tackle the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge — pitching or giving away 40 bags worth of unused, unnecessary or unappreciated household items by the end of Lent. Start in the attic and work your way downward. Pray for detachment and discernment as you sort through closets and utility drawers, asking God for help in letting go of material possessions and trusting him to provide you with all that you really need, when you need it.

If you’re already living with Trappist-like simplicity, then use your one extra day to organize your linen closet, kitchen cupboards or dresser drawers. Scrub your baseboards, dust your light fixtures, wipe the grime off the pot rack and vent above the stove. Put together much needed bookshelves, filing cabinets or closet storage systems. Chuck over-the-counter medications that have passed their sell-by date. Toss old cosmetics and grooming supplies while you’re at it. Sort through all the papers scattered about your house and place them where they go ... preferably the trash. Plus, there’s always that basement that needs organizing.

Love your neighbor

This is the Year of Mercy, a year where Catholics around the world are called not only to contemplate the mercy of Christ but also to show that mercy to others. Fortunately for us, the Church hasn’t just told us to be merciful; she’s also told us how to be merciful. The deposit of faith includes very specific instructions on putting mercy into action. So, on leap day, follow those instructions by practicing a corporal work of mercy.

Feed the hungry by volunteering at a soup kitchen. Care for the sick by taking the kids to visit the elderly in a nursing home. Clothe the naked by knitting a warm woolen scarf (or 10) and delivering them to a local shelter. You can also give drink to the thirsty by distributing water to the homeless, welcome the stranger by writing a check to an organization that helps refugee families, bury the dead by attending the funeral Mass of an elderly parishioner; and help the imprisoned by praying for those behind bars.

The corporal works of mercy aren’t the only way to love our neighbor. The spiritual works of mercy are just as important. So, in your extra 24 hours, look for a way to counsel the doubtful (make time for a struggling friend); comfort the afflicted (make a meal for a widow or grieving parent); admonish sinners (write a letter to your pro-abortion congressman); forgive offenses (reach out in friendship to someone who hurt you); bear wrongs patiently (don’t complain, about anything, all day on Feb. 29); and pray for the living and the dead (offer up a family Rosary for the good of someone’s soul).

Love yourself

Yes, Lent begins with the reminder that we are dust and will one day return to dust. But, we are beloved dust, precious in God’s eyes. This leap day, treat yourself accordingly. Eat your kale. Cook some salmon. Skip the deep-fried Twinkie. Afterwards, go for a walk or, if you live in warmer climes, a bike ride. Put yourself to bed early. Sleep in if you can. If not, hire a baby sitter for two hours of alone time.

While you’re at it, log off social media. Read a book. Watch a classic movie. See a play. Listen to a symphony. Drink a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise. Drink a glass of wine and watch the sun set. Cook a delicious dinner. Eat it sitting down, at a table, with forks, knives, napkins and all the accouterments of civilization. In the evening, light a fire. Have a long conversation with your spouse or best friend. Go on a date with your husband or wife. Read aloud to your children. Draw a picture.

And sometime during the day, buy yourself a bouquet of bright pink tulips and remember that spring is coming. Give thanks for that. Give thanks for your life. Give thanks for your friends and family. Count all your blessings, taking note of the many ways God shows his love for you. Finally, praise him for every last one.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Summa Theologica: The ‘glory of the Catholic Faith’

  • Barry Hudock, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • February 11 2016
Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock

750 years after St. Thomas Aquinas began his masterwork, its influence is still felt throughout the Church

When it comes to works of Catholic theology, there are few more significant than the Summa Theologica, a massive medieval compendium of theology written by St. Thomas Aquinas. Its author, who is not only a saint but also a Doctor of the Church, began composing this remarkable work in 1266 — 750 years ago.

“No single theological work in the history of Catholicism has had the impact of the Summa,” Bernard McGinn told Our Sunday Visitor. McGinn, now retired from teaching the history of Christian theology at the University of Chicago, is the author of “Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Biography” (Princeton University Press, $24.95).

Some of St. Thomas’ thinking was once considered heretical by some Church authorities, but the Summa (as it is known for short) went on to take a quasi-authoritative status within the Church that remains unparalleled. The current anniversary offers a good opportunity to take a closer look at this remarkable work.

Teaching preachers

Thomas Aquinas, born near Rome in 1225, was a friar of the Order of Preachers (also known as the Dominicans, after its founder, St. Dominic), which was still rather new when Thomas joined as a young man. Though some of his fellow friars took his quiet personality to suggest he was dim-witted, he was soon recognized by his superiors to be quite brilliant. (One legend says that his renowned teacher, St. Albert the Great, once scolded Thomas’ fellow friars. “You call him the dumb ox, but his teaching will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”)

After studies in Paris and Cologne, Thomas was assigned to teach theology to the friars, preparing them for their preaching apostolates. He was, in essence, a teacher of preachers.

He wrote prolifically, penning scholarly commentaries on Scripture, philosophy and doctrine. In his mid-30s, he wrote his well-known work of apologetics, the Summa Contra Gentiles, and several beautiful hymns on the Blessed Sacrament that are still used today. In 1265, at age 40, Thomas was sent to teach at Santa Sabina, the Dominican school in Rome. It was there, about a year later, that he set to work composing a grand summary of all of theology.

“After teaching theology for several years, Thomas felt that the standard textbook — Peter Lombard’s ‘Sentences’ — was not really conducive to good learning,” McGinn said. “He wanted to produce something better, a text that would allow for more effective teaching of theology. That was the Summa.”

Some of the work was handwritten by Thomas himself, but much of it was dictated to friars who painstakingly transcribed what he spoke aloud. It would become his greatest accomplishment.

An abrupt end

Thomas’s style is renowned for its clarity and rigorous logic. Working from what was already known, he probed for what else could be learned. For “what is already known,” he drew from the Bible (cited in the Summa more than any other source) and the Church Fathers, as well as Christian, Hebrew, Muslim and “pagan” sources. Particularly strong is the influence of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle.

But Thomas never actually finished the massive project. There is even record of the day he stopped working on it: Dec. 6, 1273. The standard account says he experienced a mystical vision on that day. Some modern historians wonder if something more commonplace was involved — perhaps a stroke or a mental breakdown under the stress of his enormous workload. These latter explanations do not exclude the more divine one.

Whatever it was, when his fellow friar asked him why he had stopped writing, Thomas is said to have responded, “Reginald, I cannot, because all I have written seems like straw to me.”

Thomas wrote nothing after that day, and he was dead three months later (which supports the idea that a more physical issue was involved in the first place). Other scholars later brought the work to completion.


Thomas’s Summa was soon adopted for use within the Dominican order. But it was not received quite so readily everywhere else.

A serious philosophical rivalry existed in the 13th century between the Dominicans and another prominent order, the Franciscans, and the new Summa stepped right into the middle of it. The dispute centered on whether and how much of Aristotle’s thinking ought to be incorporated into Catholic theology. The Franciscans were very cautious about Aristotle, while the Dominicans (including Thomas’ Summa) were far more open to it.

In 1277, just three years after Thomas’ death, the bishops of both Paris and Oxford, influenced by Franciscan thinking, issued condemnations of ideas they considered heretical. The condemnations were not directed specifically at Thomas, but there was no doubt to anyone familiar with his work that it was included.

But the suspicions of Thomas did not last long. He was canonized in 1323 by Pope John XXII, and his fame continued to grow after that.

“The pope who canonized Thomas Aquinas pointed to the Summa as all the evidence that was needed to make him a saint,” said Paul Symington, who teaches philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “He said it was a work of unparalleled beauty and depth and coherence.”

Thomas was recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1567. By that time, the Summa was a standard theological text throughout the Church. One legend says that at the Council of Trent, in the 16th century, a copy of the Summa was set up on the altar right beside the Bible to express the Church’s reliance on these two great sources of truth.

“We know that never happened. But the Summa did indeed have great importance within the Church by that point,” McGinn said.

The Summa’s popularity ebbed and waned over the centuries. It received a major boost from Pope Leo XIII, who, in an encyclical in 1879, called Thomas “the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic Faith” and insisted on a privileged place in theology and philosophy for his thinking.

Since then, its popularity has continued to rise and fall, but the work always retains a revered place.

“The Summa keeps bouncing back, rising to the top, being rediscovered through the centuries,” Symington said. “It is truly remarkable.”

Catholic Schools

Closings show uphill battle for Catholic schools

  • Brian Fraga, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • February 08 2016
Courtesy photo

Chicago archdiocese to close four schools as leaders try to address challenges of declining enrollment

Shifting demographics and economic factors continue to prompt dioceses across the country to close and consolidate Catholic schools, with the Archdiocese of Chicago the most recent high-profile example of that decade long trend.

In January, the archdiocese announced that four schools will be closing at the end of the 2015-16 school year because of falling enrollment and growing operational deficits: St. Agatha Catholic Academy in Chicago, St. Peter School in Antioch, Seton Academy in South Holland and St. Edmund School in Oak Park.

A fifth school, St. Alphonsus Liguori in Prospect Heights, has been given a reprieve for now, with the archdiocese giving school officials until Feb. 8 to raise $400,000 and show a committed, registered enrollment of 135 students.

"We have had our ups and downs over the last few months," said Betty Cloud, marketing director of St. Alphonsus Liguori School. “But we are determined to succeed. We hope to continue our tradition of excellence in education which began in 1958.”

Cloud said the school has received $332,000 in pledges and $110,000 toward those pledges, and added that more contributions are arriving daily.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese said in a statement that there is “a conversation taking place” regarding St. Margaret Mary School joining Northside Catholic Academy’s partnership with other affiliated parishes. Under that proposal, Catholic education would continue on the St. Margaret Mary School campus but under the banner of Northside Catholic Academy, which, according to the statement, “is a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School and has experienced increasing enrollment over the past few years.”

Dwindling numbers

The Chicago school closings and mergers reflect the situation that Catholic education officials in the formerly solid urban Catholic strongholds of the Northeast and Midwest have been dealing with for several years. Those dioceses have been challenged by higher operating expenses, fewer practicing Catholics attending Mass and supporting parish schools, the emergence of public charter schools as well as the decades long flight from the cities to the suburbs, among other factors.

As a result, the archdioceses in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and elsewhere have been forced to shutter Catholic schools that for generations provided a solid education to many and solidified neighborhoods.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, since the 2005 academic year, at least 1,648 Catholic schools were reported closed or consolidated while only 336 school openings were reported. The number of total enrolled students declined by almost 20 percent.

The most seriously impacted have been Catholic elementary schools. The NCEA reports that since 2005, elementary school enrollment has declined by 30 percent in the 12 largest urban dioceses of the country and 20.4 percent in the rest of the United States.

Success story

The Chicago Sun Times reported that the archdiocese, which runs the nation’s largest private school system with nearly 83,000 students in 230 schools, closed and consolidated a dozen schools in 2013 and closed another five schools last year. As of early January, at St. Agatha Catholic Academy, an early childhood program, only 12 students were enrolled.

“It’s not like 60 years ago where every parishioner would send their kids to the school,” said Kevin Powers, the principal of St. Margaret of Scotland School, a K-8 grade school in Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

Powers told Our Sunday Visitor that when he became principal three years ago, the school was labeled a “turnaround school,” meaning it was under performing and the district needed to overhaul it. But halfway through the 2015-16 school year, St. Margaret of Scotland is showing the kind of turnaround that archdiocesan officials hope to see in other schools moving forward. Under Power’s tenure, enrollment has climbed from 150 to 220, and the school’s deficit has been cut nearly in half, to about $400,000.

St. Margaret of Scotland School proves that Catholic schools can be revitalized, but not with the old single-parish-based model that served those schools well when priests and religious taught classes instead of lay teachers who are paid a salary.

The Big Shoulders Fund, a Chicago-based nonprofit that offers scholarships, instructional equipment and faculty support programs among other offerings, provided funds, a financial plan and marketing advice that Powers said allowed the school to reduce tuition by $200 for parents who recruit new students.

The school’s turnaround status allowed Powers to hand-pick his staff and hire seven new teachers, almost all of whom are still with the school. The Big Shoulders Fund and the archdiocese also provided coaching and training for the teachers.

In addition, St. Margaret of Scotland partnered with St. Clement Church in Chicago, which has also worked with the school’s administration to provide scholarships, professional development opportunities for teachers and educational enrichment programs for students.

“The biggest thing has been the partnership between the school, the archdiocese, Big Shoulders and St. Clement,” Powers said. “There are very few schools and parishes in the archdiocese that are doing what we’re doing. We have monthly meetings where our partners come down to school and visit the classrooms to see what they can do to help.”

‘A mission school’

Chicago Catholic Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg, who was not available for comment with OSV, told local news outlets that the archdiocese will be looking to increase enrollment when it unveils a new strategic plan next year. The archdiocese is closing out a $350 million fundraising campaign and is expected to join the push for the state legislature to enact scholarship tax credits in Illinois.

The archdiocese’s current strategic plan for schools, which covers the time period from 2013 to 2016, says that the modern environment presents many challenges to Catholic schools compared to the past. Creating a vibrant school today, the strategic plan says, requires “a broader and deeper set of skills than some principals, trained in a different era, are prepared for.”

Today, a successful school requires strong marketing efforts, particularly because many parents are not familiar with Catholic schools themselves. For example, Powers said 98 percent of his school’s students are not Catholic. About 70 percent of them are at or below the federal poverty line and live in different neighborhoods.

“We have families who are traveling from 10 minutes to 30 minutes to come to our school,” Powers said, adding that his students live in 10 different zip codes. That kind of diversity requires a creative marketing strategy that incorporates billboard advertising and social media outreach.

“The role of a principal has changed a lot over the past couple of decades,” Powers said. “Before, they didn’t have to market themselves. Now, the financial strategic marketing aspects of the school fall on the principal.”

A big part of Powers’ job in the winter and spring is also focusing on increasing enrollment. The school has organized open houses, informational nights and “shadow days” where people come in and tour the school. Just as important is retaining students, and that means that the administration reaches out to those families to see if they are being served and if they need any help.

Despite the structural reforms, Powers said his school will never have a zero deficit, but he added that the archdiocese, Big Shoulders and St. Clement Church have pledged their continued support.

“We’re a mission school, and we’re doing God’s work here,” Powers said. “We’re educating these students because we’re Catholic, not because they’re Catholic.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Snowed in for the March for Life? Three ways to prayerfully participate, even from a distance

  • OSV Staff, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • January 22 2016
Shutterstock photo

With an impending blizzard heading for the Mid-Atlantic region, many dioceses and other organizations have canceled their trips to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. In lieu of traveling to the nation’s capital, many diocesan leaders are requesting a day of prayer instead. Here’s how you can prayerfully participate in the March for Life today, even from a distance:

1)  Fast. Fasting is an “essential habit of any soul who would draw close to Christ and imitate him,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., writes in his book “Ways to Pray: Drawing Closer to God” (OSV, $11.95). It’s a way of growing in humility, acknowledging one’s sins, worship and, especially in this particular case, it’s an offering of intercession, or, as Cardinal Wuerl writes, “a prayer for the good of another.” Consider fasting today from sweets, food between meals, gossip or complaining to join in solidarity with those praying for an end to abortion.

2) Read Scripture or other spiritual reading. "God has revealed himself to you in Sacred Scripture," Cardinal Wuerl writes. "When you make a commitment to read the Bible daily, you are showing your appreciation and saying 'thank you.'" Whether you are snowed in from the March for Life, or if your travel plans were canceled, reading through the first few chapters of the book of Genesis, in particular, is a great way to reflect on the dignity of each human life. 

3) Add a prayer for life to your daily prayer regimen — today and every day. Remember the unborn, the elderly and all whose dignity is in jeopardy during your regular prayer times, such as daily Mass or while praying the Rosary, or during grace before meals, the Liturgy of the Hours or your evening examination of conscience. In each little way, we develop a habit for praying for the dignity of all and that the sacredness of human life, from conception to natural death, be upheld. Such a prayerful habit is, Cardinal Wuerl says, healthy and beneficial. "We need to build up our prayer the way we would build up our muscles," he writes, "through a regular program of spiritual 'exercises' that become habitual."

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Work hard, pray hard: Ranching nuns find ‘balance in life’

  • Justin Bell, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • January 14 2016
Justin Bell

The lifestyle of the sisters at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado is attracting attention from discerning women — and curiosity-seekers

Sister Maria-Walburga Schortemeyer has a favorite Scripture verse that emerges in the Office of Readings her contemplative community prays.

“For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays; and you will gambol like calves out of the stall,” said the sister, quoting Malachi 3:20 while seated on an all-terrain vehicle on a sunny morning in northern Colorado, not far from the Wyoming border. She added: “And a gamboling calf is a very happy little animal.”

This Sister Maria-Walburga knows from experience.

The nun is a member of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga, which relies in part on raising cattle to sustain the community’s way of life and to attract vocations. The women themselves do the majority of the work. In the past year, the nuns’ work in cattle ranching has garnered much attention from major media outlets. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have proven to be fascinated by the nuns’ work and community, and many have contacted the abbey with prayer requests. The attention also has led to more women inquiring about life with the community.

But though television footage of nuns dressed in habits while working with cattle in snowy Colorado was novel to the general public, the work is nothing new to the Benedictines. Their tradition of ora et labora (“prayer and work”) goes back 1,000 years to the community’s motherhouse in Bavaria, Germany, and working with cattle has been a mainstay of the abbey since its founding by three of the German nuns in 1935. Now, more than 80 years later, the Abbey of St. Walburga has 24 solemnly professed nuns and postulants discovering more about God through their life of prayer and work.

Living out the rule

Mother Maria-Michael Newe, the abbess of the community since 2003, said there is an attractiveness in seeing the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century, lived out on a daily basis in the 21st.

“I think there’s a balance in our life,” she said. “We are committed to our prayer, and we’re committed to our work, and, in that, we also are committed to one another.”

The nuns pray the Divine Office and attend Mass daily in their chapel, starting with the vigil prayer at 4:50 a.m., Monday through Saturday. On Sundays and solemnities, they get to sleep in — beginning their days instead at 5:30 a.m.

In addition to the ranching, work includes various chores of running a large household, formation and education for the younger members, hospitality, accommodations for guests, operating a gift shop and distributing altar bread.

On the ranch

Sister Maria-Walburga, who has been with the abbey since 1990, is both the community’s novice mistress and ranch manager, helping care for the community’s 40 cows. The nuns raise the cattle to be sold and butchered — always at humane processing houses that have been well-researched. While Sister Maria-Walburga acknowledges that it can be difficult, both physically and emotionally, she referred to the Acts of the Apostles verse [10:13] in which the Lord says to Peter, “slaughter and eat.”

“It is our food,” she said. God gave “us the land and creatures for the sustenance of humans and to treat them with reverence. And it’s a lot easier to slaughter them knowing they’ve had a really good existence for a couple of years.”

The cattle also get names from the nuns. In 2015, the theme was cartoons and comic strips. Characters from English literature and herbs and spices provided names for the animals in years past.

Attraction of the abbey

Young women become interested in the abbey because of the balance of traditional liturgies and prayer with being outside in nature and working hard. “They like that we’re a community of nuns that hikes and that our work is very authentic,” said Sister Maria Gertrude Read, the abbey’s vocations director. “We work hard, and it’s [doing] things that we believe benefit the Church and the greater area where we live.”

Sister Maria Gertrude mentioned that when many young women first begin discerning a vocation, fear is an initial reaction, and the lifelong commitment is “very scary.” But trusting in the Lord, following him where he might be leading, in the end, will always bring one to a good place, she said. “He has a plan for everyone’s life, and his plan is the best. The best possible life is the one that he has in mind for you. So be not afraid.”

But it’s not just young women who are drawn to the abbey. Many are intrigued by or assist with the nuns’ lifestyle — which opens up doors for evangelization. Sister Maria-Walburga told of a veterinarian who brings students from Colorado State University to work with the community’s large animals. The animals’ calm demeanor helps the students with their hands-on learning. But Sister Maria-Walburga also sees the interaction as an opportunity “to also make [the students] not afraid of religious life, of the whole realm of spirituality,” which they may have lost on a secular college campus.

She also recalled a time that excavators traveled to the abbey to do some work.

“I could tell they were terrified of nuns,” she said. “One of them, I could just see him visibly relax when he saw me cleaning the corrals with a tractor in the rain. All of a sudden, they had a different view.” The nuns also gave other excavators a Bible when they mentioned they did not have one.

Just the presence of the women is reassuring, said Jill Svoboda, who along with her husband, Larry, is an oblate of the abbey. Both retired, the married couple enjoy helping out at the abbey and are also involved in their home parish in Arvada, Colorado. Jill related a conversation she had had with locals who have driven past the road leading to the abbey for years. Though they had never stopped in, when they saw the abbey’s sign and knew the nuns were praying for the needs of the world, she said, “that gave them great solace to know.”

No matter who is interested in their work or community, the nuns at the abbey are ready and willing to welcome them — living out a pillar of the Benedictine tradition: hospitality. The abbey is open to visitors who can take a retreat and join with the sisters’ prayer schedule, attend Mass, explore the vibrant gift shop or just stop in for some quiet prayer.

For women considering a vocation who are interested in the life of the nuns at the abbey, Sister Maria Gertrude offered some insight. “When we start a journey with God, you know that wherever it ends up, it’s going to be an amazing adventure,” she said.

Living Your Faith

Mercy at the heart of the beatitudes

  • Donald P. Richmond, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • January 07 2016
Shutterstock image

How Jesus' words in Matthew 5 can be used as stepping-stones to further our own spiritual growth

In celebration of the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this week’s Faith story has been written by Rev. Donald P. Richmond, an oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and Order of St. Benedict.

Every Catholic Christian is called to be a saint. This is God’s intention and, through the proper use of the sacraments, our spiritual inclination. Holiness is not just a potentiality, it is a Spirit-inspired and sacrament-empowered possibility. God, in Christ by the Holy Spirit, wills and works within his people to accomplish the dual purposes of personal holiness and practical evangelism.

If we are committed Catholics, we want to be holy. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within and among us, and because we strive to fully and faithfully participate in the sacraments, we are enlivened and empowered to live saintly lives.

But how, practically speaking, do we become the people God has called us to be? How is holiness received and achieved? The beatitudes, as found in St. Matthew 5:3-12, provides us with crucial answers to our inquiries.

Grace of holiness

When we examine the beatitudes, we are prone to think of them as individual — and often unrelated — statements of wisdom. More often than not, they remind us of proverbs or precepts that, if understood and applied, enrich and empower our lives. Although there is some truth associated with this perspective, the beatitudes provide far more than singular statements for self-improvement. Rather, and essentially, they provide spiritual stepping-stones by which we ascend the spiritual ladder of Christian holiness and evangelistic effectiveness.

In Matthew 5:3-5, we read about how we receive the grace of holiness. According to our text, poverty of spirit, mourning and meekness are critical to receiving this gift of godliness. Careful and prayerful reflection upon these principles reveals an imperative process of spiritual growth. The primacy of perceiving our spiritual poverty is the first step in this process. When we see and accept ourselves as we really are, we experience a pronounced sense of spiritual poverty. This identification of our marked need quite naturally leads to mourning, a deep sorrow over our sin.

These, together, lead to a genuine humility, or meekness. These are stepping-stones that help us move toward the “perfection” that God wants us to enjoy and employ (Mt 5:48). Only when we walk this perpetual path of poverty, mourning and meekness, as encouraged through the proper use of confession, are we able to receive the graces of the kingdom, comfort and inheritance. All sainthood begins with an appropriate awareness of our spiritual impoverishment and the mourning and humility resulting from this reality.

But these are only the beginning of spiritual progress and formation.

Hunger and thirst

Having passed from poverty to mourning to meekness, we now arrive at that place where we genuinely and intensely “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6). Until we embrace the process of perpetual spiritual poverty, this hunger for holiness can never be entirely satisfied. Unless poverty, mourning and meekness become the attitudes by which we live, righteousness is only a distant hope. The ongoing recognition of our need, enlivened through repentance and faith, empowers us to the possibility and potentiality of living righteously.

Unfortunately, at this point, many people may feel that they have “arrived.” Having “received” the gift of spiritual impoverishment, many think that they have now achieved the grace of righteousness. This, however, is not the case. There is a difference between having a hunger for holiness and having this spiritual appetite fully satisfied. Between the aspiration of verse six and the satisfaction of verse eight falls the virtuous path of verse seven. That is, in other words, mercy is the practical bridge between our hunger for holiness and the satisfaction of our hunger. Only by exercising mercy are we able to achieve satisfaction and perceive God.

As designated by Pope Francis, we are in the Year of Mercy. This emphasis upon mercy is not, however, a stand-alone idea. The pope is not simply trying to tell us to be nice. Although being nice is to be preferred above its negative alternatives, the Holy Father wants to move us well beyond spiritual niceties into spiritual renewal and social revival. He wants us to live holy lives. He wants us to be and become saints and, as saints, influence the world.

Exercising mercy

As we process through this Year of Mercy, let us attend to the three priorities presented in the beatitudes. First, and not to be overlooked or underestimated, the exercise of mercy depends upon recognizing and embracing our own spiritual impoverishment (Mt 5:3-5). We are in desperate need of mercy, and having received it, we extend this gift of grace to others (Mt 18:21-35).

Truly knowing our own desperate state helps us to appreciate the desperate need of others. Second, as those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” we must understand that the satisfaction of our hunger for holiness is only achieved as we exercise mercy toward other human beings. The difference between Pharisaical “perfection” and Christian “perfection” is found in the exercise of mercy. Third, and finally, mercy always has evangelistic overtones. When mercy is genuinely exercised, effective evangelism will occur. We see this briefly and broadly communicated in the remainder of the beatitudes and extending through verses 14-16 of Matthew 5.

Do we want to be holy? Do we want to share our faith? The exercise of mercy bridges saintliness to society.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Celebrating the gift of salvation

  • Dennis Emmons, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 17 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

With the arrival of the New Year, the Church commemorates several dates that honor the divinity of Christ

The mysteries and miracles associated with God coming down from heaven and entering the world as a newborn babe exceed the understanding of the ordinary person. Certainly, it is more than we can fathom in a single day. So in addition to Christmas Day, our Church gives us not only the eight octave days following the Nativity, but much of January to allow our minds to grasp what has happened. There are feasts and events in the first month of the year that help us assimilate the miracle of Christmas Day and understand who this new child is, his divinity and the meaning of his birth.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Octave Day of Christmas

In the world today, we associate numerous activities with Jan. 1. There are celebrations with family and friends, toasts to the coming year, hours and hours of college football and the making of New Year’s resolutions.

For Catholics, it is also a holy day of obligation, meaning it is our duty to attend Mass. Holy Mother Church commemorates several events on New Year’s Day.

Jan. 1 is the Octave Day — or eighth day — following Christmas, and it is the day on which we celebrate the role of Mary in salvation history, when she said “yes” to the angel, willing to be God’s handmaid and do his will. On this day, we are also reminded of Christ’s circumcision and the day he received his name. Additional feasts proclaiming Christ’s divinity are spread out over the coming days and weeks.

The honor given to Mary on Jan. 1 is known on the liturgical calendar as the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. A solemnity, meaning solemn or dignified, is next to Sunday in the rank order of Church feasts and celebrations. Acknowledging Mary as the Mother of God is the oldest of all the Marian feasts and dates back to the first century. But not everyone in early Church history regarded Mary as the Mother of God (see sidebar).

A feast specifically honoring Mary on Jan. 1 was part of the annual Church calendar until the 13th century, when it was removed and replaced by the feast of the Circumcision of Christ and Octave of the Nativity.

In Genesis 17:10-14, God made a covenant with Abraham that every male descendent of Abraham should be circumcised: “every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised.”

This act would be the mark of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Mary and Joseph submitted Jesus to the Law. At Christmas, he became man; at his circumcision, he became a Jew. “He had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17).

Although divine, Jesus would comply with all the laws, thus identifying himself as one of the Jewish people.

In 1969, the General Norms of the Church declared Jan. 1 as the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Christ’s circumcision, his humble acceptance of the Father’s will, is still appreciated in the Mass of that day. “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21).

Feast of the Holy Name

Jesus’ name means “savior” or “God saves” and fully encapsulates who he is. The words of St. Paul say it best: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).

The Church has long dedicated the month of January to the Holy Name of Jesus. In the 15th century, there was widespread devotion to the Holy Name and, thus, Christ’s divinity. By 1721, a feast had been assigned to Jan. 2 (or on the Sunday that fell between Jan. 2 and Jan. 5).

The Church’s mood reflected that of the psalmist: “I will extol you, my God and king: I will bless your name forever and ever” (Ps 145:1). Our Church teaches us to keep always the name of Jesus on our lips especially at the time of our death.

The feast of the Holy Name remained on the calendar until 1969 when it, like the feast of the circumcision, was eliminated. In 2002, it returned as an optional memorial.

Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany, or manifestation, of Jesus traditionally is held on Jan. 6 (and celebrated the first Sunday after Jan. 1). In the early Church, this was the date when the Nativity was celebrated. By the fifth century, most of the world accepted Dec. 25 as the birthdate of Christ. The Eastern Church today emphasizes the baptism and the Cana miracle on the Epiphany; in the West, we focus on the visit of the Magi.

The Magi lived in Arabia or Persia, studied the heavens and noted a new star they believed heralded the birth of a king in Israel. God notified the Jewish shepherds of Christ’s birth through the proclamation of angels. In a like way, he notified the Magi by a star and gave these non-Jews the grace to follow the star to Bethlehem. Thus, the birth of Jesus was not limited to the Israelites but manifested to all nations. The Magi recognized the child’s divinity as they brought expensive gifts, and “They prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt 2:11).

Baptism of the Lord

On the Sunday in January following the Epiphany, we celebrate Our Lord’s baptism, the day when his divinity was made known, when Jesus is identified as the Son of God.

Jesus did not need to be baptized, but he was, by St. John the Baptist, in the Jordan River, in the midst of true sinners.

The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke all evidence the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and a voice from heaven crying out, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”

John’s Gospel describes the event from the eyes of the Baptist: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (1:31-34).

Jesus goes into the baptismal waters like the sinners present and comes out as the Messiah now known to the world.

Reaching Families

Steps to help children cope with tragedies

  • Joseph D. White, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 11 2015
CNS photo/Mike Nelson, EPA

Age-appropriate responses can help minimize fear and confusion to shootings, attacks in the news

Recent news of terrorist events and shootings have caused us all to be concerned and alarmed. We may feel more vulnerable than before, and sometimes it’s hard to know which threats to take seriously and how best to protect ourselves. Children experience many of the same feelings as adults — sometimes to an even greater degree. Their dependence on adults and limited experience with danger can make news of threats and attacks especially terrifying for them. How can we reassure them in times of increased anxiety? Here are some tips for helping children cope with news of mass shooting and terrorist events:

Limit exposure

There has been a dramatic change in how (and how often) the news is reported. A sensationalistic, 24-hour news cycle is pervasive in our society, such that we (and our children) can be subjected to constant news of violence. Using the child’s age and maturity level as a guide, parents and other caretakers can be intentional about how information about world events is conveyed to their children. Here is a guideline:

Ages 0-6:— No news is good news. Children below the age of 7 not only have trouble understanding much of what is in the news but also have difficulty putting the information into perspective because of their limited experience with the outside world. If a terrorist is on the loose, many 5- and 6-year-olds will be sure he’s coming after them. It will likely be difficult to shield children from news of national events such as terrorist attacks, but even information about such widely reported news stories should come through a trusted adult who can help them understand, using age-appropriate language, what everyone is talking about.

Ages 7-12:— Parental guidance suggested. If children this age are in the room (or car) when the news is on, parents should be especially vigilant for stories that are too graphic for their young ears. They might understand more than we think or interpret information erroneously. Be especially careful to shield elementary-age kids from stories of crimes against children. There’s no evidence that exposure to these events via the news helps to protect them from harm, and it may make them fearful.

Ages 13 and up:— Talk about it. While young children might think everything will happen to them, teens often have the opposite problem. Their belief in their own invincibility can sometimes be tempered by healthy exposure to news about others their age, and it’s important for teens to be knowledgeable about current events at a time when you still have the opportunity to give them your take on what’s going on in the world.

Reassure children

Let children know that such violent events are rare, and that you are working to keep them safe. Unfortunately, we can’t promise our children that a terrorist attack will never hit close to home, but we can reassure them that while the news might make them feel like these events happen all the time, they are actually very rare. In my own psychology practice, I often help children understand how rare these attacks are by asking them if anyone they know — at home, school or church — has ever been the victim of a terrorist attack. Generally, they answer “no,” to which I respond, “If it’s never happened to anyone we know, it can’t be that common, right?” Let children know that you are always working to keep yourself, and them, safe. Tell them you know what to watch for when you are in large gatherings and public places, and that’s one reason why you want them to stay close by, where you can see them.

Watch for anxiety

There has been a dramatic rise in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders in children in recent years, and news exposure may be one of the contributing factors. If your child expresses extreme and atypical fears about separating from you, frequent nightmares or physical symptoms of stress, like headaches, stomachaches and difficulty sleeping, it may be advisable to speak with a child psychologist or counselor about working on coping skills you or the counselor could teach your child to better manage his or her anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which involves identifying and changing habits of anxious thoughts as well as learning new behaviors for controlling anxiety, has been shown to be especially effective.

Be peacemakers

Christ calls each of us to follow his example, loving others as he has loved us. This begins in our own homes. Prompt children to look for ways they can help others at home, at school and in the community. Teach them how to be accepting of differences and find common ground. Coach them through conflicts with siblings and peers so they can learn effective ways to solve problems and get along with others.

Sometimes children (and adults) ask why God allows terrorist attacks and other tragedies. While this is difficult to understand, one thing we can know is that God is always near to people who are suffering. We believe in a God who suffers with us and helps us through even the most difficult of times. We also see his presence in all of the helpers who respond to such attacks and tragedies. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are vivid examples of the worst in humankind, but our response to them can often bring out the best in us. We must never become callous or desensitized to acts of violence in our world, but instead we should ask ourselves, “How can we help?”

Let us not let terrorism keep us from living our lives with confidence, joy and hope. One of the most commonly repeated sayings in Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” Instead, let’s turn to God and work together with him to build a world where all can live in safety and peace.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope Francis inspires ‘the continent of hope’

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 02 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

In his journey to Africa, the pope preaches on unity, care for the poor and the strength of families

On Nov. 29, during his emotional visit to the violence plagued Central African Republic capital of Bangui, Pope Francis made his way to the city’s cathedral and ceremonially pushed open the Holy Door that had been designated for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was a poignant moment, greeted with wild cheers by the Catholics of the archdiocese. It was also a perfect metaphor for the hopes that accompanied the pontiff on his visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from Nov. 25-30, his first trip to Africa.

At his trip’s final Mass, at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in Bangui, the pope delivered a homily that was meant for the entire African Church. “May you look to the future,” he said “and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out toward new horizons, to put out into the deep.”

Francis traveled to three different countries that are facing many of the same challenges found across all of Africa: poverty, religious conflict, tribalism and failure to create democratically elected governments that are transparent, stable and free of corruption.

“My visit,” he said in Uganda, “is meant to draw attention to Africa as a whole, its promise, its hopes, its struggles and its achievements. The world looks to Africa as the continent of hope.”

Addressing problems

More than any of his recent trips, including to his native South America, Francis spoke extemporaneously with great regularity, so much so that journalists scrambled for what might pass as official translations of his comments, delivered almost entirely in Spanish.

Francis spoke from the heart not only because it is his custom to do so, but in response to the absolutely heartbreaking situations he encountered. In the space of six days, he visited one of the worst slums in all of Africa, a charity house, a camp for refugees and displaced persons, a clinic and the shrine dedicated to martyrs who were burned alive for the Christian faith. And he became the first pope to visit an active war zone when he arrived at the central Mosque of Koudoukou in Bangui.

Francis stressed four key themes that were meant for all of Africa: unity and working for the common good; the dignity of the poor; care of the family; and dialogue among the faiths.

In Kenya, he addressed the political leadership still trying to build a unified country of 44 million out of 42 tribal and language groups. He told them, “In the work of building a sound democratic order, strengthening cohesion and integration, tolerance and respect for others, the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal.” Speaking off the cuff to Kenyan youth two days later at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, he warned them against the dangers of tribalism and corruption, saying, “corruption is not a path to life, it’s a path to death.”

He brought a similar message to the Central African Republic where, according to the United Nations,  one-fourth of the country’s 5 million inhabitants have been internally displaced since 2013 by religious and civil war. Quoting the country’s own motto, he urged them to remember “unity, dignity and labor.”

Strengthening society

In Kangemi, one of Kenya’s most horrific slums, Francis assured the poorest of the poor, “I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me. I realize the difficulties which you experience daily! How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?” But noting those joys — he was greeted everywhere he went with singing, dancing and colorful costumes — he added, “I congratulate you, I accompany you, and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you. e path of Jesus began on the peripheries, it goes from the poor and with the poor, toward others.”

Connected closely to the chronic difficulty of poverty is the health of the family. Celebrating Mass at the University of Nairobi, Francis praised the traditional love of the family among the Africans and reminded them, “For their sake, and for the good of society, our faith in God’s word calls us to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

In a touching visit to the Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs of Namugongo, he called on Catholics to be faithful to their identity and to embrace the zeal of the martyrs in family life and society at large. “is openness to others,” he said at a Mass for 2 million at the shrine, “begins first in the family, in our homes where charity and forgiveness are learned, and the mercy and love of God made known in our parents’ love. It finds expression, too, in our care for the elderly and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned.”

The other major concern for much of Africa today is the advance of radical Islam and the need for dialogue between Christians and Muslims to end bloodshed and religious extremism. Francis went to the blood-soaked area around the central mosque in Bangui to demonstrate his willingness to talk. “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he told his Muslim hosts. “We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such ... Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.”

Acts of inspiration 

There has been a tendency to look at the schedule for Francis’ world trips and see visits to refugee camps, the sick and the forgotten as almost perfunctory. It is, some might think, simply what he does. Francis’ visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic was a reminder of just how significant his constant appeal to God’s loving mercy can be. His words touched many hearts. e people of the region, however, will remember his presence even more. is was a trip of images. Everywhere he went, there were enormous crowds, and he brought exuberance, laughter and tears of joy and compassion. Above all, he brought love.

“In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway,” Francis told the still-bleeding and suffering people of the Central African Republic, “Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love.”

In countries where millions have lost their homes, struggle to eat and seem forgotten by the world, it was his greatest gift.

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, Pastor and Priest, The Vatican

‘Mobile confessional’ new evangelization tool

  • Hannah M. Brockhaus, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 20 2015
Courtesy photo

A converted ambulance will bring the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the peripheries of Lafayette, La.

For the Year of Mercy, the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana is introducing a new mobile confessional to help bring people back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Made from a donated and converted ambulance, the confessional on wheels will officially begin service Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the beginning of the year Pope Francis has declared a “Jubilee of Mercy.”

“During the Year of Mercy we want to bring the sacrament to areas where people otherwise might not be able to get to confession,” said Father Michael Champagne, the priest behind the project.

“As the pope was saying, we have to smell like sheep. These days it’s more like leaving the one to go after the 99,” he said.

In the spirit of the New Evangelization, some of the goals of the endeavor are to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation more visible and more accessible — to put in people’s mind the “realization of the Catholic faith,” Father Champagne said.

Father Champagne sees the mobile confessional — and the Sacrament of Reconciliation — as a steppingstone to bringing people back into the churches. “In the confessional we can do a great deal of good to instruct them and get them back on track after many years.”

The plan is for the confessional to be present at about one event per week, making appearances at places such as shopping malls, schools, spiritual retreats and university homecomings.

Even more so, the traveling confessional is intended to be used to minister to people who otherwise might not be able to get to confession, in places such as housing projects, prisons and homeless shelters. In response to Pope Francis’ call to go out to the peripheries, the hope is that this “spiritual care unit” will be able to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation accessible to those who may not be able to go to the churches, said Father Champagne. “This is for those who are on the peripheries of the diocese.”

Father Champagne said that the goal is to reach out, especially to those in prison, the poor and in hospice. “You have to go to where they’re at. You have to go to their house where they’re dying, to the prisons. And then they want to go to church, because they were grateful for the presence of the Church on their turf.”

According to Father Champagne, Dec. 8, is a meaningful date for the official debut of the mobile confessional. The beginning of the Year of Mercy, it also marks the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, which Father Champagne said was about “making the great mystery of God’s mercy accessible to all peoples.”

Since the United States is consecrated to the Immaculate Conception, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is also fitting: “Our Lady is the most perfectly redeemed. Mary can extend mercy because she knows it so well,” Father Champagne said.

Fitted out with rosaries, Bibles, holy water and prayer cards, the converted ambulance also has a kneeler with the option for anonymity if desired, just like any regular confessional. The outside has a large image of Jesus as the Divine Mercy, with the Latin phrase Misericordiae Vultus (“the Face of Mercy”), the title of Pope Francis’ bull of Indiction declaring the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Other phrases, such as “sacred heart,” “field hospital,” and part of John 20:23, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” also adorn the outside.

Since the space is only designed to hold one priest and one penitent at a time, Father Champagne admits that they are limited if they should end up with crowds. But he says that they will just do what they have always done and adjust accordingly, possibly setting up additional confessional booths around the outside if needed. “We’ll hear confessions as long as we’re able,” he said.

If it’s successful, Father Champagne thinks it would be great to add more to the fleet, perhaps having one per diocese.

Bishop Michael Jarrell is very supportive of the endeavor, recently blessing the confessional in preparation for its travel.

“The whole idea is just to help reach out to our Catholics, to know the joy of God’s mercy,” said Father Champagne. “To share the joy of repentance.”

The Vatican

Growing Church, dangers await Francis in Africa

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 13 2015
CNS photo/handout via EPA

The continent is the fastest growing region for Catholicism in the world, but the challenges are real

While the Western media focused intently on Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and then the high drama of the Synod of Bishops in recent months, the pontiff’s impending trip to central Africa has largely gone unnoticed. Pope Francis will visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from Nov. 25-30 on his first papal journey to Africa.

The theme of the papal visit, “Stand firm and be strong,” is a very apt one given both the challenges and opportunities for the Church in the continent.

A Church on the rise

Africa has emerged as a powerful spiritual bulwark and is the fastest growing region for Catholicism anywhere on the planet. Presently, there are more than 200 million Catholics in the continent. That number is expected to increase to 460.4 million by 2040. Already, Africans account for nearly one-fifth of the global Catholic population.

African cardinals and bishops also emerged during the last two synods as major voices against secularization and relativism and staunch opponents of any abandonment of Church teaching on marriage.

At the same time, Africa is still beset with problems and crises, ranging from economic, social and political instability, endemic poverty, the march of radical Islam, mass migration, globalization, climate change and ideological colonization by the West in the areas of life, family and gender. Francis will talk about all of those things, but he will also be a symbol of God’s loving mercy and will encourage Africans to fulfill the optimism expressed by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 that Africa will become truly “an immense spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”

More than any other journey of this pontificate, in Africa, Francis faces some genuine risks to his safety. Jihadists have brought acute violence to Kenya, and security will be extremely tight, especially in Nairobi. Even more worrisome is the situation in the Central African Republic, where a bitter political struggle that includes Muslim-Christian fighting may delay badly needed elections and even derail the papal trip entirely.


The pope will begin in Kenya, home to more than 13 million Catholics, with more than 4 million of them inhabiting the sprawling Archdiocese of Nairobi. Francis will find a country that is struggling to stabilize democratic institutions in the aftermath of the 2007-08 post-election violence that displaced more than 500,000 Kenyans and left more than 1,200 dead. The country is plagued by rampant corruption and incompetence and mounting hostility from the radical Islamic terror group al-Shabab, which has launched attacks from its bases in Somalia, slaughtering Christians, including the April massacre of 149 Christian students at Garissa University in eastern Kenya. In 2013, the group murdered 67 people at the popular Westgate shopping mall.

Kenyan Church leaders are praying that Francis’ visit will spark reconciliation and bring unity to the Kenyan people. At a news conference at the end of October, Cardinal John Njue, the archbishop of Nairobi, said the pope’s trip is a blessing and added his aspiration that Francis “is coming to bring a message of peace and hope.” He expected the pontiff to address corruption, climate change, tribalism and religious strife. The papal schedule in Kenya includes a Mass at the University of Nairobi where 1.5 million are expected to attend.


Traveling to Uganda from Nairobi, Francis will arrive in one of the poorest countries on earth that is also home to 16 million Catholics, nearly half of the total population.

Dominated politically since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda also has suffered from bitter civil wars that have caused the deaths of 5.4 million people since 1998 and forced millions to flee into surrounding countries.

Francis will encourage Catholic leaders to promote political reconciliation and for Ugandans to stand firm against the imposition of Western ideologies. Uganda has been in the front lines of battling pressure from the U.S. and international agencies to embrace contraceptives in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but the Ugandan stress on abstinence has long been credited with making Uganda one of the few great success stories in the war against HIV. Ugandans are also resisting all efforts to accommodate the West’s LGBT agenda.

Francis will certainly speak about commitment to faith when he stops at both the Anglican and Catholic Shrines of the Martyrs of Namugongo, the commonly called Martyrs of Uganda, 32 young men put to death by King Mwanga II of Buganda in 1886 for refusing to abjure the Christian faith. The Catholic martyrs were canonized in 1964 by Blessed Pope Paul VI.

Central African Republic

From Entebbe, Uganda, Pope Francis will fly to the dangerous capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui. There are more than 1.6 million Catholics in the country, some 36 percent of the total population, and the nation has been in Francis’ thoughts over the last weeks as the political crisis deepened. While the country is majority Christian, Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a coup in 2013. The civil war that followed included ethnic cleansing. Under international pressure, the Muslim rebels ceded power to a transitional government, but hopes for lasting peace were dashed by new attacks and retribution in Bangui that have killed more than 100 people. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, since the renewed violence began, nearly 400,000 people have fled to camps, and an additional 440,000 have sought safety in neighboring countries.

At his Sunday Angelus on Nov. 1, the pope asked for prayers for the “afflicted and tormented nation,” spoke of the “painful episodes of the past days that have worsened the situation in Central African Republic” and appealed to all parties to take action to end the brutality.

In Bangui, he will make a call on a refugee camp and will celebrate Masses at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium and at Bangui Cathedral.

In his Nov. 1 Angelus, Pope Francis added a special desire: “To express the closeness of the entire Church in praying for the country,” he said, “and to urge all Central Africans to be greater witnesses of compassion and reconciliation, I intend to open the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Bangui on Nov. 29.”

It should be spiritually powerful for the Catholics of the country, but the event that is most anticipated is his courageous visit to the central Mosque of Koudoukou, situated in one of the most perilous neighborhoods of the city. The message from the pope for dialogue will be unmistakable. Sadly, given the upheaval, it is distinctly possible that the encounter may not happen. If it does, Francis will remind the world that he will go anywhere — even a war zone — for peace.

That, too, will send a message.

Reaching Families, Catholic Schools

U.S. Church to celebrate National Bible Week

  • Susan Klemond, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 05 2015
CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World

Organizers hope the event inspires Catholics to fall more deeply in love with the word of God

Sean and Tricia Lokmer’s oldest daughter can’t read yet but the couple have found ways to introduce her to the Bible, which they have come to appreciate through their own prayer as central to their Catholic faith.

Through a children’s devotional that draws from the daily Mass readings, picture books and a computer app containing Bible stories, the couple, who live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are seeking to instill a love of Scripture in their 5-year-old daughter — and eventually also in their 3-year-old daughter.

The family doesn’t yet pray together with the Bible, but they want to start their daughters thinking about it, Tricia said. “That it’s not just a book on the table but it’s actually something we open and read and learn about Jesus’ life.”

Speaking of their oldest daughter, Sean said, “The hope is that the foundation we’ve given her will help her take on herself to go a little bit deeper in understanding her faith.”

With the goal of helping families, parishes, schools and other groups to go deeper in their faith by renewing their emphasis on Scripture and recognizing its importance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging the faithful to participate in National Bible Week, which is being held Nov. 15-21.

Event of encouragement

The celebration in the U.S. Church, which falls just before the Nov. 23 Protestant observance of International Day of the Bible, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. The document explains how sacred Scripture and our love for it should inspire our entire lives.

In what might become an annual event, the theme for the first National Bible Week is “The Bible: A Book for the Family,” as the week follows closely the World Meeting of Families and the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

The USCCB is encouraging Catholics to highlight Scripture in the activities they’re already doing, and it is offering on its website (USCCB.org) additional ideas and recommendations for families, parishes and other leaders, said Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB associate director of U.S. permissions and Bible utilization. National Bible Week draws attention to Dei Verbum and the wealth of Church teaching on sacred Scripture while seeking to help families develop the regular practice of praying together with Scripture and to strengthen the link between parishes and households. It also brings attention to the range of Bibles and Bible-related resources.

“It’s not just a historical remembrance,” said Mario Paredes, Catholic ministries director at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society (ABS). “The idea is to engage people with holy Scripture, to pray with the Bible, to learn about the Bible, to study and have the Bible as central guidance of our faith.”

The idea for National Bible Week came out of consultations between the ABS and USCCB and later with involvement of the Association of Catholic Publishers. The first National Bible Week was held in 1941. Decades ago, the U.S. Catholic Church participated in the event but stopped because parishes were too busy during the Thanksgiving week observance, Sperry said. Organizers of the previous iteration of National Bible Week have since shortened the week to the International Day of the Bible.

Making Scripture a priority

The U.S. Church’s National Bible Week is an appropriate moment to look back at Dei Verbum and also to look forward to the Year of Mercy. The emphases of the jubilee year, mercy, the New Evangelization and the family are rooted in the Scriptures, said Stephen Binz, a Catholic biblical scholar, writer and speaker based in Louisiana.

Dei Verbum teaches that Scripture should be open wide, Binz said. “The 50th anniversary is a wonderful event to recall for Catholics, because that’s the document primarily that encourages them to read Scripture as a regular part of life as disciples of Christ.”

Catholics already encounter the Bible in their parish and school lives, Sperry said. “Everything we do as a Catholic community is imbued with Scripture, is imbued with the word of God — just attending to that fact is important.”

As a way of integrating family Bible study with family liturgy in the parish, the USCCB is recommending that parishes invite members to bring their Bibles to Mass on Nov. 15 when the presider can bless them. It suggests that families enthrone their Bibles in their homes to recognize their importance.

More Catholics are reading Scripture now than 10 or 20 years ago because of access to daily devotionals, Brown said. The USCCB’s online daily readings also have a significant following, Sperry said. Besides this, Catholics are practicing lectio divina, an ancient method of praying with Scripture, Binz said.

At the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family, synod fathers taught on helping families apply Scripture in their lives, Sperry said. Scripture has been a big part of other recent synods, and out of them have come other important documents on Scripture, including the Verbum Domini apostolic exhortation released by Pope Benedict XVI after a 2008 synod. The Church’s rich tradition of teachings on Scripture can be found in Vatican II documents, the catechism and other sources, said Sperry, who added that Scripture is essential to the Mass.

“As a Church, we believe and we know that Christ is present in the Scripture. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, and he is present in the word of Scripture, and in Scripture, we encounter Christ.”

Learning from other faiths

The U.S. Catholic Church joins Catholics in other countries who hold Bible celebrations, said Therese Brown, executive director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. “(National Bible Week) is a long time coming,” she said. “There are many other countries and bishops’ conferences that have ... had a dedicated committee or resources and time to focus on the Bible within their country.”

As Catholics join Protestants in celebrating the Bible, they can learn from how Protestant brothers and sisters make Scripture a regular part of their lives, Binz said. But Catholics should read Scripture in the context of the Church. “Scripture’s not just a book for me and God but a book of the community of faith,” he said.

Catholics’ participation in National Bible Week could signal future collaboration with Protestants because there is goodwill to bring the Bible to the central life of Catholic and Protestant communities, Paredes said.

In the long run, Binz said he hopes National Bible Week will help dioceses and parishes remind Catholics of the essential nature of Scripture and the regular use of it in faith life.

Sperry said the U.S. Catholic Church may celebrate the event in future years if it is well-received.

“Catholics often feel inferior when it comes to the Bible, and we shouldn’t. We have wonderful teachings on Scripture. Scripture is utterly essential to our life in the Church. We just need to take hold of that teaching with both hands and appreciate it.”

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

‘Sanctuary’ of interfaith dialogue in Holy Land

  • Judith Sudilovsky, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 30 2015
Debbie Hill

The Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem provides a safe haven in a tumultuous environment

On a hilltop near Bethlehem, there is a place where, even in these troubled times, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, can come together to learn, study, discuss and even disagree in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.

According to its website, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute “serves as a welcoming place in the Holy Land for visitors who come from all over the world.”

“People see Tantur as a place that is safe to meet, a bit of a crossroads,” said Tantur rector Father Russell McDougall, sitting in the dining room balcony which overlooks Bethlehem to the south, the Arab Jerusalem village of Beit Tzafafa to the north, and the Israeli Jerusalem areas of Gilo and Har Homa — seen as neighborhoods by Israelis and as settlements by Palestinians because they were built on lands confiscated from the villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour — to the west and east, respectively.

Reflecting on the interfaith character of the institute, Father McDougall expresses the role of Tantur by recounting a Jewish mystical tradition maintaining that throughout human history there are 36 righteous souls whose good deeds on behalf of humanity keep the world from falling apart.

“We can keep people talking; together, we can do our part to be part of those 36 people who keep things from falling apart,” he said.

Commingling of faiths

Inspired by Vatican II and Blessed Pope Paul VI’s historic meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in the Holy Land in 1964, religious leaders, including Paul VI, envisioned Tantur as an in-residence international ecumenical institute for theological research and pastoral studies for individual scholars. The institute quickly evolved to include an interfaith aspect whereby students are exposed to Jewish and Muslim beliefs by local lecturers via a number of short- and long-term courses that allow visitors to deepen their understanding of the history, culture and people of the Holy Land.

But in addition to hosting conferences and opening their doors to people of all faiths from abroad, Tantur also is among one of the only venues in Jerusalem where Israelis and Palestinians can meet in an open and nonthreatening environment.

“We are not alone in our work,” said Father McDougall, who has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith work in his previous positions in the U.S. and in Africa. “And though it may seem like our efforts do not produce much fruit ... I try to remember notes of encouragement from our tradition. Such as when Jesus was faced with 5,000 people and he was asked by the disciples how they had to feed them with only five loaves and two fish. What are these in front of so many?”

‘Open venue’

Tantur serves or has served as host for various Israeli-Palestinian groups such as: Seeds of Peace and Kids4Peace, coexistence groups for children; Combatants for Peace, which brings together former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters; a Palestinian-Israeli women’s empowerment group; and starting in late November, a Slim Peace group that will see Israeli and Palestinian women coming together in an eight-week weight-loss program that will use Tantur’s facilities as its home base. Also recently, and discreetly, a group of Palestinian and Israeli physicians met at Tantur over two days to discuss issues of mutual professional interest despite the recent flare-up in the conflict.

“People bring up difficult questions, but at least here they speak about them civilly,” Father McDougall said. “Part of it is people getting to know each other, and that makes a difference. They meet people as people and first recognize the basic goodness, so they have a relationship. Of course, the (problems) are so much bigger than these meetings, but they help build a relationship between people so they see each other as human beings.”

Al-Quds University professor Mustafa Abu Sway began his relationship with Tantur Ecumenical Institute as an undergraduate student in the early 1980s, and today, he is primarily a lecturer on introductory Islamic studies.

“There is an organic link between knowledge and bridge-building. I believe that I am a bridge builder across all cultural divides,” he said. “I am a staunch anti-clash of civilization person who believes that civilization is cumulative. When there is a conflict, it is because political leaders decided to go war, and there is no better example than occupation. Interfaith dialogue is the best solution for conflicts, especially when it is accompanied by a theology of justice. Tantur provides a very open venue for the exchange of ideas, and I am grateful for my role as an educator.”

Hope in working together

Loreto Sister Anastasia Kiriongi, from Kenya, who is participating in a study group at Tantur, noted that because of the proximity to Bethlehem, they have heard the gunfire from the clashes with Israeli soldiers and smelled the tear gas as well. At the same time, she has seen the Israeli security build up in Jerusalem as a reaction to the recent stabbing attacks there.

“The different interfaith speakers here have really opened my eyes, and I am ready to receive and understand. I didn’t expect so much interfaith connection with Muslims and Jews,” she said.

“Tantur offers an opportunity to meet people from the two sides of the conflict and see the complexity of the conflict,” Presentation Sister Anne Jordan of Australia said. “We are exposed to a whole range of different people.”

Father Philip Perreau from Perth, Australia noted that through its program of studies, Tantur allows people not only to have a spiritual experience but also to learn to recognize the land as important to many religions.

“There is always a need for working together, to make sure everyone’s rights are respected and everybody has the chance to live and worship in their own way,” Father Perreau said. “Bringing in different speakers helps us as participants see that our faith experience is more than just prayer to God, but it is living it out in respect to other people of different faith religions ... where we show love to God and our neighbors no matter who they are.”

The work of Tantur, although it brings together people who are already open to dialogue, can “be the seed from which other things can happen,” Father Perreau said. “It is a place where moderates can come and see what they can do. For anything to happen, you need moderates to get together.”

Recalling that during the Second Intifada uprising more than a decade ago, participation in Tantur’s study and dialogue programs were hard hit, but Father McDougall said they would continue to do what they are able to do.

Quoting Lutheran Bishop Munib A. Younan, Father McDougall added: “As Christians, we have to be people of hope. I am not very optimistic about an easy solution, but I am hopeful.”

Catholic Schools, Living Your Faith

Ways to celebrate religious education at your parish

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 23 2015
Courtesy www.ncea.org

2015 National Parish Religious Education Week

The beginning of November also marks the beginning of the 2015 National Parish Religious Education Week, which runs Nov. 1-7. This year’s theme is “Encountering Christ Every Day ~ Encuentro con Cristo cada día.”

The event, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), is meant to help parishes in the United States see themselves as “catechizing communities.”

Specifically, the NCEA outlined in its preparatory materials that the week’s goals are to honor those serving in parish religious education, share the contributions parish communities are making to sound education in the Catholic Faith, and to help build bridges between the parish and school educational programs, as well as other faith formation programs.

To celebrate, the NCEA recommends seven activities: worship; inform your community about religious education in your parish; pray; recognize catechists for their work; share the good news about parish religious education; offer parish-wide study on the importance of catechesis; and serve the community.

This year marks the third National Parish Religious Education Week — the first was celebrated in 2013 as a result of the Year of Faith — and, according to the NCEA, “focuses on the value of parish-based efforts to form people of all ages in the Catholic Faith and way of life.”

To find out more about National Parish Religious Education Week, go to ncea.org.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Celebrating the holiness of St. Teresa of Avila

  • J.J. Ziegler, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 16 2015
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

The Order of Discalced Carmelites honored the 500th anniversary of their founder’s birth with a jubilee year

Throughout the past year, the Order of Discalced Carmelites have commemorated the 500th anniversary of the birth of its foundress, St. Teresa of Ávila. Communities across the world concluded a jubilee year honoring the saint’s fifth centenary earlier this month on her Oct. 15 feast day.

Recent popes have showered praise on St. Teresa. In 1970, Blessed Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, and in 1982, St. John Paul II traveled to Spain to commemorate the 400th anniversary of her death. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI described her as “one of the peaks of Christian spirituality of all time” and “a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time.” Pope Francis called her “a sure guide and attractive model of total donation to God” in a message to Father Saverio Cannistrà, the Discalced Carmelites’ superior general, on March 28, her 500th birthday.

During the celebration of her birthday, the bishop of Ávila, Spain, joined by Carmelite superiors, celebrated Mass and led a large procession of the faithful to the first convent she founded. Father Cannistrà wished his order’s foundress happy birthday from “your daughters and sons, your large family that recognizes you as mother and teacher; those Christians whom you have caused to discover what a good friend Jesus is and how our life is changed by learning to be with him in simplicity and love, limiting ourselves to gazing on him who gazes at us.”

Entering religious life

Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Ávila, Spain, in 1515. Teresa’s father had three children by his first marriage. After he was widowed, he remarried, and Teresa was the third of nine children of the new marriage.

“I had a father and mother who were devout and feared God,” the saint wrote in her autobiography. “My father was a man of great charity toward the poor, and compassion for the sick, and also for servants; so much so that he never could be persuaded to keep slaves ... My mother also was a woman of great goodness, and her life was spent in great infirmities.”

When Teresa was a child, she loved to read the lives of saints, and one day she and her brother decided to run away in order to seek martyrdom among the Moors in Africa — only to be stopped by an uncle who took them home. When she was 13, her mother died, and at 16, her father sent her to an Augustinian convent school. After a little over a year away, she returned home, ill.

Desiring the safest way to avoid hell, she resolved to enter religious life when she was 18. After her father refused his consent, she and a brother ran away from home one night — he to seek admission to a Dominican friary and she to enter a Carmelite convent. The Carmelites sent her father word that she was with them, and he finally gave his consent.

The early years of Teresa’s religious life were years of joy, interior struggle and serious illness. In the years that followed, she received many interior graces that led her to a deeper practice of prayer. The convent was not cloistered; visitors frequently came, and the sisters sometimes were asked to visit others outside.

At the age of 39, Teresa experienced a deeper conversion to the Lord. “It came to pass one day, when I went into the oratory, that I saw a picture,” she recalled. “It was a representation of Christ most grievously wounded ... So keenly did I feel the evil return I had made for those wounds, that I thought my heart was breaking. I threw myself on the ground beside it, my tears flowing plenteously, and implored him to strengthen me once for all, so that I might never offend him anymore.”

A new order

Four years later, St. Teresa was granted a vision of the place she deserved in hell, and she began to desire a stricter observance of the Carmelite life, noting that in her convent “the rule also was kept, not in its original exactness, but according to the custom of the whole order, authorized by the bull of mitigation” of Pope Eugene IV (1432), who relaxed the original 13th-century Carmelite rule.

One day, as she received holy Communion, she sensed a command from the Lord to proceed with the founding of a new convent that followed the original rule. She found much opposition to her plan among her convent’s nearly 200 sisters.

“I was now very much disliked throughout the whole monastery, because I wished to found another with stricter enclosure,” she recalled. “It was said I insulted my sisters, that I could serve God among them as well as elsewhere.”

In 1562, with the permission of the bishop and joined by two other sisters, she founded the Convent of St. Joseph in Ávila. With the support of some churchmen and the opposition of others, she founded 17 convents during the remaining two decades of her life and worked with St. John of the Cross to promote reform among the Carmelite friars as well.

During her last decades, she also wrote books through which she has exercised a lasting influence on Catholic spirituality: the autobiographical “Life” (1565); “The Way of Perfection” (1566), written for novices; her classic “Interior Castle” (1577); and the “Book of Foundations” (1573-82), in which she discussed the founding of her reformed convents.

Teresa of Jesus died on Oct. 4, 1582, and was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.

A sure guide

In celebration of the opening of the jubilee year honoring St. Teresa on Oct. 15, 2014, Pope Francis sent a message to the bishop of Ávila, in which he said, “At the school of the saintly traveler, we learn how to be pilgrims.”

The saint “understood life as a way of perfection, along which God leads man, from task to task, up to him and, at the same time, puts him on a journey toward mankind,” the pope continued, as he named four of the saint’s “paths” that “do me much good.”

The first path, said Pope Francis, is the path of joy. Because she knew the Lord loved her, St. Teresa was a woman with a “contagious and unconcealable joy.” This joy, the pope noted, “is not reached by an easy shortcut that bypasses sacrifice, suffering or the cross but is found by enduring labor and pain, looking to the crucifix and seeking the Risen One.”

St. Teresa described the second path, the path of prayer, as “being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us.” St. Teresa’s emphasis on the absolute necessity of prayer “is of perennial relevance,” Pope Francis said. “Thus, go forth along the path of prayer, with determination, without stopping, until the end!”

The saint’s third path, the pope continued, is “the way of fraternity,” or brotherhood and sisterhood, “in the bosom of the Mother Church.” In response to immense problems in the Church and society of her time, St. Teresa saw the importance of creating small communities in which women could together journey toward Christ as sisters, in mutual charity, detachment and humility.

The final path is that of time, of recognizing that the Lord meets us moment by moment, even “amidst the pots and pans,” as St. Teresa put it. In response to difficulties, she did not give in “to bitter complaining,” the pope observed, but accepted them “in faith as an opportunity to take a step forward on the journey.”

“Teresian realism,” Pope Francis said in summary, thus “requires work instead of emotions, and love instead of dreams”; it is “the realism of humble love,” rather than “anxious asceticism.”

Five centuries after her birth, we can ask this Carmelite reformer to help us travel the paths of joy, prayer, fraternity and time in our own pilgrimage to God.

The Vatican

Europe struggles to tend to flood of refugees

  • Jonathan Luxmoore, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 09 2015
CNS photo

While the pope has called for action, many are in disagreement over how to deal with problem

When pictures were flashed by the world’s media of a 3-year-old Syrian boy lying drowned on a beach in Turkey, after falling from a makeshift dinghy, they brought home the desperate plight of refugees fleeing the region’s conflicts.

But they also highlighted dilemmas facing the governments of Europe as they seek a coherent policy to cope with the huge numbers of migrants arriving on their borders.

“The situation is getting worse — with 4 million Syrians already driven out, tens of thousands are now looking for routes into Europe via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans,” said Patrick Nicholson, director of communications for the Vatican-based Caritas Internationalis.

“The European Union has to accept some responsibility for what’s happening in the Middle East rather than leaving it to neighboring countries,” Nicholson said. “If access is blocked, conditions will become ever harsher for people stuck without food, water and shelter.”

Escalating problem

Throughout 2015, refugees have been arriving aboard battered boats on southern Europe’s Mediterranean shorelines or being rescued by naval ships from unscrupulous people-smugglers.

But thousands also have drowned during perilous sea crossings from Libya and elsewhere despite an anguished appeal by Pope Francis to the European Parliament last November that the Mediterranean not be allowed to become a “vast graveyard.”

In late summer, attention switched to Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary and Croatia as large crowds made their way overland.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 549,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015. With thousands more arriving daily, unease and confusion are rife.

While most governments have been ready to help, some have closed their borders, pleading a lack of infrastructure and resources.

And though European opinion has proved broadly sympathetic, there have also been hostile reactions, including more than 430 separate attacks on refugee centers this year alone in Germany — more than double the violence that occurred in the country in all of 2014 — which has offered to accept 800,000 people into its country this year.

As chaos mounts, some observers say the EU no longer faces a challenge to its currency and economy but to its very founding values of humanity and solidarity.

“Many are arriving with no plans, needing both immediate assistance and help in understanding their options,” Kim Pozniak, communications officer for U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services, told Our Sunday Visitor.

“These people aren’t just migrating in search of a better life; they’re fleeing to protect their children and save their lives, and this is something everyone can relate to. But while they’ve been shown compassion in some countries, this hasn’t been the case everywhere.”

Church’s response

Europe’s Catholic bishops have been responding with calls for help, especially in Germany and Austria, where 71 refugees were found suffocated in late August inside a truck near Vienna.

Meanwhile, church groups across Europe have been providing humanitarian support, particularly after a Sept. 6 appeal by Pope Francis for dioceses, parishes and religious orders to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” by each taking in one family.

Even then, not everyone has been supportive.

Catholics in Slovakia have endorsed their government’s decision not to accept Muslims on the grounds they “would not feel at home” in a predominantly Catholic country with no mosques.

In the Czech Republic, where human rights groups criticized police for stamping numbers on refugees’ hands, the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Jan Graubner, has also demanded his country take only “Christian refugees.”

In Poland, a former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Mission Societies, Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, told his church’s Catholic information agency, KAI, on Sept. 2 that Muslims would merely “open ghettoes which give birth to violence and terrorism.”

On Sept. 14, another Polish bishop, Edward Frankowski, warned his congregation the refugees included “masked jihadists waiting to strike” against Europe’s Christians. 

In Hungary, where premier Viktor Orban warned in late August that a Muslim “invasion of Europe” would endanger the continent’s Christian heritage, Church leaders were criticized for saying and doing little, even when police began beating and arresting refugees seeking entry to the country.

One Hungarian bishop, Laszlo Kiss of Szeged-Csanad, has accused the pope of failing to understand. Many refugees are arriving with cries of “Allahu Akbar” and getting ready to “take over Europe,” Bishop Kiss told the Washington Post in mid-September.

Nicholson, the Caritas Internationalis spokesman, thinks the pope’s appeal was nevertheless crucial in recalling the Christian duty to “welcome strangers” in the spirit of the Good Samaritan.    

With a combined population of 500 million, the European Union’s acceptance of 400,000 is a minuscule contribution compared to that of Lebanon, which is sheltering 1.5 million in a population of just 4 million.

“We need to cut through the political subterfuges and opt for a simple message about alleviating suffering,” Nicholson told OSV.

“Although the practicalities of getting parishes and orders to help still have to be worked out, appeals like the pope’s will make a practical difference, enabling shelter to be offered in an organized way which benefits both refugees and host communities.”

Governmental action

For now, though, EU governments appear to lack a coping strategy.

Although free movement without border checks is permitted between 26 European countries under a 1990 Schengen Convention, a separate Dublin Regulation, in force since 1997, requires refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach. By saddling southern countries with the overwhelming burden, this regulation is widely believed to have failed. Yet no clear rules have been devised to replace it.

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has backed European Commission calls for a quota system that would allow refugees to be shared according to each country’s size and economic strength. Yet this too has been bitterly resisted. 

In a September statement, the Brussels-based Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) urged EU governments to back the “warm welcome” extended by Europe’s civil society with clear measures before the onset of winter. The organization also compared the refugee crisis to that of World War II, a statement that was echoed by Pope Francis in his Sept. 24 address to a joint session of Congress.

EU member-states should fulfil their obligations under the EU Charter, the U.N. Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights, the JRS added, allowing families to reunite quickly and fairly under “comprehensive resettlement programs.”

The commission representing Europe’s Catholic bishops, COMECE, also demanded a “common European solution” and warned of the “Christian duty” to help. It was wrong that some countries now sought to “disengage entirely from their responsibility,” COMECE warned, and expressed disappointment that some refugees were encountering “harassment and hostility.”

“Everything must now be done to ensure no one dies of thirst at our borders, drowns in the Mediterranean or gets starved and suffocated aboard a truck,” COMECE’s German president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, told Germany’s ARD broadcast consortium. “Money shouldn’t play a role when lives are being saved,” Cardinal Marx added. “Nor will any solution be provided by political disputes over a distinction between fugitives from war and poverty, all of whom have legitimate aspirations.”

Call to help

The pictures of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying drowned on the beach at Bodrum, Turkey, forced several European governments, including Britain’s, to soften their hardline policies and was a reminder of the power of images to influence opinion. Just a week later, however, 15 more children and 19 adults drowned when their boat capsized off the nearby Greek island of Farmakonisi, prompting fresh pleas from Catholic aid agencies.

Patrick Nicholson of Caritas Internationalis hopes the EU will agree on decisive action.

It should set up “efficient, safe and legal ways into Europe,” he said, so refugees won’t have to suffer and die on its borders, as well as introduce humanitarian visas so they can be integrated into Europe’s labor, health care and education systems.

But governments should also work more actively for peace in the Middle East, stopping the flow of arms and filling gaps in humanitarian aid, which have fuelled the desperation.

“At some stage, we’ll have to help rebuild countries like Syria, so their uprooted minorities can return home,” Nicholson said. “Although there are some practical differences in the Church, Catholic social teaching is very clear: We’ve an unconditional duty to help strangers, whatever their faiths and outlooks.”

The Vatican

In America, a journey of love and mercy

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 01 2015
CNS photo/Doug Mills

Pope Francis spent six days inspiring those who heard his message to reach out and encounter the world with love

Whether addressing the country’s lawmakers or clergy, its schoolchildren or its imprisoned, its families or its poor, Pope Francis spent six days inspiring those who heard his message to reach out and encounter the world with love.

CHARITABLE VISIT: Pope Francis meets people involved with St. Maria’s Meals Program of Catholic Charities during his visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

PICTURE TIME: Students use their smartphones to take selfies with Pope Francis outside of Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the East Harlem area of New York on Sept. 25. (CNS photo by Eric Thayer)

SPECIAL BLESSING: Pope Francis blesses a child in a wheelchair before celebrating Mass with representatives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

PAPAL KISS: Pope Francis stops to kiss a child as he makes his way in the popemobile during a parade to Independence Mall in Philadelphia on Sept. 26. (CNS photo by Jim Bourg, Reuters)

WAVING GOODBYE: Pope Francis waves to an estimated crowd of 20,000 as he leaves Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sept. 25. (CNS photo by Mike Crupi)

SAFE AND SECURE: Security details surround the popemobile as Pope Francis makes his way during a parade to the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Sept. 27. (CNS photo by Bob Roller)

A BLESSING: Pope Francis blesses a prisoner as he visits the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on Sept. 27. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope Francis greets families who lost loved ones in 9/11

  • Gretchen R. Crowe, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • September 25 2015
Gretchen R. Crowe

The Holy Father blesses the site of the Sept. 11 memorial

Before presiding over an interreligious memorial service during his busy day in New York City, Pope Francis spent a few minutes outside the 9/11 Memorial Museum praying for all those who died in the terrorist attacks 14 years ago and greeting many family members who lost loved ones that day.

The solemn affair lasted only a few minutes, with Pope Francis standing with his head bent next to the South Pool. After he finished praying, he spent time in what he would call a moment of encounter, shaking the hands of and speaking with 18 family members of 10 families in the 9/11 community.

“The water we see flowing toward that empty pit remind us of all those lives" lost in 2001, he said. "The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present."

It was his blessing of this space, where so many of their loved ones died, that they were grateful to receive.

“The families have always viewed this as a very sacred space,” said Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles “Chic” Burlingame, the pilot of the American Airline Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Pope Francis, Burlingame said, is a “holy father” for even those who aren’t Catholic.

“For me, his coming here is acknowledging the best of humanity,” she said. “We saw a lot of terrible things on 9/11, and the world responded with great love and compassion. We saw the best of us here, so I think he is acknowledging that as well.”

Anthoula Kastimatides, the sister of John Kastimatides, who had been on the 104th floor of the North Tower, said the fact that Pope Francis asked to meet with members of the community was key.

It “speaks volumes about the kind of person he is,” she said. “His heart and his soul and his desire to be with and among people who are experiencing some sort of loss or tragedy, even 14 years later — he wants to acknowledge that with us.”

Monica Iken-Murphy, wife of Michael Patrick Iken, who was on the 84th floor of the South Tower, was grateful that Pope Francis blessed the site of her husband’s death and those others who did not recover remains.

“This is the way we are going to honor them, by having someone this holy, closest to God, Pope Francis, come here to bless this site,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder to share this memorial museum with him,” she said. “What an honor to be here. What a legacy for (my girls) and the future generations to come.”

Afterward, Pope Francis joined a varied group of religious leaders and about 400 people in Foundation Hall to offer prayers for the deceased and for peace in the world.

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue and Imam Khalid Latif, the Muslim chaplain at New York University, offered reflections before the pope spoke.

"Intolerance and ignorance fueled those who attacked this place," Latif said. "We stand together as brothers and sisters to condemn their horrific acts of violence and honor each life that was lost."

Rabbi Cosgrove prayed that "today and everyday may we understand our shared mission to be, in the words of Pope Francis, 'a field hospital after battle' to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of a humanity in so desperate need of comfort."

Representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities read meditations on peace, and a choir sang a Jewish prayer in honor of the deceased.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Saint Junipero Serra

  • Michael Heinlein, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 17 2015
CNS photo

Known as the 'father of the California missions,' Serra will become America's first Hispanic saint — and the first to be canonized on U.S. soil

When Pope Francis arrives in the United States for his first pastoral visit to our country Sept. 22, his first major public event will be the canonization of the 13th American saint, Junipero Serra.

From the time Francis announced his intent to canonize Serra on this trip earlier this year, American Catholics immediately expressed great joy. The news also, however, revived resistance over his controversial tenure as presidente of California’s colonial mission system, even a public debate about whether his statue should be removed from the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

The Church is unafraid of a thorough examination of Serra’s life. This is especially true in such cases of canonization, when the Church must be sure that the candidate lived a holy life of heroic virtue and intercedes with God from heaven.

The Church recognizes no human life is perfect, and Serra’s was no exception. But because sainthood doesn’t depend on any earthly greatness but rather on a person’s interior holiness and virtuous life, the Church now holds up Junipero Serra as a model for all Catholics.

Early life

Born on Nov. 24, 1713, off the Spanish coast on the island of Mallorca’s city of Petra, Miguel Serra was baptized within hours of his birth because two older siblings hadn’t survived childhood. When he was 15 years old, Miguel decided to begin priestly studies and wanted to become a Franciscan. He wasn’t accepted at first because of his age and sickly nature, but a second try was successful, and he embarked on a vocation that would last more than half a century. The young Franciscan excelled in the spiritual practices of the order by his first vows in 1731 — taking the name Junipero after a companion of St. Francis himself. Missionary zeal got into his blood early when he read about the brave South American missionary St. Francis Solanus, who had been recently canonized. Little did Serra know that he would go on to evangelize western North America and become the first canonized American saint of Hispanic origin.

Serra’s intellectual prowess was evident to his peers and superiors at an early age, and he was already appointed to teach philosophy before his ordination. Before turning 30, he held a full professorship of philosophy at Lullian University in Mallorca, where he earned his doctorate. He forged strong bonds with his students, and two of them went with him in the North American mission.

His success in religious life and the academy did not keep Serra from following his truest heart’s calling, and in 1748, he asked his superior for permission to travel to North America and evangelize the indigenous people. Abandoning his promising academic career, and full of a desire to give more of himself, Serra set out from his native Mallorca for the first and last time. Preparing to cross the Atlantic from Spain the next year, Serra wrote a goodbye letter to his parents before sailing away to the New World. Leaving home left him with a certain emptiness. Writing a nephew years later from the California missions, Serra said, “When I left my country which was so dear to me, I made up my mind to leave it not merely in body alone ... if I was continually to keep before my mind what I had left behind, of what use would it be to leave it at all?”

Building the missions

Serra and his companion friars arrived in New Spain (Mexico) in December 1749 after a few weeks in Puerto Rico. They were destined for New Spain’s Mexico City — capital of the future Mexico — travelling more than 200 miles by foot to get there as Franciscans didn’t allow travel by horseback at that time. During the journey, an insect bite caused a leg infection that plagued Serra until his death.

In Mexico City, Serra didn’t settle for long into the College of San Fernando — a Franciscan school for training New World missionaries — before he volunteered to oversee different missions. For about nine years, he labored with a father’s love in the Sierra Gorda Indian Missions. After being recalled to Mexico City, Serra rose to fame as a preacher, known especially to encourage penance among the faithful. Serra gained a reputation for generously and lovingly responding to the needs of the poor and vulnerable in his charge and being an advocate for the natives in the face of the government of New Spain.

Franciscans were appointed in charge of the California missions, then only in Baja California, after King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from all Spanish territories, and Junipero Serra was appointed presidente. No period of colonization is perfect, and this period certainly saw wide mistreatment of the natives in a variety of ways, mostly due to the government of New Spain, with which Serra often found himself at odds.

Starting in 1769, Serra was responsible for building a network of missions in Alta, California, that continued the missions’ work of supporting the natives in developing a variety of skills such as farming, carpentry, garment making and other self-sufficient industry as functioning members of the new colonies. But their main purpose was to spread the Gospel. Beginning in San Diego, five missions were built in the first three years, and nine in total under Serra’s leadership.

By expanding the missions northward, Serra established a headquarters (Mission San Carlos Borromeo) midway up the California coast initially near the presidio at Monterey — a Spanish fort built in hopes of stopping west-coast colonization by other countries such as Russia. Within a year, Serra relocated Mission San Carlos a few miles south near the Carmel River, hoping to distance himself from the military and find drier land. Once settled, work could duly begin on evangelizing and receiving natives into the Church. Serra was clear that conversion was not required of them, and he instituted some preparation. Languages proved to be a great difficulty, and catechisms were produced in many of the nearly 50 native languages of California.

A challenging life

The first years in the California missions were a trial for Serra and the other friars. One of the most burdensome realities was loneliness and isolation, about which Serra once wrote:

“It is childish to pretend that what I have had to put up with, and what I now endure, is any mere trifle. Where distances are so great, hardships must be faced ... If at any time I am called upon to mention what I find hard, it is this: I find it hard — a sinner like me — to be left all alone, with the nearest priest more than 80 leagues away, and in between nothing but savages and rough roads.”

Serra was deprived of confession and frequently was unable to say Mass because of shortages in the missions’ wine supply. Serra was not immune to great suffering, endured for the sake of spreading the Gospel.

An outspoken defender of the natives’ human rights, Serra fearlessly called out the government for perpetrating widespread physical and sexual abuse on them.

As the tensions increased, Serra decided to make a trip to Mexico City to promote a mission that desired salvation of souls over domination and conquest. During his visit with the king’s viceroy to New Spain, Serra presented rules that served as the basis for the first major laws of California. Serra returned to the California missions in 1774.

Serra defied the government of New Spain on numerous occasions for their mistreatment of the natives. Doing his part to stop the government’s planned execution of a killer from within a group of natives who destroyed the San Diego mission — even murdering one of his friar friends — Serra wrote New Spain’s viceroy, saying, “let the murderer live so he can be saved, which is the purpose of our coming here and the reason for forgiving him.” Later on in the letter Serra advocated for a more “moderate punishment,” which he said would teach the killer about a higher law “which orders us to forgive offenses and to prepare him, not for his death, but for eternal life.” Serra even requested in this letter that “if the Indians were to kill me ... they should be forgiven.”

Los Angeles’ Archbishop José Gomez recently referred to this episode when he portrayed Serra as “the first person in the Americas — and maybe in all of the universal Church — to make a theological and moral argument against the death penalty.”

Continued political battles with the government wore on. Serra continued establishing missions and served as a delegated minister of confirmation throughout the missions. Among notable events of his later years was when Serra took up a collection to offer some small financial assistance to another American founding father — General George Washington — in the Revolutionary War.

A saint's legacy

At 70, worn out from a life spent in service to the Gospel, Serra died on Aug. 28, 1784, at the Carmel Mission. At his funeral, perhaps no finer tribute was paid than that of the mourning natives themselves, who Serra’s friend and protégé, Friar Francisco Palóu, described as “lamenting the death of their father who, having left his own aging parents in his homeland, had come to this distant place for the sole purpose of making them his spiritual children and children of God through holy baptism.”

St. Junipero Serra’s zeal for souls, defense of human rights and dignity, and his firm reliance on God’s providence and mercy leaves a lasting and relevant example for all Catholics. Pope Francis remarked on Serra’s legacy earlier this year, saying, “He was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country. In this way, may all Americans rediscover their own dignity and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.” The Church anxiously awaits what else Pope Francis will teach us about this holy man when Serra is canonized Sept. 23.

The Vatican

Must-know details about Francis’ U.S. trip

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 04 2015
CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

A snapshot of events and other items of interest during the Holy Father's three-city tour

Washington, D.C.

First canonization on U.S. soil

  • Pope Francis will make history Sept. 23 when he canonizes Blessed Junipero Serra during Mass — in Spanish — on the lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This will be the first canonization to take place on American soil, and special admittance is being given to Hispanics and Catholics from California, where Serra lived and worked. Some are objecting to Serra’s sainthood, so expect protests from some Native American advocacy groups.

First address of a pope to Congress

  • For the first time in history, Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 24.
  • As there are extremely limited seats available, Pope Francis’ address to Congress will be broadcast live to the public on the West Front of the Capitol.
  • It is also reported that Pope Francis will make a brief appearance on the West Front after his speech.
  • At the same time, several environmental groups are planning a major climate rally on the National Mall. It is expected to draw thousands with the aim of promoting awareness of the pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”).

With the people

  • In a more intimate setting, Pope Francis will visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. as well as Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. In what is sure to be a moving moment, the Holy Father will give a blessing to clients having lunch through the St. Maria’s Meals program of Catholic Charities.


Channeling Abe

  • After a morning Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, Pope Francis will head to Independence Mall for an encounter with the Hispanic community and other immigrants. He will speak from the podium used by Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and his themes are likely to be religious liberty and immigration.

Concert on the parkway

  • In the evening, the pope will visit the Festival of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Pope Francis will hear testimonies from participants in the World Meeting of Families and then listen to a performance by Andrea Bocelli.

Meeting with bishops

  • The next morning, on Sept. 27, he will meet with bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.

Visiting the imprisoned

  • Pope Francis will then visit detainees at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia and will use a special chair the prisoners made in his honor.

Crowds in Philly

  • At 4 p.m., he will celebrate Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will be open to the public, and as many as 1 million people are expected to attend.

A view from anywhere

  • The pope’s arrival in Philadelphia, the Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, the speech at Independence Mall and the Festival of Families will all be broadcast on Jumbotron screens throughout the city.

New York City

A first glimpse

  • On the afternoon of Sept. 24, Francis flies straight from Washington to New York’s JFK Airport and from there will be driven into Manhattan for vespers with clergy and men and women religious at the newly restored St Patrick’s Cathedral. This will be the first chance for New Yorkers to see the pope, and he may alter the drive to meet with the expected thousands lining the streets to catch a glimpse or shake his hand.

Pope in the park?

  • The next day, Sept. 25, he addresses the United Nations General Assembly and then will take part in an interreligious encounter at the Ground Zero memorial in lower Manhattan.
  • According to reports, the pope may travel at some point in the modified popemobile, a Jeep Wrangler, through Central Park, an event that will likely cause a sensation in Manhattan.

At inner-city schools

  • Pope Francis will be the talk of Harlem when he arrives at Our Lady, Queen of Angels School to meet with 24 children from six different inner-city Harlem schools. This will be another moment for Francis to shine in his role as the pope of the people.

Impromtu stop?

  • Pope Francis often arranges impromptu stops on his trips. If there is an unexpected meeting in Manhattan, it will probably happen during the afternoon, between the events at Ground Zero and in Harlem.

Liturgy for New York

  • In the evening, Francis will celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden. The event is ticketed and largely limited to the parishes of the New York archdiocese and regional diocese, so securing one of the 19,000 tickets will be very difficult.
Catholic Schools, The Vatican

Harlem students, principals prepare to welcome the Holy Father

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 04 2015
CNS photo/Bob Roller

When Pope Francis visits New York City Sept. 24-26, one of his stops will be at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. Our Sunday Visitor recently spoke with a handful of students and their principals about the upcoming meeting.

Hope Mueller l St. Ann School, principal

What do you hope Pope Francis learns about your school?

“I hope that he sees what great work is being done in the Catholic schools in the archdiocese, but especially in these inner-city schools and the mission that we all have as educators here and the joy that our students have for their faith.”

Maziya Clemente l St. Ann School, 8 years old, fourth grade

What would you say to him?

“I’d say, ‘How does it feel being the pope, and why did you sell your motorcycle?’”

Essa Nahshal l St. Charles Borromeo, 7 years old, third grade

How do you feel about meeting Pope Francis?

“I’m happy. I would jump out the window if I could!”

Farida Mintoumba l St. Charles Borromeo, 8 years old, fourth grade

If you got to talk to him, what would you say?

“I’d tell him about our project. It’s about thanking God for land, water and air, because if we didn’t have these things, we wouldn’t be here.”

Aleeya Francis l St. Charles Borromeo, principal

What does it say that he’s visiting inner-city schools?

“Coming into the inner city lets us know that every single person, every single child matters. It’s not just those people who we tend to put higher up on pedestals but those people who live the simple life. They mean just as much as anyone else, they contribute just as much, they affect our world just as much.”

Pedro Hernandez l Our Lady Queen of Angels School, 8 years old, third grade

What would you ask the pope?

“I would ask him why does he help the poor a lot?

Anything else?

“To pray for me.”

Joanne Walsh l Our Lady Queen of Angels School, principal

What do you hope Pope Francis takes away from visiting your school?

“That he will leave feeling confident and affirmed and happy that Catholic education is alive, it’s strong, it’s well, and the mission of the Church, in terms of Catholic education, is continuing in the United States of America.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

On campus, brothers are professors of faith

  • James Graves, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 27 2015
Courtesy photo

Members of the religious order the Brotherhood of Hope evangelize students at secular colleges

The Brotherhood of Hope, a community of religious brothers whose charism is to evangelize young adults on secular college campuses, is celebrating the 35th anniversary of its founding and the 50th anniversary of the ordination of its priest-founder, Father Philip Merdinger. Since the group formed, its work it has made a significant impact on the lives of many, said Brother Ken Apuzzo, the community’s superior.

“Not having the sacramental responsibility of priests gives us the freedom to go out where people are lost and disconnected from God,” Brother Ken said. “As in the parable of the lost sheep, we find the lost one and walk him back to church.

“However, today we seem to experience the parable in reverse: The one is in church, and the 99 are lost.”

‘Renewal of brotherhood’

Father Merdinger founded the community with five laymen in New Jersey in 1980 with “a clear conviction and insight into the collapse of celibacy in the Church during the sexual revolution,” Brother Ken explained. “In our sex-crazed age, lifelong celibacy had become an absurdity.”

The number of brothers living a consecrated life dedicated to the Church has been in significant decline in the past 50 years, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In 1965, there were 12,271 religious brothers in the United States, as compared to 4,318 in 2014.

“It’s a disappearing vocation,” Brother Ken said. “In fact, we meet older brothers from other communities who advise us, ‘Don’t be a brother, be a priest.’”

There is also an attitude, he noted, that brothers are men who didn’t have the talent to be priests, and instead are “Class B religious.”

But Brother Ken disagrees. “I believe God is using us to bring about a renewal of brotherhood.”

Brother Ken, 55, is from the Bronx, New York. He first encountered the Brotherhood of Hope while attending Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where they helped revive his Catholic faith. He joined the community in 1981, before the community was allowed to begin wearing a religious habit.

Today, the community has 20 brothers and 11 men in pre-novitiate, ranging in age between 22 and 77. As religious, they take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Brothers of Hope are headquartered in Boston, where they serve students at Northeastern University and surrounding colleges, along with Rutgers, Florida State University and nearby colleges in Tallahassee, Florida, and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Embracing their charism

Brother Ken is working to establish the community at the University of Minnesota, where in just a year he’s seen dramatic results. The campus ministry’s spring retreat last year drew only eight student participants despite drawing from a campus of 60,000. With Brother Ken’s involvement this year, the same retreat drew 175.

“It’s one of the greatest joys of my life,” he said. “We’ve seen thousands of young people discover God’s love and move on to mature in their relationship with him.”

Dan Chedid, 22, a 2015 Rutgers graduate, is an example of one such student. He participated in a Brothers of Hope men’s group and soon found his life transformed.

“They really helped change my life, forming me as a good Catholic man,” Chedid said. “I’m grateful for having met them, and consider some of them my best friends.”

Chedid said the brothers played sports with the students and were regularly available to talk. They enjoyed a good-humored relationship so that “you poke fun at them, and they poke fun at you. Everyone loves the brothers.”

Chedid was motivated to offer a year of his life to becoming a mission leader at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, administering to students under the direction of the brothers. Like them, he’ll “get to know the students, and help bring them into relationship with Jesus.”

Brother Parker Jordan, 29, made his perpetual vows in 2014 and is working at Rutgers. He grew up in Tallahassee, where he first met the brothers as a child. Like Chedid, Brother Parker was drawn by their warmth and good cheer. “I thought being a brother would be cool. They loved God, yet knew how to be real and hang out,” he said. “Even as a boy, I thought, ‘I could see myself doing this.’”

He attended Florida State, which he described as “the No. 1 party school,” and continued to be impressed with the fraternal life and camaraderie of the brothers, who had ministered there since 1994. Although he came from a good family and had planned to marry and have children, he realized the brothers were “a family in the order of grace, called to live more deeply for the Lord.”

Since joining the Brothers of Hope in 2008, he has enjoyed strong friendships with his fellow brothers, along with an essential common life that includes praying, eating and socializing together each day. Students unsure of the vocation of religious brothers observe their common life, fraternal bond and mutual charity, and it fosters a desire for community in them, Brother Parker believes. “They realize that there is something about our way of life that can point them to God.”

Additionally, living a life of consecrated chastity stands in contrast to the sexual permissiveness to which the students are exposed.

“They see we are not in sexual relationships but are happy. It baffles them,” Brother Parker said. “They come to see that for us, Jesus is enough.”

For some priests and religious, celibacy “is part of the package,” he continued, “but for us, that’s the call. We embrace celibacy as a gift, as a single-hearted devotion to the Lord.”

Like Brother Ken, Brother Parker has seen many conversions to the Catholic Faith. He recalled the example of a Chinese man, who grew up an orphan with no religion, who came to a meeting he’d organized.

“He had a hunger for more, and soon became an icon of the community. He was received into the Church two years ago,” Brother Parker said. “It’s an amazing story, as he started with nothing.”

Special charism

The brothers’ habit is a light-colored shirt, modeled on Filipino formal wear, with an anchor on the pocket, symbolizing hope. With it, they wear black pants and a crucifix around their necks. The anchor can be a source of confusion, as students wonder if they are Navy chaplains.

Brother Ken said their religious clothing was chosen after lengthy reflection. “Being a post-Vatican II community, we chose not to wear a full robe of an older community. The robes are beautiful but harken to a different time.”

The modified habit has been helpful, he believes, because the faithlessness that exists on secular campuses results in their meeting many students “not comfortable with strong Catholic signs.”

The brothers’ typical day begins with morning prayer, Mass at a local parish and adoration after Mass. From there, they hit the college campus. “For us, a good day is not spent inside a church building but meeting individually with students,” Brother Ken said.

As there is much campus activity in the evenings, after community dinner, they return to the campus, where they lead Bible studies, social activities and other faith-related events. The brothers’ houses are also ministry centers, where young men are welcome to come for prayer, meetings and to be exposed to the lives of the brothers.

Brother Ken said most inquires about joining the community come from students who have interacted with the brothers on campus. One of the greatest difficulties in 2015, he said, is that few young men understand the vocation of a brother and therefore do not go looking for it if they have never met one. Additionally, many young men who express interest in the community are discouraged from joining by their parents.

“Our approach to vocations is that we’re not recruiters,” Brother Ken said. “We want to help students to know the love of God, and if God wills them to become a brother, that’s great. But, we’re respectful of where God wants them to be.”

“The life of a brother is not flashy or in the spotlight, but often hidden,” Brother Parker said. “Our job is not to be served, but to serve.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Personal devotions for Eucharistic adoration

  • Mary DeTurris Poust, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 17 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Here are some ways you can open your heart to Our Lord the next time you are in adoration

Ask the saints

If you find it hard to focus during adoration, ask Our Lady, the saints and your guardian angel to help you. Sometimes we forget that we aren’t in the spiritual fight alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1), who want us to draw close to Our Lord.

Read Sacred Scripture

There is no better place to read the word of God than in the presence of the Word made flesh. Some beautiful passages on the mystery of the Eucharist are John 6, Luke 24:13-35 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.


The Scriptures also offer a great a way to pray through difficulties in our own personal lives. Passages such as the calming of the storm at sea (Mk 4:35-41), the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:25-34) and the Psalms can help us reflect on God’s presence in the midst of our struggles.

Spiritual reading

Many saints had a great devotion to the Eucharist. Reading some of their works, such as “The Holy Eucharist” by St. Alphonsus Liguori or the Eucharistic hymns and prayers by St. Thomas Aquinas could help foster your own devotion to Our Lord. Lives of the saints and other forms of spiritual reading are also great ways to engage in Eucharistic adoration and offer an opportunity to discuss with Our Lord how we can grow in the spiritual life.


Spending time before the Eucharistic presence of Our Lord is a perfect time to pray for others. Maybe there is a family member undergoing surgery, a couple preparing for their wedding or a friend going through a difficult situation that you can bring before the Lord.

Offer a holy hour

There are many prayer books and websites with specific sets of devotions to offer an hour of Eucharistic adoration for priests, peace, in reparation for sin and other spiritual causes. The USCCB offers some examples on their Adoration page.

Prayer journal

Another fruitful practice for adoration is writing in a prayer journal. Some people use a journal to write letters to God, keep track of prayer intentions, record any inspirations they receive during adoration or simply focus their thoughts during prayer.

Spontaneous prayer

Prayer during Eucharistic adoration doesn’t have to be just pre-written prayers from someone else, it’s also a great chance to have a conversion, face-to-face so to speak, with Jesus. Some conversation starters include:

Thank you, Jesus, for ...

Lord, I’m really struggling with ...

God, today was ...

Jesus, I don’t understand ...

God, you have truly blessed me with ...

Look and listen

If you run out of things to say during adoration, that’s OK. An important part of prayer is listening to God, being still in his presence and letting him speak to you. Some people might find it helpful to close their eyes, others might prefer to gaze on the monstrance. A poor man once told St. John Vianney his simple prayer, “I look at him, and he looks at me.”

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Who is Celestine Bottego?

  • Barry Hudock, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • August 07 2015
CNS photo/Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary, Parma

Aug. 20 marks 35 years since the death of American-born foundress whose cause for canonization is now underway

In 2013, Pope Francis formally recognized the heroic virtues of a U.S.-born woman, Celestine Bottego, founder of the Missionaries of Mary religious congregation. The move granted Bottego the title Venerable and puts her one step away from beatification.

Celestine Bottego was the daughter of an Irish mother, Mary Healy, and Italian father, Giovanni Bottego, who had immigrated separately to the United States and first met in California. After Giovanni moved to Butte, Montana, for work, Mary joined him, and they were married there. The couple had three children, of which Celestine was the middle. She was born Dec. 20, 1895.

Early years in America

As the years passed, Giovanni and Mary worked hard, leasing property and making wise investments with their money, so that they came to be financially secure. But in 1900, the couple made the difficult decision that Giovanni would return with two of the children to Italy to care for his elderly parents and Mary would temporarily stay behind with Celestine, then 4, to attend to the family’s business interests in Butte.

Celestine and her mother ended up staying in Montana for another 10 years. It was just before they, too, went to Italy that Celestine, at age 14, was named the best grammar school student in the state of Montana. A photo of Celestine, with a warm smile and dressed in a lacy white dress with her dark hair pulled back in a bow, appeared that summer in the local newspaper.

Together again back in Italy, the family purchased a large and impressive villa in the town of San Lazzaro. Celestine earned a teaching degree and soon began teaching at a middle school in nearby Parma. She served as a catechist at her local parish and often engaged in what would today be called youth ministry, providing many opportunities at Villa Bottego for local young people to socialize, play games and pray the Rosary together.

In 1922, when she was 26, Celestine became an oblate of the Benedictine abbey in Parma. Two years later, her sister, Maria, joined a Franciscan missionary order and soon was assigned to India, where she would spend most of the rest of her life. Celestine continued to live the life of a single woman and a teacher. When she was 40, Celestine spent a month in India with her sister. It was no vacation; with her sister, she traveled to tiny villages, bringing medicine and caring for the sick. She even baptized 40 babies during her time in India.

Called to give ‘everything’

In 1938, Celestine accepted a position teaching English at the seminary of the Xaverian missionary order in Parma. This work brought her to the attention of Father Giacomo Spagnolo, an influential priest of the Xaverian order who saw a need for a women’s order in the Xaverian spirit. He first approached Celestine in July 1943 about the possibility of her helping to found such an order, but she did not think she was called to such work and rejected the idea, though she later said she had never quite been at peace about her response.

About a year later, as World War II raged and the German army occupied much of Italy, Father Spagnolo sent Celestine a greeting card for Easter. On one side it bore the image of the famous painting by Velazquez of the crucified Jesus, and on the other, he had written just a single Italian word above his signature: tutto, “everything.” The image and that one word had a profound effect on her. Now rejecting the advice of her confessor that she was too old and lacked the right qualities for religious life, Celestine told Father Spagnolo that she would accept his invitation. On that day, May 24, 1944, he wrote in his journal, “The society has its foundress.” Celestine was 48.

Together, the two created the Missionary Society of Mary (known more commonly as the Missionaries of Mary). Its motto was, “All for Mission.” The first postulant joined Celestine in July 1945, the community was approved by the Bishop of Parma a few months later, and gradual growth began from there. Celestine was referred to as “la madre” and Villa Bottego in San Lazzaro became the community’s home.

Missionary innovation

“Her arms were always open to embrace everyone,” said Sister Rosetta Serra, one of the earliest members of the Missionaries of Mary, in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor. “She always had a smile, and everyone who knew her came to love her.”

The serenity, cheerfulness and sharp intelligence that marked Celestine’s personality served her well as head of the Missionaries of Mary.

“Love is the motive force of our consecrated life, and prayer its powerhouse,” she wrote once in a letter.

From the beginning, the Missionaries of Mary did not wear a religious habit, for the sake of simplicity and convenience in view of the difficult mission work that lay ahead. This was a significant innovation at the time, two decades before it became common in the wake of the reforms in religious life that followed the Second Vatican Council. In a 1954 letter to Father Spagnolo, Mother Celestine wrote, “I spoke with Bishop Fulton Sheen. He encouraged me and said that he was enthusiastic about the idea of our having a lay habit. He said we are the only congregation of this kind until now. He added, it was about time to change.”Sister Rosetta recalls an early meeting that the Missionaries of Mary attended in the United States with members of other women’s religious orders. She said their absence of a habit drew curious looks from others sisters until finally one person said, “Do you know that this is a meeting of nuns?” “Yes, we are nuns, too,” came the reply, and it made for interesting conversation among those present.

Order’s expansion

The first move of the young community outside of San Lazzaro came in 1954, when the Xaverian order asked Mother Celestine if the Missionaries of Mary might provide support, in the form of cooking and laundry service, to an Xaverian seminary in the United States, in Petersham, Massachusetts. She accepted the invitation and went personally with Sister Rosetta to begin the work. For two women who wanted to do direct mission work, the task was initially frustrating, but Sister Rosetta said that Mother Celestine did not complain.

Eventually, the community moved into other areas of more direct ministry in the United States, including education and social ministry, particularly to Hispanics. Mother Celestine worked with Sister Rosetta at the seminary for over a year before returning herself to Italy. From there, the order’s growth began to pick up pace.

It established communities in Brazil in 1957, Japan in 1959 and Burundi in 1961. In October 1962, Mother Celestine, now 66, was present for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. Over the next four years, she followed the events and teachings of the council closely, and she welcomed the reforms it called for. A priest she knew later wrote of her, “During the years of the post-conciliar reform, I found her always open and enthusiastic regarding the liturgical changes which were proposed as part of the reform. I can say that the liturgy, and especially the Mass, were at the center of her spiritual life.”

Withdrawing into prayer

In 1966, the Missionaries of Mary convened its first General Chapter. At this important gathering of its sisters from their homes around the world, Mother Celestine, now 70, unexpectedly resigned from her role as superior of the order. She wrote to her sisters: “You can well understand as time goes on, how our work demands ever new and fresh energy and youthful gifts to respond to new challenges. Our work is moving forward, and it cannot slow its pace. I wish to withdraw, better observe and follow the activity of all of you, my daughters, and proffer spiritual assistance.”

From the time of her resignation, Mother Celestine willingly took a place in the background of the order’s work. She dedicated herself to prayer and much letter-writing. In 1977, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery for it the following year. Mother Celestine died on Aug. 20, 1980.

Today, the Missionaries of Mary continue to work in the U.S., Mexico, Japan, Cameroon, Thailand and elsewhere.

Catholic Schools

Palestinian school opens doors for women

  • Judith Sudilovsky, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 30 2015
CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Through education and empowerment, students at Schmidt Girls College are making a difference

It is very clear to the students at the Schmidt Girls College in East Jerusalem that not only will they succeed in their studies and ambitions, not only will they excel, they will — like their predecessors who have graduated before them — become leaders in whatever field they choose.

In a conservative patriarchal society, the girls who study in this private Catholic school (grades K-12), supported by German nuns of the Congregation of Jesus, are encouraged to question, explore, express and investigate both mentally and physically.

“I want to prove our rights here,” said Nadine Ayoubi, 17, as she sat with her classmates discussing their role as young women in Palestinian society. She recounted how a family friend was forced to leave her budding medical career after her husband’s friends started chiding him for letting his wife come home late at night after her residency shifts. “I want people to know that we have rights here, too.”

School mission

The Schmidt Girls College was founded in 1886 and is owned by the German Association of the Holy Land. The school is a recognized German School Abroad and offers both the Palestinian Tawjihi and German International Abitur matriculation exams.

The school’s stated mission is to teach the students to live justice, tolerance and respect, promoting an open climate of tolerance and interreligious dialogue. Both Christian and Muslims students attend the school — 85 percent of the students are Muslim, as are 15 percent of the teachers. The kindergarten is run in conjunction with the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo in a Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem.

The school is one of few Christian institutions working specifically to strengthen the confidence and position of young women in Palestinian society. Another, the Holy Land Trust, while not specifically Christian, has support from various Christian groups and has been sponsoring a girls’ empowerment program as well as a women’s leadership seminar.

“Palestine is not a place where being a teenage girl is easy,” according to a statement about the program on the Holy Land Trust’s website. “The program was created to offer these young women a place to come together and speak about the struggles they face, and to learn how they can empower themselves in their family, relationships and community.”

Strength in numbers

The ability to meet in a safe environment allows the girls to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and learning to be empathetic toward one another, according to the Holy Land Trust. Often the issues they face are very personal, and brought up in a conservative society, they don’t feel like they can talk about them and are powerless to change their situation.

“So many of these realities are culturally and traditionally enforced that imagining a circumstance where the girls can decide these things for themselves might at first seem challenging and unlikely,” according to the Holy Land Trust. “However, bringing problems into the light helps the girls look at the situations from new perspectives ... the purpose of the workshop is to help them realize their potential. The group is encouraged to challenge their pre-existing ideas and support each other as they engage with new ideas and come to terms with the struggles they experience.”

Indeed, because of the tense environment surrounding them, the Schmidt Girls College’s mission statement holds that it is important for their girls to learn how to resolve the normal tensions that come up at the school in a peaceful manner.

“We are a girls’ school, and as such, it is very important to give them the right ‘weapon’ to succeed in their lives,” said Suzy Mauge, deputy school principal whose German co-principal is Rüdiger Hocke. “We strive to give them a sense of self-confidence so in the future they can make their own choices. Our graduates are known in the society as having very strong personalities.”

Graduates have gone on to roles in the government and its institutions, as well as prominent positions in academia and nongovernmental organizations.

Palestinian parliamentary ministers, ambassadors and university vice presidents such as Khouloud Daibes, Hind Khoury and Safa Nasserdin are alumnae of Schmidt Girls College.

“All the leading Palestinian ladies are usually Schmidt girls,” Mauge said. “We want to build leadership and self-esteem. We are still in a society which prefers boys, but we believe our girls should have the same opportunities as boys, and the parents who bring their girls here know that. Knowing their rights is very important.”

School curriculum

In the past, the school used to have dormitories, and families from Gaza and Jordan sent their daughters to the school; but today, the more than 500 students hail mostly from East Jerusalem with a few from the West Bank, Mauge said.

Classes include all the sciences — biology, chemistry and physics — as well as mathematics, art, music and sports. Preparing the girls for a multicultural life, the school also teaches German, English and Hebrew, in addition to Arabic.

Their students are taught to speak their minds and to use critical thinking, Mauge said. And speak their mind they do. Their desks gathered in a circle during a recent English class, Ayoubi and her friends did not refrain from talking about the things that bothered them as young women: the sexual harassment and crude remarks they often confront on the streets — even close to their school or while walking with their mothers; the stereotypical expectations of them at home; the limitations on their clothing choices; and freedom to move about as young women.

“People here are conservative, and we are not allowed to wear what we want. People look at you in a certain way if you wear shorts, and start talking about you, and you have a stigma,” said Dina Daghash, 17. “Sometimes I feel sad I don’t have the freedom a man has — that makes me feel inferior to them. I can’t do whatever I want, and they can. That’s not fair.”

Even the very act of a girl riding a bike can bring unwanted attention to her, noted Marwe Wa’ary, 16. “Everyone follows you,” she said. A few years ago, the athletic Wa’ary was given the chance to go to a soccer training camp in Sweden but was dissuaded by her father who worried that she would be disappointed when she came back and had nowhere to play.

She is thankful, she said, that at the school sports are given a prominent role, and one day every year there is an all-school mini-Olympic sports competition.

“We are thankful for our headmaster who supports this idea, and we do it every year,” she said. “It brings attention to the need of our physical development.”

Aware of their role

In addition to acknowledging the professional roles they can take on in society, the girls are already aware of the importance of their future role as mothers in educating the future generations toward greater gender equality.

“We can’t change everyone, but each one of us will become mothers, and we have to raise our male children to respect the role of women,” said Lina Obeid, 17.

“Changing society isn’t easy. If we want to achieve something, we have to work hard for it and fight for; we have to stand strong for it,” added Maria Lubbat, 17.

Their career aspirations range from psychologist, dance therapist and nutritionist, to chemist and sports instructor.

“Our school is a special place,” said Widad Karram, 17. “We have teachers from different international backgrounds; they encourage us to speak our ideas on different topics, and they always encourage us to have an opinion, to stand up and defend ourselves.”

This is a marked difference from Palestinian state schools, which are still very much strictly run with traditional teaching methods, they noted.

“In schools, usually the students have to be silent, especially women,” said Sireen Tahher, 17. “Women have to go by what the society says, but in our schools, we are taught to speak our opinion.”

English teacher Lilia Muslah sat watching as her students continued their animated discussion.

“I believe with these girls at Schmidt College, there will be a change in society,” Muslah said. “They have strong ambitions and personalities, and they are very capable.”

Living Your Faith, Pastor and Priest, The Vatican

Documentary an inspiring look at ‘Way of St. James’

  • Joyce Coronel, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • July 27 2015
Photo courtesy of wayofstjamesmovie.com

'Footprints' follows pilgrims on the nearly 600-mile hike through France, Spain

Eleven young men set out on an epic journey, each in search of God’s voice. Spanish filmmaker Juan Manuel Cotelo walked beside them for the nearly 600-mile hike that began on the border between France and Spain during the summer of 2014. “Footprints,” the fruit of the experience, is a compelling documentary about the quest and the inspiring transformation the men experienced.

It began the way most things do, as a dream.

Father Sergio Fita, a native of Spain and the pastor of St. Anne Parish in Gilbert, Arizona, had long dreamed of walking the Way of St. James, the historic pilgrimage that culminates in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where the remains of the apostle James were discovered centuries ago. Each year, thousands of pilgrims walk the grueling Camino de Santiago popularized in “The Way,” a 2010 film starring Martin Sheen.

Cotelo, who has been crafting films for 25 years, was approached by Father Fita and agreed to make the documentary.

In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Cotelo recalled then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio inquiring about “The Last Summit,” his film about a priest. “How can we get this movie to Argentina?” the future pope asked him.

With breathtaking shots, gorgeous cinematography, and heartfelt, inspiring dialogue, “Footprints” is likely to receive similar reception by Church leaders. Cotelo and Father Fita were invited by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization to bring the film to the Vatican on July 29. That’s after they’ve shown it to the bishops of Spain, many of whom will be in Santiago de Compostela on July 24, the eve of the feast of St. James, the nation’s patron saint.

The opening scene of “Footprints” introduces the eclectic group of pilgrims with a brief vignette on each, including Troy, 23, who played college football and is a Zumba instructor. Patrick, 31, is an artist, while John, 28, once battled drug and alcohol addictions. Viewers also get to know Kevin, 21, a seminarian, and Ivan, 20, who is rediscovering his faith while grieving the death of several loved ones.

As the journey commences, the pilgrims are all smiles, with a spring in their step, eager to see the path unfold before them. Father Fita places a necklace with the iconic conch shell that symbolizes the Camino around each man’s neck. The film then cuts to an on-the-scene interview Cotelo conducted with the local bishop, who offers his shrewd appraisal of the group.

Soon enough, they’ll find out, the bishop says, and the smugness and naiveté will vanish. “The first time they encounter suffering, it’s traumatic.”

Though picturesque, the northern route that Father Fita has chosen for the men to walk features rocky paths, steep inclines and perilous cliffs, all traversed with heavy backpacks, at times through rain and mist.

The camera focuses on pilgrims early in the venture, gingerly examining their blister-covered feet. Already some feel discouraged and wonder if they should quit. One comes down with a stomach bug. Another battles asthma in the humid environs. All the while, they finger their rosary beads, contemplate the beauty around them and trudge forward, step by step.

Troy, the former college football player, arguably in peak physical condition, captures the mood succinctly: “Nothing can prepare you for this.”

Another pilgrim offers his blunt assessment: “I imagined it was going to be tough, but not as tough as the first few days.”

Each day, Father Fita celebrates Mass for the pilgrims. There’s an incredible shot of him silhouetted against a majestic background as he elevates the Eucharist.

“Suffering is important to a pilgrimage,” Father Fita tells them. “Difficult moments must not overcome us. We must overcome them.”

Throughout the film, viewers are given the mileage count. At one point, the pilgrims still have nearly 300 miles to go, and it’s starting to look rather impossible. They’re not really walking as a group anymore but have broken into small clusters. Lessons are beginning to sink in, and one pilgrim offers his take. “Whatever life throws at you, you have to keep walking.”

They leave the trail behind one day and visit a church where they venerate a relic of the Cross of Christ. “We’re exploding with joy,” one pilgrim says. “At moments like this, it all seems worth it.”

After venerating the cross, there’s a distinct change among the pilgrims. They have to make a decision: Should they continue to walk separately or as a united group? They decide they will journey together, rotating a leader every seven minutes.

“With that principle, our way of walking changes completely,” one man says. Another agrees. “We’re brothers now. We’re stronger together than as individuals.” Cotelo captures scenes of them pushing each other up hills, persevering through pain, and deciding that they will walk the final miles barefoot, exultant to glimpse Santiago de Compostela at last.

In the end, viewers know that each man heard the voice of God during the Camino and returns home ready to begin his life anew, invigorated and inspired by the difficult journey and the brotherhood developed through suffering and joy. “Footprints” isn’t just a tribute to a hike; it’s an invitation, beautifully rendered, to seek the voice of God wherever one may be.

The Vatican

Pope gives message of hope in South America

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 17 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

During his apostolic visit to his native land, the Holy Father urges the faithful to trust in Christ

On July 10, for the final stop of his trip to Bolivia — part of his wider apostolic visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay from July 5-12 — Pope Francis met with prisoners at a rehabilitation center in Santa Cruz. For Pope Francis, it was an intense moment as he spoke to the thousands of inmates about the need to remember hope in Jesus Christ. “When Jesus becomes part of our lives,” he said, “we can no longer remain imprisoned by our past. Instead, we begin to look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in a different light. We are no longer stuck in the past, but capable of shedding tears and finding in them the strength to make a new start.”

It was a message for prisoners, but it was also one for the whole of South America. Pope Francis’ visit to his native continent — the first since his brief 2013 trip to Brazil for World Youth Day — was more than a homecoming, emotional and raucous as it was. It was a visit by the first Latin American pontiff to a continent that now claims 40 percent of the global Catholic population and has a median age of 27 (Africa is 20 and Europe is 39).

Still dealing with a past marked by painful colonial rule, bloody civil wars and conflicts and harshly uneven efforts to establish stable democracies and a present plagued by economic inequality, endemic poverty and crude Leftist populism, South America welcomed back the pope with open arms and an eagerness to hear his prophetic words of encouragement but also his plain-speaking pastoral advice. He did not disappoint.

Witnessing poverty

For Pope Francis, the theme of the trip was integral ecology, the heart of his newest encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), with three dominant features: the poor, the family and the common good. Unquestionably, Laudato Si’ has become the touchstone for virtually all of his homilies and speeches.

All three countries visited struggle with heartbreaking poverty and unequal distribution of wealth and resources. Pope Francis spoke often about the needs of the poor while noting that the most fundamental part of helping those in need involves the way we see them. “To really help them,” he said in the capital city of Asunción, Paraguay, “the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness.” That goodness was expressed in true Francis style by his unscheduled moments with the suffering and the marginalized that gave more powerful expression of God’s mercy than words could ever convey. In Paraguay, he also made a surprise stop at the St. Rafael Foundation, a large center for poor patients with AIDS, cancer, abandoned and abused children and the elderly.

Stopping at the Banado Norte slum in Asunción, Pope Francis used the setting of the Holy Family parish to praise families in the midst of horrendous economic conditions. “Your struggles have not taken away your laughter, your joy and your hope,” he said. The words echoed the pope’s pleas for families throughout the entire papal visit, lamenting the toxic brew of domestic violence, alcoholism, sexism, drug addiction, unemployment, urban unrest and the abandonment of the elderly and children. “These problems,” Pope Francis noted in Bolivia, “often meet with pseudo-solutions which are not healthy for the family, but which show the clear effects of an ideological colonization.”

But the family is also the role model for Pope Francis’ vision for the common good of society as a whole. In Ecuador, Pope Francis observed, “In families, everyone contributes to the common purpose, everyone works for the common good, not denying each person’s individuality but encouraging and supporting it. ... That is what it means to be a family! If only we could view our political opponents or neighbors in the same way we view our children or our spouse, mother or father!”

Corrupt governments

In countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, the common good often remains elusive. The rights of indigenous peoples are a chronic concern, as are environmental degradation, political corruption, judicial inequality and growing problems of consumerism, materialism and secularism. Pope Francis bluntly called corruption by government officials “gangrene” and referred to the unfettered pursuit of money and economic exploitation as “the dung of the devil” (borrowing a line from the fourth century Doctor of the Church, St. Basil of Caesarea) that is poisoning the environment and blocking true human development.

No Marxist himself, Pope Francis also had to contend with left-leaning populist governments such as that of Evo Morales of Bolivia, president since 2006. A self-proclaimed Catholic, Morales is also an ardent leftist who has worked to reduce the influence of the Church in culture. In a gesture that sparked media frenzy, Morales gave Pope Francis a gift that combined a crucifix with the hammer and sickle, the two traditional symbols of Marxist revolution. Originally designed by a Jesuit priest, Father Luis Espinal Camps, who was murdered in 1980 by the Bolivian regime, it was supposed to be a symbol of dialogue between Christianity and communism. Despite reports that Pope Francis was not happy with the gift, he said during his in-flight interview on his way back to Rome that he “was not offended by it.”

Role of the Church

As the Church in South America is facing hostile left-leaning governments, especially in Venezuela, Pope Francis declared upon arrival in Bolivia that he had come to affirm the faith of believers. “Religious freedom,” Pope Francis told Morales and civic leaders in La Paz Cathedral, “reminds us that faith cannot be restricted to a purely subjective experience. It is not a subculture. The challenge for us will be to help foster the growth of spirituality and commitment of the faith, of Christian commitment in social projects, in deepening the common good.”

Even as he stressed the role of the Church in achieving the common good, he apologized for the historical failings of some of her leaders in South America.

He said in Bolivia, “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America. ... There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness.”

Pope Francis returns to Rome for some rest before setting out in September for his much-awaited trip to the United States. In South America, he called for change through global interdependence and a “globalization of hope” that replaces “the globalization of exclusion and indifference!” His trip to North America will almost certainly bring his demand for the wealthiest country on earth to do its part.

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Restored order for sacraments a growing trend

  • Michelle Martin, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 09 2015
CNS photo/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

Denver, Honolulu are latest to move the Sacrament of Confirmation ahead of first Communion

When the Archdiocese of Denver and the Diocese of Honolulu this spring announced young people would begin to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation before that of first Communion, they brought the total number of U.S. archdioceses and dioceses returning to what the Church calls “the “restored order of the sacraments” to 10.

This restored order marks a significant shift from the way most American Catholics traditionally have prepared for confirmation, a process which typically included a year or two of formation, some sort of retreat and a certain number of community service hours.

But this familiar practice doesn’t actually have anything to do with the sacrament, proponents of restored order say. Rather, confirmation is supposed to a baptismal sacrament and should be the second of the three sacraments of initiation: baptism, followed by confirmation and concluding with holy Communion.

That’s the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church orders them, that’s the way it was done in the early Church, and that’s the way it is done for those who enter the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, said Msgr. Kevin Irwin, a professor of sacramental theology and liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

As a sacrament, confirmation is not something to be earned, Msgr. Irwin said, calling into question the need for written reports and service hours, as valuable as those things might be on their own terms.

“A sacrament is a gift from God given through the Church,” he said. “You can’t stand there and say you earned it.”

Theological basis

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the sacraments of Christian initiation — baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist — lay the foundations of every Christian life. ... The faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life” (No. 1212). The Catechism goes on to say that, “The holy Eucharist completes our Christian initiation” (No. 1322).

As such, confirmation can rightly be seen as a step toward the Eucharist, which signifies full communion with the Church and is meant to be continued for the rest of a Catholic’s life, Msgr. Irwin said.

If confirmation, like all sacraments, brings special graces to the recipient, then there is no good reason to delay those graces until adolescence, said Scott Elmer of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“As the shepherd of the archdiocese, Archbishop (Samuel) Aquila wants to provide the most sacramental graces to the most people he can.”

Archbishop Aquila announced in May that all parishes will confirm children before their first holy Communion within the next five years. In doing so, the shepherd of Denver is repeating a change he made in 2002 in the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, where he previously served as bishop.

As the Archdiocese of Denver’s parish support specialist, Elmer is the point person for working with parishes as they figure out how to make the change. So far, he said, it hasn’t been a tough sell.

“What parent doesn’t want more graces for their children?” he said. “Children today have a lot of challenges.”

Pastoral concerns

Elsewhere, though, the shift hasn’t been as easy. Denise Foye, director of faith formation in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, said that returning to a restored order of sacraments makes good theological sense, but when the diocese adopted the practice more than 10 years ago, “it was a pastoral disaster.”

Many parents did not continue to bring their children to faith formation after they received confirmation and first Communion, and, in some cases, whole families stopped coming to Mass.

There was, perhaps, not enough catechesis about the theological underpinnings of the change with the priests of the diocese or with the laity, she said.

“In reality, (moving to restored order) is a huge paradigm shift for laypeople.”

After a diocesan survey got a more than 90 percent response rate, with opinions from strongly positive to strongly negative, then-Marquette Bishop Alexander Sample (now archbishop of Portland, Oregon) decided to return confirmation to 11th grade, where it had been before.

“Unfortunately, we’ve really gotten into a culture where confirmation is seen as a graduation,” Foye said.

Elmer acknowledged that making the change could be a “logistical nightmare” in large dioceses and archdioceses and added that their ordinaries might want to see more fruits of the effort before making a change.

Current order

The roots of the sacramental timing most Americans have grown up with stem from the 1910 decree by Pope Pius X, Quam Singulari Christus Amore (“How Special Christ’s Love”), which said Communion should not be delayed beyond when a child reaches the age of reason. U.S. dioceses complied, but they did not bring confirmation forward with it. Throughout the following century, American Catholics developed a rational for introducing confirmation later, including giving it significance as an adolescent rite of passage.

But, said Msgr. Irwin, it was never meant to be that and is never referred to as such in the Catechism. What’s more, said Michael Lovette-Colyer, assistant vice president of university ministry at the University of San Diego, it hasn’t been used that way in many other countries, including those that are sending many Catholic immigrants to the United States, such as Mexico. When it comes time for their children to receive Communion, many such immigrants are confused about why they haven’t been confirmed first, he said.

In his April letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Honolulu, Bishop Larry Silva explained his reasoning for implementing the restored order.

“Some may point out that we have been doing what we are doing for 100 years, so why change now?” he wrote. “The reason is simple: What we are doing is not working very well. Confirmation is often experienced more as a graduation from the Church than as a free gift of God’s grace.”

Joe Paprocki, a Chicago-based catechist and national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press, said that for many teens while confirmation is meaningful, “the majority of young people” leave the Church following the reception of the sacrament.

“Something is truly not working,” he said. “We have to rise to the challenge of helping families to recognize faith formation as a lifelong experience. Being fully initiated should mean not only coming to the Eucharist but also being mobilized to go forth and be Eucharist for others by being of service — participating in the mission of the Church to the world.”

The Vatican

Schedule released for U.S. papal visit

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 02 2015
CNS photo

Along with main events, the pope’s first journey to America includes visit to school, penitentiary

Tuesday, Sept. 22 Washington, D.C.

4 p.m. — Arrival from Cuba at Andrews Air Force Base

Wednesday, Sept. 23 Washington, D.C.

9:15 a.m. — Welcome ceremony, meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House

11:30 a.m. — Midday prayer with the bishops of the United States at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

4:15 p.m. — Outdoor Mass and canonization of Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Thursday, Sept. 24 Washington, D.C.; New York City

9:20 a.m. — Address to joint session of the U.S. Congress

11:15 a.m. — Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

4 p.m. — Departure from Andrews Air Force Base

5 p.m. — Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport

6:45 p.m. — Evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Friday, Sept. 25 New York City

8:30 a.m. — Visit to the United Nations and address to the United Nations General Assembly

11:30 a.m. — Multi-religious service at National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center

4 p.m. — Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem

6 p.m. — Mass at Madison Square Garden

Saturday, Sept. 26 New York City; Philadelphia

8:40 a.m. — Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport

9:30 a.m. — Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia

10:30 a.m. — Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul

4:45 p.m. — Visit to Independence Mall

7:30 p.m. — Visit to the Festival of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sunday, Sept. 27 Philadelphia

9:15 a.m. — Meeting with bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary

11 a.m. — Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility

4 p.m. — Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

7 p.m. — Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families at Atlantic Aviation

8 p.m. — Departure for Rome

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Bishops rally faithful during Fortnight for Freedom

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 25 2015
CNS photo

Leaders from across the country stress importance of religious freedom during annual two-week event

At a Mass on Sunday, June 21, at Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Archbishop William E. Lori officially began the fourth annual Fortnight for Freedom — a two-week period in which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on the faithful to support religious freedom.

During his homily, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the USCCB committee on religious liberty, stressed to the nearly 1,000 in attendance why the topic is so crucial to the Church and the faithful.

“Endangered is the freedom of church ministries to provide employee benefits and to provide adoptions and refugee services in accord with the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. It is one thing for others to disagree with the Church’s teaching but quite another to discriminate against the rights of believers to practice our faith, not just in word but in the way we conduct our daily life, ministry and business.”

This year, the event’s theme was “Freedom to Bear Witness.”

Archbishop Lori pointed to the killing of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by members of the terrorist group ISIS as an example of those bearing witness to Christ. “No matter how great the threat to life and property, these believers exercise that God-given freedom which no tyrant can eradicate — the freedom to bear witness to one’s faith even at the cost of one’s life. We should be inspired by their courage and renewed in our resolve not to let religious freedom in our country be compromised by degrees until it all but disappears from our society.”

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, also pointed to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East in his letter to the faithful on the Fortnight.

“We cannot insult the sufferings of Christians in the hostile places of the world by claiming our suffering in anyway is comparable,” Bishop DiMarzio wrote. “In truth, their blood is the blood of the martyrs. Yet, the erosion of our freedoms is real and we must not take these threats lightly, or our children will suffer the consequences of our neglect.”

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, in a June 19 letter to the faithful of his archdiocese, listed “several critical issues” facing our nation and the Church, including the redefinition of marriage and the forced participation with the federal HHS mandate.

“Freedom of religion is not simply permission to worship in a church, synagogue or mosque,” Archbishop Tobin wrote. “The founders of our nation called for the law to recognize that citizens possess a God-given dignity and, hence, God-given rights. Without the liberty to live our faith publicly and follow the dictates of our conscience, we are not truly free.”

The Vatican

Pope urges ‘changes of lifestyle’ in Laudato Si’

  • Austen Ivereigh, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 18 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

In his encyclical, Pope Francis says the global community must prioritize protecting our home

In what will almost certainly come to be seen as a landmark in papal social encyclicals, Pope Francis has called for a radical conversion of hearts, minds and lifestyles in order to avert disaster on a global scale brought about by frenetic consumption and industrialization. In the 190-page Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), he urges humanity to seek a way back through “integral ecology,” a new way of thinking that articulates a persons’ three-way connectedness: with God, with others, and with the earth.

Laudato Si’ — the only social encyclical to have a vernacular (in this case Italian, rather than Latin) name — takes its title from St. Francis of Assisi’s famous hymn to God in creation, “The Canticle of the Creatures,” and bears the subtitle: “On Care for Our Common Home.” In common with other social encyclicals beginning in 1891 with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (“On New Things”) on capital and labor, Laudato Si’ surveys the ills of the contemporary world, finds their causes in an alienation from the truth about humanity and charts a path to renewal and restoration. Just as Rerum Novarum claimed that the market and wages and the impoverishment of Europe’s working classes were a moral matter that called for the Church to intervene, so Laudato Si’ frames the degradation of the environment as a consequence of our sin. Using St. Francis’ image of Mother Earth as a “Sister who sustains and governs us,” Laudato Si’ begins: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by her irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

‘No such right’

Invoking the many warnings by popes since the Second Vatican Council against the misuse of nature, as well as speeches by the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and the iconic figure of the poverello of Assisi, Pope Francis begins by appealing to the “whole human family” to come together to seek a sustainable and integral development by grasping again our interconnectedness with God and created things.

The encyclical is divided into six chapters: what is happening to our common home; the gospel of creation; the human roots of the ecological crisis; integral ecology; lines of approach and action; and ecological education and spirituality. But running throughout the text are consistent themes: the link between poverty and the planet’s fragility, the interconnectedness of the world, the critique of mentalities shaped by the myth of technological progress, as well as the “throwaway culture” which lies behind our mistreatment of both the planet and our fellow human beings.

Pope Francis’ sobering depiction of contemporary environmental degradation relies both on scientific surveys as well as evidence from local bishops of pollution, climate change and instability, water shortages, loss of biodiversity, the decline in quality of life and the rise of megacities and inequality. In a series of passages that will be closely read, he observes that “a very solid scientific consensus” points to “a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” He records both a marked rise in the levels of the seas and “an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.” Humanity, he says, “is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” If present trends continue, the pope warns, “this century will witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

The loss of species is a disaster not just because it deprives humanity of resources and alters the ecosystem, but because they have a value in themselves: “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us,” he writes, adding: “We have no such right.”

‘Removed from the poor’

The pope is equally damning of the decline in quality of life in megacities, where people live “inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature,” and where new media technologies cause “an informational overload” that produces “mental pollution.” The environmental devastation affects the poor above all, who die young over conflicts over resources, yet this is barely noticed because “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor.” A true ecological approach, says Pope Francis, “always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates about the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

While acknowledging that population imbalances are an issue, Pope Francis has little patience with western agencies urging a reduction in the birth rate. To blame population for ecological ills rather than consumerism “is one way of refusing to face the issues” and “an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized,” the pope argues. He goes on to deplore the lack of leadership and culture capable of confronting the crisis: “The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance” while “economic powers continue to justify the current global system” underpinned by “speculation and the pursuit of financial gain.” Noting the differences over how to solve the crisis, Francis critiques both those who believe technology will sort the problem and those who view human beings as inimical to the planet’s welfare. The Church, he says, respects divergent views and offers no definitive solution. “But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair.”

‘Desire to consume’

Pope Francis sees the origin of the problem in a sinful mindset that puts human beings, rather than God, in authority over the earth, thereby confusing dominion with exploitation rather than stewardship, in which the world was entrusted to man for him to cultivate and care for. The only way to restore men and women to their rightful place, he says, “is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world.” Only when we acknowledge the value and fragility of nature will we “finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress” and create what he calls “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.”

Turning to the “deepest causes” of the crisis, Pope Francis notes that rapid technological development has not been accompanied by a corresponding growth in values and conscience, creating a dominant technocratic mentality that “perceives reality as something that can be manipulated endlessly.” Modernity has been marked by an “excessive anthropocentrism,” and a correct relationship with the world requires restoring our place in relation to others as well as to God. Linking the culture of relativism to the “throwaway culture,” Pope Francis sees the “same disorder” behind forced labor, the sexual exploitation of children and the abandonment of the elderly, as well as “the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.”

In a challenge to liberal ecologists, Pope Francis observes that “concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion,” for “how can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings ... if we fail to protect a human embryo?” Referring to medical research on human embryos, Pope Francis observes that some ecological movements rightly demand limits on scientific experimentation, yet “justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.”

‘Absolute power’

Pope Francis urges instead what he calls an “integral ecology” as a new paradigm of justice, “an approach to ecology that respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings.” Integral ecology sees the environmental and social crises not as separate but two facets of the same crisis, and understands ecology — the relationship of ourselves to our environment — as having different facets. Thus, “cultural ecology” involves respect for place and the past, and the rights of peoples and their cultures, while an “ecology of daily life” involves creating better conditions for “belonging and togetherness,” as well as improving transport and housing. “Human ecology” meanwhile acknowledges the link between human life and the moral law, inscribed in our nature, beginning with our bodies. Pope Francis contrasts the acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift with “thinking we enjoy absolute power over our bodies,” which soon becomes “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.” In a critique of gender theory, Pope Francis observes that “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”

Pope Francis then turns to what can be done, calling for “proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us individually no less than international policy,” which will “help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.” While noting that the Church does not seek to settle scientific questions nor to replace politics, Pope Francis clearly looks to a renewal of politics and of leadership to meet the challenges. Criticizing a lack of political will behind recent world summits on the environment, he calls for forms and instruments of global governance, as popes have done many times since St. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”). At a national and local level, he says politics and economic decision-making need to abandon the logic of shortsighted efficiency focused on profit and electoral success, and calls for “a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth.” More radically, the pope calls for redefining the idea of progress, so that it focuses not just on increasing the pace of production and consumption but on increasing the quality of people’s lives.

‘Embark on new paths’

In the final section, Pope Francis spells out an ecological conversion involving “new convictions, attitudes and forms of life” that will set us out on the “long path of renewal.” Noting that when people become self-centered and self-enclosed “their greed increases,” the pope calls for society to “acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and embark on new paths to authentic freedom.” Pope Francis asks that environmental education be open to the transcendent, requiring educators to help people grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care. The conversion starts with changes in lifestyle and consumer choices in daily life: recycling garbage, turning off lights and wearing warmer clothes to use less heating. Such efforts “benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.”

These habits and gestures begin, above all, in the family, where we learn “respect for the ecosystem and care for all creatures.” “Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual,” warns the pope, “unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

Pope Francis calls for people to take up an ancient spiritual lesson that “less is more,” urging moderation and a capacity to be content with little, to embrace simplicity and a liberating sobriety. “In reality those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the lookout for what they do not have.” Such people, says Pope Francis, “even living on little, they can live a lot.” Sobriety and humility, scorned in the 20th century, are necessary for the cultivation of inner peace, of serene attentiveness, “which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.” In this spirit, Pope Francis asks all believers to return to the habit of giving thanks to God before and after meals.

Laudato Si’ ends with the Eucharist (“an act of cosmic love”), the Trinity as a reflection of the “web of relationships” and Mary and Joseph as models of caring for creation. Finally, Pope Francis offers at the end of what he describes as “this lengthy reflection which has been both joyful and troubling,” two prayers, one that can be said with other monotheists, the second for use with other Christians “to ask for inspiration to take up the commitment to creation set before us by the Gospel of Jesus.”

Catholic Schools, Living Your Faith

New focus for Catholic education association

  • Patti Maguire Armstrong, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • June 11 2015
CNS photo/Tom Tracy

Group will focus exclusively on helping Catholic schools lead, learn and proclaim the Faith

Catholic Education has always been about much more than just academic excellence. It is first and foremost about forming students according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In today’s culture, that mission has never been more relevant. Yet, the changing world presents ever-new challenges.

To help Catholic schools keep pace, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) announced in April that it will begin exclusively serving Catholic schools. Previously, they had also provided support to seminaries and religious education programs.

“We can’t be all things for all people,” NCEA president Brother Robert Bimonte told Our Sunday Visitor. “We did a very good job at that for over 100 years, but the world is becoming an increasingly complex place.”

Each group, according to Brother Bimonte, needs its own identity and focus to fully address the issues that are in front of them. He said that the NCEA is helping with transitions to other support networks.

The shift to exclusively serve Catholic schools was decided unanimously by the NCEA board of directors after a yearlong study that included a survey sent to more than 12,500 members and 70 personal interviews.

The vast majority of their more than 150,000 members come from 6,568 Catholic schools, according to Brother Bimonte. By comparison, there are only 70 seminaries, and parish membership from religious education programs only accounted for 544 members. When a school joins the NCEA, the entire staff becomes members.

The exclusive focus on Catholic schools includes three primary goals: lead, learn and proclaim.

“Those were the areas that surfaced from our members with remarkable consistency,” Brother Bimonte said.

Learning to succeed

For Catholic schools to succeed, strong leadership is key, Brother Bimonte said.

“We all know that as goes the principal, so goes the school,” he said. “People are looking to NCEA to identify and help train future leaders — who will be the next generation of presidents, principals and department chairs?”

In addition to online resources, the NCEA will hold a Catholic leadership summit this October on the best practices of leadership, where they will study what works in businesses such as marketing, understanding branding and learning about team-building skills. “An important aspect for Catholic schools, however, is the Catholic identity, because it is in everything we do,” Brother Bimonte said.

Managing and stretching money is also a major concern for leaders. “Tuition usually only covers about, 60 percent of the cost of educating a child,” Brother Bimonte said. “We help schools to look at creative funding mechanisms. We don’t want to become a private school system for the wealthy.”

He said the Catholic school commitment to serve and evangelize the poor needs to work in union with sound business principals.

“We will present fewer topics at the summit but take a deeper dive,” Brother Bimonte said. “Workshops will focus on building new skills and opportunities for those that attend to interact with each other [in] online discussion boards.”

The Good News

One of the key reasons parents send their children to Catholic schools is to receive a faith-based education. Brother Bimonte said that the NCEA provides support to help the integration of Catholic values throughout the curriculum.

“Teachers fresh out of college often need to be taught how to do that,” he said.

Some of the ways NCEA can help is with Catholic professional development for teachers through their Catholic Identity Curriculum Infusion website (cici-online.org). Resources and sample lessons show how the Catholic Faith can be integrated into all subjects.

While the Good News of Jesus Christ is being integrated into Catholic education, Brother Bimonte said that the good news regarding Catholic schools also needs to be told.

“Marketing is local,” he said. “And the NCEA can help Catholic schools tell their stories in their area.”

Member reaction

Daryl C. Hagan, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana, expressed appreciation for the NCEA’s help by creating a new model. “We want our leaders — even before their first day as principal — to be Catholic school leaders and understand it goes back to the mission of forming our children in Christ.” Hagan also said the NCEA is helping their teachers by offering ongoing professional development and exploring new models such as organizing diocesan-wide teacher “share” meetings through the Internet.

“Teachers bring their own Catholic culture to school, but when we put them into the classroom, we need to be sure the structure is there to shape students in the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. Hagan explained that even during math class teachers can integrate faith by using elements of religion in word problems. “Every class can begin with prayer and include intentions so that the teacher gets to the know the students better by understanding what they are dealing with.”

New models are needed, according to Hagan. “Major shifts have occurred in education, such as technology and what is appropriate,” he said. “We have also had to take on more and more in terms of the whole child,” he said.

John Czaplicki, principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish School in Plymouth, Michigan, said he is excited about NCEA’s new focus. Of key importance, he said is their role in cultivating strong leaders.

“As a Catholic school principal, the benefits of a national network cannot be understated,” he said. “It provides peer support and assistance and allows us to share ideas and learn from other Catholic school administrators.”

Sister Mary Grace Walsh, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, shares the enthusiasm.

“This is exactly what our Catholic schools need in the 21st century,” she said. “Focusing on the professional development of leaders and teachers will help us to sustain those already committed as well as assist us in raising up a new generation of leaders.”

Sister Walsh said that opportunities for teachers to collaborate with other Catholic school teachers (whether they are gathered in the same location or virtually) is something that teachers often request.

“All of us in Catholic education are also aware that we need to share the good news about Catholic schools as an important evangelizing mission of our Church,” she said. “We try to do that in our own dioceses, but it is important to have a professional organization to take the lead and be the voice of Catholic education on the national level.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

St. Vincent de Paul Society helps those in South affected by extreme weather

  • Cathy Dee, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • June 04 2015
CNS photo/Larry Smith, EPA

Lives and homes have been lost

At least 27 people have died and 13 are missing as rain continues to pound central Texas. Tornadoes have struck Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma since the onslaught began a week ago. As local first responders and resources become taxed, the Disaster Services division of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul is stepping in to assist.

From a statement released by Sheila K. Gilbert, National President, on May 29:

Please join me, my Vincentian brothers and sisters from around the country in the name of Jesus and in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, our patron, as I pray for your assistance in reaching our $800,000 campaign goal to help those in need. Please consider making a contribution to help our brethren across the country that have lost everything. For some, it is the first time in their lives that they have experienced homelessness and a lack of basic necessities. For others, the anguish has been prolonged. If everyone receiving this appeal could contribute $25, we would reach the goal to provide hope and help to the people suffering as a result of these natural disasters.

To donate, visit the National Council's secure donation page here.

Reaching Families, Pastor and Priest

In Boston, inner-city teens find hope in the Church

  • Christine Williams, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 29 2015
Christine M. Williams

Dozens of youth, including 48 scheduled to be confirmed June 6, find community, healing, Christ

When Marcos Enrique first speaks with the inner-city teenagers who show up for sacramental preparation, he assumes nothing. He does not expect that they attend Mass or even that they believe in God. In fact, for the first month of the program, he does not talk about God at all.

On the first day, he tells the kids, “The truth is that, no, you don’t believe in God, and it’s OK.”

He said that the suffering he sees in the lives of these teens is difficult to reconcile with a loving, all-powerful God. Over the course of the first weeks, he sets the stage to show them that despite their brokenness, God is with them.

Enrique is the admissions director for Cristo Rey Boston High School. Through his work, he meets many young people who had never received the sacraments — some have never even been baptized. In order to minister to them, he started the Teen Christian Initiation Program at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in 2012. The first year, 49 14- to 18-year-olds completed the program. The following year, there were 43, and on June 6, another 48 teens from inner-city Boston were set to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Lives changed

The youth come from all over Boston. They tend to live in poorer neighborhoods and come from broken homes. Most have families who do not attend religious services at all. Some have been abused. Many have been affected by death of a friend or relative. They may have known someone who was murdered — sometimes because that person was a gang member.

“They have all this trash inside of them,” Enrique said. He tells them that despite the mess in their lives and their mistakes, God still loves them. That message can make a strong impact.

One of the teens who went through the program the first year, Rafael Resto, was a drug user and dealer. It was Enrique’s personal invitation to Resto, then 15, that brought him in, and it was confession that brought him out of the marijuana business. He walked in to the confessional with weed in his pocket, and after he walked out, he never took or sold drugs again.

Resto attends Cristo Rey and said that he expects that without the program, he would have dropped out of high school and might be in jail.

“I didn’t care if I lived to see the next day or if I got locked up,” he said. “I had nothing to lose.”

He said Enrique helped him to realize that there is a better way to live. He now aspires to be a Boston police officer.

Hunger for God

Many of the youth make a significant sacrifice to attend these meetings. They use public transportation to get there after school and then home afterward. One girl had to take the train and two buses to get home from the meetings every Wednesday night.

“I would have never done that,” Enrique volunteered, adding that when he was young, his Catholic parents drove him to church and “nagged” him to go. “For these kids, it’s already a miracle that they’re coming on the train or on the bus when it’s snowing, when it’s raining, when their parents are telling them not to go.”

He said the youth have a hunger for God.

Ariela Reynoso, 20, said she had a desire to grow closer to God for many years but did not know where to start. Enrique told her about his new program, and she was the first youth to ever sign up for it.

“It was the best experience for me. It changed me to be a better person,” she said. “I knew why I was doing it. I wanted to be closer to God. I wanted a better life for myself.”

Reynoso was born in the Dominican Republic but moved to the United States before her first birthday. For many of the students, Spanish is their first language. It’s Enrique’s first language too; he was born in Spain and moved to East Boston when he was 12.

“The power of the Good News is the only thing that can really take these kids out of that darkness.”

— Father Carlos Flor

Seeing God at work

As Enrique greets the students at the May 6 meeting, their conversations are peppered with Spanish phrases. He jokes around with them, and they give each other a hard time. It is clear that Enrique has built a rapport with these young people and that they respect him. But keeping them focused on the topic at-hand is often a challenge. Enrique has some of the students put away the chairs in the back so that they will not be tempted to sit in them and talk to each other. While taking attendance, he tells them, “Get all of that texting out of your system while I’m doing this.” It is a bit of controlled chaos.

He talks about the biblical story of Joseph, sold by his jealous brothers, and how he realized later in life that even though many things had been unfair, God had always been with him.

“This is faith,” Enrique said. “Faith is to be able to see God in my life.”

Before sending them off to small group discussions, he asks them a series of questions to ponder: What event in your life does the devil use to convince you that God is not love? Do you truly believe that God loves you just the way you are? Do you love people the way they are instead of the way you wish they were?

Like family

Teens who have completed the program report that they enjoyed an environment where they could talk about whatever they needed to without being judged. They also say that the community there becomes like a family.

Ivan Mota, 16, a student at Cristo Rey, said, “I met people here who have pushed me through things I will never forget.”

While preparing to receive the sacraments, Mota’s aunt and grandmother both passed away. She said she had trouble talking about that with her close friends, but found support at meetings. She said of the program’s current members, “They won’t realize what they had here can’t be had anywhere else.”

Father Carlos Flor, pastor at a collaborative of three parishes in or near Jamaica Plain — Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Mary of the Angels and St. Thomas — said he has seen a lot of progress in many of the teens.

For many who come into the program, their goals in life are to make money, find a career and find someone who loves them. They want something that is fruitful today, something tangible. He said it is not easy to instill in them values that will last.

“The power of the Good News is the only thing that can really take these kids out of that darkness,” he said. “We know that some of them are very, very, very helped.”

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Palestinian nuns canonized

  • Judith Sudilovsky, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • May 21 2015
CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Catholic officials in the Holy Land hope ceremony can help inspire Christians in the Middle East

In parishes and Christian neighborhoods throughout the Holy Land leading up to the May 17 canonizations of two Arabic-speaking nuns, posters and flags proudly proclaimed the honor being bestowed by Pope Francis upon Sister Mariam Baouardy (known as Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified) and Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas.

At a time when Christians are facing a precarious and threatening reality across the Middle East, the canonizations of these two women, who lived in the second half of the 19th century, created a sense of pride and joy among Christians, and they are being hailed as intercessors for peace and a bridge among religions.

During Pope Francis’ homily at the Mass in St. Peter’s Square, at which he also canonized two other 19th-century nuns — French St. Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve and Italian St. Maria Cristina Brando — the Holy Father spoke on the need for unity and the strength we draw from the Holy Spirit.

“This love is the ever-flowing source of our joy in following the Lord along the path of his poverty, his virginity and his obedience; and this same love calls us to cultivate contemplative prayer. Sister Mariam Baouardy experienced this in an outstanding way,” Pope Francis said. “So too, Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas came to understand clearly what it means to radiate the love of God in the apostolate, and to be a witness to meekness and unity.”

Intercessors for peace

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem spoke of the saints’ role in peace in the Holy Land during a May 6 news conference. “The two saints lived in Palestine before it was divided. They did not know the Israeli-Arab conflict. I am sure they follow our situation from heaven and will continue to intercede for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. Their intercession is strong and efficacious.”

He said not only Christian Palestinians should be proud of the two saints, but also that Muslims and Jews “can be happy because two persons from our country joined the highest degree of human righteousness, spiritual wisdom and mystical experience of God. ... They are models for all and intercessors for all. Interceding for the Holy Land, they do not segregate among Christians and non-Christians,” he said.

Pope's role

As Middle Eastern Christians are feeling a sense of abandonment and despair, said Latin Patriarchal Vicar Father David Neuhaus, this message of belonging to the universal Church is important. Although the canonization process began many years ago, it is providential that its culmination has come now, with the help of Pope Francis expediting the process. The Argentine pontiff has many ways of sharing his message of caring for all people, especially the less fortunate, and the canonization is one of them, he said.

“The fact that the pope is recognizing the sanctity of two Arab women is a sign (for the Christians here) that they are not forgotten and the saints in heaven are praying for them,” said Father Neuhaus.

'Hold your cross with joy'

St. Mother Marie-Alphonsine was very active in education, especially for Arab women and girls, while St. Mariam was contemplative, consecrating her life through prayer.

Rosary Sister Mother Superior Iness Al-Yacoub, whose order — the only Arab congregation of women religious — was founded by Mother Marie, said the canonization sends a message of “hope, strength and impetus to maintain their faith and presence” to the Christians of the Holy Land.

“To Christians in the Middle East, who have been going through difficult challenges, she is a reminder that the message of peace and love is their true light that would endure their presence in spite of all of the darkness that spreads in the region,” she said. “She carried her cross with joy; she lived according to the Gospel. She inspires us and gives us her message that holiness is not so far. It is easy. Everyone can be a saint — and should be a saint — if he lives as the Gospel tells us: love God, love the others, serve the one that is in need. Hold your cross with joy and love despite the difficulties.”

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

How to help earthquake victims in Nepal

  • Cathy Dee
  • |
  • April 27 2015
CNS photo

Aid is being rushed to victims of massive earthquake

As the death toll rises in Nepal after a major earthquake on Saturday, Catholic organizations are stepping up to help.

Caritas Internationalis, the international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church and its member agencies in Nepal, have staff members currently in the capital of Kathmandu who are working with Caritas Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, according to the Caritas website.

Catholic Relief Services has made an initial commitment of $725,000 toward relief efforts in Nepal and surrounding countries where the powerful earthquake caused widespread damage. A dozen CRS emergency specialists are en route to hard-hit Kathmandu.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit before noon local time and was centered about 50 miles northwest of the capital city. Multiple aftershocks have been felt. An avalanche killed at least 18 people and injured dozens on Mount Everest. Other casualties have been reported in India, Bangladesh, Chinese Tibet and Pakistan. Hundreds of buildings collapsed, including centuries-old temples and towers, trapping many people.

Pope Francis prayed for the victims after the traditional Easter recitation of the Regina Coeli Sunday, saying, “I pray for the victims, for the wounded, and for all those who suffer because of this calamity.” Listen via Vatican Radio here.

Donate to the Caritas Emergency Response Fund here.

Donate to Catholic Relief Services here.

Join us in prayer for the earthquake victims:

Loving God,
We pray for all those affected by the earthquake in Nepal as we offer the words of the psalmist,
“Be strong and take heart, all who hope in the Lord” (Ps 31:25).
May those who are paralyzed by fear ...
Be strong and take heart
May those who have lost or are still searching for loved ones ...
Be strong and take heart
May those who remain trapped under rubble ...
Be strong and take heart
May those rescue workers who provide relief and recovery ...
Be strong and take heart
May those who are moved with compassion to help ...
Be strong and take heart
God, whose love knows no bounds,
fill all those who suffer with your comfort and peace.
We ask all this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

(from Catholic Relief Services)

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

History awaits in canonization of married couple

  • J.J. Ziegler, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 22 2015
CNS photo

Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, are to become the first husband and wife to be made saints together

In the spring of 1858, a man and a woman were walking across a bridge in Alençon, then a small city of 16,000 in northwestern France.

Louis Martin, a watchmaker, was 34. Marie-Azélie (Zélie) Guérin, a maker of lace, was 26. As they passed by each other, she heard a voice inside her say, “This is the man I have prepared for you.”

Three months later, they were married. And 157 years later, likely in October during the Synod of Bishops on the Family — nine decades after the canonization of their youngest daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux — they will become the first husband and wife to be canonized together in Church history.

The Martins were part of a vibrant French Catholic culture, but they also lived in an era of intense anti-Catholicism: Three archbishops of Paris were murdered during their lifetimes.

The watchmaker

Louis’ father joined Napoleon’s army and rose to the rank of infantry captain. At the age of 39, he married an 18-year-old woman, and the couple had five children. Louis, the third, was the only one who lived past 30.

Because of his father’s military career, Louis did not grow up in one place. He was born in Bordeaux, a city in southwestern France; from the ages of 4 to 7, he attended a school for military children 600 miles away in Strasbourg, in eastern France.

When Louis was 8, his family moved again — this time to Alençon, 450 miles away from Strasbourg. There he attended a school run by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. At the age of 19, Louis made a 125-mile journey to Rennes, where he lived for a year with his cousins and began to learn how to make clocks and watches.

When he was 22, Louis sought to enter an Augustinian monastery in Switzerland, but the Canons Regular at Grand-St.-Bernard refused him entrance because he did not know Latin. During the next 10 months, Louis took more than 100 Latin lessons from a priest in Alençon. In the end, though, he ended these studies and moved 120 miles away to Paris, where he apprenticed as a clock and watchmaker.

At 27, Louis completed his apprenticeship, returned to Alençon and opened a successful business. A lover of silence and solitude, he “diligently fulfilled his religious duties and cultivated union with God, prayer and meditation, for which he showed a special propensity,” in the words of the 1994 Vatican decree on his heroic virtues.

A businesswoman

Zélie’s father was drafted into Napoleon’s army at the age of 20 and became a policeman at 27. When he was 39, he married a 23-year-old woman, and the couple had three children. Élise, Zélie’s older sister, had a vocation to the Visitation Sisters, while Isidore, Zélie’s younger brother, became a pharmacist.

Unlike her future husband, who moved from city to city throughout France, Zélie lived only in the Alençon area. She was born in Gandelain, then a town of 1,200 a dozen miles from Alençon, and at the age of 12, after her father’s retirement, the Guérins moved to Alençon itself. Élise and Zélie attended a school run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

“My childhood, my youth, was as sad as a shroud, because, if my mother spoiled you, as you know, she was too strict to me,” Zélie recalled in an 1865 letter to Isidore. That letter is one of 244 letters in “A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus” (Alba House, $29.95), a book that offers readers a glimpse into the minds and hearts of Louis and Zélie.

When Zélie was 19, she sought to enter the Daughters of Charity in Alençon but was refused admission for reasons that are no longer known. The following year, while praying to the Blessed Mother about her future, she heard an interior voice tell her to “see to the making of Alençon lace,” an aristocratic style of lace. She threw herself into lace-making and became a successful businesswoman. According to the Vatican decree on her heroic virtues, she performed her work “expertly and diligently” and “prepared herself for the matrimonial state, desiring to do God’s will and to be able to consecrate many children to him.”

Marriage and children

In the hours following their wedding, Louis and Zélie traveled 35 miles to the Visitation Sisters’ convent to visit Élise. Zélie, who like her husband had longed for the consecrated life, burst into tears.

“I can say on that day I cried all my tears, more than I’d ever cried in my life, and more than I would ever cry again,” she recalled years later. “I compared my life to hers, and I cried even harder,” but Louis “understood me and consoled me as best he could, because his inclinations were similar to mine.”

For nearly a year after their wedding, the couple, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, abstained from marital relations until they were persuaded by a priest to do otherwise. Nine children followed between 1860 and 1873: Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Hélène, Joseph, a second Joseph, Céline, Thérèse, and a second Thérèse.

Attending Mass each morning at 6:30 and creating an atmosphere of prayer, devotion, forgiveness, generosity to the poor and affection, the Martins found joy in Catholic family life. Working hard at their home-based businesses (they lived above the storefront), they experienced relative financial prosperity.

The Martins also experienced much suffering. Because Zélie was often unable to nurse, she sometimes had to entrust her infants to the care of wet nurses who lived as far as 20 miles away. Following morning Mass and a day of lace-making and care for her family, Zélie would leave at night to spend some time with an infant.

Three of their children — the two Josephs and the first Thérèse — did not live to see their first birthday, and the first Thérèse died of starvation because her wet nurse proved to be an alcoholic. Hélène died at the age of 5. Léonie was abused by a servant.

Miracle approved

Pope Francis on March 18 signed a decree approving a miracle attributed to the intercession of Louis and Zélie Martin. While the Vatican released no details of the miracle, Father Antonio Sangalli, the postulator of their canonization cause, spoke about healing of a girl born in 2008 in an interview with the Catholic news agency Zenit.

“It is the healing of a child born prematurely and that, sometime after, suffered a fourth degree brain hemorrhage. This, together with other infectious complications that occurred earlier, predicted the unfortunate outcome of this birth,” Father Sangalli said. “The parents were already preparing the funeral celebrations.

“The father and mother of this girl then entrusted themselves to St. Thérèse’s parents, at the suggestions of some nuns who they turned to. Even the nuns prayed to the Martins for the healing of this little one, and they all surrounded her with their love.

“Then the miracle happened! ... The doctors were totally amazed ... Not only that: five to six years after her healing, the girl has not suffered any of the consequences that the doctors feared; she is completely healthy like all girls of her age."


Zélie developed breast cancer and “bore her cross with remarkable strength of spirit and with interior and exterior tranquility,” in the words of the Vatican decree. “She tried to console her family members and especially her young daughters.” She died at the age of 45.

Louis sold his business and moved 60 miles away to Lisieux, then a town of 17,000, so that his children could be near his brother-in-law and his family. Although Louis “enjoyed a certain wealth, he lived a simple and sober life, one estranged from riches and the vanities of the world,” in the words of the Vatican decree.

Between 1882 and 1888, four of his five daughters entered religious life, with three of them entering the Order of Discalced Carmelites in Lisieux.

In 1887 and 1888, Louis suffered several strokes and began to suffer from dementia. He was placed in a home for the mentally ill, but in time his brother-in-law’s family was able to care for him, as did Léonie, who had left her convent before entering another, and Céline, who would later follow in the footsteps of her other sisters and become a Carmelite. After another stroke and two heart attacks, Louis died in 1894.

One hundred years later, St. John Paul II declared that the Martins lived the virtues heroically, and following the miraculous healing of an Italian infant, Louis and Zélie were beatified in 2008. The miraculous healing of a Spanish infant paved the way for their canonization.

The Second Vatican Council called upon spouses to “sustain one another in grace in the course of their whole life, and imbue their offspring, lovingly received from God, with Christian teachings and Gospel virtues.” Louis and Zélie Martin lived out the Church’s teaching heroically, and with their canonization in October, they will become universal examples of the grandeur of being a Christian husband and father, a wife and mother.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

Two ‘vibrant’ religious orders head to Denver

  • Brian Fraga, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 16 2015
Courtesy photo

Sisters of Life, Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo will minister to college students, parishioners

The Sisters of Life and the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, two relatively young and vibrant religious orders, will both be establishing houses in the Archdiocese of Denver this summer.

The Denver house will be the Sisters of Life’s first mission in the United States, while the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo’s presence in Broomfield, Colorado, will be the Italian-based community’s first foundation in the country.

“Any archdiocese welcomes religious orders. This is a huge honor,” said Karna Swanson, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Denver.

Swanson told Our Sunday Visitor that both orders approached the archdiocese.

“This is where the have both been led by the Holy Spirit,” said Swanson, who added: “What’s really exciting about this is that this is happening in the Year of Consecrated Life, and we announced this on the Feast of the Annunciation. These are very new orders with very young sisters, and this is exciting and kind of a first for both of them.”

‘A visible witness’

Founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor, the late archbishop of New York, the Sisters of Life profess a vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life. The New York-based order’s primary mission includes practical assistance and outreach for pregnant women in need.

“The Sisters of Life could have gone anywhere they wanted, and they chose the Archdiocese of Denver,” Swanson said. “The pro-life issue is a topic very close to Archbishop [Samuel] Aquila’s heart. I know this is extremely exciting for him.”

Archbishop Aquila told Denver Catholic that he is dedicating the religious communities to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“The arrival of two new religious orders to the Archdiocese of Denver during the Year for Consecrated Life is a great blessing for the faithful of northern Colorado,” the archbishop said. “It is evident that God has a clear plan for these two young orders of sisters here in the archdiocese, and we are more than willing to assist them in any way.”

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, the Superior General of the Sisters of Life, told Denver Catholic that her community, which consists of 88 members, 23 of whom are in initial formation, had been discerning and planning a new foundation for the past couple of years.

“Within the last few months, entrusting our deliberations to the Holy Spirit and in conversation with Archbishop Aquila, the Church of Denver emerged as the site of this foundation,” said Mother Agnes Mary, who anticipates sending four sisters to take up residence in Denver by mid-August.

“While there is great vibrancy within the Church in Denver,” Mother Agnes Mary said, “we believe that we are prepared to offer the unique gift of being a visible witness to the Church’s proclamation of the dignity and mystery of every human life.”

The Sisters of Life’s initial mission in Denver will entail evangelization with a primary focus on young adults and college students in northern Colorado. The Sisters will work with young people attending the University of Colorado, as well as Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado.

“The Sisters of Life say from their work and experience that college women are most at risk of having an abortion,” Swanson said. “They will come here and work with young women on college campuses. It’s a big priority for us.”

Coming to the U.S.

The Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo were born from the Communion and Liberation Movement. In 2007, the community received official recognition as a Private Association of the Faithful in the Diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina, Italy. In 2011, the community was recognized as a Public Association of the Faithful after its first sister professed vows.

The Italian-based Missionaries were looking to establish a presence in the United States and chose Denver, said Swanson, adding: “They looked at different places where Communion and Liberation is active. We have a very vibrant C&L community, which is part of their spiritual family.”

Two Missionary sisters — Sister Elena Rondelli and Sister Maria Anna Sangiorgio — will live in a convent belonging to the Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield, which is staffed by priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo. The sisters will assist with many aspects of parish life, including Eucharistic adoration and teaching religious education.

“I think their presence is going to be a huge gift to the Archdiocese of Denver, and to our parish especially,” said Father Michael Carvill, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, who is pastor of the Nativity of Our Lord Parish.

Father Carvill told OSV that the sisters will begin their Denver mission by primarily visiting the sick and homebound in nursing homes and hospitals.

“They’ll really be going out, getting to know those people, developing relationships with them, serving their spiritual needs and helping us to service their sacramental needs,” said Father Carvill, adding that he expects the sisters to arrive in early August.

“Their mission will be to bring those people right into the heart of the life of the Church. I think Pope Francis would be happy with that. As they get to know the culture and the country, and as they establish themselves more, then they will be available and willing to reach out and engage in other apostolates that might be suitable to their state of life.”

‘A huge blessing’

Father Carvill said he was also excited that the Sisters of Life will be setting up shop in Denver.

“It’s a huge blessing,” he said. “These are young, vibrant, deeply committed religious. To me, they, together with many new congregations, kind of represent an imagery of feminine religiosity and Catholic life that I think is often missing today.”

Swanson added that establishing new foundations is a monumental decision for young religious orders. “They put a lot of prayer into this,” Swanson said, adding that the archdiocese actively promotes consecrated life.

“I think the flourishing of consecrated life is always a sign of vibrancy for the Church,” she said. “The more vibrancy we can have in the Archdiocese of Denver, I think it’s all that much better. We will do anything we can to promote its flourishing, because it helps the rest of us.”

The Vatican

Pope: Humility ‘leads to glory’

  • Pope Francis, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 08 2015
CNS photo

Francis also pleads for peace in conflicts across the world in Easter message

The following is the full text of Pope Francis’ “urbi et orbi” Easter message (to the city of Rome and the world), delivered April 5 in St. Peter’s Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ is risen!

Love has triumphed over hatred, life has conquered death, light has dispelled the darkness!

Out of love for us, Jesus Christ stripped himself of his divine glory, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave and humbled himself even to death, death on a cross. For this reason, God exalted him and made him Lord of the universe. Jesus is Lord!

By his death and resurrection, Jesus shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation. This is the path which leads to glory. Only those who humble themselves can go toward the “things that are above,” toward God (cf. Col 3:1-4). The proud look “down from above”; the humble look “up from below.”

On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it open and empty. Then they drew near and “bent down” in order to enter it. To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down,” to abase ourselves. Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.

The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail ... But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to one another, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and ready to help.

This is not weakness, but true strength! Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.

From the risen Lord, we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace. We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.

We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.

We pray for peace for all the peoples of the Holy Land. May the culture of encounter grow between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process be resumed, in order to end years of suffering and division.

We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favor reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person. For Yemen, too, we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.

At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, [Switzerland], that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.

We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives — I think in particular of the young people who were killed [April 2] at Garissa University College in Kenya — for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.

May the Lord’s resurrection bring light to beloved Ukraine, especially to those who have endured the violence of the conflict of recent months. May the country rediscover peace and hope thanks to the commitment of all interested parties.

We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups. Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family. And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.

May the marginalized, the imprisoned, the poor and the migrants who are so often rejected, maltreated and discarded, the sick and the suffering, children, especially those who are victims of violence; all who today are in mourning, and all men and women of goodwill, hear the consoling voice of the Lord Jesus: “Peace to you!” (Lk 24:36). “Fear not, for I am risen and I shall always be with you” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon for Easter Day).

Reaching Families, The Vatican

In bits and pieces, Pope Francis’ U.S. trip coming together

  • Gretchen R. Crowe, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • April 02 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

We should all be ready to expect the unexpected

The Vatican hasn’t yet released an official itinerary for Pope Francis’ September trip to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia, but that hasn’t stopped the news from being released by other sources.

Enough of the major elements of the journey have been announced by other parties that we are beginning to get a good idea of what’s coming and when.

First, it’s important to remember that the reason Pope Francis is making the journey in the first place is to be present at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which begins Sept. 22. For Catholics, at least, this will be the pinnacle of his trip, and it will be the place where the pope will celebrate a public Mass, which is expected to draw up to 2 million people.

But the rest will be thrilling to follow, as well. So let’s start piecing it together.

Pope Francis likely will arrive in Washington, D.C., on the evening of Sept. 22. One of his first stops, confirmed in a statement released by the White House at the end of March, will be the White House on Sept. 23 for an official welcoming ceremony. During this visit, the statement said, President Barack Obama and Pope Francis “will continue the dialogue ... on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues.” Also while in D.C., perhaps even that afternoon, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, an event the pope confirmed himself in January. There is likely to be a Mass associated with the canonization, but most likely not open to the public.

Thanks to a February announcement by House Speaker John Boehner, we also know that Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress while in the nation’s capital — the first pontiff to do this — on Sept. 24.

“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds,” Boehner said. “His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another.”

Francis will then head north to New York City, where the United Nations has announced that he will address the U.N. General Assembly on the morning of Sept. 25.

Francis is then expected in Philadelphia on Sept. 26-27 to conclude the World Meeting of Families. Events will include a Saturday evening prayer vigil and a Sunday Mass, which will be open to the public.

Many gaps in this tentative outline remain, particularly in New York. And of course a major question is what role Pope Francis’ well-known penchant for spontaneity will play. I think it’s safe to say we should all be ready to expect the unexpected.

No matter what happens, it’s sure to be a grace-filled week, and one that will make a long-lasting impact on the American Church.

I, personally, can’t wait.

The Vatican

Vatican opens doors for homeless to view treasures

  • Cathy Dee, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 25 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Guided tours of Sistine Chapel, museums are planned

Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, almoner for Pope Francis, has invited 150 homeless people to receive personal tours of the Vatican’s artistic treasures Thursday, March 26.

According to Vatican Radio:

The visit is set for the early afternoon. After arriving at the Petrine entrance, the guests will be divided into three groups for guided tours. Before arriving at the Museums, the groups will enjoy a privileged visit to grounds of Vatican City, passing by the Casa Santa Marta and behind the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Their first stop in the Museums will be at the newly re-arranged Pavilion of the Carriages, where historical papal carriages and automobiles are on display. Afterwards, the groups will visit the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of the Maps on their way to the Sistine Chapel. The viewing of Michelangelo’s masterpiece will be a private showing, reserved solely for the guests of the Papal Almoner; the Chapel will be closed to the public during the visit.

The tours are organized by the Office of Papal Charities, which has also donated sleeping bags, built showers, and offered haircuts to the homeless who frequent St. Peter’s Square. Read more here.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

The real St. Patrick

  • Susan Gately, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 18 2015
CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier

More fascinating than his legends

Ask anyone about Ireland's national saint, St. Patrick, and invariably you will be told three facts: He brought Christianity to Ireland, he got rid of the snakes, and he explained the Trinity using a shamrock.

Alas, all wrong.

"In those three cases, the first one is actually false and the other two are late legends," said Salvador Ryan, professor of ecclesiastical history at St. Patrick's College Maynooth in Ireland.

In fact, in 431 the pope sent Palladius as bishop to the Irish people “believing in Christ.” So when Patrick arrived in Ireland, there were already Christians there. The story of the snakes first appears in “Life of St. Patrick” from the 12th century by Jocelin of Furness. "It is maybe symbolic of banishing paganism from Ireland," said Ryan.

Then there's the shamrock. The first image of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, now so associated with him, is on a half-penny coin minted in Dublin in 1674.

But St. Patrick was not a legend. He was a real man and, uniquely for the time, wrote his own life story. In fact, he is the only Roman citizen we know from the fifth century who was taken into slavery in a barbarian land among non-Roman peoples who lived to tell the tale and wrote about it.

St. Patrick wrote two documents: his Confessio (Confession) (about 6,500 words) , and “A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.” One is his declaration of faith, the other a severe reprimand to soldiers who conducted raids on St. Patrick's newly baptised Christians.

The Confession arises from a period of crisis. "It seems that certain allegations have been made by some people in the Church in Britain against Patrick," Ryan said. "They claim he came to Ireland for his own financial gain." Patrick wrote to set the record straight, telling his own story.

He was from Roman Britain from a well-to-do family. His father was a deacon; his grandfather a priest. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland.

In Latin, Patrick wrote: "After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy — as I realize now, the spirit was burning in me at that time" (Confessio 16).

Patrick escaped, but back in Britain, in a dream, a figure came bearing letters. "They called out as it were with one voice: 'We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk among us once again'” (Confessio 23).

Against his family's wishes, Patrick returned to Ireland. "It is a hard station, almost a self-imposed exile. He tells us of the pain of emigration. It is a very human account," Ryan said.

Patrick refers to the conversion of hundreds of people. While there is no tradition of martyrdom in Ireland, it is clear that Patrick suffered, was protective of the converts and ready to lay down his life for them.

"What comes through powerfully is his humanity and his deep faith and humility. He says he was a stone lying in deep mire, but that God picked him up and sat him on top of the wall," Ryan said.

Looking at his writings rather than his legend, you see a man aware of his weakness. For instance, he tells of a sin he committed at age 16. He's ashamed of it and confides it to a friend. His friend breaks the confidence and tells everyone. "Patrick has long since confessed this particular sin and has done penance for it, but it comes back to bite him. Sometimes that happens to us, too. He's a flesh-and-blood saint," Ryan said.

Patrick died at the end of the fifth century. Two centuries later, biographies sponsored by the Church in Armagh, Ireland, appear, presenting him as a wonder-worker. But the Patrick of the Confession is "more impressive" than his legends, Ryan said. The saint who wrote more than 1,500 years ago said: "For this reason, may God not let it come about that I would suffer the loss of his people who have become his in the furthermost parts of the earth. I pray that God give me perseverance, and that he grant me to bear faithful witness to him right up to my passing from this life, for the sake of my God" (Confessio 58).

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Pope Francis announces Year of Mercy

  • Gretchen R. Crowe, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • March 13 2015
CNS photo

Extraordinary jubilee year will run from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016

While presiding over a Lenten service with focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration, Pope Francis announced that the Church would be observing an "extraordinary jubilee...Holy Year of Mercy."

"I have thought about how the Church can make clear its mission of being a witness of mercy," the pope said during his homily at St. Peter's Basilica. "It's a journey that starts with a spiritual conversion."

For this reason, the pope said, he has called for this special year, which will have the theme: 'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful' (cf Lk 6:36)."

"We want to live this year in the light of the Lord's words," he said.

Beginning on Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and running through Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King, the year will be organized by the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, the pope said.

"I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time," he said. "From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey."

For the entire text of the pope's homily, go here.

Lesson Connections, Pastor and Priest

What is Lent?

  • Cathy Dee, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • February 26 2015
Image courtesy Catholic Relief Services

A video series from CRS Rice Bowl helps explain and explore

We know Lent is a journey of approximately 40 days, Ash Wednesday to Easter. We know its three pillars are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We know our foreheads will be marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday, that we are called to make a personal Lenten sacrifice, and that we abstain (or fast) from meat on Fridays.

But how do we give deeper personal meaning to these introspective weeks of Lent?

In a series of short, easy-to-watch videos, Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl has brought together eight Catholics — cardinals and archbishops, priests and laity — to talk about what Lent means to them. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan looks at Lent as a journey back to God. Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez sees Lent as a practice in unity. America Magazine managing editor Kerry Weber sees Lent as a “call to action” for mercy. Jesuit Father James Martin invites us to listen to the quiet of Lent and hear the call of God to serve.

Watch Catholic Relief Service president Dr. Carolyn Woo in the video below, then visit the CRS Rice Bowl “What Is Lent” website to view all eight.

On the CRS website, you can also learn more about the Rice Bowl program — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year — find family activities and recipes, and donate to CRS projects.

Find OSV Lenten resources here.

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Pope’s message for World Youth Day 2015

  • Cathy Dee, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • February 18 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

The theme is 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'

As young people around the world look forward to next year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis has issued a message for World Youth Day 2015, which will be celebrated locally in dioceses on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015. The theme is ‘"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8).

Pope Francis’ message said, in part:

This year’s World Youth Day begins the final stage of preparations for the great gathering of young people from around the world in Krakow in 2016. Thirty years ago Saint John Paul II instituted World Youth Days in the Church. This pilgrimage of young people from every continent under the guidance of the Successor of Peter has truly been a providential and prophetic initiative. Together let us thank the Lord for the precious fruits which these World Youth Days have produced in the lives of countless young people in every part of the globe! How many amazing discoveries have been made, especially the discovery that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life! How many people have realized that the Church is a big and welcoming family! How many conversions, how many vocations have these gatherings produced! May the saintly Pope, the Patron of World Youth Day, intercede on behalf of our pilgrimage toward his beloved Krakow. And may the maternal gaze of the Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace, all-beautiful and all-pure, accompany us at every step along the way.

Read the pope’s entire message here.

Visit the official World Youth Day 2016 site here.

The USCCB has information here.

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Slain Archbishop Romero to be beatified

  • Barry Hudock, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • February 12 2015
CNS photo/Octavio Duran

Vatican affirms the outspoken critic of El Salvador's government was killed out of hatred for the Faith

Bringing an end to one of the most vexing saint-related debates of the past half-century, Pope Francis formally has recognized the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero and set the stage for the slain archbishop’s beatification.

A date for the beatification has not been set, but it will take place in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, where Romero served as archbishop before his death.

Making the announcement at a Feb. 4 Vatican news conference, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator of Archbishop Romero’s cause, called him “a pastor who gave his life for his people” and said his beatification would be “an extraordinary gift for the entire Church.”

Paglia also announced, unexpectedly, the formal opening of the beatification cause of another Salvadoran priest, Father Rutilio Grande, who was a key figure in Romero’s own story.

Elevation to archbishop

Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, by a right-wing death squad reportedly commissioned by the Salvadoran military. His death brought to an end his role in a dramatic and complex story that included strong elements of faith, social unrest and politics. But the bloody Salvadoran civil war that followed would not end for another 12 years.

When Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, his country was already in turmoil. Salvadoran society was dominated by a small group of wealthy families who controlled almost all of the useful farmland, while most other citizens lived in grinding poverty. Efforts by peasants to promote land reform had been met with violent opposition by the government’s military regime.

Catholic priests and catechists who taught the common people about human dignity and God’s love for the poor were perceived as radical and subversive. Some were being kidnapped and killed by death squads supported by the military regime.

When Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador, many saw the move as favorable to the ruling class. He was studious and even-handed, maintaining good relations with many business leaders. But he also had a strong track record of caring for the poor among his flock. Whatever his stance at his installation, it certainly developed dramatically a month later, with the assassination of Father Grande, a priest of the archdiocese and longtime friend of Archbishop Romero. Any reticence he might have had about speaking in defense of the poor and criticizing those who wielded control of Salvadoran society disappeared. The change has sometimes been called “Rutilio’s miracle.”

Speaking out

Father Grande was a pastor who helped form local communities of laypeople who met regularly to pray, read the Bible, celebrate Mass and discuss justice issues. He vocally challenged the repression of the poor by the nation’s elite. On March 12, 1977, he was assassinated by gunmen who fired upon a car he was driving, carrying several other people. Two of his passengers were also killed.

Father Grande’s death moved Archbishop Romero intensely. Over the following three years, he preached frequently about the injustices that marked Salvadoran society. In homilies that were broadcast live and listened to attentively by huge numbers of people, he called the rich to conversion, reported human rights abuses and atrocities that happened week after week, and spoke of the presence of Jesus in the suffering of the Salvadoran people. In a personal letter, he asked President Jimmy Carter to end American support of the Salvadoran military.

Many saw in his words the influence of liberation theology, a controversial brand of theology. But there was no single version of liberation theology; some of it was perfectly consistent with Church teaching while other approaches were more problematic.

Archbishop Romero received death threats and, as his personal journal entries indicate, feared for his own life. But he refused to take what some thought would have been a more prudent approach. His killing came the day after a homily, also broadcast live, in which he spoke directly to the members of the Salvadoran military, insisting in the name of God that they refuse to follow orders that were against God’s law.

Path toward beatification

Many viewed Archbishop Romero as a martyr and venerated his memory from the moment of his death. But others, including some Vatican officials, were more hesitant about offering such recognition.

The reasons for this are complex and not always clear. Msgr. Rafael Urrutia, chancellor of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, told Our Sunday Visitor that officials were hesitant to beatify Archbishop Romero while those he had criticized were still alive and unwilling to offer any encouragement to supporters of liberation theology, which was under close Vatican scrutiny throughout the 1980s. At the Feb. 4 news conference, Archbishop Paglia suggested that negative reports about Archbishop Romero the Vatican had received, some of which accused him of doctrinal errors, also hindered the beatification cause.

Still, Pope John Paul II, during a 1983 pastoral visit to El Salvador, insisted, against the will of the national government, on visiting Archbishop Romero’s grave at San Salvador’s cathedral, waiting outside for someone to unlock the door when he showed up. Pope Benedict XVI said publicly in 2007 that he thought Archbishop Romero was “worthy of beatification.” And in the Vatican news conference, Archbishop Paglia revealed that Pope Benedict had taken steps to move Archbishop Romero’s cause forward just prior to his resignation from the papacy in 2013.

Following the election of Pope Francis in March 2013, the progress of Archbishop Romero’s cause picked up steam. Hours after a meeting with the pope a month after his election, Archbishop Paglia commented in a homily, “Today ... the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Romero was unblocked.”

On Jan. 8, a theological commission of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted unanimously that Archbishop Romero’s killing had been carried out “in odium fidei,” that is, out of hatred for the Faith, a key element for official recognition by the Church as a martyr. Pope Francis approved the recognition Feb. 3, and the news conference came the following day.

“Romero was a sort of proto-martyr, a first martyr among the new martyrs of our time,” Paglia said at the briefing. “Romero obviously chose to live the Faith of the Church as it flowed from Vatican II, attending to peace and justice and the truth of the Gospel.”

Paglia also noted the consistency of Archbishop Romero’s witness with Pope Francis’ insistent call for “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” With his coming beatification, Archbishop Romero will stand as a more prominent example of what it can mean to respond to such a call.

The Vatican

Hangin’ with the pope

  • Cathy Dee, OSV Daily Take
  • |
  • February 06 2015
Screenshot from Scholas Occurrentes YouTube channel

Pope Francis hosts a video chat with disabled children

Pope Francis admitted he isn't good with computers and doesn't use a tablet, but he didn't let that stop him from taking part in a Google Hangout with a group of disabled children from around the world, including Spain, Brazil, Argentina and the United States.

The pope answered the childrens' questions about the use of technology and encouraged them to use it and "not hide the treasure that each one of you have." He also spoke to them about overcoming difficulties, saying, "There is no need to be afraid of difficulties, ever. We are capable of overcoming them all."

The video hangout was part of the last day of the World Educational Congress and hosted by Scholas Occurrentes, an educational organization begun by Pope Francis, where, according to their website, "technology, arts and sports are used to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter."

Watch the video chat:

Remember you can follow Pope Francis on Twitter: @Pontifex.

Reaching Families, Catholic Schools

‘Salem bus’ rolls across diocesan lines

  • Eddie O'Neill, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • January 26 2015
Courtesy photo

Committed to providing a Catholic education, parish carpool drives children to school over 20 miles each way

It’s 5:30 on a Monday morning in Salem, Missouri, and Melinda Dreisewerd is rolling out of bed. The mother of three is in charge of the school carpool today. However, this is no ordinary carpool. She’ll be behind the wheel of a microbus taking 18 area grade-school-age kids 23 miles north to St. Patrick Catholic School in Rolla, Missouri.

For close to a decade now, the “Salem bus” — as it is affectionately known as — has been putting more than 275 miles a week on its odometer, and thousands of dollars in its gas tank, all for the sake of Catholic education.


Students from Salem, for the most part, belong to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is in the north-central part of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese. St. Patrick School, in the south-central part of the Diocese of Jefferson City, is the only Catholic school for miles around. “Catholic education is the primary way to go,” said Father Dan Hirtz, the pastor of Sacred Heart.

Father Hirtz said the program began when he was approached by a father who sent his own kids to St. Patrick. Father Hirtz had the dad speak at Mass one weekend, and his story inspired the parish to see how they could help support Catholic education.

The parish got by with a minivan at first. It was around five years ago that Father Hirtz bought his first microbus, which holds around 20 students.

“Father Dan has always pushed for our kids from Salem to come to St. Pat’s,” said Becky Cahill, who shares driving duties with Dreisewerd and has several children in the school.

“He also has a thing for buses,” she added with a smile.

Cahill and Dreisewerd both had to get commercial driver’s licenses to drive the school bus.

“The driving part was the easiest,” Cahill said. “But then we had to know all the parts of the bus, how they worked, what could go wrong and how to fix it.”

So far, these two moms haven’t had to solve any mechanical issues. However, should a roadside crisis arise, Dreisewerd said their husbands are just a phone call away.

'A great place'

With its mission to provide a quality education, and develop the whole person in a Catholic environment, sending their children to St. Patrick is well worth the early rising and long hours on the bus, the parents from Salem said.

“It is such a wonderful school. We would bring our kids here even if we had to drive further,” said Cahill, a mother of seven.

Dawn Pharr, also of Salem, agrees.

“Where to start?” said the mother of three children at St. Patrick. “I could write a novel about what a great place this is.”

Dreisewerd and Cahill swap driving duties during the week — one does the morning drive to Rolla, while the other brings students home to Salem.

Three years ago, Father Hirtz bought a car to minimize the number of times the bus made the trip between St. Patrick and Salem. Now the routine is that, after dropping the kids off at school, the morning driver leaves the bus in a nearby parking lot and travels back to Salem in the four-door sedan, leaving the car at the afternoon driver’s house. At around 2:45 p.m. the afternoon driver takes that car up to Rolla, loads the school bus, and drives the bus home.

“We are so grateful to Father Dan and the parishioners (at Sacred Heart) to make all this possible,” Dreisewerd told OSV. “It provides a great opportunity for our parish kids to experience a full Catholic education.”

Not only does Father Hirtz provide the transportation, but he also helps with tuition if a family needs it. The parish will pay half of the tuition for a family’s first school child and three fourths of the tuition for a second child. “It is important that parents have a part in those tuition payments,” the pastor of 16 years noted. “It gives them a sense of ownership.”

Father Hirtz and all those involved want to see this program keep on rolling. “It’s a win-win for all those involved,” he said. “The parents are happy, and our kids are very participative there at St. Patrick.”

Catholic Schools, Living Your Faith

Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service

  • Marilou Abramshe
  • |
  • January 16 2015
Rafael Crisostomo of The Catholic Standard/El Pregonero

Faith is something that we must exercise every day in our lives

Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service is the theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week. Across the country, Catholic schools will be participating in special activities to highlight the event. But what about the rest of the year, and how do we, as teachers, express these attributes to our students?

“Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak,” (2 Corinthians 4:13). As catechists in Catholic Schools, we are mandated to teach our faith. But is it done out of obligation as a subject, or, as Saint Paul aptly put it; do we pass on our faith, our beliefs, our love of God not only in our teaching, but also in our actions? Faith, in fact, is something that we must exercise every day in our lives. Do we show our students that we are people of Faith by being examples of trusting in God in our lives? Student faith is increased not only by reading but witnessing examples of faith in the people they trust.

“Let the wise listen and learn yet more, and a person of discernment will acquire the art of guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5). Teachers have had many years of education to become educators. How is that education used; is it stuck in the past or has it evolved with new insight? An educated person knows how to learn. An educated person has the ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures. An educator takes advantage of the opportunities presented in workshops, on-line courses, and summer classes to become innovative for the betterment of the students. An educator is capable of doing new things; of having the ability to generate ideas and turn them into reality in the classroom.

“For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (Galatians 5:13) Is religion a subject or is it alive in your life? It is easy to teach that Catholics love one another, we help one another, etc., and to give examples that are in the textbook, but as a teacher do you exemplify those attributes? To be a Christian, means to be a follower of Christ, to imitate the attributes he expounded. As teachers, certain characteristics of Christ are necessary in the classroom, namely, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control. It is not easy to practice these in a classroom all the time, but Catholic teachers, as imitators of Christ, are called upon to work these into our daily interactions with our students, fellow staff members and others. To paraphrase Saint Paul, you can teach religion but unless you practice it, “you are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Happy Catholic Schools Week and New Year!

Catholic School resources and articles

Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline: Comprehensive Guide
'Salem bus' rolls across diocesan lines
Bright Ideas in Catholic Schools
Catholic Schools
Top Ten reasons to send your children to Catholic schools

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Learning from the Doctors of the Church

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • January 14 2015
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Recognized for their extraordinary contributions to the Faith, the lives of these holy men and women instruct us on the path to heaven

The 35 Doctors of the Church — that is the gallery of four women and 31 men honored by the Church for their special contributions to the Faith — can be an intimidating group. The list includes theological titans such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Bonaventure, Teresa of Ávila and Robert Bellarmine, as well as beloved saints such as Thérèse of Lisieux, John of the Cross and Catherine of Siena.

Their writings are profound, enriching and honored justifiably for their insights into the Faith and human experience.

But the question is, how relevant are the Doctors to the average person today? After all, what does St. Athanasius, who died 1,700 years ago, have to offer today’s technological and increasingly secular world? Or what about Hildegard of Bingen, one of the most recently named Doctors? She was a medieval German abbess who had visions. What does she have to say to the modern mind?

The answer, of course, is much. In fact, they have surprising lessons for today. The Doctors are proof that the teachings of the Church are meaningful in every era, including our own. They help us to see that we, too, can live the Faith in our time and also help others to encounter Jesus Christ. This is the great task of the New Evangelization.

Like us, the Doctors were also very human. They had failings and foibles. Some, such as Augustine, were terrible sinners at one point in their lives. Others, such as Jerome, dealt with anger. We can see in their lives many of our own personal challenges, and we can benefit greatly from their spiritual experience.

Here are 10 Doctors whose lives offer guidance in how we should live and love authentically.

What is a Doctor of the Church?

The title of Doctor of the Church has been granted to only 35 men and women in Church history. Traditionally, it is bestowed on the basis of three requirements: holiness, eminence in doctrine, and a formal declaration by the Church. Every Doctor is first and foremost a saint. Were they sinless? No, not at all. The lives of many Doctors demonstrate a powerful conversion from sin or struggles with personal failings. The Doctors, however, labored to overcome sin in their own lives.

The Doctors are required to have excelled in their knowledge and teaching. Importantly, however, their writings are not deemed infallible, nor are they considered completely free of error.

Model of fortitude

St. Athanasius (296–373)

“It is a fact, brothers and sisters, that the path of the saints in this life is one full of troubles.”

St. Athanasius certainly was no stranger to tragedy and suffering. The Bishop of Alexandria, a theologian and a firm adherent of Christian orthodoxy in the fourth century, Athanasius devoted his life to the defeat of the heresy of Arianism that called into question the very divinity of Christ. And he paid a heavy price.

A native of Alexandria, he became a bishop in 328 and spent the rest of his life combating Arianism. The scheming Arians secured his deposition and exile four times; after one of which he was hunted with such venom that he hid out for a time in his father’s tomb. Athanasius endured banishments, threats upon his life and calumny by his enemies. He remained steadfast, however, and his efforts helped lay the groundwork for the triumph of Orthodox Christianity at the Council of Constantinople in 381, years after his death. Today, he remains a role model for those enduring injustice and persecution.

Caring about the little ones

Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540–604)

One of four Latin Doctors of the Church, Gregory was pope from 590 to 604 and is only one of four popes honored with the title of “the Great.”

A member of a noble family, Gregory could have pursued a brilliant political career, but he renounced all worldly interests and used his large inheritance to feed the poor and to establish seven monasteries, including one in Rome on his own estate. He entered the Roman community himself around 574 and was soon a trusted adviser to the popes.

Against his desires, he was unanimously chosen pope at a time of great crisis. The Germanic tribe of the Lombards threatened the Eternal City, and Rome itself suffered from a vacuum of political leadership. He thus assumed many civil powers, saved Rome from Lombard attack by a peace agreement, reorganized the papal lands, introduced reforms in religious practice and gave a major impetus to missionary activity by sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to the British Isles in 596. He also is credited with the creation of what came to be called Gregorian chant.

For all of his immense achievements, he never forgot the poor. Gregory called himself Servus Servorum Dei (“Servant of the Servants of God”) and was much concerned with the needs of the poor, forgotten and defenseless. He regularly invited the poorest of the city to eat with him and once performed days of personal penance when he learned that a beggar actually had starved to death in Rome.

Dealing with anger

St. Jerome (c. 342–420)

The patron of the Church’s biblical scholars and all librarians, Eusebius Hieronymus — Jerome — is honored for translating the Bible into Latin. Such was his genius that St. Augustine said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”

A saint, Father of the Church and Doctor, Jerome was also renowned for his bluntness, sharp tongue and fiery personality. Fighting to overcome his own weaknesses and to live as an authentic Christian, he moved to the desert of Syria for solitude and penance. His study of Hebrew, it was said, began as part of his effort to overcome the terrible temptations of the flesh. After sojourns in Constantinople and then Rome, he returned to the East in 384 and settled in the cave in Bethlehem revered as the birthplace of Christ. His rooms can be visited there today. He spent the rest of his life working on his translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, for centuries the official text of Scripture.

Jerome was famous for his friendships with some of the leading figures of the age, but he was also infamous for his temper, a failing that, like so many other men and women, plagued him all of his days. His anger caused rifts with those he cared about, but he was just as swift to feel remorse and try to make amends. It was a cross for him, however, and tradition says that he regularly beat himself in the breast with a rock every time he lost control of his temper.

Herald of the New Evangelization

St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787)

“If all preachers and confessors would discharge their duties as they should, the whole world would be holy!”

One of the Church’s greatest moral theologians and the founder of the Redemptorists, Alphonsus Liguori understood well the power of conversion, for he underwent it himself. The son of nobility in Naples, he received a doctorate of law at the age of 16 and was an eminently successful lawyer for eight years. But he also came to enjoy society, fame and success. In 1723, he lost a very important case and abandoned the law. Entering the religious life, he formed the Redemptorists in 1732, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, dedicated to preaching and missionary work among the poor. Much as we are called to do today with the New Evangelization, he labored to bring the Gospel to simple people through straightforward preaching, once declaring that he had never given a sermon that could not be appreciated by the most humble old woman in the crowd.

He also left behind a rich system of moral theology that understands the problem of sin in the lives of ordinary people. Bringing people to conversion, he taught, happens when “God’s holy love enters a heart.” And so, he said, a preacher should aim not to bully but to “leave his audience inflamed with holy love.”

The power of prayer

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582)

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

A Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic, Teresa was the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

Born into a respected family in Ávila, Spain, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation at Ávila in 1535 and in 1555 underwent a conversion while praying before a statue of the scourged Christ.

She brought needed reform to the Carmelite Order despite fierce opposition, and she is honored for her mystical writings, especially El Castillo Interior (“The Interior Castle”).

For Teresa, prayer is absolutely essential to the Christian life and discipleship. She taught that praying “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5).

Writing about that relationship, Teresa added something that people today — awash in technology, gadgets, fashion and social media — have forgotten: “Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

Living in humility

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897)

“If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” Called the “Little Flower,” Thérèse of the Child Jesus was a Carmelite nun and mystic and is one of the most beloved saints of the modern era. The daughter of Blessed Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin, she entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux in 1888, and spent the rest of her life in cloister. Her deceptively simple life included daily work, prayer and devotion, and she died from tuberculosis, an illness that had already ended her hopes of serving in China. Owing to her extraordinary spiritual development, she was instructed by her superiors to write an autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” that has become a spiritual classic. Thérèse demonstrates that even a seemingly ordinary, insignificant person can achieve sanctity by the little way, doing everything out of perfect love for God. As she wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

The power of forgiveness

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315–386)

Like Athanasius, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem during the troubled era of the Arian Controversy, had much to forgive. A native of Jerusalem, Cyril became bishop in that city around 349 or 350 and was soon confronted by the Arians. Over the next 35 years he spent as bishop, Cyril was in exile for 16 of them and faced slander from his enemies and rival bishops. By the time of his return after his final time in exile from 367-378, he found his beloved Jerusalem in a state of severe moral decay and divided bitterly into religious and social factions. Cyril gave himself completely to healing the city and its wounded Christian community, forgiving those who had conspired against him. For his efforts, he was suspected himself of heresy and was compelled to go to the Council of Constantinople in 381 where he recited the creed used in Jerusalem to proclaim Christ’s divinity. Cyril’s greatest contributions to Church teaching were his “Jerusalem Catecheses,” instructional addresses for baptismal candidates and the newly baptized after Easter. They remain an important tool for how to instruct catechumens and especially how to help them mature as new Catholics. While he had good reason to be bitter, St. Cyril chose the way of patience and forgiveness. As he taught his catechumens, “The offenses committed against us are slight and trivial, and easily settled; but those which we have committed against God are great, and need such mercy as His only is” (Lecture XXIII, No. 16).

Openness to all of God's creation

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

A German mystic and abbess, called the “Sibyl of the Rhine” because of her profound visions, Hildegard was also a botanist, chemist, poet, playwright and hymnographer. Raised by the Benedictines, she became an abbess in 1136, moved her community to Rupertsberg, near Bingen, and established another house in 1165. Famed for her wisdom, holiness and visions, she traveled throughout Germany at the request of the popes preaching reforms in the Church, and she corresponded with leading figures and personalities of the time, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Emperor Frederick I. The famous visions were described in three books, the most famous of which was the “Scivias.”

Beyond her visions, Hildegard was a truly gifted natural scientist who used her talents in a host of areas, including medicine and music. Always, though, she remained obedient to the teachings of the Church and had her eyes focused on the creator of the splendors she studied. Hildegard is an example of how faith and science are truly compatible.

Living with our past

St. Augustine (354–430)

A Father of the Western Church, Augustine had an enormous influence on Christian theology and Western civilization. He is also a guide for personal conversion and overcoming a difficult, even sordid past. The life story of Augustine is well known. Despite his immense intellectual gifts, he sank into a dissolute existence so eloquently expressed with regret in his work, “The Confessions.” He took a mistress, fathered an illegitimate son, and wasted his time with the empty sect of the Manichaeans and with a stubborn refusal to recognize the truth of Christianity. Under the influence of the formidable St. Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, he was baptized, to the joy of his long-suffering mother, St. Monica. He returned to Africa, was soon ordained a priest and then became bishop of Hippo. His writings encompass 113 books, 218 letters and some 500 sermons. His most famous works were “Confessions” and “City of God.” For anyone struggling with a difficult past, the “The Confessions” — with its searing frankness in discussing sin, weakness, pride and repentance — provides hope for personal conversion, a new life of grace in the sacraments and the power of God’s loving mercy.

Fostering a love of the Eucharist

St. John of Ávila (1499–1569)

St. John of Ávila shaped the lives and spiritual development of some of the greatest saints of all time, including Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, Peter of Alcántara and Francis Borgia. A priest, spiritual director and amazing preacher, he is also a powerful teacher for how we must love the Eucharist.

The only child of wealthy parents of Jewish background, he hoped to become a missionary in the New World, but he was ordered instead to remain in Spain and evangelize in Andalusia, a region that only recently had been reclaimed to the Christian faith by Spain after centuries of control by the Moorish Kingdoms. John accepted in complete obedience, and his remarkable preaching earned him the title “Apostle of Andalusia.” A renowned spiritual director, he authored Audi, filia (“Listen, daughter”), a treatise on Christian perfection. John also saw a holy and faithful presbyterate as crucial to authentic renewal in the Church and so supported the idea of formal seminaries, which became one of the major accomplishments of the Council of Trent.

Connected closely to his love of the priesthood was his special commitment to the Eucharist. He typically spent two hours in prayer in anticipation of the sacrament and an hour after for thanksgiving. He wrote to a young priest who had sought his advice, “If sanctity is not required to touch the most pure body of Christ our Lord, the holiest thing of all, I do not know for what it is needed on earth.”

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

Saying ‘I do’ as peers say ‘I don’t’

  • Susan Klemond, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • January 07 2015
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Young Catholic adults discerning their vocation are willing to trust God despite their generation's fear of marriage

Bianca Tropeano has seen different sides of marriage, from healthy relationships to her parents' divorce 12 years ago. It hasn’t made her shy away from marriage like some young adults, but the 28-year-old says she is cautious — and trusting God as she reflects on what makes a good marriage.

“I know there’s a potential for it to be extremely harmful — physically, financially; not just to a couple but to a whole family,” said Tropeano, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Fear of divorce and commitment, and societal acceptance of cohabitation, along with a lack of understanding of the sacrament, are among the reasons young adults are delaying or avoiding marriage altogether.

But as many young adults hesitate about marriage, some of their peers, including Tropeano, are finding hope in their Catholic faith for the Sacrament of Matrimony. They’re living that faith intentionally as singles while preparing for whatever vocation to which God may call them.

Common objections

Catholic psychologist Peter Damgaard-Hansen, who lives in Denmark but has practiced in the United States, looks at the cultural trends about marriage and offers advice for young adults contemplating the sacrament.

Damgaard-Hansen said fear of marriage ending in divorce affects young adults, especially those who have experienced the divorce of parents or others. “We have to admit we do bring some programming with us from the way we grew up in divorced families that can jeopardize our own relationships.”

Kelly McDermott, 26, of Minneapolis, said if she is called to marriage, she has no qualms about it because she has known strong couples. “I know that if I’m called to actively seek someone and pray for that person, that they would be willing to enter into that sacrament with that same desire: to want to enter into the struggles, to not just have the idealized notion of love.”

McDermott noted that part of the problem is that marriage as a sacrament and union with God has been lost in our society. “I think that some people don’t necessarily identify or see the point of it; and for others, maybe it is a commitment thing,” she said.

The potential for a spouse or child needing long-term care adds to the risk factor, said Lowell Dolney, 29, of Kansas City, Kansas, who said he has discerned a call to marriage. “I think I’m more afraid of spending the rest of my life single than [I am] taking a chance with somebody and going through life with a soul mate,” he said.

Work on self

According to Damgaard-Hansen, through therapy, dysfunctional patterns and behaviors that have carried over from childhood and adolescence can be reprogrammed toward God’s original plan for fulfilling and loving marriages.

It’s a good idea to try to work through problems such as guilty feelings or low self-esteem and practice those traits on other relationships as a single person, Damgaard-Hansen said.

When dating, young adults should find the right time to make themselves vulnerable, he said. A potential mate should be open about their vulnerable side, understand that conflict is 50-50, and be willing to share responsibility, Damgaard-Hansen said.

Miguel Natural, 18, of Hoboken, New Jersey, admits he isn’t ready for marriage, but he is preparing for it by working on bad habits and relationship skills. He recognizes the need to be financially and mentally prepared and to have a relationship with the Lord. “As a single, you get the opportunity to work on them,” he said. “I think if I’m called to marriage and I follow the Lord in pursuing that call, he’s going to provide, and it’s not going to end in a divorce or in an unhappy relationship.”


Damgaard-Hansen emphasized the benefits of sharing many experiences with a potential spouse in order to get to know them. “Take at least one or two trips around the sun together before the final commitment, then you have tried out various scenarios.”

But that doesn’t mean living together before marriage. Cohabitation doesn’t work very well, Damgaard-Hansen said, in part because couples don’t give themselves to each other completely.

“If you’re trying out a relationship, you will never get a clear idea what the relationship can be like because you are not totally in it, and the other person is not totally in it, either,” he said.

Living together before marriage shows a lack of trust in God, Natural said. “In the end, the Lord’s going to provide, and if you’re called to marriage, you’ve been praying and feel called to marry this person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. I don’t think living together is going to change anything.”

Young adults don’t have to make commitments as they navigate superficial friendships through social media, and this carries into relationships, which they also don’t enter into fully, Tropeano said.

Their reluctance to commit, Damgaard-Hansen said, can stem from thinking there is one right person for them and that they risk marrying the wrong one. They may also see marriage as the end of their fun.

But some young adults don’t realize marriage will change their lives, Dolney said. “They think they have to live with someone to make sure that person is not going to get in the way of how they live their life now; that’s what’s going to happen with marriage — this person is going to change your life.”

Trust in God

Finding faith-related fellowship as singles has helped these young adults develop relationship skills. Tropeano and Dolney are part of Kansas City Young Adults, a ministry of St. Paul’s Outreach. Based in West St. Paul, Minnesota, St. Paul’s Outreach is a Catholic campus ministry program that focuses on strengthening the faith of young adults during a time statistics show many are leaving the Church. Natural lives in a St. Paul’s Outreach home near his campus at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. McDermott is involved with Frassati Society of Minnesota, whose members try to model their lives after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925).

Faith should be a key part of marriage preparation, Damgaard-Hansen said. “Seen from a human perspective, you’re really jumping off the cliff when you marry someone. Just a little rational thinking will appeal to you that you have no idea what this person is going to be like in two months, or what you’re going to be, and how you will fit together next year, because we are growing and evolving all the time. There has to be faith in a higher power involved here so this can work out.”

The vocation of marriage is meant to lead by way of the cross, and if spouses have that view, they know how to love each other, Tropeano said.

“There’s a great fear of suffering for the sake of another person, of suffering through a difficulty, and a fear of there not being joy in the midst of that,” she said.

“God works in those and helps us through them. Sometimes we can run from them because we’re afraid, but there are opportunities to truly love another person, and when we run, we miss those opportunities.”

Relying on God, singles can prepare for marriage by giving of themselves now, because before marriage, it’s about finding the right spouse, but after, it’s about becoming the right spouse, Damgaard-Hansen said. “Marriage is not the place where we find all the love we dream of and have it served for free,” he said. “Marriage is where we learn to love, forgive and be patient with the other and one’s self.”

The Vatican

For Pope Francis, 2015 will be a big year

  • Austen Ivereigh, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 26 2014
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pontiff scheduled to visit Asia and the U.S., release new encyclical and host a second family synod

On his way back from South Korea in August, Pope Francis told journalists that he didn’t imagine his pontificate would be long. “Two or three years,” he said, smiling, “and then to the Father’s house!” Whether or not he is right, 2015 will prove decisive for the success of his ambitious reforms.

It is easy to imagine commentators this time next year lining up to give their verdict. Did the reorganization of the Roman Curia plan go smoothly, or is the Vatican sulking and rebellious? Did the ecology encyclical convert hearts and minds, positioning the Church at the heart of contemporary debates, or did it alienate experts by its bad science? Did the apostolic trips — Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Latin America and, above all, the United States — confirm Pope Francis’ rock-star status, or expose the limits of his charm? Above all, did next October’s ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family prove him right — that the Holy Spirit, at work in the process, will unite the Church around new, exciting pastoral possibilities, or did divisions deepen and the process end in squabbles and paralysis?

Visit to Asia

The year will begin with a major apostolic visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, building on his priority of opening up Asia, the cradle of a major part of Christianity’s future. It is hard not to imagine both as successes. In Sri Lanka, where small Christian, Muslim and Hindu minorities face an often intolerant Buddhist majority, the visit will provoke tension, but it will also show Pope Francis’ extraordinary capacity for bridge-building across divides.

In the Philippines, one of the world’s largest Catholic countries, his visit will showcase the youth and vibrancy of Asian Catholicism, sending important messages above all to China. It will also be a moment for the pope’s vision of the Church as a battlefield hospital. In his moving encounters with typhoon survivors, the world will glimpse the Church’s vast capacity for aid and charity.

Consistory, reform

Just as it was last February, the weeks before Lent will be among Rome’s busiest. Pope Francis’ council of nine cardinals will lay out their plans for the restructuring of the Curia, which will then be put to the whole college of cardinals, known as a consistory, which the pope will also use to create perhaps a dozen new red hats. Having gotten the cardinals to buy into the broad outline of the Vatican shakeup — two new congregations, for laity and for charity, will house many of existing pontifical councils, while overlapping functions will be reduced by streamlining and amalgamating others — a new juridical document will be drawn up to map the changes.

Also key to the broader Vatican shakeup will be finance and communications. The first is already well advanced under the new secretariat, while the second is awaiting the report from Lord Christopher Patten’s commission.

Behind the changes are not just efficiency and transparency but the vision of a Vatican that serves, rather than stifles, the local Church; and that which enables the pope more effectively to fulfill his mission. That means a new curial culture of service, rather than entitlement, and of vocation, rather than privilege. Encyclical, another trip

The second major teaching document from Pope Francis, on ecology, currently is scheduled for March. It likely will wade into a huge range of sensitive topics — among them: climate change, population, development, as well as patterns of growth and consumption — that will plunge Catholics into contemporary debates. The ecology encyclical is above all an opportunity to locate the Church’s voice in the poor South, which disproportionately bears the brunt of the rich world’s policies. Expect a deeply challenging document that will be one of Pope Francis’ major teaching legacies.

The pope also has spoken of going next year to Latin America, while ruling out a visit to his own country of Argentina until 2016. Given that he has already been to Brazil, the smart money is on Central America, where he is likely to beatify and maybe also canonize Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, whose cause Pope Francis unblocked shortly after his election. It would be a highly symbolic moment for Latin America, but above all for the vision for caring for the poor outlined by the Conference of Latin American Bishops in 1968. Given Pope Francis’ opposition, while a young Jesuit, to certain Marxist-influenced strands of liberation theology, but his embrace of the option for the poor, this will be a significant moment for the Latin-American Church.

Synod, U.S.-bound

The major test for Pope Francis this year remains the Synod of Bishops and its ambitious project of formulating new pastoral strategies to bolster marriage while allowing large numbers of Catholics to be reconciled with the Church. The pope has insisted that Cardinal Walter Kasper’s role has been to challenge the Church to open its thinking rather than to propose a particular solution, and that his own role is not to take sides but to guide a process of discernment similar to the early Church councils.

Yet there remains suspicion on the part of some cardinals that Pope Francis is taking sides and creating unnecessary confusion. The pope’s goals are clear: to enable the Church to open its doors to those with failed marriages while giving couples the understanding and strength to embark on a permanent marriage in a public culture that has largely abandoned the concept. If the synod produces an effective plan for those objectives, he will have succeeded.

His visit to Philadelphia at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families will be key to fulfilling that goal. He will come to the United States enjoying massive popularity outside the Church but some suspicion inside it as many American Catholics, including bishops, worry that Pope Francis views both them and the United States, generally, through a left-wing, Latin American lens. But in his addresses to Congress and the United Nations calling for a renewal of politics as service, he has a heaven-sent opportunity to place the Church at the heart of public debate. Even without the expected visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, the visit will be a firecracker.

He then returns to Rome for the synod, when delegates of the world’s bishops’ conferences discuss and vote on concrete proposals that will shape the next generation’s witness to the family. If the U.S. visit, the synod and the curial reforms all end well, Pope Francis will spend the rest of his papacy — however short or long — reaping the harvest.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

The Christmas octave: Continuing the celebration

  • Dennis Emmons, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 18 2014

The seven feast days following the Nativity of the Lord aid us in our understanding of the Incarnation

For most people, the significance of events like Easter and Christmas cannot be absorbed in one day. It’s like trying to comprehend the grandeur of the Grand Canyon in a brief visit or St. Peter’s Basilica in one walk-through. It’s not possible. We have to return. So it is with the Nativity and the Passion of Christ. We need more time to comprehend that Resurrection morning, more time to understand the virgin birth and God coming down to earth as man. As a result, the Church gives us seven additional days to contemplate these divine mysteries. These extra days on the liturgical calendar, eight in total, are the octaves.

Octaves can be traced back to the Old Testament, when certain celebrations such as the feast of Booths (Lv 23:33ff.) and feast of the dedication of the temple (2 Chr 7:9) lasted eight days. At one time there were 15 feast days on the Church calendar that included octaves, but since 1969, only Christmas and Easter are extended with the additional days of celebration. The Christmas octaves were introduced into the liturgical calendar soon after the date of Christmas was established in the late fourth century. This tradition continues today with octaves beginning on Christmas and ending seven days later on Jan. 1. The liturgies on these days honor individuals who loved Jesus without question. Some are martyrs, others holy men, women and even infants; all gave their lives to the one who, like us, was born as a babe.

Every day of the Christmas octave is filled with meaning that reflects back on the Nativity, not just the birth of Christ but the impact, the reality of the birth.

DEC. 26 The liturgy on the day after Christmas tells us of St. Stephen — how he was stoned to death for speaking the truth about Christ and thus became the first martyr and the first saint. He gave up his life believing in the divinity of the child born on Christmas.

DEC. 27 This day we celebrate St. John the Evangelist, the same John who was the only apostle at Calvary, who laid his head on Our Lord’s chest and through his Gospel shows us how to live in the manner of Christ.

DEC. 28 The liturgy calls us to reflect on the Holy Innocents: children under age 2 who were slaughtered by the tyrant Herod because he feared one of them might be the newborn rival king (Jesus). In our era, abortion continues to murder the innocents.

DEC. 29 It is St. Thomas Becket, the English archbishop, we commemorate on the fourth day of the octave. In 1170, he was murdered because he defended the Church from domination by King Henry II.

DEC. 30 The calendar proclaims the feast of the Holy Family — that Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the model family for the world to emulate. God came to earth to be part of a human family, born as an infant to be protected, educated and nurtured by Mary and Joseph. This small family stayed together, respecting and loving one another despite tragedies and pain. Their love and faith in God never wavered. Twenty-one centuries later, families are still influenced by their holiness.

DEC. 31 The life of Pope St. Sylvester I (d. 335) is celebrated this day. He was selected as pope immediately after Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and thus oversaw the first era of peace on earth. Pope Sylvester supported the Council of Nicea in 325 where the Church proclaimed Jesus as both human and divine, consubstantial with the Father. He approved the Nicene Creed, still recited at every Sunday Mass.

JAN. 1 On this final and actual octave day, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is a holy day of obligation on which we honor the role of Mary in the salvation history of mankind. Her fiat to the angel, love of her Son and love of God have no equal among mortals. The Gospel reading this day (Lk 2:16-21) announces that the child carried by Mary was circumcised and given the name Jesus on the eighth day after his birth.

All these feasts have fixed dates on the Church calendar except for the feast of the Holy Family, which takes place on the first Sunday after Christmas. If another of the octave feast days falls on that Sunday, with one exception, it is preempted by the feast of the Holy Family and the other feast is not celebrated during the octaves. For example, this year the feast of the Holy Innocents, Sunday, Dec. 28, is preempted by the feast of the Holy Family. The one exception is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. If that solemnity falls on the first Sunday after Christmas, then the Holy Family is moved to and celebrated on Dec. 30.

Each of these feast days within the octave continues the joys of Christmas Day and helps us in our attempt to understand the mystery of the Incarnation. In times past, the individuals described in each of the octave days were considered as comites Christi, companions of Christ, meaning each has a special relationship with Our Lord. Their placement on the Church calendar, near the birth of Christ, is not accidental.

Catholic Schools, The Vatican

Bethlehem University called an ‘oasis of peace’

  • Matthew Bunson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 11 2014
CNS photo/Debbie Hill

In an area of the world filled with turmoil, the Catholic university is a symbol of interreligious success

With Christmas approaching, the eyes of the world turn once again to the city of Bethlehem. As has been the case for many years, much of the attention has focused on the challenges and crises facing the city where Our Lord was born. Bethlehem’s 25 percent unemployment and 22 percent poverty rate are driving Bethlehemites to emigrate, and among them are many Christians. Where the Christian population in the city 50 years ago was 70 percent, today it is around 15 percent. Such are the economic and political problems — including the towering Israeli security wall that separates the city physically and symbolically from Jerusalem — that it can be difficult to find reasons for hope or optimism for the future.

A light in darkness

One place where it is possible to look for some light, however, is Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university in the Holy Land, a school described by Bishop William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as “an oasis of peace where Muslim and Christian students and teachers live, study and work in concord and harmony.”

Any visitor to Bethlehem eventually notices the impressive campus operated by the De La Salle Brothers, also known as the Brothers of Christian Schools, on Fréres Street, perched on the highest point in the city. The influence of the school also becomes clear in conversation with local leaders, especially in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the diocese for Latin-rite Catholics in the Holy Land.

Since its founding in October 1973 — when it started with 112 students — the school has claimed more than 15,000 graduates and currently has an enrollment of 3,254 students, including 330 graduate students, who study in Bethlehem and Qubeibeh near Ramallah. Graduates hold a host of jobs across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and some return to serve as faculty. One of them, Vera Baboun, came back to work at the university for 21 years as a teacher of English literature and also as assistant dean of students. A Catholic, in 2012 she was elected the first female mayor of Bethlehem. She considers herself “a daughter” of the university’s De La Salle teaching tradition and views the school as one of the great treasures of the city she now runs.

“Usually you graduate from a school,” she said, “but Bethlehem University has a tradition, and as a teacher and a student I have been raised on that tradition. That affects my life also today. How to be efficient, to work with honesty and decency and most importantly with faith, with (Jesus) in your heart.”

Difficult times

This tradition is especially crucial given the violence that has touched the faculty, staff and students over the years. The school has been closed 12 times by the Israeli military, including a three-year period from October 1987 until October 1990 during the First Palestinian Intifada, the uprising against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The scars of the fighting can still be seen in the buildings.

In March 2002, when Bethlehem was the center of fierce firefights and the Church of the Nativity was the site of a siege between Israeli troops and Palestinians, four Israeli anti-tank missiles struck the university. Three hit the Millennium Hall complex that had been dedicated only the year before and one smashed into the Palestinian Cultural Heritage Center in the library. The hole in the wall of the library caused by the missile has been carefully preserved with a glass cover.

Today, many of the students who attend the university and live in Jerusalem face daily travel restrictions and Israeli military checkpoints. One of them, Dalal, a 22-year-old daughter of a German woman and a Palestinian, makes the uncertain trip every day from Jerusalem through the security zones. She had studied in Germany and came back to the Holy Land to finish her degree in social work, but the hardships are worth it because of the reputation and level of accreditation the university offers.

Interreligious ties

Considered one of the best students at the university, Dalal embodies as well the atmosphere of harmony among the Christian and Muslim students and the surprising demographics of the student body. Visitors to the school are often shocked to learn that 74 percent of the students are Muslim, and even more surprised that 77 percent of the students are women.

At a time when Christian-Muslim relations seem at a low point in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere across the Middle East, the university is a unique place — a Catholic institution of higher learning where Muslims and Christians can meet and build cultural and social bridges for the future.

Sami Yousef, head of the Pontifical Missions Society for the Holy Land and a former professor, stresses the importance of this process.

“For many of the Muslim students who come from places like Hebron or the outlying villages,” he told Our Sunday Visitor, “this is really their first exposure at the age of 18 to any Christian presence, symbols or individuals ... and yet when they open up their eyes, Christianity for them is something very dear to their heart. All of a sudden you are talking about people who are of the same language and the same culture that are your neighbors, and you start to build up these relationships and respect for Christian institutions.”

This was the vision intended from the start by the Christian Brothers, and the Holy See has worked to help. The papal nuncio to Israel and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, for example, holds the post of university chancellor and acts as chief adviser to the vice chancellor in expressing the concerns of the Holy See. The Vatican also encourages the vital task of institutional development and fundraising.

The Christian Brothers have done exemplary work, but they are keenly aware of the degree to which the university has relied over the decades on generous help from across the globe. Only 40 percent of the university’s operating costs come from tuition, so the school benefits greatly from support from 29 countries. The United States provides the most assistance, followed by Australia, France and Germany. The members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem have also provided crucial assistance over the years.

Supporters want to help preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. But there is the complementary goal of seeing a school where Christians and Muslims study together, and not merely survive but flourish. As Bishop Shomali emphasizes, Bethlehem University is “a Catholic institution where ethical values of tolerance, dialogue, teamwork, respect of the other and the Christian values are the daily bread. Although Bethlehem University is a small one in terms of numbers, it remains an oasis of peace and dialogue in a torn and divided Middle East.”

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Just who was the Child Jesus?

  • F. Douglas Kneibert, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 11 2014
CNS photo/Paul Haring

A closer look at the infant Son of God, who indeed was Lord even at birth

When reading the Bible, I’ve occasionally been stopped in my tracks by a passage that I had previously read — or read over — without grasping its meaning. The same thing can occur with a Christmas carol, even one as familiar as “Silent Night,” I’ve discovered.

It was the end of the third stanza that grabbed my attention last Christmas: “Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” To the extent I had thought about it at all, I had tended to connect Jesus’ lordship more with his mature years when he embarked upon his ministry. His baptism, his miracles, his transfiguration — there we see his divinity. Or so I thought.

But Jesus’ lordship wasn’t something that he “grew into” or that was conferred on him by the Father at some point in his adulthood. It was there at his birth in the Bethlehem stable.

From the beginning

That process began with the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive in a miraculous way when the Holy Spirit would came upon her “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35).

The Greek word translated “overshadow” is episkiasei, which describes a cloud-like visitation of God upon the earth. The word is used in describing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, when a cloud descended from which the voice of God was heard. In the Exodus story, God led the children of Israel out of Egypt in a cloud by day.

Among Christian mysteries, the Incarnation is in a class by itself, defying any rational explanation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “The gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility ...” (No. 497).

With admirable brevity, the Catechism provides as good a description of the physical process that was involved as we are likely to get: “The Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord, the giver of Life,’ is sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and divinely fecundate it, causing her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own” (No. 485).

Among the many glories of the Incarnation, those of Mary make clear why the Catholic Church (along with the Orthodox bodies) fulfills Mary’s prophecy that “all ages (will) call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). As we shall see, there is also a compelling pro-life message to be found in these passages of Scripture.

The Infant of Prague

We are all familiar with the “baby Jesus” that we place in the crib every Christmas after we break out the crèches in our homes and churches. As he grows, his Church hails him as the Child (or Infant) Jesus, statues of whom grace Catholic churches throughout the world.

The most famous statue, however, and the model for all others, is to be found in Prague in the Czech Republic, the center of the cult of the Child Jesus. (The word “cult” in the Catholic sense denotes a special devotion, such as to a saint or relic or, as in this case, a statue.)

The origin of the Prague statue is uncertain, but by the early 17th century it was well established as an object of special veneration and pilgrimages.

Answered prayers and miraculous healings are associated with the Infant of Prague, especially for expectant mothers.

The annual feast of the Infant Jesus, which includes a solemn procession through the streets of Prague, occurs every May.

Several saints had a special love for the Child Jesus, including Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Anthony of Padua and Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

The statue was said to have once been in the possession of St. Teresa, which would square with its reputed Spanish origin. St. Thérèse was so devoted to the Child Jesus that she had a copy of the Prague statue installed in the Carmelite novitiate in Lisieux, France.

The Prague statue, which is enshrined in the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the old section of the city, stands approximately 19 inches tall and wears a jeweled crown and royal robes, worthy of a depiction of the young King of kings and Lord of lords. The boy appears to be around 3 or 4 years of age.

The statue is made of wood coated with wax. The right hand is raised in blessing, while the left holds a globe to which a cross is affixed, a symbol of Christ’s sovereignty over the world (not to mention the entire universe). The statue’s clothing is changed periodically to reflect the colors of the liturgical year. The Church has set aside January in honor of the Child Jesus.

In America, the National Shrine of the Child Jesus of Prague is located in St. Wenceslaus Church in the small town of Prague, Oklahoma.

The 'lost years'

Jesus’ childhood and early manhood constitute the “lost years” of his life. The only glimpses we get of him are shortly after his birth, when he is dedicated to the Lord and, much later, when his worried parents discover him in the temple. These are the years when Jesus, in the words of the Catechism, “remained hidden in the silence of an ordinary life” (No. 534).

The very absence of information about his young life may well have contributed to the rise of the cult of the Child Jesus. Even though little is known of this time, it was considered important that his young lordship be recognized and even venerated. Just because the Gospels are silent regarding this period doesn’t mean those years weren’t significant.

Among the crowds in Bethlehem at the time of the imperial census, only Mary and Joseph perceived what a momentous event had occurred with Jesus’s birth.

But word soon spread, thanks to the angelic host, and shepherds came to pay him homage. Later, the Wise Men from the East arrived. Simeon and Anna in the temple also recognized Mary’s son as the Messiah.

But the baby Jesus had his enemies as well, a list that would grow as he began his ministry. When King Herod heard that the “king of the Jews” had been born, he put in motion a plan to murder him. The slaughter of the Holy Innocents was the horrific result. They are considered to be the first martyrs of the Church.

As for the daily life of the Child Jesus, we can only wonder and speculate. Was he easy to raise? Was he difficult at times? How did he (and his mother) handle the “terrible twos?” Did he have playmates in Nazareth?

It’s likely that Jesus went through all the normal stages of growing up, experiencing the good and the not-so-good, just like any other child in first-century Palestine. Although Jesus was divine, he was also true man, and that meant his experience — with the exception of sin — would have been common to mankind in general.

Lord before birth

When Josef Mohr, who wrote the words to “Silent Night,” proclaimed Jesus to be Lord at his birth, he was absolutely right. But there’s more to the story: Jesus’s incarnate lordship predated his birth by nine months.

The Catechism makes that point by stating that Jesus was the Christ “from the beginning of his human existence” (No. 486). Since the Catholic Church teaches the scientific truth that life begins at conception, that means divinity was conceived in Mary’s womb at the very moment the Holy Spirit “came upon” her.

The Church Fathers, grasping the profound significance of all this, saw Mary as the living Ark of the Covenant. Under the old covenant, the ark, which occupied the Holy of Holies in both the tabernacle and later the temple, was the place where God met with his people. It was Israel’s most sacred possession.

St. Athanasius hailed Mary, “O noble Virgin. ... clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna ... the flesh in which divinity resides.”

Advent and Christmas are the appropriate times to meditate on the deep mysteries of the Incarnation. May the Child Jesus and his Blessed Mother be your guides.

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

Rediscovering the wonder around us

  • Melinda Selmys, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 04 2014
CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Exploring God’s creation with a sense of curiosity not only can help cure boredom, but also foster growth in Christ

In the 1980s, two Norwegian scientists collected small soil samples from two locations several miles apart. The first contained 4,000-5,000 species of microbial life. The second yielded a similar diversity, but they were different species. One of the most seemingly boring things in the world — a handful of mud — contains an incredible breadth of life, much of it unique and wholly unknown.

Boredom is an amazing thing if you think about it. We live in an impossibly improbable universe maintained by the unfathomable wisdom of an infinite God. We inherit billions of years of explosive, divine creativity. We have access to the creative, scientific, intellectual and practical accomplishments of billions of human beings over thousands of years.

We have minds capable of generating ideas, art and culture. We are endowed with wonderfully expressive bodies that give our ideas form. And we have souls capable of seeking out the God responsible for all of this wild beauty — a God who invites us to sup at the banquet of his own self.

And yet, we are bored. Why?

The simple answer is ingratitude, but it’s not a very helpful answer. If we think of boredom as an unwillingness to give thanks, we are likely to get sucked down into an unproductive meditation on our own wretchedness. In a world full of wonders, the only subject less interesting than my boredom is the contemplation of how inadequate I ought to feel for being bored.

Conquering boredom means becoming alive to the wonder that is freely on tap everywhere, in all circumstances of life.

A defense of novelty

Wonder is closely linked to a sense of novelty. We sometimes see this as a bad thing — people seem obsessed with fads, constantly chasing new horizons rather than being happy with what they have. In fact, the love of novelty is good. It is a powerful motivation to move toward a God who is both “ever ancient” and also “ever new.”

Think about the last time you worked really hard on a gift for someone. You didn’t just want them to say “Thank you,” and move on. You wanted them to take time to enjoy the gift, to notice all of the little nuances that you carefully considered when you put it together.

God, I think, is like that. He gives us the faculties to investigate his creation because he wants us to continually engage with the world he has made for us. He wants us to find the Easter eggs, to unlock the side quests and discover the secret characters.

Science makes us increasingly aware that God’s creativity is inconceivably effusive. From nebulae to subatomic particles, he is forever brooding over the face of the deep and bringing forth novelties in abundance.

Sense of curiosity

So novelty isn’t the problem. The problem is that we don’t access it in a useful way. We’re conditioned to seek novelty by buying the new, improved iPhone or the latest and greatest in laundry detergent. The problem is that the new iPhone really isn’t very different from the old one, and getting your whites even whiter is a pretty lackluster ambition for someone made in the image and likeness of God.

Wonder involves deliberate engagement with the world, and this takes effort. When we’re lured into making that effort over and over again without any significant payoff, we feel exhausted. This is why if you’re surfing the Internet and you keep getting drawn in by click-baiting, you feed your brain new information for hours and end up feeling bored and drained. Click-baiting promises something new and interesting, but most of the time it delivers predictable banality.

Wonder can be kindled by new information, but only if the information expands your perception of reality. This kind of information increases the number of active objects available for you to interact with and, thus, increases the number of possible interactions you can have with your world.

For example, let’s say I learn the names of different types of rock and study the processes by which they’re formed. Suddenly the granite rock-faces that I drive by every day will become interesting. When I’m on a long trip, I may see a rare limestone formation and stop to explore. Or if I’m digging in the garden, I might find a piece of volcanic glass and imagine it being borne along in the belly of an ancient glacier.

A world reborn

The novelty that engages our sense of wonder is often not the novelty of a new thing, but the novelty of an old thing we see again with fresh eyes. This experience of finding new and exciting meanings stimulates our sense of awe because it is a microcosm of the Resurrection.

When Christ rose from the dead, he did not become a different person. Rather, he was transformed and made new — so much so that it took a while for his closest friends to recognize him.

Wonder draws us toward the mystery of a world reborn. We see it on the faces of the shepherds as they draw near to the stable at Bethlehem. On that day, they saw angelic hosts and heard the singing of the choirs of heaven. These things were truly novel in the sense that the shepherds had never seen or heard anything like them before. Yet the heavenly apparitions were not the miracle.

The miracle was something entirely familiar: a newborn infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a bed of straw.

The shepherds who had lived all their lives in Bethlehem had probably walked thousands of times past the manger where he lay. It was a simple scene: an ordinary looking woman drawing an ordinary looking baby to her breast on a winter’s night.

And it renewed the face of the earth.

10 Opportunities for Wonder

We often feel so busy that we don’t have time for new things. Here are some simple strategies for finding novelty in the ordinary:

Break your routine: It doesn’t have to be a big break. Drive a di†fferent route. Shop at a diff†erent grocery store. Listen to a new kind of music.

Follow your intuition: We often ignore our intuition because we can’t figure out how to make sense of it. That’s the point. Intuition guides us toward unexpected graces.

Make unscheduled time: The Lord works in mysterious ways. If we plot out our entire lives in advance, we don’t leave time for God to surprise us.

Take risks: Wonder is strongly linked to our sense of not being in control, of being part of something much greater than ourselves.

Be less critical: Constant judgment and evaluation inhibits wonder and gratitude. Give the world the benefit of the doubt, and look for God working in everything.

Break script: Every person you meet is just as complex and interesting as you are, but we generally interact in predictable, superficial ways. Take the time to open yourself to others.

Create: You don’t have to be an artist. Invent new games for your kids or new recipes. Dust off† your woodworking tools. Imitating God’s creativity makes us conscious of the wonders of creation.

Pursue your interests: Everyone has interests they neglect and habitual pleasures that have become less pleasurable over time. Use your leisure time to do something you enjoy but haven’t done in a while.

Expand your world: Learning doesn’t have to be time consuming. Load up your music player with lectures and listen while you do dishes or drive to work. Use social media to follow people who write about the things you never had time to study. We all click random links: let them lead to something genuinely interesting.

Rest: Frazzled, overworked people lack energy to take an interest in things. We often work longer hours than we need to and stay up pumping our brains full of hollow entertainment. You’ll get more out of life if you make time for sleep, prayer and silence.

Lesson Connections, The Vatican

Beauty of Mary on display in new exhibit

  • Nora Hamerman, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 26 2014
CNS photo/courtesy of National Gallery of Art

National Museum of Women in the Arts collects more than 60 masterworks of the Blessed Virgin

Sometimes a person’s popularity is so well established that we might feel there is nothing new to say about her. Such is the case with the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose name adorned the medieval skyscrapers — all those great cathedrals dedicated to Notre Dame (Our Lady). Painters imagined her face; saints and poets probed her thoughts.

But an exhibit that opened in early December in Washington, D.C., offers new vistas on this age-old subject. Titled “Picturing Mary: Mother, Woman, Idea,” the show brings together paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects in various media from the 14th to the 19th centuries around a number of different themes. The guest curator is Msgr. Timothy Verdon, director of the Florence Cathedral Museum and author of dozens of books on sacred art.

“The Blessed Virgin Mary inspires so many people because of her central role in salvation history,” says Father Mark Morozowich, interim provost of The Catholic University of America.

“The centrality of a woman’s consent in bringing about the Incarnation and salvation emphasize her unique place in society and the world. Likewise, her role as Jesus’ mother conveys her warmth and love for him and, by extension, to the entire world. Mary as the image of the Church serves as a reminder that we should always respond to God’s gentle voice as Mary did.”

The only venue for “Picturing Mary” is the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Even before the museum opened in 1987, three prominent Catholic women in California had urged founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay to plan an exhibit about Mary, since, they noted, the Blessed Virgin has influenced more artists than any other figure in history.

The dream was revived two years ago when Holladay mentioned it at a dinner party, and Washington businessman Enrique Segura promised: “You do that exhibition, and I’ll see that it happens.” Segura introduced Holladay to Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and many other prominent Catholics, and the project was launched.

Women artists

In keeping with the venue, 10 works are by female artists, including six by the 17th-century Ursuline nun Orsola Maddalena Caccia and one by Sofonisba Anguissola, an artist who drew praise from Michelangelo while still a teenager. Caccia’s altarpiece of “St. Luke Painting the Madonna” portrays the evangelist creating both a painting and a sculpture of Mary, while Anguissola depicts her “Madonna and Child” picture on an easel behind her self-portrait. Elisabetta Sirani of Bologna and Artemisia Gentileschi of Rome, represented by one painting each, were among the leading artists in the 17th century.

These paintings raise the question of whether women envisage the Virgin Mary differently from their male colleagues. Visitors can mull their own reply to the question Verdon posed in the catalog: “Quite apart from the question of divine inspiration, who better than a woman can ‘picture’ the woman Mary?”

Exhibit's audience

Miri Rubin writes in her catalog essay, “Mary: God-Bearer and Women,” that especially after 1200, when more than 1,000 new monasteries and convents were formed in Europe, and adults flocked to the religious life, “monks and nuns re-created the Virgin Mary as a European mother. They turned the mother of God into a member of their communities, a vibrant, loving figure, pure and human, demanding yet forgiving.”

The newer religious orders especially embraced Marian art. For example, the Cistercians turned away from the elaborate liturgy of the Benedictine houses and fostered “hard labor, simple surroundings and contemplation, often centered on the Virgin Mary.” In the 1200s, St. Francis of Assisi heightened the presence of a piety centered on the humanity of Christ. He set up the first Christmas Nativity scene, and Franciscans promoted the image of Mary suffering at the foot of the cross along with her crucified son.

Two groups of Christians will be particularly attracted to “Picturing Mary”: Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, whose love of the Blessed Virgin goes back to the earliest centuries of our faith. As for other Christians, Martin Luther was very attached to Mary as portrayed in the Gospel. He translated her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) into German, but he rejected the many feasts and devotions that had developed around her. Later reformers were more extreme, and the iconoclastic revolt that decimated church art in the 16th-century religious wars often targeted Marian sites.

Today, more and more Protestants are reconsidering Mary in light of her biblical role as the first Christian — she who believed before there was an incarnate God — her steadfast courage through the Passion, her witness to the Resurrection at a time when women were not legally entitled to witness, and her faithful presence in the upper room at Pentecost when the apostles must have feared for their lives.

Mary and Islam

Muslims do not regard Mary as the Mother of God, since they see Jesus as a prophet and not divine. However, the Koran singles out Mary as a holy woman, and Christians and Muslims share some of her shrines.

In Sura 3:42 of the Koran, the angels salute her, “O Mary, indeed God has favored you and made you immaculate, and chosen you from all the women of the world,” echoing the salutation of Gabriel recorded in Luke (1:28) to the future mother of God.

Amy Remensnyder recounts that Mary functioned both as warrior and diplomat between Islam and Christianity. In the 16th and 17th centuries, artists often portrayed the Virgin as an armed warrior against Muslim armies, especially the Ottoman Turks whose aggression threatened Western Europe. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 celebrates the victory of a Christian military alliance over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571.

Despite the tensions and even open warfare, Christians and Muslims mingled at Marian shrines all across the Mediterranean. One of these was Saidnaya in present-day Syria, still a Christian church, but today, Remensnyder reports, it is filled with more Muslims than Christians seeking Mary’s help.

Another unique Marian refuge is the island of Lampedusa, now part of Italy. In July 2013, Pope Francis, in his first official journey outside Rome, went to Lampedusa and prayed at the Marian chapel that now stands on the site where Muslim and Christian refugees long ago found asylum.

Explore Mary

“Picturing Mary” has inspired several projects at The Catholic University of America, which has launched a website dedicated to the exhibit at honoringmary.cua.edu. Nora Heimann is guiding student projects on Marian pilgrimage sites in Washington, and other programs include: a team-taught undergraduate course on Mary; satellite exhibits that will explore Marian imagery beyond the scope of the NMWA show; and an upcoming graduate conference.

The exhibit promises a unique experience of the unique young woman who was Mary. The exhibit sets side by side works loaned by major institutions like the Vatican Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art with pictures from smaller museums in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Prato, Italy, and churches in Asti, Italy, as well as private collections.

Exhibit-goers will meet some of the biggest names in Western art, from Michelangelo to Botticelli to Rembrandt, next to others whose names you will hear for the first time.

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith

‘Sisterhood’ lets viewers go behind convent doors

  • Emily Stimpson, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 17 2014
Photo courtesy of Lifetime

New reality show shadows five women as they discern religious life

Thanks to reality television programming, over the past 15 years America has discovered what happens when you drop 18 strangers on a desert island, isolate 10 20-somethings in a mega-mansion and surround one eligible bachelor with 25 marriage-minded single women.

This fall, however, the Lifetime Network’s newest reality show will take viewers where no cameraman has gone before: inside three Catholic convents.

Premiering Nov. 25, “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” follows the discernment journeys of five young women as they move from convent to convent, discovering the different apostolates, charisms and daily routines of three religious orders: the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, New York; the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago; and the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Kentucky.

Show's origins

The show was the brainchild of Lifetime producer Colleen Conway Grogan. She, along with the network’s senior vice president for nonfiction programming, Mary Donahue, saw “The Sisterhood” as the perfect complement to shows such as “Breaking Amish,” produced by the same company, that shine a spotlight on otherwise hidden worlds.

“Colleen had it as a passion project for many years,” said Donahue, who eventually made it her passion as well. “We both grew up Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and wanted to share this world with viewers, to show folks what it’s really like to consider a religious vocation.”

According to Donahue, after Lifetime executives embraced Grogan’s and her own vision for the show, the pair enlisted the help of another Catholic, casting agent Linda Corley, who herself had contemplated religious life. Corley then worked with various vocation directors and religious orders to find young Catholic women in the midst of the discernment process, as well as convents that didn’t mind opening their doors to camera crews.

'An opportunity'

One of the young women Crowley found was Christie Young.

The 27-year-old California native first began considering a religious vocation nine years ago, during her freshmen year at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Although Young went on to pursue a career in marketing and event planning, the attraction to religious life never waned, and in 2013 she began a year of active discernment. Not long afterward, a mutual friend put her in touch with the production team for “The Sisterhood.”

At first, Young hesitated to join the project.

“I’d been spending a lot of time in prayer and adoration, and I was really nervous about doing that in front of the cameras,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could forget the cameras and connect with God in a way that allowed me to answer this question that had been looming for nine years.”

Despite her reservations, Young eventually realized that the opportunity to both answer that question for herself and help others answer it as well was too good to pass up.

“Being a sister has always been such a foreign concept to me,” she explained. “I knew what marriage was about. I’ve seen it. I knew what to expect. But being a sister? I wasn’t sure what to think about that life or even how to talk to people about the desire.

“In talking with the production company,” Young said, “I realized how genuine they were in their desire to demystify religious life, addressing the exact problem that had kept me from discerning fully for so long. That’s when I began to see this almost as a ministry. The pope calls us to be witnesses in the world by the way we live our lives. And where is my generation? Watching reality TV. This was an opportunity for me to be a witness to them.”

Opening the doors

For similar reasons, the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm made the unprecedented decision of allowing film crews to record their life behind closed doors.

“Our numbers are dropping and our apostolate — running a nursing home — is for a hidden population,” explained the order’s novice mistress, Sister Cyril Methodius. “We felt this would be a good way to show people about our ministry in the Church.”

Like Young, the sisters, too, had their concerns. Namely, they wanted to ensure that their young visitors had the time and space to do what they came to the convent to do — discern a vocation — and weren’t spending the entirety of their time with the sisters talking to a camera.

But, Sister Cyril said, “The producers assured us that if we were uncomfortable with something or if things weren’t progressing in a way that was authentic, we could say something.”

As it turned out, though, few problems arose, save for the occasional scheduling conflict.

“We learned by day three that if they told us we were going to be filming at 11 a.m., it would actually be more like 2 p.m.,” Sister Cyril joked.

'Inherent drama'

While reality television is known for manufacturing drama for the cameras and featuring would-be-starlets competing for screen time, Donahue said that the very nature of “The Sisterhood” checked those problems from the start.

“The decision to consider leaving everything you’ve known, your family and friends, to make that journey and find out if you have a calling — those are very big questions that come with a phenomenal amount of inherent drama,” Donahue said.

Likewise, she added, the production team was careful to select only Catholic women who were serious about their faith and serious about discerning a religious vocation. All came from Catholic families, had attended Catholic colleges and were already working with religious orders or vocations directors to discern their call.

The show’s authenticity was bolstered by the sisters’ insistence that the cameras could not run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during production.

“The crew was so respectful,” said Young. “We had time to be alone, time to just be with the sisters, and time to be quiet before God and listen.”

Although viewers will need to watch all six, one-hour episodes to learn which of the five girls decide to continue on in the discernment process and which ones decide religious life is not for them, Young did say that for her, one of the most important lessons learned was that “by taking this time and dating God, I don’t lose anything. If at the end of the discernment journey, God says, ‘I don’t want you exclusively for myself,’ there’s no heartbreak. There’s no loss.

“The discernment process is intense,” Young said. “But talking to the sisters and hearing their discernment journeys helped me so much. Hopefully this show will do the same for others and encourage more young Catholics to ask the question, ‘God, what do you want for my life?’”

Catholic Schools, Living Your Faith, Pastor and Priest

Melchizedek Project helps boost vocations

  • Joseph R. LaPlante, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • November 06 2014
Courtesy photo

Small groups at parishes, colleges, high schools provide support for young men eyeing priesthood

Like many Catholic men who wonder about the priesthood, Patrick William May felt a calling but didn’t know where to start looking for answers.

A graduate of Augusta State University (now Georgia Regents University), May had found a job with the National Barrel Horse Association. But the ineffable tug to consider becoming a priest persisted. He was a practicing Catholic who attended Mass; he prayed; and he even talked to some other friends who were asking the same question: Can I be a priest?

Then he came across the Melchizedek Project, a 3-year-old discernment program based on Father Brett Brannen’s book "To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood" (Vianney Vocations, $20). The project centered around small groups of men either in high school or college that meet seven times a semester to find answers to the questions accompanying their discernment. Father Brannen’s text is their guide.

“As a vocation director, I had always asked other vocation directors if there was a book, some resource, that we could use,” Father Brannen told Our Sunday Visitor. “This was so important, yet there was not one resource that would take a guy through the process.”

The Melchizedek Project, supported by the nonprofit Foundation for Priestly Vocations and a through a grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, is run by Vianney Vocations, which published Father Brannen’s book. The project’s name derives from Melchizedek, a king and priest who is recognized in the Book of Genesis as the first priest. The Letter to the Hebrews identifies Jesus as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, and Jesus assumes the role of High Priest forever.

The idea for the book took root when Father Brannen was meeting with his spiritual adviser when vice rector at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

“Out of the blue he said, ‘God is calling you to write a book (about discernment).’” In response, Father Brannen said, “I told the Holy Spirit, ‘If you will help me, I’ll write the book.’”

Strong support

Once he discovered the Melchizedek Project, May joined 10 other men in Augusta in a group led by five priests.

“It was helpful to be with other guys who are open with their own discernment,” said May, 27, who is now in his third year as a seminarian for the Diocese of Savannah at Mount St. Mary’s. “A lot of guys came to the meetings because they felt called to serve. That is pretty awesome. A lot of guys think they might be the only one thinking about the priesthood.”

May had a lot of questions about seminary life, and he hadn’t had much chance to talk to anyone about it.

“It was good to have someone to talk to about seminary formation,” he said. “I was ignorant about discernment.”

May’s experience is typical of many of the men who participate in the project, according to vocation directors who see the effort as a vital resource for giving young Catholic men a place to discern a calling with other like-minded men.

A typical meeting includes adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, a lengthy discussion and then a meal that is often prepared by volunteers in a parish or school, said Father Jorge Torres, director of vocations for the Diocese of Orlando. The strength of the Melchizedek Project, he said, is the bulwark it raises “to the lie that creeps into the heart when a guy is discerning and he starts to think he is the only one. I see the relief in their eyes when they first walk into a group and they see all these other guys who are also discerning a call.”

Group discernment

Father Michael McCandless, coordinator for vocations to diocesan priesthood for the Diocese of Cleveland, said the small groups offered in the Melchizedek Project provide an opportunity for conversation that should be occurring with young men in Catholic high schools, colleges and in parishes across America. There are some 350 discernment groups from across the country.

“You have dozens and dozens of young men talking about the priesthood ... experiencing discernment in a communal, comfortable and authentic way,” Father McCandless said. “Where otherwise there would be too much of a hump to overcome to further their discernment and to feel comfortable doing so on their own, they have these groups. There would be many men who would not move beyond those feelings of a calling otherwise.”

Yielding results

Father McCandless has already seen the effect of the Melchizedek Project in the Diocese of Cleveland’s Borromeo Seminary, where there are now 63 seminarians, up from 51 in 2011.

“Vocations are on the rise,” he said. “Of the men who are coming to the seminary, the Melchizedek Project has aided in at least 12 guys entering in the last three years.”

Father McCandless is excited about the effects of the Melchizedek Project not only for college students and young men in their 20s and 30s, but for numerous Catholic high schools in the Cleveland diocese and other dioceses across the country.

“We now have sophomores and juniors who had additional people — other than their priest’s support — for their discernment,” Father McCandless said. “There is widening support and a greater source of influence from the Church because of the people who become involved with them. The conversation with the Church expands and the support expands.”

Vianney Vocations President Sam Alzheimer said an informal survey of about 30 of the 350 or more Melchizedek Project groups found that 50 men who attended the groups had applied to seminaries. Extrapolating that number by the total number of groups indicates some 500 men from Melchizedek Project groups have applied to American seminaries and religious orders.

“The Melchizedek Project offers a diligent discernment for these men,” Alzheimer said. “They actually know how to take the next step.”

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, The Vatican

Liberian bishop pleads for aid in fighting Ebola

  • OSV Staff, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 23 2014
CNS photo/courtesy Florida International University

'We are losing our humanity' in the face of the disease, said Bishop Anthony Fallah Borwah

The World Health Organization celebrated what it called a “spectacular success story” late last month when it declared Nigeria to be free of the Ebola virus that had infected 19 people in the country, seven of whom died. But elsewhere, the situation remains grim. A report issued by the WHO on Oct. 17 said that 4,555 people had died of the disease in seven affected countries, with the worst outbreaks continuing to be in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Anthony Fallah Borwah of Gbarnga, Liberia, said "whole families are being decimated."

"It is the poor who have been most harmed" by the Ebola outbreak "and it is the poor who are the Church's priority," Bishop Borwah said. "We are losing our humanity in the face of Ebola," he added, noting that "this disease makes impossible ordinary human kindnesses, such as putting your arm around someone who is crying."

He pleaded with the international Church community "to pay attention to what is happening here" and the "pain and hurt that the Ebola onslaught is causing families." Noting Pope Francis' repeated emphasis on mercy and service to the poor, Bishop Borwah said that "serious effort from Church leaders to stand with us in our human misery" would help the people of affected West African countries.

Catholic Relief Services announced Oct. 15 that it is committing $1.5 million in private funds to continue its emergency response to affected countries.

"We know that education is the only way to stop Ebola," Carolyn Woo, CRS president and CEO, said in a letter. In addition to education efforts, Woo said, CRS is distributing food and hygiene supplies, providing counseling and evaluating long-term needs.

How to help
To donate, go to CRS.org.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

Called to serve: The importance of giving back

  • Marge Fenelon, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 16 2014
CNS photo/Bob Roller

Volunteering not only builds stronger communities, but it also strengthens the faith of those who act as Christ to others in need

Service can be contagious. Once we work service into our schedules and see the benefits, it becomes a way of life. But for those who are in the beginning stages and looking for ways to serve, there are a number of things to consider.

First, whether we’re single or parents of a young family or grandparents, we need to take into consideration our personalities and capabilities.

“The starting point of being of service is to realize that I have things to contribute and so I should contribute them to the greater good,” said family therapist Lawrence Nichta, who practices in Lyndhurst, Ohio. “On the other hand, we have to realize that we’re not going to change the world with the service we do ... but we’ll change our small part of it.”

Service with a smile

Nichta warns against volunteering for the wrong reasons. If we volunteer to fill a void within ourselves, that’s not really service. If the goal is to make ourselves feel better rather than the other person, we’re going in the wrong direction. Also, it can be counterproductive to habitually overcommit.

“Our service should stem from an attitude of gratitude,” Nichta said. “It doesn’t take but a casual look to see that there are people who are less fortunate than we are. We have to reflect and pray on what we have and share with others from that. It should be done out of charity, not guilt. We have to be realistic.”

Laura Castro is a recruiter for Catholic Volunteer Network and helps people evaluate their service potential. She’s lived a life of service, beginning with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps Midwest on an 18-month service trip to Peru. She recommends a careful assessment of what the community really needs and what we can do to fulfill those needs.

“We could be a real go-getter, but we need to be patient,” Castro said. “We must be patient and see the bigger picture. We have to be open and flexible and allow ourselves to be guided by God. He’ll show us the right way, but in his time, not ours.”

The most important thing, she advised, is to approach service in humility and with an open heart. That way we can be available to God and his people rather than basing our service on our own wants and needs.

Finding the right fit

There are a wide variety of needs in our communities that need our help. Regardless of the type of service required, they all have one thing in common: Needs are not seasonal; they exist year-round. Volunteering throughout the year not only fills these needs, but it helps develop a pattern of service and allows you to form relationships with fellow volunteers and those you serve.

Certain types of service are better for individuals who usually have more flexibility than families.

For example, a single person could be an overnight supervisor at a homeless shelter or a teacher who coaches and tutors on weekends. Some volunteer opportunities are full-time and life-changing, such as missionary work that involves moving to a different city or country.

Families, on the other hand, do well with manual labor like home repair or gardening for the less fortunate or the elderly. If they are looking for a bigger time commitment or to get out of their comfort zone a little, they can commit to weeklong volunteer projects such as those at two Catholic communities in West Virginia: Bethlehem and Nazareth Farms, which focus on communal service work in their local areas.

Some programs allow parents to volunteer for an extended time in a particular ministry while the children are able to be part of the community. An example of that would be families serving overseas together in mission territory. The fact that children form relationships more easily than adults helps to enhance the service experience of the entire family.

When considering service as a family, it’s important to take into account our children’s aptitude, capabilities and attention span.

According to James Lindsay, executive director of Catholic Volunteer Network, “younger children can participate in home visits to the sick or elderly, or help with basic food preparation at a soup kitchen, or with bagged lunches to distribute to the homeless. High school and college students are great at leading sports or Bible camps for younger kids, and working on home repair or neighborhood cleanup projects.”

Faith and service

Lindsay also gives some solid advice about volunteering in general.

“Volunteering in one’s local area, for whatever amount of time possible, is very important and worthwhile,” he said. “For those who are looking for something beyond their own community and who have the flexibility to venture to another city, state or even country, our programs offer valuable opportunities to serve those in need.”

Lindsay recommends looking for programs that provide opportunities for reflection on the meaning of service. He also says it is important to understand the connection between one’s faith and service.

“We’ve seen the transformational impact that serving as a volunteer has on our alumni,” Lindsey said. “Many continue to be active, committed members of their faith communities and neighborhoods. Volunteering can change your life forever.”

Service is definitely a way of life for Gordon Wong, a manager for college organizing at ONE Campaign in Washington, D.C. ONE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that fights to end extreme poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wong first began volunteering as part of Amate House, a young adult volunteer program of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Members are full-time volunteers who are put in a variety of positions that match their interests and skills.

He worked as a tenants-rights supporter in a housing organization on the north side of Chicago. A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, he was inspired by the college’s alumni, who followed the long tradition of postgraduate service.

“It’s hard to point to one thing that is important to serving, but I do believe that service is an integral component of my faith,” he said.

Small scale, big effect

You don’t need to enlist with an organization in order to serve others. Rather, limitless possibilities exist all around you.

There may be an elderly neighbor who would appreciate a meal, or leaf raking and snow shoveling, or simply a visit. Nursing homes are usually welcoming of people — even entire families — who would like to give help and companionship to their residents. Volunteering at a children’s hospital can boost the spirits of not only the small patients, but of yourself as you bring joy to a sick child. Meal programs, soup kitchens, women’s shelters and homeless shelters always seem to be in need of workers and donations. Also, remember that small-scale opportunities present themselves on a daily basis, like assisting the elderly, moms with small children or the disabled, or picking up trash along your walking route or at your local park.

Regardless of how or where we serve, the most important element is to remember our obligation as Christians to bring Christ to others. We should be reminded of his words to his disciples in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Sister Miriam Teresa beatified in New Jersey

  • Kathryn Jean Lopez, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 09 2014
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

At first U.S. beatification, new ‘blessed’ remembered as one with ‘mystical visions, deep insights’

“The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints is always possible and compatible with every state in life,” Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, stressed, quoting Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich during her beatification Mass at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Oct. 4.

The beatification Mass, held 19 years to the day of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 visit to the cathedral, was the first beatification Mass ever held on United States soil, and it served as a significant step along Blessed Miriam Teresa’s road to sainthood. Beatification Masses outside of the Vatican was a reform made during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

Short, faithful life

Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1901 to Slovakian immigrants, Alexander and Johanna, and baptized in the Ruthenian-Byzantine rite. Salutatorian of her Bayonne High School class, Miriam Teresa was first attracted to the Carmelites; however, as the youngest of seven, she first took care of her parents. After her mother died, Miriam Teresa graduated summa cum laude from the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, and taught Latin and English for a year at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City. Her father died three days before she was to formally enter the Sisters of Charity. She taught at the Academy of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station as a postulant and novice.

Her spiritual director immediately saw God’s radiance in her and asked her to anonymously write the spiritual conferences he would preach to her and her fellow Sisters of Charity in formation. Father Benedict Bradley explained, “I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to utilize whatever might contribute to an appreciation of her merits after her death.”

Her life as a Sister of Charity was short, as she made her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Elizabeth, New Jersey, after being hospitalized due to complications and an infection after having her tonsils removed. She died the following month.

After her death, a note signed by Father Bradley was posted on the motherhouse bulletin board: “The conferences which I have been giving to the sisters were written by Sister Miriam Teresa.”

‘Divine light’

During the beatification Mass, Bishop Serratelli said that God raised up Blessed Miriam Teresa “to be a light along our Christian journey,” belonging to “that circle of chosen souls whom God himself elects for special graces, not merely for themselves, but for all his people.”

Bishop Serratelli noted that she was born in 1901, “the very year Marconi received the first telegraph sign. ... God was preparing her to show us the way to be in constant conversation with him through prayer.”

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, presided over the Mass and was joined by the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, as well as current and former archbishops of Newark John J. Myers and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, respectively. Also present were other bishops, archbishops, priest concelebrants, fellow Sisters of Charity and religious women of other area congregations.

“Miriam lived within the shadows of one of the world’s greatest metropolises,” Bishop Serratelli said during his homily. “The world did not shine its spotlight on her ordinary, hidden life. But heaven embraced her in divine light, lifting her to visions too great for human striving.”

Powerful writing

Throughout her life and in her writings, Blessed Miriam Teresa left behind “the proof that doing God’s will in all things bridges the distance between heaven and earth,” Bishop Serratelli said.

Each saint made a choice to let God sanctify their lives, Blessed Miriam Teresa wrote, with “persistent, insistent adherence” to God’s will. “The saints did one thing: the will of God,” she wrote. “But they did it with all their might.”

Blessed Miriam Teresa continued:

“We have only to do the same thing; and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress. We shall attain that height of glory in heaven that corresponds to the depths of humility we have sounded on earth. The harder you hit a ball on the ground, the higher it rebounds. The perfection of humility is the annihilation of our will — its absolute submission to the divine in every last detail.” That, she said, is what makes a saint.

“Without a deep, personal love for the sacred humanity of our Lord, you will advance very little” in the spiritual life and “lag behind,” she cautioned, reminding readers that our universal call is to holiness and union with God.

‘A living monstrance’

She “anticipated,” as Bishop Serratelli said, “Vatican II’s emphasis on the word of God as the source of authentic spirituality.” And “by God’s grace, she knew and understood — she spoke and lived — the universal call to holiness, later to be formally taught by the Second Vatican Council.”

During his homily, Bishop Serratelli said: “In his all-wise providence, God chose to entrust Sister Miriam Teresa to the Sisters of Charity and to grace her with mystical visions and deep insights; to show that, only with prayer, can we, the branches, bear much fruit; to show us that union with God is the source for all we do in Jesus’ name; and even more important, to show us, as she herself once wrote, that ‘Union with God ... is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve — anyone, not only religious, but anyone ... who says “yes” constantly to God.’”

Blessed Miriam Teresa wrote: “Keep the ways of the Lord. ... The way of the cross is the path of self-sacrifice and denial. Only a humble soul can walk this path securely.”

“In our secularized age that shuns solicitude and silence,” Bishop Serratelli said, God has given us “a new Blessed who was, in the words spoken at her death, a ‘living monstrance that silently showed forth our Lord to all who passed by.’”

Lesson Connections, Living Your Faith, The Vatican

Beatification makes history for U.S. Church

  • Thomas J. Craughwell, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • October 02 2014
CNS photo/courtesy of Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth

The first American beatified in the United States, Sister Miriam Teresa modeled a life of holiness

The U.S. Church was to receive a new “blessed” Oct. 4 — Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. The first blessed to be beatified in the United States, and the first to hail from New Jersey, Sister Miriam Teresa was to be honored at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Miriam Demjanovich was the daughter of immigrants, Alexander and Johanna, who came to America from what is now eastern Slovakia. The youngest of their seven children, she was born in 1901 in Bayonne, New Jersey. The family practiced their faith in the Ruthenian Rite — one of the eastern rites of the Catholic Church. As a child, Miriam spent hours a day in a school in the basement of her parish church, learning to read the Cyrillic alphabet and the Old Slavonic language so she could understand the Divine Liturgy.


When her mother was dying, Miriam took over management of the household. After her mother’s death, her family urged her to develop her intellectual gifts and go to college. She chose the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey, a school that was founded by — and is still operated by — the Sisters of Charity. It was here that she made the transition from the Ruthenian Rite to the Latin Rite. And it was at the college that she found her vocation.

After graduating with highest honors, Miriam went home to care for her father. She supported herself by teaching Latin and English at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City, New Jersey.

After the death of her father, she felt free to follow her calling, and she joined the community of the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station. She entered the novitiate in February 1925 and in May received the habit of a novice. She added Teresa to her name in honor of St. Teresa of Avila and out of her deep devotion to St. Therese of the Little Flower. As it happened, Sister Miriam Teresa took her vows as a novice on the day the Little Flower was canonized.

Tragically, shortly after she took her vows, Sister Miriam Teresa fell ill and died in 1927 at the age of 26.

Spreading her message

The Sisters of Charity, who have been promoting Sister Miriam Teresa’s cause since the 1970s, present her as a model for how anyone — laity, clergy, religious — can achieve holiness in everyday life. Sister Miriam Teresa took to heart the words of Christ: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And through her writings, she wanted to pass that message on to the world.

In recent years, people have come forward with stories of favors and cures which they attributed to the intercession of Sister Miriam Teresa.

The miracle that led to her beatification was the inexplicable healing of a 6-year-old boy suffering from bilateral macular degeneration. He was legally blind when, in 1963, a Sister of Charity at St. Anastasia School in Teaneck, New Jersey, urged the school and parish community to ask Sister Miriam Teresa to intercede for the boy so that God would restore his eyesight. When the boy did recover his sight, the doctors could not explain how.

In a letter from Sister Miriam Teresa to her spiritual director Benedictine Father Benedict Bradley, dated Aug. 19. 1926, the young nun reflected on what could perhaps be identified as her own path to sainthood.

“I felt very intensely that if people only sought God in all earnestness they would find Him,” she wrote. “And if all would only make use of the ordinary duties and trials of their state in the way God intended, they would all become saints.”

Lesson Connections, Reaching Families

Origins of an immigration crisis

  • Msgr. Richard Antall, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 25 2014
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Thousands of kids try to get into the U.S. for one reason: to find a better life

Esperanza lived with Diego (not their real names) for some years and had four children. They lived with Esperanza’s mother and her sisters and some of their husbands and offspring in a house that hung to the side of the hill climbing up from the Puerto de la Libertad, where I was pastor for many years.

One of the children had a disability. More distressing was Diego’s drinking and drug problem that ruined all chances of the family bettering their life. They had no indoor plumbing, but a utility sink on the side in a porch area had water. Esperanza’s mother had been in the house a long time, and most of it was built with cement block, but she had no title to the land.

I had anointed Diego more than once because of his periodic binges. Esperanza tried to get work washing other people’s clothes, but could not find a real job in a country that has probably more than 60 percent unemployment or underemployment. Of course, there were no benefits. The family scraped by because Diego once in a while would get work and stay sober and because some cousins in the United States would send help. In El Salvador, the remesa — as the money sent by relatives and friends from abroad are called — are the biggest section of the economy.

We helped Esperanza from the parish sometimes with foodstuffs, medicine and school supplies, but she became desperate. She decided that she would go to the United States, work and send money back to her children so they could eat and go to school. Diego went on one more binge and Esperanza went to the U.S. mojada — that means without papers.

“Are you sure you want to leave your kids?” I asked her. “Your mother is getting old, the kids are going to miss their mother.”

There was no other way, padre. Her cousin in the States was arranging a way to get across the three borders involved. “Pray for me, padre, I just want what is best for my children.”

I wondered if she would make it. A good number of people don’t make the border; some of them even die. Her mother would come to church with Esperanza’s children and tell me, “No news yet.” She was so afraid for her daughter. Finally, we heard she made it. Some months later she was sending her mother money.

But she missed her kids. “What can she do, padre?” her mother asked me. “She wants her children with her.” There is no way to go legally, I told her, and it was too dangerous to send them with a coyote, the word they use for people who get you to the States without papers.

Like many Catholics around the world, they didn’t listen to their priest. I found out when the children were on the way. I have known people who died trying to get to the States. We were all wrecks waiting to hear about the two children Esperanza had sent for.

I would get news after Mass. One day the grandmother said they made it, but they had been detained. What could I do? Didn’t I know someone in the U.S. who could help? No, I didn’t know. I wanted to say, “What did I tell you?” but had learned not to take such carrion comfort.

Then we finally heard: The children were with an aunt. It was a happy ending of sorts. The government allowed the aunt to take them because their case would not come up for a long time, and she had papers. So Esperanza eventually got to be reunited with two of her children.

Esperanza worked a job Americans did not want and made more in one week than she could have in three months in El Salvador. She sent her mother money every couple weeks. The family depended on the remesa Esperanza could send. The grandmother talked to me after every Mass she attended. She didn’t hold it against me that her better life was the result of strategies I had been opposed to when they asked my opinion.

Where will it end? Or perhaps the question is when? When people don’t have the option to work and achieve financial security in a foreign land that could not be imagined in their own. When mothers stop missing their children and children their mothers. When unscrupulous people stop making money promising to deliver children safely to the arms of their relatives. When this world is a less dangerous place for little ones. When hope no longer seems to have a geographic dimension.

I watch the television news, hear irate Americans complain about an invasion and think that we are living through something like the Children’s Crusade when a collective madness seized thousands of children in Europe and they set out for the Holy Land. I remember Esperanza and imagine how she embraced her children after two years of separation. And I pray. God have mercy on us.

Msgr. Richard Antall, a former missionary in El Salvador, is the pastor at Holy Name Church in Cleveland. He is the author of “Jesus Has a Question for You” (OSV).

Reaching Families, Living Your Faith

Families grow together while serving others

  • Marge Fenelon, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 18 2014
CNS photo/Jim West

Teaching children to volunteer their time to those in need in their communities is an important lesson

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples about the crucial nature of serving others. When we serve others, we are serving Christ and consequently will be welcomed into the kingdom of the Father. If we don’t, were liable to be turned away.

For Eric Fitts, director of Bethlehem Farm, a Catholic organization in West Virginia that serves the community through the teaching of sustainable practices, Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel has been one of the most influential Scripture passages in his life. It is the main reason he and his wife, Colleen, have taken on the ministry and mission of Bethlehem Farm.

“Jesus clearly extends the choice between life and death into the deepest reaches of our hearts and into the darkest corners of our society, condemning not only clear malice against others, but also inaction in the face of the needs of the most vulnerable among us,” he said.

“I also find in this passage a singular moment in Scripture where Jesus clearly states the requirements of heaven. And it is interesting what he leaves out. He does not mention prayer or belief, although both are clearly important to Jesus; he mentions the fruits of our prayer and belief, which is service, especially to the most vulnerable among us,” Eric Fitts said.

The Fitts family fosters an attitude of service, living in a community and hosting service retreat groups from all over the country on their farm. Through their ministry, they work with vulnerable people and foster a care for God’s creation.

“We think that our children will primarily pick up on our actions more than our words, so we are always seeking to serve people,” he said. “Our children can see service in action, not just as a concept. We’re also always trying to help our children think of others before themselves, or at least along with themselves.” The Fitts have two children, ages 4 and 1.

Getting kids interested

One day while on a walk with her husband and sons, ages 7 and 4, Amy Potthast started picking up litter along the way, simply because it bothered her to see it lying there. The next time the family went on a walk, the children wanted to be the ones to pick up the litter. Now, when they go for family walks, they bring along gloves and trash bags to hold the litter that the boys compete to locate and pick up. That’s the same principle Potthast and her husband, Doug Geier, use in instilling in them the need to serve others.

“Example was really important,” she said. “I think if I made it an obligation or lectured them about it, or complained about the people who littered, it would be a lot less fun. They do ask why people litter, and we talk about what they can do not to litter, and what they will say if their friends ever litter, and so on. My older son and I even co-wrote a book for Earth Day last year about a water bottle that was thrown down as litter and its adventures in getting recycled, so we got to explore the deeper issues.”

Potthast says it’s vital to tap into the children’s interest and enthusiasm, so when it comes to their choice of volunteer opportunities, they choose places their sons will like. For example, they all work together to run a monthly breakfast for parents with young children to mentor, share resources and network. The food and companionship are an enjoyable way to serve others.

“At this point, I just have to say the word volunteer, and they jump to it,” she said. “They understand that helping out is important, but we also make it fun. It’s almost always family time, and they see the results of their efforts.”

Potthast, whose family lives in Portland, Oregon, gives three keys to encouraging service in children: what they care about; where they already spend time; and what they’re capable of doing, including work that challenges them to reach beyond their capabilities.

Stronger marriage

As our families grow and change, so will their capacity for service. Anne Bender and her husband, Paul, have five children, ages 13 to 20, and live in West Allis, Wisconsin. Anne is president of Roses for Our Lady, a lay organization that promotes Eucharistic and Marian devotion and volunteers with a number of other organizations. The kind of service her family performs now is different from the kind they performed when the children were small. For example, when her sons felt that they were too old to be altar servers, the Benders allowed them to decline.

“We wanted them to find joy in service and needed to understand that one size does not necessarily fit all,” she said. “We wanted to trust that God would lead them to the source of service in which they could best grow in love for him and for others. When we allowed them to give up serving as acolytes, it opened the way for us to serve as a family. Now they willingly do their best to keep the calendars free on the Saturday morning that we volunteer at our parish food pantry. We can share the gift of giving to others as a family.”

Bender points out that volunteering isn’t only good for her family; it’s also good for her marriage.

“Volunteering as a family gives Paul and I a shared experience of planning and working together, supporting each other’s decisions and growing ever more deeply in love with God and each other through a joint gift of service,” she said.

Setting priorities

For Mark and Lisa Gaier, understanding the importance of service and making time for it go hand-in-hand. The Gaiers have eight children, ages 7 to 24, and live in New Lennox, Illinois. For the past two years, they’ve participated in Family Week at Nazareth Farm, a Catholic community in West Virginia that hosts service retreats. Lisa and the children also go weekly to a local nursing home to visit a former neighbor. Like all kinds of service, these require time and commitment. In the life of the busy family, it’s not always easy to secure either of those.

“We have to learn how to slow down and listen to what God is calling us to do,” Lisa said. “It’s scary to take that step, but once you see the positive results, you wonder why it took you so long to get started in the first place.”

According to the Gaier family, serving means reprioritizing what’s really important and simplifying our lives so that we can say yes to God’s call to serve. It means seeing others in their need and realizing we have much to share with them.

“When we serve others, we take time to bond together as a family and with the people we are serving,” Lisa said. “When we do that, we see each other more clearly and love and respect each other more fully.”

In her book, “This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes” (Liguori, $5.99), Kathleen Basi focuses on living our faith through concrete actions in daily life. She says that awareness is the first step in engaging our families in service. She emphasizes to her children that not everyone has as many blessings as they do. Children especially, but adults as well, need to be sensitized to the fact that there is always someone in greater need than ourselves. To Basi, it’s a very simple principle.

“Little things, done without a lot of puffed-up self-congratulations [is what service is all about],” she said. “Just, ‘we do this because we’re blessed and it’s the right thing to do.’ Period.”

Living Your Faith, The Vatican

A new app-reciation for faith on the go

  • Sarah Reinhard, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 11 2014
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

These Catholic apps for smartphones and tablets will help keep you on the right path during your faith journey

Take a well-worn and well-loved iPad, insert a 3-year-old, and you’re either going to have a very quiet hour or ... an accident. As it turns out, I’ve had both. After a techie friend of mine fixed the tablet after “The Kool-Aid Incident,” I had hope that it might never die. And then my little guy tripped and the screen went kaput, and ... well ... let’s just say that we had a moment of silence for the iPad.

However, in the last year, I have broken down and gone the way of the smartphone, though not the Apple variety. That means I’ve had a chance to both bemoan the lack of some of my favorite apps on Android and to explore all new apps that are, in some ways, far different than what I’m used to.

In the year since I last wrote about Catholic apps, there have been quite a few more added to the Android landscape.

All of these apps are available both on Android and iTunes, which is a big change even from a year ago, when I longed for more (and better) Catholic apps available for Android; nearly all of them (unless otherwise noted) are free.

Catholic Calendar: Universalis

Pick your date and you can choose from reading about the saint of the day, the Mass readings and the readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. This is a pretty packed app, but it’s also available free only for the first month you have it on your device, and then you can decide if it’s worth buying. (iOS, Android)

The Catholic Directory (Mass Times)

Search for Mass times near you, in a city you’ll soon be traveling to or by any number of other parameters. In case you want to double check, phone numbers, maps and addresses for the churches are also provided. (iOS, Android)

Catholic News Service

It’s not the prettiest app, but it is useful to the max. You can browse through the latest headlines, look through photos and watch videos. And you can share the content on social media sites. (iOS, Android)

CRS Rice Bowl

Even though this is a Lent app, it still ranks as one of my favorites. For one thing, it’s beautiful. For another, it’s useful. I hear there are some major updates coming for 2015, though I’m sure the functionality that wooed me last year won’t be going anywhere. It includes daily prayer, recipes, a way to give through the app (as a virtual rice bowl), and information about areas of the world that benefit from rice bowl donations. This app really makes the rice bowl come alive and makes it possible to involve the whole family through technology. It’s nothing short of brilliant. (iOS, Android)

Divine Mercy

This app is both beautiful and indispensable. You’ll find tons of information about the message of Divine Mercy, about St. Faustina, about the “Mercy Popes,” and even excerpts and themes from St. Faustina’s diary. You can pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy along with your device, learn about the devotion and the image, research the Feast of Mercy, pray the Stations of the Cross, and even pray a variety of other novenas. There’s an audio option and information about the Marians of the Immaculate Heart, the order of priests who make this app possible. (iOS, Android)


Some apps are so simple, you wonder why you bother. But then, isn’t it handy just to know you can click a button and — boom! — there’s the daily Gospel! This app is really that simple, with some added bonuses, including the saint of the day and prayers. (iOS, Android)


Looking to pray the Liturgy of the Hours? This is the app for it. Over the years, I have gone from having a grudging respect to downright fandom of this app. It’s now better designed, easier to use and still free. You’ll have data downloading, but that means you don’t have to be online. You can download up to a week’s worth of data, which includes not only the breviary (Liturgy of the Hours), but also the Missal, Mass readings, and other prayers. To say I love this app is a huge understatement. I only wish it had an audio component, but I can forgive it that considering the awesomeness contained in this free app. (iOS, Android)


I’ll confess: For years, I was unimpressed with this app, formerly called Catholic One. Yes, it had a lot of information, but it was clunky and ugly. It’s been cleaned up a bit, and I’ve slowly come to see the “one stop shop” of it as a benefit. You have daily readings and the saint of the day, the Liturgy of the Hours (though they are a different translation than what you’re used to, and maybe that won’t even matter to you), the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, a “sub-app” for confession, Stations of the Cross, prayers, Latin prayers, the Catechism, a link to Catholic media that will keep you busy all day long, two different Bible translations and a host of Vatican documents. I still don’t think this is “the perfect Catholic app,” but it’s definitely worth downloading, exploring and using. (iOS, Android)

The Pope App

Powered by News.va, this app gives you the chance to keep an eye on the Holy Father. There’s a stream of pope news on the homepage, a link to the @Pontifex Twitter feed, news and texts of Pope Francis’ talks. You can find photos, videos and webcams, and even mark your favorites. There’s a reason many of my Catholic friends love this app! (iOS, Android)

Prayers Plus ($2.99)

This app is well-designed and useful. There are prayers in both English and Latin, litanies, Stations of the Cross, a prayer index, a feast day calendar (with alerts!), a feast day index and a whole section on indulgences, Doctors of the Church and a feast day search by saint. (iOS, Android)

Living Your Faith

Persecution, terror rampant in Pakistan

  • Kamran Chaudhry, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • September 04 2014
Kamran Chaudhry

Islamic terrorist groups force non-Muslims to flee their homes as Pakistani army tries to fight back

In Pakistan, around 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) — those who have been forced to flee from their homes but stay within their country’s borders — observed the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast) in late July as the military offensive against the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters was in its second month.

The operation followed the failure of peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban, which is trying to enforce its own version of Shariah (Islamic Law) and has claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police, army and other key installations within the country.

Church leaders in Pakistan long feared the ripple effects of the Arab Spring — the term given to the wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East aimed to bring down entrenched authoritarian regimes like those in Syria and Egypt — on the already pro-Islamic states where religious leaders enjoy great power both on streets and in the courts. Despite current media reports depicting non-Muslim IDPs of Pakistan in a better situation as compared to the persecuted Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, the situation is far from normal.

Christian sanitary workers in North Waziristan, Pakistan, had to perform a gruesome task before the country’s army began its offensive to fight back against the Taliban and other militants.

“We have disposed hundreds of dead bodies dumped in bazaars — all of them headless. So much blood, so much cruelty; it was very hard to collect all the body parts,” said Kamran Sadiq, a Christian sweeper from Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.

Death to spies

Sadiq, who has taken refuge in a high school in the dust-laden city of Bannu, which borders North Waziristan, gave an account of what life is like under the Shariah. “Uzbeks, Tajiks and Arabs rule the local markets and are very rich. They abduct anybody on suspicion of spying for the U.S. or Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Our women cannot step outside without a burqa. Beheadings are announced beforehand and also done publicly. A warning note in Pashto — [an official language of Afghanistan] — is usually left with each body,” Sadiq said.

According to Sadiq, the warning note carried a statement similar to this: “We warned him three [or] four times to correct his ways. People get the example. Anybody working as U.S. spies will face the same fate. His confession video is now available in the Miranshah market. We have proven that he was a culprit.”

Sadiq, sitting on his cot under a blackboard at the high school now serving as a shelter, said his first experience with the horrific violence was shocking. “I did not eat the whole day when I saw the body for the first time in my life,” he said. “It all started amid U.S. drone strikes in 2004. The images kept haunting me, but it became a norm later.”

The parish priest of Bannu, who wished to go unnamed, shared that he was invited by one of his parishioners to watch the beheadings during one of his pastoral visits to Miranshah.

“Of course I declined. This is one of the other reasons I do not inform my family about my mission here,” he said while overseeing the distribution of relief aid at a missionary school.

Living conditions

Sadiq is among 87 Christian families who have been relocated to two separate schools in Bannu by the Church of Pakistan and the Catholic Church. The local government is providing meals to the families in the schools, where two separate teams of four police officers guard the grounds amid the prevalent terror threat.

Despite the scorching heat, shortage of space, health issues and financial woes, those forced from their homes have no complaint about living in Bannu, which is among the only cities in the country that hasn’t made drastic cuts to its citizens’ access to electricity.

The situation is almost the same in both schools, where three to four families are living in each classroom. Sadiq and his two other married siblings reside in the colorful Prep Class of Pennell High School. The gas stove placed near the class cupboard, filled with cooking utensils, further adds to the temperature of the room. “All the shops are closed due to [a holiday]. We are having fried tomatoes and onions today,” he said.

Necessary fight

All of the non-Muslim IDPs said that military operation was necessary in the mountainous regions of northeast Pakistan, which had become sanctuaries for the foreign and local terrorists. Those living in the shelters said it has been a confusing time, not knowing whether to obey the commands of the government or those of the Taliban. There was a mandated daily curfew, and business had come to a halt, according to many of the 23 Hindu families living at the Ram Mandir temple in Bannu.

The analogies came freely. Cleaning is a must if there is trash, a sweeper said. You must wash a cloth if it’s dirty, said a tailor.

But Perwaiz Masih, a father of five, is slightly less optimistic about the future. “The seed has been sown,” he said. “I do not think the army can finish them; I know those people.”


Among 37 displaced Christian families living at St. John Bosco Model School in Bannu, at least three individuals have survived hostage situations in Miranshah. Masih is one of them, as he was held for nine days in 2012 and was released after being found innocent by the Taliban.

“I was returning home after purchasing vegetables when suddenly a giant Taliban [rebel] forced me in a vehicle and injected something [into] the back of my neck,” Masih said.

“I was blindfolded and have no idea where I was kept. The quarters were located at a distance, and I could not hear much. On the ninth day, I was praying in my heart while eating chapati (staple bread), and my Christ listened. After much questioning, they asked me to pack my belongings and left me in a bazaar,” Masih said.

“We are weak people living under their shadows. I later learned that our community made several group visits to the influential Maliks (tribal leaders) requesting my release. That’s all they could do,” said Masih, who broke down after the interview.

“I have become a bit hot-tempered since then. Another Christian has been kidnapped for a year, but nobody can snatch our Christian faith,” he said, kissing the rosary around his neck.


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