By Stephanie Brown
JACKSON – In recent weeks, many public-school districts have released their plans for returning to school in August. Some districts have even made the difficult decision to delay the start of school or provide only distance learning for the beginning of the year. After careful thought and consultation with healthcare officials and school administrators, schools in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson plan to move forward with the option of an in-person return for families. In making this decision, the Office of Education evaluated the feasibility of social distancing and other mitigation strategies in our schools. They also worked closely with local administrators to assess the individual circumstances of each community.
In addition to thorough research and planning for returning to school, administrators are also working with families who are not yet ready to return in-person. The Office of Education has taken many of the lessons learned from the term of virtual learning in the spring and believe they have made significant improvements in what the schools can offer in a virtual environment. These measures include fully licensed Zoom accounts for all of our classroom teachers as well as multiple training opportunities for all teachers on the Learning Management System offered through FACTS.
Even if a family is not prepared for a physical return to campus, they will still be included in the school community through virtual learning. Each of our Catholic school families provide unique gifts, talents and perspectives that help strengthen our school communities, and the diocese values the opportunity to serve all of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for educational leaders in all schools, both public and private. All leaders must make the decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their school communities, and we must recognize that what is best for one community may not be best for others. With this in mind, the Office of Education has been working side-by-side with school administrators to determine the best course of action for each community. While the office has provided guidelines, school administrators know their communities best. All decisions regarding school re-opening plans have been made collaboratively with representatives from the Office of Education, the Diocesan Task Force, and local administrators.
At this point, the Office of Education believes offering an on-campus experience with the proper mitigation strategies in place is the best course of action for school communities. While there is no way to guarantee 100% protection, the diocese believes that their schools are well-prepared to welcome students in a safe, healthy, and caring environment. As with any decision or situation during our current reality, the diocese recognizes the need to revisit and reevaluate our decisions regularly. If the determine is made that alternative plans are needed for any of the diocese schools, the school administrator will share those plans with as quickly as possible.
“We cannot thank our families enough for their continued support and confidence in our schools’ ability to provide a high-quality educational experience. This responsibility is not one that we take lightly, and families can rest assured that our commitment to the well-being of community members is ongoing,” said Catherine Cook, superintendent of education.
If anyone has questions about a school’s plan for re-opening, please contact the school’s office. Additionally, COVID-19 Response page on the school section of the diocese website contains multiple resources for a safe and healthy return to school at http://schools.jacksondiocese.org.
OXFORD – U.S. Attorney William C. Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi announced that a Mississippi Catholic priest has been indicted on multiple counts of wire fraud and that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, a Mississippi non-profit corporation.
The case stems from an investigation initiated by Homeland Security Investigations into the activities of Father Lenin Vargas, the prior pastor of St. Joseph Catholic parish, Starkville, Mississippi and Corpus Christi Catholic Mission, Macon, Mississippi. The investigation led to the indictment of Vargas on ten counts of wire fraud based on alleged fraudulent fundraising activities, in violation of Title 18 United States Code Section 1343. During the ongoing investigation but prior to the grand jury’s return of an indictment, Vargas fled to his home country of Mexico.
In addition, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Catholic Diocese of Jackson have entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. The deferred prosecution agreement is based on the alleged inaction of the Diocese, which allegedly contributed to parishioners continuing to donate money to Vargas, as more fully set forth the criminal complaint and affidavit. The deferred prosecution agreement, which is to be in effect for twelve months, includes a number of remedial measures designed to help ensure that there are no future violations such as those alleged in the affidavit. Upon successful completion of the deferred prosecution agreement, all charges against the Catholic Diocese of Jackson will be dismissed. The Diocese has reimbursed identified victims of the alleged fraudulent scheme.
The public is reminded that a deferred prosecution agreement and the indictment are not evidence of guilt and that all individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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Our sixteen-year presence in the Diocese of Jackson marked our lives, as individuals, as community, as a province, and as a congregation. Today we say thank you for all the gifts and love expressions that we have received. We are grateful for what we have offered, the seeds that we have planted and the fruits that we have reaped spread now beyond Mississippi.
The sisters who finish the Mississippi’s mission are María Eugenia Moreno, Obdulia Olivar and María Josefa García. Without a doubt, the communities where they worked, St. Therese Jackson, St. Michael Forest, and St. Martín Porres Morton were hit hard by the massive immigration raids in Aug. 2019 and now by COVID-19. The Forest and Morton communities, where Sisters Obdulia and María Eugenia operated were severely affected. Scott County was one of the hardest hit affecting many Hispanic families, who fought two enemies at the same time.
The churches became gathering places, national and local aid, moral and economic support. The sisters became mothers, counselors, bridges, resources, and all together with them they mourned their losses and advocated for them. Almost in a year the community that they helped to build for years has literally fallen apart. Many families moved out of the state and the church as a mother had been trying to pick up what had fallen, and the sister along with it.
With our gratitude we tell them that they will always be in our hearts, in our prayer and will be part of our life as a congregation. We say goodbye with Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the captives of Zion,
We thought we were dreaming.
Then our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues sang for joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord had done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
Oh, how happy we were!
Restore our captives, Lord,
like the dry stream beds of the Negeb
Those who sow in tears
will reap with cries of joy.
Those who go forth weeping,
carrying sacks of seed,
Will return with cries of joy,
carrying their bundled sheaves.
We too are crying, carrying the sheaves of so many wonderful people who accompanied and grew up with us around the entire Diocese of Jackson.
Ana Gabriela Castro, Yesenia Fernández, Gabriela Ramírez, María Josefa García, María Eugenia Moreno, Obdulia Olivar, Magdalena Carrillo, María Elena Méndez and all Sisters of the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit.
Sister María Elena Mendez, MGSpS answered questions, after closing a Missionary chapter of her congregation in Mississippi after 16 years, sharing their history and experiences.
Q: How and why the Guadalupana Mission came to Mississippi?
A: Sisters Ana Gabriela Castro, Yesenia Fernández and Gabriela Ramírez arrived in Forest, Mississippi on Aug. 17, 2004, invited by Father Richard Smith, who was in charge of St. Michael parish. They arrived excited and eager to mission through these lands, they came loaded with accumulated experiences from various parts of the country and abroad, varied types of apostolates and with several boxes of possible tools to be used in the new mission. At the beginning, there was only Yesenia and Ana Gabriela in Forest and Gabriela María in the Hispanic ministry within the chancery, but during the course of time, some sisters arrived and others left both for work in Forest and from the Hispanic ministry office.
Q: What are the fruits and challenges you had?
A: In Forest, the work of Gaby Castro and Yesenia was exceptional, but set the path for all of us later. They walked with the people in their needs, they went to the hospital, to the Mexican consulate, to jail when some were detained in the constant immigration checkpoints or took them out of there. English was required for all these details, since there was almost no place for translators and almost nobody had a driver’s license, only God’s. They looked for ways to train the community through small workshops, retreats and home visits to empower them personally, but the constant mobility left them often frustrated to start again when these leaders moved out to another place in search for work. But just as some left, others came and to continue. The missionary motivation did not end because of that.
Q: What are your most memorable experiences?
A: First, all the wonderful people we met. In the mission, we slept on the ground, listening to the whistle and the intense movement of the rails before the thunderous passage of the train, experiencing up close the loneliness and depression that many people live in the distance from their homeland, family and friends, tired physically and mentally for the work that absorbs them. We traveled the length and breadth of the 37,629 thousand square miles the diocese encompasses to find us in our path, valuable, brave, and struggling people who are making their way through the arduous lands of the southern state of Mississippi.
Q: What is Mississippi for you all?
A: Mississippi, made us realize that the mission is here, even in these moments; it is a mission land, first-generation migrants and very different from those we already knew in other places for years. We had to realize, from the constant frustrations and experiences that we were acquiring, that our job was to accompany, be present in their joys and difficulties, walk with them, go out to meet their needs and give them training to enhance leadership in the community, as the Virgin of Guadalupe did, from our Guadalupano priestly-charism and our personal charisms.
MADISON St. Francis of Assisi, Assisi prayer chain is available to all those in need. Details: Call (601) 850-3432 or (601) 291-4373 between 5-7 p.m.
MAGNOLIA St. James Mission, you are invited to embark on a journey towards faith and racial healing sometime in the first week of Sept. via Zoom meetings. It is an opportunity to further and deepen our desire to follow the way of Jesus. This program is not specifically Catholic. It is universal. All are welcome. The program is not about religion; it is about human dignity and respect. If you are interested, please call or email. Details: Chris Ingrassia (301) 266-0433, email@example.com. Website is: https://justfaith.org/faith-and-racial-healing/.
PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS
CLARKSDALE Catholic Community of St. Elizabeth, Mass for farmers, Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. Adoration will be at 5 p.m. Also, if you would like Father Raju to bless your farms and gardens, contact the office. Details: (662) 624-4301.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, Valerie Antici, Family Nurse Practitioner, has volunteered to teach Natural Family Planning at the parish. For no cost, the parish offers Valerie’s expertise to teach couples and offer them individualized follow up. You can find some good articles on the website by non-Catholics and even secular non-believers. Details: contact Valerie at (601) 597-6560 or olvcleveland.com/nfp.
MADISON St. Francis of Assisi, Cajun Fest 2020 cancelled. After careful consideration, of present COVID-19 uncertainties, it has been decided to cancel Cajun Fest this year. However, they will still have the raffle and live-stream on Sunday, Oct. 4 (Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi). Mark on your calendar for next year, May 2, 2021. Details: church office (601) 856-5556.
NATCHEZ Grace United Methodist Church, 2 Fatherland Road in the Fellowship Hall, “Grief and Loss Support Group”, Second Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. Next meeting: Monday, August 10. Meet with Masks and Social Distancing. Details: (210) 737-4759.
CLARKSDALE Catholic Community of St. Elizabeth, Sunday School Teachers needed for grades 1-6. We will soon begin a new Sunday School time and program and are including these grades; however, we need teachers. Please call if interested. Details: (662) 624-4301.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, The CYO still plans to hold a Garage Sale (date to be determined by COVID). Details: call Carrie Lambert at the church office (601) 445-5616. Please hold onto your donations for the time being and let her know if you have nowhere to store donations.
SAVE THE DATE
JACKSON St. Richard School, Save the date Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, Krewe de Cardinal.
NATIONAL Virtual 2020 Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative, Oct. 1-2. The CIII seeks to understand, expand and strengthen the work of Catholic institutions with immigrant communities. Registration will open soon. To receive updates about registration, please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/4gX2XS3enWoP9vAp9. Details: For details about the virtual conference visit https://cmsny.org/event/2020-catholic-immigrant-integration-initiative/
In person Masses are now open at many parishes within the Diocese of Jackson. Check with your local parish for details and follow guidelines in place for attendance.
Some parishes are still offering live streaming options via Facebook live and YouTube to be present to their faith communities and bring Mass to the faithful.
The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay hope. Be safe and stay vigilant!
TUPELO – Father Henry Shelton shows off his mask stating “This is Pro Life” in the Sacristy before daily Mass on July 17 at St. James parish. Masks are required at Mass for all parishioners age 2 and up. (Photo by Michelle Harkins)
“Despedida con Amor”
Por Maria Elena Mendez, MGSpS
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Aunque yo no estoy viviendo en Mississippi, siento la necesidad de concluir esta experiencia.
Las hermanas que terminan la misión de Mississippi son María Eugenia Moreno, Obdulia Olivar y María Josefa García. Sin duda, están comunidades donde ellas trabajan, Santa Teresa en Jackson, San Miguel en Forest y San Martin de Porres en Morton, han sido fuertemente golpeadas por el COVID-19 y por las redadas de emigración de agosto de 2019, en siete plantas procesadoras de pollo de Mississippi.
Las Iglesias se convirtieron en lugares de acopio, de ayuda nacional y local, de apoyo moral y económico. Las hermanas Maria Eugenia y Obdulia, aquí se convirtieron en madres, consejeras, puentes de recursos y, junto con ellos lloraran sus pérdidas y abogaron por ellos. Hace casi un año de esto y aún no han salido, literalmente de la crisis. Más tarde, en marzo 2020, se empezó a hablar del coronavirus y de nuevo, el condado Scott, es uno de los más golpeados afectando a muchas familias hispanas; es como quien pelea con dos enemigos a la vez. La comunidad que habían construido por años, se desmoronó. Muchos se cambiaron de Estado y la Iglesia fue Madre y como otras madres, esta tratando de recoger lo que se había caído.
Nuestra presencia por 16 años en la Diócesis de Jackson marcó nuestra vida, como personas, como comunidades, como provincia y como congregación. Hoy decimos gracias por todos los regalos en todas sus expresiones que hemos recibido, los que nosotras hemos ofrecido, las semillas que hemos plantado y los frutos que hemos cosechado y por los que se han esparcido más allá de Mississippi, con las personas que se han ido a otros lugares. Con nuestra gratitud les decimos que estarán siempre en nuestro corazón, en nuestra oración y serán parte de nuestra vida como congregación. Nos despedimos con el Salmos 126:
Cuando el Señor cambió la suerte de Sión, nos pareció que estábamos soñando.
Entonces nuestra boca y nuestros labios se llenaron de risas y gritos de alegría;
Sí, el Señor había hecho grandes cosas por nosotros, y estábamos alegres.
¡Señor, haz que cambie de nuevo nuestra suerte, como cambia el desierto con las lluvias!
Los que siembran con lágrimas, cosecharán con gritos de alegría.
Aunque lloren mientras llevan el saco de semilla, volverán cantando de alegría, con manojos de trigo entre los brazos.
También nosotras vamos llorando, cargando las gavillas de tanta gente maravillosa que acompañó y creció junto con nosotras alrededor de toda la Diócesis de Jackson.
Ana Gabriela Castro, Yesenia Fernández, Gabriela Ramírez, María Josefa García, María Eugenia Moreno, Obdulia Olivar, Magdalena Carrillo, María Elena Méndez y todas las Misioneras Guadalupanas del Espíritu Santo
Antecedentes: Soy de Michoacán, México, soy el mayor de siete hermanos.
Parroquia de origen: San Andrés Apostol
Santos favoritos y por qué?
San Francisco de Asís por su vida sencilla y su humildad, y San Juan Bosco porque estaba muy preocupado por los jóvenes y se esforzó por evangelizarlos y llevarlos a la iglesia.
¿Quién te concedió la ordenación y por qué?
Padre Mike O’Brien. Él es mi mentor, mi amigo. Realmente me enseñó cómo ser un buen sacerdote servidor.
¿En qué parroquias has servido?
Meridiano de San Patricio; San Francisco de Asís Brookhaven; Cristo el rey Jackson; Nuestra Señora de las Victorias Cleveland; Cantón del Sagrado Corazón y San Francisco de Asís Madison.
¿Puedes contarnos un poco sobre tu historia vocacional?
Realmente me gustó asistir a la Misa dominical en mi pueblo, y cuando tenía unos 17 años, me invitaron a un retiro vocacional de fin de semana. Durante las conversaciones y la adoración, sentí la fuerte atracción del llamado de Dios al sacerdocio. Decidí comenzar mi discernimiento vocacional y entré al seminario justo después de ese retiro.
Mientras estudiaba en el seminario en Morelia, México, conocí a los directores vocacionales de la diócesis de Jackson. Me invitaron a servir en esta diócesis, por lo tanto, me mudé a E.U. en 2014 para estudiar inglés y teología. Agradezco todas tus oraciones. Espero con la gracia de Dios hacer un ministerio fructífero en nuestra diócesis
¿Qué consejo tienes para quienes disciernen una vocación?
Si realmente amas a Dios, a tu fe y a la Iglesia y quieres hacer algo al respecto, pon todo en las manos de Dios, Él sabe qué hacer con eso.
¿Cómo te sientes de ser un sacerdote en medio de una pandemia?
Sí, sé que mis compañeros de clase y yo somos los sacerdotes de COVID-19. Creo que mi sacerdocio es traer el amor y la esperanza de Dios precisamente ahora, durante estos tiempos difíciles, cuando nuestros feligreses necesitan la presencia de Dios.
¿Puedes compartir algo sobre ti que la gente no sepa?
Bueno, tal vez, que me encanta tocar la batería.
Antecedentes: Nacido en Vietnam, vino a los Estados Unidos en 2013, estudió para la Diócesis de Jackson en el St. Joseph Seminary College en Covington y el Notre Dame Seminary en Nueva Orleans.
Parroquia de origen: San Alfonso McComb
Santos favoritos y por qué?
San Juan Neumann de la República Checa. Emigró a los Estados Unidos y trajo a Dios a los pobres y desatendidos.
¿Quién te concedió la ordenación y por qué?
Padre Peter Hoai Thanh. El es mi padre espiritual.
¿En qué parroquias has servido?
San Patricio y San José en Meridian
¿Puedes contarnos un poco sobre tu historia vocacional?
Recuerdo eso cuando era un niño de unos 11 años. Asistí a una misa de ordenación en mi parroquia, y después de eso, ansiaba ser sacerdote. Entonces, decidí inscribirme en el programa del sacerdocio en mi parroquia. Después de terminar la secundaria, fui al seminario. Una cosa que creo que me atrajo al sacerdocio es que, como cristianos, necesitamos tener una vida espiritual rica y sacrificarnos por los demás. Sin embargo, especialmente, quiero llevar a Jesús a todos porque solo Jesús puede liberarnos de nuestros pecados y brindarnos la verdadera libertad y felicidad.
¿Qué consejo tienes para quienes disciernen una vocación?
Mi consejo será que si quieres ser sacerdote, debes tomar “un riesgo”. Este riesgo significa que debes confiar en Dios, buscarlo y anhelarlo. También ama a María, Madre de Dios. Ella te ayudará a superar todo.
¿Cómo te sientes siendo un sacerdote en medio de una pandemia?
Ser sacerdote en esta situación de pandemia será un desafío porque no habrá muchas personas que pudieran participar en la Misa. Creo que Dios me recompensará dándome una gracia especial y ayudándome a dar buenos frutos en mi ministerio a los demás.