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.)

Bishops to offer pastoral plan for marriage, family life ministry

By Carol Zimmermann
BALTIMORE (CNS) – U.S. Catholic bishops acknowledged that Catholic families and married couples need more support from the church at large and hope to offer it by giving parishes plenty of resources through a pastoral plan for marriage and family life.
A proposal for such a plan was introduced to the bishops on the second day of their annual fall assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14 and was approved by paper ballot with 232 votes in favor.
The pastoral plan was described by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, a member of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, as a response to Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).
Bishop Malone, who introduced the idea to the bishops, was filling in for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the committee’s chairman, who was in Rome for preparatory meeting for the Synod of Bishops in 2018.
The bishop said he hoped the pastoral plan would encourage long-term implementation of the pope’s exhortation and also encourage a broader reading of it. Several bishops who spoke from the floor echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the document was more than just one chapter – referring to Chapter 8’s focus on the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion which gained a lot of media attention.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said a pastoral plan focused on the exhortation lets the Catholic Church “seize control” of its message after the “blogosphere was forcing us to read it in another way.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, similarly noted that the exhortation’s Chapter 8 “got all the headlines” and he hoped a new plan based on the text would get more people to read the entire document and “read it slowly.”
A new pastoral plan for marriage and families would not be “the pastoral plan,” as in the be all end all addressing every detail, but it should provide a framework to help parishes work in this area, Bishop Malone said.
Discussion from the floor on about this plan was overwhelmingly positive.
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, said the church should look for ways to lift up marriage and thank couples for all they do. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said the church should offer more than just marriage preparation programs and should provide something for couples after they are married.
They should know about marriage before they come to church to set up their wedding, he said, emphasizing that catechism needs to start much earlier
After Bishop Malone had stressed before the body of bishops that the program would focus on the entirety of “Amoris Laetitia,” not one part that generated so much attention, a reporter turned back to that section of the exhortation asking the bishop in a news conference if couples living in adultery could receive Communion.
“I’m not going to answer that here,” the bishop said, re-emphasizing that the aim of the pastoral plan was to provide married couples with resources they would need to strengthen their marriage and families.

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Departamento de Seguridad National cancela el TPS

WASHINGTON – Defensores de inmigración hablaron en contra de una decisión del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional de terminar el Estado de Protección Temporal (conocido como TPS) que afectará a 2,500 nicaragüenses que han estado en Estados Unidos casi 20 años.
Durante una llamada con reporteros el 7 de noviembre ellos también lamentaron que Elaine Duke, la secretaria interina de Seguridad Nacional, dijo que necesitaba seis meses más para llegar a una decisión sobre el TPS para 57,000 hondureños, diciendo que necesita más tiempo para determinar si ellos pueden permanecer en Estados Unidos debido a las condiciones sociales y económicas adversas en su país.
Randolph P. McGrorty, director ejecutivo de Catholic Legal Services en la Arquidiócesis de Miami, dijo que la ley estadounidense debe ser implementada con cierto nivel “de bondad y compasión” y que enviar personas a países que no están preparados para recibirlos hará mucho más daño que bien.
Él pidió a legisladores en el Congreso y a la administración del presidente Donald Trump que reconocieran que los nicaragüenses, los hondureños y otros participantes en el TPS son miembros que aportan a sus parroquias, vecindarios y lugares de trabajo.
Los defensores, de varias agencias, dijeron que en vez de terminar el TPS, el Congreso debería desarrollar un plan legislativo para permitir que los nicaragüenses, hondureños y otros se queden en Estados Unidos permanentemente en nombre de la unidad familiar y que ellos son importantes para la edificación de la sociedad estadounidense.
Ellos pidieron que el TPS sea extendido cada 18 meses, como lo requiere la ley del momento, hasta que el Congreso llegue a un arreglo legal.
La designación de TPS es para los que han venido a Estados Unidos desde ciertos países debido a desastres naturales, conflicto armado, violencia criminal u otras condiciones extraordinarias. Este autoriza empleo y protección contra la deportación para unas 320,000 personas de 10 países.
El obispo Joe S. Vásquez de Austin, Texas, director del Comité sobre Migración de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos, apoyó la extensión del TPS por seis meses para los hondureños.
El obispo dijo el 8 de noviembre que “se hizo lo correcto” mientras los funcionarios estudian la situación en el país.
“Los (beneficiarios) de TPS tienen lazos profundos con nuestras comunidades, parroquias y el país”, dijo el obispo. “Son dueños de negocios, profesionales con éxito, dueños de casas, padres de ciudadanos estadounidenses y, más importante, hijos de Dios. Tenemos que encontrar una solución para estos individuos y sus familias y estamos listos para apoyar el Congreso en su esfuerzo para hacerlo”.

Parish calendar of events


CULLMAN, Ala., Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, Advent day of reflection, Wednesday, December 6, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. An opportunity to ponder your heart’s longing for God in the context of the scripture readings for the Sundays of Advent. Retreat Director: Sister Kathleen Gallas, O.S.B. Cost: $30, includes lunch and refreshments. Details: contact Sister Magdalena Craig, OSB, at (256) 615-6114,
GREENWOOD Locus Benedictus Spirituality Center, “Body, Mind, and Spirit” Women’s Retreat, Saturday, January 27, 2018, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary #5267. Presenters: Dr. Michael Whelan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author, John Cook, exercise physiologist, and Magdalene Abraham, spiritual director. Open to all women. Details: (662) 299-1232 or
TULANE UNIVERSITY New Orleans, The Divine Dance with the Trinity presented by Father Richard Rohr. Cost: $100. To register, email Details: Mary Billups at Meridian St. Patrick church office (601) 693-1321.


AMORY St. Helen, Parish Christmas dinner for all parish adults, Saturday, December 9, with appetizers and auction time from 6-7 p.m. and dinner at 7:00. Parishioners are invited to bring an auction item. Funds from the auction will go toward the cost of the dinner. Details: church office (662) 256-8392.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories Parish, Life After Loss recovery support sessions, Tuesday, November 28 and continuing Tuesdays through January 2, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. The upcoming holidays can be both joyful and stressful. Presenter: Larry L. Lambert, Licensed Professional Counselor. Details: Larry L. Lambert (662) 719-8756 or
COLUMBUS Annunciation Parish, Men’s Bible Study, Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in the Activities Center. Dr. Raymond Overstreet will be studying “Great Things of the New Testament.” Details: church office (662) 328-2927.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, chicken spaghetti dinner, Sunday, December 3 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. All proceeds go toward church restoration. Cost: $10 per person. Details: church office (662) 335-5251.
St. Joseph Parish, “Tinsel and Tears” bereavement support group: getting through the holidays when you’ve lost a loved one, Tuesday, December 5 at 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Details: Sandra Cirilli at (662) 820-0757.
JACKSON Holy Family Parish, a Community Food Pantry is being opened and they are looking for volunteers. Details: church office (601) 362-1888.
St. Peter Cathedral, Advent retreat and anointing Mass, Saturday, December 2, 10 a.m. Presenter: Father Anthony Quyet. RSVP by November 28. Details: church office (601) 969-3125.
St. Richard Parish, exposition of sacred relics, Thursday December 7 at 6:30 p.m. More than 150 relics will be shown, some believed to be two thousand years old. Presented by Father Carlos Martins of the Companions of the Cross. Details: Debbie Tubertini, 601-366-2335, ext. 107 or
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Advent wreath workshop, Wednesday, November 29, following Wednesday night dinner at O’Connor Family Life Center. Cost $12 for wreath kit. Details: church office (601) 445-5616
SOUTHAVEN Christ the King Parish, Advent/Christmas concert, Sunday, December 3, at 4 p.m. The concert will be followed by a chili dinner. Everyone is invited. Details: Sister Emily Morgan, RSM, (662) 342-1073.


HERNANDO Holy Spirit Parish, “The Christmas Story” young people’s Christmas program, Sunday, December 10, at 6 p.m. Details: Annemarie Gaudet (901) 828-0768 or Jeannine Gaudet (901) 828-0768.
JACKSON St. Richard School Krewe de Cardinal, Save the Date, Friday, Feb. 9. Live and Silent Auction, live music, food and fun. Details to follow at
MADISON St. Anthony School, 9th annual Starry Night Gala, Saturday, December 9, 7-11 p.m., with a VIP cocktail hour and auction preview from 6-7 p.m. Live music, live and silent auctions, raffles, food by the Knights of Columbus and area restaurants. The attire will be cocktail, festive Christmas with a holiday atmosphere. Details: Jennifer Schmidt, (601) 214-9656 or
St. Joseph School, Save the Date, Jeans Jazz and Bruin Blues annual fundraiser, Saturday, February 3, 2018. Details: Marcie Ralston, (601) 214-9809, Bobbie Simpson, (601) 953-6365 or Tricia Harris, (601) 898-4803 or
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, pancakes with Santa, Saturday, December 2, 8:30 – 10:30 a.m., O’Connor Family Life Center, $6.00 per person. Details: church office (601) 445-5616

In Memoiam

Sister Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary, died Saturday, November 11, at the Sarah Community in Bridgeton, Missouri. She was born Elizabeth Louise Ebo on April 10, 1924 in Bloomington, Illinois. Her courageous words during the March 10, 1965, march in Selma, Ala., became a rallying cry for many in the Civil Rights movement. In the Diocese of Jackson, she was chaplain at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson from 1981-87.
A funeral Mass was celebrated November 20 at St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church, in north St. Louis. In lieu of flowers, donations can go to Cardinal Ritter High School, the Archdiocese of St. Louis Peace and Justice Commission, St. Matthew Church, St. Nicholas Church, or St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Church.


U.S. bishops take on immigration, racism at fall assembly

By Carol Zimmermann (CNS)
BALTIMORE – At the start of their annual fall assembly in Baltimore Nov. 13, U.S. Catholic bishops faced some big issues – immigration and racism – straight on and zeroed in on how to raise the national level of discussion on these topics starting in the church pews. Bishop Joseph Kopacz attended the meeting and his reflection is on page 3.
They acknowledged the current polarization in the country and divides within the Catholic Church and stressed their responsibility as church leaders to promote immigration reform, educate parishioners on justice issues and listen to those affected by “sins of racism.”
On immigration, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there needs to be a “path to legalization and citizenship for the millions of our unauthorized brothers and sisters who are law-abiding, tax-paying and contributing to our society.”
The bishops responded with applause and an agreement by voice vote to issue a statement calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
The bishops were keenly aware that their defense of immigrants was not necessarily the view of the U.S. church at large. For example, Chicago Bishop Blase J. Cupich spoke of dangers of Catholics falling prey to and believing “poisoning rhetoric” about immigrants that demonizes them.
“There’s something wrong in our churches, where the Gospel is proclaimed, and yet people leave our worship services, our Masses on weekends, with that rhetoric still echoing in their hearts,” he said.
Several bishops also brought up the notion of prudential judgment – referring to the view Catholics could take on immigration that differs from the bishops – since it is not a specific matter of church teaching.
The bishops who spoke on the floor didn’t buy that argument and said Catholics can’t use it to push aside the need to care for immigrants. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco took this a step further saying prudential judgment can’t be “taken lightly” on a “justice issue like immigration.”
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said the bishops’ defense of immigrants, as brothers and sisters, not problems, is not only right for immigrants but “for our society as a whole.”
“We can make America great, but you don’t make America great by making America mean,” he added, referring to a slogan of President Donald Trump without naming him.
On racism, Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, head of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said the church must recognize “and frankly acknowledge” its failings. He said the issue has found a “troubling resurgence” in recent years, referring particularly to white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this year where he said racial hatred was “on full display.”
“Racism isn’t going to be conquered by speech but by actions,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, adding that this was a watershed moment where the church could play a leadership role.
He spoke about discussions happening at diocesan and parish levels, and several bishops commented about them as well noting that these discussions are not easy, but so necessary to bring about healing.
Other key issues of the day where church leaders are responding include health care, taxes and abortion, mentioned by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in his first address as USCCB president. He took office at the close of last year’s fall assembly.
“We are facing a time that seems more divided than ever,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Divisions over health care, conscience protections, immigration and refugees, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gender ideologies, the meaning of marriage and all the other headlines continue to be hotly debated. But our role continues to be witnessing the Gospel.”
He explained that the National Catholic War Council, created by the U.S. bishops in 1917 in the response to the world refugee crisis that emerged from World War I and the forerunner to the USCCB, was formed to address great national and international needs at a time not unlike today.
The cardinal emphasized other modern challenges such as recent natural disasters and mass shootings.
But the problems of the day should not overwhelm church leaders who should recognize signs of new hope in the church, mentioned by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who addressed the bishops at the start of the meeting and encouraged them to make time for prayer amid “burdens of the office.”
He told them to be adventurous in the “new frontier of faith” and to make a strong effort to accompany young people who often question their faith.
The bishops also heard from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at a Nov. 12 Mass where he was the main celebrant and the homilist, and at a dinner celebrating the USCCB’s 100th anniversary.
The cardinal told the U.S. bishops that the church needs them today to “bring not only material assistance but also the spiritual balm of healing, comfort and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees who come knocking on America’s door.”
He also urged them to follow the pope’s call to accompany the modern church.
Prior to the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a few protesters held placards or placed them on the sidewalk, calling on the U.S. bishops to embrace pacifism.
Also in the lobby of the hotel where the bishops were meeting, a protester sought dialogue with church leaders to urge them to offer sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, and another voiced displeasure with church leaders he said support war.
The second public day of meetings did not tackle major societal issues but examined ways the bishops can continue to uphold the Catholic faith from specific wording in the baptismal rite, a review of catechetical materials and a pastoral plan for marriage and family life that will give Catholic couples and families resources to enable them to live out their vocation.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, delivers the homily during Mass Nov. 12 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore on the eve of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

As part of the business side of the meeting the bishops elected Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit as the next secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He’ll take office next November. Votes also were cast for a new chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty and chairmen-elect for the committees on Communications, Cultural Diversity in the Church, Doctrine, National Collections and Pro-Life Activities.
They highlighted past events such as the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, this summer and previewed upcoming events such as the U.S. Catholic Church’s Fifth National Encuentro, or “V Encuentro,” next September in Grapevine, Texas, and World Youth Day Jan. 22-27, 2019, in Panama City, Panama.
The bishops identified key issues they are addressing with Congress including health care, the federal budget and tax reform, and concluded their assembly by mentioning the impact of recent disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Texas, a region hard hit by Hurricane Harvey, said often when tragedies occur “you just feel very much alone and wonder how you are going to move forward.”
He thanked the bishops for their support, in prayers, phone calls and donations, which he described as a “wonderful sign of solidarity” and sign of unity of our faith. This will be a long and costly recovery, he noted, but added that “people have deep, deep faith.”
(Contributing to this story was Rhina Guidos, Dennis Sadowski, Mark Pattison and Julie Asher. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Dominican sister heard vocational call at adoration

From November 5 – 11, Catholics around the United States celebrated National Vocations Awareness Week, a yearly event where parishes energetically promote and pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life. This special week was designed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to help encourage vocation awareness and inspire young people to ask, “To what vocation in life is God calling me?”
If you would like to find out where God is calling you, please visit for a Vocation Match quiz, religious community search and other resources.

By Carol Zimmermann

Sister Anna Wray, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, poses for a photo on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Sister Anna Wray is a big fan of eucharistic adoration.
There is something about the quiet time in prayer that has spoken powerfully to her over the years making her understand God a little more and also get a clearer sense of her path in life.
It’s where – as a self-described “not particularly pious” teenager – she said she felt God’s love profoundly even though she was just joining some high school friends for early morning weekday adoration without really knowing what it was. She was drawn in by the group and the appeal of breakfast afterward before school started.
It’s also where she went some evenings in college and, as she put it, parked herself one night during her senior year, desperate for direction. At the time, she was dating and had already considered a religious vocation and neither fit felt right. There, in the quiet chapel tucked between classrooms, she got a clear sense of what God wanted her to do, not with specific details or through a thundering voice, but an answer to what she had been seeking: a sense of peace and a realization she should pursue the religious life.
And now, 15 years from those college days, Sister Anna, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, finds herself frequently back at that chapel at The Catholic University of America in Washington while on the school’s campus working on her doctorate in philosophy. A philosophy major as an undergrad, she now teaches a freshman philosophy class while writing a dissertation on Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher who lived in the 300s B.C.
As a student nearly two decades ago, she might not have believed she would someday be back on campus, as a sister no less, dressed in a long white habit and black veil.
That’s because when she came to Catholic University she had no sense of women religious. She hadn’t known any sisters from her hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut, or from the public high school she attended. When she got to college, she was so shocked to see a Dominican friar walking in a long flowing white robe that she followed him and finally asked him who he was.
He invited her to join him at vespers with the Dominicans and Sister Anna, then simply Andrea Wray, was taken aback by the prayers and watching the priests and brothers. “I want this,” she thought, and when she found out the Dominican order also had sisters, it seemed a natural fit for her.
But she also was not about to do what seemed so obvious.
Sister Anna visited the Dominicans of St. Cecilia at their motherhouse in Nashville, Tennessee, during a spring break. After her stay, which raised a lot of questions in her mind, she decided the community wasn’t for her.
She wondered if she was cut out for religious life, if she needed to find a different community, or if she should pursue a relationship and even marriage.
In the confusion years later, she simply asked the question: “Lord what do you want?” that night in the chapel. The answer she felt was simple but poignant. She felt God wanted her to follow him, or as she described it: He wanted her heart. When she realized this, she felt at peace.
“It was a huge grace that it was God calling me,” she said.
Sister Anna went back to the Dominicans where she professed her final vows in 2009. She even embraced teaching – a charism of the Dominicans that she initially wondered if she could do. “Once I was in the classroom I loved it,” she said of her experience teaching kindergarten and then high school and college classes.
She said the job puts you “closer to souls” than most other roles, other than parents, adding that “education is a mission field.”
She also said Dominicans “go where we are sent,” which for her in 2008 meant going to Australia as part of a delegation to assist with preparations for World Youth Day.
Her own World Youth Day experience in 2000 in Rome also helped influence who she is today. She said she took to heart the message of St. John Paul II who said: “Do not be afraid to live the Gospel directly.”
“That is something I have tried to do ever since,” she told CNS in an interview nine years ago.
And these days, as the number of young women joining the Nashville Dominicans continues to increase, Sister Anna is not surprised.
As she sees it: “The steady stream of young women are drawn by God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.”

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Seminarian: God wrote straight with crooked lines

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Anthony Federico is one of three seminarians from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, studying at Theological College in Washington. But he’s the only one of them to inadvertently create an internet outcry.
Federico, who is 33 and in the third year of his theologate at Theological College, grew up in Connecticut, a big fan of the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers, who have since decamped to Charlotte, North Carolina. He was possibly an even bigger fan of baseball’s New York Yankees – so much so that he couldn’t watch the opening game of the World Series as he was still mourning the Bronx Bombers’ playoff exit the week before.

Anthony Federico, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., poses for a photo inside Theological College in Washington Oct. 25. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Not only was Federico a fan, he was a participant: hockey, baseball, soccer, swimming and tennis, from youth leagues to high school at Notre Dame in West Haven, Connecticut. At Providence College, Federico majored in theology – not the keenest choice for finding a job in the big, wide world.
However, his passion for sports landed him a job at ESPN back in his home state. In an interview with Catholic News Service, Federico said he saw it as “vindication” that he could get gainful employment despite his theology major. He worked there seven years, first in the tape warehouse finding and shuttling vintage footage where it needed to go.
Then Federico got an assignment in ESPN’s “mobile group” in digital media work – a job he considered a plum. “It was the right place at the right time,” he said, as cellphone usage was exploding.
Then came the incident that changed Federico’s career path.
In 2012, a little-heralded guard named Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American, started playing terrific basketball for the New York Knicks, gaining international fame. Those in the know started gushing about Lin’s emergence.
Eventually, Lin’s star dimmed. ESPN had a story ready to go about it. It was Federico’s task to write the headline. He wrote “Chink in the Armor” never intending it, he said, to be an ethnic slur against Lin.
But the damage was done, the blowback immediate and intense, and the fallout inevitable. Federico got fired within days from the only job he’d had his adult life.
Federico, the eldest of five siblings, moved back in with his parents, who did their best to shield him from “the daily hate mail and death threats,” he said.
Over time, Federico picked himself up dusted himself off. In a meeting he attended with representatives of a start-up in Stamford, Connecticut, just to give advice, he walked away with a job offer to be a consultant.
As opposed to working at ESPN, which nearly always entailed the late shift, Federico worked days for the startup. He told CNS he’d walk around Hartford on his lunch hour, taking in the sights.
He came upon a church that had a weekday Mass at 12:10 p.m. After dismissing the thought at first with “I’m not a daily Mass goer,” Federico went inside one day and got hooked. Soon, colleagues asked him what he was doing with himself during his lunch hours. “Come and see” was his reply.
So they went. And saw. And discussed. Few of them were Catholic, and they posed serious questions about Catholic belief and practice. “These are brilliant people,” he said. “I had to go home and look at the Catechism (of the Catholic Church)” to frame suitable answers for the next day.

Anthony Federico, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., poses for a photo inside the recreation room at Theological College in Washington Oct. 25. In 2015, the former sports journalist was the college’s darts, pool and ping-pong champion. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

On another visit, he noticed the “struggle” of the parish priest, who was in the confessional before the noonday Mass, but did not have enough time to hear everyone’s confession before he had to prepare to celebrate Mass. “I thought, ‘If we just had more priests … ohhhh, I get it, Lord,’” Federico recalled.
That was the moment he knew his vocation.
“I had a good deal. I was making money, traveling a lot. I thought I had the life I was supposed to have,” Federico said. “I was content with my life, but not happy.” He added family and friends were “surprised, but not shocked” with his decision.
Federico said he had considered priesthood as early as age 15, but always distanced himself from the idea. When he went to the Hartford archdiocesan vocation office, the personnel knew him already – not from his ESPN notoriety, but because he had applied a couple of years before only to be “nervous, scared, afraid” of following through. “I was looking at it through the no’s, not the yes,” he added. This time “I am doing this in freedom,” he said.
This marks Federico’s fifth year at Theological College, which is the national diocesan seminary of The Catholic University of America and directed by the priests of the Society of St. Sulpice. His first two years were for an undergraduate grounding in philosophy, as well as to acclimate to seminary life.
And while he’s getting his classwork in, and living in rectories and learning from pastors during the summers, Federico hasn’t renounced his love of sports.
He said he and his fellow seminarians have won four intramural championships at Catholic University, which is across the street from the seminary. Theological College also won the Vianney Cup, a soccer tournament for four East Coast seminaries.
And while some laypeople participate in “Iron Man” triathlons – swimming, bicycling and running – Federico was the 2015 winner of the “Iron Seminarian” competition that takes in the decidedly different pursuits of darts, pool and ping-pong.
“People think seminarians live in some dark building and walk like this,” he said, imitating a slow, straight walk with palms pressed together at chest level. “We have a great culture here.”
And, if all goes according to plan – provided it’s God’s plan – Federico will be ordained to the priesthood in spring 2019.

(Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.)