By Don Clemmer

Editor’s Note: Don Clemmer is the assistant director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C. He wrote this blog for the memorial of Blessed John XXIII.

clemmer

Pope John XXIII and  Pope Francis hold the respective distinctions of ushering in the most significant reforms the Catholic Church had seen in a millennium and being the first Latin American and Jesuit pope. But both men are also witnesses to how Christian holiness permeates daily life in moments big and small and that it’s not just what a person does, but how he or she does it, that matters.

Sure, both men provide visions of The Big Picture. John XXIII gave his recipe for sustainable global peace in his final encyclicalPacem in Terris (1963). And Pope Francis has put in place with lightning speed his program of global solidarity and a Church that goes out to the margins to serve.

But Francis has also focused much of his preaching and teaching energy — exemplified by his daily Mass homilies especially — on the “small things,” behaviors of everyday life like gossip, laziness and cynicism. These are not lofty theological concerns, but pitfalls of human behavior that apply to everyone. And he doesn’t criticize them lightly. Often the devil gets dragged into it. It’s as if the last thing Pope Francis wants is a Church that “believes correctly” but is populated by otherwise miserable people.

Blessed John XXIII

While this may sound like “papal micromanaging” to some, it’s more like a cheat sheet for the Christian life. Yes, you know the 10 Commandments and the Catechism, but just in case there was any doubt, the end result should look like this…

John XXIII had his rules for dealing with the small stuff too. His famous managerial maxim (recently quoted by Pope Francis in his interview with the world’s major Jesuit journals) was “See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.” His guide to living together in harmony (attributed to St. Augustine) had a similar spirit: “In essentials, unity. In doubtful matters, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

Pope John’s leadership style was on full display at the Council. He didn’t participate, wishing to promote freer discussion among the bishops, but watched the proceedings from his apartment on closed circuit television. However, when the curia proposed a highly unpopular draft for the document on divine revelation and the bishops did not have quite enough votes to reject it outright, Pope John, to the Council fathers’ surprise, intervened and threw out the draft. He didn’t see the point in such an unpopular schema taking up so much of the Council’s time and energy. See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.

Pope smiles as he leaves general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis exercised a similar sense of discernment and freedom in the act of moving ahead Pope John’s canonization without the required second miracle. Look at the witness of his life! The world has already proclaimed him a saint! This system was meant to guide us, not hinder us. Pope Francis seems to be saying. And he is, after all, the pope.

From the model of John XXIII to the current admonitions of Pope Francis, Catholics everywhere can learn from these men how to discern what is truly important in matters large and small and learn follow their lead in in exemplifying the key to a Christian witness: “See how they love another.” Both men extended that love, in word and deed, to the entire world.

 

girl and kid

By Lauren Dulude ’14
Holyoke Catholic High School

Editor’s note: Lauren Dulude was one on five Holyoke Catholic High School students who traveled to Africa in July, the following is her reflection about that visit.

After willingly going to Africa for three weeks, I can boldly say that it was the absolute best experience of my life.  Not only did I learn a lot about Tanzanian people and their culture, but I also learned some things about myself in the process. I was ready and anxious to begin our mission after my group spent the first week studying in the Makoko Language School. I had no idea what God had in store for me. Every day I experienced something new and exciting. I have so many stories and memories, so hopefully I can share small and meaningful parts with you.

First of all, I should begin by letting you know that it was not easy for my family to decide to let me go to Africa. (See her mom’s letter below.) Despite the majority of people that would tell me that it is too dangerous, I somehow always had the feeling that everything would work out. I never got discouraged. Most of the time people looked at me with utter confusion, told me that I couldn’t go, or made a rude comment about Africa. Although it was hurtful, I ignored them. I thought that no matter what they would do, it was my decision, and I knew that it was the right one. I was determined to go to Africa. I know that God helped me through that time and for some reason I had to go.

african students

In my last letter on: Iobserve I wrote about the overall character of the people and the surroundings of the Makoko Language School. Even though both the school and the House of Compassion are not in the bustling town, they are an hour apart from each other. Every day we left the school at 8:00 on our private buses which we used for our safari vehicles. On the way to the House of Compassion everyone stared at us from outside the vehicle. This was the first day. During the next few days more and more people began waving to us as we passed by them. I will never forget the kids chasing after our van, smiling, and waving.

My main focus throughout the day was the kindergarten class. Only six out of about thirty kindergarteners lived at the House of Compassion. The others walked back home before lunch. During the mornings I worked in the kindergarten with three other Holyoke Catholic students. With a sort of wonder in her eyes, the teacher said to us: “We want to learn something from America.” The children knew minimal English, but the younger children surprisingly knew more than the older kids. We taught the kindergarteners songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, and “Old MacDonald.” The kids also loved learning the chicken dance.

lauren and some kids

After morning class the kids would all put their shoes on and lead us by hand to the church to pray. The teacher did not come with us and did not have any worries. The children were quiet and respectful in church where they said a prayer together in the pews and quietly left the church. I reviewed with five of the six kids that lived at the House of Compassion after lunch. The kids were so happy and obedient in class. There were a few days that one child would get the occasional case of malaria and sleep during class. In the kindergarten classroom they only have a mat on a cement floor, the teacher’s desk, a chalkboard, and a couple lawn chairs. The teacher had only one box of school supplies for the whole class.

Three other mission trip students and I spent the weekend tutoring a few House of Compassion kids in English. The seventh graders that we tutored went to the community school. Although they had English class in school, they basically only knew how to say hello.  Their teacher must not have known much English at all because the children were confused. The seventh grade had been preparing for an English test that they were to take in two weeks. They would never go to school again if they failed their test, which meant that they will probably not be able to find that great of a job. It was extremely sad to know that just because their education system is weak, the kids will be the ones to suffer. When we tutored them we could tell that they were so eager to learn. They wrote down everything we said and worked for hours straight.

hc africa

During Mass the voices of all of the people were outstanding. The songs are led by the older seventh graders. Their voices brought tears to my eyes. Mass was so powerful in Tanzania. The people truly came alive in church. There were so many people at the House of Compassion that were mentally disabled and could not communicate well. In church, those people were singing and dancing. During peace everybody walked around the church giving peace to one another. We brought smiles to people’s faces and they returned the favor.

Every day after Church we played with jump ropes and soccer balls. The adults and children loved to play. They figured out how to do double Dutch and they would always try to beat their record. When we collected the jump ropes at the end of each day they gladly passed them over which surprised me. As far as I know, all of the children at the House of Compassion are orphans. The most beautiful thing was to laugh and smile alongside the children.  They stole my heart.

For the entire time we were at the House of Compassion I noticed that every child seemed to have about three different outfits. In the room that the adults shared they really only had a bed, a mosquito net, and maybe a box of belongings. Despite the conditions in which these people live in, they still enjoy life. They live simply, but it is beautiful. They are not dependent on material goods. Everybody at the House of Compassion makes up one big family. The abundant love, hope, and acceptance at the House of Compassion can be felt in multitudes and makes up the true spirit of the Tanzanian people whom I will remember forever.

The following is a letter from Lauren’s mother, Jodi Dulude, and their reaction to their daughter’s life-changing trip.

dulude family

It was a hard decision to let our daughter go to Africa.  At first we were hesitant in allowing her to go on the trip.  We were also blown away that Lauren, would consider going to a third world country.  She has always been afraid of all flying or crawling critters.  There must have been a more powerful reason why she was being pulled to go on a 21 day mission trip to Tanzania.  We came to the decision that it was something we had to let her experience.  The conflicts and safety that go on in other countries was extremely frightening.  So many questions needed to be answered.  Many meetings were held to prepare us with the day to day activities, Lauren would experience.  Her entire stay was at the Makoko Language School, it was comforting to be able to communicate, either by email, face time, or skype.  One of our conversations on skype Lauren said, “can we just hang up, I’d like to go have fun, I only have four more days here”.  Whether that  was to be with the four other students she had become close to, write in her journal, or prepare for the next day she wanted to be there 100% of the time.  Looking back at our decision and knowing it was the right one is a blessing.  The people she met and grew close to in a short amount of time will always be a part of her.   We have heard many stories of the children and people she met at the House of Compassion in Musoma, where the mission work took place. Lauren returned safely with an extraordinary experience she will never forget in a life time. She also has expressed an interest in returning to Musoma, Tanzania at some point in the near future.  The next time will be an easier decision to make.

Classical High Picture

In 1952 a gallon of gas was just 20 cents. A loaf of bread was 16 cents and a postage stamp was only three cents. Of course, the average income was only $3515 so these prices are relative.

However, a group of people who can remember all of those prices assembled at the Fort Restaurant in Springfield a while back for their 60th reunion.

The Class of 1952 from Classical High School in Springfield met to reminisce about their high school days.

Pauline Fitzgerald of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Springfield sent along the information.

Classmates came from Florida, Georgia, Baltimore, Md. and Cape Cod. The event was arranged by Ann Tyminski from Baltimore and the photo was taken by Fred Krug the same photographer who took the 50th Class Reunion photo.

Those attending were: Fran Smith Levine, Ruth Cohen Broverman, Alan Broverman, Rose Zucco Davis, Shirley Cote Colapietro, Judith Catron McRae, Ann Lattinville Tyminski, Carl Mendola, Barbara Maier Krampitz, Phyllis Kazin, Bart Kazin and Robert Picknelly.

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By Kaitlyn Swierzewski

As  a senior at Holyoke Catholic High School, I was required to do a two week “Senior Seminar” or internship before graduation. Because of an interest in communications as well as in film, I thought Catholic Communications would be a great place to do my internship.

Now that I have finished my internship, I can say I am so glad I chose to do it here. Everyone is so nice and it is like a family. I cannot express in words how much I enjoyed my internship or how grateful I am for the experience I got. When most people think of internships they think of grabbing coffee, making copies, and not getting paid.

But that is not even close to the experience I got with my senior seminar. I was given a story to report on and had a task to do every day with it. I learned so much and had a lot of fun. Oh, and I also got to be on TV which is pretty cool.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at my two weeks at Catholic Communications.

Upon arriving on the first day of my Senior Seminar, I learned the basics of logging with my mentor, Peggy Weber, who was working on a story. Logging is when one chooses the video clips to be featured in the story. Although Peggy is not a fan of logging, I enjoyed it.

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However, my first day was not all work, nor would the two week experience lack any fun moments. Here I am with Sharon Roulier’s daughter, Stephanie, during a tour of the Dr. Seuss sculptures in downtown Springfield.

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The second day I went on location in Westfield to report on a talk given by Brother Mickey McGrath. I really enjoyed hearing Brother Mickey speak and seeing some of his beautiful artwork. Not only did I get to interview people but I even got to perform a stand-up in front of the camera. It was fun, but pretty difficult.  It definitely reminded me that I like working behind the scenes more.

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I also got to write an article for the iObserve website. Here I am with Rebecca Drake who edits and puts stories on the website. (You can read my story here: http://www.iobserve.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=2545&cntnt01returnid=66

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I got to sit in on an editorial meeting which was really interesting. During the meeting, everyone talked about different ideas for upcoming stories. Here is the whole Catholic Communications team.

meeting

There were also these delicious peanut butter cup brownie bars at the meeting. (Courtesy of Bill’s wife!) Yum!

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I loved watching Bill Pacocha, the chief videographer and video editor at Catholic Communications, work in the edit suite.

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I got to write my own script and then do the voiceover work which was really cool. It is part of a story that is scheduled to air on June 22 on Real to Reel on WWLP-TV 22 at 7 p.m.

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Barbie Bagley, who handles graphics and the diocesan web site, and Sharon Roulier, the host of Real to Reel,  are hard at work here.

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Here I am discussing my internship with Mark Dupont, director of Catholic Communications and diocesan spokesperson.

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I got to attend the Chalice of Salvation Mass taping during my internship. It was a crazy day because we were taping two Masses, but I got to sit in the control room and wear a headset which was really cool! I loved watching how everything came together.

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Through my internship, I was able to attend the Ordination Mass on June 1 where five new priests were ordained to the diocese. I had never been to an ordination Mass before but I truly enjoyed being a part of such a special event. I was responsible for the social media; so, I would take photos and then go back to the control room to upload them to Facebook. It was basically online reporting and was actually fun.

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Here is a behind the scenes look of the Ordination taping.

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June 1 was not just the day of the Ordination, but it was also the Bishop’s 50 year Jubilee! Here he is cutting his cake.

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I am so happy with my internship at Catholic Communications. I can truthfully say I had the best two weeks and wish they didn’t have to end!

Group_Arrival

By Eleanor Harte

 

A small group of college students stands in a circle around a pile of lumber, fitting construction helmets on their heads and pulling on work gloves as they listen to a man holding a saw give instructions. A few of the students shiver as a cold wind rips through the group, but they continue to listen intently. As the man finishes talking, they break apart and begin to pick up tools: a drill, a hammer, a ladder. They get to work, and suddenly it’s hard to hear anything over the roar of the saw and the sound of nails being hammered into wood.

House

The students are in eastern Kentucky, spending their spring break repairing homes and building new ones for families in need. A group of 15 UMass Amherst students in the Newman Students Association chose to go on the alternative spring break trip last month. Led by Fr. Jon Reardon, they drove to Kentucky over the span of two days – they stopped in Pittsburgh overnight.

Girls

Lindsey Russo said she was inspired to participate in alternative spring break because of her history with community service. “I went on a trip to Neon, Kentucky in high school and I really liked it,” Russo said enthusiastically. “It was the best experience I had in high school. I went to Catholic school and I felt it was the best way to live out my faith in action. Alternative spring break has allowed me to discover the true meaning of Christ in my daily life.”

The group worked with a nondenominational Christian organization, the Christian Appalachian Project, which provides physical, spiritual, and emotional support to people in need living in Appalachia. They participated in CAP’s alternative spring break program, Workfest 2013, which provides students with an alternative spring break program and at the same time allows CAP to finish projects on a much quicker schedule than they would be able to do with their regular long-term volunteers.

working on gutter

Russo’s team built a porch and added a bedroom onto a house for a man awaiting a heart transplant, even braving a thunderstorm one afternoon to continue the work. “Working in tough conditions showed me how much we rely on God and each other. Material things start to lose their value.”

Students worked in teams with students from other schools, building porches, additions to houses, and repairing roofs. Mireille O’Connor was on a team that added siding and outside insulation to the home of an older couple who had built their home over 30 years ago, but now found themselves with a leaky roof and a home that was cold in the winter.

front of house

“The family’s reactions were really touching. The couple’s children and grandchildren were so thankful that we were helping them,” O’Connor said, smiling as she described the family, who she grew to really care for over the week.  “One of the best parts was when the family hugged us and how they really cared for us. They cooked us chili hot dogs and vegetable pizza, macaroni salad, even butterscotch cake and cupcakes. They were so nice. I didn’t want to leave them. I wish we could be there to see the end of the project.”

The project should be finished in the next few months. Even though she won’t be there to help finish the project in person, O’Connor is thankful she got the chance to work on it. “I had never done a service trip before and I always wanted to do one because you get to see firsthand the reactions of the families because they’re there. The other type of volunteer work I usually do is fundraising for things, and I never really get to see what the hard work is going toward.”

Group_Breakfast

Alec Bergweiler went on the trip because his friend had a good experience on a similar trip with the NSA last year. “I wanted something else to do for spring break other than sitting at home doing homework,” said Bergweiler.  He worked on the home of an older couple plagued with medical problems – first, the husband had three heart attacks, and then the wife was diagnosed with leukemia. “She’s in remission now, but their medical bills were really high,” Bergweiler said, which caused the couple to spend the money they planned to use for home repairs on medical treatment. CAP stepped in to help the family with the repairs.

House2

O’Connor calls the trip her best UMass memory. “I think learning to work together with all different types of people throughout the trip and getting to know them while helping the family at the same time was the best part.” The diversity of the volunteers was an aspect she appreciated as well. “It was really cool how all the helpers came from different walks of life but had the same common goal of wanting to help the family and really worked together to achieve that.”

Bergweiler did things in Kentucky that he had never done before. “I got up on the roof, knocked down a chimney with crowbars, added siding to the house, and put a metal roof over the existing shingle roof.

Seeing eastern Kentucky was also a highlight for Bergweiler. “We went to the original KFC restaurant, and Cumberland Falls, which was cool because I don’t see waterfalls very often.” Cumberland Falls is known as the “Niagara of the South,” and is located close to the camp where the group stayed.

Group_KFC

“My favorite part was how friendly the people we were helping were. They were very down to earth, and getting to know them was nice. The husband talked to me about how he was a firefighter and flew planes – he had a really full and interesting life.” Students often talked to the homeowners while working and on lunch breaks. They shared stories of faith and life at college and learned about life in Kentucky.

Bergweiler says he would definitely go on a similar trip again. “We improved the homeowners’ lives through direct impact, which was great.”

Lynn Pham found out about the trip through a friend. “It was a great bonding experience. I made a lot of new friends from UMass, who I never would have met otherwise. One of my favorite parts was playing games, like Taboo, a group word game, kind of like charades where people shout things out – it was a lot of fun.”

House_Mirielle

Pham has participated in a number of service projects before, but none made as big of an impact on her as Workfest 2013. “I’ve done food pantries, given donations, and worked at nursing homes. But I wanted to see my actual volunteer time being given to needy people as well as see the impact that I was making.”

By Elaine Y. Olive

Editor’s note: Elaine, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield, wrote this poem as a Thank You to the staff a the Mont Marie Health Care Center in Holyoke. She wanted to show her appreciation “for all the wonderful care they have given and still continue to give” to her mother, Bertha R. Paquet, age 98. Bertha has been a resident there since August, 2011. Elaine also taught at the former Sacred Heart School for 16 years.

Elaine notes: “I wrote it especially for the Mont Marie staff, but I also was thinking of all the unsung caregivers in our skilled nursing care facilities and hospitals.”

Bertha R. Paquet

Bertha R. Paquet

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, Holy, Holy

are crooked smiles

on vacant faces,

sunken cheeks

and toothless grins,

eyes closed

as one drifts

between this world

and the next.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

are voices who speak

but make no sense,

who repeat, “So, what’s

new with you?” all day,

who smile at everyone

not knowing anyone.

Holy, Holy, Holy

are aluminum walkers

with bright tennis ball

feet allowing frail guides

an easier walk

down the hall and back,

down the hall and back.

walker

Holy, Holy, Holy

are customized wheelchairs

providing comfort and

support to atrophied

limbs and bodies

unable to right themselves.

Holy, Holy, Holy

are chair alarms

signaling an unsafe move

of one attached,

call bells loudly ringing

requesting help to care

for once private needs,

televisions blaring for

ears no longer able to hear.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

are lamb’s wool

- Depends

- Adaptive eating utensils

like scoop bowls,

sippy cups,

special spoons

- bibs, called clothes

protectors

- pureed food

- hearing aid batteries

- portable oxygen tanks

- medications

- commodes

- stool softeners

- Ensure

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

are wandering souls

once pillars of society

many now forgotten

within this home

Blessed are you, Angels

of Mercy, who care for

their most basic needs,

for protecting them,

for supporting them,

for loving them as your won.

Blessed all hallowed souls

within these sacred walls and

halls, staff, caregivers and

residents alike,

Holy Holy, Holy are you.

Mont marie wide early spring 2011

Camden_NJ_poverty

Camden street scene

By Peggy Weber

When I told people I was journeying to Camden, New Jersey to interview Salesian Brother Mickey McGrath, the response was not a positive one.

Oh, people are impressed with the beautiful art work of Brother Mickey and they are excited that he will be visiting our diocese on May 21 and 22. However, most people said something to the effect, “Camden! Do you know that city is the murder capital of America?”

Brother Mickey at work

Brother Mickey at work


mickey working

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Camden. To me it was a sign on the New Jersey Turnpike that told me I was closer to Delaware. It was a landmark on the many trips I made to Washington, D. C. when my daughter lived there.

My son said he mentioned my trip to someone from New Jersey and that person said, “Is your mother bringing a body guard for the interview?”

I mentioned all of this to Brother Mickey when we arrived at the downtown Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The big iron gates that protect the rectory certainly indicated that Camden might be living up to its reputation. The vacant convent and people sleeping on doorsteps also clued us into the state of things. And the lack of activity in the downtown area certainly showed us that Camden has difficulties.

Sure the aquarium along the riverfront looked busy. However, as one gazed across the Delaware River to Philadelphia it looked like the Emerald City of Oz in comparison to poor Camden.

view of philly

View of Philly

“Camden is a very seriously challenged city. It had the highest murder rate in the country last year. And it is among the top five of poorest cities int he country, “said Brother Mickey from his Bee Still Studio.

http://www.beestill.org/

Recent census figures show that the population had continued to decline to 77,000. About 52 percent of those live in poverty.  The per capita income for Camden was $9,815 compared to the national average of $21,587.

You get the idea.

One could be depressed. However, I left Camden with great feelings of energy, inspiration and hope!

Why?

nice of mickey at door

Brother Mickey McGrath at his studio door

Well, there is Sacred Heart Parish in Camden. Under the leadership of Msgr. Michael Doyle, this parish provides a Catholic School, many creative programs and a voice for the voiceless.

http://sacredheartcamden.org

Brother Mickey told me that he came to Camden because Msgr. Michael invited him and because they both believe “that beauty heals and everyone is attracted to beauty!

Original art at Sacred Heart Parish

Original art at Sacred Heart Parish

And, of course, there is Brother Mickey — creating great art work in a row house near the parish.

“My ministry as an artist is to create beauty  and to help others see beauty, especially in the unexpected places,” he said.

Mickey making beautiful art!

Mickey making beautiful art!

He recently exhibited paintings of Camden that show this beauty — even in abandoned buildings.

And he wants people to know there is a heart to Camden.

Community Garden

Community Garden

“It’s not just all murder and mayhem. It’s families trying to make a go of it!”

Another positive sign in Camden is Hope works, founded by Jesuit Father Jeff Puthoff to provide technical skills to Camden’s youth.

http://www.hopeworks.org/

Now I am not planning my summer vacation in Camden but I learned on a gray, overcast Saturday that there is a lot of good there and I am glad I went.

Follow Peggy Weber on Twitter @spunfromtheweb.

Surely, a sign of hope!!!

Surely, a sign of hope!!!

By Peggy Weber,  Class of 1972

cathedral graduation 086

Two years ago, Cathedral High School sent one of its graduates off to Harvard University. That is quite an accomplishment since reports show that only 6 percent of applicants are accepted.

Last year, the class valedictorian for Cathedral was accepted at Harvard. And this year one of Cathedral’s students has already been accepted to Tufts University.

The school has initiated the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) which is praised by college admissions offices. There are plays, service projects, and even an astronomy club!

However, people don’t seem to be talking about those amazing accomplishments.

There is so much good going on at that school. Young people are getting a quality, faith-filled education. They are in a caring community.

Yes, they are not in their building on Surrey Road — YET! The Diocese of Springfield is fighting vigorously to get a just settlement so the school can be re-built properly.

I am not a patient person but I realize that anything involving lawyers takes time.

Sadly, as schools throughout the Diocese of Springfield celebrate Catholic Schools week I sense  an undercurrent of dismay and in some places despair about Cathedral High School.

I have heard comments. I have read letters in the newspaper. I have seen the pain on people’s faces.

None of us can speed up the settlement talks. But we can talk up the school. The Diocese is working to re-build Cathedral and people need to be positive and promote this wonderful place.

Right now the Cathedral community — and I count myself among that group — can do some things.

cathedral logo

We can encourage young people to attend this great school that gets its students into Harvard and other fine schools.

We can make a donation to help a family send their kids to Cathedral.

We can speak up and say positive things when we hear talk against Cathedral. This great school, which began in 1883, is still serving the area well.

We can pray! It helps.

And we can cheer on the number one boys’ hockey team in the state!

GO PANTHERS!!

Please spread this message and turn the tide of negativity and be a positive force for Cathedral.

Log onto http://www.cathedralhigh.org for information about admissions, donations or any other way you can help.

Last year's team at Fenway!

Last year’s team at Fenway!

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By Peggy Weber

When my daughter, Kerry, was in First Grade she was worried about when she would lose her first tooth. Everyone else in the class, she said, had lost a tooth! It was true. She was slow to get them and even slower to lose them.

Happily in the spring of first grade the first one finally came out.

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In the meantime, she had learned how to perform a cartwheel and got to show that skill with some of her classmates at the annual Holy Cross Musical.

It is this kind of “stuff” that kids and parents should remember about First Grade – not what families in Newtown, Conn. are recalling. Children should worry about losing teeth not the trauma of a gunman killing their classmates.

As the events of Dec. 14th unfolded, I kept thinking that the slaughter of young students could not have happened. What kind of troubled person would do something like this? And why?

I have no answers.

But I have found comfort watching and listening to the prayerful responses to such a horrific event. And I was especially inspired when watching Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of  St. Rose of  Lima Catholic Church in Newtown.

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He has made me proud to be Catholic. It has been wonderful to see what a caring and kind pastor he is during such an awful time. There are no classes in the seminary on how to handle something like this. He has been a brick. And his parish has responded in so many beautiful ways — including the planning of  special Mass the night of the shooting.

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I checked out the parish web site. Indeed, they have an impressive and active community.

On the site, they have been posting comments from people to the parish.

One was quite poignant. It was from Monsignor Basil O’Sullivan, an Irish priest living in Scotland. He sent condolences from the Dunblane, Scotland where a horrific shooting took the lives of many small children in March, 1996.

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The following link is their sympathetic message.

http://www.strosechurch.com/from-scotland/

It made me realize that there evil persists. But it also showed me how good people can be during terrible times.

It is to that I cling.

VICTIMS OF SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SHOOTING MASSACRE

The following is a  version of a homily given at Our Lady of the Cross Parish in Holyoke this past weekend by Conventual Franciscan Father Albert Scherer,  parochial vicar.

3rd Sunday of Advent

 

I am sure all of you have watched the news the past couple of days regarding the shooting that took place in Connecticut on Friday.  I am also sure that you were moved with compassion and sadness by the heart-wrenching images that you saw:

-      children with their eyes closed – their hands upon the shoulders of the student in front of them – being led out of the school by their teacher

-      the look of horror on the face of a relative

-      an emotional President brushing away a tear

-      the presence of so many police officers and state troopers

-      a grieving Pastor, who stated that he had baptized some of the children who were killed; a few who were preparing for their First Communion

There were two other images that struck me:

-      one was a scene of the local Methodist church where the church doors were open wide – inviting people to come inside to pray

CROWD SURROUNDS CATHOLIC CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT COMMUNITY ROCKED BY SCHOOL SHOOTING

-      the other was the scene of the Catholic church – St. Rose of Lima – where hundreds of people gathered inside for a prayer vigil and hundreds more gathered outside because there wasn’t enough room inside.

In the face of such a tragedy, when individuals feel so utterly helpless, they still have a desire to do something, to do anything.  And so, they go to a church to pray; they create shrines  -  placing flowers, lighting candles, bringing stuffed animals; they lower a flag to half staff; they make signs  -  Hug a teacher today, Our love, thoughts and prayers are with you.

ROSE SET ON CROSS AT MEMORIAL TO SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SHOOTING VICTIMS

My sisters and brothers, even though we do not live in Newtown, we feel the anguish of those residents.  Our hearts ache for them, and with them!  Our hearts may ache a little more compared to other shootings that have taken place in other schools in our country because this time we are mourning children – six and seven year olds – innocent children – 12 little girls and 8 boys, killed just days before we celebrate Christmas.

Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Gaudete Sunday – thus the reason for the rose colored candle in the Advent wreath and the rose vestments that I am wearing.  Gaudete Sunday derives its name from St. Paul’s urging of the community “to rejoice always.”  St. Paul would understand why our rejoicing is rather low-key today.

And yet, St. Paul would also remind us why we need to rejoice – even in the face of such grief; especially in the face of such grief.

The Lord is near.  The God of peace is near.

MOURNERS GATHER AT NEWTOWN'S CATHOLIC CHURCH FOR VIGIL SERVICE FOLLOWING SCHOOL TRAGEDY

My sisters and brothers, whenever such a horrific tragedy occurs, there are always some individuals who ask:  “Where was God?”  “If God is so near, how come God did not stop the shooter?”  Some of you may be wondering the same thing.  It’s a fair question.

Now isn’t the time to get into a theological discussion on “free will.”  But let’s face it – we all value our freedom!  We all value our right to choose; to make choices; to make decisions.

PAINTED ANGELS STAND AS MEMORIAL TO THOSE SLAIN IN SHOOTING TRAGEDY  IN NEWTOWN, CONN.

God will not force us to love Him.  God will not force us to love others.  God will not force us to keep His Ten Commandments.  Those are choices we must make.  Our free will allows us to make such choices.  On Friday, the shooter in Newtown violated his free will and he did so in a most grievous way.

And so we may ask:  “Where was God in Friday’s shooting?”

FAMILY PRAYS AT MAKESHIFT MEMORIAL OUTSIDE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NEWTOWN

God was there  -  giving courage to those terrified teachers as they protected their students.

God was there  -  guiding those first responders on the scene who bravely rushed into a dangerous situation.

God was there  -  embracing each one of those children as He welcomed them into heaven.

God was there  -  and is there  -  for all those affected by the shooting.

My friends, this is our faith!  This is what Christmas is all about:  Jesus was born for us  -  for each and every one of us!  Jesus, Emmanuel, a name which means:  God is with us!  This is our faith.

My sisters and brothers, what would we ever do without our faith?  In times of tragedy, what would we do without our faith in Jesus Christ?

In times of sickness, in times of physical and emotional pain, our faith gives us strength to make it through one more day.

In times of weakness, in times of sinfulness, our faith assures us of God’s mercy.

In times of grief, our faith promises Resurrection; promises new life; promises eternal life.

In normal times, in busy times, in times of joy, in times of sadness, our faith remains a “constant” in our lives   …  Jesus, Emmanuel, remains with us always!  Our refuge, our strength, our hope.

What would we ever do without the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives?

PEOPLE VISIT MEMORIAL TO SHOOTING VICTIMS OUTSIDE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NEWTOWN

For the past two days, as people often do in the midst of tragedy, individuals in Connecticut and throughout our country (and even the world) turned to God.  Turning to God in prayer is the most important thing that we can do!  Prayer is really the only thing we can do in the face of such a senseless tragedy.

My friends, whether here in church or in the privacy of your homes, please take the time to pray that God will bring some good out of this horrific tragedy.

Photos  courtesy of Catholic News Service.

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