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S+L on the road: the Cause for Henriette Delille

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From the left: Sr Laura, Sr Greta share with me about Venerable Henriette Delille’s story and her continuing significance.

During my time in New Orleans, I visited with Sr. Greta and Sr. Laura of the Sisters of the Holy Family to learn about the Cause for Venerable Henriette Delille, founder of The Sister’s of the Holy Family – the second oldest African-American congregation of religious women in America.

Opened in 1988, Henriette’s Cause took a major step forward in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI declared her Venerable. And it looks like there’s much more to come.

To date, more than 300 favors and possible miracles, granted through her intercession, have been reported; and over 2,000 letters from 47 states and 15 countries have been received.

Even Hollywood has taken notice. In 2000, Hollywood actress Vanessa Williams starred as Henriette Delille in The Courage to Love  a movie inspired by Henriette’s story. Although, to hear the Sister’s tell it, the love story angle in the movie is highly improbable.

This gave me a good chuckle.

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Sr. Laura holds up a t-shirt, which promotes the Cause of Venerable Henriette Delille.  On the shirt is her only recorded writing,  penned on the inside cover of an 1836 prayer book: “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love God. I want to live and die for God.”

In the following clip, Sr. Greta speaks to me about a painting depicting Venerable Henriette Delille’s life.

It’s interesting to note that Henriette was not a slave. In fact, she came from a long line of free women.

By the time Henriette was born in 1812 she was a fourth generation descendant of an enslaved African women; a third generation Afro-Creole and a second generation free woman.

In other words, Henriette grew up in a society in which she was respected as a Creole with ties to prominent white and free coloured Creoles (Henriette Delille,Virginia Meacham Gould, 18).

According to Benedictine Father, Cyprian Davis who wrote a biography about Henriette called, Henriette Delille, Servant of Slaves, Witness to the Poor, the Delille family became free because Henriette’s great, great grandmother Nanette was brought to America as a slave, and freed after the death of her owner.

Apparently, Louisiana under French rule, had some provisions for slaves in their law, and it was possible for a slave to be bought out of slavery over the wishes of his or her owner.

According to Father Davis, a slave could demand an owner to name a price for the slave’s freedom and if the owner refused, the slave had recourse through the courts.

In the case of the Delille family, Nanette eventually amassed enough money to buy her daughter (and two of her grandchildren) out of slavery.  In time, Henriette’s family became relatively wealthy, even if they remained second-class citizens.

But Henriette’s early life was not without turmoil, and as I delve further into her story, I look forward to sharing these revelations with you.

Learn more about St. Augustine’s parish where Venerable Henriette Delille ministered in this post.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are. The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

S+L on the road – the Catholic soul of New Orleans

20150410_113442Side altar at St. Augustine’s Church in Treme

New Orleans is a city with deep Catholic roots. There are many religious communities that have played critical roles at various points in the city’s history. In our new series, three of the seven women religious communities that we’ll feature have unique connections to the city. My principal guide throughout my stay in New Orleans has been Dr. Barbara Fleischer of the Loyola Institute for Ministry. You could say she’s to me what Virgil was to Dante (minus all the demons).

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Dr. Barbara Fleischer, Loyola Institute for Ministry, New Orleans

As I’ve gone about the business of visiting with the Sisters’ gathering information for the new series, Barbara shared insights with me. For example, on one of these drives Barbara shared with me the story of the indentured Irish workers who came to New Orleans to help dig the Canals. In the following, she makes an interesting connection with a memorial commemorating the Irish and Blessed Fr. Seelos, a Redemptorist priest.

Even a quick stop for some delicious gumbo was an opportunity to learn about an initiative by Jesuit Fr. Harry Tompson, former pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish. Fr. Tompson was looking for a way to address generational poverty in New Orleans and together with two community members founded Cafe Reconcile, a restaurant that serves as a job training program for at-risk youth.

Today Cafe Reconcile‘s Workforce Development Program has graduated more than 1 000 youth between the ages of 16 and 22.

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Besides receiving awards for their food and support from well-known celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse – did I mention that their gumbo is awesome?

20150410_142743Staff at Cafe Reconcile

And before I sign off, I leave you with a taste of what Sunday mass is like at St. Augustine’s parish, which is located in heart of the legendary neighbourhood of Treme, home of musicians and singers.

Stay tuned for more!

S+L on the road – when the Saints go marching…

henriette-delillejpg-002 Venerable Henriette Delille, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve been in New Orleans for the past couple of days doing some research for a new series which will feature the charisms of seven women religious communities in Louisiana and Africa.

Naturally, my first stop was Treme one of the oldest and historically significant neighbourhoods in New Orleans. For those unfamiliar with the area it is an important centre of African-American and Creole culture. Jazz fans will immediately recognize it as the home of Louis Armstrong (‘Satchmo’ to folks down here).

What you may not realize however, is that Treme is also home to St. Augustine’s church, a church which is intricately connected with the story of several significant religious women’s communities in New Orleans.

You see, prior to becoming the site of St. Augustine’s church, the property was originally purchased and used as a school to educate free women of colour and slaves. Both the Ursulines and the Carmelites were involved in this controversial endeavour.

Later in 1842, when Henriette DeLille and Juliette Gaudin, publicly knelt before the altar to pledge before all that they would live in community and work with orphans, the uneducated, the poor, and the sick, St. Augustine’s became the site where the Sisters of the Holy Family came into being.

Today the Sisters of the Holy Family are the second oldest African-American congregation of religious women in America.

Interestingly, St. Augustine’s other claim to fame is that it was the first fully racially integrated parish in America. Although, how that all came about is not what you’d expect:

A few months before the October 9, 1842 dedication of St. Augustine Church, the people of color began to purchase pews for their families to sit. Upon hearing of this, white people in the area started a campaign to buy more pews than the colored folks. Thus, The War of the Pews began and was ultimately won by the free people of color who bought three pews to every one purchased by the whites. In an unprecedented social, political and religious move, the colored members also bought all the pews of both side aisles. They gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States. An excerpt from St. Augustine’s Church website.

Imagine that!

But to get back to Henriette Delille, I suppose what captures my imagination most about this bone fide New Orleans saint is how her love for Jesus led her to defy the social conventions of her time. It was expected that free born women like Henriette should aspire to becoming a placee (concubine) to wealthy white men; but, she chose not to participate in the placage system and devoted herself to serving Jesus instead. This, during a time when  it was commonly held that women of colour could not become consecrated religious.

With Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization underway, its a marvel to reflect upon how these Sisters have educated and inspired generations of young women to embrace Christ. And as my gracious tour guide Ms. Linda Harris, the parish secretary at St. Augustine’s and former student with the Sisters, shared with me during my recent visit – the Sisters’ mere presence continues to provide great witness to all they encounter. Here’s a clip from that conversation (I hope that you’ll forgive the poor quality).

The most interesting man in the world

PAUL VI AND CARDINAL WOJTYLA CONVERSE AT VATICAN

Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla meet at the Vatican. Paul VI, who served in Poland during his early priesthood, held the future Pope John Paul II in high regard. (CNS file photo)

No doubt you’ve seen those cheesy beer ads about ‘the most interesting man in the world’. For the record, Pope John Paul II was the real deal.  He spoke between 8 and 11 languages fluently, and was so charismatic figure that he is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland. Besides being an athlete, a poet and one of the leading thinkers in the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, he was also tremendously brave. For example, when the Nazi’s closed down the seminary in Krakow, he began studying in secret at a seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow.

He was an extraordinary man, and in many respects a pope of firsts: the first pope to visit the White House, the first pope to visit Cuba, and the most widely traveled Pope in history. And as one of the longest reigning popes in the history of the Church, his influence will be felt for generations. So today as we celebrate John Paul II Day across Canada, we give thanks for Saint Pope John Paul’s Christian witness as a fearless champion of human dignity and freedom (and give a nod to the most interesting man in the world).

Below some images celebrating his dynamic legacy.

FILE PHOTO OF SOVIET PRESIDENT GORBACHEV MEETING POPE JOHN PAUL II AT THE VATICAN

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev meets with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in this Dec. 1, 1989, file photo. Hours after the meeting, the Vatican told the United States in a confidential assessment that Gorbachev could be trusted as a genuine reformer. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

MOTHER TERESA, POPE JOHN PAUL II AT HOME FOR DYING IN 1986

Mother Teresa of Calcutta accompanies Pope John Paul II as he greets people at the Home For the Dying in Calcutta, India, in 1986. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari)

SCAN FROM NEGATIVE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II MEETING WOULD-BE-ASSASSIN

Pope John Paul II meeting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in a Rome prison Dec. 27, 1983.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

1989 FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ARRIVING IN INDONESIA

Pope John Paul II kisses a rain-soaked tarmac as he arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, on a pastoral trip in 1989. (CNS file photo)

POPE JOHN PAUL II ADDRESSES UNITED NATIONS IN 1979

Pope John Paul II addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York Oct. 2, 1979. (CNS file photo)

FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL II AT 1986 INTERRELIGIOUS ENCOUNTER IN ASSISI

Pope John Paul II attends an interreligious ecounter in Assisi, Italy, in 1986. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU PICTURED WITH POPE JOHN PAUL II AT THE VATICAN IN 1983

Pope John Paul II meets with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, center right, in 1983 at the Vatican.  (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photos)

2002 photo of Blessed John Paul II during World Youth Day in Toronto

Pope John Paul II celebrated his final international World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. The Polish-born pontiff, then age 82, described himself as “old,” but looked and sounded better than he had in months, demonstrating once again his special chemistry with young people. (CNS file photo)

Want to learn more? Watch this episode of Catholic Focus with Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB as he shares his insights about the life and times of Saint Pope John Paul II. All images courtesy of our friends at Catholic News Service.

Okay one last pic –

POPE JOHN PAUL II HOLDS KOALA DURING 1986 VISIT TO AUSTRALIA

Pope John Paul II holds a koala during his 1986 visit to Australia. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) 

Canadian Premiere of John Paul II in America

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Canadian Premiere on Salt + Light
Sunday April 12, at 9pm ET / 6pm PT

A new Knights of Columbus produced documentary on St. John Paul II and his relationship with North and South America will air April 12 on Salt + Light.

John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent explores how the papacy of St. John Paul II left an indelible mark on the American continent. Driven by his singular conviction of a “United American Continent” under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, John Paul II’s papal travels from Argentina to Alaska generated massive crowds, shaped an entire generation and ultimately changed the course of history.

Narrated by actor Andy Garcia, the film features rare archival footage and insightful analysis from leading figures, including Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, John Paul II biographer George Weigel and former Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls. Viewers will be both intrigued and moved by the documentary’s unprecedented framework for understanding one of the giant figures of our times.

The Transformative Leadership of two Latin American Pastors

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Excerpt from the Concluding Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Congress of the Angelicum Foundation of Santiago, Chile
& the University of St. Thomas (Houston)
Houston, Texas – March 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

As the last speaker of the conference, it is my duty to address the topic, Reconciliation and Community: A Call for Transforming Leadership. I will do so by considering the lives and styles of leadership of two Latin American pastors. The first is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

 Francis to crowd in NaplesAs Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.

When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”

“My people are poor and I am one of them,” Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.

His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.

Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.

Listen to three sections of his “Mission Statement” or Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

88…For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

100…It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

229…The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.

An attitude that seeks dialogue, builds bridges and opens doors

Francis & elderly

Two months after his election as Bishop of Rome, in his daily homily of May 13, 2013 in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges” and not of walls. The Pope said that this is the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

            “A Christian,” Francis said, “must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. The we receive the truth when we meet it.”

…Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15 of this year is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

“This is scandalous to some people but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”

Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.

…In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother.’”

In an address on March 14 of this year to the Union of Italian Catholic Educators, the Pope addressed them as colleagues, saying: “Indeed, the duty of a good teacher – all the more for a Christian teacher – is to love his or her more difficult, weaker, more disadvantaged students with greater intensity. Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? Any teacher can do well with such students. I ask you to love “difficult” students more … and there are some who really try our patience, but we have to love them more… those who do not want to study, those who find themselves in difficult conditions, the disabled and foreigners, who today pose a great challenge for schools.”

Pope Francis told his audience: “If a professional association of Christian teachers wants to bear witness to their inspiration today, then it is called to engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance, crime.”

The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis Pope of Mercy

Where is Pope Francis leading the Church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for laymen and women? For Francis the Church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home. Pope Francis takes every opportunity he can to ask his brother bishops, priests, pastoral ministers and lay leaders: Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.

Francis kissing feet 2

For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. Next week he will wash the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators and pastoral workers.

The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy. There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.

Oscar Romero

Romero Blessed image sm

The second Latin American pastor was also an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.

The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.

Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.

Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”

…Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations.

…Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastorsRomero with young men, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.

Here in our peaceful and at times surreal environment of higher learning, we may ask ourselves if this is what Catholic Education, adult catechesis and evangelization programs are suppose to do: to kill people and make martyrs? And the ultimate answer may be yes. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic education, true evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing for us as he leads and guides the Church. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.

If we fail to understand the modus operandi of Francis of Buenos Aires and Oscar of El Salvador, we risk transforming the living realities of both Archbishops into framed diplomas, coveted degrees, documents in files, books on shelves, academic seminars, monuments, statues and holy cards to admire, and not people to imitate to emulate. We must ask ourselves at a university conference like this one, “How do faith and a Christian understanding of education transform the lives of Catholic laity in the world? How are the tenets of Catholic education and evangelization making a difference in lives of Catholics and many who are peering in from the peripheries.

Teaching and preaching is the art of leaving vestiges in students and those who listen to us, and all good teachers and preachers must ask what vestiges they wish to leave in their hearers. Good and effective teachers and preachers have usually had excellent teachers and preachers themselves. The highest compliment we can pay to our own teachers and pastors is to try to imitate them or incorporate their methods into our own lives. People may listen to us because we are good teachers and preachers, but they will truly learn from us, be inspired by us, be changed by us, and even imitate or emulate us because we are first and foremost disciples and witnesses.

Both Francis and soon-to-be-Blessed Oscar are disciples and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us learn from the examples of these two great pastors, teachers and missionary disciples from Latin America. 

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

Deacon-structing St. Joseph

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When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him…
(From the Gospel for March 19, the Solemnity of Joseph, the Husband of Mary, Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24)

Last week, I ended by saying that I would deacon-struct Holy Week, but I can’t let this week go by without saying something about my favourite Saint. Sometimes, because it’s Lent we may overlook some feasts or solemnities that fall during the season. It’s hard to ignore the Feast of St. Patrick, but how many really pay attention to the Solemnity of St. Joseph?

There isn’t much that we know about Joseph. We know that his Father’s name was Jacob and that he was the husband of Mary. We know that before they lived together he found out she was pregnant and instead of shaming her or causing scandal, he decided to divorce her quietly. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that he was an upright man, a man of principle. We also know that he was a righteous man who followed the law: He observed religious law – we know he went to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. He also followed civil law – he went to Bethlehem for the census. We also know that Joseph had dreams. God spoke to him in his dreams and he followed his dreams.

One thing we don’t know about Joseph are his words. In all of the Gospels, no where do we ever hear anything Joseph says. He never says anything. But he’s a man of action: He does what the angel tells him; he takes Mary as his wife; he goes to Bethlehem; he finds a place to stay for the night; he takes his family to Egypt. He’s a man of action – not a man of words.

For centuries, scholars and artists have tried to figure out Joseph’s words. One of my favourite Christmas songs is Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. In it, Joseph prays:

“How can it be, this baby in my arms, sleeping now, so peacefully. The son of God, the angel said, how could it be? O Lord I know he’s not my own, not of my flesh, not of my bone. Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.”

Then Joseph prays:

“Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours. How can a man be father to the son of God? Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… how can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?”

I like this song because to me it shows what Joseph models perfectly: He was a man after God’s will. He longed to know God’s will and searched to see how he fit into the Father’s plan.

And just like God had a plan for Joseph, God has a plan for each one of us. The plan does not need to be more than that He wants us to be upright and righteous. He wants us to be loving parents, loving husbands and wives. God wants us to follow the law: observe the commandments. But, just like Joseph in the song, we may feel that we don’t have anything to contribute, that we are nothing but simple carpenters. Just like Joseph we may never see the fruit of our work. We may never reap the harvest. The first reading on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, is from the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16). In it, we hear about a promise to King David. We hear about it in Psalm 89 as well: “The son of David will live forever” or “his line will continue forever.” In the second reading for the same feast day (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22) Paul tells the Romans about another upright man who never saw the fruit of his work: Abraham. He did God’s will, but never saw the fulfilment of God’s promise to him.

But the promise was fulfilled. St. Joseph may have been a simple carpenter, who did not amount to much during his life, but today, 2000 years later, he is venerated as one of the greatest saints in the Church. Every March 19th we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. There aren’t a lot of Saints for whom we have solemnities. The Church has been observing this feast since the 10th century and it has been a universal feast since the 16thcentury. And Joseph gets another feast day on May 1st: Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. Except for Mary, no other saint has more than one feast day.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, of fathers, the patron saint of families, the patron saint of homes and the patron saint of workers. Joseph is also the unofficial patron saint against doubt and hesitation, of fighting against communism and of a good and happy death. We also believe that Joseph prays for all pregnant women, for immigrants, travellers and for those buying or selling a house.

In 1870, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph patron of the universal Church. He is the Patron of the Universal Church! And for us in our country, we should know that St. Joseph is the principal patron of Canada. That’s a huge responsibility for a man of so few words. But it’s a perfect job for a man of action.

As we journey through Lent – especially when we gather around the Eucharistic table, let’s pray to St. Joseph. Let him guide us and help us open our hearts to God’s plan for us: that we may be upright and righteous; that we may be men and women after God’s will; that we may be able to pray, “Father show me how I fit into this plan of yours.” And dream. Let God speak to you in your dreams and then get up and do as the angel of the Lord directs you. God has a great plan for everyone. Even for a simple carpenter.

Blessed Marcel Callo 1921-1945

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Today is 70th anniversary of death of Blessed Marcel Callo who was one of the patron blesseds and saints of World Youth Day 2002.

Marcel Callo was born on December 6, 1921, in Rennes, France, being one of nine children. He was a happy child, who was known to be a leader and a perfectionist. He helped with his household chores and he helped take care of his younger siblings. After completing his primary studies, he became an apprentice to a printer around age 13. He did not like associating with fellow workers who swore and told many improper stories. He preferred accompanying good Catholic friends who belonged to the JOC, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (Young Christian Worker). He had a good sense of humor and would like to wrestle, play football, ping pong, cards and bridge.

When Marcel was 20 he fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux. He did not degrade women like his fellow worker but instead had deep respect for women. He said, “I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble. If I have waited until 20 years old to go out with a young lady, it is because I knew that I wanted to find real love. One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ.” It took him about one year to declare his love to Marguerite and an additional four months before they first kissed. After being engaged, they imposed a strict spiritual rule of life which included praying the same prayers and going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist as often as they could.

blog 2On March 8, 1943, the war (World War II) had gripped their city of Rennes. That day his sister, Madeleine was killed by one of the bombs that leveled her building. When the Germans later occupied France, Marcel was ordered and deported to Zella-Mehlis, Germany to the S.T.O.,Service du Travail Obligatoire (Service of Obligatory Work). If he did not comply, his family would be arrested, so he went.

Once there, he worked in a factory that produced bombs that would be used against his own countrymen. After three months or so of missing his family and missing Mass (there was no Catholic church in that town), Marcel became seriously depressed. He later found a room where Mass was offered on Sunday. This helped change his disposition. He reported that, “Finally Christ reacted. He made me to understand that the depression was not good. I had to keep busy with my friends and then joy and relief would come back to me.”

With his morale and hope restored, he cared for his deported friends. He organized a group of Christian workers who did activities together like play sports or cards. He also organized a theatrical group. He galvanized his friends despite him suffering from painful boils, headaches and infected teeth. For his French friends, he arranged a Mass to be celebrated in their native tongue. Eventually, his religious activities attracted unwanted attention from the German officials. The Germans arrested Marcel on April 19, 1944 saying that, “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.”

The Germans interrogated Marcel. He admitted his Catholic activities and was imprisoned in Gotha. He secretly received the Eucharist while in prison and continued to pray and help his companions. He was considered dangerous to the Germans and was moved to a different prison at Mathausen. He suffered from various ailments such as bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentery, fever, swelling, and generalized weakness. He never complained. Despite his suffering, he encouraged his companions by saying, “It is in prayer that we find our strength.” He died on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945. The date was exactly two years from the day he left home.Pope John Paul II beautified Marcel Callo on October 4, 1987 along with two Italian martyrs, Antonio Mesina and Pierina Morosini.

Courtesty of: http://www.savior.org/saints/callo.htm

A wimpy saint?

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I told the Lord, ‘You take care of me. But if your will is that I die or that they do something to me, I ask you just one favor: that it doesn’t hurt because I am a big wimp when it comes to physical pain.

Pope Francis when asked about people’s concerns for his safety

When the Pope admitted this week that he is a wimp when it came to physical pain, I breathed a sigh of relief. Phew! Even the Pope struggles with this issue.

Yeah, I’m a wimp. I admit it. I’ve read the lives of the early Christian martyrs, The Jesuit Relations, even stories of the Christians being persecuted around the globe at this very moment, and the mere thought of suffering like that fills me with horror and the fear that I’m going buckle when put to the test.

This realization also doubles my awe at those who have embraced their persecution.  For example, when the Nazi’s came to take St Edith Stein ( Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) she didn’t resist.  All she said was, “Come Rosa, let us go for Our People”. She knew what lay ahead, but she embraced her suffering with grace and serenity.

How does one get to that point? How am I going to learn to embrace suffering with grace?

Well, I got a clue this past week. I attended a talk on St Edith Stein’s prayer life, hosted by the Association of Hebrew Catholics Toronto. The speaker Mark Neugebauer, like Edith Stein was born Jewish and later became a believer.

By way of relating St Edith’s experience to us, Mark also shared some anecdotes from his own life. His family had been in Auschwitz – his father and uncle. Here’s what’s struck me though, he said that one came out of the experience hating God and the other loving God even more.The difference between the two? The one who had shaky faith before he went into Auschwitz ended up hating God.

That made me think.

In other words, the faith of the one who believed was strengthened in the face of persecution and suffering. Instead of being broken, the believer was sustained and strengthened.

The whole thing seems counter-intuitive, but the more I mulled this over, the more it seemed to explain how saints like Maximilian Kolbe could shine so brightly in a concentration camp.

So Pope Francis may be convinced he’s a wimp, but I’d be willing to bet that his Goliath-like faith will sustain him through the worst of trials.  As for myself, well, let’s just say that after reflecting on these stories I am more determined than ever to be that saint, but I’m not quite ready for the rack just yet.

Angels: Your Forgotten Friends

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Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

Stations_of_the_crossIt’s the 4th week of Lent and I sure hope you guys are hanging in there. In addition to a really good confession, one thing that really should be on your to-do list this Lent is to take a moment to pray and reflect on the Stations of the Cross, at least once. But, ‘why?’ you are probably asking youself. Well, Pope Francis gives you 8 solid reasons here.

Here are also some great reflections on The Way of the Cross:

Here’s an interesting article that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Apparently, despite some of the opposition the Pope is getting from the extreme right or left Catholics, the Pope’s popularity continues to grow. In fact, 9-in-10 Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favourably, on par with ratings of St. John Paul II. Read about it here! With this in mind, here is an interesting article by John Allen that describes what’s really miraculous about Pope Francis.

Louis_Zelie_MartinSpeaking of Popes and Saints, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Pope Francis plans to canonize St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents’ Blesseds Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. The couple was beatified in 2008 and are believed to be the first parents of a saint to be beatified, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. It’s all here on CNS.

Angels. Let’s talk about these important, yet all to often, under-rated protectors we all have. Have a look at this interesting article on EpicPew that points out 10 facts about them that’ll blow your mind! Speaking of which, the Venerable Fulton Sheen has some interesting thoughts on the subject:

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a bit of an architectural enthusiant. So when I came across these three articles, I found them of great interest. First, check out this video of 11 beautiful Christian sites taken with drones! Second, you should see these 5 Hidden Underwater Christian Statues of the Deep. Lastly, take a moment to see this really cool full 60 minutes documentary entitled “BUILDING THE GREATEST CATHEDRALS”

Finally, if you are like many Catholics and prayer may seem like a daunting task, you should think about what kind of prayer best suits your personality type! Here is a neat Quiz that will help you find out what type of prayer is best for you.

Take the test here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel