A special friendship – St. Joe’s Father Williams helps Kansas City Kicker Harrison Butker grown in his Catholic faith

By David Healy (Delta Democrat-Times)
GREENVILLE – Father Aaron Williams of St. Joseph Catholic Church said he was not nervous at all as he watched his good friend, Harrison Butker, line up to kick a 58-yard field goal in overtime on Sept. 20 against the San Diego Chargers.
“I know Harrison’s range, and I know that it is a lot farther than that,” Father Williams said. “And each of those do-over kicks were good practice for him.
Father Williams was right not to worry. Butker’s kick, his second made 58 yarder in the game, sailed right through the uprights to give the defending Super Champion Kansas City Chiefs their second win to open the season.
After the game, the two texted each other.
Father Williams — “Can’t get over it. Charger coaches trying to throw you off with those time outs. You were just getting started. Haha”
Butker — “Don’t play with me! Lol, just added fuel to the fire.”
Father Williams — “I wasn’t even worried.”
Father Williams’s friendship with Butker began when Father Williams was a seminary student in New Orleans. Butker was the place kicker for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the time and was in New Orleans to visit their mutual friend, Grant Aasen, who was the Georgia Tech punter.
Butker and Williams struck up a quick friendship, based largely on Butker’s hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith.
“We immediately hit it off with our shared interest in liturgy,” Butker said. “From there he has grown close with my family and me. We are able to discuss difficult subjects pertaining to the faith. He has helped me understand the faith more fully, including stuff like Canon Law, Church Tradition, Doctrine, and Scripture. “It is important to use our priests as resources to be better husbands and fathers, and ultimately challenge us to be saints.”

Harrison Butker and Father Aaron Williams pose for a photo after serving Mass on New Year’s Day 2020.

Said Father Williams, “Harrison is very Catholic, and we had a lot of conversations about the church. We had many great conversations over the phone, and then his wife, Isabelle, invited me to come up to a game. And we hit it off. They are both my age, and they are a great couple.”
Butker is an altar server at his local parish in Kansas City and is in charge of the younger altar servers.
“A lot of our early conversations were about Mass and how you serve Mass, and I would get videos from him showing his feet walking, and he would ask me, ‘Am I walking at the right angle here?’,” Father Williams recalled. “It was very exact, and I would joke with him that ‘You don’t have to watch film after mass to see if you played well.”
Father Williams has visited Butker many times once he became a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Last season, he was in attendance for five games.
“The coolest experience was I was at the AFC Championship this past year, and we all went out to the field because I was with the family group,” Father Williams said. “When I am at the games, I always dress as a priest. Harrison likes me to dress as a priest when I go to games, and there were like random players who would come up and grab me and pick me up and say, ‘Father, I am so happy that you came to our game. So that was a cool experience for me.’”
While Father Williams was not a football fan before meeting Butker, he said he now loves watching the sport, especially at the high school level. Father Williams is on the sidelines of every St. Joseph football game, donning his No. 33 St. Joseph jersey. He chose No. 33 because that is the number of years Jesus Christ lived on the earth.
“I did not know anything about football, but when you sit next to Harrison’s dad at the games, he teaches you everything that you need to know in football. Now, I can sit there and watch his form and know what is going on. And during football practice everyday (at St. Joseph), after stretching I will go off and watch the kickers. I have never kicked myself, and I can look at them and know when they are doing something wrong. I may not be able to communicate that effectively, but I can tell.”
The relationship between Father Williams and Butker continues to be one of mutual admiration.
“I admire Harrison because he is an extremely sucessful and talented athlete, and he is probably one of the best kickers out there. And the priority for him is his faith first, and then his family and then football,” Father Williams said.
Said Butker, “My faith is the most important thing in my life, followed by my vocation as a husband and father. Football is my job, it’s what I love to do.
But at the end of the day, my main concern is not on how good of a football player I am, but on how well I followed God’s will for my life.”

St. James Tupelo parishioners pray for end to abortion on national Remembrance Day

By Berta Mexidor
TUPELO – Every September since 2008, the community of St. James Tupelo has gathered to pay respects to the souls of aborted babies, and to pray for the end of the abortion and mercy for the mothers. This year, on Sept. 12 at St. James parish, the National Day of Remembrance for the Unborn, began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz and Father Tim Murphy.
Father Tim said this day is “to acknowledge all the unborn children whose lives were ended by abortion and to provide the opportunity to those in need the embrace of Christ for healing and forgiveness.”

TUPELO – Pictured left to right, David Friloux, Tanya Britton and Bishop Joseph Kopacz visit the Memorial to the Unborn on the campus of St. James parish on the National Day of Rememberance for the Unborn on Saturday, Sept. 12. (Photo courtesy of Father Tim Murphy)

After the annual Mass, it has become a tradition to walk to the northwest side of the parish’s campus to view the Memorial for the Unborn, donated by the Robert Reitmeier Knights of Columbus Council #8848 in May of 2008.
The overcast, drizzly day did not stop the group of more 125 people from spending “some quiet private time [in] prayer,” and to share a moment of reflection at the memorial site, said Father Tim.
This moment of remembrance is prepared each year by the committee for the memorial Mass, consisting of Father Tim Murphy; Michelle Harkins, director of parish life; David Friloux, chair for pro-life with the Knights of Columbus Council #8848; Erin Bristow, director of youth choir and music minister; and Tanya Britton, St. James parishioner.
During the vigil Mass, Britton, past president and board member of Pro-Life Mississippi, delivered a speech on why this day is so important.
“This is a day to remind us that the fight continues to save lives,” said Britton. “And to invite people to come and pray together at our Memorial to the Unborn, which is, as far as I know, the only permanent memorial in our state.”
Britton told Mississippi Catholic that she began her work for the defense of the unborn in July of 1987 after she was “delivered” from a four-year battle with drug addiction due to her personal experience with abortion.
“I spent three years praying the Miserere, for no other prayer seemed to quell my great sadness and suffering,” said Britton. “During this time my confessor and spiritual director, Father Richard Somers, spent countless hours binding my wounds and I thought my wounds were mortal. I found healing and peace in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. St. Augustine’s Confessions was a constant companion.”
In 1990, Britton was attending Mass at St. Richard Jackson and was invited to pray the Rosary at the abortion facility, at the time, which was one of 10 in the state. “So, began my pro-life missionary work,” stated Britton.
“The Lord has led me for 30 years, to witness for life from Mississippi to Montana, Arkansas to Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Cairo, and Rome.”
Britton invites all to pray at the Memorial to the Unborn at St. James Tupelo.
”There are mass gravesites throughout the country where babies, who have been rescued from dumpsters or storage containers, have given a decent burial. We believe [that] Corporal works do Mercy and if we can’t bury these babies, we can at least remember them.”

‘Live the Gospel of Life’ is theme for Respect Life Month this October

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Catholic Church’s observance of October as Respect Life Month “is a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect and defend the lives of our brothers and sisters,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.
“Live the Gospel of Life” is this year’s theme for the month, prompted by commemorations of the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “The Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”), which was issued March 25, 1995.
“Pope John Paul’s masterfully articulated defense of the right to life for children in their mothers’ wombs, the elderly, persons with disabilities and the marginalized is more relevant today than ever before,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Respect Life Sunday fell on Oct. 4. New parish resources for the month’s observance have been developed around the theme of “Living the Gospel of Life” and are available at www.respectlife.org.
“‘The Gospel of Life’ provides a blueprint for building a culture of life and civilization of love,” the archbishop said in a Sept. 24 statement. “The important work of transforming our culture begins by allowing the Gospel of Christ to touch and transform our own hearts and the decisions we make.”
Archbishop Naumann noted that during their fall general assembly last November, “the U.S. bishops reaffirmed that ‘the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.'”
“While we noted not to ‘dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty,’ we renewed our commitment to protect the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to live,” he said.
Archbishop Naumann also recalled how in January of this year he “shared with Pope Francis that the bishops of the United States had been criticized by some for identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority.”
Their conversation came during the “ad limina” meeting of the bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska at the Vatican.
“The Holy Father expressed his support for our efforts observing that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter. Pope Francis also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue,” the Kansas archbishop said in his Sept. 24 statement.
Later this January, the archbishop relayed that story to pro-lifers gathered for the Jan. 23 opening Mass of the National Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Pope Francis “has our backs” in the pro-life cause, he said in his homily.
“May we strive to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps, caring for the most vulnerable among us,” he said Sept. 24. “Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, may Our Lord grant us the grace to live courageously and faithfully his Gospel of life.

JACKSON – A partnership between St. James parish Gulfport in the Diocese of Biloxi and the Office of Family Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson have brought billboards asking all to “Choose Life” throughout the state. The billboards are located in Jackson, Batesville, Natchez, Gulfport, Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Long Beach, Ocean Springs, and Hattiesburg. The initiative has even reached Mobile, Alabama; Lafayette, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Dallas, Texas; Destin, Florida; and Columbia, South Carolina. Pictured is the billboard in Jackson .3 miles south of Briarwood Drive on the east side of I-55 North. The U.S. Catholic Church observes October as Respect Life Month. If you would like to learn more about this initiative contact charlene.bearden@jacksondiocese.org. (Photo courtesy of Charlene Bearden)

Cassreino named one of top three broadcast journalism teachers

By Tricia Harris
MADISON – The Journalism Education Association at Kansas State University has named St. Joseph Catholic School teacher Terry Cassreino one of the nation’s top three high school broadcast journalism advisers for 2020.
The JEA named Cassreino a Special Recognition Advisor – part of the organization’s annual Broadcast Adviser of the Year Awards. The JEA, founded in 1924, is a national organization for high school print and broadcast journalism teachers.
“I can’t begin to say how honored I am that a successful high school journalism program at a small Catholic school in Mississippi has received this important national recognition,” Cassreino said. “This award reflects well on St. Joseph Catholic School as well as the hard-working, dedicated high school journalism students I have been lucky to teach over the years – some of whom have gone on to study journalism, accounting and law in college.”

Cassreino was one of three journalism teachers JEA honored. Jim McCarthy of Joseph A. Gregori High School in Modesto, Calif., was named Broadcast Advisor of the Year and Christina Insua of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami was named Distinguished Broadcast Adviser.
Journalism is one of several electives available for St. Joe students. Those who take the class publish a yearbook every fall, The Shield; maintain, write and edit stories for a news website, The Bear Facts; and produce a weekly video newscast, Bruin News Now.
Students also produce a weekly radio show and podcast, “The Bruin Buzz Live,” and produce live radio broadcasts and live video streaming coverage of Bruin sports. Radio productions air on WJXC Jackson, Mississippi Catholic Radio, 107.9, whose studio is in Cassreino’s classroom.
Cassreino’s students and their work have received state, national and even international recognition. Students have been named the state’s high school journalist of the year and received the prestigious Orley Hood Award for Excellence in High School Sports Journalism six of the seven years it has been given.
Bruin News Now has been named Mississippi’s best high school newscast twice and been a finalist three other times. This year, Quill & Scroll International Honor Society for High School Journalists awarded BNN second place in an international competition for best news show.
Cassreino is a four-time Mississippi high school journalism adviser of the year and has been recognized twice by the Dow Jones News Fund as one of the nation’s top print journalism teachers.
Cassreino is a former longtime journalist with more than 25 years of experience as a reporter, political columnist and editor at Mississippi newspapers. He is married to the former Pam Vance of Canton; they have two children and are members of St. Joseph Catholic Gluckstadt.
“We are so proud of Terry Cassreino’s work with students here at St. Joe,” Principal Dena Kinsey said. “Our journalism students are excited about what they do and work tirelessly to produce high-quality work.”

Program spotlight: Catholic Charities Born Free/New Beginnings

JACKSON – Whether it’s on the phone, through our social media page, from referral sources, family, friends, or from the woman herself; not a day goes by that Kelli Leo, program director of Born Free Primary Residential and New Beginnings Transititional Residential of Catholic Charities, doesn’t hear about someone in desperate need of treatment. Also, not just any treatment, but treatment specifically designed for pregnant and parenting women with substance use disorders. This unique place exists on the outskirts of Jackson in a beautiful wooded, secluded area where anyone visiting can feel the peace and serenity as soon as they step out of their vehicle. Born Free and New Beginnings, were the first programs designed in the state of Mississippi for pregnant and parenting women identifying with a substance use disorder. Born Free has identified its mission to provide a safe place and service for pregnant women to give birth and for parenting women to reunite and bond with their children as a way to interrupt the cycle of trauma and addiction. Born Free/New Beginnings strives to assist pregnant and parenting women in developing coping skills that will enable them to envelop a healthier lifestyle free of substance use for themselves and their children.

Courtesy of Bigstock

Addiction places two lives in jeopardy when a woman is pregnant – the mother and her baby. What would it be like for a pregnant woman to have access to a treatment facility made just for her and baby? A place where she is safe and protected and is able to get access to prenatal care? Born Free is that place developed specifically for her designed to help meet her needs and lower birth risks. Since the birth of Born Free in 1994, over 100 babies have been born substance free while their mothers received treatment. Another innovative aspect of Born Free/New Beginnings is that a young child can reside at the facility while his mother undergoes treatment which in turn, strengthens family bonding. Most mothers who complete the treatment program regain custody of their children which has resulted in the unification of families across the state.
Established in 1996, New Beginnings, is a long term transitional treatment program for women who are at least 18 years old, identified as chemically dependent, pregnant and/or parenting females bringing up to two small children under the age of five with them into the program. Many women in recovery are concerned about their ability to gain employment, find a suitable and safe place to live, identify child-care resources and many other obstacles when they are attempting to get back onto their feet. The focus of New Beginnings is to provide transitional treatment services to pregnant and parenting women who have successfully completed a 30 day primary treatment program. The transitional services include: group and individual counseling, recovery support, referral for employment services, educational /vocational referral, housing referrals, parenting education, life skills training, aftercare planning, and family counseling.
For additional information, please contact Kelli Leo, program director at 601-922-0026. To complete an intake, call 601-922-0026 and speak to any person answering the phone.

Calendar of events

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT

METAIRIE, La. Healing Mini-Conference, Nov. 13-14 at St. Angela Merici Church. Presenter: Sister Briege McKenna and is well-known for her ministry of praying for healing. She has authored a book entitled Miracles Do Happen, giving accounts of extraordinary healings she was witnessed. There will be three sessions: Friday night from 7-9:30 p.m.; Saturday morning 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Saturday night from 7-9:30 p.m. Cost: Adults – $15 per person per session; Youths (under 18) – $5 per person per session. Pre-registration is required. Because of social distancing, seating is limited to approximately 300. Details: www.ccrno.org, info@ccrno.org or (504) 828-1368.
NEW ORLEANS Our Lady of the Cenacle Retreat Center, Women’s Retreat, “Jesus the Christ: Wisdom, Beauty and Love in the Storm,” Oct. 23-25. The retreat begins with check-in from 3-6 p.m. on Friday and concludes after lunch on Sunday. Presenter: Sister Janet Franklin, a Sister of St. Joseph. She has been engaged in spirituality ministry for over 40 years. Cost: $350. Because of the special circumstances due to COVID-19, no deposit is required to register. Full payment will be collected upon arrival at the retreat center. Details: to register, contact Susan Halligan at (504) 267-9604 or https://www.neworleansretreats.org/retreats. If you need financial assistance, contact Kim Gandolfi at (504) 887-1420.
Our Lady of the Cenacle Retreat Center, Men’s Retreat – “Relying on Faith in Times of Struggle,” Oct. 30 – Nov. 1. The retreat begins with check-in at 3pm on Friday and concludes after lunch on Sunday. Presenters: Dr. Paul Ceasar and Darryl Ducote on finding hope and direction through insights from psychology and our beliefs. Because of the special circumstances due to COVID-19, no deposit is required to register. Full payment will be collected upon arrival at the retreat center. Details: to register, contact Susan Halligan at (504) 267-9604 or https://www.neworleansretreats.org/retreats. If you need financial assistance, contact Kim Gandolfi at (504) 887-1420.

PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS

CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Trunk or Treat and Canned Food Drive, Sunday, Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. in the parking lot. All are welcome. Come dressed in your fun costumes and bring some canned food for the Clarksdale Care Station. Details: (662) 624-4301.
JACKSON St. Richard, Coffee & Creed meets on Sunday mornings at 9:15 a.m. in Glynn Hall. They are currently doing a retreat series from Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Please remember to wear a mask. Details: church office (601) 366-2335.
MERIDIAN Catholic Community of St. Joseph and St. Patrick, Due to COVID-19 and current safety guidelines, St. Joseph’s October fest is cancelled. We look forward to seeing everyone next year on the first Saturday of Oct. in 2021. Details: (662) 693-1321.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, to mark both Respect Life Month and to honor Mary’s request, Rosary for Life will be in the Basilica Prayer Garden across from the Family Life Center, Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 5:15 p.m. We will pray the rosary with special prayer intentions for the protection of life. In case of inclement weather, the rosary will be held in the Basilica. Details: church office (601) 445-5616.
St. Mary Basilica, Period of Inquiry: Getting Acquainted. They will meet on Thursdays, Oct. 15: Jesus Christ: True God and True Man; Oct. 22: Jesus Christ: Redeemer and Savior; Oct. 29 – The Holy Spirit; and Nov. 5 – Church: Nature and Mission. Individuals who seek to know more about the church are called inquirers. In many cases, they have been attracted to the church by a Catholic friend or spouse whose life has witnessed to the love, generosity and peace of Jesus. Details: church office (601) 445-5616.

YOUTH BRIEFS

GREENVILLE St. Joseph, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is back Sundays 9:15-10:15 a.m. in the CGS room in the parish hall. Class is for children 3-6 years old. Details: (662) 335-5251.
JACKSON Sister Thea Bowman School, 14th Annual Draw Down (done virtually), Saturday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $100 and optional second chance insurance for $20 per ticket. Grand prize: $5000. Proceeds will be used for instructional materials and operational expenses. Details: contact Shae Goodman-Robinson at (601) 352-5441 or principal@theabowmanschool.com for more information or to purchase a ticket.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick, the Youth Group (6th-12th Grades) meets every 2nd and 4th Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Family Life Center. Details: Angela Dove at (601) 693-1321 Ext 8 or angela@catholicmeridian.org.
St. Patrick School, The Parent School Association (PSA) is sponsoring a raffle and will be giving away a $250 Walmart gift card. Cost: tickets are $2 each. It is a great fundraiser to help the school. Drawing will be Friday, Oct. 16. You can purchase tickets from students, PSA members and the school or church office. Details: school office (601) 482-6044.

COVID-19 REMINDER

All over the age of two are required to wear a mask at Mass.
The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay home. Be safe and stay vigilant!

Fe durante la pandemia: Tupelo Hispanic ministry provides strength to families struggling through the pandemic

By Danny McArthur (Daily Journal)
TUPELO – For María Pérez, a member of the Hispanic Ministry at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo, the ongoing pandemic has had a profound emotional toll.
Perez, who considers herself a very affectionate person, said being unable to interact physically with people has been incredibly difficult. For her, friends are family, and not being able to hug and talk to others has been a struggle. And the pandemic has made her husband, Salvador, incredibly anxious.

TUPELO – Members of St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo attend Spanish-language Mass. The Church has increased the number of services to accommodate social distancing. (Photo by Adam Robison, Daily Journal)

Faith, she said, is pulling them through.
“My faith has been the strongest, knowing that nothing is bigger than the Lord,” she said in Spanish. “Everything will pass except the love and compassion the Lord has for us.”
Faith guides the members of the St. James Hispanic ministry in nearly all aspects of their lives. It’s something the pandemic hasn’t changed.
Impact in the church
When the pandemic began, the church had to close its doors to in-person services. St. James Hispanic Community Coordinator Raquel Thompson said they began focusing on access. Services were recorded and posted on Facebook so families could participate from home.
“It affected a lot of the people spiritually to not be able to be in the church. I think it had a big impact,” Thompson said.
For associate pastor Father César Sánchez, who started at St. James on July 1, the church wants to show their congregation that they are never truly closed. As a priest, it was harder to celebrate and preach to a camera, but Sánchez saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of social media to reach more people than before.
“In these two months, July and August, from our point of view as a church, we never closed the church,” Sánchez said. “I told people; ‘the gospel is not closed. Even though you cannot come to the church, the church comes to you in your house by online and Facebook Masses’.”
Even once St. James reopened, it was important to keep everyone safe. Thompson has more than 250 registered families in her ministry and said the church overall ministers to over 400 families. There are also many families that do not register.
Services look different these days. Rather than having 300 to 400 people at Spanish Mass, attendance is limited to 150. There are also more Mass services on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to cover spiritual needs. Aside from limiting the number of people inside at a time, they also began requiring masks and social distancing. Sanitation occurs between each Mass.
Socially distanced
Several church members cited feeling socially affected by COVID-19. For Oralio Martínez of Tupelo, the pandemic has affected her family mentally. She said she is grateful to God that her family has not suffered financially, although their lives have definitely changed.
“We have to be home, we can’t go anywhere,” she said in Spanish. “We’re scared to go out because there are so many people or where there’s a lot of gatherings. We’ve been very limited.”
Marco López said the change brought on by the pandemic has been drastic and difficult for a family accustomed to spending time together going to Mass, attending his grandson’s baseball games, or doing activities.
But the pandemic has also taught López the importance of spending time with his family. An employee of BancorpSouth, López said working at home during the pandemic has allowed him to spend more time with his wife, Verónica Salgado.
“We used to have gatherings, especially on Sundays after Mass with some of our friends, so not having that was an impact. For social distancing, we couldn’t do that … but what we couldn’t do with other families, we did with ours,” López said.
The family takes turns having Sunday Mass at home at either his home or with his daughter who lives in Shannon, and they have lunch at home together instead of going to a restaurant.
Role of faith
The church represents a bit of normalcy in strange and difficult times. Martínez recently sent her son back to school, saying it was important he have something familiar. She thinks it is more beneficial for him to return to school with his peers.
Sánchez said faith plays an important role in the Hispanic community and is the reason they have seen more people return to in-person services.
“They really need to pray and want to come to the church and pray because they know during this time, we need to increase our faith, our prayer,” Sánchez said.
López said what is getting his family through this time is prayer. Salgado began praying with the Divine Mercy Chaplet on Facebook Live with friends in March, and López said he believes it has brought them together and strengthened them.
“We overcame the situation of being at home and quarantining through prayer. We keep doing that … We’re almost six months into it and we fall in love more with that prayer,” López said.
For María Pérez, faith is the reason she sent her children back to school rather than distance learning. She admitted to feeling some initial anxiety about sending her kids back to school. But then, she thought about how returning to society, even a changed one, holds lessons for her children to learn.
The way through the pandemic, she said, is through caring for each other.
“I want my children to know that you cannot live in fear. No matter what happens, you must confront the situation,” Pérez said.
And have a little faith.
“Remember, centuries back, we’ve had epidemics and things like this, and people come out of them,” she said. “Have confidence in the Lord that this is permitted for a reason and to keep living your life and try to live your life as gracefully as you can.”

(This article was published by the Daily Journal of Tupelo on Sept. 6, 2020. Follow the author at danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com; Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_. Ana Acosta, Raquel Thompson and Berta Mexidor provided translations for this story.)

Mobile pantries are a lifeline for many

By Laura Grisham
SENATOBIA – A steady stream of cars maneuvered through the parking lot at St. Gregory The Great Catholic Church last Thursday. The mobile pantry in Senatobia had been open for just over an hour. Volunteers and staff, with machinelike movement, gathered boxes and bags of produce, cereals, meats and other staples and placed them in the vehicles as they rolled through.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation’s food supply and economy, nearly one in every five Mississippians had trouble getting enough food due to lack of income or other issues. Disruptions to food-supply chains, employment and other services because of COVID-19 worsened the situation.

SENATOBIA – A tractor-trailer full of fresh fruits, vegetables, shelf staples and meats is distributed at each of Sacred Heart Southern Missions mobile pantry sites. (Photos by Laura Grisham)

For more than six years, Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM) has sponsored the DeSoto and Marshall County mobile pantries, providing fresh, nutritious food to struggling families and individuals each month. The mobile pantry program brings regular food distributions to the hard-to-reach places that need it the most. A tractor-trailer full of fresh fruits, vegetables, shelf staples and meats are distributed at each of our mobile sites.
Given the toll the public health crisis has taken on communities across the area served, SHSM has intensified its efforts to safeguard the health and wellbeing of poor families, especially older adults and children, who lack sustained access to healthy food and adequate nutrition.
Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, SHSM has hosted 22 mobile food pantries across the five counties of their service area. That’s an additional ten distributions on top of their regularly scheduled mobiles. In six months, more than 430,000 pounds of food has been given out to hungry families at these distributions — more pounds than all of last year’s mobile pantries combined.
Tragically, the disabled and elderly are some of the most vulnerable that SHSM serve. Nearly one third of those who come to SHSM social service offices for assistance are the elderly poor. Attempting to balance basic living expenses on fixed incomes, they are presented with an impossible choice — to pay for utilities, life-saving medicine or a meal on the table. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more vulnerable and isolated than ever before.
“These days, at a trip to the grocery store, I only get about half of what I used to,” said Lee, as he waited in line. “I am on a fixed income. The price of everything has gone up, but what we old folks get has not. I can’t hardly afford to eat.”

SENATOBIA – A friend told Mattie about Sacred Heart Southern Missions mobile pantry. She was thrilled to find out another was scheduled the following month. Pictured is Mattie waving “thanks” to volunteers after they loaded her car with fresh produce, cereal, canned goods and other staples.

Lee says the mobile pantries provide him with the extra groceries he needs to make it through the month. For his sister, Carol, who was in the car behind him, SHSM’s distributions are even more critical. Carol has cancer.
“My twin sister, Carol, back there,” Lee motioned to the car behind his, “she is terminal. She can’t afford nothing with buying medicine and all. I told her about this food and it is helping her and her family out a whole lot.”
For seniors and other adults who are at high risk for COVID-19, the mobile pantry program is a blessing in several ways. Besides providing them with fresh, healthy food and supplementing their meager incomes, the drive-through distribution arrangement allows them to avoid crowded retail stores, thus reducing the possible exposure to the virus.
Mattie, another elderly woman in line commented, “This food sure helps me be able to pay my bills.” A friend had told Mattie about the mobile opportunity in Senatobia last month. Eagerly, she inquired when Sacred Heart would be returning for another distribution. “I was so glad that I could get it so close to home. Thank ya’ll so much!”
Food pantry manager Jose Franco said that grateful comments like these are a common occurrence at the mobiles. “You hear them all the time! There are so many people in need, and they are thankful for the help.”
Hunger is a problem that most often affects low-income families. Many hardworking families and individuals are living paycheck to paycheck, then suddenly, an illness or other disaster strikes and they can no longer afford food. Others juggle their bills every month, knowing there will never be enough money.
Jose recalled last month’s mobile food distribution in Senatobia. As he assisted a woman with her intake form, he noticed three young children in the back seat of her car. The woman explained that she and her husband had both recently lost their jobs and they had no food to give their family. Pointing to the form, she said, “We don’t have any income … is that ok?”
“That was heart-breaking,” Jose said quietly.
Unfortunately, this woman’s plight is something SHSM sees often. Yet, no matter how many times they meet people struggling in life and hear their stories, the impact on them never lessens.
SHSM continues to prioritize food distributions in their communities in Northwest Mississippi.
Through the generosity of our donors and the continued support of volunteers, SHSM is able to ensure that people like Lee, Carol, Mattie and countless others facing unimaginable financial challenges have access to nutritious food. Looking ahead, additional pop-up mobile pantries have been added to SHSM’s regular monthly schedule to help even more people in need, providing them an essential lifeline during these difficult times.

Calendar of events

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT

NEW ORLEANS Our Lady of the Cenacle Retreat Center, Women’s Retreat “Joy in the Face of Adversity,” Oct. 16-18, check-in is at 3 p.m. on Friday and concludes after lunch on Sunday. We will reflect on God’s unconditional love for us and His desire that we live lives filled with joy. Presenter: Father Doug Doussan, retired and currently serving as Resident Chaplain of the Retreat Center. Cost: $350 and includes accommodations and meals. Because of the special circumstances of the COVID-19 situation, no deposit is required to register. Full payment will be collected upon arrival at the retreat center. Details: to register, contact Susan Halligan at (504) 267-9604 or https://www.neworleansretreats.org/retreats. If you need financial assistance, contact Kim Gandolfi at (504) 887-1420.

PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS

CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Parish Fair, Tuesday, Oct. 6 from 5-7 p.m. This year the fair will be drive through food items only with some surprise booths. The sweet shoppe and frozen casseroles will only be offering their top five items to be purchased. Details: (662) 846-6273.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, The Parish Fair originally scheduled in Sept. has been rescheduled for Nov. 2020. More information will be forthcoming. Details: church office (662) 335-5251.
LELAND St. James, Annual Parish Fair originally scheduled in Sept. has been rescheduled for 2021. Details: church office (662) 686-7352.
JACKSON St. Richard, Bereavement Support Group, resumes Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m. The topic will be general sharing on the difficulty of grief during the pandemic. Many have lost loved ones right before or during this time. The group is for all who are hurting from losing a loved one or for those who are trying to comfort and understand the grief of a family member or friend. If you know someone who is bereaved, please invite them. Masks are required and social distancing adhered to. Only bottled water and canned drinks will be served. Please RSVP as soon as possible in order to plan accordingly. Details: Nancy McGhee (601) 942-2078 or email ncmcghee@bellsouth.net or Suzie Cranston (601) 982-5464.
NATCHEZ Assumption of BVM, Grief Support Group, a 13-week program on Tuesdays beginning Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in Tuite Hall. Cost: $15 for workbook. Details: Carolyn Verucchi at (601) 807-1698 or church office (601) 442-7250.
St. Mary Basilica, Women’s Retreat, Sunday, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Family Life Center. “Making Room for God in the Busyness” with Becky Eldredge, author of Busy Lives & Restless Souls. Come renew your spirit and explore practical ways we can make time for God and prayer in our lives, even amidst the busyness. Please join in and bring a friend. Cost: $15 includes box lunch. Details: Ruth Powers at ruthprocoordinator@cableone.net or (601) 445-5616.
St. Mary Basilica, “Into the Breach,” Tuesdays, Oct. 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 6-7:15 p.m. It will be held in the Family Life Center and is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. This is a Faith Formation program specifically for the men of the parish. Many men receive mixed messages concerning who they are and what their role is. This program is focused on helping men of all ages grow into an authentic Catholic masculinity as men, as husbands and as fathers. Facilitator: Kevin Friloux, Lecturer and Faith Chairman of Bishop R. O. Gerow Council 1034. There is no cost for the program. Details: the church office (601) 445-5616 or Ruth Powers at ruthprocoordinator@cableone.net to register.
SOUTHAVEN Christ the King, Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser, Monday, Sept. 28 to Saturday, Oct. 31 from 12-8 p.m. sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council #7120. Some of the specific programs these funds support include: Coats for Kids, relief for persecuted Christians, Gary Sinise Foundation (for disabled veterans), priests’ formation and priests’ retirement. Details: church office (662) 342-1073.

YOUTH BRIEFS

NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, CYO Youth Day, Sunday, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Facilitator: Stephanie Clouatre Davis, who was spent more than 23 years in youth ministry as a retreat facilitator, teacher and youth minister. The day will include lunch, fun, games and prayer. Cost: $10 registration fee; lunch and snacks will be served. Details: email stmaryyouth@cableone.net to register your teen or for further information. Payment can be made via Venmo. You will receive the Venmo account information when you send an email to register. You can also call the church office (601) 445-5616.

COVID-19 REMINDER

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. All over the age of two are required to wear a mask.
The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay home. Be safe and stay vigilant!