Mardi Gras in Natchez

NATCHEZ – Friday, February 9, Cathedral Elementary School celebrated Mardi Gras with a fifth grade royalty parade, complete with floats, throws and costumes. At right, King Aiden Huff and Queen Lacy Welch throw necklaces to the crowd.

Below: Lily Crum looking into the crowd after tossing a handful of Mardi Gras beads as the “Dukes” float makes its rounds. (Photos by Cara Serio)

Southaven students get library upgrade

By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – When students at Sacred Heart School returned from the Christmas holidays, they were delighted to see their library had received a grand facelift. The tired carpet and bland colors were replaced with new flooring, vibrant hues, as well as new bookshelves, tables and seating.
The inspiration for the improvements came from the evolution of how people today consume information. The role of libraries and librarians has changed. Today’s libraries are not intended only for silent reading and studying. Students need a space to collaborate and problem solve together.
“Since I became the librarian at Sacred Heart, I noticed areas of the library that needed upgrades and improvements. I started with small, inexpensive projects, such as changing the way the books were displayed on the shelves and weeding our collection of materials. Sister Margaret Sue (Booker) gave me some ideas based on how she displayed books in her classroom,” said librarian Rae Davis.
The furniture that was purchased is more mobile. Now tables and chairs can be rearranged based on class activities. The space is now more accommodating for both younger and older students. Books and resources are much easier for students to locate — arranged by grade level and interests.
Davis said that she and school principal Bridget Martin had many conversations about how the space could be improved, but funding had always been a stumbling block. “Furniture and flooring are very expensive,” said Rae.
That all changed when the school hosted it’s first annual Race For Education Day last spring. Students raised money by finding individuals and businesses to sponsor them to jog or walk in a race that took place during the school day. Students participated by grade level and raced for about an hour. Volunteers helped students keep track of their laps. A local DJ played music and held games for the students; and parents grilled hamburgers for lunch. The wildly successful event raised more than $30,000 for the school.
Although much of the renovation has been completed, there are a few minor details left to tackle. Davis says that she plans to purchase some new shelving units and add some color to the old shelves.
“I am so appreciative of the support I’ve received from our PTO and from Mrs. Martin. The library should be the heart of the school, and these improvements not only will help me serve our students better, but they will help students better utilize the library as well,” Davis beamed.
(Laura Grisham is the Public Relations director for Sacred Heart Southern Missions)

SOUTHAVEN – Librarian Rae Davis teaches middle school students in the newly refurbished Sacred Heart School Library. (Photo by Laura Grisham)

Abbey Youth Fest invitation

Excitement is growing for Abbey Youth Fest 2018 which will be held Saturday, March 17, at St. Joseph Abbey, Covington, La. Youth in grades eight-12 can attend. There is a $40 registration fee plus the cost of meals. Abbey Youth Fest was established in 2001 as an apostolic outreach of the Saint Joseph Abbey and Seminary College.
It is designed to provide young people with an opportunity to experience a day of prayer and faith formation with an exposure to the Benedictine tradition. Are your youth registered?
Contact Abbey Schuhmann at abbey.schuhmann@jacksondiocese.org for more information. The Diocese of Jackson will sponsor bus transportation.

Every child ‘precious gift from God,’ Trump tells pro-life rally

By Julie Asher
WASHINGTON – In remarks broadcast to the March for Life from the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said that his administration “will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life.”
He invoked the theme of this year’s march, “Love Saves Lives,” and praised the crowd as being very special and “such great citizens gathered in our nation’s capital from many places for one beautiful cause” – celebrating and cherishing life.
“Every unborn child is a precious gift from God,” he said. His remarks were interrupted several times by applause from the crowd gathered on the National Mall. He praised the pro-lifers for having “such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life.”
“You’re living witnesses of this year’s March for Life theme, ‘Love Saves Lives,’” he said. His remarks were broadcast to the crowd live via satellite to a Jumbotron above the speakers’ stage, a first for any U.S. president, according to March for Life.
During their tenure in office, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush all addressed the march via telephone or a radio hookup from the Oval Office, with their remarks broadcast to the crowd.
Trump spoke with a crowd surrounding him in the Rose Garden, including 20 students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. One of those standing next to the president was a Marianne Donadio, a top official with Room at the Inn, a nationally accredited Catholic ministry based in North Carolina that serves homeless, pregnant women and single mothers with children.
Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed last year’s March for Life in person at Trump’s request, introduced the president as the “most pro-life president in American history,” for among other things issuing an executive memorandum shortly after his inauguration to reinstate the “Mexico City Policy.” The policy bans all foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.

Pro-life advocates watch U.S. President Donald Trump during a live broadcast to the annual March for Life rally in Washington Jan. 19. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Trump also has nominated pro-life judges to fill several court vacancies and a day before the March for Life the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. Its aim is to protect the conscience rights of doctors and other health care workers who do not want to perform procedures they consider morally objectionable.
For the first time in a recent memory, the weather in Washington was more than tolerable for March for Life participants as they gathered on the National Mall to mark the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The sun was shining and the blue sky was cloudless. By the time the speeches ended and the march to the Supreme Court started, the temperature had reached 50 degrees. March officials estimated that more 100,000 were in attendance.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, opened the rally by calling on everyone in the crowd to text the word “March” to 7305 and to show their commitment to ending abortion and join their voices in calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Do you agree that’s important?” she asked the crowd. “Yes!” they shouted. March for Life, she said, is about educating people about abortion and mobilizing to end it and to love all those women and families who are facing a troubled pregnancy and other needs.
“’Love Saves Lives’ is this year’s theme,” she added. “Love and sacrifice go hand in hand It is not easy. No one ever said it was, but it is the right choice … the self-sacrificial option.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service before the march began, Mancini said that as a pro-life Catholic she believes “100 percent” in church teaching that the sanctity of all life, from conception to natural death, must be protected.
But she said the annual March for Life has a singular purpose – to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe decision legalizing abortion through nine months of pregnancy nationwide. She believes abortion is “the single most significant social justice cause of our time.” 
As a small nonprofit with a staff of six, the March for Life organization has to “stay focused” on its mission, she said, which is to educate people about abortion and activate them to stop abortion. Mancini also told CNS she was “grateful to the leader of the free world” for deciding to address the rally from the Rose Garden.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was among several others who addressed the crowd from the speakers’ platform.
“Thank God for giving us a pro-life president in the White House,” the Catholic congressman said.
“Your energy is so infectious,” he told the crowd, praising them for being “the vigor and enthusiasm of the pro-life movement.”
Seeing so many young people “is so inspiring because it tells us this a movement on the rise,” he said. “Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side. Life begins at conception. Science is on our side.”
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, gave an emotional speech about the troubled pregnancy she faced about four years ago. She and her husband, Dan, were told their unborn child had severe defects, that the baby’s kidneys would never develop and the lungs were undeveloped because of a rare condition. Abortion was their only option, they were told.
Today, that baby is 4-year-old Abigail. She and her younger brother and their father stood on the stage with the congresswoman.
“Dan and I prayer and we cried (at the news of their unborn child’s condition) … and in that devastation we saw hope. What if God would do a miracle? What if a doctor was willing to try something new? Like saline infusions to mimic amniotic fluid so kidneys could develop?” she recalled.
With “true divine intervention and some very courageous doctors willing to take a risk we get to experience our daughter, Abigail,” Herrera Beutler said. She is a very “healthy, happy 4-year-old big sister who some day is going to be ‘the boss of mommy’s work,’” she said.
Herrera Beutler asked the crowd to imagine that 45 years of legal abortion had not existed and that 60 million babies had not been lost to abortion, and if out of those people had come those who could cure cancer and correct all manner of disabling conditions, including those that exist in utero, and eradicate poverty.
“What richness we would we get to see instead of two generations missing,” she added.
Another Catholic member of Congress and longtime pro-life advocate, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, described the last 45 years of legal abortion as Orwellian.
“Every one of you here today” and millions of others throughout the country and world, he said, “are an integral part of the greatest human rights struggle on earth. Because we pray, because we fast, we will win. Babies will be protected.”

Young adults want to be heard by the church, study finds

LINTHICUM, Md. (CNS) – It’s no secret that for years, teenagers and young adults have been leaving the Catholic Church, putting aside organized religion for a more personal spirituality, another faith tradition or no faith at all.
A new study by St. Mary’s Press looks at the reasons for such religious disaffiliation, asking teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 25 a basic question: Why did you leave the church?
The answers reported in the study, titled “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation of Young Catholics,” vary widely with respondents citing sociological, familial and spiritual reasons as well as opposition to organized religion.
What’s key to the study, said John Vitek, CEO and president of St. Mary’s Press, is that the process gave young people a voice, something which has not happened often within the church.
He made the comments during the Jan. 16 release of the findings at the Maritime Conference Center near Baltimore.
“We wanted to hear in young people’s own words their lived experience and their stories. So we spent time listening to young people throughout the country, to hear their stories in their own words, uncensored and unfiltered,” he said.
The study’s release coincided with a 90-minute symposium that included two young adults, a priest, a sociologist who studies religious affiliation trends and an audience of about 200 people from parishes and dioceses throughout the country.
The discussion occurred on the first day of a three-day invitation-only meeting of 65 Catholic leaders, many of whom work in diocesan and parish youth and young adult ministries.
The two-year study found that religious disaffiliation is a process and often begins with questions about faith, doubts and hurts that accumulate over time “until it’s too much,” Vitek said. The process begins at an early age, sometimes as young as 10 years old.
The study also found that the median age for young people to leave the church was 13 even though teenagers may have continued attending Mass with their families because they felt pressured to do so.
Vitek added that almost all respondents interviewed said they felt more freedom and were happier after leaving the church.
Father Edmund Luciano, director of development in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and a former diocesan director of youth and young adult ministry, said during the discussion that 13 years old was too young to “be allowed to make decision like that.”
“I see a breakdown in this in the home and in the parents,” Father Luciano said. “They are the primary teachers of the faith. They are the role models and the examples. I don’t think the kids are doing anything wrong. I look to the parents wondering why they’re not supporting the growth of their kids.”
The priest and others suggested that the church must better equip parents, teachers and ministry leaders to not shy away from questions young people have about faith.
Panelist Father Joseph Muth, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Baltimore, said teenagers often have many questions about life and that personal religious life was no exception.
“It’s the normal process of growing up. In that moment we need someone to trust the questions being asked and to be equipped to give an answer,” he said. Many in the audience nodded in agreement.
Christina Hannon, young adult engagement officer with the Coalition with Young Adults in Northeast Ohio, who was in the audience, said she has learned that young adults are looking for a place to be welcomed. If a parish is not welcoming, she suggested, a young person may decide to abandon the church altogether.
Panelist Beatriz Mendivil came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 12 with her family and grew up Catholic but left the church at age 20 to explore other options. She said she began wondering about church practices, particularly confessing sins as a 10-year-old.
“I was so ashamed I had to sit there and talk to a complete stranger,” she said, adding, “I felt … just awful and this person was just sitting there telling me that I was not good. As a 10-year-old I think that’s not fair. I think that creates a trauma for a young child.”
She said she now finds peace and clarity in a “higher power,” whether it is in nature, her family or even her pets.
The conversation returned repeatedly to the question of whether young people are heard by church leaders or others who can guide them through the questions they have.
Vitek said respondents thanked those conducting the study for the opportunity to speak because they had not been given such an opportunity before.
Often, the questions young people have challenge religious institutions, said panelist Josh Packard, associate professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado, whose work includes studies on how religion drives people away from church but not from God.
He said the challenge facing religious institutions is not to change tenets but to make sure that they adhere to core values “about who we serve and what we’re here for” so that young people do not feel ignored.
The study began in 2015 when St. Mary’s Press, based in Winona, Minnesota, contracted with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington to conduct a survey of young people from 15 to 25 years old who left the Catholic Church. It started with a pool of 3,450 randomly selected young people of which 1,435 completed the screening process.
The full report resulted from interviews with 204 young people – 20 teenagers and 184 young adults – who once self-identified as Catholic but now do not.
From the sample, the study estimated that 12.8 percent of U.S. young adults between 18 and 25 years old and 6.8 percent of teenagers 15 to 17 years old are former Catholics.
In the larger pool, 20 percent said they were no longer Catholic because they stopped believing in God or religion; 16 percent cited an issue with family or parents leading to their decision to leave; 15 percent changed faiths on their own while their family remained Catholic and 11 percent said they left Catholicism because of growing opposition to the church or religious institutions in general.
The study also found that 74 percent of the sample said that they no longer identified themselves as Catholic between the ages of 10 and 20 with the median age being 13. More than one-third, 35 percent, have no religious affiliation, 46 percent joined another religion and 14 percent said they were atheists or agnostics.
The margin of error is plus or minus 6.9 percentage points.
The study broadly categorized respondents into three categories – the injured, the drifters and the dissenters – based on the reasons given for leaving the church.
It also outlined a series of reasons respondents gave for their religious disaffiliation including family disruption; hypocrisy within the church; disconnection between belief and practice of the faith; lack of companions on a spiritual journey; disagreement with church teachings, particularly same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception; issues with teachings about the Bible including salvation, heaven and life after death; and disillusionment and frustration that their questions about faith were never answered or that they never had the opportunity to ask them in the first place.
The study follows a Pew Research Center study released in 2015 that outlined the religious landscape in the country and uncovered the rapid increase in people without any religious affiliation, who are sometimes referred to as the “nones.”
Pew researchers found in 2014 that 22.8 percent of Americans said they were religiously unaffiliated, up from 16.1 percent in 2007. The percentage of the unaffiliated rises to 36 percent for young adults 18 to 24 years old and 34 percent for adults in the 25- to 33-year old range, according to Pew.
Pew estimated overall that about 56 million U.S. adults had no religious affiliation.
The discussion at the Maritime Conference Center was recorded and was to be broadcast Jan. 25 by Minnesota Public Radio.

Advent service project at Greenville

GREENVILLE – (first photo) Chaunce’ White, left, Kent Tonos and Abigail Duthu, sixth graders from St. Joseph School, shop for needy children as part of their Advent service project. Each Christmas, students collect money for local children to ensure every little boy or girl has something for Christmas. The students develop a budget and do their own shopping. This year each of the seven groups collected $175 for their special child. (Photos by Missi Blackstock)