Summer service

MERIDIAN – Nine young people and two adults from the Catholic Community of Meridian traveled to Knoxville for the Alive In You Catholic Camp and Conference, June 19-24 for a week of service work. One of the projects was at the Knoxville Dream Center, a homeless outreach and food distribution Center. Students helped load a food truck and then helped give out the food to residents at a low income apartment complex that was in a so-called “food desert” area with no grocery store nearby. That afternoon the students helped the Center with various projects around their warehouse. At left, (l-r) Jean Karol Mayo, Kirstie Graves, Serena Sanders and Edwar Hernandez stand across the table from Cassy Klutz, Colby Evans and Mason Daniels. The youth were stuffing ziplock bags with condiments and utensils for the center’s upcoming Independence Day dinner for the homeless people under the bridge in Knoxville. (Photo by John Harwell)

Vardaman summer camp offers variety of experiences

VARDAMAN – The Catholic Charities Northeast Office ended its three-week summer program for 40 students from kindergarten through seventh grade with a big celebration Thursday, July 26. The center partnered with local businesses to offer classes in art, gardening, civic involvement and culture. Bancorp South and Topashaw Farms both donated to the program. In photo above, Father Tim Murphy learns about the flowers the children have planted. (Photos by John Lundardini)

VARDAMAN – The Catholic Charities Northeast Office ended its three-week summer program for 40 students from kindergarten through seventh grade with a big celebration Thursday, July 26. The center partnered with local businesses to offer classes in art, gardening, civic involvement and culture. Bancorp South and Topashaw Farms both donated to the program. In photo above, Father Tim Murphy learns about the flowers the children have planted. (Photos by John Lundardini)

Students, supplies, teachers blessed for new year

JACKSON – Above, backpacks lined up in front of the altar at Christ the King Parish await their turn to be blessed Sunday, Aug. 5. Ecclesial Minister Deacon Denzil Lobo blessed the children, students, teachers and all those who worked with schools. All of them also received a pencil that said “I am a child of God” and a pin badge for their backpacks that said “I Love J.C.” Many of the students attend Sister Thea Bowman School, which is attached to the parish. (Photos by Gina Lobo)










VICKSBURG –At left, Father Tom Lalor extends a blessing to the children of his parish, St. Paul, on Sunday, August 5, at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Many of these children attend Vicksburg Catholic School, which started classes Tuesday, August 7. (Photo by Allyson Johnston)

PEARL – At right, Father Lincoln Dall snaps a photo of backpacks waiting to be blessed at St. Jude Parish while the director of religious education, Stacy Wolf, begins the blessing service. (Photo by Rhonda Bowden)

Communication office adds staff member

Berta Mexidor

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Offices of Communications and Vocations welcomed Berta Mexidor to the staff on Monday, July 31. A native of Cuba, Mexidor has been in the U.S. for 13 years. She will be managing Spanish-language content for Mississippi Católico as well as doing administrative work for the Office of Vocations.
Mexidor has a variety of experience, including being a co-founder of the “Libertad” – Freedom Free Press Agency and the Independent Libraries movement in Cuba. She moved to Mississippi in 2005, one month before Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the state, to continue her work with libraries in her home country. She has also worked as a Spanish teacher, economics teacher and translator for several agencies in the state.
Her treasure is being mother of three and grandmother of two.
She is a member of Flowood St. Paul Parish, where she found a welcome even before she knew enough English to understand the whole Mass. Her experience growing up in Communist Cuba strengthened rather than weakened her faith.
“Jesus finds you even where you need to deny him, in a communist island, under an atheist regime” she said. She was baptized Catholic at birth, but as a child witnessed the image of Saint Francis intentionally drowned in the ocean of her small town as a demonstration of the community’s rejection of faith. Having children and encountering her own cross in life reconnected Berta with God and she found ways to quietly pursue her faith before she immigrated.
She has a special devotion to Our Lady of Charity also known as Our Lady of El Cobre or Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, she is grateful for all her experiences in Cuba and Mississippi. “Jesus found me a long time ago,” she said. She now recognizes that he was sustaining her during the storms.

Catholic School educators explore gifts to share this year

By Maureen Smith
Teachers, administrators and staff at all the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jackson are ready to share their gifts with students again this year. Each year, the Office of Catholic Schools selects a theme to unify all the schools across the diocese. The 2018/2019 theme is GIFTS – Gratefully Inspiring Faith Teaching Service
Before school started each school hosted a Catholic identity session focusing on the Beatitudes.

Fran Lavelle, Director of Faith Formation; Stephanie Brown, coordinator of school improvement, and Karla Luke, assistant superintendent developed the sessions using Blessings for Leaders: Leadership Wisdom from the Beatitudes by Dan R. Ebener and the recent Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete Et Exsultate, as source documents.

COLUMBUS –photos by Katie Fenstermacher)

According to superintendent Catherine Cook, the sessions were designed to assist faculty and staff in their faith journey of moving from disciples to apostles. Ebner says, “Disciples follow, learn, and then become Apostles. Apostles lead, teach, and make disciples.”
Lavelle and Brown led a Day of Reflection for metro Jackson area schools and Vicksburg Catholic. Lavelle travelled to Greenville St. Joseph while Brown and Luke led the day at Meridian St. Patrick School. Clarksdale has scheduled a day later in the month.


MADISON – photos by Wendi Shearer

The remaining schools were provided the presentation materials to use on their own. In Columbus, pastor Father Jeffrey Waldrep headed up their day.
Each school agreed on five values they wanted to emphasize this year. Then, the staff divided into five teams to write a one-sentence prayer about their value. By the end of the day the sentences became a school prayer for the year.

Book reviews

By Mark Judge Catholic News Service
“Francis: The People’s Pope” (Seven Stories Press), a graphic biography by journalist and cartoonist Ted Rall, is, in its way, a celebration of the current successor of St. Peter.
Written from a far-left political perspective, the book calls Pope Francis a refreshing new leader but argues that he isn’t liberal enough.
While entertainingly drawn and sharply written, ultimately the book is too tendentious in its political bias.

This is an image from “Francis: The People’s Pope,” a graphic biography by journalist and cartoonist Ted Rall. Written from a far-left political perspective, the book calls Pope Francis a refreshing new leader, but argues he isn’t liberal enough. (CNS photo/Seven Stories Press)

Rall, an atheist and Pulitzer Prize finalist, advocates for same-sex marriage, contraception, married priests, female priests and abortion. Acknowledging the unlikelihood of the Catholic Church ever changing its stance on these core issues – the pontiff himself has no power to revise dogma, though the celibacy of the clergy is a matter of practice, not technically doctrine – Rall instead celebrates Francis as the harbinger of a “new tone” in the church.
Throughout “The People’s Pope,” Rall lays out some truths, but often in an incomplete or misleading manner. He zeros in, for instance, on Pope Francis’ famous 2013 comments about judgment and homosexuality. Speaking to reporters on the return flight from a trip to Brazil, the pope said, “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
Rall omits the pope’s subsequent clarification: “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.
“I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: Let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”
The pontiff added: “I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way and accompany them along it.”
A colorfully illustrated volume, “The People’s Pope” is separated into brief sections covering a wide variety of topics. In the passage on church history, Rall lashes the church for jailing Galileo and unfairly tars it with not doing enough to resist the Nazis.
Rall also deals with the Second Vatican Council, the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina before he became pope, the sexual abuse scandal that hit the church beginning in 2002, South American liberation theology, the Catholic response to the war on terror and the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
The frank treatment of war and sexuality, including pedophilia – as well as the off-kilter way in which the church is repeatedly portrayed – make this unsuitable for younger readers. Nor can it be endorsed for grownups lacking in knowledge of the faith.
Rall offers a straightforward account of Francis’ youthful life, then turns to the “dirty war” that tore Argentina apart in the 1970s and 1980s. A middle-age Jesuit at the time, then-Father Bergoglio has been accused of both aiding the right-wing “Iron Guard” in power and the leftist guerrillas in opposition. “His legacy is murky” here, concludes Rall.
In another section Rall criticizes St. John Paul as “the anti-Francis.” John Paul, he argues, was an “establishmentarian” standing in opposition to Francis, the champion of the poor.
Yet it’s difficult to argue that the Polish pope, who grew up in a war-torn country destroyed by both fascists and communists, didn’t have sympathy for – or contact with – the poor. Faced with this, even Rall admits that John Paul “was deeply concerned about the oppressed.”
Furthermore, while Rall touts Pope Francis’ “refreshingly modern views on sex,” he doesn’t note that, far from being ashamed of human sexuality, Karol Wojtyla initiated the theology of the body – and the dynamic of human love was central to his whole theological vision.
Like Rall, both Popes Francis and John Paul opposed the Iraq War.
Rall has a primitive drawing style, but he gives his characters personality and humor. He writes in a simple, declarative style that presents arguments with selective research but does avoid hectoring.
To marshal his case, Rall quotes church historians and theologians who agree with him. In the softball section on liberation theology, the Marxist-tinged strain of Catholicism that excited the Christian left in the 1970s and1980s, Rall quotes Fidel Castro to the effect that “he who betrays the poor betrays Christ.”
After more than 200 pages of graphics, cartoons and reproduced newspaper headlines, Rall comes to his conclusion: “No doubt about it: Francis is a breath of fresh air to an institution that badly needs it. But he isn’t a wild-eyed liberator.”
Of course, form the subjective view of a political activist, the same could be said about any number of church leaders from St. John XXIII, who convened Vatican II, to St. John Paul, who helped destroy the prison of European Communism.
The graphic biography contains a distorted view of Catholicism as well as mature themes and images. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, material whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Not otherwise rated.

(Judge reviews video games and comic books for Catholic News Service.)

By Kathleen Finley Catholic News Service
“Joined by Grace: A Catholic Prayer Book for Engaged and Newly Married Couples” by John and Teri Bosio. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2017). 136 pp., $9.95.
“Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage” by Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2017). 163 pp., $15.95.
“Prayers for Catholic Couples: With Reflections from Pope Francis’ ‘The Joy of Love,'” compiled and edited by Susan Heuver. Word Among Us Press (Frederick, Maryland, 2017). 167 pp., $11.95.
Whether they know it or not, married couples today need lots of prayer to live their vocation well. They always have, but perhaps today they may need it more than ever. Three recently published books approach this need in rather different ways.
Of the three, the most like a traditional Catholic prayer book is “Joined by Grace,” in which John and Teri Bosio have compiled a great many traditional Catholic prayers, from prayers from the Mass to litanies to praying with some of the saints to other devotions, such as the rosary and the stations of the cross, each with a brief explanation.

For couples already connected well to a parish and mainly comfortable with formal prayers, this may be quite helpful; however, it’s unfortunate that these prayers and devotions aren’t linked more specifically with the joys and challenges that marriage presents.
The second book, “Forever” by Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel, is designed as a four-week exploration of the theology of the body from St. John Paul II, a theology that some couples have found more helpful than others. It tends to be rather didactic and not as devotional as a prayer book often would be, perhaps suitable for a couple to read aloud to one another daily, but what the Angels have done here requires a considerable time commitment on the part of a couple.
Last, but not least, is “Prayers for Catholic Couples,” which includes brief excerpts from Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” (“Amoris Laetitia”). Susan Heuver has done a fine service for couples in making insights from this compassionate document easily available to couples for their reflection.
In his introduction to his pastoral letter, Pope Francis explained, “It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for ‘families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.'” That tone indeed comes through in this little book.
Pope Francis talks about the lack of perfection in families: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in their ability to love.”
He observes about marital fidelity that “just as a good wine begins to breathe with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and ‘body.’ Fidelity has to do with patience and expectation. Its joys and sacrifices bear fruit as the years go by and the couple rejoices to see their children’s children. The love present from the beginning becomes more conscious, settled and mature as the couple discovers each other anew day after day, year after year.”
He even discusses parenting: “It is also essential to help children and adolescents to realize that misbehavior has consequences. They need to be encouraged to put themselves in other people’s shoes and to acknowledge the hurt they have caused. … It is important to train children firmly to ask forgiveness and to repair the harm done to others.”
After each brief excerpt from “The Joy of Love” Heuver includes a reflection question or two and a short prayer for the couple to share. These offer an opportunity for a couple to reflect on their lives on the run, which is often the only opportunity they may have.
All three of these books of prayers could be helpful for couples trying to live a faith-filled, sacramental marriage in a world that seems to value change and superficiality instead.

(Finley is the author of several books on practical spirituality, including “Prayers for the Newly Married” and “The Liturgy of Motherhood: Moments of Grace,” and previously taught in the religious studies department at Gonzaga University.)

Francis’ prophetic call for life

Will Jemison

Keeping our faith
By Will Jemison
Support of and a disproportionate use of the death penalty is a sad reality of the legacy of our regions’ history of struggle with human rights and living the values of the United States Constitution, let alone the demands of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chattel slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and segregation were the ultimate denial of the sanctity of all human life. Unfortunately, state sanctioned executions evolved into a legal way of oppression of those accused of capital crimes, guilty or not, and of African Americans and poor whites as well. The criminal justice systems of the states of the Old Confederacy have continued to use capital punishment in ways that still disproportionately affect those groups. It has been said that it is better to be rich and guilty in these states than poor and innocent especially in regards to capital offenses.
In light of the current vitriolic climate for political and social debates in our country Pope Francis’ recent exhortation concerning the inadmissibility of the death penalty comes at a most critical time. In Catechism Number 2267 the Church states, “Consequently the church teaches in light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. Further the church is exhorted to work with determination to see the death penalty abolished worldwide.”
Rather than seeing this as a new teaching the accompanying letter says this is in reality a refinement and evolution of the church’s enduring advocacy for life. From the apostolic period to this very day our Catholic community’s best teaching has been rooted in a biblical and social sensitivity which demands of all our human institutions and systems a dedication to advancing the common good.
In our country we have witnessed the theological and philosophical inconsistency of supporting prohibitions against abortion and promotion of the death penalty among several other social and political positions which do not advance the common good. One cannot be pro-life and not be concerned about the health of the planet we call home. One can not be pro-life and seek ever more vindictive ways to punish the poor. The consistent ethic of life demands that the unborn and those marginalized by state executions, poverty and prejudices in all its forms are equally valued as those we so blithely determine as “innocent and worthy of protection.”
A recent post by a Facebook colleague, Dr. Dave Barnhart, who is also an ordained United Methodist minister, poignantly points out why Pope Francis teaching on the death penalty is so necessary if Christians are truly to be advocates for human life, literally from womb to tomb.
“The unborn are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you cannot forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born they have died to you… prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.”
The Holy Father’s exhortation demands that Catholic Christians must be advocates for a gospel rooted, consistent ethic of life, even for those our society deems undeserving and unworthy.

(Will Jemison is coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson)

Daddy’s letter

George Evans

By George Evans
Nine years ago, with the approval and support of our pastor, Father Michael O’Brien, I went with five other parishioners of Jackson St. Richard Parish to Phoenix to learn how to start a new St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP)conference. Phoenix had been recommended to us as the best place in the country to learn about SVDP and how to start a new conference. Our first contact occurred around a conference table where our hosts asked each of us why we wanted to start a SVDP conference in Jackson. We each responded, in so many words, that we wanted to help the poor in some form or fashion. We were told that is not what SVDP is about.
Rather, the purpose is to grow in holiness by serving the poor. We are not a social service agency. We are a spiritual development group growing spiritually in serving the poor. After recovering from this first attention getter, we gradually were formed, in the Vincentian Way, the rest of our visit.
We spent two days learning the history of SVDP and being exposed to all that Phoenix was doing. It was mind blowing. They have various feeding programs, feeding more than a thousand people a day, AA and dental and medical services, with a constant stream of patients. Reading and other educational programs relating particularly to seeking jobs, computer training, stores for clothing and furniture and numerous other services too many to enumerate. The scale of their metro operation is huge. They do have approximately a hundred conferences as their base. We were as impressed with the concern and compassion of the Vincentians, and how they related to the poor, as we were with the size of their operation.
We came home raring to go; ready to grow in holiness by serving the poor.
It took three to four years of organization and growth to stabilize our Conference with officers, community contacts to meet the needs of those who sought our aid, such as utilities and landlords. It also took time to build and earn the trust of our parishioners, who, as time has progressed, have become an incredibly generous source of support both financially and as new members of our Conference. By 2013/14 we were able to invite other parishes to start new SVDP Conferences if they were interested and ready. We were willing to help as needed for them to get started.
The first parish to act was Jackson Christ the King. They chose the name, St. Martin de Porres, for their Conference. We helped with an initial financial contribution and by bringing experienced trainers from Huntsville, Alabama, to assist with the start up along with our own members. During the last two years we also worked with St. Therese Parish in forming a conference with an initial financial contribution and other assistance in getting officers, organization details and training in the SVDP way of growing personal holiness by service to the poor.
Once we had three Conferences in metro Jackson, we were encouraged by regional and national SVDP to form a Council in the Diocese of Jackson. For many years, SVDP already existed in Columbus and Greenville. Our new council includes all five conferences in the new Jackson Diocesan Council of SVDP. Any parish interested in starting a conference is most welcome to contact me and I will get you in contact with the people who will help you take the next step.
As part of ongoing training, our new council has been blessed and honored by visits from Ralph Middlecamp, who is the recently elected national president of SVDP. Ralph discussed his vision for SVDP during his three year term and again stressed the spiritual development of members by (1) taking Jesus to the poor, (2) seeing Jesus in the poor, and (3) serving the needs of the poor, all as discovered in home visits. Through these home visits we grow in our own personal holiness and relationship with Jesus.
Additionally, earlier this summer members of all five Conferences met in Jackson with our recently elected Regional Vice President, Morgan Jellot, and long time member and trainer, Patty Schuessler for what is known as Ozanam Training. Frederick Ozanam was the leading founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833 and the training session is named after him. The half day session was well received on a Saturday with all receiving additional information for future home visits.
It was great having our trainers, both from Huntsville, Alabama, and our national president from Madison, Wisconsin, with us and assisting us to deepen our understanding of what SVDP means and what it can bring to our lives. Growing in personal holiness by serving the poor is a wonderful and fulfilling reality, and a goal never completely satisfied until our journey is completed. Jesus would certainly approve.

(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)