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By Peggy Weber
The headlines are frantic and frequent. But they are not about two Mexican priests who were found murdered Monday, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
Few are talking about how the priests were abducted from their church.
Instead, the world seems obsessed to discuss the impending divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
It is sad news for that family, but the press might want to focus more on a more important topic, like the deaths of these two men who were working to help the poor in an area that reportedly is controlled by drug cartels.
They are not alone.
Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi. They, too, were working to help the poor.
And on Sept. 14, Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit while celebrating Mass in a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen. He was killed by youths caliming allegiance to the Islamic State. Pope Francis has declared Father Hamel a martyr.
St. Pope John Paul II tried to draw attention to the continuation of Christian/Catholic martyrdom During Jubilee Year 2000, he wrote, “the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs.” He established a Commission on New Martyrs to collect testimonies from around the world. It includes the names of more than thirteen thousand Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant witnesses of the faith.
More and more names are added each day.
Noted reporter John Allen wrote that between 2006 and 2010 “Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the center calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.”
If you google the topic “modern Christian martyrs” a staggering number of “hits” appear. One contains a list of hundreds of priests and nuns who have been murdered.
And everyone might think about what it might mean to be a martyr in this day in age. It was reported that the man who stabbed nine people at a Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota asked one person if he were a Muslim. What would you have answered if you knew your life would be spared? Would you be willing to join the list of martyrs?
The trend is real and something that needs attention – more attention than a Hollywood divorce.
The following is the homily given by Springfield Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell at the Chalice of Salvation Mass held at the Big E on Sept. 18.
While there are 50 States in the Union, there are far more than 50 State Fairs for some States have more than one. The most unusual, however, has to be right here at the Eastern States Exposition, the Big E, for it is not simply one State but six that call this
fair their own. All the States of New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) are part of this one hundred year old exhibition and extravaganza. And we come together this Sunday morning here under the tent, and through the wonder of television, to thank God for the blessings of the past 100 years, and to pause in gratitude for all that the Big E is and has been. For it has been a respite from the pressures of everyday life, a chance to get away from the underbelly of shoddiness about which the prophet Amos warns in the first reading or the craftiness of the self-seeker Jesus describes in the Gospel.
The Big E has been a chance for families and individuals to take to heart the call to “come apart and rest awhile.” And while its acreage may be tough on the feet, the Big E has proven to be balm for the spirit over the years.
In 1916 it started, like so many State Fairs, as an agricultural event, a National Dairy Show, and to this day it has stayed true to its roots as a visit to the various farm exhibits will show. But so much more has been added over the years from the regional highlights of the individual State buildings to the Big Name entertainment to the circus, the Mardi Gras, and all the vendors especially those providing those Big E food specialties that can be found nowhere else. I urge you to visit the Young building here on the Exposition grounds for an exhibit on the past one hundred years of the Big E. It’s titled “A Century of Greatness” and, like just about everything here at the Big E, it exceeds expectations.
Think of all that the Big E stands for. It is and always has been an opportunity to rest and relax, to enjoy a family-friendly atmosphere as we try to sample a worthy variety of the hundreds of attractions. We know especially of the food for the stomach, there’s also been food for the soul. For almost half its existence the Big E has arranged for the celebration of Mass every Sunday of its operation. Twice each Sunday, an opportunity is provided so that Catholic exhibitors, volunteers, employees and guests can put God at the heart of their day. And the tradition has arisen that on the first Sunday of the Fair, the Bishop of Springfield celebrates the Mass. Today we’re expanding that tradition and substituting another bishop, yours truly, only because Bishop Rozanski cannot be in three places at once. Don’t tell him, but I’m delighted I got to celebrate this Mass once again.
For, like you, I come to the Big E each year with certain expectations. I expect that there will be great exhibits, delicious food and outstanding attractions. I come with a certain mindset, ready like you to enjoy myself– and each year I find expectations fully met and, more often than not, exceeded.
Today’s gospel is about expectations as well. And it’s about expectations turned upside down. It’s not what we expect of God.
Our picture of God is influenced to some extent by our ordinary way of looking at things and that is why, as we listen to this gospel, we are tempted to react and wonder why Jesus seems to commend the dishonest steward. For the dishonest steward, in order to gain an in with his master’s debtors, changed the IOU’s owed to his master, cheating the master of what he was rightfully due. Jesus tells us to be as astute in the things of God as the steward was in looking out for himself. In other words, the Gospel today really challenges us to ask what it means to call ourselves Christian. God entrusts each of us as stewards of his generosity, with unique gifts, unique opportunities, unique situations. The only request he makes is that we should each do our utmost to share his Good News with others before his return.
Today’s gospel is also a reminder of how we can forget that we have no claim to this world’s goods over and above our brothers and sisters at home or elsewhere. Creation and life itself are God’s gifts, given for all equally. We are entrusted with true wealth. Talents and work opportunities are not entitlements for selfish ends but rather make one responsible for building a better world for all. No matter how small is the contribution we make to our neighbor’s welfare, our neighbor’s welfare is our responsibility as followers of Christ.
Look at the outpouring of support for the victims of the recent flooding in Louisiana, and the killer earthquakes in Italy and Myramar. There was a need; people responded to it. There was no question of who did or didn’t deserve help; there was a heartfelt realization that people were in need. And, so, everything that individuals and communities could do was undertaken. People reached out to help other people.
The point Jesus makes with the parable is that God’s generosity to us is meant to be shown to others if we are truly to serve God. And it is to be shown without stinting, without cutting back, without short-changing the gifts that God has given us that we might use them for love of God and neighbor. Now that gives us pause since realistically we know our generosity is often tempered and not ongoing like that of God. We don’t intend to forget those in need, but our attention span is limited. Being human, we can forget the necessity for ongoing response. Paradoxically, then, I’m going to ask you to remember that we shouldn’t forget. Our generosity, like that of God, needs to be ongoing.
The Gospel is a challenge to be as generous as God is. Before the Almighty we all stand like beggars; we haven’t earned our salvation; Christ died for it. Everything we have is a free gift of God’s love and mercy. We cannot explain his generosity, but one thing is certain – God’s ways are not our ways. Our challenge is to make our ways more like his.
In a real sense, learn from your experience here at the Big E. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the mood, note the way strangers are more at ease with one another, note the friendliness, note the pace of life where people saunter rather than scramble, and carry that lesson with you back to the everyday. For it is a lesson that is truly in keeping with our challenge as Christians: to accept God’s generosity to ourselves and share it with our neighbor.
By Father William Hamilton
Chaplain for the Mass. State Police, Springfield Police Dept., Easthampton Police and Fire Depts., Agawam Fire Dept., and ATF, overseeing the New England Field Division
The morning started out like any other. I was on retreat at Ender’s Island in Mystic, CT. The air was crisp and clean. The smell of the salt water permeated the air and the sky was a brilliant blue with no clouds in sight.
We were celebrating Mass in the Chapel when during the general intercessions, one of the workers came in and informed us that something was happening in New York; they thought a small private plane had hit one of the towers. We immediately prayed for all involved not knowing how serious this event would become.
Upon completing Mass, we were invited into the retreat house to watch the news. It was there that the full scope of reality was laid upon us. As we watched a second plane hit the towers. Not private, they were commercial. At that instant my pager for the Massachusetts State Police went off asking where I was and what my proximity to Headquarters was. I was on my way home now to await further instructions.
Fifteen years ago, we all watched in horror as what we knew of an American way of life, forever changed. Within the span of endless minutes, iconic towers tumbled to the ground planes crashed and the Pentagon attacked. Thousands of lives were lost. A willed and hate- filled event by an ideology that has existed from the beginning of time stole the little innocence we had left. A thought that somehow we cannot coexist together and share what is not ours has prevailed through the adverse actions of a few. However, there are still the masses of good people who would rather use, to the best of our abilities, what is for the common good.
Since that day, the moral fabric decayed, and unprecedented selfishness and entitlement have continued to grow in our land. Hatred abounds, fear is copiously laid upon us and we are frequently reminded that we are no more secure or peaceful now, than we were on that bright September morning 15 years ago.
Fifteen years later, we gather once again, promising to remember and to never forget. The question before us is what are we remembering and what are we not forgetting?
Thousands died that day, who are still mourned and whose seats at the table are still empty. Buildings were destroyed. Planes were crashed. Landscapes changed to burial grounds. But now, they are a fleeting memory as where they once stood are quiet tranquil memorials and new testaments to humankind’s dauntless tenacity to rebuild bigger and stronger.
Sadly, much of our collective memory remembers the horror, the hatred, the clouds of debris, the wailing of sirens and the crushing sounds of torn, twisted and melted steel.
Like the tranquil setting of Memorial Park and the new Trade Tower in New York,, would it not strengthen our resolve to remember that hatred is quenched by mercy, vengeance gives way to forgiveness and peoples of different races, creeds, and cultures can and do join hands in friendship?
Fifteen years later we are compelled by history and a dignity that only few in this world enjoy, to stand for what is right, good and just. Not living in fear or hatred, we strive to build a more fertile world, where all God’s children might live in true harmony and concord. This, like the Memorial Park and the new tower, the field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, will be the legacy we leave to our children and our children’s children. That the memory of that fateful day did not cloud our vision, or lower us to a standard that is not ours, but challenged us to rise to an occasion that helped usher in a new world order of peace, justice, equality, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, seeking out the least in our midst and raising them to a new heights of dignity.
Let us pray then today for all victims of violence and terrorism around the world, and for their families, that they may find comfort and peace.
That the Governments and religious institutions may continue to provide care and healing for all, especially those affected by the attacks on September 11, 2001.
That national leaders may work together to address the problems that provide fertile ground for the growth of terrorism, and work together for an end to hatred and revenge and lead us in ways of mutual respect and dignity for all – with the ability to establish the ultimate gift of justice which is mercy.
And so we Pray:
God of faithfulness, we come before you today filled with both sorrow and hope. We are in need of your grace to redirect our hearts. We are in need of the fire of your love to rekindle and sustain our passion for justice. We are in need of your wisdom that we might recognize anew your presence dwelling within us, calling us to live as children of light and hope rather than of darkness and fear.
Be with us in our prayer this day. Help us to truly believe, not only in your abiding presence within and among us, but in the power of our prayer to move mountains.
Receive graciously into your kingdom, our colleagues who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting, serving and preserving our freedoms. Send your comforting spirit upon all who mourn their passing and fill them with the hope of your infinite love. Give them rest from their labors for their good deeds go before them. Give us who remain the assurances of faith and the resolve to continue their legacy in preserving life and true liberty by establishing your kingdom of justice, love and peace here and now, that we may fully experience on the day to come
All this we ask in the name of Jesus our brother, who shares our lives and yours, in the unity of the Spirit, one God, Forever and ever. Amen.
By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
Director of Communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor
Grandparents Day is Sept. 11
For many young Catholics the defining moment of the summer took place in Poland, where Pope Francis joined over a million teens and young adults for World Youth Day. Although we Little Sisters of the Poor spend our lives in the service of the elderly rather than the young, we followed the festivities in Krakow with great interest. For us, the most exciting moment of the event came at the very end, when Pope Francis told young people that the best way to prepare for the next World Youth Day is to spend time talking to their grandparents!
This is not the first time that Pope Francis has spoken to the young about the old. He did so at his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. “At this moment, you young people and you elderly people are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. Don’t allow yourselves to be excluded … Make yourselves heard; take care of the two ends of the population: the elderly and the young; do not allow yourselves to be excluded and do not allow the elderly to be excluded,” he exclaimed in 2013.
Speaking in Rio on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, Pope Francis continued with the same theme: “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family … Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives. This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!”
Echoing these sentiments in Krakow, our Holy Father told the youth that if they want to be hope for the future they must talk to their grandparents because “a young person who cannot remember is not hope for the future.” As Little Sisters, we would like to offer young people some suggestions about how to talk to their grandparents and elders.
First, keep in mind that the elderly are not really very different from you. Although the means of communication and other technologies have changed since they were young, deep down your grandparents probably had interests very similar to your own when they were your age. Ask them about their greatest challenges in school, what they did in their free time, their memories of family life or, for those who are immigrants, what it was like adapting to a new culture.
If you are facing important decisions ask your grandparents’ advice. How did they discern what college to attend, or what career to pursue? How did they know that their future spouse was the right one for them? How did they navigate the ups and downs of married life, raising children and other important relationships? What advice can they offer you about getting a job, finding an apartment, or buying a car?
Ask your grandparents about their joys, accomplishments and even their disappointments and failures. Invite them to share their values, their personal heroes, how they got through the tough times, and the role of faith in their lives. Confide to them your hopes and fears, your dreams and anxieties, and ask them to pray for you – the elderly are powerful intercessors!
Pope Francis seizes every possible opportunity to encourage young people to reach out to their grandparents because, as he says, “they have the wisdom of life and can tell you things that will stir your hearts.” He speaks from personal experience, often referring to the profound influence of his grandmother on his life. “I still carry with me, always, in my breviary, the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing on the day of my priestly ordination,” he confides. “I read them often and they do me good.”
As Little Sisters, we are happy to help youth connect with their grandparents and other elders by offering volunteer opportunities to individuals and groups. We are sure that, like our Holy Father, you will learn lessons that will last a lifetime!
By Peggy Weber
I was blessed at age 27 to attend a press conference with Mother Teresa. You can see me in my mint green dress on the left. I have on a red ribbon and still wear my hair the same way. The photo is from Marquette’s archives and my daughter, Elizabeth, found it.
Soon-to-be St. Teresa was amazing. I recalled the experience in an article for The Catholic Observer in 1985, when she was visiting the Diocese of Springfield.
I still cannot believe I asked her about her retirement plans. But I will always remember her kindness, her eyes and her smile.
Enjoy this article from the archives and enjoy my photos from a day long ago that I remember quite well.
FROM THE CATHOLIC OBSERVER
“Strong, clear, loving blue eyes. That’s what I think of and remember best from my meeting with Mother Teresa of India four years ago.
I was working for the Catholic Herald newspaper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when it was announced the famous missionary would visit the Midwest and be given an award from Marquette University. I was assigned to cover the award’s Mass and attend the press conference.
In preparation for the event,, I began reading all about the Yugoslavian girl who joined an Irish order, taught in India and then began her own order which serves the poor and dying. Her work and reputation were so impressive that I was not prepared to see a tiny, frail little woman walk into Mass.
But even in her ‘little way’ she radiated strength. All during Mass, people were taking pictures of her (me too) but she didn’t look around. She was there to pray and communicate with her Master. She did give one big smile though, when two young Indian children were part of the Offertory procession.
Later she admitted that she didn’t like having her picture taken. She said she offered it up for the souls in purgatory. The with a grin she added, ‘I must have helped a lot of souls today.’
When laughter filled those incredible eyes, I thought to myself –now I know what it means to see Christ in another human being. She was magnificent. She was demure, aging and a foreigner, but she was witty, serene and strong. She held firm when reporters hounded her about her pro life stand and she said, ‘abortion is the greatest poverty a nation can experience.’
She showed so much love when she asked her listeners to discover that the poor and dying are somebody, too. She never wavered in her stands on church issues yet she also was so calm and forgiving.
When it was my turn to ask a question I couldn’t think of anything ‘tough’ to ask her. Most of the ‘good stuff’ had been used by the secular reporters but I wanted to speak with her. So I asked her about her future plans for herself and her order. (She was 70-years-old then). I can’t recall her answer exactly, but I do remember that she smiled at me and I looked into her eyes and if at that moment she had asked me to come to India to work I would have said yes. There I was trying to be an objective reporter but she was so impressive. And the beauty in her magnificence is that she doesn’t really think it’s a big deal. After all, she is just doing what God asks of us, to love one another.”
By Julie Beaulieu
Catholic Communications reporter
At almost age 3, my daughter, Viola, had not been to Six Flags New England yet. When I found out about Catholic Youth Day at Six Flags this summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity for her first experience.
Entering the park early, Viola was already in awe walking through and seeing all of the attractions. We both wore Mater Dolorosa T-shirts, since she will be starting preschool there in September. As we entered the picnic area for Mass, Viola felt right at home with our faith community. She recognized our crew from Catholic Communications, our parish family from St. Michael Cathedral in Springfield, and Bishop Mitchell Rozanski. She said to me during Mass, “I want to see Bishop Mitch.” I took Viola to the middle aisle and said, “There he is with the pink hat (referring to his zuchetto).” Viola replied, “Oh, he looks so cute.”
In his Homily, Bishop Mitch discussed the importance of play, relaxation, and recreational time. He said how it was important for the kids present to have fun before beginning a new school year. And, he added that adults need time to de-stress and relax as well. Viola enjoyed the music, and, even though we were not in a church building, she still was able to identify that we were, “in church.”
Viola said, “Mommy, I want to see Bishop Mitch,” and I replied, “We will, after Mass.” We waited in line with all of the children to shake the bishop’s hand and get our photo taken. Since I’ve known Bishop Mitch, he has been very kind and approachable to the youth of our diocese. This is very evident in events I have attended and events I have covered for Catholic Communications.
Next, we were able to go on the rides. Viola was very excited. Because of her petite size, she was still one inch short for the height requirement; therefore, I needed to sit with her on the rides. I didn’t mind at all.
Happily I recalled how each year I went to Six Flags as a youth with my family. At the time it was called Riverside. For more than 20 years, my father was a printer at Haino Business Forms in Springfield, and each year they had their summer picnic at Riverside. My older half-sister and I would look forward to that day all year.
Although it looks much different now, the Thunderbolt roller coaster still stands strong, and I recalled that the entrance to the picnic area was behind it. Each year, I sat with my mom for bingo, anxiously awaiting my twelfth birthday so I could play, while my dad had a beer and played horse shoes with his work buddies.
I remember the year I dropped my stuffed animal in a mud puddle in the parking lot and cried. And, I recall when my mom got her toe sliced open in the fun house. It was a good lesson about not wearing sandals to the park. Most of all, I remember when my dad won a giant poodle for me. Before I knew it, it was the summer of 1988, and my last trip to the shop picnic before turning 18.
When I heard my daughter’s laugh and saw her smile, I recalled how that amusement park is a place where families make happy memories, and now, on Catholic Youth Day, it is also a place where God is present, and memories are also made with parishes, Catholic schools, Catholic youth groups, and our faith community.
By Father Frank Lawlor
Administrator, St. Mary Parish, Westfield
The following reflection first appeared in St. Mary’s Parish bulletin.
This weekend I celebrate my 60th birthday! I officially become an old man! Unfortunately for the past year or two I have been feeling very old and this calendar marker has simply confirmed the obvious. But this occasion has given me pause to look back a bit and to reflect on how I got to where I am. One of the realities of my life these days is waking up on many mornings with a simple question or a prayer (depending on the day)…How did I get myself here?
The answer is unquestionably the Holy Spirit and I urge all of you to spend time in your prayer talking to this third person of the trinity, asking for guidance and strength.
A little more than 6 years ago I was sitting on the top floor of one of the tallest skyscrapers in Boston wondering why I wasn’t satisfied in my work. I had two secretaries and a large staff and lived a life that I could have only dreamed of 20 years earlier. I was in charge of hundreds of people who generated 30-40 million dollars a year….but I wasn’t happy. I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance and oh boy did I get it. Be careful what you pray for. This Holy Spirit has an incredible sense of humor and I am certain he was roaring with laughter as he sent me back to my beginnings.
In late August of 1976 my parents dropped me off at a seminary in Baltimore, MD. It took me 38 years until I was finally ordained. I must be a slow learner. I have to have the Guinness Book of Records for the longest stay in a seminary. During those years I lived and loved and grew. The Holy Spirit was always at my elbow guiding me along a not so simple path. Thank God he got me out of the seminary when he did and allowed me to experience life. I would have been the most naïve, rule-book-toting priest that anyone had ever seen. During my “year off” to “think about things” I experienced the joy of marriage, the awesomeness of a family, the challenges of a business career and all of the roller coaster of emotions that go with each. I was present for the birth of my children, and sat next to my son while he successfully battled cancer. I also sat through endless dance recitals and t-ball games. I stayed up late waiting for my daughter to come home from dates and walked her down the aisle at her wedding. I have even visited my son’s office at the top of one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers. I have experienced the joys and tribulations of life in all of its vibrancy.
Now at sixty I find myself at a new place with new challenges. The road that began in the mid-seventies has now led me here to St. Mary’s, to a parish that I am both familiar with and learning about. I am excited about the prospects for the future and determined to do what I can to get us there. I am a lucky man.
The Holy Spirit and His sense of humor will continue to accompany me on this life journey. I really have no idea what the next intersection will bring but I am certain that by trusting in that Spirit and surrendering to His guidance we will all be okay. As I cross this “old-man” threshold I thank you for the trust and support that you have given to me and I ask that you pray for me and for each other so that we will all have the faith and courage to face the life that the Lord has planned for us.
By Laura Suttenfield
I am a 20-year-old Catholic woman and I always thought I knew what that meant. Have you ever heard of “the feminine genius”? I definitely had. Have you always thought it sounded kind of mushy, and never bothered to find out what it meant? I definitely took no action towards enlightening myself. I didn’t want to be associated with anything gross. Little did I know that the feminine genius was about to rock my world when I encountered women who didn’t only know what it meant; they lived it, and encouraged me to do the same.
The GIVEN Forum, sponsored by a group of women’s religious orders, seeks to empower women through faith formation and networking to be leaders in their communities. it’s what I and Claire Nauman, both rising juniors in college, and both from Belchertown, were able to go to from June 7 – 12 in Washington, D.C. this past month. The theme that shaped that particular week was: Receive the gift that you are, realize the gifts you have been given, and respond with the gift that only you can give.
The GIVEN Forum brings together 300 Catholic young women from every state in the country, all of whom possess skills, desires, and motivation to share their gifts and talents in the Church and in the world. Another hundred sisters from various religious communities joined us as mentors, small-group leaders, and facilitators. Every woman who was accepted received a complete scholarship to attend which covered all travel and meal costs, specifically intended to symbolize the Church’s encouragement of young women. The sponsor was the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, or CMSWR, and funded through the generosity of, primarily, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
The GIVEN Forum was focused on action. In the world, there are a lot of calls to action that perhaps stem from good desires but are arrive at the wrong conclusions (pro-choice? Anti-immigration?). What better to counter that than action rooted in prayer and in the enormous velocity that women have for their own God-given ideas and inspirations – all in service to others, and out of love? The 300 women in business, academia, communications, and sciences, are not the future of the Church. These women are the Church, and the New Evangelization is right now. We were privileged to listen to several speakers each day – including none less than: Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University; Dr. Carolyn Woo, the CEO of Catholic Relief Services; Sr. Maria Theotókos Adams, SSVM, a beautiful speaker and educator; and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, a founding member of the Sisters of Life and the chairperson of the CMSWR, who before entering religious life was a professor of psychology at Columbia University, and who inspired the vocation of a priest in our diocese.
The GIVEN Forum was beyond inspiring, but the point of writing this article is not so you, my brother or sister in Christ, can leave vaguely thinking that something happened that a couple of young women really liked a month ago. What have you been given by God? Do you realize that you are a gift? How much time do you spend in dedicated prayer, with just you and the Lord? How much time do you spend thanking Him for these gifts? How have you put these gifts to the service of others?
I now know what the feminine genius really means, and it’s nothing less than the unique capacity of women to give of herself to others. Edith Stein got a lot of love at the conference as a saint and a scholar particularly interested in what it means to be a woman of God, and the quote on the cover of the 100+ page binder that was handed out to all of us as we checked in perhaps says it best. “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”
I had the opportunity to go to confession during that week, and the priest called me to reflect on the Forum’s mission statement – to realize the gift that I am, the gifts that I have been given, and to respond with the gift that only I can give.
The priest asked me, “What is the gift only you can give?” I responded, “Myself.” He said, “Then start giving.”
Read more about Laura’s experience at:
By Stacy Dibbern
Stacy is the manager of the Annual Catholic Appeal and special projects. She and her husband, Jamie, were first-time volunteers at Camp Sunshine.
What did you do on your summer vacation? Isn’t that the question we are asked most when we return from a week’s absence? Well, this year, my husband Jamie and I volunteered at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine. Camp Sunshine is a camp that serves families of children with life-threatening illnesses. The unique thing about Camp Sunshine is that the whole family attends camp together- sick kids, siblings, parents, and in some cases, grandparents, all without paying a penny. Each family is sponsored by generous donors.
The session began on Saturday morning with the arrival of camp volunteers. There were about 80 volunteers for our session- Oncology week. Volunteers came from as far away as Florida and represented families, schools and church youth groups. They ranged in age from 16 to one couple in their 60s. Many of the volunteers were camp families at one time.
As “rookie” camp volunteers, Jamie and I were unsure what to expect. We had applied for volunteer positions in early spring and knew a few people who had worked at camp before, but as with anything new, we were a little nervous preparing for camp.
Upon arrival, we were met by Carol, a camp staff member, who gave us our room keys and name tags. We were rather early (many of our family and friends joke about how we are always early!) so we found our room and unpacked. We were told that we might be sharing our room with other volunteers so we chose the room with two beds in it, leaving the bunk beds and the futon for anyone who might be joining us later. It turned out that we had the room to ourselves!
After unpacking, we still had time before the volunteer orientation so we decided to explore the grounds. What we found was a magical place- complete with a mini-golf course, climbing wall, “wishing pond” (more on that later!), lakefront beach, volleyball court, playgrounds and really cool outdoor kitchen. We were in love with the place and we hadn’t even met anyone yet!!!
At 11:00 the volunteers gathered in the dining hall for our orientation and assignments. Jamie was assigned to “Kitchen Crew” which meant that he was helping to prepare and serve three meals a day to more than 200 campers and volunteers. The Kitchen Crew consisted of three staff members and about 15 volunteers. I was assigned to the “Tot Lot and Nursery” which serves children from birth through 5 years old. I was going to be working one-on-one with a 4 year-old boy who has ALL (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia). I was a little nervous- would he like me?
Families started arriving at around 2pm and we were ready! There were volunteers assigned to help families with their luggage, greeting families, and many other activities. Jamie and I didn’t have a specific assignment so we decided to sit on the front porch and greet folks as they arrived. We heard harrowing stories of long car rides (it was Saturday of the July 4th weekend!!) and clogged highways but every family was all smiles when they jumped out of their cars.
Dinner was the first time we all gathered together- yellow shirts (volunteers) were told that if a camp family is in line behind you, that you should direct them to the front of the line. Many of the parents in the camp families weren’t comfortable with this “rule” but the kids loved it!! This mealtime ritual continued throughout camp and the parents got a little more comfortable with it (especially when there was ice cream for dessert!)
Each day, the Tot Lot & Nursery volunteers gathered in a pre-school style room complete with more toys, games and ride-ons than you could imagine. We had a fenced-in play lot outdoors that included a sandbox, swings, slides and houses for imaginary play. Our youngest child was 16 months old- he was so adorable!! We had a total of 9 campers in the Tot Lot.
On Tuesday, a group of three Navy SEALs and one Coast Guardsman completed the “No Man Left Behind” Challenge to raise awareness and funds for military families to attend camp. They headed off on bicycles at 8 a.m. from the front parking lot and biked 15 miles, then swam ½ mile, then ran 3.5 miles, then biked another 15 miles, then ran another 5 miles then swam another 2 miles, and finished off the challenge with a 5 mile kayak trip to the shores of Camp Sunshine. All completed in under 7 hours- these guys were so cool! Then they stayed at camp for the rest of the week just hanging out with the kids and playing Newcomb Volleyball, dancing, singing, whatever the campers wanted!
A typical day included parents dropping their children off at 9 a.m. in their groups and heading off to their own activities. Parents had group therapy sessions, challenge course activities and games such as Super Dooper Bloopers. At noon, parents would gather their children and head to the dining hall for lunch. The young ones (up to age 8) stayed with their families for “rest time” until 2 p.m., while the 9-12 and teens went back to their groups. At 2 p.m. the little ones returned for afternoon activities. Play-doh, movies, mini-golf or arts and crafts were the favorites. At 5 p.m., parents again retrieved their kids for dinner and whatever evening activities were planned. There was a masquerade ball on one night, fireworks on the 4th, a talent show and the Celebration night. Celebration night included launching “wishboats” on the pond. Children decorated their wishboats during arts and crafts time and on Wednesday night, the entire camp gathered around the wishing pond. This was a very emotional event- some of the families have children who are still receiving treatment for their various cancers. After the wishboat launch, we went inside for the Celebration Show- a time for each group to get up on stage and do a skit of some sort. The Tot Lot group sang Yankee Doodle while playing various instruments. Each group had a great time and got a standing ovation!
While saying goodbye was difficult- we had developed some very strong bonds with many of the camp families- Jamie and I knew that it would not be the end of our service to Camp Sunshine. We have already decided that we will give at least one week each summer to serve the wonderful families there. We also decided that our goal this year will be to sponsor one family to attend a session at camp, a $2500 endeavor. Upon our return, we reached out to family and friends asking them to consider making a donation to this very worthy cause.
The following is the homily for the Fifth Anniversary of the Establishment of St. John Paul II Parish, Southbridge, MA. and the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Notre Dame Church given by Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski.
2 Chronicles 5:6-10, 13-6
1 Corinthians 3: 9c-11, 16-17
Matthew 16: 13-19
Bishop McManus, Fr. Joyce, brother priests, deacons,
women and men religious and dear parishioners of Pope St.
John Paul II parish:
When Bishop Thomas Beaven arrived here in
Southbridge to dedicate this Church of Notre Dame, what
awe he must have felt to see such a beautiful church, an
astounding steeple that graces this town and an interior that
welcomed him to an antechamber of heaven. We gather
here today, one hundred years after Bishop Beaven
dedicated this magnificent church, still in awe of its beauty
and in awe of the great faith of those who have gone before
It was their sacrifices that built this church and it is a
physical representation of what was so dear to them as they
settled in Southbridge from their towns and villages in
France. Similarly, as we mark the fifth anniversary of the
establishment of Pope St. John Paul II parish, we thank God
for the love of our Catholic Faith that the Polish, Irish and
Spanish ancestries have brought to this area of Southbridge.
In the early part of the last century, immigration to this
part of Massachusetts was based upon the industrial works
that were so predominant here, the various mills and
factories that provided a living for families. The churches
that were established reflected the ethnic makeup of the area
and provided a touchstone for the people to have a
connection with both the lands from which they came and
the faith that was the fabric of their lives.
In the first reading from the book of Chronicles, we
hear of the great rejoicing of the Hebrew people when they
dedicated the temple built under the reign of King Solomon.
Not only did the people find that they had a home on earth
for God to dwell, but they themselves felt at home with God.
The Lord’s glory filled that temple and brought great joy to
The people of Israel. It was the fulfillment of God’s
Promise made in the book of the prophet Ezekiel 37:27,
“My dwelling place will also be with them; and I will be
their God, and they will be my people.” What greater
joy can we have than the abiding presence of God with us
In His covenant sealed with the Body and Blood of His Son.
When the sacrifice of Christ is manifested at each Mass, we
participate fully in the presence of God and not in a cloud,
but in the bread and wine, we are nourished and sustained
with this food for the journey.
Throughout his life, St. John Paul II was ever conscious
Of God’s presence to him, especially in the sad times of his
youth. As a young child, he lost his mother and later his
older brother; as a teenager, he lost his father. Who else did
he have but the God who gave him life and the Blessed
Mother to give him the mantle of her protection. After such
tragedy, he suffered through both Nazi and Communist
persecution that sought to obliterate both Faith and
Homeland. Yet, though all of this, he persisted in his
priestly vocation, gathered the young people to strengthen
their faith, accepted the will of God when he was called to
be a bishop at age 38 and offered himself sacrificially to the
Universal Church when he was elected Pope on October 16,
1978, the feast of St. Hedwig.
St. John Paul teaches us the importance of remaining
faithful, even in the most adverse times, to God who is ever
faithful to us. If anyone had the excuse to become
embittered at life, Karol Woytyla had many reasons. Yet,
his faithfulness to God allowed him to be for the world of the
late 20th and early 21st centuries, a Witness to Hope, as
George Weigel entitled his biography of this great saint.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples the question:
“Who do people say that the son of Man is?” It seems to be
a general question of curiosity.
After they give their answers, Jesus makes this a very
personal question, “And you, who do you say that the Son
of Man is.” Over these years, beginning one hundred and
seventy-five years ago when the first Mass was celebrated in
Southbridge by Father James Fitton, SJ, through the
churches of St. Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Hedwig,
Notre Dame, St. Peter, so many have sought to answer Jesus’
question with the response of their dedicated Faith. The
question that Jesus poses to His Apostles in the Gospel is
also asked of us. We seek to answer it, not only with our
lips, but by living as those redeemed in His Blood, following
Jesus’ invitation to us to live the Gospel. Our Faith is a
dynamic one; ever changing to adapt to the needs of our day,
yet rooted in teachings of Jesus. Our ancestors who arrived
in the United States as immigrants faced many challenges,
poverty, discrimination and isolation being but a few that we
know. Yet, it was their faith that carried them through,
rooting them in the values we hold dear as Catholics and
allowing them to thrive in this area. We, too, face our
challenges today. Secularism, apathy, a bias against
anything religious and I might add, Catholic are part of
our world of 2016. Yet, we celebrate the same Gospel that
enlivens our Faith, gives us hope and brings us closer to
our God and one another. As the presence of God filled
the temple of Solomon, so Jesus promised to be with us
always, even until the end of time. St. John Paul II, our
parish patron, gloried in this promise of Jesus and knew
that God’s promise to us would never fail. May we live
following this great saint’s example, filled with the Joy of the
Gospel and the light of Faith, to bring to the community of
Southbridge and beyond the hope that always goes before