Cardinal Bernard Law’s death leaves conflicting legacy

JACKSON – The death of Cardinal Bernard F. Law on Dec. 20, at the age of 86, brought forth a range of conflicting reactions and emotions in the Diocese of Jackson and around the world. Cardinal Law began his priestly ministry in this diocese and was well known here for his fervent support of the Civil Rights Movement, social justice and pro-life issues. He was most famous, however, as the face of the Church’s sex abuse scandal after he became archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said in a statement Dec. 20, “As archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities.”
Cardinal O’Malley also recognized that his predecessor’s death “brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones. To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing.”
Cardinal Law was buried in Rome, where he had his last assignment.
Bernard Francis Law was born on Nov. 4, 1931, in Torreon, Mexico, where his father, a career Air Force officer, was then stationed. He attended schools in New York, Florida, Georgia, Barranquilla, Colombia, and the Virgin Islands.
He graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. before entering St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La. in 1953. He later studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, second from right, is pictured during a 1969 march to the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., for a memorial service for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Cardinal Law, who had been one of the United States’ most powerful and respected bishops until his legacy was blemished by the devastating sexual abuse of minors by priests in his Archdiocese of Boston, died early Dec. 20 in Rome at the age of 86. (CNS file photo)

Bernard F. Law was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson (now Jackson) in 1961. His first assignment was as associate pastor at Vicksburg St. Paul Parish from 1961-1963. In January 1963 he was appointed associate pastor of Jackson St. Therese Parish and in March became the editor and business manager of the diocesan newspaper, then The Mississippi Register. At the same time, he held several other diocesan posts, including director of the family life bureau and spiritual director at the minor seminary.
A civil rights activist, he joined the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council. He received death threats for his strong editorial positions on civil rights in The Mississippi Register.
His work for ecumenism in the Deep South in the 1960s received national attention, and in 1968 he was tapped for his first national post, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
In 1973, Blessed Paul VI named him bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. He made headlines in 1975 when, amid an influx of Vietnamese refugees arriving in the United States, he arranged to resettle in his diocese all 166 refugee members of the Vietnamese religious order, Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix.
Continuing his ecumenical work, he formed the Missouri Christian Leadership Conference. He was made a member of the Vatican’s Secretariat (now Pontifical Council) for Promoting Christian Unity and served in 1976-81 as a consultor to its Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He also chaired the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in the late 1970s.
St. John Paul II made him archbishop of Boston in January 1984 and the following year made him a cardinal.
A constant advocate of the right to life of the unborn, he denounced the pro-abortion stance of the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, a Catholic, during the 1984 presidential race.
It was his proposal for a worldwide catechism, in a speech at the 1985 extraordinary Synod of Bishops, that led to development of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Cardinal Law also oversaw the first drafting of an English translation of the catechism, and unsuccessfully defended the inclusive-language version that the Vatican ultimately rejected and ordered rewritten.
The collapse of Cardinal Law’s authority and status began in January 2002 with the criminal trial of serial child molester John Geoghan and the court-ordered release of archdiocesan files on Geoghan to the media. Geoghan had been allowed to stay in active ministry for three decades before he was finally removed and subsequently laicized.
The released files showed that when complaints against Geoghan were made in one parish he would be removed, but soon assigned to another parish. The files gave firsthand proof of how such complaints were handled and demonstrated a pattern of protecting and transferring abusive priests by the cardinal and his aides.
In the first weeks following the revelations, Cardinal Law publicly apologized on several occasions and announced a series of major policy changes – most importantly, permanently removing from ministry any priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse and turning over to district attorneys the names of all priests against whom any abuse allegation had been made.
A series of investigative reports by the Boston Globe made national headlines, and other newspapers and television news teams across the nation began investigating how their local dioceses dealt with abusive priests.
Mary Woodward, diocesan chancellor and long-time friend, remarked Cardinal Law had the ability to listen to and understand people from all walks of life. “He had an immense vocabulary and keen intellect that he used to decipher and diffuse often difficult situations,” Woodward said.
“Though his time in Boston became marred by some bad decisions and oversight, he was still a pastor at heart trying to heal and reconcile until his resignation and even beyond that. There were times when he would sneak out of his residence late at night and visit the sick in nearby hospitals. He genuinely cared about each person and I know he grieved over the immense pain endured by victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church personnel,” she added.
St. John Paul II appointed Cardinal Law in 2004 to be the new archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas of Rome.
(Contributing to this story were Mary Woodward, chancellor for the Diocese of Jackson and Catholic News Service reporters Cindy Wooden and Junno Arocho Esteves in Rome.)

Group offers awareness events in reality of human trafficking

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A group of volunteers working in conjunction with Catholic Charities Office of Parish Social Ministries is offering presentations and resources to help others understand the reality of human trafficking in Mississippi. Mississippi Catholics Against Human Trafficking (MCAHT) can host an awareness event in any parish or school and offer resources for the faithful to then take action on the issue.
MCAHT has a couple versions of the presentation. Some are for adults, others are more appropriate for youth. They explain different forms of trafficking such as work or sex trafficking.

Human trafficking ‘heat map’ from the Hope International presentation.

“The material comes from Shared Hope International which was started by Linda Smith after she visited brothels in India where young girls had been trafficked since they were very young,” explained Cookie Leffler, a volunteer for MCAHT.
“Shared Hope International has created videos and discussion questions and information specific to adults, adult men only, adult women only,” she went on to say. “What MCAHT did is put the Catholic spin on the information. What is Pope Francis saying about respect life? What saints are the patrons of those who are trafficked? There are prayers written to end human trafficking so we can put a Catholic lens on it,” Leffler said.
For both groups, the event includes warning signs of what traffickers act like and how they groom their victims. It also includes way to spot someone who may have been trafficked or who may be in danger of it.
“What we would like to do is in particular reach out to our youth because they are the target audience for sex traffickers and we would like to be able to get the information out to them about what sex trafficking looks like whether its you or your friends. It’s not only low-income or neglected kids who get trafficked. Yes, they are a target, but kids from good upper-class homes can be trafficked as well so we want to reach all the youth,” said Leffler. She said when she offers the training, she shows a map of areas where trafficking is prevalent. The teens are almost always shocked to see Mississippi on that map.
Some groups may feel called to take action. “MCAHT was designed to not only do the education part of it but in any way support what other organizations are doing in terms of service work,” said Leffler. She hopes to expand into service projects to support organizations who care for people rescued from traffickers as well as lead people to prayer.
“We also want to support the prayerful approach. We can offer prayers, a version of Stations of the Cross for trafficking victims, saints who address human trafficking.”
Parishes or schools who wish to host a human trafficking awareness event or prayer service may contact Dorothy Balser in the Office of Parish Social Ministry at (601) 326-3725 or by email at

With new U.S. administration, USCCB enters policy debates more often in ‘17

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A new presidential administration and a new Congress kept the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as busy as ever in addressing public policy issues during 2017.
Hardly a week passed without at least one reaction, statement or commentary, all based on traditional Catholic social teaching, on a public policy matter from a USCCB committee chairman or other conference officers.
From President Donald Trump’s January travel ban on the entry of people from certain Muslim-majority nations to the Republican-written tax reform legislation that continued to be debated in Congress in mid-December, bishops repeatedly laid out moral arguments on the importance of protecting human dignity at every turn.
The bishops issued an estimated 115 public statements and letters addressing public policy concerns through Dec. 12, according to the news releases listed on the USCCB website, That’s more than double the approximately 47 public statements and letters released in 2016.
Some of the statements were joined by leaders at Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services when appropriate. Those agencies also issued their own statements on many of the same issues.
But it was the bishops’ voice gaining the attention of Congress and the White House.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has added his name to many of the statements.
He told Catholic News Service that he and his fellow bishops didn’t go out looking “to make a lot of statements,” but that it became necessary to bring a Catholic perspective to policy stances being addressed by the White House and in Congress.
“I think it wasn’t just us. A number of these issues were arising for a number of reasons,” he said.
“It’s cyclical,” he said. “It’s cyclical in the sense the issues arose that touch deeply on the principles we look at to guide society. These policies are always the same for us.”
Bishop Dewane pointed to the Trump administration’s immigration-related policies and the high-profile tax reform legislation – the first major overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years – as two areas where the bishops wanted to be sure to have their voice heard.
“Budgets and tax legislation are moral documents. … We’re looking to care for the poor, strengthen family, progressivity in terms of the tax program. If we stop and reflect on the centrality of the family in every society, we need to speak up for that,” Bishop Dewane said.
Immigration policy – from continued calls for comprehensive immigration reform to the administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for people from Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan – drew the most public responses from various USCCB committee chairmen with more than two dozen statements.
In 2016, the bishops addressed immigration six times.
Their first statement on immigration actually came in response to an early January change in policy by President Barack Obama’s administration that ended a long-standing agreement that allowed Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas to remain in the country and gain legal residency. The change came just before Trump assumed the presidency.
At the time, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, said that the bishops opposed the change in the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, saying doing so will “make it more difficult for vulnerable populations in Cuba, such as asylum seekers, children and trafficking victims, to seek protection.”
Other issues that have garnered significantly more comments from the bishops in 2017 than 2016 include the federal budget and the importance of prioritizing the needs of poor and vulnerable people in spending and tax reform; racism; health care; the environment and climate change; and religious liberty, particularly around the world.
When it came to pro-life issues, including conscience protections for health care workers, the bishops issued eight statements, the same as in 2016.
At mid-year as Congress attempted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the bishops repeatedly called for certain provisions to remain, saying that rescinding the law altogether would result in millions of people losing health care insurance coverage.
The ACA has been controversial since it became law in 2010 because some of its provisions – abortion coverage, the contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the exclusion of immigrants in the country illegally from being covered – violated church teaching. But in the end the bishops opposed its total repeal because it had significantly reduced the number of Americans without health insurance coverage. Ultimately, the Republican-led Congress failed to repeal the ACA.
The bishops also took a strong stance in favor of the environment, addressing the topic 10 times. Their statements opposed Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement and efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back the Clean Power Plan that limits carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Bishop Dewane told CNS that being in the forefront of various public debates is vital for the life of the church. He admitted he did not expect as a committee chairman to have to devote as much time as he has to reviewing statements, signing letters and appearing at news conferences this year.
“I could us a little more prayer time,” he said.
Still, he added, the need to publicly uphold human dignity is necessary for the church.
“We’ve got to speak up.”

(Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski)

History, Civil Rights museums open

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – On Friday, Dec. 8, the Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History hosted a gala reception for all the individual donors and donating organizations who helped make these projects possible. The Diocese of Jackson sponsored the exhibit on the Sovereignty Files and a delegation including Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Chancellor Mary Woodward, Fabvienen Taylor, administrative assistant for the tribunal and Tereza Ma, production manager for Mississippi Catholic, attended the gala. Linda Raff, former director of Catholic Charities, and Valencia Hall, a catechist at Natchez Holy Family Parish and member of the advisory board for the museums, were on hand as well as other diocesan representatives.
Ma said despite the snow that had fallen earlier in the day, the reception was packed with people. The crowd was invited to explore the museums before the program began. “What first caught my attention was a giant changing light sculpture hanging from ceiling. The sculpture called, “This Little Light of Mine” was made by Hilferty and Associates, Inc. As more people came close by the sculpture, the music became louder and louder – when the singers sang “let it shine” it was beautiful and powerful with the changing light interaction,” said Ma.
Several Catholic priests are featured in the museum, including Father Nathaniel Machesky, OFM, who worked at Greenwood St. Francis Parish during the Civil Rights Movement. Other Catholic lay people and priests are named in the Sovereignty Files, maintained as a watch list of so-called agitators by a state commission aimed at preventing integration.
Ma said the history museum also reflects the Catholic influence on the state. “I am sure I missed a lot, so as many other folks said – I will be back to discover some new stuff about my second home Mississippi and finally I may, as William Faulkner said, start to understand the world.”

Living by church’s calendar at home draws families closer to saints, Mass

By Maria Wiering
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) – Growing up in St. Louis, Susanna Spencer loved her family’s Advent tradition of adorning a Jesse Tree with Old Testament symbols leading up to Christ’s birth.
She continued the tradition while in college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she met her husband, Mark.
“After seeing (Advent traditions) in my childhood, I thought, I want to do this the whole year, not just for the short four weeks before Christmas,” said Spencer, 31.
Even before they were married, Susanna and Mark both felt “drawn to liturgical life” and began incorporating more aspects of the Catholic Church’s calendar into their daily lives, from praying the Liturgy of the Hours to observing saints’ feast days. Now parents of four, ages 2 to 8, and parishioners of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the Spencers are intentional about shaping their home with the rhythm of the church seasons.
“A lot of the things that we’ve done are taking the Advent wreath idea and conforming it to the other liturgical seasons,” Susanna said.
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new church year, and for some Catholic families, the liturgical “New Year” is tied to special traditions at home. This year the first Sunday is Dec. 3.
While enhancing a family’s “domestic church” through aspects of the liturgical calendar is nothing new, Catholics who are interested in liturgical home practices can find an increasing wealth of information online, where Catholics share ideas on blogs dedicated to the practice, such as Carrots for Michaelmas,, and Catholic All Year,
Spencer noted that Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, used a set of 15 books dedicated to the annual cycle of feasts and fasts in their 19th-century French home; Spencer has an edition on a shelf in her own living room.
In the Spencer’s West St. Paul home, the church’s season is regularly reflected in two spots: the dining room table centerpiece and the family’s small prayer table. The latter contains candles and a few icons, statues and artworks of saints and devotions, some of which change to reflect certain feasts or seasons.
The family prays there together daily, often noting that day’s saint or memorial. Sometimes, they mark a saint’s feast by attending daily Mass, where the saint is commemorated in the liturgy.
The Spencers’ centerpieces range from an Advent wreath, to a crown of thorns during Lent, to fresh flowers during ordinary time. Susanna anticipates feast days while meal planning, serving spaghetti on an Italian saint’s memorial or a blueberry dessert on days honoring Mary, which the church traditionally symbolizes with blue.
“One of the ways that you can learn about holiness is living with the saints,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “If we never think of them, we … can’t benefit from their intercession.”
She realizes that observing the Catholic Church’s calendar can feel like another task on the to-do list, and therefore potentially overwhelming or discouraging. She encourages Catholics who want to try it to keep it simple.
That’s also the advice shared by Beth Morgan, who was inspired to incorporate the church year into her home after becoming a mother. Now with two girls under age 4 and a baby due in January, she said the practice helps her teach her children the faith.
“It’s hard to engage (children) in Mass if you don’t make it tangible, and I think having (aspects of the liturgical year) at home makes it tangible,” said Morgan, 28, a parishioner of Transfiguration in Oakdale.
Like the Spencers, the Morgans try to reflect the church season with their dining table centerpiece, because it’s a daily focal point in their home. The Advent centerpiece includes a purple cloth to help her daughters connect their home to what they see at Mass, she said.
“The church has a beautiful tradition, and everything we do in our life goes to that same cadence,” she said. “We want to instill that Jesus and God are part of everything we do.”
Morgan also rotates some of her daughters’ bedtime books to correspond with Christmas, Lent and Easter; celebrates the feast days of the saints for whom her daughters were named; and changes the family’s prayer routine to reflect the season or devotional month, such as adding Hail Marys to their evening prayers in May, the month the church especially honors the mother of God.
The Morgans’ Advent will include a Jesse Tree and special daily prayers paired with their meal prayer. On Christmas Day, Morgan will swap her Advent wreath’s purple and pink candles for white, and she’ll place the Nativity scene’s Baby Jesus in the center to await the arrival of the Magi – whose figurines Morgan plans to move closer to Jesus each day until Epiphany.

A lit candle is seen on an Advent wreath. Advent, a season of joyful expectation before Christmas, begins Nov. 27 this year. The Advent wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review)

Near St. Joseph in West St. Paul, Heidi Flanagan’s family has developed an Advent tradition that has connected its members more intimately to the communion of saints.
On the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi; her husband, John; and their six children – ages 2 to 12 – select a slip of paper from a shoebox. On that paper is the name of a saint who becomes their patron for the liturgical year.
Heidi, 43, received the box – and the idea – about eight years ago from a friend who does something similar in her home. St. Joseph parishioners, the Flanagans say a small litany of the saints daily, asking each member’s patron saint for that year to pray for them. They also celebrate their feast days throughout the year.
“I feel like it’s given them this buddy in heaven – this sense of security – that we’re not alone, that they have these superheroes rooting for them and praying for them in heaven,” Flanagan said of her children. “They develop friendships with these saints.”
The tradition has provided an opportunity to learn more about the saints’ lives, and the saints have helped all of the Flanagans grow in their spiritual lives. Before they select their saints, the Flanagans also pray that the saints selected would also “choose” them.
“It’ s been so cool how often we look back at the year and say, ‘Oh, I can totally see how this saint chose me,'” because different challenges or opportunities seemed suited to that saint’s intercession.

Children’s books show Christmas’ true joy with beautiful stories, art

By Regina Lordan
NEW YORK (CNS) – The following books are suitable for Christmas giving:
“The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 42 pp., $17.

“The Watcher” is a rare treasure in the world of children’s books: The verse is poetic, the illustrations are a compelling blend of photographs and drawings, and the story is a gripping tale of bully and victim … or is it? The narration unfolds and reveals that the instigator is really just a lonely child desperate for a friend. Influenced by Psalm 121, which attributes all help to God’s loving protection and care, it is written in “golden shovel” form, in which the last word of each verse is a word from the psalm. “The Watcher” is a story that holds onto you as it slowly reveals understanding, compassion and innocent faith in God’s love and protection. After it is read, its lyrical tale will not be soon forgotten. Ages 6-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan. (CNS).

“Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls” by Amy Brooks. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 100 pp., $20.
“Be Yourself” is a place for Catholic girls and young women to indeed learn how to be themselves, just the way God intended them to be. Colorful, interactive and brimming with saint spotlights, prayers and biblical quotes, “Be Yourself” will encourage Catholic girls to, as author Amy Brooks writes, nourish their relationship with God to better know his will for them and to use the journal to “navigate that relationship – on good days and bad days.” Ages 9 and up.

“Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas” by Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 32 pp., $16.99.
Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting, but it can also be a time for reflection and mindfulness of today … if we take the time to look. Author Laura Alary welcomes children to be aware, appreciate and change during Advent within a biblical and present-day context. She tells the story of Jesus’ birth within the framework of children’s daily lives, and she encourages children to anticipate Christmas by preparing to say “yes” to God with simple, practical activities and works of service. Ages 5-10.

“Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit” by Pope Francis. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2017) 120 pp., $18.95.
Intended for young men and women preparing to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, but appropriate for all teens, “Anointed” is a compilation of the teachings of Pope Francis brightly illustrated with graphics and photos, Bible verses and prayers. “Anointed” makes the pope’s teachings accessible and engaging, and invites readers to openly receive the gifts that God has given us. Ages 12-18.

“That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chloe E. Pitkoff. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 31 pp., $15.99.
Father Prak was puzzled: A group of curious children, beautiful in their multicultural diversity, were preparing for Christmas Mass when they started asking questions about the statue of the baby Jesus. Why didn’t he look like many of them, and why didn’t he look like Jesus most likely did, with dark skin, hair and eyes? The priest turned to God for help while an innocent parishioner in the church overheard the discussion. Answering Father Prak’s prayers through the eavesdropper’s clever idea, the children discovered that through the gift of Christmas, Jesus has come to save each and every one of them, no matter what they look like. A perfect Christmas gift for children, this book celebrates the truth of Christmas while highlighting the mystery of God’s interactions with us through prayer and each other. Ages 4-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan. (CNS)

“Angel Stories from the Bible” by Charlotte Grossetete, illustrated by Madeleine Brunelet, Sibylle Delacroix and Eric Puybaret. Magnificat (New York, 2017) 47 pp., $15.99.
Beginning with Jacob’s ladder and ending with the angel appearing at Jesus’ tomb, author Charlotte Grossetete adapts biblical passages of God’s celestial messengers into children’s short stories. Children will enjoy the illustrations of the five stories, created by three artists with varying styles, and the narratives of God intervening in human lives with his angels out of love and care. Particularly appropriate for Christmas, “Angels Stories from the Bible” includes St. Gabriel the Archangel visiting Mary to announce Jesus’ impending arrival. Ages 5 and up.

“The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio, illustrated by Elena K. Makansi. Treehouse Publishing Group (St. Louis, 2017). 32 pp., $16.95.
There comes a time in every parent’s life when a child anxiously asks them, “Is Santa real?” Many parents struggle with this answer, knowing that with the loss of belief in the jolly old man comes the loss of a part of childhood. But fear not, the Catholic faith shows us that the real joy of Christmas is Jesus’ birth itself and the joy of the mystery of Christmas comes not from Santa but from everyone but Jesus himself. “The Secret of the Santa Box” is a needed book for curious children ready to move past the secular stories of Christmas and into a deeper relationship with the true meaning of Christmas. It gently explains the sometimes sensitive topic in cheerful and thoughtful rhymes and illustrations. Ages 7-10.

These children’s books are suitable for Christmas giving: “The Watcher” by Nikki Grimes, “That Baby in the Manger” by Anne E. Neuberger and “The Secret of the Santa Box” by Christopher Fenoglio. The books are reviewed by Regina Lordan.

araclete Press (Brewster, Mass., 2017) 64 pp., $11.99
Ever find yourself at a loss of words when trying to pray? Sometimes the actual effort to find the right thing to say is so distracting that prayer is lost in frustration. Author Sybil MacBeth found her words trivial and trite compared to the magnitude of her prayer intentions, so she created a doodle book to encourage focus, creativity and a space to pray. Guided by a relaxed formula, older children can practice this version of “lectio divina.” “Pray for Others in Color” and “Count Your Blessings in Color,” also by Sybil MacBeth, offer similar avenues for intercessory prayers and prayers of gratitude. Ages 12-18.“Molly McBride and the Plaid Jumper” by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 32 pp., $11.
One in a series, “Molly McBride” helps normalize discussions about religious vocations through its cheerful and accessible narratives about a young girl and her women religious friends. Molly wants to be one of the “Purple Nuns,” and she wears her purple habit everywhere. But she will be attending Catholic school soon and will have to wear a school uniform. Thankfully, a fun-loving priest and her parents help Molly understand that Jesus’ love is much deeper than the clothes she wears. Children will love Molly and her cute wolf pet named Francis. Ages 4-8.

(Lordan, a mother of three, has master’s degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.)

National and world news

WASHINGTON (CNS) – More than 2,400 religious faith leaders, including hundreds of Catholic women religious and dozens of priests, asked the U.S. Senate to vote down tax cut legislation. In a Nov. 29 letter to senators, the leaders called the bill “fiscally irresponsible” and said that it “endangers our country’s economic health.” The letter added that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act “disproportionately benefits the wealthy at the expense of vulnerable people and low-income families.” The letter expressed concern that the legislation, with its complexity, was “being recklessly rushed through Congress” without enough time for review by voters. The correspondence was sent under the auspices of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs and the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition. It was addressed to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, Senate majority and minority leaders, respectively. “As people of faith, we view decisions about tax policy and the federal budget as moral decisions. Simply put, this proposed legislation is fundamentally unjust. If it becomes law, it will result in harmful consequences for those most needing support so as to the benefit of high-income earners and big corporations,” the letter said.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said laws need to be changed to fix the country’s broken immigration system, but in the process, immigrants should not be demonized. “Fixing illegal immigration does not require the demonization of the so-called ‘illegals,’” said Archbishop Wenski, addressing an audience at a Nov. 28 event in Miami sponsored by the Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund. “America has always been a land of promise and opportunity for those willing to work hard. We can provide for our national security and secure borders without making America, a nation of immigrants, less a land of promise or opportunity for immigrants.” His comments were posted on the Archdiocese of Miami’s website. Laws, he said, are “meant to benefit, not to enslave, mankind,” and the laws in the country, regarding immigration, are too “antiquated” and “inadequate” to deal with the problem. “Outdated laws, ill adapted to the increasing interdependence of our world and the globalization of labor, are bad laws,” the archbishop said.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Archdiocese of Washington filed suit in federal court Nov. 28 over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s advertising guidelines after the transit system rejected an Advent and Christmas advertisement. The archdiocese seeks injunctive relief after WMATA, as the agency is known, refused to allow an ad promoting the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” initiative for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The archdiocese contends WMATA’s policy that “prohibits all noncommercial advertising, including any speech that purportedly promotes a religion, religious practice or belief,” is a violation of the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment and a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The WMATA’s prohibition, the archdiocese contends, “violates the free speech rights of the Archdiocese because the prohibition creates an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on the exercise of the archdiocese’s speech without any legitimate justification.”

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, spoke about the blessings that can be found in the midst of persecution. He made the comments in his homily during a Nov. 28 Chaldean Catholic memorial Mass for victims of genocide at the hands of Islamic State fighters. The Mass was celebrated at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington and was a part of the Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. Archbishop Warda was the principal celebrant of the Mass, and was joined by Father Salar Kajo, a parish priest in Teleskof, a town in the Ninevah region of Iraq that was just liberated from Islamic State control. As the two celebrants entered the shrine at the beginning of the Mass, they chanted prayers in Aramaic. The majority of the Mass, including the eucharistic prayers and the Our Father, also was prayed in that language, which Jesus spoke as he lived 2,000 years ago in the same region of the world where Christians are being persecuted today.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – When the news broke Nov. 27 of Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry, reporters descended upon the Los Angeles Catholic school Markle attended: Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School. “They’ve been scaling the walls,” Callie Webb, communication director for the school, said with slight exaggeration, but maybe not too much, of the reporters calling and visiting the 112-year-old school with mission-style terra cotta roofs just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign. For two days, Webb’s phone was ringing off the hook and her email mailbox was flooded with requests from local newspapers and TV stations as well as national media and British tabloids about the school’s famous fiancee – the 1999 graduate who is not Catholic but attended the school from seventh grade (before the sixth grade was added) until graduation. ABC’s “20/20” spent a day on the campus – with six of their vans parked on the school’s ball field – for an episode airing Dec. 1.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ raffle to benefit those in need will give even more people a chance to win a gift once owned by the pope. Announcing the fifth annual raffle Nov. 30, the Vatican said tickets would be available for purchase online and in several areas accessible to the public, such as the Vatican Museums’ bookshop and the Vatican post office or pharmacy. Tickets also will be sold at the Paul VI audience hall to those attending the Dec. 16 Christmas charity concert. “In this way, people will have an opportunity to make a double gesture of charity,” said a statement from the Vatican City State governor’s office. For 10 euros – about $11 – ticket buyers are eligible to win one of several items originally given as gifts to Pope Francis.

Catholic liturgies avoid Christmas decorations, carols in Advent

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – During the weeks before Christmas, Catholic churches stand out for what they are missing. Unlike stores, malls, public buildings and homes that start gearing up for Christmas at least by Thanksgiving, churches appear almost stark save for Advent wreaths and maybe some greenery or white lights.
“The chance for us to be a little out of sync or a little countercultural is not a bad thing,” said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
By the same token, he is not about to completely avoid listening to Christmas music until Dec. 24 either. The key is to experience that “being out of sync feeling in a way that is helpful and teaches us something about our faith,” he told Catholic News Service.
Others find with the frenetic pace of the Christmas season it is calming to go into an undecorated church and sing more somber hymns like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But that shouldn’t be the only draw, noted Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, who is the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.
He said the dissonance between how the church and society at large celebrate Christmas is that the church celebration begins, not ends, Dec. 25. The shopping season and Christian church calendar overlap, but don’t connect, he added.
And even though Catholic churches – in liturgies at least – steer clear of Christmas carols during Advent and keep their decorations to a minimum, Father Morrill said he isn’t about to advise Catholic families to do the same.
“It’s hard to tell people what to do with their rituals and symbols,” he said, adding, “that horse is out of the barn.”
He remembers a family on the street in Maine where he grew up who didn’t put their Christmas decorations up until Dec. 24 and didn’t take them down until Candlemas, commemorating the presentation of Jesus in the temple, which is celebrated Feb. 2 – the 40th day of the Christmas season.
He is pretty sure that family’s children or grandchildren aren’t keeping up that tradition.
Father Rice similarly doesn’t give families a lot of advice on when to do Christmas decorating, but when he has been pressed on it, he said, he has advised families to do it in stages – such as put up the tree and have simple decorations on it and then add to this on Christmas Eve.
Celebrating Advent is a little tricky in campus ministry, he noted, since the church’s quiet, reflective period comes at the same time as students are frantic over exams, papers and Christmas preparations.
This year, the day before the start of Advent, he said students planned to gather to decorate the Catholic center with purple altar cloths, pine garlands and some white lights.
Liturgical notes for Advent posted online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – – points out that the liturgical color for Advent is purple, just like Lent – as both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days.
It says Advent “includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. This penitential dimension is expressed through the color purple, but also through the restrained manner of decorating the church and altar.”
It also points out that floral decorations should be “marked by a moderation” as should the use of the organ and other musical instruments during Advent Masses.
The way the church celebrates Advent is nothing new. Timothy Brunk, a Villanova University associate professor in theology and religious studies, said it began in the fourth century in Europe but has never had the history or significance of Easter for the church.
But even though Advent doesn’t have the penitential pull of Lent – where people give something up for 40 days or do something extra – that doesn’t mean the season should slip by without opportunities for spiritual growth.
Father Rice said it’s important for Catholics to engage in spiritual preparation for Christmas even in the middle of all the other preparations.
His advice: When you write a Christmas card, say a prayer for that person; while shopping, try to go about it in a slow and thoughtful way not frantically running around and let someone take that parking space you were eyeing.

Life of African-American priest told through play ‘From Slave to Priest’

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) – The life of Father Augustus Tolton already reads like a novel and now it is immortalized on stage with the new play “Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” produced by St. Luke Productions from Battle Ground, Washington.
Tolton, a former slave, is the first recognized American diocesan priest of African descent. The Archdiocese of Chicago opened his cause for sainthood in 2011, giving him the title “servant of God.”

Andrae Goodnight, at right, portrays Father Augustus Tolton in the production “Tolton: From Slave to Priest” at DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago Nov. 5. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

Born into slavery, he fled with his mother and siblings through the woods of northern Missouri and across the Mississippi River while being pursued by soldiers when he was only nine years old. The small family made their home in Quincy, Illinois, a sanctuary for runaway slaves.
The boy’s father had died earlier in St. Louis, after escaping slavery to serve in the Union Army.
Growing up in Quincy and serving at Mass, young Augustus felt a call to the priesthood, but, because of rampant racism, no seminary in the United States would accept him. He headed to Rome, convinced he would become a missionary priest serving in Africa. However, after ordination, he was sent back to his hometown to be a missionary to the community there, again facing rampant racism.
He was such a good preacher that many white Catholics joined his black parishioners in the pews for his Masses. This upset white priests in the town, so Father Tolton headed north to Chicago, at the request of Archbishop Patrick Feehan, to minister to the black Catholic community here.
Father Tolton worked to the point of exhaustion for his congregation in Chicago, and on July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke while returning from a priests’ retreat. He was 43.
His journey is now crystallized in a 90-minute, one-person play that premiered Nov. 5 at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History. For more than 30 years, St. Luke Productions has produced other plays about holy men and women, including St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John Vianney.
Leonardo Defilippis, president and founder of St. Luke Productions, first learned of Father Tolton from a priest in the Diocese of Springfield, which includes the town of Quincy where the priest served and is buried.
Defilippis researched Father Tolton’s life and hung a photo of him in his office. When deciding which play he would produce next, he noticed the photo again and started praying to Father Tolton. Defilippis said he felt the Holy Spirit was asking him to make a play of the priest’s life.
Once decided, the producer reached out to Cardinal Francis E. George, who as Chicago’s archbishop at the time had opened Father Tolton’s cause for canonization during the Year of the Priest. The cardinal directed him to Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry, postulator of Father Tolton’s cause. Defilippis said he and his team worked closely with Bishop Perry on the play.
“It’s exciting to do something in complete conjunction with the canonization process. It’s a tool that can be used for this,” he told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper. “It’s one of the most unique shows right now in theater because it’s a multimedia show, which means you have characters on a screen that are interacting with a live actor.”
Defilippis has created a “very unique art form” that makes it easy for groups anywhere to host the play because of the simple setup.
When writing the script, Defilippis, who co-wrote the play with his wife, pulled from themes in Father Tolton’s life – perseverance, trust in God, incredible forgiveness

and his priesthood.
Defilippis believes the time Father Tolton spent studying for the priesthood in Rome opened him up to the universality of a priest’s ministry. He studied with men from all over the world and saw the church’s history in places like the catacombs, the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Once he becomes a priest, he’s a priest for all. This is not a segregated situation, it’s not a segregated mindset,” Defilippis said.
The play doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities Father Tolton faced, such as severe prejudice against him from fellow priests in Quincy. The post-Reconstruction period was a troubled time for the United States, and tensions and violence were real. Father Tolton himself often spoke of being watched.
Defilippis believes that telling Father Tolton’s story through art is a way to bring light into today’s seemingly dark world.
“The highest form of art is when you not only entertain and inspire, but bring it to another level, of what we call evangelization of what actually touches hearts in a deep and impactful way that actually changes lives,” he said. “That’s what we’ve seen with these plays.”

Stay tune – this play coming to Jackson.

(Editor’s Note: For more about the play, visit For more about Father Tolton’s canonization process, visit is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.)

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us: study says devotion may impact immigrants’ health

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A good talk with your mother every day could improve your health. At least, that’s what happened for immigrants in one Mississippi community. A study out of the University of Alabama exploring the link between faith and health demonstrated that those with a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe had fewer negative health issues related to stress.

JACKSON– The Hispanic community at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle hosts a procession downtown, like this one from 2016, for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Photo by Elsa Baughman)

“This drives home how important faith is. In the study results I found that people who are exposed to stress – their wellbeing goes down over time. Those who were Guadalupan devotees broke that pattern,” explained Rebecca Read-Wahidi, the study’s author.
She grew up in Forest where the state’s largest concentration of Latinos work in poultry plants. They worship at St. Michael or at its mission San Martín. A community of Sisters, Guadalupan Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, ministers to the mix of Mexican, Guatamaulan and other Latin American people. The sisters teach English, host consulates and even offer workshops in what to do if people are stopped by police or immigration agents.
Constant worry about immigration raids can wear down an already poor population. Read-Wahidi was told stories of a 2012 road-block that led to the deportation of 40 people, sending a wave of fear through the rest of the community. Having a patroness, a protector and a surrogate mother helps ease that physical and mental stress.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to Juan Diego, a poor Indian and recent Christian convert. She told him she wanted him to go to the bishop and have a church built on Tepeyac Hill. The lowly Juan Diego was turned away. He told the Virgin to send someone else. When his uncle become deathly ill, Juan Diego went in search of a priest instead of returning to the bishop, trying to avoid the Virgin by walking another way around the hill. She appeared anyway, declared that Juan Diego’s uncle was already cured and sent him, again, to the bishop, telling him to take flowers as a sign. She herself tied the flowers into his cloak, or tilma. When Juan Diego unwrapped the cloak, he and the bishop were shocked to find a perfect image of the Virgin on the cloak under the flowers.
In the image, she is dark skinned, pregnant, and surrounded by stars. She stands in front of the sun’s rays, a commonly known symbol of an Aztec god, symbolically eclipsing his power as she looks lovingly down on her people. Millions of pilgrims still flock to Tepeyac to see the tilma.

FOREST – This 2012 photo shows a procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe from the Scott County Courthouse to St. Michael Parish. Rebecca Read-Wahidi conducted her doctoral research on the link between devotion and health in this community.(Mississippi Catholic file photo)

Read-Wahidi studied at Mississippi State University. Her Spanish studies took her to Mexico where she was exposed to the pervasive devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. “While I was there, I became interested in Mexican Catholicism because it was different than what I was familiar with,” she said. When she returned home, she began to see the Virgin in her own hometown.
“It is really fascinating to me because it really is a contrast in Mississippi – which is very Protestant. Here is this Mexican feast being carried out in the streets of a Mississippi town,” she said. Read-Wahidi wrote her master’s thesis about Our Lady of Guadalupe and migrant communities in Mississippi. She expanded upon her earlier thesis while studying for a doctorate in biocultural medical anthropology at the University of Alabama. “I liked going there because I could continue working with the same community,” Read-Wahidi said. “I went from (looking at) the celebration itself into how they use it to deal with stress, specifically immigration stress,” she added.
The sisters in Morton welcomed her, introducing her to the community and facilitating meetings. Read-Wahidi developed a survey to gauge the impact of their faith on their health.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than just a mother figure to her people, she is their mother. Read-Wahidi said most of the devotees she interviewed have conversations with her throughout the day. Sister Lourdes Gonzalez, MGSpS, who helped with the study, said Mary “listens to their worries. It’s a way to pray. People talk to her as if she is alive and in the room. She has a special place in the family.”
Father Tim Murphy, pastor at Tupelo St. James Parish calls the relationship profound and inspiring. “She is their mother in faith, in heaven and is present to them,” he said.
This connection to the poor may be why people see Mary as the perfect intersessor. “They may not feel comfortable talking to God – but they can speak to the Virgin. She is the mother figure. When they are so far from home, they need a mother figure,” Read-Wahidi said.
Father Michael McAndrew, CsSR, has been working in Hispanic ministry for many years and gives presentations on Juan Diego’s experience. “When Juan Diego does not want to go to the bishop, Mary tells him ‘am I not here? Am I not your mother? Would your mother not protect you on your journey? I am with you.’”
Read-Wahidi wrote in a journal article that immigrants place their stress in Mary’s hands. “When I asked what people petition the Virgin to help them with, they mentioned: finding work and keeping their jobs, not getting deported or arrested, the health of their family back in Mexico and here in the United States, the safety of family members who were making the journey across the border, and their own safe return back home.”
These prayers offer relief from the stress of their everyday lives. “They are seen as outsiders. They are not equal (here). They have the experience of racism, It is a way to remind themselves that in the eyes of the Virgin, all people are equal,” said Read-Wahidi. This idea has spread to other immigrants through public celebrations surrounding the feast.
Every year on or around the Dec. 12 feast day, immigrants across Mississippi leave the safety of their homes and churches to take their mother to the streets and celebrate her love and protection. Celebrations include processions, hours-long traditional Aztec dances, meals and liturgy. Everyone, especially other immigrants are welcome. In this way, the celebration in America is unique. Instead of being only a Mexican feast, it is a feast for all. “They make the celebration public – it is taken out into the streets. It gives the Mexican community a chance to share her (the Virgin). They enjoy seeing other people embrace her,” explained Read-Wahidi.
“We make processions because we know as a people we are walking in life, we are on a journey – we are walking to heaven, to God,” said Sister Gonzalez.
The celebrations are a sharp contrast to daily life for immigrants. They spend most of their lives trying to avoid attention. But for the feast, they come out in droves. Father Murphy said 300 people attended one procession in northeast Mississippi. “They will come straight from the fields. This will be the end of the sweet potato harvest so they will come with the dust still on them, but they will come and celebrate,” said Father Murphy.
“The best of liturgy does not represent, it re-presents the truth,” said Father Murphy. “This celebration is good liturgy. Who does (Our Lady of) Guadalupe appear to? The lowest of the low,” he said. Asking Mary to intercede offers a powerful conduit to Jesus since, in Our Lady of Guadalupe, “the mother of our savior is the mother of the poor.”
(See page 13 for a schedule of celebrations for this year.)