Bishop to tour Holy Land as Lent begins

Bishop Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Lord Jesus, who is always near, will be gathering the Catholic Church universal to hear his summons to “reform our lives and believe in the Gospel” in order that we may overcome the poison of sin and the sting of death. Our Ash Wednesday observance is an invitation to renew the promises made at Baptism through faithful prayer, meaningful fasting, and generous almsgiving.
In harmony with the most welcome spring rebirth, we hear the words of Saint Paul to become a new creation in Christ, his ambassadors in the work of repentance and reconciliation in our hearts and homes, and justice and peace in our communities, nation and world.
Our citizenship is in heaven, our ultimate destiny, and the eternal journey has already begun in our daily walk with the Lord. At this time, I am in the Holy Land on pilgrimage with the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher. Of course, you may already know this through the Diocese of Jackson’s social media platforms. I will be using the hashtag #BishopJKHolyLand for the trip.
It will be highly unusual not to be in the diocese at our Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In my mind and heart, the only acceptable reason for this absence is a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where the story of our salvation unfolded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only other time I had traveled to the Holy Land was way back in 1981, on a biblical study tour that encompassed Jerusalem and Rome for three weeks. It was memorable for many reasons, and in particular, we were not able to have an audience with Saint John Paul II because of the attempted assassination on his life earlier that year. How the world has changed!
Social media, when used civilly in a spirit of solidarity, can be an amazing tool for building up and not tearing down.
I look forward to sharing the events of each day as a unique way to enliven the Lord’s call during Lent. Let us recall that in our diocesan envisioning process the first stated Pastoral Priority is to be inviting and reconciling communities of faith, in our parishes, schools, and in all of our supporting ministries. This goes far deeper than being friendly and welcoming environments, although this is a crucial first step.
This is the work of the Gospel, ever ancient and ever new, to repent, turn our lives around where need be, and to address the realities of division in our families, church communities, and in society.
The wounds of sin and division can be deep and long standing, and if healing is to occur, our response to the Lord’s call to conversion must be intentional and faithful.
And we do want healing to occur because Jesus wants to give us life in abundance, his peace that the world cannot give, his joy that raises us to new life, and the path to freedom.
We have all received the Holy Spirit of love, power and discipline, and Lent is a time to pray for and encourage one another to open these doors of grace and hope.
Forty days comprise a sacred time for God’s life and our lives to intersect once again so that we can see more clearly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. May our resolve not wane during this season of grace. Let us pray also for our catechumens and candidates as the Lord’s call deepens in their lives, and I look forward to being with many of them at the Rite of Election on the first Sunday in Lent at the Cathedral.
Peace be with you!

Still learning from founders of Catholic education

Bishop Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Catholic Schools Week is celebrated this year from January 28 to February 3 wherever a diocese throughout the United States is blessed to have a Catholic School system. This year’s theme is: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. Our legacy of schools in the Diocese of Jackson dates back to 1847 in Natchez before spreading upstream to Vicksburg and Greenville and then gradually fanning out eastward across the State of Mississippi. Because our diocese was the 13th Catholic diocese established in the nation, our Catholic School tradition began not too long after the first Catholic Schools were launched in the United States.
The founding mother and father of Catholic Education were St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1784-1821) was an Episcopalian believer through half of her life, and a wife and mother of six who always found the time for charitable works and outreach. She became a Catholic after the death of her husband and within a short time founded the Daughters of Charity based upon the rule of Saint Vincent de Paul and his religious community in France. Her mission became faith-based education, stepping out into deep and unchartered waters. She founded the first Catholic School in the United States in 1812, and by 1818 the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today, six groups of sisters can trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation. The following are excerpts from the writings and wisdom of this great matriarch.
“I share your struggles as educators today, and I am with you in that struggle. The signs of the times beg you to be spiritually mature to foster a climate of missionary renaissance faithful to (my) legacy of Catholic Education. Are you convinced of the need of a strategic vision in the name of the Gospel? Are you willing to risk carrying out new ideas that respond to absolute human need?
“What unmet needs exist in your school, parish or community that you can realistically address? How do you interface with public, private and home school networks? What new programs or courses would benefit your students or attract new ones? What timely services do you currently offer which can be extended to others? Are there ways you can combine efforts and resources for new ones? What improvements can be made by adopting new techniques? I invite you to discuss whether your definition of education really meets society’s changing needs.
“In your role as educators, focus on the whole person – teach the lesson and touch the heart. Above all, my friends, teach your pupils about God’s love for them. Oh! Set your gaze on the future and always strive to fit your students for the world in which they are destined to live.
“Good home-school relations were important to me and I often corresponded with parents about their children’s progress-or lack of it. I will tell you, I know American parents to be most difficult in hearing the faults of their children.
“I tried several methods of discipline but always with gentle firmness. I discovered the loss of recreation, deprivation of fruit, or payment of a a penny for good works often worked well. Kneeling down was also the only form of physical punishment I allowed.
“I shunned every form of prejudice or discrimination. Inclusiveness was my goal. My school was founded on the enduring values of respect and equality. I pray that you keep in mind that authentic Christian compassion is expressed universally rather than selectively. This is to be extended to mountain children who are poor, to the Pennsylvania Dutch children, and to the African American children of slaves and free parents whom I myself taught.”
Her Daughters of Charity came to Natchez in 1847 and remained until 2003. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was beautified in 1963 and canonized in 1976.
The patriarch of Catholic School education is Saint John Neumann who was born in 1811 in Bohemia in the modern day Czech Republic. After traveling to America he was ordained and entered the Redemptorist Order and faithfully served the poor in Buffalo, New York. Father John Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852 and was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. As a founder of Catholic Schools in this country, he increased the number of schools in his diocese from two to 100 in eight years and wrote catechisms and other pamphlets to teach the faith, while working to bring good teachers into the diocese. His life’s work was to spread the faith.
Bishop John Neumann never lost his love and concern for the people. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, “Have you ever seen such an entorage for a bishop!”
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him to learn Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch so he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, “Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!”
Once on a visit to Germany, he came back to the house he was staying in soaked by rain. When his host suggested he change his shoes, John remarked, “The only way I could change my shoes is by putting the left one on the right foot and the right one on the left foot. This is the only pair I own.”
The words of the Lord Jesus to “go and teach and make disciples of all the nations” were emblazoned in the hearts and minds of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint John Neumann. May these patrons of Catholic School education continue to intercede for us as we strive to be faithful to our vision to “inspire disciples, to embrace diversity and to serve others” in our Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jackson.

Giving thanks for those who serve

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The celebration of the Lord’s birth, the Incarnation, literally, the “Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us,” (John 1, 14) is a dramatic proclamation of faith that God is in our midst and relentlessly pursues us in the wonderful story of salvation.
The literal translation of the tent in our midst is so apt because at any moment the Lord Jesus can pull up stakes and walk with us, or pursue us wherever we may go. This is the mystery that Pope Francis is pointing us towards in the Evangelii Guadium, the Joy of the Gospel, when he invites us to wrestle with the statement, “time is more important that space.”
When we encounter our living and loving incarnate Lord, or better said, when he grasps us (Phil 3, 14) we can joyfully shout, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth” (Luke 2, 14), because even if we remained silent the very stones would shout out. (Luke 19,40) The Infancy Narratives in their simplicity and in their sophistication intermingle darkness and light. Herod’s violence and hate, reeking havoc in our own time, pursues the Christ in order to destroy him and all associated with him. Yet, he could not silence the voices of the angels and shepherds, nor menace the Magi’s search for truth.
This holds true for us in our time because the voices of hate and violence against the Lord’s disciples, the Church, often only strengthens our resolve, especially in the blood of the martyrs. The Incarnation of the Lord must not be severed from his crucifixion and resurrection, and when we play it forward we can see a similar account in the story of Saint Paul.
For a time, he was Herod in disguise relentlessly hunting down the disciples of the Lord in order to destroy the nascent community of believers.
Joseph Holzner in his book Paul of Tarsus offers an inspired account of the beginning of Saul’s conversion in which we see the divine purpose of the Incarnation in action.
“He, Saint Paul, was the hunter driven by an insatiable thirst for the prey. However, in those days on the road to Damascus, another, the Master of those disciples he is hunting, is also on the trail. Paul thought that he was the hunter, but indeed, he was the quarry.
Christ is the Divine Hunter, the Hound of Heaven, and here on the road to Damascus he is running down a most precious quarry who will not be able to escape.”
God’s divine desire to embrace the heart and mind of every human being in Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, is at work in the Church at every moment throughout the world. Each of us and all people are most precious to Jesus Christ who inspires our hopes and dreams in his holy season. This work is evident throughout the Diocese of Jackson in season and out of season. (2Timothy 4, 2)
When we pause to reflect and treasure all these things in our hearts, as did Mary in the aftermath of the shepherds’ visit, we can see and hear the Gospel alive in ordinary and extraordinary ways, every day in the 65 counties of our diocese. In comparison to much larger Christian denominations, we may be small in number, but we are “proclaiming the Lord Jesus by living the Gospel so that all may experience the crucified and living Lord.” (Mission Statement)
I am grateful for so many coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord who serve in numerous ministries and admirable ways to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of our time. Some of you have been serving for a long time. Some have pitched their tents among us just recently. In particular, on behalf of the entire Diocese of Jackson and many in Holmes County, I want to welcome Sister Mary Walz, DC, Sister Madeline Kavenaugh, DC, and Sister Sheila Conley, SC, who arrived last month to build back up the hope of the Gospel in the aftermath of Sister Paula and Sister Margaret’s murders a years and half ago.
With their own unique gifts forged in the fires of pastoral ministry over many years they will take up the torch of loving service in the name of the Lord Jesus. (See related story on page 4)
During the closing days of Advent may we pray that the way of the Lord in our lives is wide open to celebrate his birth into our lives through faith.
Merry Christmas.

Bishop adds holiday calls to communication lineup

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz made a few phone calls Thanksgiving week, a few thousand phone calls. For the first time, the bishop tried out an automated call system to send a Thanksgiving greeting to parishioners. Anyone who had a home number on file with their parish received a call. Bishop Kopacz recorded the messages earlier in the month.
The response was overwhelming. The chancery offices were inundated with calls to ask about the program and thank the bishop for the message. “I felt like this was a good way to greet people on a special holiday as we entered the season of Advent,” said the bishop. “I love traveling to the parishes and meeting people – this was a good way to keep in touch, so to speak,” he added.
“We initiated this program to bring people together and stay connected,” said Rebecca Harris, Director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Jackson. She coordinated the program. “During the holidays when we gather with family and friends, we often give thanks. We wanted people to know we are thankful for them, for their faith and for all they do in our parishes, schools and missions,” added Harris. The parishes and the chancery work together to track membership through an online database program called ParishSoft. Both the office of Stewardship and Development and Mississippi Catholic use that database to get addresses and contact information for people in the parishes.
A second call will go out with a Christmas message on December 22. Those who wish to be on the call list should make sure their home land line phone numbers are on file with their parishes. Or you can email your cell phone number and expressed permission to Rebecca.harris@jacksondiocese.org. Those who do not wish to receive a call please email Rebecca Harris.

Listen for the echoes in Advent

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The first Sunday of Advent marked the beginning of a new Church year and a focused time of preparation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Spiritually, Advent suffuses every Eucharist at which Catholics gather.
During the communion rite following the Our Father at each Mass the celebrant offers an intercessory prayer on behalf of all in preparation for Holy Communion with the Lord. “Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We pray in joyful hope that the Lord will come again, and real soon.
As the season progresses we naturally turn our hearts and minds toward his first coming in the Incarnation. Typically, four weeks in duration, this year we are on the fast track in Advent because the season is only three weeks and four hours long. The fourth Sunday of Advent is celebrated in the morning and Christmas Eve begins later in the afternoon.
(The obligation for Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent can be satisfied on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The Christmas Mass obligation can be fulfilled on Sunday afternoon, Christmas Eve, or on Monday, Christmas Day. There is no dispensation for a two-for-one.)
Like a small craft going down stream on the Mississippi River, Advent is propelled headlong in the Christmas current, so the Yule Tide, so to speak. In this sense, Advent reminds us how challenging it is to find time and space to be in the presence of the living God in order to cultivate and reap the blessings of God’s promises. The Blessed Mother is a lamp for our feet as we walk through Advent; she is the gold standard for us as we yearn to bring Christ to light in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was at the center of the Anawim, the poor ones in Israel who remained faithful to God in all circumstances, the ones whom God preserved. To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through faith, prayer is to give flesh to the body of Jesus Christ. She teaches us the depth of piety that is possible during Advent, how to treasure all these things in our hearts, how to hope in God, how to turn the other in loving service, and how to offer hospitality to those searching for her Son and the Gospel way of life.
What is the awe and wonder of this season that raise our hopes and dreams to another level for ourselves, loved ones, and for the entire world? May it be the echo of the Gospel in our hearts and minds, our faith-filled vision for the world that all are God’s children, and that our lives are a gift because we are made in the image and likeness of God.
It is true as Saint Paul says, that all creation is indeed in agony, and we ourselves groan even though we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. Groaning or not, the Holy Spirit leads us away from fear and slavery to sin, to freedom as the children of God.
The following quote is from Bishop Donal Murray in his recent book, In a Landscape Redrawn, and it presents an Advent commitment to our world. “Everything that exists is a gift of the Creator. This is the core of the most profound answer, who are we? Christians do not see the gift as irrelevant to those who do not have faith. Each person is the result of the same creative and loving gift. Christians express their belief, not with any sense of superiority, but rather in the hope that this high vision of human dignity may find an echo in the hearts of all human beings. The Church knows that the Gospel of Life which she has received from her Lord has a profound echo in the heart of every person, believers and non believers alike, because it marvelously fulfills all the hearts expectations while infinitely surpassing them.”
As we hear the echo of the Lord’s call in our own lives during this season of Grace, may our hopes and dreams for this world, rooted in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, be in harmony with God’s vision for a world of justice and peace until the Lord comes again. Maranatha!

November saints offer light in dark days

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz

Bishop Kopacz

The month of November is upon us with the deepening of darkness at day’s end and, spiritually, with the feasts of All Saints and all Souls that remind us that the Light of the World always shines in the darkness. Much more ardently in November and early December, the Catholic Church looks beyond what is seen to what is unseen when eternal life unfolds in its fullness. Ultimately, our citizenship is in heaven and eternal life envelops us.
Yet, in every season, the Church never is given a pass on living the Gospel with the mind and heart of the One who will come to judge the living and the dead. In fact, in November and December with the onset of the holidays, the Church along with many other organizations and people of good will, ramps up its efforts to serve the vulnerable poor and marginalized and to be in solidarity with all. We have some wonderful saints in November who are a lamp for our feet to walk with the Lord more faithfully in our generation.
Saint Martin de Porres, whose feast day is November 3 each year, is one such disciple of the Lordwho can inspire many in our world to raise up those ensnared by darkness. Martin was born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579. He was the illegitimate son to a Spanish gentlemen and a freed slave from Panama, of African or possibly Native American descent. At a young age, Martin’s father abandoned him, his mother and his younger sister, leaving Martin to grow up in profound poverty. After spending just two years in primary school, Martin was placed with a barber/surgeon where he would learn to cut hair and to apply the medical arts.
As Martin grew older he experienced a great deal of ridicule for being of mixed-race. In Peru, by law, all descendants of African or Indians were not allowed to become full members of religious orders. However, not even unrelenting hardship and abandonment could separate Martin from the love of Jesus Christ. Gradually his resolute commitment to pour out his life in the footsteps of the Master overcame the prejudices and racism of his culture and the Church. Until the time of his death at 60 years old in 1639 he was praised for his unconditional care of all people, regardless of race or wealth. He took care of everyone from the Spanish nobles to the African slaves. Martin didn’t care if the person was diseased or dirty, he would welcome them into his own home. Martin’s life reflected his great love for God and all of God’s gifts. This is the Church at work.
Mother Teresa-like, in every corner of the world, the incarnate Lord washing the feet of his apostles and pouring out his life on the Cross. In yesterday’s scripture readings at Mass, Saint Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, in the earliest recorded written word in the New Testament, about 50 A.D., reveals the Gospel charism which has transformed lives and cultures for nearly 2000 years.
“Brothers and sisters: We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1Thes 2, 7b-9)
The witness of Saint Paul and Saint Martin, of Mother Teresa and of all the saints, Catholic and non-Catholic, canonized or not, is the leaven of loving service in our Church and in our world that will overcome the hatred and violence, the greed and the lust that continue to poison the life-blood of our nation and world. With a greater sense of urgency in the face of encroaching darkness, in nature and at the hands of those driven by evil and along with the countless opportunities for generosity and solidarity that beckon us in the time ahead, may we heed the call of the Lord to live the Gospel and value the things that really matter.

The shepherd who didn’t run: Father Stanley Rother priest and martyr

BY BISHOP JOSEPH KOPACZ In 2003 I was privileged to travel to El Salvador and Guatemala to the shrines of the martyrs with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who had served in Central America in the preceding decades. The home base for our two-week pilgrimage was the Maryknoll Retreat Center in Guatemala City from where we traveled to the mountainous regions of that nation, as well as across the border to El Salvador. This weekend I am attending the beatification of Father Stanley Rother, one of those martyrs, a priest from Oklahoma City who laid down his life for his friends, the Tz’utujil, the indigenous people of the Lake Atitlan region in the mountains of Guatemala. Following the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI called for greater solidarity in the Catholic Church of the Western Hemisphere, and encouraged the Church in North America to journey in faith with their brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in Central and South America. Soon after, as we know so well, the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson began its mission in Saltillo, Mexico, while
the Diocese of Oklahoma City was adopting the region of Lake Atitlan in the Diocese of Solola, Guatemala. Father Stanley Rother became part of the mission of his diocese in 1968, and immersed himself in the lives of the Tz’utujil people until his martyrdom in 1981. Like the Curé of Ars, Father Rother had struggled mightily with his academic studies in seminary formation, and was dismissed after First Theology. But he did not waver in his desire to the serve the Lord as a priest, and with the support of his bishop, he was given a second chance at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmetsburg, Md. With the successful completion of his studies he was ordained a priest in 1963. While serving in rural Oklahoma in his fifth year of priesthood, he accepted the invitation to go to the margins as a missionary disciple to the diocesan mission in Guatemala. It was not an easy transition because he did not speak Spanish, let alone the dialect of the indigenous Tz’utujil. However, one dimension of life that he did know intimately was hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity. Grinding away, one day to the next, in a few years he learned Spanish, and even more incredibly, mastered the Tz’utujil dialect, proceeding to translate the liturgical texts for the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage, along with the New Testament into the language of his beloved
people. The love of Jesus Christ burning in his heart moved mountains. But even before learning how to communicate with words, Father Rother’s actions spoke volumes. He worked the land with his people as only an experienced farmer from Oklahoma could, teaching them, when appropriate, more effective farming techniques that yielded a richer harvest. Father Rother’s people loved him. Their language had no equivalent for the name Stanley, so they called him by his middle name of Francis, which in Tz’utujil became Padre A’Plas. They certainly did not think of God as a mystery that they themselves could master on their own terms. They looked at this man and others like him as visible channels of God’s presence, God’s compassion, God’s mercy. The indigenous people of that region had not known a priest for over a century, but with this good shepherd and others, they found a home in the Catholic Church.

The shepherd who didn’t run: Father Stanley Rother priest and martyr

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In 2003 I was privileged to travel to El Salvador and Guatemala to the shrines of the martyrs with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who had served in Central America in the preceding decades. The home base for our two-week pilgrimage was the Maryknoll Retreat Center in Guatemala City from where we traveled to the mountainous regions of that nation, as well as across the border to El Salvador.
This weekend I am attending the beatification of Father Stanley Rother, one of those martyrs, a priest from Oklahoma City who laid down his life for his friends, the Tz’utujil, the indigenous people of the Lake Atitlan region in the mountains of Guatemala. Following the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI called for greater solidarity in the Catholic Church of the Western Hemisphere, and encouraged the Church in North America to journey in faith with their brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in Central and South America. Soon after, as we know so well, the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson began its mission in Saltillo, Mexico, while the Diocese of Oklahoma City was adopting the region of Lake Atitlan in the Diocese of Solola, Guatemala.
Father Stanley Rother became part of the mission of his diocese in 1968, and immersed himself in the lives of the Tz’utujil people until his martyrdom in 1981. Like the Curé of Ars, Father Rother had struggled mightily with his academic studies in seminary formation, and was dismissed after First Theology. But he did not waver in his desire to the serve the Lord as a priest, and with the support of his bishop, he was given a second chance at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmetsburg, Md. With the successful completion of his studies he was ordained a priest in 1963. While serving in rural Oklahoma in his fifth year of priesthood, he accepted the invitation to go to the margins as a missionary disciple to the diocesan mission in Guatemala. It was not an easy transition because he did not speak Spanish, let alone the dialect of the indigenous Tz’utujil. However, one dimension of life that he did know intimately was hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Grinding away, one day to the next, in a few years he learned Spanish, and even more incredibly, mastered the Tz’utujil dialect, proceeding to translate the liturgical texts for the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage, along with the New Testament into the language of his beloved people. The love of Jesus Christ burning in his heart moved mountains. But even before learning how to communicate with words, Father Rother’s actions spoke volumes. He worked the land with his people as only an experienced farmer from Oklahoma could, teaching them, when appropriate, more effective farming techniques that yielded a richer harvest.
Father Rother’s people loved him. Their language had no equivalent for the name Stanley, so they called him by his middle name of Francis, which in Tz’utujil became Padre A’Plas. They certainly did not think of God as a mystery that they themselves could master on their own terms. They looked at this man and others like him as visible channels of God’s presence, God’s compassion, God’s mercy. The indigenous people of that region had not known a priest for over a century, but with this good shepherd and others, they found a home in the Catholic Church.
The mission team of 12 who was serving when Father Rother arrived in 1968 gradually departed, not to be replaced. And in the years leading up to his martyrdom, he was one among his people, the last man standing, so to speak. Paralleling the mission in Saltillo, many people from Oklahoma went to Santiago Atitlan over the years. But unlike our mission which remained active until nearly a decade ago before being shut down by drug cartel brutality, the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador began decades earlier.
Civil wars erupted across Central America in the 1970s and raged throughout most of the 1980s. It was a bloody struggle between government forces and rebel groups with the former perpetrating more than 90 percent of the atrocities against their own people. Tragically, countless indigenous poor were murdered in Guatemala, along with an estimated 70,000 victims in El Salvador. Indigenous Church workers as well as missionaries from North America were caught up in the crossfire. Among the well known martyrs, whose shrines I had visited while on pilgrimage, was Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador who was gunned down at the altar by an assassin during the consecration of the Mass.
In 1980 three Religious Sisters, Ita Ford, M.M., Maura Clarke, M.M., Dorothy Kozel, O.S.U. and a Lay Missioner, Jean Donovan were raped and murdered by members of the Salvadoran National Guard. In 1989 El Salvadoran soldiers broke into the living quarters of the Jesuit priests at Central American University in San Salvador and executed six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter. They were Fathers Ignacio Martin-Baro, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Juan Ramon Moreno, S.J., Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, S.J., Amando Lopez, S.J., Juan Ramon Moreno, S.J., Elba Ramos, their housekeeper, and her 16-year-old daughter, Celina Ramos.
The dark clouds of reckless hate had reached the mountainous region of Lake Atitlan in the mid to late 1970s and the steady stream of abductions, murders and tortured remains went unabated in the ensuing years. In 1980 Father Rother was warned that his name was at the top of the death squads’ list and for a time he returned to the safety of his native Oklahoma. But he was tormented by the number of his beloved Tz’utujil people who were being mowed down by ruthless forces while he was far from harm’s way. With his bishop’s permission and the pained blessing of his family and friends, Father Rother returned for Holy Week, 1981.
His people rejoiced to embrace their shepherd once again. He gave them heart and hope. But the threats against his life only intensified. At night on July 28, 1981, three armed assassins broke into his rectory intending to abduct and torture him, before killing him and disposing of his body. Dying for his people was a sacrifice he was willing to make, but he had promised that he would not allow them to take him alive to torture and to throw away. For 15 minutes he fought them off with his bare fists, and realizing that they were not going to take this farm boy by force, they shot him in the head at point blank range. He was one of ten priests who was murdered in Guatemala in 1981.
There was an outpouring of grief in the immediate aftermath, but there was not an eruption of violence. During the funeral preparations Father Rother’s parents and family stated their intentions to bury his remains in the family plot in Oklahoma. His Tz’utujil family respectfully asked if they might keep his heart in Santiago Atitlan in their parish Church. They interceded that he had given them his heart in life; and with his heart they would cherish him in death. To this day it is encased at the back of Santiago Atitlan, the Church where his people faithfully ask his intercession when entering and leaving the house of the Lord that he had restored lovingly and ably during his years of service.
The following is a refection by Henri Nouwan who visited Atitlan two years after his martyrdom. “Stan was killed because he was faithful to his people in their long and painful struggle for human dignity, dying for them in whom he recognized the face of the suffering Lord. Stan stood with them as they learned how to read and write, sought proper nutrition and health care for their children, struggled to acquire small pieces of land to cultivate, and gradually free themselves from the chains of poverty and oppression. Martyrs are blood witnesses of God’s inexhaustible love for his people. We honor martyrs because they are the signs of hope for the living Church, they are reminders of God’s loving presence.”
Let us not forget the victims of such unspeakable violence, and grinding poverty, many who are forced to flee their homeland, then and now.

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz is scheduled to attend Father Stanley Rother’s beatification ceremony in Oklahoma City Saturday, Sept. 23. Those who wish to know more about Father Rother can check out his biography, “The shepherd who didn’t run, Stanley Rother, martyr from Oklahoma,” by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda.)

Bishop pens letter to support Migrant Support Center

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz used the recent developments surrounding DACA to call attention to the Catholic Charities’ Migrant Support Center. The following is an excerpt of a letter sent along with some case studies to supporters describing the work of the center.)
The Migrant Support Center is providing critical services to the immigrant and migrant populations who have pressing needs as recent arrivals, or as long standing residents. Now more than ever in an openly hostile and suspicious climate throughout our nation, this population requires the social services and legal expertise of our staff. The documented and undocumented immigrants often do not know their rights, and our team of two lawyers and interns work tirelessly to defend their causes in court, while at the same time providing education and information programs throughout our diocese. This is a formidable task, because the Catholic Diocese of Jackson is the largest east of the Mississippi River, a territory of 38,000 square miles. In addition, often they receive calls for other social services and the staff directs these clients to the appropriate programs.
I thank you for considering the request from our Migrant Support Center Staff to assist them in the work they do with vulnerable immigrant and migrant populations. May the living God continue to prosper the work you do on behalf of those in need.
When large numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, sought refuge in the United States beginning in 2013, His Holiness, Pope Francis, said, “This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.” At the Catholic Charities, Inc., Migrant Support Center, we take up the Holy Father’s call to arms.
It is our agency’s mission “to be a visible sign of Christ’s love by helping the vulnerable and those in need, especially children, women, and families.” At the Migrant Support Center, we defend migrants of all backgrounds, focusing on those central to our mission. These clients range from survivors of domestic violence working to build new lives for themselves and their families, to Venezuelan families fleeing persecution based on their political opinions, and to unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking safety in the United States from societal and family violence.
These unaccompanied children are our most vulnerable clients, as many have already suffered extensive harm in their home countries despite their tender age, and undertook the perilous journey from their home countries to the United States all alone. U.S. immigration law provides certain legal remedies to children who are fleeing persecution, or have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents; however, applying for these remedies involves several complicated steps, often while facing an Immigration Judge in adversarial court proceedings. Children who are unable to afford counsel or find free legal assistance must face these proceedings alone, meaning an almost certain return to the dangers from which they fled.
For such children in Mississippi, few legal resources exist, especially for children who are unable to pay the hefty legal fees for private attorneys, which can easily exceed $5,000. Therefore, the Migrant Support Center is working diligently to ensure that all unaccompanied Mississippi children in need have quality pro bono immigration representation, protecting their rights to due process and helping them create new lives of healing and freedom in the United States.
Such is the case of Julio, an indigenous Guatemalan teenager who fled his native country as an unaccompanied minor after his town’s mayor forcibly recruited him to take up arms against a foreign mining company that was excavating in his area. Of great importance was the fact that the Guatemalan government recruited foreign mining companies to excavate traditionally indigenous lands (such as Julio’s town), preventing indigenous communities from enjoying and cultivating the land and its resources, and deepening the historic rift between indigenous Guatemalans and the federal government.
During one skirmish, a miner slashed Julio’s arm with a machete, leaving him physically and emotionally scarred. Neither Julio nor his friends could seek help from the Guatemalan government, as federal troops provided support to the mining companies. With the assistance of Catholic Charities and our partners at the Immigration Clinic of Mississippi College School of Law, Julio now has asylum and is enjoying his new-found freedom in the United States.
The Migrant Support Center also represented four young Honduran siblings, the Garcias, who fled Honduras after being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused and later abandoned by their father. Migrant Support Center attorneys represented the children in state court proceedings to ensure they had appropriate protection in their new home, and secured Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Lawful Permanent Residence (green cards) for the children on the basis of the trauma they suffered in Honduras. The children are now attending school, making friends, learning English, and receiving counseling services in their new home.
Through your generous support, the Migrant Support Center can ensure that all immigrant children in Mississippi receive the warm welcome and protection that Pope Francis requires. Your donation will not only ensure that Catholic Charities can continue representing unaccompanied children such as Julio and the Garcia children on a pro bono basis, but it will also assist Migrant Support Center attorneys in recruiting, training, and mentoring a strong network private practitioners to defend immigrant children as well.

Reconstrucción: una obra de fe, esperanza

Construir y reconstruir son tareas tan esenciales para nosotros en nuestra vida diaria y especialmente para nosotros, como cristianos, que trabajamos para promover el reino de Dios en nuestro mundo, un reino de verdad y de amor, un reino de santidad y de gracia, un reino de justicia, amor y paz. Para muchas personas al terminarse el don del tiempo extendido el fin de semana del Día del Trabajo nos encontramos de nuevo en el ritmo de nuestra vida diaria, y listos o no, ansiosos o resistentes, la vida tiene una manera de tirarnos y de empujarnos. Qué creativo es el concepto de que un fin de semana largo a finales del verano, abierto al ocio y a la necesidad de equilibrio en nuestras vidas, nos da una pausa para reflexionar sobre la dignidad del trabajo en todas sus manifestaciones, la obra de nuestras manos, mente, corazón y espíritu. La fundación de la Palabra de Dios es la obra de la creación, (seis días) equilibrado por descanso del sábado (un día).
La interacción entre el trabajo y el descanso en Dios produce mucho fruto al cumplir nuestra dignidad y destino como imago Dei. El salmo 90, v. 17 pide a Dios que bendiga la obra de nuestras manos para que podamos efectivamente preservar el orden correcto de las cosas y, además, la obra de la creación.
El trabajo es bueno, y extractos del siguiente poema “Ser de uso” por Marge Piercy capta la sabiduría de las edades iniciado en Dios.
“La gente que más amo salta al trabajo de cabeza primero sin perder tiempo en la superficialidad….Me encanta la gente que utilizan, un buey a un pesado carro, que tira como el búfalo de agua con enorme paciencia, que se esfuerza en el barro y la porquería para hacer avanzar las cosas, quién hace lo que tiene que hacerse, una y otra vez…quiero estar con la gente que se sumerge en la tarea, que van a los campos para la recolección de la cosecha y trabajan en una fila y pasan las bolsas…El trabajo del mundo es común como el barro, chapuza, mancha las manos, se desmorona en polvo. Pero la cosa que vale la pena hacer bien hecha tiene una forma que satisface, limpia y evidente… El cántaro clama por agua para llevar, y una persona por trabajo que es real.”
Uno puede sentir la energía en este notable poema, y visualizar la decidida actividad de la que habla. Podemos ampliar estas imágenes en cada rincón de nuestras vidas, y fácilmente en la reconstrucción que se está llevando a cabo en Houston y Beaumont y en muchas comunidades en el sureste de Texas después del huracán Harvey. Este trabajo de recuperación continuará durante años y muchos trabajarán, de cerca y de lejos, vecinos y amigos, extranjeros e inmigrantes. Lo que lleva años para construirse puede ser derribado en momentos por el poder destructivo de la naturaleza, o las malas intenciones de la gente.
La noche llegó y la mañana continuó y así reconstruimos porque hay un poder superior, y la fe, la esperanza y el amor prevalecerán. Para comprender esto mientras avanzamos en las interminables tareas que tenemos ante nosotros en nuestros hogares, escuelas y lugares de trabajo, es un regalo que nos motiva, especialmente en esos días que preferiríamos quedarnos en la cama.
Este día, el 20º aniversario de la muerte de la Madre Teresa, nos recuerda la bondad, la belleza y la verdad de su vida, y la perspectiva fundamental de su fiel espíritu, es decir, “hacer de nuestra vida algo hermoso por Dios”. Su perdurable legado encarna la sabiduría que encontramos en el evangelio de Juan “el primer trabajo es tener fe en el que Dios envió, recordándonos como discípulos que el trabajo de la creación encuentra su realización en el plan de salvación de Dios en Jesucristo.
El don de la fe, del tamaño de una semilla de mostaza, puede mover montañas. (Lucas 17,6) Consideren el amanecer de la Madre Teresa, alterado a mediados de su vida de fe dedicada a los indigentes y abandonados. Ella pasó la antorcha al educar a los jóvenes y privilegiado de clase media y alta de la India y caminó hacia el infierno de Calcuta donde muchas personas habían perdido la esperanza y movido montañas.
¡Qué semilla de mostaza! Esta ruta increíble de fe, esperanza y amor no es el derecho de nacimiento de unos pocos elegidos, sino la llamada del Señor en cada una de nuestras vidas. “Porque somos su obra, creados en Cristo Jesús para las buenas obras que Dios ha preparado de antemano, que deberíamos vivir en ellas.” (Efesios 2:10) Qué el Señor suscite en cada uno de nosotros una maravillosa armonía de fe y trabajo, de modo que podamos hacer de nuestras vidas algo hermoso desarrollando nuestros talentos, sirviendo a otros y dando a Dios la gloria.