Bishop’s Ball honorees announced

JACKSON – Catholic Charities will award the Good Samaritan Award to Michele and Thomas Harris and the late Bishop William Houck during this year’s Bishop’s Ball in June. Bishop Houck was selected before he died in early March and the board decided to honor him posthumously for all his devotion to the organization.
“Many of the programs in Catholic Charities and within the diocese were started by Bishop Houck. Catholic Charities was in the beginning stages under Bishop Houck’s leadership and his vision to see the works of the organization truly assist those who throughout the diocese is being met,” said Mike Brechtel, chairman of the Catholic Charities governance council.



“His service both to our diocese as a bishop and then as president of Catholic Extension Society helped more people than you can imagine. He is truly deserving of this honor and his legacy and service will never be forgotten,” added Brechtel.
The Harrises are both CPAs and have successfully worked together at Home-Land Title, since 2003. They have two children, Mabry, who is a junior at Mississippi State University, and Jonathan, who is a junior at Hartfield Academy.
Michele has served on the board of the Catholic Foundation for a number of years and is also a member of the Diocesan Finance Council.
Thomas’ first experience with Catholic Charities was through his mother, who served on the board in the late 80’s and early 90s, serving as chairman of the development, finance and audit committees, and as chairman of the governance council.
“Being CPA’s always lead to treasurer/finance positions in many organizations that we found ourselves through the years, which in turn led to so much more knowledge and insight about how to serve and assist them in accomplishing their missions,” said Michele.
At Flowood St. Paul Parish, Thomas has severed as pastoral council president for eight years. He also served on the RCIA instruction team, a tradition, like Catholic Charities, that was handed down from his mother. He is a past membership chairman for the Knight of Columbus Council 10216, and has also served his parish as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, catechist, commentator, lector and usher.

Michele & Thomas Harris

Michele & Thomas Harris

Michele has served on the chairman of the finance committee at St. Paul’s for an even longer period of time. She was the administrator of the building committee that oversaw the construction of St. Paul’s family life center. She has also served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, board member of the St. Paul’s Learning Center, and as a catechist.
“Thomas and Michele truly have servants’ hearts and lead by example bring many people of different faiths together to work and have fun doing it, said Brechtel. “I have personally witnessed many individual families who have benefitted from their acts of kindness and I know they never seek recognition,” he added.
“Connecting people with resources offered by Catholic Charities whether it is financial, spiritual or physical has been our most gracious gift to share,“ said Michele.
The ball is set for Saturday, June 4, at the Country Club of Jackson and tickets are available now for $85 per person. To reserve tickets call 601-326-3714.

Abuse takes many forms, but healing is possible

By Amy Turner
Does the number 5,142 mean anything to you? What about 4,367? According to a report from the New York Times, As of December 2015, there were 5,142 children in the Mississippi foster care system. There were another 4,367 children being monitored but not yet placed in the system. For the Mississippi Department of Family and Children Services to be involved, some type of abuse or neglect has been reported or has occurred.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Much of the staff at Catholic Charities of Jackson are dedicated to both preventing further abuse and healing the hurts of past abuse all year round, but we welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of this pressing issue in our community. Many people think of abuse as just physical, but there are many forms including:
Physical – physical harm or injury to a child that is non-accidental. This can include kicking, punching, biting, beating, etc.
Sexual – when a parent or other person in charge sexually molests or uses a child for sexual purposes or knowingly fails to protect a child from sexual abuse or sexual exploitation
Emotional – emotional or mental injury to a child. This can include calling names, withholding affection, exposing a child to violence, belittling or humiliating the child.
Neglect – caregiver does not provide for a child’s physical, developmental, medical, emotional or psychological needs
The emotional effect on children who have been abused or neglected can last a lifetime. Even when the physical wounds have healed, the internal and external traumatic scars remain. These scars can damage a person’s sense of self, inhibit the regulation of their emotions, impact the ability to have trusting and healthy relationships, and impact the ability to function in home, work or school environments. In some cases, victims of abuse are not able to work and can become dependent on social services for care. Sometimes they become abusers themselves and perpetuate the cycle into a new generation.
This does not have to be the case. With proper treatment and support, victims can become survivors and can contribute to society. They can stop the cycle and help our entire community be stronger and safer.
Child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families, regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. However, children who witness domestic violence, who live with an alcoholic or addict, or are being parented by a caregiver with untreated mental illness can be at an increased risk of abuse. Also, abuse risks are increased by caregivers with a lack of parenting skills, a lack of support from family, friends or community or increased financial stress in their lives.
If you suspect child abuse, call 1-800-222-8000. You can do this anonymously. Be specific and give as many details as you can. It is not your responsibility to investigate, but it is your responsibility to report.  You may not know the results of the investigation, but if you continue to suspect abuse, continue to report. You may not feel it is your place to get involved, but remember, the consequences of NOT reporting could be a detriment to a child’s safety or even life threatening.
Once abuse is reported, there are things we can do to help a child heal. Catholic Charities provides an array of services to assist children and their families who have been affected by abuse and neglect.
Programs include intensive counseling for children and their families through Hope Haven Home Based, Hope Haven Residential, and Solomon Counseling Center. The Therapeutic Foster Care Program and Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program provide services to children in a foster or group home setting. Domestic Violence Services and Alcohol and Drug Services are available as well.
We offer many of our services for free or on a sliding scale to make them affordable for working families. For more information or to support the work of Catholic Charities, visit our website,
(Amy Turner, LMSW, is the Director of Children’s Services for Catholic Charities of Jackson).

Program provides ongoing training to employees, volunteers

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson has a new Safe Environment Program in place for all employees and volunteers which uses a monthly email to build awareness and further training for adults who work with children and vulnerable adults. The program, called Virtus, is run by National Catholic Risk Retention Group.
National Catholic was started in the 1980s. A former board chairman, Msgr. Kevin McCoy, asked a simple question that led to the creation of Virtus: can child sexual abuse be prevented and how? The company continues to utilize experts in many disciplines to seek every means of preventing abuse and fostering healing within communities.
“That question is so important in what we are doing today,” said Pat Neal, director of programs for Virtus. “We have seen results with this program in preventing abuse and in healing,” she added. Neal paid a visit to the diocese in March to help get the program online.040116virtus
The diocese utilizes the monthly training bulletins issued by Virtus. Each volunteer and employee will get an email reminding them to log onto the website to read a short article and answer a question about it. The bulletins are not limited to child sexual abuse. They cover topics as varied as Internet safety, human trafficking, protecting vulnerable adults and more.
“We have experts we work with on a daily basis writing on these topics,” said Neal. “We even hear from Virtus users who may ask a question and we will ask an expert to write on that topic,” she added.
The diocese will still use an initial training program from Praesidium called “Called to Protect,” and will still conduct a criminal background check on all volunteers and employees. Virtus is meant to keep training up-to-date. Virtus’ website explains that the program targets both institutional change and individual behavior modification. “In reading a monthly bulletin, we believe it will help people apply the training (they have received),” explained Neal. The goal is not just to make people aware of the need for a safe environment, but to help them see where they can be part of creating it.
Before he became the bishop of Jackson, Bishop Joseph Kopacz used Virtus in his home diocese of Scranton. He spoke at the listening sessions about how much he admired it and said he feels like the time spent keeping up-to-date on issues of abuse is critical to the success of any child protection program.
“This diocese has always been so proactive when it comes to safe environment,” said Vickie Carollo, coordinator for the Office of Child Protection. “We have always provided not only initial training, but re-training. I think adding ongoing training through Virtus is wonderful,” she added. “I like that the bulletins have different material every month and that they cover a variety of topics. In fact, the subject matter is good not just for volunteers and employees, it’s of interest to our parents as well. These topics are relevant to raising their children,” said Carollo.
She said she appreciates all the work the schools, parishes and service centers have put into these programs. “It takes all of us working together to provide a safe environment for our children, not only in our churches, but also in our homes and communities. We all play a part in the eradication of child sexual abuse.”

What to do if a child discloses abuse
If a child or young person is attempting to disclose abuse, it is important that you communicate to the child:

It is not your fault.
I believe you.
I am glad that you told me.
I will try and help you.
Abuse is wrong and we take reports of abuse very seriously.
It is important that you DO NOT:
As the child or young person if he or she is telling you the truth.
Promise the child or young person that you will not tell anyone else.
Criticize the abuser, as it may be someone the child cares about.
Express shock or panic.

Qué hacer cuando un menor de edad le informa del abuso:
Si un(a) niño(a) un(a) joven intenta revelarle el abuso es importante que usted le diga lo siguiente:

!No es tu culpa!
Te creo.
Te agradezco que me lo hayas dicho.
Voy a tartar de ayudarte.
El abuso es malo y nosotros tomamos la información sobre el abuso muy en serio.
Es importante que usted no haga lo siguiente:
No le pregunte al niño(a) o al (la) joven si está diciendo la verdad.
No le prometa al niño(a) o al(la) joven que usted no va a decirselo a nadie.
No critique a la persona que cometió el abuso, ya que podría ser que dicha persona sea alguien que es importante para el(la) niño.
No muestre sobresalto o pánico.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in HHS mandate case

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – During oral arguments March 23 at the Supreme Court, attorneys on both sides of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement examined how the mandate either violates or strikes a balance with religious freedom.
Lawyers representing the seven groups of plaintiffs said the federal government’s so-called accommodation for religious employers to arrange for a third party to provide contraceptive coverage in health plans was inconsistent because the government already had been able to provide churches an exemption from the requirement.

Women religious lobby against the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate March 23 on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell in Washington. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

Women religious lobby against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate March 23 on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell in Washington. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

Paul Clement of the Washington-based Bancroft firm, who was one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, argued that religious freedom was at stake in the federal government’s accommodation because even though the contraceptive coverage would be supplied by a third party, the religious employers would still be complicit in providing something that goes against their beliefs.
“The problem is we have to fill out a form, and the consequence of us filling out that form is we will be treated very differently from those other religious employers” that are exempt, he said.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Beaton Verrilli Jr., in defending the federal government, argued that the government’s accommodation struck the necessary balance required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
RFRA says that if a law restricts the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, there must be a compelling government interest to do so and it must not place an unreasonable burden on the religious exercise.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stressed that “no one doubts for a moment the sincerity” of the religious employers that object to providing contraceptive health care coverage, but she and other justices indicated that such a belief goes up against the compelling interest of the government’s plan to provide health coverage for women, and the accommodation sought to find that balance.
Clement argued that an accommodation isn’t “immune from RFRA analysis” and that the problem is giving an accommodation to some religious groups, but not all.
Noel Francisco of Jones Day, arguing on behalf of the dioceses who are plaintiffs, also noted that if the government is willing to address the contraceptive coverage in some ways for groups that meet the accommodation standard, than they should look to other ways for other religious groups to be exempt as well.
There was a fair amount of back and forth on where the government should draw the line and if it draws it one place, should it draw it again, or should it never have drawn the line in the first place?
Verrilli said the government’s line has not always been perfect, but it did try to try to strike a balance. There is an objective limit to what RFRA can do, he added.
He said the government’s solution was the least restrictive approach, and he also did not think the plaintiffs, by using third parties, were complicit in what they disagreed with, even though they have stated again and again they feel that way.
As the discussion centered on health exchanges, grandfathered clauses and exemptions, Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the argument with Verrilli as the government’s desire for a “seamless” health care package versus the religious objections of the plaintiffs.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life and the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Washington are among numerous plaintiffs around the country consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell.
The case is named for Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, most religious and other employers are required to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance. Refusal to comply subjects nonexempt employers to heavy fines.
A very narrow exemption for churches and religious orders was permitted from the start, but several Catholic and other religious institutions and ministries that were not exempted – such as colleges, hospitals and charitable providers – said they could not participate in providing contraceptives without violating their beliefs.
The Obama administration then created its accommodation, or “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to the contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter. This triggers an arrangement for a third party to provide the coverage. These employers still found the “opt-out” provision objectionable.
Five years later, several circuit courts of appeal ruled that religious entities, such as the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, were not substantially burdened by the opt-out procedures. Only one such court, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a September ruling, accepted the nonprofits’ argument that complying with the opt-out provision violates their religious beliefs.
In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court relied on RFRA to rule in favor of two family-owned private businesses, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that providing contraceptives in health care coverage to employees was contrary to the owners’ Christian beliefs.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)
(Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Youth Briefs & Gallery



MADISON – Jack Collins, a senior at St Joseph School, was selected as the school’s Wendy’s Heisman candidate. The program recognizes students across the country for the athletic prowess, academic achievement and leadership within their community.
Collins has been a member of the swim team for six years where he was the 2014 state champion in the 100 free, and 2012 and 2013 400 free relay team. He also is on the bowling team which had its highest state finish in school history. Collins had the highest average for the Bruins this year.

Jack Collins

Jack Collins

Academically, he is a Commended Scholar by National Merit; he has been named STAR Student, having the highest ACT score of the class, and recognized by Portico Magazine, WAPT and BankPlus as an outstanding senior. Collins was elected Lt. Governor at Mississippi Boys State and selected as the alternate to attend Boys Nation. He has earned a place on the Principal’s Highest Honor Roll for all six years at St. Joe.

GREENVILLE St. Joseph School summer camps:
– Mini cheer — May 30 – June 2, from 9 a.m. – noon
– Football – May 30 – June 2 – from 9 a.m. – noon
– Baseball – June 6 – 8 – from 9 a.m. – noon
– Basketball – June 6 – 8 – from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
– Soccer – June 13 – 15 – from 9 a.m. – noon
– Science–June 13 – 15 – from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

GREENWOOD – Delta Catholic youth retreat, Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. at Locus Benedictus Retreat Center. Cost is $25 includes meals and a T-shirt. It is open to junior and senior high school students. RSVP at

JACKSON Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary, Court #199, is sponsoring a poetry contest for Christ the King Parish youth ages seven through 16. Only original poems written by the youth will be accepted. One poem will be selected and read at Mass on Mother’s Day. The deadline is Sunday, April 24. Details:, or
– A poetry contest for Father’s Day will be announced soon.

St. Joseph School unification project starts

GREENVILLE – The contract to begin construction on St. Joseph Catholic Schools’ unification project was officially signed Wednesday, March 23. The new unified school facility at 1501 V.F.W. Road should be completed this summer.
J.A. Moss Construction Company, of Florence,  was awarded the more than $1 million contract to build the 9,000-square-foot student-centered facility, which will add classrooms to the south side of the existing school classroom wings. Four classrooms will be added to the high school wing to accommodate middle school students alongside their high school counterparts.

Bishop Joseph Kopacz (center) and (l-r) Paul Artman, St. Joseph High School principal, Michelle Gardiner, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School, Catherine Cook, superintendent of Catholic Schools, and Aad DeLange, chief financial officer for the diocese, observe Jimmy Carpenter sign the contract of the construction of the new classrooms. (Photos courtesy of Doreen Muzzi)

Bishop Joseph Kopacz (center) and (l-r) Paul Artman, St. Joseph High School principal, Michelle Gardiner, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School, Catherine Cook, superintendent of Catholic Schools, and Aad DeLange, chief financial officer for the diocese, observe Jimmy Carpenter sign the contract of the construction of the new classrooms. (Photos courtesy of Doreen Muzzi)

In addition, a four-classroom addition for Pre-K, kindergarten, and future growth needs will complete the new elementary school wing. Additional restrooms, a resource room, an elementary library, and a new playground for elementary students also are included in the construction plans.
According to Our Lady of Lourdes principal Michelle Gardiner, the construction will offer the opportunity to expand and enhance the schools’ Catholic identity and religious teachings. “In addition, it is going to give us the ability to expand our technology offerings. Our future plans include installing interactive smart boards in every classroom, and increasing the number of iPads available to our elementary students, she said.”
For Jamie Carpenter, vice president of J.A. Moss Construction Co., Inc., it is a thrill and an honor to be a part of this new project for St. Joseph and Our Lady of Lourdes schools. “I truly believe that bringing the two schools together onto a single campus will bring many benefits to the school system and will help to ensure that Catholic education in Greenville thrives for many years to come.”
As a 1989 graduate of St. Joseph Schools, Carpenter understands the importance of a Catholic education and is pleased to do his part to give back to the next generation of St. Joseph students.
“The education, work ethic and most importantly the life values that I gained throughout my years at both Lourdes and St. Joe have been so important to me on a personal level, and have absolutely been invaluable to me in my professional life,” he said. “Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this great project. We have a lot to do over the next few month, so let’s get to work.”
School principal Paul Artman noted that from a student and family perspective, it will be magnificent to have everyone on one campus. “I’m exhilarated by the synergy we are creating by having everyone together for pep rallies and educational events. The project is being funded by donations to the “St. Joseph A Family United capital campaign.”
Also announced at the event was the sale of Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School’s current facilities on East Reed Road in Greenville. Queen Bell, the owner of Queen Bell TLC Daycare and Learning Center, purchased the current elementary school property with the intention of expanding her business. Ann Craft McKee, owner/broker of Randal Craft Realty, LLC of Madison, Miss., negotiated the sale.
Queen Bell TLC Daycare and Learning Center is scheduled to move into its new East Reed Road home in July.
For more information, or to donate to the capital campaign, visit, or email

Pastoral Planning Leadership Team

Bishop Joseph Kopacz will commission the following team to prayerfully discern pastoral priorities for the Diocese of Jackson during the next several months. The process will begin with a training in June and continue through the fall. Please keep the process and the team in your prayers. (See page 4 for related story)
Lorenzo Aju, lay ecclesial minister, Houston Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish
Terry Casserino, teacher, Madison St. Joseph School
Marvin Edwards, Lay Ecclesial Minister, Winona Sacred Heart Parish
Thomas Harris, Flowood St. Paul Parish
Joyce Hart, Jackson Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle
Kris Ivancic, Tupelo St. James Parish
Danna Johnson, Pontotoc St. Christopher Parish, Catholic Charities Vardaman
Jane Letchworth, Shelby St. Mary Parish
Angelica Mazy, Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle
David Phillips, Brookhaven St. Francis Parish
Father Kevin Slattery, Vicar General, Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish
Msgr. Elvin Sunds, Jackson St. Therese Parish
Cathy Watson, Jackson Holy Family Parish
Thomas Welch, Meridian St. Patrick Parish

Holy Week, Easter more personal this year

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Passion of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and son of God, culminates in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. Easter faith is always deeply personal as well as a celebration of Church and family with the renewal of our vows of Baptism, a combination of the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith in the living God whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We have been preparing to celebrate the Passover of the Lord by works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout Lent, and now we reach the edge of the desert and gaze longingly into the promised land of eternal love. We stand on the cusp of Holy Week with the Commemoration of the Lord’s passion on Palm Sunday Weekend. The liturgy and Gospel readings end in the death of the Lord while inviting faith in his resurrection.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday immersion into his death, and the Easter Vigil are a pilgrimage of faith for the entire Church throughout the world that we might know the length and breath, height and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Holy Week and Easter faith are even more personal this year for the Diocese of Jackson because of the death of Bishop William R. Houck, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. Our beloved Bishop Emeritus died on Wednesday morning, March 9, and was buried on Thursday, March 17 adjacent to the cathedral in the bishop’s plot.
Throughout this past week we lovingly celebrated his passing with the Liturgy of Acceptance of his body in the Cathedral on Tuesday, the Vigil Rites on Wednesday evening, and the Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday afternoon. Many people availed themselves of the opportunity to pay their final respects as he lay near the sanctuary where he celebrated the sacred mysteries since his arrival in the Diocese of Jackson in 1979. Bishop Houck would have been 90 years old in June, 65 years a priest, and 37 years a bishop.
There were three chapters to his episcopal ministry in our midst. He served as auxiliary bishop to Bishop Joseph Brunini for several years (1979-1983) before serving as the ninth Ordinary of the Diocese from 1983 to 2002, and lastly as Bishop Emeritus from 2002 until his recent death. The Lord blessed him with many active years of ordained ministry, more than half as a bishop, and has blessed many through his life as one ordained and consecrated, and set apart to faithfully serve.
In death a disciple of the Lord is entrusted to God from the heart of the church whether he or she be a newly baptized or one who lives nearly 90 years. Equal dignity is accorded all, and the Word of God, the prayers throughout the Liturgy, and the Eucharist, the Bread of Angels and the Bread of Life, all proclaim our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise of eternal life. Our prayer always and everywhere also seeks consolation, strength, and peace for the family and friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Immediately at the outset of the Mass of Christian Burial we proclaim our Easter faith. “In the waters of Baptism, William died with Christ and rose with Him. May he now share eternal glory.” This is our hope, and this is the heart of our faith that we commemorate during Holy Week ahead.
At this time let us pray faithfully for Bishop William Houck trusting in the mercy of God in his life, and let us pray for his family who are grieving his passing. Moreover, let us not waste the opportunity of his passing at the beginning of Holy Week to renew our own faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. The renewal of our Baptismal promises await us during the Easter Masses and I conclude this column with dialogue between priest and people for the renewal of our Covenant in God begun at our Baptism.
•    Do you renounce sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?
•    Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?
•    Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?
•    Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
•    Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
•    Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Listening sessions lay foundation for pastoral priority planning

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – For three weeks, four days a week, Bishop Joseph Kopacz and his vicar general, Father Kevin Slattery, listened to the people of the Diocese of Jackson.  More than 1,200 people turned out for the 17 listening sessions scheduled all across the diocese representing the church in most of Mississippi.

CLARKSDALE – Bishop Joseph Kopacz reviews his notes as Father Rusty Vincent, facilitator for several listening sessions, reviews the instructions to those gathered in Clarksdale. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

CLARKSDALE – Bishop Joseph Kopacz reviews his notes as Father Rusty Vincent, facilitator for several listening sessions, reviews the instructions to those gathered in Clarksdale. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

These sessions were the first step in a pastoral planning process. During the sessions, facilitators asked people to reflect on what the diocese is doing that helps them grow in faith, what broad areas they see as places the diocese can focus energy and resources and what specific projects they would like to see the diocese embrace in the next two to three years. People shared their thoughts in small groups and then had the opportunity to address Bishop Kopacz directly.
Several themes emerged during the often energetic sessions. Many people expressed their thanks for Bishop Kopacz’s presence in the parishes throughout the year. People want a robust youth ministry that gathers young people together to share and strengthen their faith. They appreciate opportunities for faith formation, but want more. People were grateful for the Mississippi Catholic and the work of the Office of Communications, but asked to see more diocesan presence on social and digital media. Members of the Hispanic community expressed their gratitude for Masses in Spanish, while others asked for bilingual Masses and more Spanish-language training for priests and lay ministers.
A number of people would like to see more outreach to fallen away Catholics.
Patty Kreider, a retired court reporter, acted as a scribe at several listening sessions. Her job was to record written comments as an additional record of what people offered. A member of Canton Sacred Heart Parish, she said she enjoyed meeting people around the diocese and hearing their ideas. “I thought the format was very good. It was encouraging that we have a bishop who has taken the time and effort to find out what the priests and laity have on their minds,” she said.
She believes people appreciated the opportunity to speak for themselves directly to the shepherd of the diocese. “People did not hold back and I think he got a lot of good information,” said Kreider.

MADISON – Evelin López, from Carthage St. Anne Parish, shares thoughts with the bishop at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (Photo by Elsa Baughman)

MADISON – Evelin López, from Carthage St. Anne Parish, shares thoughts with the bishop at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (Photo by Elsa Baughman)

“This was a wonderful thing because people who might not otherwise come forward came to these sessions,” she added.
Everyone was asked to write their thoughts down on a form provided by Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), the consulting company facilitating the pastoral planning process. All those forms were collected and representatives from CLI will compile them into one document.
Bishop Kopacz will commission a leadership team composed of people from across the diocese. (see page 11 for leadership team) That team will meet with CLI for several one and two-day workshops during the next year to be trained in strategic planning and to discern pastoral priorities for the diocese. Bishop Kopacz and the team will write some specific pastoral goals with timelines attached and the bishop will write a pastoral letter to accompany them later this year.
The leadership team will eventually transition into a pastoral council for the diocese. Bishop Kopacz has asked for prayers to accompany the planning process.

Curia’s Lenten retreat centers on mercy

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Jesus’ call to be the salt of the earth is a reminder to his disciples to preach hope and life and not be wrapped up in dogmatic conundrums, a Servite priest told the pope and Vatican officials.
“We are salt that has lost its flavor if we are not resolute men, if we are not free from masks and fear. People want to receive fragments of life from Jesus’ disciples, not fragments of doctrine,” Servite Father Ermes Ronchi said.
The Italian priest, who is a member of Rome’s Pontifical “Marianum” theological faculty, was chosen by Pope Francis to lead the Lenten retreat of the Roman Curia; he chose to preach on the theme: “The bare questions of the Gospel.”
The March 6-11 retreat was held at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat center in Ariccia, 20 miles southeast of Rome.
In his morning meditation March 7, Father Ronchi spoke about fear, which entered the world after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Adam’s hiding out of fear of God’s wrath, he said, indicates the effect of sin which keeps the possibility of mercy far from him. For Christians, he added, this fear “produces a sad Christianity, a God without joy.”
“In this sense, the enemy of fear is not courage but faith,” he said.
Reflecting on the passage in Mark’s Gospel (4:35-41) where Jesus calms the storm, Father Ronchi said that fear initially drives the disciples on the boat to “almost command” God to act and save them from doom.
However, he added, “God does not take us out of the storm but supports us within the storm.”
The church, which “for a long time has transmitted a faith mixed with fear,” is called instead to free men and women from the fear of God like “the angels have done through sacred history.”
“Be angels who free (people) from fear,” Father Ronchi told the Vatican officials.
In the afternoon, Father Ronchi focused on the Bible passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”
The Servite priest told Vatican officials that the imagery of the salt, which dissipates in order to season, reflects the mission of a church that “gives of itself and melts away.”
“Salt and light are not intended to perpetuate themselves but to pour themselves out. And so it is with the church: It is not an end, but a means to make person’s life better and more beautiful,” he said.
Father Ronchi chose to reflect on the church’s mission to give a true witness to Jesus on the retreat’s third day March 8. Drawing from the Gospel reading on Peter’s profession of faith, the Italian theologian said Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is a query that “digs into the soul.”
“The answer Jesus is looking for are not words. He is looking for people. Not definitions but engagements,” he said. “Jesus does not give lessons, he does not suggest answers; he gently leads you to look inside of yourself.”
Jesus’ question, he continued, is striking given that he “does not indoctrinate anyone” nor compels the disciples to give a “prepackaged response.” Peter’s answer that Christ “is the son of the living God” is a witness that “Christ is living within us.”
“Our heart can become either God’s cradle or his tomb,” he said.
Jesus’ ordering of the disciples “to tell no one that he was the Messiah,” Father Ronchi said, extends to the church, which sometimes has preached a “deformed” perception of God and is called to preach through their own personal witness.
“We clergy look all the same: the same gestures, words and clothes. But people are asking us to ‘Give me an experience of God.’ Jesus is not what I say of him but what I live from him. We are not mediators between God and humanity; the true mediator is Jesus,” he said.
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