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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!

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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!)

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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        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

us!

 

 

 

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This homily was given by Deacon Leo Coughlin at a Mass on June 26 honoring Sister of St.Joseph  Margaret McNaughton upon her retirement from St. Michael Cathedral Parish in Springfield.
In our Gospel today we hear Jesus say to his disciples follow me, but
a few had excuses of why they couldn’t just follow.
We learn that discipleship means leaving all that we have and
trusting in God. This surrender to God is different for each one of
us.
Well, this weekend we are honoring our beloved Sr. Margaret
McNaughton, who on July 1, 2016 will be entering her 68th year as a
sister of St. Joseph. Sixty-eight years ago Sr. Margaret said yes to
Jesus and has followed Jesus ever since.  It would take the better
part of this Mass to highlight all the wonderful accomplishments of
this beautiful Sister.
More to the point-just imagine that you were a young woman or man and
knew that this path of religious life was your calling. Every day I
stand in awe of all these fearless warriors of Our Lord.  Many are
called, but few are chosen for a lifetime of service and devotion to
our Church.  All of our sisters and priests, Sr. Eileen, Msgr. CC1,
but especially today, Sr. Margaret McNaughton.
What makes these people different from the rest of us? I have thought
about this many times…pure faith…plain and simple. Faith in the spirit
of God our Father, his holy Son and the holy Spirit that binds us all
together.
Through these gifts, they give to us the love of God through all that
they accomplish every hour, every day, every year of their lives. We
love our sisters and priests.

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Just as Mary said YES to the angel Gabriel, our Sr. Margaret said YES to Jesus.
My personal interactions with Sister are always eventful and with
great insight. She’s probably thinking what is he talking about? This
guy from Boston.   Well, many times during our conversations, she will
pass on a great thought or idea or will tell me about a moving homily
she may have heard in the past.
Sr. reminded me of a homily she heard years ago. It went like this.
When we die and hopefully we get in to Heaven, there will be 3
surprises waiting for us.
1st  WOW!  I made it.
2nd. WOW!  He/she made it
And 3rd  as you look around and see the many people who are in Heaven
because of what you did to help them.
I told Sr. Margaret there will be thousands of people who are in
Heaven because of her.
So as you reflect on the Gospel,  put yourselves in the shoes of the
disciples.  What would we have done if Jesus asked us to drop
everything and follow Him? Would we have made excuses? Like some of
the disciples.  More importantly, what are we doing today June 26th,
2016.
Are we doing what our Lord asked of us today? He is not asking us to
drop everything and leave our families or possessions, as he did with
the disciples.

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1.      He is asking us to LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS not just your next door
neighbors, but all of our neighbors.  How are we doing with that?
2.       He is asking us to pray daily.  How are we doing with            that?
3.       He is asking us to honor our father and mothers. How are we  doing
with that?
There are others that Jesus wants us to do. We know what they  are.
How are we doing with those?
Just as our Mother Mary and Sr. Margaret said Yes to our Lord, we
have said Yes also, but along the way we may have slipped in one area
or another.  The good thing is our Lord is always there to forgive and
lift us up because he is a loving, and most importantly of all, a
forgiving  God.
If we live our lives the way our Lord wants us to, then when we are
called home we will have those three surprises waiting for us.  Thank
you Lord for promising us Eternal Salvation, IF we live the life you
want us to.
And thank you Sr. Margret for this homily, just like you…short and oh so sweet!
AMEN

Father Vernon Decoteau Nov Mirror p11

The following is the homily given by Father Daniel Boyle at the funeral Mass of Father Vernon Decoteau on June 6, 2016.

In the name of our Bishop, Mitchell Rozanski, our retired Bishop, Timothy McDonnell, Our Diocesan Priests, special priest friends, Father Richard Trainor, Father Charles Kuzmeski and his faithful, Parochial Vicar, Father Michael Pierz, Deacons, and Men and Women Religious, I would like to offer to Father Vern’s brother, Bruce, Shelby, Nicholas, Nicole, Jared, Scott, Michael, Taunt Eva, and his cousins and extended family members, as well as, the entire Parish Family of St. Francis, our collective sympathy and empathy at the death of our beloved Vernon. I also extend our thoughts and prayers to all of the faithful Vernon served during the 41 years of his priesthood, among them:  St. Mary’s, Westfield, Cathedral High School, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Northampton, and since January of 1996, this magnificent Parish of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as, Wells and Ogunquit, Maine.

On the day of every priest’s ordination, the Bishop gives the following instruction, and for your prayerful reflection, I would like to share it with you.

This man, Vernon, your relative and friend, is now to be raised to the order of priests. Consider carefully the position to which he is to be promoted in the Church.

It is true God has made his entire people a royal priesthood in Christ. But our High Priest, Jesus Christ, also chose some of his followers to carry out publicly in the Church in a priestly ministry in his name on behalf of mankind. He was sent by his Father, and he in turn sent the apostles into the world; through them and their successors, the bishops, he continues his work as Teacher, Priest, and Shepard. Priests are co-workers of the order of bishops. They are joined to the bishops in the priestly office and are called to serve God’s people.

Our Brother, Vernon, has seriously considered this step and is now to be ordained to priesthood in the presbyteral order. He is to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepard in his ministry which is to make his own body, the Church, grow into the people of God, a holy temple.

He is called to share in the priesthood of the bishops and to be molded into the likeness of Christ, the supreme and eternal Priest. By consecration he will be made a true priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people, and celebrate the liturgy, above all, the Lord’s sacrifice.

He then addresses the candidate:

My son, Vernon, you are now to be advanced to the order of the presbyterate. You must apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief Teacher. Share with all mankind the word of God you have received with joy. Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach.

Let the doctrine you teach be true nourishment for the people of God. Let the example of your life attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church.

In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ. Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it with Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. In the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, make every effort to die to sin and to walk in the new life of Christ.

When you baptize, you will bring men and women into the people of God. In the sacrament of penance, you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick. You will celebrate the liturgy and offer thanks and praise to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world. Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.

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Finally, conscious of sharing in the work of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with the bishop and subject to him, seek to bring the faithful together into a unified family and to lead them effectively, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.

In Today’s Gospel of Luke, which Father Vern chose himself, we hear the familiar passage of the disciples encountering Our Lord on the road to Emmaus, and how they came to know Him in the breaking of the bread. We hear these words and we think of Father Vern. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us, on the way, and opened the scriptures to us?”

Is that not what Vern, ever the teacher, did for us? He opened for us, the scriptures; for this, his beloved Parish of St. Francis in his preaching, for generations of faith gatherings and TOOLS (Teams of Our Lady). All this and so much more!

Besides his preaching and teaching, Vern had a wonderful, full, musical and entertaining life!

A few years ago, I invited Vern to join me on a Caribbean vacation in February. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm hit the Northeast! All flights from Bradley were cancelled. The ever-resourceful Vern discovered he could take a taxi from Bradley to the Amtrak station in Windsor Locks, and board a train to Penn Station. Once in New York City, he took a train to Baltimore and boarded a flight to a nearby island. He then took a boat to where I was waiting with the largest Gin & Tonic known to humanity. I told him, “Vern, you are the only person I have ever known to take a taxi, two trains, an aircraft and a boat to get here! You deserve this drink!” We proceeded to enjoy two wonderful weeks on the Island.

We have all heard the expression, “With my luck I’ll probably be at the airport when my ship comes in!” Well, that literally happened to Vern in Venice, Italy. He went to Rome to participate in the Ordination of Diaconate for Mark Glover at St. Peter’s Basilica. His plan was to then travel by train to Venice where as a Certified Member of the “Apostleship of the Sea”, he would board a cruise ship and assume the role of Chaplain for 12 days through the Adriatic, into the Mediterranean and back to the Port of Rome. However, upon arriving in Venice, he discovered there was no ship for him to board! It had been sent into dry-dock for refurbishing. While many others would have gotten angry, Vern, always good-natured, took things in stride, enjoyed the sights of Venice for a few days and flew home early!

Ever the Liturgist, Father Vern was one of the few priests, and I mean few, who embraced and loved the New Roman Missal. I said to him one day during a lively discussion regarding the New Missal, “Vern, who on earth uses words like consubstantial, oblation and imbued in normal speech?” In response he said, “Daniel, this is about moving the Liturgy from the kitchen into the dining room. This is fine dining, instead of fast food!”

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From her book, Reflections, Barbara Bush recalls, “George and I were having dinner with friends at the Kennebunkport Inn when I noticed the man in shorts sitting on a stool at the piano. He had a glorious voice, and knew all the songs from the great Broadway plays. People gathered around the piano kept calling out songs and saying, “Sing it Vern.” Before we left, Betsy Heminway invited him over so we could tell him just how much we had enjoyed his singing. Since we were having a dinner later that week, George asked him if he ever sang for groups. He said that he really hadn’t, but he would. Then he went on to say that he was on vacation with his mother and that he was a Catholic priest. I have been teased for years because I said to him, “You can’t possibly be a priest; you’re in shorts.” Father Vern is not only a priest but a good one. His parish, St. Francis in Belchertown, Massachusetts is growing and many young people are joining his congregation. He has sung for us many times over the years, and he and his sweet mother, Ida, have become friends of ours.”

Former President Bush wrote these words following the death of Vern:

“Barbara and I send our heartfelt condolences to all of you at St. Francis Parish, who are mourning the death of your beloved pastor.

We loved your ‘singing priest,’as we liked to call him. I hope I am not revealing any secrets when I tell you we met Father Vern in a bar in our summer home of Kennebunkport, Maine. We were having dinner and he was belting out Broadway songs at the piano. Thinking he had to be a star of one kind or another, we asked to meet him so we could join his fan club. And yes we were shocked to learn he was not from New York or Hollywood, but was a Catholic priest.

But we were right about one thing – Father Vern was a star. He excelled at all he did, whether it was singing in our living room for friends and family, which he did for us a number of times or if he was fulfilling his mission in life – taking care of the good people of St. Francis Parish.

We were all blessed to know him. I know you will miss him terribly.”

My guess is I am not the first person to make this observation this week:  our loss is heaven’s gain. I can only imagine the singing and dancing that is going on there right now. Even St. Peter must be gathered around the piano.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your celebration of the richly-lived life of Father Vernon Decoteau.”

George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States

Note that the Presidential Seal is on the first pew in the Church.

In the words of Father CJ last night at the Vigil Service, Vern was our friend, your Pastor, a faithful priest and for all of us “The Voice” that we will never forget! Let him speak to us once more in the way he knew best….. Vern’s recording of “Take Me Hand, Precious Lord” is played over the church’s sound system

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By Hannah Green

Editor’s note: Hannah is a rising sophomore at Simmons College, a member of St. Mary Parish in Westfield and a summer intern at Catholic Communications.

Imagine being in a procession of people almost 200  strong, chasing the Eucharist through the streets of downtown Ludlow. Your feet are swollen inside your dress shoes, the humidity is boiling you from the inside out, and after leaving the first church in your route, you realize that there are three more to go. Could you continue? More importantly, would you?

If you listened to your brain, you probably wouldn’t. Invaluable as our brains are, they also happen to be excellent excuse-makers.

“You have a baby, you don’t need to go.”

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“It’s your day off, why don’t you lay down on the sofa and relax?”

“It’s too hot out, you shouldn’t go outside.”

As much as our brains want to keep us physically happy and safe, they can’t always account for our spiritual needs. While you’re walking down the sidewalk in peak summer temperatures, your body is trying to figure out why, and working to convince you to get somewhere cool and comfortable. It’s not your brain’s fault that it’s trying to get you to head home; it’s just looking out for number one, and avoiding conditions that could dehydrate and tire you out is pretty high on its list of priorities.

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So sometimes, like the folks following the Bishop and the Eucharist around last Sunday afternoon for the feast of Corpus Christi, you have to listen to your faith instead of your judicious friend upstairs.

It wasn’t the expectant embrace of the freshly frosted air blowing from air conditioners that drew people from one church to the next, but a desire to dedicate their day to God, and to celebrate his gift of the Eucharist to us.

They weren’t worried about the heat, carrying their children, or tackling the walk between all four parishes. As I watched and processed along beside them, following our reporter and videographer, I wondered, where did they find that strength? And how did they do it with the eyes of the world on them?

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Well, maybe not the eyes of the world, but the eyes of the motorists, store owners, and pedestrians who happened to pass along their route down the sidewalks of bustling Ludlow streets.

As we drove in the Catholic Communications car to beat the procession to the next church, I noticed just how many people were watching this public display of devotion. In a little bakery, teenagers in white aprons and hair nets gathered in the front window, and at the repair shop next door, mechanics with sodas stopped their conversations to stare.

The odd thing is, if these parishioners had been in a different situation, a different location perhaps, and seen these many eyes on them, most would be horrified or overcome with something like stage fright. But not here, and not today.

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How did they do it? I was still wondering this as they dispersed that afternoon, during my winding and long drive home, and even at night as I settled into bed. Where did they suddenly get that fearlessness, that perseverance, that strength?

Then I did what I usually turned to in moments where I was unsure, confused, or uncertain: I said a little prayer, and asked for help. And suddenly, I understood.

How many times had I felt weak, torn, or unfulfilled, yet found strength in my relationship with God? How many times had I felt empowered, strong, and whole by drawing on my faith as fuel?

Could faith overpower exhaustion, heat, and physical discomfort of such a strong degree?

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The answer seemed obvious then—yes, it could. Hadn’t it brought others through even darker places before, such as times of excruciating physical pain and challenging mental road blocks.

The power of faith, and the power of our God, became all the more clear to me that day. Through God we are stronger than any obstacle we might encounter, and with God, we can overcome anything. Through this realization I find my own spiritual ease, and I owe it all to the faithful parishioners who never doubted why they were chasing the Eucharist through the streets of Ludlow one hot Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

 

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The following is the welcome address given at the 132nd and final Cathedral High School graduation. 

By Julianna Campbell
Class of 2016 

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Bishop Rozanski, Sr. Andrea, Mayor Sarno, Mr. Miller, Mrs. O’Connell, Faculty and Staff, Parents and Friends, and the Class of 2016- Good Morning, my name is Julianna Campbell.  Welcome to the graduation of the class of 2016.  It has been a long four years, filled with many trials but also laughter and joy.  Together we have endured more than what most high-schoolers face.  We have made the best of what we had, regardless of the size and quality of the building.  We have challenged each other and grown despite our class size.  Every single obstacle that came our way, we faced it…together.  We all have many unforgettable memories and I believe that I speak for the whole class when I say that it is a privilege to have gotten to know all fifty-three of my peers.

This years theme at Cathedral, was mercy.  It is a perfect way to say goodbye to the legacy of Cathedral, while remaining hopeful for the future.  I would like to share with you an excerpt from Pope Francis’s  homily on Divine Mercy Sunday April 7, 2013.

“The Apostle Thomas personally experiences the mercy of God. … Thomas does not believe it when the other Apostles tell him: “We have seen the Lord.” … And how does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief … He does not close the door, He waits. And Thomas acknowledges his own poverty, his little faith. “My Lord and my God!”: with this simple yet faith-filled invocation, he responds to Jesus’ patience. He lets himself be enveloped by Divine Mercy; he sees it before his eyes, in the wounds of Christ’s hands and feet and in His open side, and he discovers trust.”

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Trust.  He discovers trust.  There are many times in these past few years when we often found it difficult to trust.  Many of us came to Cathedral hoping to be on Surrey Road by our junior or senior year, but this was no guarantee.  Junior year, when the future of Cathedral was in jeopardy, it was difficult to imagine our lives without our beloved school.  The important thing to remember is that throughout our four years together, we may have doubted, become discouraged, or questioned our purpose but no matter what the Divine Mercy of God was present.  It was present in the steady dedication of our teachers, the positivity of all the faculty and staff, and the moments of laughter emerging from every class. Whether it be overcoming an impossible Mr. Brodeur test together, the end of the year cookouts and baseball games, the Christmas celebrations, Ms. Leone and the library, or Mr. Dewey and his sarcastic jokes….these moments of joy are what kept us hopeful and fighting to make every single moment count.

It is a unique and powerful opportunity to be the last graduating class of Cathedral, but it is one we are honored to receive.   Neighbors and friends always asked me “Do you regret your decision to go to Cathedral?”  Every time, without hesitation, I said “no”.   I have grown as person, in every aspect and in ways that I would not be able to elsewhere.  It may have been challenging but these difficult times have molded us into persistent and dedicated leaders.  If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I would make the same decision.  I would come to Cathedral, where I would be met with teachers who love their jobs and students who would become some of my best friends.

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I want to take a moment, on behalf of the class, to thank our teachers.  There is no group of people more willing to offer help or words of wisdom than this group of people sitting before us. Going forward, leaving behind the safety of Cathedral, our dedicated teachers and staff, and the comfort of childhood, we must trust.  We have to trust in our abilities, our talents, and ultimately God.  No matter what happens we will find Cathedral and God’s divine mercy wherever we go.  We just have to look for it.  Cathedral is more than a building, it is a way of being.  It is about persistence, dedication in the face of hardship, and mercy towards all.  Cathedral may not physically exist anymore after this morning, but it will live on forever- in our legacy.

 

 

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The following is a talk given recently at  Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Easthampton. The author is featured in the May/June issue of The Catholic Mirror.

By Alice Charland

Hi, I’m Alice Charland — a “cradle Catholic,” having been born into a close-knit very devout, Catholic family, more than a few years ago.  I was engaged at age eighteen and married at nineteen, ten days after my fiancée returned from his first tour in Viet Nam.  Do you see any red flags popping up?

But I was a good Catholic, and did the best I could.  By the time I was 21, I had birthed two children and a marriage that was heading south.  My husband asked first for a separation, and then for a divorce.  There was no easy way out of this.  I had been raised to believe that once you had “made your bed,” you had to lie in it.  Divorce was not an option, but divorce was what I had, and at age 27 I had two young children to raise by myself.

At that point I was very involved in Parish life at Notre Dame Parish, having taught CCD for many years, was a member of the Parish Council and Spiritual Life Committee.  Despite my love for the Church, though, I couldn’t see any future for me there.  I couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to not remarrying for my own sake and my children’s sake, and I believed that the fee for an annulment was thousands of dollars, which was not available to me, so I did not pursue it.

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Over the next three years I began a process of detaching myself from the Church, and my children from Catholic education.  It didn’t take long before I became influenced by friends and family members who had also left the Church and were enamored of the New Age spirituality, where one was “spiritual,” but not “religious,” and Jesus was an Ascended Master, among many others.

It was the 70’s and I was still young.  Eventually I started dating, and let it suffice to say, that I did a number of things I should not have done.

As I became involved in the whole New Age scene, I thought myself very progressive for having freed myself from what I perceived as the pitfalls of organized religion.

I thought I had freed myself, but somehow I didn’t feel free.  An emptiness pervaded my life, and I tried to fill the Christ-sized hole in my heart with many other things.  I remarried and gave birth to three more children.  My husband was not Catholic and was not at all interested in exploring Catholicism.  And although I was beginning to feel Jesus calling me back, I still believed that the fee for annulment was way out of my reach, and return to the Church impossible.

Wedding Blessing with Fr. Piotr

After 30 years of marriage Jesus began calling me in earnest, but I felt it was kind of mean to be called back to Catholicism without the means open to me to return.  That’s when my friend Debbie, newly converted, asked me why I didn’t return.  She told me that her friend had just gotten an annulment and it only cost her a few hundred dollars.

Shortly after, I contacted Fr. Tom at Notre Dame Parish and decided to apply for an annulment.  My husband told me he thought I was less than sane, but I was determined.  I can’t tell you how I longed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, or how painful it was to watch fellow parishioners at Our Lady of the Valley Parish go up to receive Communion, some reverently, some not so reverently.

For 60 weeks I watched, waited and prayed — not knowing if my application would be approved.  I prayed to God in front of Jesus in the tomb that Lent, that my application for annulment would be approved, fully knowing how my pride had led me far from Him and the Church for so long.  I told Him, “I have nothing to offer you but your Son.”  I felt Him speak deeply in my heart, “It is enough.” Three and a half months later, my annulment was approved.

So I have been asked to speak about how I moved from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus.”  This is my answer:  I desired Him.  I acknowledged His love for me, and am doing my best to love Him back.  But how?

It is only through a committed relationship that this can take place, and it takes time to build intimacy.  Like all loving relationships, it is also based on good communication, mutual trust and a strong desire to sacrifice for the good of the other.  This doesn’t happen overnight – for most of us, at least – it is an on-going process.

My relationship began with learning about Jesus through scripture readings, homilies and Bible Study.  But that could be likened to reading a biography about someone, without ever having had a conversation with him.

For me, the most meaningful conversations that I share with Him are before and after having received Holy Eucharist, and during Eucharistic Adoration.  Of course, I can speak with Him anywhere.

What do I say?  I tell Jesus what is on my mind at the time.  Sometimes I ask for strength, clarity, forgiveness or healing.  In return I pledge my love to Him, and I seek His will for me because I desire to please Him.

He continues to call me to come closer to Him, and I am challenged to prove my love, by my willingness to move out of my comfort zone, and into the greater expanse of His image of me.

I feel Him willing me to come to Daily Mass whenever I can, and although I sometimes resist along the way, I know that our union is blessed and deepened every time I receive Our Lord in Holy Eucharist. Why wouldn’t it be?  It is the place where I am in Communion with Him.  And as weeks and months go by, I realize that some of my “go to” sins no longer have a hold on me.  Jesus is transforming me from the inside out.

Small Christian Community Trip to St. Kateri Shrine

I’d like to share a brief excerpt from a Lenten booklet, “Five Minutes with the Word.”  …  “If we want to know the freedom of a living relationship with God, we have to put aside any stubborn self-reliance and place our faith in Jesus and the atonement He has won for us.”

This faith in Jesus has grown in me as I began to realize that every good thing I am and have ever received, comes from Him.  He alone is the source of my good.

Still, the world is constantly telling us that we need to be “in control” – all the while, becoming immersed in greater and greater demands on our time and resources.

It isn’t easy to let go of the sense that we need to try harder and harder to maintain control and succeed.  Yet our greatest lessons often come when we have reached the end of our proverbial rope, and have no one to rely on but God.  It is then that we come to understand that He is always there, waiting for us … so patiently … so lovingly.

Jesus truly thirsts for us – He desires to be in intimate relationship with you and me.  I invite you to take a leap of faith into His loving arms.  I can only tell you, from my own experience, that you will not regret it, and that   He will welcome you home with great joy.

For more information about annulments contact the Marriage Tribunal at tribunal@diospringfield.org or call 413 452-0664.

 

 

 

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By Peggy Weber

You probably won’t find a section in the card aisle for “Happy Cloistered Day” cards. Much of the life in a monastery is meant to be quiet and not seeking attention.
However, I could not let this day, November 21, go by without recognizing the men and women who choose to spend most of their life in one place and most of their day in prayer.
The Institute of Religious Life has given this day the title “Pro Orantibus” day. It translates “For Those Who Pray.”
It is our turn to thank and pray for those who pray for us each day.
I have been blessed to spend time with both the Visitation Nuns in Tyringham and the Dominican Nuns in West Springfield. They are wonderful communities.
And this Saturday, on Nov. 21, “Real to Reel” will air from the Trappist Monastery in nearby Spencer.

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All three places offer solace, prayer and some really cool stuff.
The Trappists have recently begun brewing a highly-praised Trappist Ale. In fact, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski recently toured the facility. And a special report about the monastery and its business will be featured on Real to Reel this Saturday.
The Visitation Nuns offer a variety offer some beautiful vestments through Chantal Artisans.
They also offer Sacred Heart talks on the first Sunday of the month, except for January, July and August, and usually at 4 p.m.They also focus on their music and have even released a CD called “A Visitation Christmas.”
And they offer opportunities for private retreats.

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The Dominican Nuns have been a presence in the Diocese of Springfield since 1925. They offer beautiful “spiritual bouquets” and Mass cards as part of their “work.” They also host community events through the Third Order Dominicans and special novenas.
When I visited the Visitation Nuns I felt so at home and welcome. I have gone during the summer when they have a beautiful garden growing and I have gone in the winter when they put up an ice skating rink.

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My dear Dominican Nuns have been a part of my life since I was a baby. My mother visited their monastery on Ingersoll Grove in Springfield and helped collect “egg and butter ” money for them. My children, and now my dear granddaughter, Cordelia, have visited the monastery often.
They are a source of joy. They also are a source of comfort.
I have turned to them in times of need. Either I call or e-mail the monasteries with my prayer request. The Visitation Nuns and the Dominican Nuns are my spiritual 911.

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When I need help I know that the “good sisters” in the Berkshires and on Riverdale Road will be there.
There are so many times in life when one feels helpless. There are times when one faces great sorrow or a great challenge.
That is usually when I pray and when I seek the comfort and support of our local monasteries. I know that they are scheduled to spend hours in prayer each day.
I have seen bulletin boards at each monastery where they post prayer requests. I have felt the healing comfort of these women and their deep faith.
So Happy “Pro Orantibus” Day!
And thank you for praying for us!!!
For more information about the monasteries mentioned go to:
Dominicans: http://vocationws.com/
Visitation: http://vistyr.org/
Trappists: http://www.spencerabbey.org/

Photos by Peggy Weber or courtesy of the Dominican Nuns

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By Peggy Weber

On a rainy, autumn afternoon, several people were lined up on a basement stairwell at St. Mary’s Rectory in Westfield. They had appointments for the Food Pantry which is run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
They were early and eager. They also were nice to me and my videographer who were there to report on how the Annual Catholic Appeal helps the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I admit I felt sorry for them and grateful that I could just go to the grocery store and select what our family needed for the cupboard.
However, I also was so impressed with how the organizers of the pantry treated each person there with great respect and dignity.
They did not hand them a bag of groceries and send them on their way. They offered them choices from the food available. They helped carry bags of groceries for people. They chatted about recipes and life.
This group, which is run totally by volunteers, really is making a difference in the lives of so many people.

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Volunteers from the local middle and high school talked with me about their work. One explained that she wants to earn a Girl Scout medal by increasing donations and targeting much-needed items like toilet paper and coffee.
One volunteer was excited because he had gotten a lot of meat at the Food Bank in Hadley for a very good price.
Joanne Miller, the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society explained that they are trying to perform the Corporal Works of Mercy.
She noted: “The members of the St. Vince de Paul Society step in the crisis time and time again to help hundreds of families in Westfield. The financial expenses totaled $25,561, which does not include the thousands of bas of food given out at the Food Pantry. Each penny, each can, jar and box that was taken in was given back out with love, personal contact and a caring heart.

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The St. Vincent de Paul Society offers rental assistance, heating aid, outreach to Veterans at the Soldiers’ Home and local nursing homes and so much more.
They are carrying on a tradition that was started in France in 1831 when Blessed Frederic Ozanam was challenged to do good work. The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded and spread and began its legacy of caring in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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However, on this cold and chilly day, those receiving bags of groceries probably did not know about this illustrious past. They were just grateful to receive help. And those sharing food with a smile were happy to give.
It really was a day I loved my work and my Catholic faith a lot.
For more information about the St. Vincent de Paul Society call the helpline at 568-5619.

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By: Mari Barboza, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

A couple of days ago my mom called me. She had seen the image of Aylan, the drowned Syrian boy whose photo has captured the attention of the world, and was affected by it because Aylan looks like my toddler son Will. This heartbreaking tragedy became more personal for me this summer when I traveled to Jordan and Lebanon as part of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) delegation, where we witnessed the work that CRS and our local partners are doing to help Syrian refugees and those displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

My visit with CRS changed my perceptions of the Middle East. In the media, we only see chaos and violence. However during the trip, we learned that the situation is much more complex than what the media portrays. What’s more, we learned about the difficulties the refugees face. Some of the refugees come from educated, middle-class families, but had to leave their comfortable lives behind because they feared that they would otherwise be killed.

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In these difficult circumstances, we saw many people rise above the situation and perform extraordinary service. Our partners, the Caritas staff in Jordan and Lebanon, were some of the most professional teams I have seen. What sets them apart is a profound sense of mission.

They are not simply meeting immediate needs of food and shelter, but they’re helping these people deal with trauma. They’re also contributing to a culture of tolerance and peace . The Good Shepherd Sisters, with the support of CRS, work with refugee children in a village in the Bekaa Valley that borders Syria.

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Sister Micheline, who directs the center told us: “Before, the kids were throwing paper on the ground. Now kids are cleaning the playground. We are teaching them respect for each other, and how to live together peacefully and how to respect others.” She also told us how the community was involved. “This village suffered 300 deaths in the war with Syria, but the community has accepted them (the refugees).

People have opened their land. We are working with local government to create respect.“ The sisters and the local Lebanese volunteers will have a lasting impact on the lives of these children. They are mutually transforming the Lebanese communities affected by the war, and are creating new paradigms of respect and tolerance.

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After this experience, thinking that this situation does not affect me is not an option. After our return to the United States, a Syrian teacher at the center, wrote me this note: “Many thanks for your visit to my people from Syria last Tuesday. Your visit gave them a lot of hope that someone is interested in their situation in Lebanon and thinks of them from afar. Your gesture of love touched my heart profoundly, that you would put your lives in danger and come here to listen to and help the people who suffer in this war.”

I invite you to join me in a response: Praying for refugees, contributing financially, if you are able, advocating so their basic needs are met and that they have fair treatment. Finally, if they come into our country and our communities, let’s welcome them. Aylan could be my Will, he could be your son or grandson or nephew.