By Steve and Kim Brown
Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Last week at Mass our priest told a beautiful story that we wanted to share with you, as well as we can remember it. He talked about a man on vacation who traveled through a desolate land on the way to his vacation destination. This particular area was barren of vegetation, rocky and not very pretty to look at. On his way through, he noticed an old man who was walking along holding on to a long poking stick and he had a backpack on his back. The old man was using the stick to poke holes in the ground and then he would remove from his backpack an acorn that he would plant in the ground. He did this over and over.

Curious, the vacationing man approached the old man to ask what he was doing. The old man explained that his wife and daughter had died long ago and now he filled his days with planting acorns in this barren land. He wanted to do something useful with his life and so he had planted hundreds of thousands of acorns over the years. Even if only a few of them grew into trees, he hoped it would make a difference someday.
Twenty five years passed and the man was once again traveling through the same desolate land on his way to his vacation destination. But when he looked around, instead of seeing a barren, rocky and ugly landscape, he was now surrounded by a beautiful forest that was streaming with birds and flowers and life. He remembered the old man from so many years before and marveled at what he was able to accomplish by his daily commitment in planting acorns. What a gift the old man had left behind.


That story has stuck with us and we have found ourselves thinking about it and referring to it through out the week. We talked about how sometimes we may not see the fruits of our labors from day to day. But that is okay. All we have to do is keep on doing whatever we are doing to make a difference in whatever small way we can and someday we just may be surprised to see what a difference it makes. When we thought about it in terms of our marriage, we considered our daily communication to be like those little acorns that the old man was planting. Every day, if we commit to that small gift of communication for our spouse, over time it will make a difference. With your commitment, even on the days you may question whether or not it is making a difference, eventually your marriage with flourish with the same abundance that the old man’s forest did. Your marriage will be vibrantly filled with contagious love. We encourage you to approach your daily communication with the same persistence as the old man. When you look at your marriage years from now you will be amazed at what you see.

wwme logo small

And some questions for you to consider:
• Thinking about the old man’s daily commitment to planting acorns, do I share the same commitment to our daily communication? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do we communicate on a regular basis or only occasionally? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do I believe that daily communication is making a difference in our marriage? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do I think we share a love that is contagious to others? How do I feel about my answer?
• Where do I see us in twenty five years?
• Where is my favorite vacation destination?

Runners in All Saints race approach finish line at St. Peter's Square at Vatican

By Stacy Dibbern
Annual Catholic Appeal Manager

Last summer, my husband and I decided to make some healthier life choices. We start eating better, we joined a local gym, and on nice weekends, we go to our favorite place for a hike: Peaked Mountain. Over the months, these changes have had an impact: we’ve lost weight, we’re fitter, and I can get up Peaked a lot quicker than I could just a few months ago. Recently, I decided to push myself even further by adding running to my workout routine. While this has been difficult to do between the demands of a family, running the Annual Catholic Appeal, and taxiing a high-schooler around during sports season, I felt like I needed to freshen things up.


I knew I needed some type of guidebook or roadmap, so I purchased the popular running app that would get me from the couch to running 3.2 miles, or 5 kilometers. After several weeks of this, a friend who is new to running herself mentioned a 5k race in July that she had registered for, and would I like to register and run this with her? Well, the husband and I are now registered, so I have an official goal to work towards! Having a goal keeps me focused on the long-term. Envisioning the race day, knowing that these weeks of preparation, these nights when I don’t really feel like running but I should, will make me strong and allow me to finish all 3.2 miles on that day in mid-July.

Pope Francis prays at Western Wall in Jerusalem

Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the gift of fortitude. The Holy Spirit helps us “feel the closeness of the Lord, sustains us and fortifies in the fatigues and trials of life, so that we won’t be led into the temptation of discouragement.” Fortitude gives us “the strength to do God’s will in spite of our own natural weakness and limitations” and with the gift of fortitude, “the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome weakness, so that we are able to respond to the love of the Lord.” God has given us the guidebook, the app, and the coach that we need to stick with the program, even when we’d rather quit. God wants us to get up off the couch and put in some “miles” in the three areas of spiritual development that we discussed last week: prayer, celebration, and imitation. These are the goals that matter.

We have other important goals that we’re trying to reach here in the Diocese: $3 million and 10,000 volunteer hours. So far, we have raised $2,437,186, and 100 volunteers have donated 2,500 hours of their time. If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, we’re having a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral on June 11th from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our Annual Catholic Appeal supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at or call me at (413) 452.0670.


Swiss Guards stand at closed door of Sistine Chapel as cardinals begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

By Stacy Dibbern
Annual Catholic Appeal Manager

With two college-age children returning home for the summer at the end of the spring semester, early May is a time of upheaval in my household: more cars than the driveway can contain, more laundry than I can keep up with, and more schedules than I can try to remember. Beyond that, it’s a time of reintroduction, of getting to know these young adults who have come back into the family fold with new life experiences under their belt. But soon enough, by coming together, talking and listening to one another, celebrating our time together, and carrying out the traditions and practices that are important to us, we regain that closeness that we once had and things start to feel “right” again.

For those of us who see ourselves as the shepherd who keeps our family pulled together, it’s difficult to imagine that in our spiritual lives, we are the absentee college student, sometimes just coming home for Easter and Christmas, staying just long enough to feel like our “laundry” is done. So how can we make things right for ourselves in our spiritual life?

Woman prays on Ash Wednesday at New York church

In a recent homily, Pope Francis said that to become closer to Jesus, we need to open three doors: prayer, celebration, and imitation. Through prayer, celebrating the sacraments, and imitating Jesus’ life through the works of mercy, we can come to truly know Jesus – not just know of him. A daily examination, according to Francis, could look like this:

“During the day, today, we can think about how the door leading to prayer is proceeding in our life: but prayer from the heart is not like that of a parrot! How is prayer of the heart? How is the Christian celebration in my life proceeding? And how is the imitation of Jesus in my life proceeding? How must I imitate him? Do you really not remember! The reason is because the Book of the Gospel is full of dust as it’s never opened! Take the Book of the Gospel, open it and you will discover how to imitate Jesus! Let’s think about how these three doors are positioned in our life and this will be of benefit to everybody.”


Sometimes the thought of trying to imitate Jesus through the works of mercy can seem too overwhelming and so we don’t move forward at all. That’s why we’ve incorporated volunteerism into this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. The act of volunteering is so simple, yet so profound. As I’ve been mentioning over the past few months, the ACA provides financial support to local agencies that carry out the works of mercy through their programming. This year, we want to also help them build organizational sustainability by connecting them with volunteers like you.

On June 11th, the Diocese is hosting a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our ACA supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at or call me at (413) 452.0670.


Palestinian youth hangs flag outside souvenir shop in Bethlehem
By Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Fifty years ago, in January 1964, soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI became a pilgrim, making an historic visit – the first by any pontiff since the earliest centuries of the Church – to Jerusalem and the Holy Land – or, as he put it, “This land where down through the centuries there resounded the voice of the prophets speaking in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” A little more than a year later, the epochal decree, Nostra Aetate, was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church condemned anti-Semitism and pledged to work with love and respect in dialogue with Jews. These were groundbreaking events, seminal moments that transformed the Church and its relation to the Jewish people.

Now, 50 years later, Pope Francis becomes a pilgrim as he journeys to Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

The relationship between Catholics and Jews has changed dramatically, thanks not only to the efforts of Paul VI, but also those of Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. John Paul and Benedict both visited Israel and worked hard to continue to forge better relations with the Jews.

File photo of Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew exchanging sign of peace during Mass in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Who can forget Saint John Paul’s 1986 visit to the Synagogue of the Chief Rabbi of Rome, or the moving image of him praying before the Western Wall in 2000 before leaving the following prayer:

God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring Your name to the nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of Yours to suffer,
and asking Your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.

Pope Benedict’s 2009 pilgrimage to Israel, and his visits to synagogues in Rome, Cologne and New York, deepened the relationship we have established and nurtured during the past half-century. The work of these popes has further affirmed the principle that God’s covenant with the Jews was irrevocable, and that Judaism was not extrinsic but intrinsic to Christianity.

It is within this context, I believe, that Pope Francis’ trip must be viewed. He will travel as a pilgrim, whose actions, as much as his words, will demonstrate his desire to continue the path of dialogue and friendship that has been established.

As his friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, puts it, “I am convinced that this trip will usher in a new era in Jewish-Christian dialogue: the era of empathy.” What an uplifting thought, and so appropriate for this Holy Father, whose entire papacy has emphasized the need for the entire Church – including the pope – to be one with others.

My Jewish friends have told me how excited they are that Pope Francis will be visiting Israel and the Holy Land. As one rabbi friend here in New York tells me, “Don’t forget, Francis is our pope, too!” They see a man of deep faith, great love and honest openness. Their prayer has been that this visit will mark a continuation of the journey begun by Pope Paul VI and advanced by his successors to deepen the relationship and understanding between Christians and our elder brothers and sisters in faith. That is very much my prayer as well.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York delivers address during 2014 Catholic Men's Conference in Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is Archbishop of New York and devoted to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.


Pope Francis uses incense during Easter Mass at Vatican

In my last blog, I mentioned how I had attended the Elms College symposium The Footsteps of Francis earlier in April. During the symposium, Fr. Mark Stelzer mentioned one line that has stayed with me ever since: “Are we answering questions that no one is asking?” He posed this question as a way of looking at the relevancy of our teaching, ministry, and outreach. Aside from my work managing the Annual Catholic Appeal, I also volunteer as a catechist, so this question really changes how I look at CCD/RCIA, because it flips the traditional religious education model to one that is student-centric and question-driven. And if you look at the teaching style of our Pope, you can see why people respond to him: he’s answering the questions people are asking, and going out and meeting them where they are at that moment – physically and spiritually.

Pope Francis kisses a foot of a disabled person Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome

Consider one of his comments from last year: “At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. . . .A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.” Last week, my blog focused on the work that Saint Francis and Pope Francis have done to repair God’s house; we have seen that this repair work includes reaching out to our brothers and sisters of different denominations and faiths. Have you seen this cell phone video that Francis made this past January?

And now he recently spent Holy Thursday at the Don Gnocchi Center for elderly and disabled people, washing the feet of 12 people, including a woman and a Muslim. What a beautiful image for all of us to remember from Holy Week: that at the Lord’s Supper, all are invited; and that we are called to serve with love.
I’d like to invite you to come to an upcoming event to learn more about how you can become more involved as a volunteer in our local agencies and parishes. On June 11th, we’re having a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our ACA supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at or call me at (413) 452.0670.


Nun walks near Basilica of St. Francis in 2011 in Assisi, Italy

By Stacy Dibbern

This past weekend, I was at The Footsteps of Francis, a fantastic symposium hosted at the Elms College. During one of the presentations, the speaker mentioned the vision St. Francis had in 1299 while praying before the cross in the Chapel of San Damiano, where he was told, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” The Chapel had fallen into ruin, and so Francis took these instructions quite literally, and began repairing the roof. And then he proceeded to beg for stones to continue to the repair of the church in obedience of the Lord’s request.

Of course, at the same time, he was changing people’s perception of the Church (with a capital C) and its role in the community. It had been allowed to decay and crumble from neglect. Francis’ efforts not only restored San Damiano, but renewed peoples’ belief in the beauty that exists in servitude to others and the Lord. Sound like another Francis we’ve come to know over the past year? “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”

Pope visits St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro

Over the past year, Pope Francis has shown us what this means. He has eschewed palatial apartments for simple guest quarters; he has washed the feet of prisoners; taken “selfies” with the young; embraced the disfigured; walked among the poor; and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. In this case, repairing God’s house has meant removing the barriers and letting people hold and touch and be with their Holy Father.
As we approach Holy Week, how can we replicate this in our own lives?

Our spiritual selves- in a recent conversation, someone mentioned how when they pray, they offer their prayers for all of the Blessed Mother’s intentions, knowing that what she has in her heart must be for the best of the universe. That might be a nice way to repair our shared house through prayer!

Our homes and families- Francis (both of them!) has shown us through example that we do not need much to be joyful. As you and your family prepare your home for Easter, consider donating items to local agencies.

Our community and our church- be involved! Make time to volunteer in your parish or a local agency. Not sure what you want to do? Contact me, and we can talk about the opportunities that are available. Call 413 452-0670.

ACA Poster 2014

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona

Bishop Gerald F. Kicansas of Tucson

In 1958, I was a junior in high school. I attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary, a day high school, where I began discernment to consider if I wanted to be a diocesan priest serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That year marked major changes in our local church of Chicago and the universal church.

Cardinal Samuel Stritch, Chicago’s Archbishop, had been called to Rome on March 1, 1958 to serve as Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith only to die several months later.

Cardinal Albert Meyer was appointed the new Archbishop of Chicago on September 19th. He would play a significant role in the Second Vatican Council especially influencing the Council’s statement on religious liberty.

On October 5th, 1958 Pope Pius XII died and on October 28th after eleven ballots, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was chosen Pope at 77, taking the name Pope John XXIII. Unexpectedly, as if by inspiration, on January 25, 1959, with jottings on a piece of paper, he called for the twenty-first Ecumenical Council. It had been 95 years since the first Vatican Council that was called for by Pope Pius IX in 1864.

Blessed John XXIII

Needless to say in the mind of a young seminarian, it was a time of excitement and change. A seminarian like any aspirant looks to the elders, the leaders, those responsible, for modeling, inspiration and direction. I found just that in the humble, simple aura of our new Pope.

John XXIII was Pope during my most formative years in the seminary through high school and philosophy. He was like a grandfather, one you admired, one you wanted to be with. He modeled what a seminarian would most want to be, proven in virtue, holy, prayerful, joyful, jovial, caring, loving and approachable. Although adorned in papal regalia, he never lost the simplicity of a sharecropper’s son, one among the people. I felt close to him, admired and respected him as someone who lived what I was trying to learn.

We were given prayer cards of the new Papa Roncalli and I remember looking at his picture, thinking I was sitting with him, chatting together as he told me what being a good priest would entail.

At that time, many kept saying that he was just filling in, a “care taker” Pope. He surprised everyone. He would inspire my generation of priests with a desire to enliven the Church, to make the Church speak to the burning questions of the times. Engagement and dialogue were to be expected of a priest. The one ordained was not to stay in the sanctuary but be out serving in the street, mixing and mingling with his people, leading them into an encounter with Jesus Christ.

When John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council it was as if the Church awoke from her sleep as we entered an exciting time of new ardor and creative ideas. Pope John challenged the church to think and act anew. There was a sense of breathing fresh air, a state of exuberance. The Church’s patrimony would be dusted off, renovated and renewed.


As seminarians we were being exposed to a wealth of thoughts on theology that took us beyond our textbooks to an engagement with theologians and bishops filling us with insights on liturgy, the meaning of Church, who we were to be as disciples of Christ.

Good Pope John now to be St. John XXIII continues to inspire and prod us to step boldly into the world with the saving message of Jesus Christ. He wanted a Church unafraid to engage new ideas, confident to embrace the world. The Church was not set over and against the world but was to be the breath of the world. John XXIII received the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as always the Spirit worked wonders in opening the locked door of the upper room, sending out missionary disciples possessed with the Gospel message for all to hear.

I pray that the Church, still beset by challenges as was the Church when Roncalli was chosen Pope, will face these challenges as he did, creatively, confidently, and courageously. A saint is meant to inspire, to make holiness seem attainable, to communicate the joy of knowing Christ. John XXIII for me and for many has done all of that.

St. John XXIII, pray for us.

Stepping out of our comfort zone. Isn’t that what Lent is about? Shaking up those daily rituals so that we see the world from a different angle – hopefully one that is more God-focused, and less focused on ourselves. This Lent, I decided to “take up” going to Mass twice during the week during my lunch hour. Talk about shaking up your work week! While in years past, I had always focused on the “giving up” tradition, the taking up of this new spiritual discipline has had a profound effect: twice a week, I hit the “pause” button on the concerns and stresses of my job and spend some time with the Lord. It gives me time to pray for my family and my friends and to think about the things that really matter. Those two extra hours each week force me out of my Sunday morning complacency and have me looking at things in a new way.
As you know, this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal theme – Serve with Love – is based on Pope Francis’ unceasing call over the past year for us to step out of our comfort zones and be with the poor: attending to their needs, listening to them, ministering to them, learning from them, and working to end poverty altogether. I recently read an article by Cardinal Sean O’Malley (who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference), which discusses the influence of Ignatian spirituality on Pope Francis, and how this has led the Holy Father to challenge our “core assumptions about power, authority and leadership.”

It’s in that spirit that we wanted to shake things up and look at the Annual Catholic Appeal differently. For so many years, we’ve politely asked for your donations, you have generously donated, we have allocated those funds, and the agencies and schools have done amazing work. It was time to hit the “pause” button and figure out how we could connect neighbor to neighbor, to help donors get something back spiritually by interacting with those who need their help. That’s why this year, we’ve incorporated a volunteerism campaign into the Appeal, as Bishop McDonnell explained during our kick-off. I’m happy to report that so far, over 40 people have pledged to volunteer over 1,000 hours in local agencies and parishes! Of course, the 40+ agencies, schools, parishes and ministries still need financial support. We are also closing in on the $1 million milestone: as of March 17th, we have raised $947,064 from 6,545 generous donors.
If you are interested in volunteering and want to learn more, there are several options:
• Fill out our online volunteer form
• Like our Facebook page so you can hear when different agencies supported by the ACA need your help
• Follow us on Twitter: @ACASpfldMA2014
• Call me at 413.452.0670

ACA Poster 2014



Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared with you what we mean when we say “Serve with Love,” why we do it, and whom we help through our Annual Appeal. But there’s still an important part of this story to tell, and it’s a bigger story than I can tell myself. So I need your help. I want to hear how YOU are making a difference every day. How are you living out the gospel message in your own way? How are you empowering people? Helping them live with dignity and joy? How are you, as Pope Francis is urging us to do, “protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about?”

Over the remainder of Lent, please share your stories on twitter with #wmaservewithlove. And be sure to follow us @ACASpfldMA2014. We’ll share our favorites in this blog and on our Facebook page.


Beth & Ray Ginepro
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
Turning Points
    We spring ahead an hour this month and from that time on the days get longer, the weather gets warmer and activities shift more to the outdoors.  We can think about the milestones in our lives also marked by the phrase “from that time on”: We met ‘the one’ and from that time on our life was never the same. We got married and from that time on it was no longer just about me but about us.  Children came along and from that time on we were a family.  Demands of daily living pulled us in separate directions and from that time on disillusionment began to set in.  We forgave each other and from that time on our relationship began to heal.  We lived our marriage encounter weekend and from that time on we grew in intimacy and joy again.
            In scripture too, as Bishop Ken Untener so keenly points out, turning points in Jesus’ public life are marked by the phrase “from that time on.” (See Matthew 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach”, Mt 16:21 “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly”, Mt 26:16 “From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.”)
            Turning points are an opportunity to grow…together or apart…for better or for worse…closer to each other and God …or not.  How we approach the turning points in our own lives affects the direction in which we will go. Are you happy with where you are headed? 
Discussion questions to explore some more:
  • What have been the turning points in my life? What have I learned from them?
  • When did I first realize that you were the one for me?
  • What is one thing we can do to recapture some carefree timelessness together?
  • Recall a time when have I stepped out of my comfort zone as an act of love for you?
  • What do I need to turn away from to turn closer in relationship to God/to my spouse?
  • If I had one do over what would it be?
  • I feel loved and cherished when you________.
  • How has the love of neighbor/of God touched me in my life?
  • What dreams do I have for our future?
  • How open are we to invite God to be our “able bodied navigator”?
May your discussion blossom with blessings in your journey toward Easter and Spring!
(To find out more about a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend go to

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.