Clarksdale Immaculate Conception celebrates 70 years

By Maureen Smith
CLARKSDALE – Many will tell you the founding of Immaculate Conception Parish was a routine happening in a diocese that was expanding in leaps and bounds at the time. Others will tell you it was a miracle. The characters in this story include a soldier, a death row inmate, a loving community leader who never even got to see the mission he helped found and the Blessed Mother.
Members of Immaculate Conception gathered Sunday, Sept. 13, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding with a Mass and brunch. Before the Mass started parishioner Linda Johnson gave a short history. Bishop Joseph Kopacz was the principal celebrant with Father Scott Thomas, pastor. Choir members from other local churches joined the celebration.
During the Mass representatives from the parish and school, including Father Thomas, Sister Teresa Shields, former teacher and current director of the Jonestown Community Center, and Earl Gooden, finance council member, lit candles honoring deceased bishops and priests, religious sisters and brothers and parish members.
Father Robert O’Leary, SVD, served in World War II. In 1940 he made a promise to found a church in honor of the Immaculate Conception if he survived. Years later, and halfway around the world, death row inmate, Claude Newman, admired a fellow inmate’s miraculous medal. The inmate gave it to him and soon after Newman said a beautiful woman visited him in his cell telling him, “if you want to follow my son, call for a priest.” Father O’Leary answered the call and he and some Sisters began to instruct the convict in the Catholic faith.
As the story goes, Newman claimed the beautiful woman had already instructed him about confession and the Eucharist. He also reminded Father O’Leary about his promise to found a parish for Mary. The priest and sisters were stunned. Before Newman was executed, he is said to have told Father O’Leary that he would act as an intermediary with the Blessed Mother if the priest ever needed anything.
In the early 1940s a group of African-Americans in Clarksdale, including Samuel Keith Harrington, appealed to then Bishop Oliver Gerow for a school. The bishop used $5,000 sent to him for a mission in the black community. He sent Father O’Leary in 1945 and the promise was fulfilled when the school was running by 1947.
By the time the parish was built and ready for dedication, founding father Harrington was near death. His friends hatched a plan to carry him to the church for Mass, but he didn’t make it. He was the first person to he buried out of the parish.
The school closed in 1990, but the parish still makes use of the building for activities and receptions. The old convent has been converted into a dormitory house for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. During the anniversary celebration parishioners looked at old yearbooks and shared their memories of the parish while speaking of their hopes for a strong future.

Holy Family Parish youth serve at Stewpot

JACKSON – The Holy Family Parish Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) has reorganized after a few years of dormancy. One of their first projects was to plan, prepare and serve a meal at Stewpot on Sunday, Sept. 6.
Three members of the group are preparing for confirmation. “This is a very humbling place. It reminds us of how fortunate we are and all God has blessed us with because there are some people who don’t have all we have,” said group member Rodney Self.
The teens planned the menu and prepared all of the food except the main dish. They recruited adult volunteers to make the spaghetti with meat sauce. The group plans another visit to Stewpot, a fall festival for neighborhood children and a project with the Gleaners in the coming months.
Holy Family pastor Father Xavier Amirtham, OPraem, who pitched in to help with the Stewpot project, said he is pleased to see the students step up to do service projects. He said projects like this expose them to the real needs of communities close to home. “So they can understand the needs and the struggles of the people in this area. They better understand their responsibility to social justice and we see their need to do works of charity and I think they learn something,” said Father Amirtham.

Youth Briefs & Gallery

GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph Parish, youth Bible study, “Altaration,” Wednesdays from 5 – 6:30 p.m. in the Youth Center.

CLEVELAND – Delta State University Catholic Student Association meets at Java City at Union. Ladies meet with Natalie Hardesty, 228-861-7253, and guys meet with Benjamin Pickard, 228-861-0729.NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, kids (Pk-3 – second graders), fun in the youth wing in Family Life Center, Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 6 p.m.
– KCYO (3rd – 5th graders) meet to paint pottery for Empty Bowls in the Family Life Center, Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. The finished bowls will be sold during the fund-raiser in February 2016.

GRENADA St. Peter Parish LifeNight youth group are meeting on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. to examine spiritual warfare.
– The first youth Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct 3, at 6 p.m.

¡SEARCH! Search for Christian Maturity Retreat, Friday-Sunday, Nov. 20-22, at Camp Wesley Pines, Gallman. All high school juniors and seniors are invited. Cost is $120. Deadline to register is Oct. 4. (Space is limited) For information and to register visit Details: Jeff & Ann Cook, 601-853-2409,

Catechetical Sunday honors those in ministry

Kneading our faith
By Fran Lavelle
On Sept. 20, parishes around the country celebrate Catechetical Sunday. In 1935, the Vatican under the leadership of Pope Pius XI, published On the Better Care and Promotion of Catechetical Education, a document that asked every country to acknowledge the importance of the church’s teaching ministry. The church also asked that we recognize those who serve in our communities as catechists.
This ministry of teaching in the name of the church has a profound importance, which is why catechists are formally commissioned. It is, therefore, fitting that we set aside a day to highlight this ministry and invite the entire church community to think about our responsibility to share our faith with others. Be assured of my gratitude and prayers as you begin anew.
Since the early 1970s the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has had a role in preparing materials, including a theme, for Churches in the U.S. to focus our attention on a particular subject.  This year’s theme is “Safeguarding the Dignity of all Human Persons.”
Not so jingoistic, nor does it roll off the tongue like a slick Madison Avenue advertising slogan, but don’t let that stop you from really discovering the richness and significance of this statement. When we move beyond slogans and really open ourselves up to the challenge this theme presents, the gifts and graces for each of us are untold. If people of faith, especially Catholics, took seriously the call to safeguarding the dignity of humanity, coupled with Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy we could transform the face of the Earth. These two directives simultaneously and intentionally practiced have the power to end war, defeat hatred, create lasting peace and transform societies.
Safeguarding the dignity of each human person comes from Genesis and is the primary foundation for all human understanding of self. Genesis 1:26-27 teaches us that all people of all lands, of all languages, of all faiths and all time are made in God’s image and likeness.  We, despite our best efforts to act in the contrary, cannot assume that in God’s eyes our own worth is greater than the worth of any other people, culture, or generation.  Sadly for many of us, we never come to know the reality of our own creation in God’s likeness and image.
The concept is overwhelming. Psalm 149:14 reminds us, “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” Let us take up the challenge to see ourselves as wonderfully made and allow ourselves to see others as wonderfully made as well.
It is a high order and difficult task especially in light of the hatred we witness around the globe and in our own neighborhoods on a daily basis. The challenge is to remain at once centered on your own dignity while recognizing that “the other” was created in God’s likeness too. I was reminded of a 1985 song by Sting entitled, “Russians.” In it he says, “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology. What might save us, me, and you, is that the Russians love their children too.” Isn’t that still true today? Replace Russians with whomever the other is in our lives and the reality is still the same. We do share the same biology, but more than that we were all born imprinted with the perfect love of God. Yes, all of us.
Our Catholic faith tradition is rich with examples of mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us in Part Three: Life in Christ:
2447. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we cosme to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
What must we do as members of the Body of Christ to inspire, uphold, encourage and engage ourselves and others to take seriously these directives?  If not us, who?
In 1972, Dorothy Law Nolte wrote, “Children Learn What They Live.” My favorite axioms of this piece are:
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
We cannot give what we do not possess. Let us then learn to embrace our own dignity so that we may defend it in others and may we know mercy that we may show mercy. It is an exciting opportunity to transform these words into action.  Amen? Amen!
(Fran Lavelle is Director of the Department of Faith Formation.)

Reunion highlights many changes since days of integration

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
I recently celebrated the 50th reunion with other participants of a six week summer service project at St. Francis Center and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Greenwood during June and July 1965. At the time I was a seminarian at a Benedictine Monastery in Conception, Missouri. I came with nine other seminarians to Greenwood and lived in a Boy Scout hut in the woods behind St. Francis of Assisi Parish and volunteered to help two Franciscan priests, Fathers Nathaniel and Daniel, in their work during that turbulent fascinating time of change in Mississippi.
At the time Father Nathaniel was the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish and the co-founder along with Miss Kate Jordan Foote of St. Francis Center in Greenwood. Together they had started Pax Christi, a lay institute for women, whose mission was to serve the needs of the black community in Greenwood.
The center was located in the middle of the black community and provided the entire spectrum of services from food and clothing to literacy and tutoring programs, financial counseling, healthcare services and anything else that might arise.
The center was staffed by the ladies of Pax Christi.   They were assisted in the summer by a score of female volunteers primarily from Catholic colleges for women in the Midwest. We seminarians worked primarily with the young boys in the neighborhood in educational and recreational activities. A benefactor had provided some undeveloped land not far out of town for the parish use.
We would load up a bus every morning and go to the property and work with the kids to help fix up a cabin on site and clear a playing field for various sports activities. After returning we would work on any of the center activities that needed us including the pharmacy, educational programs and recreational programs in the gym. We converted one comer of the gym into a teen center.
The young women worked in all the activities of the day at the center and especially with the young girls and women from the neighborhood. We all joined together for celebration of the Eucharist every afternoon before dinner. What special celebrations they were. It dawned on all of us that bringing to the altar the work and service shared during the day enriched the Mass in wonderful ways and encouraged us to return the next day fed by the Lord’s own body and blood and enriched by the strength of the united worshiping body.
The reunion was a small group. Fifty years had taken its toll in deaths, health issues and lost contact. Eight of us gathered in Jackson on Friday night for a wonderful dinner and reminiscences of the unique summer of 1965. Stories abounded and the dreams of our youth recounted. Father Nathaniel and Miss Kate were recalled for their incredible leadership and dedication to a mission still today ongoing in Greenwood though under different circumstances.
On Saturday six of us journeyed to Greenwood where we met with Father Greg Plata, OFM, at St. Francis. Memories flowed over us as he led us on a tour of the parish. Much of what we knew 50 years ago is still incorporated in a larger and more developed plant. The most nostalgic moments for the men was a journey back into the woods on the back of the property where the Boy Scout hut has been lost to the elements over the last 50 years. We tromped around in the woods until it became clear where the hut had been. We wondered how we had survived without air conditioning and only an army cot for sleeping – we were all young and doing the Lord’s work and that made it easy.
The 50 year perspective was eye opening. In 1965 everything in Greenwood was completely segregated.   The 10 seminarians were never invited to Immaculate Heart of Mary, the defacto “white” church at the time.   Today Father Greg is pastor of it and St. Francis of Assisi and white, black and Hispanic parishioners attend Mass at both churches. In 1965 many people we worked with had trouble registering to vote. Today many city and county elected officials are black.
Public schools are all integrated at every level. Many changes for the better have occurred. However, much still needs to be done. Crushing poverty is still rampant and not only in the black community. The public schools which were white are now overwhelmingly black and not very good. Good jobs are few and far between.
Problems that exist throughout the Delta are still present in Greenwood. St. Francis Center has recently closed due to changing times and St. Francis of Assisi School continues to offer great grade school education but relies on contributions and benefactors from many different places in the country plus wonderful Sisters to keep going.
We need to keep working as we did 50 years ago. The issues are different but the needs of people persist. The joy we found in service in 1965 is still available today if we serve and support St. Francis Church and School. The same can be said as we work for and serve all in need in our own parishes and communities.
Its up to each of us to find and identify the great needs of today and live the Gospel by bringing Jesus to bear on the lives of the needy by our compassion, generosity, care and concern. The happiness that will follow will be as great as the service provided. It worked for us in 1965 and will   the same in 2015.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

American Parish: CNS reporter features Greenwood communities

By Patricia Zapor
GREENWOOD (CNS) – Franciscan Father Gregory Plata is the key to one example of how Catholic parishes are dealing with the decline in the number of priests.
He’s pastor of two small, geographically close, but vastly dissimilar parishes in Greenwood. Three missions and a struggling school also are his responsibility. Combined they serve 2,385 square miles of the Mississippi Delta, where Catholics have always been few and scattered.
As part of a look at how different types of parishes handle contemporary challenges, Catholic News Service reporters visited churches around the United States over the past few years. This package of stories, American Parish, presents a glance at some of the kinds of communities that Pope Francis might see if he had the time to visit a variety of parishes on his visit to the United States.
Workloads like Father Plata’s, with responsibilities for multiple parishes and missions, are one way U.S. dioceses have adapted to deal with a 35 percent decline in the number of priests since 1965.
Fifty years ago, the nation’s 17,637 parishes and 49 million Catholics were served by 58,632 priests. Today, nearly the same number of parishes – 17,458 – accommodate 31 million more Catholics, with 38,275 priests.
Until last summer when some Redemptorist missionaries came to do Hispanic outreach in the Greenwood area, it was just Father Plata and a retired priest covering the four weekend and five weekday Masses, and all pastoral needs for hospital and home visits and sacraments at two parishes and three missions scattered across Leflore County.
Three miles across town at Immaculate Heart of Mary, the older of the two churches in Greenwood where Father Plata also is pastor, a paid staff of three manages day-to-day functions. That includes a joint religious education program for both parishes. About 300 families are in Immaculate Heart Parish and 200 at St. Francis.
Volunteers in the two parishes and the missions make nearly everything else possible.
At St. Francis School, thin resources mean the teachers are mostly retired public school employees, who can only afford to work there because they have pensions to supplement their low pay, acknowledged the principal, Franciscan Sister Mary Ann Tupy.
As when the Franciscans opened the St. Francis Mission – first a school and then the church – as an outreach to impoverished African-Americans at the height of civil rights tensions, the order’s missionary commitment continues. Besides Father Plata and Sister Mary Ann, Franciscan Brother Craig Wilking, development director, finds the school grants and other forms of financial support. A retired military chaplain, Franciscan Father Adam Szufel, is in residence at St. Francis, celebrating Mass and helping ensure the mission churches get regular visits from a priest.
In the past year, the Redemptorists established a presence in the county, primarily to serve the growing population of Hispanic immigrants. One has been living at St. Francis and joining Father Plata and Father Szufel in pastoral services.
The ongoing commitment of the Franciscans to Greenwood was further stretched a few years ago, when Father Plata was asked to also serve as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary because of a shortage of priests in the Diocese of Jackson.
The two parishes traditionally have been home to distinct communities. Although the days have passed when blacks were pointedly told they were unwelcome at Immaculate Heart, few African-Americans worship there regularly.
On the other hand, the formerly all-black congregation of St. Francis includes a handful of white regulars, who either find the Mass schedule suits them better or, as several said, they appreciate the more multicultural community and lively liturgies. St. Francis’ growth in the last decade has come largely from Hispanics, leading Father Plata to schedule a weekly Spanish Mass, which is generally better attended than the English one.
Marc Biggers, a lifelong Immaculate Heart parishioner, said that since his childhood the black and white communities of Greenwood have come a long way toward being comfortable with each other.
“The last 10 to 15 years we’ve really mingled a lot better,” he said. Sharing a pastor has helped. “At first the transition to having a Franciscan was kind of awkward,” he said. “But I think it’s working.”
Katherine Fisher a parishioner at St. Francis, said she does not go to Immaculate Heart for Mass primarily because she has so many obligations at St. Francis. But she and other African-Americans expressed some lingering discomfort with their Catholic counterparts across town, largely dating to the racial tensions of decades ago.
A cracked blue window pane above the front door at St. Francis has intentionally been left unrepaired since someone shot a gun at the church in the 1960s, a pointed reminder of the struggles faced by the Franciscans and the parishioners.
Father Plata described the sentiments within the two parishes toward each other as “not exactly a division, but more that people are more comfortable in their own cultures.”
Immaculate Heart parishioner Dave Becker is among those who recognized that while the two churches have quite different cultures, they will need more and more consolidation if the Catholic presence in Greenwood is to survive.

Cardinal, other leaders advocate for prison reform in advance of papal visit

By Richard Szczepanowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – As part of the Walk With Francis Pledge campaign to benefit the local community and reach out to those in need in the days leading to Pope Francis’ Sept. 22-24 visit to Washington, a group of Christian leaders is advocating for “a fair and more welcoming” criminal justice system in this country.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington joined with other Christian leaders Sept. 11 to advocate for a criminal justice system that “aids those who have paid their debt (to society) and are ready to rejoin us.”
“Criminal justice reform is something that we’ve talked about. It’s been on our radar screen for a while,” the cardinal said. “We want a system that says, ‘We welcome you back into our society. We welcome you back into our community. We welcome you back to be a productive member of society.’”
The Christian leaders, in a news conference organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is an opportune time to advocate for sentencing reform laws and laws to counter recidivism. Pope Francis is a frequent visitor to those in prison, and will visit prisoners at a Philadelphia correctional center Sept. 27.
“During this momentous visit, we will walk with Francis when he speaks to Congress, visits the White House and addresses the United Nations,” said Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. “We will also Walk with Francis when he visits Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia.”
Reyes noted that the United States – with its estimated 2.3 million people in prison – represents 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. He added that one in three African-American males will at one time or another be incarcerated.
“There is currently an active debate on (criminal justice) reform that is bipartisan and interreligious,” Reyes said. He said that as lawmakers consider reform legislation, “this is a great moment to walk with Francis.”
The Walk With Francis Pledge campaign – jointly sponsored the Archdiocese of Washington and its Catholic Charities arm – invites people to serve others in their community and then share their pledge on social media. The pledge involves three ways to “Walk with Francis” – through prayer and learning about the faith; through charitable service to others; and through taking action to spread the Gospel in families, workplaces and public policy.
“Pope Francis gives us a very visible sign how to care for those incarcerated. His is a pastoral approach,” Reyes said.
Msgr. John Enzler, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, pointed out that Catholic Charities has for nearly two decades run a Welcome Home Program to assist those how have formerly been incarcerated.
“This is an effort to say, ‘We are here to greet you; we are here to welcome you,’” the priest said. He said the program offers former prisoners a variety of assistance, including mentoring, and support with employment, housing, health issues and counseling. He said the program assisted 1,100 people last year.
“We are not huge, but we are effective,” he said.
Rudolph Washington, who is currently in the Welcome Home Program, said his participation “has given me a new lease on life and helped me learn about myself. I am grateful.”

U.S. bishops support aid to refugees from war-torn Middle East

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic Church “stands ready to help” in efforts to assist refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 10.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, also that Catholics in the U.S. and “all people of good will should express openness and welcome to refugees fleeing Syria and elsewhere in order to survive.”    Tens of thousands of people from Syria and other countries are “fleeing into Europe in search of protection,” he said, adding that images of those “escaping desperate” circumstances “have captured the world’s attention and sympathy.”
The archbishop noted that Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, has been providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe, and in the U.S., he said, “nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes” assist refugees coming into the country each year.
Archbishop Kurtz’s statement follows Pope Francis urging Catholics in Europe to respond to the needs of refugees entering their countries.    He expressed solidarity with the pope, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East and Europe, “and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion.”
The archbishop called on the U.S. government “to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety.”
The Obama administration announced that it was planning to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year. However, an AP story said they are “already in the pipeline” waiting to be admitted to the U.S. and are not part of the flood of people currently entering Eastern Europe to make their way to other countries.
“In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee the terror of Herod,” Archbishop Kurtz said in his statement. “They are the archetype of every refugee family. Let us pray that the Holy Family watches over the thousands of refugee families in Europe and beyond at this time.”

Author, statue-rescuer reflects on upcoming feast, novena offered for St. Therese

By Celeste Zepponi
Arriving early, I decided to wait in the church meeting room before going to the Adoration room for my weekly hour of prayer. As I sat down on the couch, my eyes caught site of a statue of St. Therese, The Little Flower. I immediately felt drawn to walk over and take a closer look. I slowly asked myself, “Is this the one?”
I closely examined the perfectly painted eyes and skin, the beauty of her face. I noticed the soft folds in her Carmelite habit covering her body from head to toe, falling softly and humbly to her feet. In her arms, she held a large crucifix lavishly veiled with pink and yellow roses. Everything about the statue looked perfect. I sighed a deep breath and felt joyful as I said to myself, “Yes of course, this is the statue.”
My husband and I had rescued this statue years ago. I smiled as I remembered the morning we drove through McDonalds with the statue in the back of our truck. We laughed out loud wondering what the restaurant attendant must have thought as she viewed this big statue passing by the drive-through window as we picked up our sausage,egg, and cheese biscuits, and coffee.
At that time, a local mission church was tossing the statue for a more modern one and we just couldn’t bear the thought of it going in the dumpster! Instead, we took “St. Therese” on a ride through town that sunny morning, all the way to St. Elizabeth Catholic School. The statue resided in the music room for many years. Now it is safe for viewing in the church meeting room.
I am delighted to have been part of this journey, and I am certain there is more.
Having been refreshed in my affection for St. Therese through this beautiful statue, she just seems to keep showing up! Recently, while cleaning house and straightening books, I was surprised to find a holy card with the same image of St. Therese inside a book. Only days later, I opened a random page in another book to find her image revealed again.
I asked my priest if I should pay attention to these repeated reminders of St. Therese, The Little Flower? Was she trying to tell me something? Father Scott simply and firmly said, “Yes.” He later handed me a novena to St. Therese and of course, it has the same beautiful depiction of her on the cover!
Especially, well “coincidentally,” since her feast day is coming up very soon, Oct. 1st! Could St. Theresa be trying to tell us something?
I, like Father Scott, simply and firmly say, “YES!”
(Celeste Zepponi  is an author and artist. This reflection first appeared on
(Editor’s note: Greenwood Locus Benedictus Retreat Center is sponsoring a novena to St. Therese of the Little Flower Sept. 22-30 ending with a feast day Mass at the Chapel of Mercy on Thursday, Oct. 1, at 5:30 p.m.  If you would like your intentions remembered, send them in an envelope to Locus Benedictus, P. O. Box 10383, Greenwood, MS. 38930. The envelope will not be opened. Join us in honoring this modern-day saint who said “she would spend Heaven doing good upon Earth.”)

Missionaries honored for decade of service to Mississippi

By Elsa Baughman
FOREST – A group of Guadalupan Missionararies of the Holy Spirit from Mississippi, California and Alabama gathered at St. Michael Parish on Saturday, Aug. 15, to celebrate Sister Maria Elena Méndez’ 25th anniversary of consecration and the anniversaries of other sisters in her congregation who were present that day.
They were also celebrating the 10th anniversary of their ministry in the Diocese of Jackson. Concelebrating the special Mass were Fathers Joe Dyer, pastor of St. Michael Parish, Michael McAndrew, a Redemptorist priest serving in Greenwood, and Father Odel Medina, pastor of Carthage St. Anne and Kosciusko St. Teresa and associate pastor of Camden Sacred Heart.
Ten years ago, Father Richard Smith, then pastor of St. Michael, invited their congregation to come serve in Forest and Morton. Sisters Ana Gabriela Castro, Yesenia Fernández and Gabriela Ramírez were the first sisters who came to minister in the diocese. Since then, other Guadalupan Sisters have served in Natchez and in Jackson.
In observance of the Year of Consecrated Life, Father Medina’s homily delved in the Gospel of the day, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke 1:39-56, focusing on the calling for religious life. The following is a excerpt of his homily.
Today we celebrate with joy this vocation so special that is the religious life. We see that the church is not full, but each one of us represents many of the people who are around us that has been touched by the gift of religious life. There are other sisters here present who are also celebrating anniversaries and the celebration extends to them because if we add up it would be more than 100 years of service to the church and the people of God. What a blessing!
Our God, who wants the salvation for all of us, who calls us to a different kind of life, our God, who invites us to live fully, needs us. Amazing, no? He needs us.  He can’t do it without us. In the history of salvation he calls men and women to assist him in his mission.
A person, a woman who is key to this mission, is Mary Most Holy, which gives the Savior to the world. Wow! The woman says yes! Yes, Lord! Let it be done to me according to thy word. And the word becomes flesh.
Mary Most Holy, one that has been wrapped up, so to speak, with the spirit of God and embodying the Son of God, immediately leaves in haste to visit Elizabeth, her cousin who is pregnant. She is carrying the blessing of the incarnate Word in her womb. The child her cousin has in her womb, John the Baptist, leaped of joy when Mary arrives to her house. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? . . .
There is a cascade of blessings when these two women meet. The same who helped in the plan of salvation.
How amazing that God call us, men and religious women, lay people, children, adults, because he needs us to continue to proclaim the Good News. He calls us to proclaim with our lives that he is present in the world. It is the Lord that was present in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
. . . We are here today giving thanks to God for your life, for religious life, and he will continue to call men and women, married couples, young people, children, consecrated priests to keep saying that the walks among us. There are people who do not believe, but we are called to speak with our lives that God is still present among us.
What is the call to religious life? Do we enjoy the presence of God in our hearts? That when others find us they also enjoy the fact that there are men and women that have  Christ in their hearts. Religious life is to live it fully also. It is not to be complaining or making life impossible. It is to demonstrate that God pours out his blessings on us so that we can be religious men and women enshrined. That people can see the wonder that God makes with each one of us. So that when they see it they can say, I also want to follow this God. I also want to see God do wonders in my life, from your own vocation.