Tennessee office works to dispel refugee myths

Theresa Laurence
NASHVILLE – Since its founding in 1962, Catholic Charities of Tennessee has assisted refugees and asylum seekers and helped them assimilate to American culture and the local community.
Today, the plight of refugees has moved to center stage as people fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East flood into Europe. Meanwhile, the millions of refugees around the world wait and hope to be resettled in a more stable and secure country. Those who work with refugees in Tennessee are taking steps to clear up misconceptions about who refugees are and the rigorous process they must undergo to reach the United States.
“This is my 41st year on the job and I’ve never seen so much misinformation circulating about refugees,” said Bill Sinclair, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. He first joined the organization more than 40 years ago to help launch a more formalized refugee resettlement program, welcoming refugees from Southeast Asia to Middle Tennessee.
While millions of refugees are fleeing their home countries fearful for their own lives, Americans have become more afraid of refugees. That fear stems from not understanding the screening and resettlement process, which can be long and complicated, Sinclair said. Once people learn the facts, “it dispels the myth” that refugees are here to cause harm, he added. “People have stereotyped anyone from the Middle East as a bad guy, and that’s not true.”
“The misinformation is much louder than the facts right now,” said Holly Johnson, director of the Tennessee Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. “The individual families who are struggling are getting lost in all this noise.”
Terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, late last year left Americans on high alert, and some Tennessee state legislators reacted by calling for swift and harsh action against refugees. Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) proposed that the National Guard round up all Syrian refugees and move them out of state; Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) urged Gov. Bill Haslam to sue the federal government so Tennessee could block future refugees from settling in the state.
About 58,000 refugees live in Tennessee, which is less than one percent of the state’s population; only 30 Syrian refugees were resettled in the entire state last year. Almost all refugees that come to Tennessee are resettled in the four major cities: Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
On Dec. 9, legislators held a joint state and local government committee hearing focused on refugees. Johnson, who was among those called to testify before the committee, saw it as an opportunity to educate lawmakers about refugees and how they are resettled in the state. She also spoke about the role of her office, Tennessee Office for Refugees, its function and its relationship with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and with local resettlement agencies like the Catholic Charities Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The refugee program “is the longest and hardest way to come to the U.S.,” Johnson told the committee hearing.
Refugees must undergo a rigorous screening process that takes at least 18 months. Due to the high number of refugees worldwide, it is not uncommon for them to live in camps for a decade or more while they await one of the few spots available for resettlement. Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled.
Refugees are defined as individuals who have had to leave their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They are targeted because of their religious or political beliefs, or membership in a particular social class.
The process for a refugee to come to the United States begins after a refugee reports to a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If a refugee is seeking entry into the U.S., they will undergo vetting from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department. This involves extensive interviews and background checks, with a particular focus on any signs of radicalization or connection with a terrorist group, which would immediately disqualify that person from entry into the U.S.
While many people have concerns about the screening process – that it can’t be adequately done in a country like Syria where the information infrastructure is in shambles – “those who do the job of vetting are used to checking into people who don’t have all their documents in a nice, neat folder,” Johnson said. “I understand that people are scared, but they should not be scared of refugees, because the process works well.”
There have been no instances of terror attacks by refugees carried out on American soil; the San Bernardino or Chattanooga shooters did not come to the U.S. as refugees, neither did the Boston Marathon bombers, Johnson noted.
If a refugee meets all the guidelines and is chosen to resettle in the U.S., officials at the U.S. State Department, with input from non-government organizations that work with refugees, determine where new refugee arrivals will live. They then notify the local resettlement agency, such as Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office, which will meet them at the airport, help them move into a new apartment, and provide the necessary cultural orientation.
In 2013, state legislators called for a fiscal review to determine the economic impact of refugees, and the study concluded that refugees contribute twice as much money to the state than they take.
In 2015, Catholic Charities of Tennessee helped resettle 375 refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Burundi, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Altogether, about 1,600 refugees were resettled statewide.
(This is an excerpt of a story from the Jan. 1 Tennessee Register, reprinted with permission.)

Anniversaries call to mind struggle for justice

Like the swelling Mississippi River which is fed by many tributaries and sizeable rivers, during the month of January each year the quest for liberty and justice for all in our society is fed by key anniversaries and ever pressing reality.
This past weekend marked the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and today and this weekend the 43 anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that permits abortion on demand throughout the nation. Both commemorations challenge our nation to take stock of our ideals, embedded in our founding documents and in our DNA, the insatiable hunger and thirst for greater liberty and justice for all. (Pledge of Allegiance)
MLK Jr. gave his life for this vision of reality that finds its source and summit in God’s Word. “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of justice and peace, and the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14,7) His passionate eloquence still resounds from the mighty mountains of New York and the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, and the curvaceous slopes of California, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, and from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. (I Have a Dream Speech, Washington 1963)
Five years later, less than one month before his assassination he returned to D.C. to re-invigorate the dream. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”(Washington National Cathedral, March 31, 1968). Racial equality has made huge strides in our nation, but this struggle is a marathon with the finish line a long way off.
As you settle into reading or browsing through this edition of the Mississippi Catholic you are doing so on the 43rd anniversary of Roe v Wade, January 22, 1973. Over these many years the light of life has been snuffed out for countless millions of unborn who have no voice of their own. Among many individuals and organizations in our society, and in a prophetic voice as unflinching as MLK Jr., the Catholic Church has spoken out faithfully, passionately, and eloquently on behalf of the unborn.
Moreover, in an unforeseen way, Religion and Science have been strong allies in the advancement of dignity for the unborn. The latter has revealed the truth of the complexity and beauty of unborn life from the first moment of conception, and the former unrelentingly beats the drum on behalf of the dignity of unborn life, created in the image and likeness of God. “For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Ps 139,13)
At times it may appear that teaching, preaching, pleading and sacrificing on behalf of the unborn is a hopeless cause, but there has been remarkable progress. Applying the following words of MLK Jr. can reinvigorate all pilgrims for a holistic vision of life. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”(Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964.)
We pray for the healing of all who have been wounded by choosing abortion, and for society as a whole whose conscience has been deadened, all to willing to accept abortion as a backup to failed contraception, and in large part, unshaken by the image of buckets of fetuses in Planned Parenthood Clinics. Once again we turn to the unflinching prophetic wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. regarding the web of life of which we are all a part. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16, 1963.
The quest for greater liberty and justice for all continues on many fronts. This year our Catholic Day at the Capitol will focus on the plight of many children and youth in our State’s Foster Care System, and the plight of those afflicted by mental illness. Compassionate and professional care that provide a framework for hope and greater success for our fellow citizens is not a matter of charity, but of justice.
The dedication of our staff and volunteers at Catholic Charities who provide critical services is a living witness of our desire for greater liberty and justice for all.  Once again we let MLK Jr.’s words lift up our hearts and minds. “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
(Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964) If we can develop these opportunities throughout the land we would agree that violence against every stage of human development will diminish.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination the legacy of racism once again confronts our society. A civil society that prides itself on liberty and justice, dignity for each person, and opportunity for all, must work together not only to provide law and order, but also the conditions that contribute to a law abiding society. The following words of MLK Jr. call all of us back to our senses, and provide a dignified path.  “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
In his visit to our nation in September Pope Francis encouraged us to take heart and hope in the goodness of our society, while at the same time he cast the light of truth onto areas that challenge us to overturn the injustices in our land. It’s always good to have prophets visit from foreign shores. With the image of the mighty Mississippi river before us, we commit our lives to the words of Amos, the prophet of Social Justice in the Old Testament. “Let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5,24).

Listening Sessions: Developing a Diocesan Vision

Monday, February 15    St. Dominic Center, Toulouse Bldg     6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, February 16    Meridian, St. Patrick     6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, February 17    Vicksburg, St. Paul     6:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 18    Brookhaven, St. Francis     6:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 21    Southaven, Christ the King     4:00 p.m with dinner
Monday, February 22    Clarksdale, St. Elizabeth     6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, February 23    Madison, St. Francis     6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, February 24    Tupelo, St. James     6:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 25    Starkville, St. Joseph     6:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 28    Greenwood, Immaculate Heart of Mary     4:00 p.m.
Monday, February 29    Greenville, St. Joseph     6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 1    Natchez, St. Mary     6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 2    Batesville, St. Mary     6:30 p.m.

Vicksburg seniors help prevent flood damage

By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG— Just days after returning to school from the Christmas holidays, students at St. Aloysius  School found themselves in downtown Vicksburg shoveling sand into bags to help block rising flood waters steadily approaching their town.
The St. Al seniors, accompanied by a few alumni, chose to forgo their end-of-the-day study hall class and afternoon plans to join city employees near the waterfront for a few hours of hands-on work in preparation for the Mississippi River’s crest, which was expected to reach 50.2 feet on Friday, Jan. 15.
“Floods are a different kind of disaster,” said Warren County Emergency Management director John Elfer. “They get here slow, and they leave here slow. It’s not like a flash flood where you don’t have time to get ready for it.” And get ready for it is exactly what the St. Al students did — by helping place a sandbag wall around the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Depot to help keep water out of the historic building. “The kids were excited to do something that they knew would have an immediate impact on their city and town,” said Joan Thornton, theology teacher at St. Al. “They were happy to do it. They really understand that the river is part of who we are in Vicksburg.”
“I think it’s always a great feeling when after you’re done you get to see how much help you’ve provided and how you’ve made an actual difference,” said senior Elizabeth Counts. “I think it was a great opportunity for some of my classmates and me to be able to directly help do something for our city. We were able to protect something that is an important part of Vicksburg.”
Despite the fact that winter floods of this magnitude are incredibly rare for the area, local agencies are prepared to deal with any needs that emerge. Organizations like United Way of West Central Mississippi and Catholic Charities have been in on phone calls and meetings with disaster recovery groups to discuss ways to best handle relief efforts.
“We’ll be looking at where the unmet needs are and coordinating so we don’t duplicate efforts,” said Dorothy Balsar, director of parish-based ministries for Catholic Charities.
“Those needs could be mucking kits or household items; maybe people will need access to temporary housing at a hotel. There are a number of ways just to help people get back on their feet and get back to normal.”
Michele Connelly, executive director of United Way in Vicksburg, said the needs during a flood event aren’t always clear from the start.
“The need for shelter is the most important as water is starting to come into homes at this time,” Connelly said just two days before the river’s predicted crest. “It’s a wait and see game for a lot of people.” Connelly also noted that cleanup after a flood is an important part of the recovery process.
“A lot of people are able to take things out of their homes because they’ve had warning, so there isn’t so much a need for donated “things” as there will be for cleaning supplies upon re-entry, and maybe some volunteer hours in helping people get back into their homes after the waters recede. Money is always extremely useful, sometimes you don’t know what the need is going to be until the need arises. Having funds on hand to meet those needs makes it easier,” Connelly said.
“Where we’ll really need people to help is when the flood is over with,” Elfer said. “This is going to be a long-term event – it’s going to be three weeks before the water goes down at least.” After the river reached a historic high of 57.1 feet in 2011, Connelly said the people of Vicksburg learned a lot about coping with such a disaster.
“There is a large group of people and nonprofits in the area ready to step up, there have been so many things already put in place; we’re blessed with a community like that.” That Great Mississippi River Flood of 2011, which saw a crest high enough for record books, taught valuable lessons about preparing for a flood, not just reacting to it.
“Because of what we did in 2011, like elevating structures and getting them out of the flood area, we won’t have as much damage this go around,” Elfer said.
But despite a better understanding, and a crest that wound up being a few feet lower than originally projected, the water has affected more than 100 homes in the area.
For those interested in donating to or getting involved with flood relief efforts, contact the following agencies or a local parish.
Warren County EMA, 601-636-1544; Catholic Charities, www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.; United Way of West Central Mississippi, 601-636-1733.


CHATAWA St. Mary of the Pines Retreat Center, Married Couple’s Retreat, Feb. 5-7. The theme is, “Finding God in All things – Encountering the Living God in Marriage.” Robin and Easton Hebert, spiritual directors and retreat leaders from Lafayette, La, will lead the retreat. Details: Sister Helen Roper, 601-341-9447 (cell),  hroper@ssndcp.org.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, small group meetings to discuss Pope Francis’ “Jubilee Year of Mercy,” beginning the week of Jan. 25, at  parishioners’ homes.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph Parish, seven-session, “Discovering Christ,” on Tuesdays until March 8, from 6 – 8 p.m. in the parish hall. Dinner, transportation and child care will be available.
GREENWOOD Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, presentation by Father Daniel Cambra, MIC, from the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Ma., Friday, March 4, at 6 p.m. followed by a blessing with a first class relic of St. Faustina.
JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, Rosary  for Life, every third Saturday of the month at 9 am. in the Mary Garden of the Cathedral parking lot.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica and Assumption parishes mission, “Call to spiritual renewal and encounter with God,” Jan. 25-28. A light dinner will be served from 5:30 – 6:15 p.m. at St. Mary, followed by the main presentation. The Wednesday evening program will include reconciliation with a number of visiting priests.
– Theology course, “Deepening of Faith Commitment,” begins on Thursday, Feb. 18-March 24, in the O’Connor Family Life Center beginning with a light supper at 6 p.m.
YAZOO CITY St. Mary Parish, eight-week “Church History Course,” beginning in March. Details: Diane Melton.

CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories Parish college students who would like information or to be notified by text about our the parish’s Bible groups and other activities, call or text your name and number to Natalie Hardesty, 228-861-7253.
CLINTON Holy Savior Parish mission, Feb. 16-19.
GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph Parish, bingo fund-raiser, Friday, Jan. 29, from 6 – 8 p.m. in the parish hall. All youth who plan to attend the summer trip need to participate.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph School’s annual fund-raiser, Spring Fling, “Irish Emerald Isle,” Saturday, Jan 30,  6 p.m. – midnight at the Washington County Convention Center. Tickets are $100 for two people, as well the opportunity to win up to $5,000. Details: 662-378-9711.
GRENADA St. Peter Parish, blood drive, Sunday, Jan. 31, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit Parish Theatre Company meeting, Sunday, Jan. 25, after the 10:30 a.m. Mass.  Details: Ken Hoover, 662-420-0110. The group is planning a new production for May 7. The cast will include nine women and seven men, ranging in ages from teens to senior citizens.
JACKSON St. Dominic Hospital, free yoga classes on Thursdays at 3 p.m. in the Center Complex, Toulouse Building. Details: 601-200-6698.
JACKSON 30th annual Knights of Peter Claver-LA , Mardi Grass Ball, Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Regency Hotel (near the coliseum). Tickets are $30. Details: Christ the King Parish, Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Court #199.
JACKSON St. Richard School, “Krewe de Cardinal” ball, Friday, Feb. 5. Tickets are $100 per couple. Details: 601-366-1157, www.strichardschool.org.
JACKSON St. Richard Parish, Boy Scout Troop 30 33rd. annual Super Bawl Sunday pulled pork dinner with trimmings, Sunday, Feb. 7, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. in Foley Hall. Plates are $8 each.
MADISON St. Joseph School’s annual “Jeans, Jazz and Bruins Blues” Draw Down, Saturday, Jan. 30, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The Grand Prize is $10,000. Tickets are $130 and admits two. Details: Office of Advancement, 601-898-4800, badkins@stjoebruins.com.
MADISON Mississippi Talent Education presentation of “The celebration of light event,” Saturday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Family Life Center. Tickets are $12 each with eligibility for cash door prizes. Details: 601-832-6901, www.celebrationoflightevent.com.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick Parish, farewell reception for Father Francis Cosgrove, Sunday, Jan. 31, after the 11 a.m. Mass in the parish center. The meat and drinks will be provided, bring a side dish according to your last name: A-L, dessert; M-Z, side dish or salad.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Young at Heart senior social, Saturday, Feb. 20, for parishioners and friends aged 65+. Volunteers and donations of door prizes and bingo prizes needed. Details: Call 601-898-4803 to purchase a ticket or be a sponsor.
TUPELO St. James Parish, Happy Hearts Mardi Gras party, Friday, Jan. 29, at 12 noon in Shelton Hall. All are invited. RSVP to the church so the proper amount of food can be prepared.

JACKSON – World Marriage Day 2016, Sunday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. There will be a Mass followed by a reception. The Mass honors all married couples, but especially recognizes those celebrating their 25th, 50th or 60th anniversaries or any significant anniversary. Details: Jennifer Eidt, 601-960-8487, jennifer.eidt@jacksondiocese.org.

JACKSON – Save the date for Catholic Charities’ Catholic Day at the Capitol set for Thursday, Feb. 11, in Jackson. Activities this year will include in-depth discussions on effective advocacy and how the state can better serve children, families and those with mental health issues. Look for a full preview on pages 7-10 of this issue of Mississippi Catholic.

JACKSON – The Office of Black Catholic Ministry announces a combined Martin Luther King Jr., and Black History Month celebration Saturday, Feb. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Bishop Ferdinand Cheri, auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, dubbed the ‘dancing bishop’ for his joyful singing and dancing during his episcopal ordination in 2015, will be the guest speaker.
Bishop Cheri was raised in New Orleans. He taught at St. Augustine High School and served as assistant campus minister at Xavier University.

Irish priests, gathered for reunion, remember their lost brothers

LONG BEACH – Although he’s only been the bishop of Jackson for two years, Bishop Joseph Kopacz is well versed on the annual reunion of priests from St. Patrick College Seminary in Carlow, a gathering which has recently expanded to include Irish priests from throughout the United States and abroad.
“I know that the Carlow Reunion is a spirited event that certainly embodies the Joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis asks of us,” Bishop Kopacz said, during the annual memorial Mass for deceased Irish priests, which was celebrated on Jan. 5 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, in conjunction with the 2016 reunion. “(Pope Francis) has admonished us, as Christians, not to look like we have just returned from a funeral. But, we can say, he’s probably never been to an Irish wake or memorial gathering because that’s a very spirited gathering, not one that’s overly dour.”
Bishop Kopacz said he accepted the invitation to preach at the Memorial Mass on behalf of the deceased priests of Carlow Seminary as “a good omen, especially after reading that a thousand priests in Ireland signed a document of protest over the process of selecting bishops.”
“I took this as a good omen and it looks like Bishop Morin and I have survived the purge and can continue to serve,” he added. Bishop Kopacz said the Eucharistic celebration was the perfect opportunity to express thanksgiving on behalf of the deceased priests from the seminary of Carlow, who have served throughout Mississippi and the English-speaking world.
Alluding to the missionary spirit so often mentioned by the Holy Father, Bishop Kopacz said, “Pope Francis wants the Church to get out of itself and go to those on the outskirts of existence and that could be someone right around the corner from where we live or across the ocean.
“(Pope Francis) says, “With loving contemplation of Jesus Christ, the whole Church is to become an evangelizing community of missionary disciples, avoiding a posture of maintenance, embracing a permanent state of mission.’ That’s our call in every age. Certainly, that is the gift I believe Pope Francis is bringing to the Church – renewing that call and, also, this evening, celebrating that call in the lives of so many dedicated priests who have served.”
Bishop Kopacz said the seminary in Carlow embodied that spirit of evangelization throughout its 200-year existence.
“From 1793 to 1993, over 3,100 priests were ordained out of the seminary, many of them from 1892 to 1989, when it was exclusively a seminary,” he said.
“Many set forth on a mission to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the English-speaking countries in our world.
“Those numbers are well documented,” Bishop Kopacz added. “It’s also well-documented that the most zealous and brightest of these priests were sent to Mississippi.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis writes, “Missionary disciples or evangelizers must be those who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”
That passage, Bishop Kopacz said, perfectly captures the missionary spirit of the priests who came to Mississippi from Carlow.
The papal mandate to embrace the world with the Light of the Gospel is not just bishops and priests, Bishop Kopacz said.
“This invitation, this mandate, is for all of us,” he said. “All of us must go forth to draw near to those who don’t know or live the Gospel by building bridges, supporting others, taking on the smell of the sheep and patiently seeking to accompany them on their journeys to free them and free us from all unworthy chains of the idolatry of money and the arrogance of power, the culture of indifference, the tyranny of relativism, from violence, power, greed, drug addiction and the insatiable hunger of the arms merchants drenched in blood. Our time certainly has its challenges and, yet, we have the Light of the Gospel where the mercies of the Lord are renewed each day.”
Bishop Kopacz told all gathered that, “Each of us is a mission to be salt, light and leaven in a world that is immersed or inclined toward darkness.”
“We walk with God each day in the land of the living and we know that the Light of the Gospel continues to burn bright – dimmer in certain areas and certain times but certainly, through suffering and martyrdom and sacrifice and loving dedication, the Lord is very much present,” he said.
“For nearly 200 years, Eucharist – the Blood of the Covenant – has been our source and summit, the fountain of God’s mercy that endures forever. The deceased priests of Carlow have their chapter in the Lord’s demand to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations.’ May they have the rewards of their labors in the Father’s rest.”
In 2014, Carlovians Father Gerard Cleary of the Diocese of Biloxi and Father Martin Ruane of the Diocese of Jackson were called home to God. The Memorial Mass is the highpoint of the three-day reunion, which also includes a golf tournament and a few celebratory meals.
Carlow Alum Father Liam Kelleher has been coming to the reunion for 15 years.
“I make this a part of my vacation, said Father Kelleher, a priest from Cobh in County Cork, who was ordained in 1978 for the Diocese of Cloyne.
“I take the month of January off because the weather is very bad in Ireland and it’s nice to get away and get to where the sunshine is. Father Jim Fennessy (of Atlanta) and I are the only two here from the Class of 68 but it’s great to see all the others and play a game of golf I want to thank the people here because this is a marvelous church, a marvelous community and it is absolutely wonderful to be here.”

Jubilee Year of Mercy

The Diocese of Jackson has esablished ten pilgrimage sites in addition to the Holy Door at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. These sites allow the faithful to make a pilgrimage and fully immerse themselves in the contemplation of mercy.
The pope declared certain days to be jubilee days for specific groups of people – catechists, those who work in prison ministry, youth, etc. A full schedule is posted on the diocesan website, www.jacksondiocese.org. In addition, parishes are adding their own observances of the year to their calendars.
In Booneville, Carol Dickerson created a pilgrimage site map, tracing the path between the sites with little feet and including photos of each church a pilgrim should visit in each town. She included information on the jubilee and on pilgrimages in general.
In Vicksburg, St. Paul Parish is celebrating the feast of St. Paul with a pilgrimage day packed with opportunities for liturgy, prayer and fellowship.
A schedule of a couple of events follows.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories Parish will have weekly small-group discussions for six weeks after the mission (Jan. 17-19) in parishioners’ homes. The focus will be “The Holy Year of Mercy” as declared by Pope Francis.
JACKSON St. Richard Parish, Benediction, every Wednesday during the Year of Mercy from 6 – 6:30 p.m. and confession from 6:30 – 7:30 in the church.
VICKSBURG St. Mary Parish has Mass at  6:30 a.m. and a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help at 6 p.m. The church will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. for pilgrims to visit.
St. Michael Catholic Church has Mass at 8:30 a.m. The church will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for  pilgrims.
St. Paul Catholic Church will have Mass at 7:00 a.m.; Eucharistic Adoration at 7:30 a.m.;
8:00 a.m.    Rosary: Joyful Mysteries
9:00 a.m. Rosary: Sorrowful Mysteries
10:00 a.m. Rosary: Glorious Mysteries
11:00 a.m. Rosary: Luminous Mysteries
11:00 am to noon confession
11:30 am Benediction                Noon Mass
12:30 pm    Eucharistic Adoration
1:00 pm    Rosary: Joyful Mysteries
2:00 pm Rosary: Sorrowful Mysteries
3:00 pm Divine Mercy Chaplet and the 3 o’clock prayers
4:00 pm Rosary: Glorious Mysteries
4:30 to 5:30 pm  confession
5:00 pm Rosary: Luminous Mysteries
5:30 pm    Benediction
7:00 pm    Peter & Paul Film in Farrell Hall
For additional information contact:   601.636.0140  or 601.831.0978.
If your parish or faith community is hosting a Jubilee Year of Mercy event or program, please let us know about it by emailing editor@mississippicatholic.com)

Silence provides pathway to holiness

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The Belgian spiritual writer, Bieke Vandekerckhove, comes by her wisdom honestly. She didn’t learn what she shares from a book or even primarily from the good example of others. She learned what she shares through the crucible of a unique suffering, being hit at the tender age of nineteen with a terminal disease that promised not just an early death but also a complete breakdown and humiliation of her body enroute to that death.
Her attempt to cope with her situation drove her in many directions, initially to anger and hopelessness but eventually to monasteries, to the wisdom of monasticism, and, under its direction, into the deep well of silence, that desert that lurks so threateningly inside each of us. Away from all the noises of the world, in the silence of her own soul, inside the chaos of her raging, restless insides she found the wisdom and strength not just to cope with her illness but to also find a deeper meaning and joy in her life.
There are, as John Updike poetically puts it, secrets that are hidden from health, though, as Vandekerckhove makes evident, they can be uncovered in silence. However uncovering the secrets that silence has to teach us is not easy.
Silence, until properly befriended, is scary and the process of befriending it is the soul’s equivalent of crossing a hot desert. Our insides don’t easily become calm, restlessness doesn’t easily turn into solitude and the temptation to turn to the outside world for consolation doesn’t easily give way to the idea of quiet. But there’s a peace and a meaning that can only be found inside the desert of our own chaotic and raging insides. The deep wells of consolation lie at the end of an inner journey through heat, thirst, and dead-ends that must be pushed through with dogged fidelity. And, as for any epic journey, the task is not for the faint of heart.
Here’s how Vandekerckhove describes one aspect of the journey: “Inner noise can be quite exhausting. That’s probably why so many flee to the seduction of exterior background noises. They prefer to have the noise just wash over them. But if you want to grow spiritually, you have to stay inside of the room of your spiritual raging and persevere.
You have to continue to sit silently and honestly in God’s presence until the raging quiets down and your heart gradually becomes cleansed and quieted. Silence forces us to take stock of our actual manner of being human. And then we hit a wall, a dead point. No matter what we do, no matter what we try, something in us continues to feel lost and estranged, despite the myriad ways of society to meet our human needs. Silence confronts us with an unbearable bottomlessness, and there appears no way out. We have no choice but to align ourselves with the religious depth in us.”
There’s a profound truth: Silence confronts us with an unbearable bottomlessness and we have no choice but to align ourselves with the religious depth inside us. Sadly, for most of us, we will learn this only by bitter conscription when we have to actually face our own death. In the abandonment of dying, stripped of all options and outlets we will, despite struggle and bitterness, have to, in the words of Karl Rahner, allow ourselves to sink into the incomprehensibility of God.
Moreover, before this surrender is made, our lives will always remain somewhat unstable and confusing and there will always be dark, inner corners of the soul that scare us.
But a journey into silence can take us beyond our dark fears and shine healing light into our darkest corners. But, as Vandekerckhove and other spiritual writers point out, that peace is usually found only after we have reached an impasse, a “dead point” where the only thing we can do is “to pierce the negative.”
In her book, The Taste of Silence, Vandekerckhove recounts how an idealistic friend of hers shared his dream of going off by himself into some desert to explore spirituality.
Her prompt reaction was not much to his liking: “A person is ready to go to any kind of desert. He’s willing to sit anywhere, as long as it’s not his own desert.” How true. We forever hanker after idealized deserts and avoid our own.
The spiritual journey, the pilgrimage, the Camino, we most need to make doesn’t require an airline ticket, though an experienced guide is recommended. The most spiritually rewarding trip we can make is an inner pilgrimage, into the desert of our own silence.
As human beings we are constitutively social. This means, as the bible so bluntly puts it, that it is not good for the human person to be alone. We are meant to be in community with others. Heaven will be a communal experience; but, on the road there, there’s a certain deep inner work that can only be done alone, in silence, away from the noise of the world.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Jackson refugee program assists young people

Debra West has several hundred ‘children,’ and she loves when they call on her. West is the director of the Catholic Charities Uncaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program for Catholic Charities Jackson. Every table and window ledge in her office is covered in framed photos – graduations, weddings, new babies – reminders of the hundreds of lives she has touched. She has been at her post for 13 years, but the program has been in place in the diocese since 1980.
“They still call me, years after they have left,” she said. Once a participant turns 21 he or she is ‘emancipated,’ but West said she and her staff are always available to help. “We get calls 10, 15 years later, mostly people looking for their documents,” said West, but she likes to hear where they are and what they are doing.
An unaccompanied refugee minor (URM) is a child who enters the United States prior to their 18th birthday without a parent or guardian to care for them. Children who arrive with parents or other relatives may also become eligible for URM program services if their caregivers can no longer take care of them once in the United States.
The program assists the young people in developing appropriate skills to enter adulthood and to achieve economic and social self-sufficiency.
The primary focus of the program has always been to work toward reuniting these children with relatives whenever possible. The program was developed in the 1980’s by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to initially address the needs of thousands of children in Southeast Asia without a parent or guardian to care for them.
Since 1980, Catholic Charities of Jackson, has provided specialized foster care to refugee children from Vietnam, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Haiti, Burma, Eritrea and the Republic of the Congo. These children were separated from their parents due to the outbreak of war or political upheaval in their countries. Their earliest childhood memories are of death, destruction, separation and survival. They witnessed the burning of their homes and villages and the massacre of their families and friends.
Some children had to flee without knowing who among their families had died or survived. At an age when most children were learning their ABC’s, they were running for their lives.
The children endured hunger, thirst, military assaults, and animal attacks to reach refugee camps. They learned to survive on their own and as a group. Refugee camps were able to provide the children with food, shelter, and relative safety to ease their physical suffering but could do little to heal their nightmarish memories or fears over the fate of their loved ones.
Catholic Charities also serves asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking.
Depending on their needs, the children are placed in therapeutic foster homes, group care, or independent living. “We have two group homes which can accommodate eight young men each,” said West. The foster parents in the group homes and individual homes get specialized training to help meet the needs of the young people, some of whom have been through traumatic situations before they arrive.
The URM program also offers assistance in obtaining U.S. residency, court documentation for immigration issues, translation services, English as a second language help, cultural orientation including grooming and hygiene instruction, case management, therapeutic services, tutors, socialization and recreational outlets.
Case workers and foster parents help the youth celebrate cultural holidays from their homelands and offer them the chance to learn about American holidays and culture. The success stories abound. West said 90 percent of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan who came to Jackson, boys who fled the civil war in the African Republic to avoid becoming child soldiers, are now U.S. Citizens. Two of them even became therapeutic foster parents for the program when they completed it. West said most of them have also attainted master’s degrees. One received a prestigious scholarship from Rotary International to study diplomacy abroad. Another is in Texas working with FEMA.
One of the most dramatic success stories is that of Bul Mabil, a Lost Boy who was one of only 50 people worldwide to be selected for a Rotary Peace Fellowship to pursue a master’s of Conflict, Security and Development at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. He was five when he and his brother were forced to flee their home without their parents. He told his story to Mississippi Catholic in 2014 before he left for his studies.
“This is a chance to make a difference globally, not just locally,” he said. “This program is to train young leaders who can be catalysts for peace and conflict resolution nationally and internationally,” he added.
There is no doubt his own history with the URM program played into his decision to take on the fellowship. “The value of this program is that they are able to help children have an opportunity here in the U.S. Wherever they come from – there was a reason they came. They did not just decide to go,” he said. “None of us (the Lost Boys) wanted to leave the country where we were born. We had to leave because of war,” he said.
“Refugee issues have become big issues nowadays. The situations affecting these people are not well understood. I would like to highlight them,” Mabil said. “It is different coming from a war-torn country. These things (his success) did not come easily. It took struggle and I would not have overcome the struggles without a program like URM,” he said.
When a URM turns 21, Catholic Charities has a celebration for them. This year, two people left the program, both are continuing their education. West is a proud mom, she takes pride in the graduates and her staff. “We do outstanding work. All of our monitoring visits indicate that. The USCCB sees us as a premiere program,” she said.
West said she would like to open another group home for girls and always welcomes people who want to become therapeutic foster parents. To learn more about the foster parent program call Michael Holloway at 601-981-4668 ext. 702.

Biloxi program settled thousands

BILOXI – The Office of Migration Refugee Resettlment for the Catholic Charities for the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi has resettled more than 7,000 people along the coast since it opened in 1977. The first refugees came from Vietnam and settled nicely into the fishing communities of the coast.
Maggie Leleaux, program director, helps each family find housing and jobs and then starts working on residency or citizenship. She mostly accepts families and adults, but has worked with some young people until they could reunite with their families.
She said many of her families were forced to go to Texas or Florida when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes and businesses, but are returning every day and want to be a part of the rebuilding efforts in their communities.
In a few weeks she will meet with the East Biloxi Asian Community Collaborative, a group with grants from the Department of the Interior and EPA who have plans to revitalize their town with help from all the residents and community members. She said these former refugees are thankful for the new start they got on the coast and want to give back. They have raised their children here and know the value of community.
Her office has settled families from Eastern Europe, Africa, Russia and Cuba, among other nations.
Leleaux said she has gotten calls from people concerned about refugee resettlement, but she points to the many success stories in her community.
“The United States is a country of immigrants. We should treat people who are seeking help, who are fleeing war and violence, whose children are being attacked and threatened – we should treat them with open hearts. We should accept these people and have compassion for them,” said Leleaux.
The Biloxi program also has a grant to work with victims of human trafficking. Leleaux had several cases of labor trafficking last year. These are people who are lured to the U.S. on the promise of a work visa and are forced into slave labor when they arrive. Leleaux works with law enforcement and immigration to protect this population of people.