Survivors of sisters killed in Mississippi continue duo’s ‘ministry of presence’

by Dan Stockman, Aug. 24, 2017 in Spirituality (reprinted with permission by Global Sisters Report, globalsistersreport.org, original with pictures can be found here)

The sun was rising on an early March morning in 2016, and Rosemarie Merrill was in the driveway, getting ready to leave for the long trek from Durant, Mississippi, to her home near Boston.

She had been visiting her sister, Sr. Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, and Paula’s housemate, co-worker and friend, Sr. Margaret Held of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.

“Paula brought me my coffee and Margaret brought me blueberry muffins she made,” Merrill said. “Them, standing in the driveway, waving goodbye. That’s my last memory of them, and no one’s going to take that away from me.”

Months later, the motherhouses of the two sisters got the news: On the afternoon of Aug. 25, police checked on the sisters when they did not show up at the medical clinic where they worked in nearby Lexington. They found signs of a break-in and entered the house to find Held and Merrill had been killed.

Held and Merrill had become what Jesuit Fr. James Martin would later call “martyrs of charity.” They were both 68.

In Nazareth, the leadership team called the sisters together in the chapel and shared the news.

“Our individual and community grief flowed in and out of each other,” Sr. Susan Gatz, the congregation’s president, wrote. “Our minds scrambled to make sense of it … no use. Our hearts ached.”

Less than 48 hours later, police arrested Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, a town about 18 miles east of Durant. He remains held without bond, preliminarily charged with two counts of capital murder as well as burglary and grand larceny for allegedly stealing one of the sisters’ cars. The sisters had reportedly been stabbed to death.

Holmes County court officials said a grand jury is expected to deliver its decision in September or October on whether there is enough evidence to put Sanders to trial. If so, he will be formally charged and a trial date will likely be set for next year. The district attorney has not said whether she will seek the death penalty for Sanders; both congregations have stated their opposition to it.

Though Held and Merrill had been in the impoverished town of Durant, population about 2,700, for six years, they had been ministering to those made poor for some 30 years, mostly in Mississippi. In May, a stone monument with their pictures on it was placed in a Durant park honoring their service.

They were posthumously inducted into the Nightingale Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Mississippi Nurses’ Association and the Mississippi Nurses’ Foundation, and a scholarship at the Mississippi University for Women, where both received nursing degrees, was established in their names. The award will be presented to a graduate nursing student who works in an underserviced or needy area or who is active in charitable or community service work.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth will hold a Mass in Merrill’s honor at 10:30 a.m. EDT Aug. 25, which can be viewed via a live webcast. The School Sisters of St. Francis held a prayer service in Held’s honor Aug. 23.

A lifelong bond with the School Sisters

Beth Bacik saw Held, her younger sister, in Milwaukee just a few weeks before Held died. Held was home in Milwaukee for a spirituality conference but took time to visit all the elderly sisters in the motherhouse because she didn’t get back to Milwaukee often and feared it might be the last time she saw them before they died, Bacik said.

Bacik has always been close to the School Sisters of St. Francis, and not only because her sister joined the order. The School Sisters educated both of their parents, and all six daughters went to the sisters’ grade school. Held and Bacik both attended their high school, and Bacik attended their Alverno College.

Whenever Bacik visited the motherhouse, it always felt like home because of her many years spent with the sisters. But after Held’s death, she became even closer to the community. After the All Saints’ Day Mass, the choir director asked if she sang.

“I said, ‘I was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Of course I sing!’ ” Bacik said, and that sealed her membership in the choir. “One bad thing happens, and then you find something good in it. We have a larger family now.”

In addition to choir rehearsals and singing for Mass, Bacik also traveled with several sisters to Durant in May for the dedication of the monument honoring Held and Merrill’s work.

The night before the dedication, sisters from both communities as well as relatives of Held and Merrill had dinner with a local parishioner, who also happened to be the real estate agent handling the sale of the sisters’ house, which belonged to Rosemarie Merrill and Rosemarie’s son, David. As the real estate agent, he had a key, and some of those gathered decided to visit the home the next morning.

“I knew I was going to go in, but others weren’t sure,” Bacik said. Though the crime scene had been cleaned so the house could be sold, some were not sure they wanted to be in a place where such horror had taken place.

Bacik had visited Held there eight years before. And when she walked in, she instantly recognized something.

“There was a fragrance in the house that reminded me of the last time I visited them,” she said. “I can’t even tell you what it was, but I recognized it instantly.”

The others stayed in the living room, but Bacik went into Held’s bedroom.

“I walked in there by myself, not knowing what I was going to feel,” Bacik said. “But I immediately felt close to her, being in her space. I just folded my hands, closed my eyes, and this beautiful feeling of peace just washed over me.

“It was so beautiful and intense. I thought, ‘This is a holy place, a sacred place.’ I felt like it was a holy chapel or a church.”

‘Paula was doing what she loved’

Sr. Adeline Fehribach was the Sisters of Charity’s provincial at the time Merrill died and delivered a reflection at her funeral Mass.

Merrill did much more than just treat the sick, Fehribach told the mourners. She listened to their stories, she prayed for them, she wept for them, and she worked for others to hear the cry of people who live in poverty, as well.

“She listened with love, knowing that she was encountering the suffering Christ, and then she would bring her experience of the suffering Christ to prayer, where she would sometimes weep over her own Jerusalem of Holmes County, Mississippi,” she said.

Those encounters with Christ also would have shaped her reaction to the perpetrator of the crime against her, Fehribach said.

“As strange as it may sound to those who did not know Paula, if Paula could meet the person who killed her, she would not focus on what the person had done to her. Her heart would be broken at what had happened to her friend Margaret, and she may even have to work at getting over her anger at the fact that her patients had lost their one lifeline to a better quality of life,” she said.

“But as she worked through her pain and anger at the harm done to others, I believe she would look upon the one who caused all the harm and see in that face the suffering Christ, as well,” Fehribach added. “I can almost hear her say with compassion, ‘What kind of violence did you experience that could allow you to do what you have done to me, to my friend, and to this community? Who hurt you that much? How can I help you let go of some of that pain?’ ”

Fehribach said in an email interview with Global Sisters Report that she initially asked God why something like this would happen, especially when there are so few sisters to take their place.

“I came to the realization that the sister who experienced such a violent death probably would have been an active sister working on the margins,” Fehribach wrote. “Consolation came with knowing that Paula was doing what she loved with the people whom she loved and who loved her back.”

Holmes County can a painful place, Rosemarie Merrill said. When she would visit her sister and Held in Durant, she never failed to be shocked by the abject poverty she witnessed.

“Paper shacks. Metal shacks. Houses with very few windows. It was just awful,” Merrill said.

Though she is deeply grieved by the loss, Merrill said she focuses on the incredible joy the sisters brought to everyone they met.

“They were just fun people to be around,” she said. “We would be there some nights at dinner, and we couldn’t eat because we were laughing so hard. I know the people in Durant still miss them terribly — the people just really loved Paula and Margaret.”

Though she attended Sanders’ first court appearance and plans to attend the sentencing if he is convicted, Merrill will not attend a trial. She said she doesn’t want her fond memories ruined by details of the deaths.

Looking to the future

Many of those close to Held and Merrill have said part of their mourning is for the community the sisters served because the two were a vital link between people living in poverty and health care.

But the Daughters of Charity are preparing to help fill that gap.

Daughters of Charity Sr. Mary Beth Kubera said Sr. Mary Walz, a social worker, will live and work in Durant starting in November, after Walz’s sabbatical ends. Kubera said the two have been planning the mission for months.

Kubera, a member of the province leadership council, said the community in St. Louis had already been looking for a way to serve the people of Mississippi, and, after the loss of Held and Merrill, Durant seemed to be the perfect place.

“The work the sisters were doing was really a ministry of presence to the people,” Kubera said. “Sister Mary’s going to be a social worker at the clinic, and we’re looking for another sister or two interested in partnering with us.”

The Lexington Medical Clinic has hired a nurse practitioner and continues to run much as it did when Held and Merrill worked there, officials at the clinic said.

Kubera said the invitation to join Walz has gone out to the entire Sisters of Charity Federation, and they hope to have a partner for Walz by the end of September in time for the November move-in date.

The sister or sisters who go to Durant will already have a place to live: They will lease the same house Held and Merrill lived in, which Rosemarie and David Merrill still own.

“It’s a very sacred space. The sisters made a very happy home there,” Kubera said. “The people will be extremely pleased to know they’ll have the presence of sisters again.”

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

Youth

Youth offer service in their own community

By Deacon Jeff Artigues
STARKVILLE –From July 31 – August 3, 11 teens from Starkville St. Joseph Parish served God and their community by participating in a week of service titled, HomeWork. For the past 10 years, the youth have volunteered at various worksites throughout Starkville, Tupelo and the Delta.
The idea behind HomeWork is that while going out of state and out of the country to do service work is honorable and needed, there are plenty of people in need in our own communities.
The youth spent the week cleaning and organizing the Starkville Habitat for Humanity warehouse/resale store, cooking for the St. Joseph Grand Generation luncheon, preparing and serving dinner at the Casserole Kitchen, adding gravel to a dog walk (previously done at HomeWork 2011) at the Starkville Humane Society shelter, unloading a delivery for the church’s food pantry, painting at Camp Seminole Boy Scout Camp, and sorting through a thousand plus pounds of clothes at the Palmer Home Thrift Store.
Recently, I heard someone on the radio complaining about today’s teens, and wondering what the future holds for us with “them” running things in about 30 years. I wish he could have seen what I witnessed during this week (and all throughout the year). These teens could have been doing anything during this last week of their summer vacation, but they chose to serve Christ through serving those in need. Don’t be worried about the future – we’re in good hands.
(Deacon Jeff Artigues serves at Starkville St. Joseph Parish.)

Commissioning Day

JACKSON – St. Richard teacher Sarah Sistrunk washes the feet of Cy Stephen in St. Richard’s Commissioning Day Ceremony for the 2017-2018 6th Grade Graduating Class. The students are commissioned as servant leaders for their last year. (Photo by Wendi Shearer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students all smiles to start school year

CLARKSDALE – Students from St. Elizabeth School came fresh and ready for their first day, Monday, Aug. 7. (Photos by Dawn Spinks)

 

VICKSBURG – Even the littlest students, such as pre-k student Vida Mixon, in photo at right, were excited about their first day at Vicksburg Catholic Schools. (Photo by Holly Chewning)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOLY SPRINGS – The students at Holy Family School opened their school year with a day filled with prayer, scripture and song. (Photo courtesy of Laura Grisham)

VICKSBURG – Children of St Paul Parish gather to receive the annual Blessing of the Backpacks from Father Tom Lalor. (photo by Allyson Johnston)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JACKSON – St. Richard’s Charlie Thompson receives a pencil from a Madison St. Joe Bruin Cheerleader during carpool the first week of school. The St. Joe Cheer team visited all the Jackson-area Catholic Elementary Schools, including Jackson Sister Thea Bowman and Madison St. Anthony to get the students pumped up about the new year. (Photo by Wendi Shear)

Catholic leaders, groups urge all Americans to confront ‘sin of racism’

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Franciscan Action Network called on all Americans, “especially ourselves and those who have benefited from white privilege,” to look within themselves “and confront America’s original sin – the sin of racism.”
“White Americans must no longer stand silent as we continue to benefit from the attitudes and structures that put us ahead of African-Americans and other minority groups,” the organization said in an Aug. 14 statement issued in reaction to a chaotic and hate-filled weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.
The network joined with Catholic bishops, other church leaders and various groups throughout the nation in calling for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz was in Ireland when violence erupted in Charlottesville. He and the priests with whom he traveled greeted the news with sadness and prayer. “I have and will continue to condemn racism and violence of all kinds. The people of Mississippi have seen the deep and lasting damage that hate can leave on a community,” he said upon his return.
“One of our new Pastoral Priorities focuses on reconciliation within our communities. This is a reconciliation we can take out into the world as we proclaim the gospel,” he added.
Franciscan Action Network officials said they were “deeply saddened” by the loss of life and injuries Aug. 12 and were praying for those “whose lives have been tragically altered by this violence” and praying for “greater justice and peace.”
The group’s statement also asked for forgiveness from “our African-American and Native (American) brothers and sisters” for all the injustices done to them in the nation’s history and also for times when the Franciscan Action Network itself has “fallen short” in standing up for justice for them.
“FAN has not done enough to address” the ongoing issue of police brutality against African-Americans “and other issues of systemic racism. From this point forward, we vow to do better,” the statement said.
The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in an Aug. 14 statement strongly condemned “the hateful and racist actions and rhetoric that has taken place in our country this past weekend. We not only agree with those who have been saying that the positions proposed by the white nationalist groups are opposed to American values, we also say that they are opposed to Christian values.”
The organization prayed for those who lost their lives and those injured in Charlottesville and for their families and friends. Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed Aug. 12 when a car plowed into a counterprotest of the white supremacists. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground. Nineteen others were injured in the clash.
“And we pray that the Holy Spirit may act once again to bring together the diversity of people that make up our country so that we can live up to our national motto: ‘E pluribus unum,'” said the statement, signed by Father Kenneth Taylor, president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.
“The angry and violent mob which gathered in Virginia this past weekend by word and deed contradicted our national creed and code of civil conduct,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, adding that neo-Nazism, racism and threats against all people of color and efforts to “banish immigrants” from this country “dishonor the basic convictions” of the country’s political and constitutional traditions. “They must be opposed in word and deed,” he said.
In Arizona, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson said: “Like Charlottesville, we are a community that will not tolerate racism, bigotry, fascism and white supremacy. These stand in contradiction to the values we hold as a nation and as a people of faith.
“We must strive even harder to break down these barriers (these groups) seek to erect and increase our efforts to educate all, especially young people, to put aside prejudice and hatred and work to build unity among us,” he added.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who have served in the Diocese of Jackson, released a statement of their own. “We, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, rooted in Gospel nonviolence and the call to ‘love our neighbor as our self’ (Matthew12:31) find racism an offense against God. We pray with those who are victims and for those who are in need of awakening to a love that honors all,” it reads.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis in a statement said: “Our country has a detestable history with regard to the treatment of its citizens, including discrimination and hatred that undermine the God-given dignity of every human person. Unfortunately, some of our fellow citizens cling to these detestable ideas which continue with hate and ignorance. We must boldly march forward to a time when ‘love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.’ (Psalm 85:11).”
The statement also recalled that in the midst of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal police shooting of a young black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said that “our nation must deal with the sin of racism.”
“That remains true,” it said. “Racism is a sin because it is contrary to human dignity. What we have seen in Charlottesville, Baltimore, Ferguson. and elsewhere. is the result of a society that has put racism, fascism, nationalism, socialism, individualism, and other ideologies in place of God.”

Community members in Charlottesville, Va., hold a vigil for Heather Heyer Aug. 16. She was killed Aug. 12 during a white supremacist protest over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. (CNS photo/Kate Bellows, The Cavalier Daily via Reuters) See CHARLOTTESVILLE-CAMPUS-CHAPLAIN Aug. 18, 2017.

The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters deplored “the acts of white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville,” adding: “Hatred and bigotry are anathema to civil discourse, the rule of law and the ideals of our democracy. As women of faith, we add our voice to those calling for an end to racist violence in our country and pray that we awaken to the loving imperative of our being created equal in the image of God.”
“This bold display of hateful rhetoric and action (in Charlottesville) impels us to call on elected leaders, and all people, to explicitly and publicly condemn white supremacy and racism and the organizations that embolden and encourage the movement,” said a statement from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
“May this grieving time call us to search our hearts and ask what are the ways in which we perpetuate this culture of violence and fear? What actions will we take in response? What truths will we speak to contribute to dialogue that brings unity, peace and comfort to those who are afraid? We must continue to act,” it said.
The Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization, posted on its blog statements from the leaders of Jesuit-run colleges and universities and other institutions. The blog can be found at http://bit.ly/2x1Lg8U.
“Our common humanity calls on each of us to speak out against racism, violence, prejudice and hatred,” said a post by Jesuit Father Stephen V. Sundborg, president of Seattle University.
A group called Christian Ethicists Without Borders likewise issued a condemnation of the racial hatred and violence on display and issued a statement — signed by dozens and dozens of professors of Christian studies, ethics and theology – declaring: “The evil of white supremacy and racism must be brought face-to-face before the figure of Jesus Christ, who cannot be confined to any one culture or nationality. Through faith we proclaim that God the Creator is the origin of all human persons.”
“We will bring the best of our (religious) traditions to an ecclesial and societal examination of conscience where rhetoric and acts of hatred against particular groups can be publicly named as grave sins and injustices,” it said. “We commit – through our teaching, writing, and service – to the ongoing, hard work of building bridges and restoring wholeness where racist and xenophobic ideologies have brought brokenness and pain.”

Eclipse a way to appreciate creation, Vatican astronomer tells audience

By Dennis Sadowski
HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (CNS) – A total solar eclipse is a rare event, something to appreciate and enjoy in the mind of Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory.

JACKSON – From left-to-right, Carolyn Callahan, Rebecca Harris, Charlene Bearden, Pam McFarland, Melisa Munoz, and Julia Williams, all members of the chancery staff, gathered on the roof of the chancery to watch the eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, with the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in the background. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

So as the first eclipse crossed the country from coast to coast in 99 years Aug. 21, Brother Consolmagno wasn’t going to do anything but take it in and think about the beauty and mystery of God’s creation.
The astronomer urged an audience in a packed Sts. Peter and Paul Church during a pre-eclipse program in this southwestern Kentucky town near the point of maximum eclipse to take the time to reflect on what the two minutes and 40 seconds of totality means to them.
“Pray for good weather,” he said to laughs. “But also pray for what God wants you to learn from the experience.”
Tens of thousands of people had descended on Hopkinsville, a city of 33,000 an hour northwest of Nashville, Tennessee, by late Aug. 20. Thousands more were expected the morning of the eclipse. Brother Consolmagno said he was as excited as anyone to view the blackening of the sun.
He also said that as a scientist and a person of faith, he is guided by inquisitiveness to explore the heavens and the desire to better understand how God put the universe together. There is no conflict between science the faith, he said.
“Being a scientist can be a way of worshipping God,” he said.
He repeated a similar message to reporters during a news conference before his presentation.
“We’re here not just to remind my fellow scientists who are used to me by now, but also to show religious people how important is it to be able to praise the Creator by studying creation, studying it honestly, finding out how God really created this place. There’s never going to be a shortage of marvels for us to discover or surprises for us to experience,” he said.
“We can come to know the Creator by seeing the things of his creation.”
He said the by understanding the cycle of solar eclipses – occurring about every 18 months and 11 days – people can see the rhythms of the universe and the continuing nature of creation and have an experience “that fills the soul with joy.”
Brother Consolmagno made the trip to Hopkinsville at the invitation of Father Richard Meredith, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Father Meredith told Catholic News Service he contacted the Vatican Observatory soon after he learned a few years ago that the eclipse path would pass over the town.
Parishioners prepared for more than a year, having established a committee to welcome visitors and host Brother Consolmagno.
“Being a parish with a parochial school, we stress the unity of truth,” Father Meredith said. “This (eclipse) is a major opportunity to reflect that, as science and faith work together serving to manifest the Lord.
The eclipse is a wonder and these wonders praise the creator. This could very well be the only planet around the only star whose moon is at the right distance and size to give a total solar eclipse,” the priest said.
He introduced Brother Consolmagno with by reading from Psalm 19: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.”
“This isn’t only Catholic,” he told CNS. “This is a tradition inherited from God’s revelation in the Old Testament.”
(Editor’s note: Did you safely watch the eclipse? Send us your photos: editor@mississippicatholic.com.)

Replace online anger with compassionate encounter

Light one Candle
By Toni Rossi

Toni Rossi

My friend Abby once told me, “Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, but some people hide it really well.” Who could disagree? We’ve all encountered people in life or online who get on our nerves and even stir up genuine anger. Healthy anger moves us toward Christ-like love and positive action. Unhealthy anger turns into a seething hatred of “the other,” whoever that might be.
Catholics aren’t immune, with many “I’m a better Catholic than you because…” arguments going on. The bickering doesn’t always result in civil, reasoned debate, but rather descends into personal insults. Why?
Social media allows us to experience community, which is a good thing. But when we mock a person or opinion we disagree with, it can produce a mob mentality where everyone piles on, creating a “dark glee,” as Pope Francis describes the feeling we get when gossiping about someone.
As humans, it’s natural to fall into this trap. But as Christians, we’re called to be better. Jesus said in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Sometimes, we justify our anger by noting that admonishing the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy, and that Jesus could speak harshly, too. Jesus, however, was the Son of God, who knew people’s hearts, minds, and souls. Since you and I don’t have that ability, we need to be more diplomatic in admonishing the sinner, especially if it’s someone on social media we don’t personally know. After all, the goal is to change someone’s mind, which requires the person you’re talking with to be receptive to your ideas. When someone feels attacked, they become defensive, not receptive, so your chances of accomplishing something decrease.
So how can we deal with anger? If you read something online that you disagree with, say a prayer for the person to become more open to God’s mercy and truth. In a supernatural sense, it will have more effect than a snarky online comment. And make sure the prayer is humble, not like the Pharisee’s prayer from Luke 18 in which he praises himself for not being like the tax collector. If you do choose to respond, follow St. Paul’s example from Acts 17, talking to the pagans in Athens. He praises them for being religious, instead of condemning them for worshiping idols. Then he introduces the ideas of the one true God and His Son, Jesus.
Also, consider Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. This story has become neutered in the modern world to refer to anyone doing a good deed. But there is a lot more going on. The Jewish people hated the Samaritans because of religious differences, yet Jesus specifically chose to make one the hero of His story. The message, it seems, is that there is divine goodness even in the people you can’t stand.
If being on social media leaves you angry, take a break. Reach out to people in the real world in a way that involves helping them and building them up. Those actions will produce a healthy joy and fulfillment. If you don’t want to give up social media, choose your battles wisely, and engage in them with Christian civility and responsibility. And make sure that any anger you experience is short-lived and moves you toward positive action. The only person that long-term anger will change over time is you.
(Toni Rossi is the Director of Communications, The Christophers. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, “Living Joufully in a stressed-out world,” write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.)

Confronting racism of modern age with lessons from the past

Guest Column

Will Jemison

By Will Jemison
In the fall of 2003, I was one of 12 Americans selected to spend two weeks exploring the rural former East German countryside and to attend an educational symposium at a local university. Although I’d heard of the many examples of cultural oppression that occurred during years of communist rule and Russian influence, nothing prepared me for my arrival at the hotel and special instructions for the black, Chinese and Indian students in my cohort learning that we would have to register at the local police station. This registration wasn’t to single us out as some sort of threat, but was to protect us from what we soon discovered was a skinhead rally that was planned for the town we were visiting.
At the age of 22, overt racism was foreign to me. I grew up and attended diverse schools, had school friends of multiple ethnic backgrounds and it was fairly common for folk of different races to be guests in our home. Although I was aware of the historical struggles of my parents, grandparents and ancestors, racism, as it had been defined to me, wasn’t something I knew. That changed for me on a very cool day in Germany in 2003.
What also changed for me was the belief that racism was something that was strictly about overt acts. The white nationalists of Germany not only sought to have a direct impact on blacks, Asians and Jews, they sought to ensure that more covert acts would be normalized by the government to ensure they would no longer need swastikas, or in America’s case, hoods, to show their impact.
Those covert acts included: sanctioned methods of housing discrimination, increased restrictions on university admissions and “native” first employment policies. Each of those acts, if enabled, sought to gradually reduce the economic and social progress of racial and ethnic minorities in Germany and place them in a sort of second class status.
White nationalism is racism. It’s racism rooted in violence and fear, and in the case of the Ku Klux Klan, one that seeks to destroy any group they don’t agree with, including Catholics.
By now, we’ve all heard of the events in Charlottesville, Va. A rally of racists, ironically armed with Asian-made tiki torches, marched for greater rights and to protect symbols of their Confederate “heroes.” Hopefully, the irony of them rioting over symbols of traitors to the American union isn’t lost on you. For those it isn’t, the Confederacy’s purpose was to undermine the American democracy and ensure slavery remained legal in what became present-day Southern states.
The notion of upholding symbols of the confederacy, whether it be a flag or a statue, is diametrically opposed to everything we as good Americans and Christians should value. Erecting monuments to traitors is akin to placing a statue of Benedict Arnold in the halls of Congress or of Lucifer in a church. However, this is exactly what we’ve allowed to occur. The perception of white supremacy has corrupted our political and social structures in this state and our country.
It’s this perceived supremacy that gave us the Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy was created in resistance to civil rights legislation and has been used to justify inaction, gerrymandering and a plethora of societal ills. During the 1950s and 60s, these monuments to confederate traitors were constructed, not to be reminders of great men, but to remind increasingly well-educated Negroes of their place. The Southern Strategy is also what gave rise to Donald Trump and his empty promises of border walls and immigration quotas that explicitly target black and brown people. The same Trump who himself lacks the moral and ethical competence to reject racism in all forms. Yes, the Southern Strategy continues to show its influence and last week, that influence gave rise to Charlottesville.
This strategy is continuously present in this state whether through legislation that seeks to ensure substandard education of our youth or to provide state-sanctioned discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. As Catholics, we should be alarmed at these increasingly overt acts of discrimination by our legislators because they directly oppose the Gospel.
It also finds expression in the refusal to welcome the stranger and the alien and to treat them with compassion and justice and further expression in the obstinacy of many who are deeply concerned about unborn children but callous and skeptical as young men and women of color are seemingly killed with impunity.
In recent days when the holder of our highest political office has condoned and equated Neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists with those protesting their heinous ideology, I am reminded of the courage of the modern German people who have unabashedly acknowledged their past and become one of the world’s most humane and welcoming nation states.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from the beginning of his papacy has called upon Catholics, other people of faith and people of good will to embrace the radical call of Jesus of Nazareth to see all people as images of a God who loves all of us beyond measure and without limits. That insight is found in the foundational documents of our country in light of recent events, may we all strive to live that truth with even more fervor.
(Will Jemison is coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson)

Greenville parish rediscovers historic bell

By Mary Alford
GREENVILLE – It’s no secret Greenville is full of rich history.
But, what folks might not know about is a bell dating back to 1854 that can be found in the steeple at St. Joseph Catholic Church — an item even some of the parishioners had long forgotten existed.

GREENVILLE – Seminarian Mark Shoffner demonstrates the bell in the St. Joseph bell tower. Parishioners had largely forgotten it was there until this summer. The parish hopes to raise enough money to restore the whole church and ring the bell once again. (Photo courtesy Delta Democrat Times)

Members of the church discovered the 550-pound bell in the midst of their recent renovation campaign for the church, which was built in 1908 and was the third church of the Catholic community in Greenville.
“It’s been a good church but now the roof has gotten to the point that now the copper nails that they used to tack the slate on they started to erode away and we get a little bit of leakage on the side anyway,” Greenville native and seminarian Mark Shoffner said.
The bell, Shoffner said, was cast by Henry Hoover in Boston, Massachusetts. Hoover happened to be an apprentice to Paul Revere.
“He learned how to make bells from Paul Revere and later bought Paul Revere’s Foundry. So that bell was cast in Paul Revere’s Foundry and under his name. He is one of the most prominent bronze casters in American History,” Shoffner said.
Unfortunately, the bell hasn’t been in service for a number of years — maybe even since the 1940s.
But, Shoffner has set a goal to get the bell set up and ready to ring throughout downtown.
Shoffner said it will ultimately cost around $8,500 to get the bell ringing again, and he’s determined to accomplish this in his lifetime.
“It’s not just for us; it’s for the whole city to have those historic bells ringing and to have such a nationally historical bell in Greenville. We don’t know how it got here, but it’s here and we’re gonna run with it,” Shoffner said, noting this type of bell doesn’t typically exist outside of the northeast.
Bells are an important part of the Christian faith, Shoffner said, especially in the Catholic church. However, he said a bell can’t just be put up in a church.
“Bells have voices and they sing. … because the church looks so highly upon bells and they play such an important role in worship, they have to be consecrated by the bishop; it’s like a baptism. Bells and people are baptized and it’s only in the Catholic tradition that bells are baptized,” Shoffner said.


“In an old historic town, when you hear those bells chiming, it doesn’t only remind you of history but it makes you stop and that is the point of them.”
The parish has set up an account on the website Go Fund Me to restore the entire structure of St. Joseph, including the bell tower. Donors can also send checks for the restoration directly to the church, St. Joseph Church, P O Box 1220, Greenville MS 38702.
(Story reprinted with kind permission from the Delta Democrat Times. Mary Alford can be reached at makford@ddtonline.com)

 

Come. Listen. Live. Witness. Sister honored for Civil Rights work

By Kathryn Ziesig
ST. LOUIS – Those are the words by which Sister Mary Antona Ebo continues to live and those by which she was celebrated at a presentation July 30 at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.
Music, poetry and acting, peppered with photos and past video interviews with the Franciscan Sister of Mary and civil rights icon, were woven into a nearly two-hour program to recognize Sister Ebo. She’s most famous for her role in the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., for voting rights for blacks, but also known for her groundbreaking ministry as a woman religious and in health care. From 1981-1987 she worked at University Medical Center in Jackson as a chaplain.
The 93-year-old guest of honor was unable to be present, and instead watched the event at home via livestream with a small group of family and friends. Throughout the program the crowd cheered her, with some yelling out “Ebo!” as they turned toward the video camera to greet Sister Ebo at home.
Just as important was the message of how the local community must stay engaged in the movement for racial justice post-Ferguson, and doing so through Sister Ebo’s example — which is brightly illuminated by her Catholic faith.
“This was all about demonstrating the completeness of her life,” said Philip Deitch, a longtime friend of Sister Ebo’s who organized the program. Her example doesn’t solely lie in the the moments at Selma, he said, but also through her leadership roles in health care and even within her religious community.
“You don’t get to sit back and say ‘I’ve done enough,’” Deitch said. “If there’s still an issue that needs work and you can do something — do something. None of us have the right to sit back and say we’ve done enough, and that’s what I have learned from her.”
Sister Ebo was a trailblazer in many aspects. She was among the first group of African-Americans to enter the Sisters of St. Mary (now Franciscan Sisters of Mary) in 1946. She continued that in her ministry in hospital administration, joining then-segregated St. Mary’s Infirmary in St. Louis. She later became administrator of St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, Wis., becoming the first African-American to lead a hospital in the state of Wisconsin.
Over the years, she became involved in interfaith work and other social justice issues. In 2014, she visited Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, in which she told others that they must “raise the rug up and look at what’s under the rug” in Ferguson.
Several videos of Sister Ebo speaking in the past decade, which were shown at the program, demonstrated that her words are just as relevant today.
“My favorite words out of Isaiah 55 are ‘come, listen, live and witness,’” she said in a 2006 awards ceremony. “Those were the words that were represented when we as a group went to Selma. … We choose life for ourselves and our people and that’s what it’s all about. The call was to come to listen to one another — that’s where our unity comes from. By knowing one another, (to) listen to one another, and then bring forth new life.”
Father Art Cavitt of the St. Charles Lwanga Center, who spoke at the History Museum event, said that Sister Ebo encompasses “all the tenets of the Gospel. It’s coming, it’s listening, it’s acting, it’s living, it’s testifying. It’s keeping God in the picture as we integrate practically what it is we’re going to do for justice and in education and equality and all those things.”
Others must live up to what Jesus calls us to do in spreading the Gospel message, which has always been Sister Ebo’s example, said Frederick and Teresa Scurloch, friends of Sister Ebo’s from her home parish, St. Matthew Parish in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. Members of the St. Matthew and several other nearby parishes sang at the event.
(Story and photos reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Review, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.)

Kathryn Ziesig | kathrynziesig@archstl.org | instagram: kziesigphoto
Marie Janet Turner, portraying Sister Antona Ebo, FSM, knelt in front of the protesters and police during the play “God’s Witness” at the Missouri History Museum on July 30 during the tribute event for Sr. Ebo. The play was inspired by the events that occurred in Selma in 1965. The play’s writer and director Madeline Jackson said that while the police did not put down their weapons and the protestors didn’t put down their signs during the Selma marches she hopes that one day this will be the solution.

Tome Nota

Estamos pidiendo anuncios de sus celebraciones de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Por favor envíe su horario de actividades para esta celebración a maureen.smith@catholicdiocese.org.

Si desea leer el artículo del obispo sobre la historia de nuestra diócesis en español, visite http://www.mississippicatholic.com.

El Vaticano ha publicado una encuesta en línea para jóvenes de 16 a 29 años en preparación para el sínodo de los obispos de 2018. El obispo Joseph Kopacz pide que todos los jóvenes de nuestra diócesis participen. La encuesta está disponible en www.youth.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/it.html.

Líderes católicos exhortan a todos los estadounidenses a enfrentar el “pecado de racismo”

Por Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – La Red de Acción Franciscana (FAN) llamó a todos los estadounidenses, “especialmente a nosotros mismos y los quien se han beneficiado del privilegio de los blancos,” mirar dentro de sí mismos” y enfrentar el pecado original de los Estados Unidos – el pecado del racismo.
“Los estadounidenses blancos no deben permanecer en silencio mientras seguimos beneficiándose de las actitudes y estructuras que nos ponen por delante de los afroamericanos y otros grupos minoritarios,” dijo la organización en una declaración emitida el 14 de agosto en respuesta a un fin de semana caótico y llena de odio en Charlottesville, Virginia el 11 y 12 de agosto.
La red se unió a los obispos católicos, a otros líderes de la iglesia y a varios grupos de toda la nación para pedir la paz después de que tres personas murieron y varios otros resultaron heridos luego de enfrentamientos entre pacifistas, manifestantes y supremacistas blancos en Charlottesville.
Funcionarios de la Red de Acción Franciscana dijeron que estaban “profundamente entristecidos” por la pérdida de vidas y heridos el 12 de agosto y rezaban por aquellos “cuyas vidas han sido trágicamente alteradas por esta violencia” y orando por “mayor justicia y paz”.
La declaración del grupo también pidió perdón a “nuestros hermanos y hermanas afroamericanos y nativos americanos” por todas las injusticias que se les hicieron en la historia de la nación y también en momentos en que la propia Red de Acción Franciscana falló luchar por la justicia para ellos.
“FAN no ha hecho lo suficiente para enfrentar la cuestión continua de la brutalidad policial contra los afroamericanos” y otras cuestiones de racismo sistémico, a partir de este momento nos comprometemos a hacerlo mejor,” dijo el comunicado.
La organización oró por los que perdieron la vida, los heridos en Charlottesville y por sus familiares y amigos. Heather Heyer, de 32 años, murió el 12 de agosto cuando un automóvil se lanzó a una contra protesta de los supremacistas blancos. Dos policías estatales de Virginia que estaban tratando de ayudar también murieron cuando su helicóptero se estrelló. Diecinueve más resultaron heridos en el choque.
“Y rezamos para que el Espíritu Santo actúe de nuevo para reunir a la diversidad de personas que conforman nuestro país para que podamos cumplir con nuestro lema nacional: ‘E pluribus unum'”, dijo la declaración, firmada por el Padre Kenneth Taylor, presidente del Consejo Nacional de Clérigos Católicos Negros.
“La furia y la violencia de la multitud que se reunieron en Virginia este fin de semana pasado por palabra y obra contradicen nuestro credo nacional y código de conducta civil,” dijo el cardenal Sean P. O’Malley de Boston, agregando que el neonazismo, el racismo y las amenazas contra todos las personas de color y los esfuerzos para “desterrar a los inmigrantes” de este país “deshonran las convicciones básicas” de las tradiciones políticas y constitucionales del país. “Deben oponerse en palabra y en acción,” dijo.
En Arizona, el obispo Gerald F. Kicanas, de Tucson, dijo: “Como Charlottesville, somos una comunidad que no tolerará el racismo, el fanatismo, el fascismo y la supremacía blanca, que están en contradicción con los valores que tenemos como nación y como pueblo de fe.
“Debemos esforzarnos aún más por derribar estas barreras que estos grupos buscan erigir y aumentar nuestros esfuerzos para educar a todos, especialmente a los jóvenes, para que dejen de lado los prejuicios y el odio. Y tenemos que trabajar para construir la unidad entre nosotros.” agregó.
El obispo Daniel E. Thomas, administrador apostólico de la Diócesis de Cleveland, llamó a los católicos y a otros a unirse a él en la oración “para el fin del mal del racismo, el odio y la violencia” y examinar “nuestros corazones y eliminar cualquier sesgo que no honra y respeta a otros como creados a la imagen de Dios.”
“Sólo de esta manera, juntos, como familias, barrios y comunidades, podemos esforzarnos por erradicar las raíces del racismo,” dijo.
La arquidiócesis de San Luis en un comunicado dijo, “Nuestro país tiene una historia detestable en lo que respecta al trato de sus ciudadanos, incluyendo la discriminación y el odio que socavan la dignidad de cada ser humano dada por Dios. Desafortunadamente, algunos de nuestros ciudadanos se aferran a estas ideas detestables que continúan con el odio y la ignorancia. Debemos avanzar audazmente hacia un tiempo en que ‘el amor y la verdad se encontrarán; la justicia y la paz se besarán.’ (Salmo 85:11).”
La declaración también recordó que, en medio de las protestas de 2014 en Ferguson, Missouri, sobre el tiroteo policial fatal de un joven negro, Michael Brown, de 18 años, el Arzobispo de San Luis Robert J. Carlson dijo que “nuestra nación debe tratar con el pecado del racismo.”
“Eso sigue siendo cierto,” dijo. “El racismo es un pecado porque es contrario a la dignidad humana.” Lo que hemos visto en Charlottesville, Baltimore, Ferguson y en otros lugares es el resultado de una sociedad que ha puesto al racismo, al fascismo, al nacionalismo, al socialismo, al individualismo ya otras ideologías en lugar de Dios.”
“Esta exhibición audaz de retórica y acción de odio (en Charlottesville) nos impulsa a llamar a los líderes electos y a todas las personas a condenar explícitamente y públicamente la supremacía y el racismo y las organizaciones que estimulan el movimiento,” dijo un comunicado de la Hermanas de la Misericordia de las Américas.
“Que este tiempo de dolor nos llame para buscar en nuestros corazones y preguntarnos cuáles son las maneras en que perpetuamos esta cultura de violencia y temor, ¿qué acciones tomaremos en respuesta, ¿qué verdades vamos a hablar para contribuir al diálogo que trae unidad, paz y el consuelo a los que tienen miedo? Debemos seguir actuando,” dijo.
La Red de Solidaridad Ignaciana, una organización nacional de educación y defensa de la justicia social, publicó en su blog las declaraciones de los líderes de colegios y universidades jesuitas y otras instituciones. El blog se puede encontrar en http://bit.ly/2x1Lg8U.
“Nuestra humanidad común nos pide a cada uno de nosotros que denuncie el racismo, la violencia, los prejuicios y el odio,” dijo el padre jesuita Stephen V. Sundborg, presidente de la Universidad de Seattle.