Reflecting on five years as bishop

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
On February 6, I quietly marked the fifth anniversary of my ordination and installation as the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. As we know some days never end, but a decade can pass in the twinkling of an eye. (1Cor 15) For me the past five years are officially history, having moved at the speed of a weaver’s shuttle, (Job 7,6).
Many events and memories stand out vividly; some have to be recalled by scrolling through my i-Phone calendar; others surface when I revisit schools and parishes and, still others when someone recalls an event or encounter in conversation.
All of it is to say that the Lord has blessed me abundantly through the episcopal ministry he so graciously bestowed upon me five years ago.
Even the current troubles do not suppress the beauty, truth and goodness that have flowed from our Mission and renewed Vision. Each day we have the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel by the way we live our lives so that all can experience the crucified and risen Lord.
The engaging design of our diocesan Vision reminds me wherever I am in the diocese about our priorities of inspiring disciples, serving others and embracing diversity, as was on display at our just completed diocesan youth conference. (See page 7 for photos)
The Vision has been embraced and applied in creative ways throughout the diocese through the application of our Pastoral Priorities, especially to be inviting and reconciling communities and to teach our Catholic faith by being good scribes in the Kingdom of Heaven in many and varied ways. We recall the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old,, (13,52).
We can think of all of the channels for communication and evangelization at our fingertips, that which is new, as well as the proven time tested ways of witnessing, encountering and accompanying.
Our first Pastoral Priority to be inviting and reconciling communities recognizes the fundamental call of the Lord to repent and rebuild one’s life and Church on the demands of the Gospel. This call is ever ancient and ever new, and must be vigorously applied to the suffering of the sexual abuse crisis, and the targeted financial upheaval in our diocese.
Crucified with the Lord we can rise with him to new life.
On February 6, my anniversary (which by the way also happens to be my father’s birthday), I am set to take the long flight to India for my first pastoral visit to the land that is blessing us with dedicated priests and missionary disciples. Going to Saltillo, Mexico, each year to our mission of 50 years can be a stretch, but the Indian subcontinent will be unchartered waters for me.
I will be going with my trusty guide, Father Albeen Vatti, pastor of Saint Francis in Madison, of the Diocese of Warangal where we will spend time with Bishop Bala, visiting many pastoral settings as well as some of the families of the priests who are serving currently in the Diocese of Jackson. From there we will travel to other Indian States for pastoral visits, as well as for seeing countless points of interests along the way. The culture and way of life of this densely-populated nation will make for an up close and personal experience at every bend in the road. I am looking forward to this opportunity to visit the land where Saint Thomas the Apostle planted the seeds of the Gospel.
As I briefly pause to reflect upon this five year milestone in my life, although there will be 18 hours of flying time to India to do considerable reflection, I am deeply grateful to so many coworkers in the vineyard of the Lord who serve throughout the diocese. These are the ordained, religious and lay women and men who have responded as disciples to the demands of the Gospel.
For example, more than 500 were on hand for the Diocesan Professional Development Day this past Monday led by Monica Applewhite, a leading practitioner in the field of abuse prevention. It sounds like a biblical number of disciples to whom the Lord has appeared gathered in one place, (1Cor 15,6).
This event is merely a sampling of the countless coworkers in our diocese busy about the Lord’s designs that the mere mentioning of them would far exceed the available space in this edition of the Mississippi Catholic.
The beauty of prayer is that it reaches from one end of the earth to the other and pierces the heavens. During the two weeks that I will be in India I will remember all y’all and the needs of our diocese especially at the altar each day.
I know that your prayer will also reach across the miles asking the Lord’s blessings on this extraordinary pastoral visit as I represent you to the people of India.

Open Wide Our Hearts –The Enduring Call to Love: pastoral letter against racism

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
During the Bishops’ Conference this past November it was a crowning moment to introduce Sister Thea’s Cause for Canonization following the overwhelming approval of the new Pastoral Letter against Racism: “Open Wide Our Hearts—The Enduring Call to Love.” Because of the legacy of racism in our nation against the Native American and the African American especially, but also the deep -rooted prejudice against many immigrant populations since our nation’s earliest days, each generation of Americans is challenged to labor toward liberty and justice for all.
One preeminent way to overcome the legacy of the racial divide and the lurking racism sustaining it, is through education. In celebrating Catholic Schools we proudly recognize that the Catholic Diocese of Jackson – through our schools – has lifted many out of the hopelessness of poverty and illiteracy. The Daughters of Charity, at the invitation of Bishop John Joseph Chanche, the first bishop of the then Diocese of Natchez, came in 1847 as missionary disciples to begin the legacy of Catholic School education in Mississippi. The great command of Jesus Christ to “go and teach all nations, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was the loving vitality of their mission.
Among their students were the children of slaves. The three pillars of our diocesan vision to embrace diversity — serve others — inspire disciples have been living stones in our Catholic School communities for these past 172 years evident in the many branches of the European and African-American populations. Remember that Sister Thea realized her God-given potential through the dedication of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. This Servant of God continues to inspire through her Cause for Canonization that disperses far and wide her passionate holiness and her hunger and thirst for justice and inclusion for her people and all marginalized populations. The proud legacy of Catholic School education continues today, and considerable effort currently is being applied for the recruitment of our Hispanic Catholic students.
As the Church in the United States studies and puts into action “Open Wide Our Hearts — The Enduring Call to Love,” we do so in light of the tragedies and triumphs in Mississippi and throughout our country. The Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, just over one year young, preserves the reality of hatred, violence and racism during the Civil Rights Era. It also recognizes and cherishes the sacrifices and commitment of people of all races and backgrounds to achieve our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all. Finally, it sits like a bulwark that announces to all that the citizens of Mississippi will remain unmoved in the fight for racial justice for all peoples.
However, once again today the fault lines of racial, ethnic and sectional division and distrust have fractured civil discourse and constructive social action. “Open Our Hearts — The Enduring Call to Love” challenges Catholics, all Christians and citizens to intentionally step aside from the vitriol that has reared its ugly head in the mainstream media, on social media, and in our homes in order to recognize and work against the demons of racism and prejudice. Through study, reflection and dialogue we must reconcile the brutality of near genocide that overwhelmed our Native American populations, the inhumanity of chattel slavery that decimated the African American population and the prejudices and injustices that have afflicted many ethnic groups, in particular the Latino population in our day.
We are not called as Christians to wallow in the shame of our sinful history, but rather to reconcile it at a much deeper level so that we can move forward as a nation, freer and more united, truly ‘e pluribus unum.’
“We cannot, therefore, look upon the progress against racism in recent decades and conclude that our current situation meets the standard of justice. In fact, God demands what is right and just.” (Pastoral against racism)
“Open Our Hearts” asks the question, “how do we overcome the evil of rejecting a brother or sister’s humanity, the same evil that provoked Cain’s sin against his brother Abel? What are the necessary steps that would lead to this conversion?” The bishops point to the enduring words of the prophet Micah. “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mi 6,8).”
For Catholics genuine conversion requires that we live by the greatest commandment as taught by Jesus Christ. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. (Mt 22, 37-39).” “When we begin to separate people in our thoughts for unjust reasons, when we start to see some people as “them” and others as “us” we fail to love. The command to love requires us to make room for others in our hearts (Pastoral against Racism).”
With passion and eloquence the bishops invoke our commitment to Life in combating racism. “The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life. The Church in the United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and other forms of violence that threaten human life. It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest number on death row and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness. As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”
Finally, as a people of hope in Jesus Christ, let us give thanks to all who labor to create communities of life, justice and peace, through education, service, empowerment and advocacy on many fronts, because their efforts bear fruit that will last. “Brothers and sisters, be on your guard, stand firm in faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love. (1Cor 16, 13-14)

What shall we do now? January offers opportunities for renewal

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
On this weekend the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the culmination of the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, the manifestation of God’s beloved Son in the waters of the Jordan River to Israel initially, but in short order, to all the nations. Nearly one year ago I traveled with the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher to the Holy Lands, and the renewal of one’s Baptism vows at the Jordan is pivotal on pilgrimage to the holy places.
Christians from all corners of the earth, and from every branch of Christianity come to the bend in the Jordan River where tradition maintains that the Lord Jesus began his public ministry under the gaze of God the Father and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Recall that John the Baptist preached in the wilderness and people left their homes and comfort zones to flock to him for the Baptism of Repentance. This region of the Holy Land was barren terrain 2000 years ago and remains such today. After coming up out of the water, the Spirit of God led Jesus deeper into this wasteland for 40 days and nights to fast, pray and be tempted. When it was over, he embraced his mission of salvation culminating with his life-giving death and resurrection.
Borrowing the metaphor from last weekend’s feast of the Epiphany it is the same star of faith that guided the Magi that draws pilgrims to God’s beloved Son in order to lay down one’s life before him, at or in the Jordan River. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 628) offers this teaching on Baptism under the subtitle “Buried with Christ…” Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6,4)
What is this newness of life? When the people came to John the Baptist at the Jordan River, they understood that like the water that was certain to evaporate in the desert heat so too their sinful attitudes and behavior must also vanish. And so, they asked John “What must we do, then?” John gave them directives that were specific to their states in life. If you have surplus clothing or food be generous with those who are in need. Tax collectors, he shouted, do not cheat the people beyond what has been determined. He commanded soldiers not to bully or extort the locals who are in your military sphere (Luke 3, 10-14). Likewise, because of our Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is unavoidable for us to ask the question regularly, what are we to do, and to walk in newness of life. But like Jesus, our identity precedes our deeds.
We are God’s beloved children, saved by the blood of the Lamb of God and anointed in the Holy Spirit. Flowing from this relationship we are tasked with building up the Kingdom of God. In the letter to the Ephesians we, as in many passages of the Scripture, are given our identity and marching orders. “Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2, 8-10)
So, what are we to do? Relatively speaking, in the blah month of January there are compelling ways to serve in the Lord’s name. Pro-life activities abound on behalf of the unborn. Novenas, vigils, the annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. and countless prayer services throughout the nation in every diocese. Have these efforts and more made a difference in the past 46 years since Roe v. Wade? At the grassroots level where it matters most there are far fewer abortions each year than during the peak years decades ago. There are far more centers around the nations that recognize the inalienable dignity of life in the womb than there are that destroy God’s handiwork.
When the actor, Jim Caviezel, came to town back in September one stop along the way was the Neonatal-Intensive Care Unit at Saint Dominic’s Hospital where we stood at the life support units for two premature twins who were born at 23 weeks. Mr. Caviezel expressed the awe of all in attendance: “This is like looking at the face of God.” Although the Catholic Church is weighed down by scandal at this time, our prophetic voice on behalf of the unborn will not waiver.
What else is happening in January? We are now at the end of the annual observance of National Migration Week, and thanks be to God for the many people in our diocese who “welcome the stranger” in our midst. The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the Lord’s birth as a light to the nations, whether they remain at home or travel far and wide.
What are we to do? The annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a cherished national holiday, compels us to not waiver in our efforts to build a society of greater justice and peace for all races and ethnic groups in these United States. Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God, pray for us.
What more are we to do? May we strengthen our commitment on behalf of all victims of sexual abuse in our Church and in our society, restoring their dignity as beloved children of God the Father. May our passion on behalf of life, justice and peace in all areas flow from our conviction that we are God’s beloved children, saved in the blood of the Lamb, and anointed by the Holy Spirit “for the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.”

The Word became flesh and dwells among us, filled with grace and truth

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Christmas is a gift that keeps on giving, not only for one day, but for an OCTAVE of eight days, and a season of 19 days through the Baptism of the Lord. So please, play your Christmas hymns up through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The following quotes are taken from daily reflections during the OCTAVE of Christmas that reflect the inspired wisdom of the ages.
Christmas Day “Christians, remember your dignity.” – Saint Leo the Great, Pope
Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness…No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.
The Armament of Love – Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe
Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also make them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love which was to bring men and women to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvelous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in possession of his own inexhaustible riches.
Life Itself Was Revealed in the Flesh – Saint Augustine
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” Gospel of John Make sure you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So, we also have heard, although we have not seen. Are we less favored than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith. And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete — complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.
“They cannot speak and yet they bear witness to Christ.” – Saint Quodvultdeus
A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and forever in the life to come. Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and, in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children…The children cannot speak yet they bear their witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.
In the fullness of time the fullness of humanity appeared. – Saint Bernard, Abbot
How could he have shown his mercy more clearly than by taking on himself our condition? For our sake the Word of God became as grass. What better proof could he have given of his love? Scripture says: Lord, what is humanity that you are mindful of him; why does your heart go out to him? The Incarnation teaches how much God cares for us and what he thinks and feels about us. We should stop thinking of our own sufferings and remember what he has suffered.
Let us think of all the Lord has done for us, and then we shall realize how his goodness appears through his humanity. The more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me. He has given us a most wonderful proof of his goodness by adding humanity to his own divine nature.
The Word took our Nature from Mary – Saint Augustine
The Apostle tells us: The Word took to himself the sons of Abraham, and so had to be like his brothers in all things. Jesus had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence; she is to provide him with a body of his own to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of what would be born in you to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of “what will be born from you” so that we might know by faith that her child originated within and from her.

Advent: season for justice, renewal

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Advent ushers in the new Church year calling the Lord’s disciples to prepare his way for the coming of the Kingdom, one of justice and peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit. (Romans) Faith in the One God sent is the road to life, because it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The Word of God in Advent addresses the call to holiness and righteous living for the individual, but also calls for the removal of sinful structures and realities in our midst that are obstacles to God’s Kingdom on earth.
John the Baptist represents every generation of prophets in anticipation of the Messiah who had this vision, for he is the voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3,5-6) On the second Sunday in Advent, these words of Isaiah, embraced by John the Baptist, point to the long-awaited Messiah, the Lamb of God who will gather all nations into the peace of God’s Kingdom.
Yet, there can be no lasting peace without justice and the words of the four prophets of Israel featured during Advent make this abundantly clear. On the second Sunday in Advent the prophet Baruch full-throated and unsparingly proclaims: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever, wrapped in the cloak of justice from God… God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.” (Baruch 5,1-2, 8-9) This is my longing and hope for the Diocese of Jackson and especially for the parish communities of Saint Joseph in Starkville and Corpus Christi in Macon. Let the Lord Jesus banish the clouds of mourning and misery and guide us in the light of his glory with mercy and justice for company. What a great gift this will be for all of us who seek to prepare His way in our lives.
On the First Sunday in Advent last week we placed an insert in the parish bulletins of Saint Joseph and Corpus Christi that calls for restorative justice and reconciliation for all who are suffering in these parish communities. Justice requires that everyone who sincerely gave to Father Lenin Vargas’ causes for health and/or mission, causes, not done with diocesan oversight for a number of years, must be offered the opportunity for financial and material restoration. This is underway.
However, only the strength that comes from God can remedy the profound sense of mourning and misery that weigh down the hearts, minds and souls of many of the faithful, financially deprived or not. We pray that the season of Advent will be a time of reconciliation and renewal and we have scheduled a Reconciliation Service at Saint Joseph’s for the two parish communities on Wednesday, December 19, to pray that God’s saving grace may level mountains of mourning and fill the valleys of emptiness presently overwhelming our hearts.
The hope and joy of Christmas are rooted in the conviction that nothing is impossible for our God who comes to save us and I pray, along with many others of good will, that the seeds of healing and new life are already taking root because the Lord is near, in every corner of our hearts and minds and in every corner of the Diocese of Jackson. Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.

Diocese will publish abuse report

The Diocese of Jackson will join the Catholic dioceses in this province including the Archdiocese of Mobile and the dioceses of Biloxi and Birmingham in publishing the names of clergy and religious who were removed from ministry due to credible accusations of abuse of a minor. The cases go as far back as the 1940s.
It is a time-consuming effort to examine each clergy personnel file from the last eight decades. This effort is underway and will be completed as quickly as possible.
The Diocese of Jackson is committed to protecting children. Sexual misconduct by church personnel violates human dignity and the mission of the Church. The Diocese is committed to ensuring that children being served by the Church are not at risk of sexual abuse by Church personnel. The spiritual well-being of all victims, their families, and others in the community is of particular concern to the church.
Over the past 30 years, the Diocese of Jackson has developed and implemented a safe environment program. The Diocese has publicized standards of conduct for its priests and deacons as well as diocesan employees, volunteers, and any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people. Beginning in 1986, the Diocese implemented a written policy and procedure regarding reporting and handling of sexual misconduct claims. The policy was updated in 1994 with the addition of a Diocesan Fitness Review Board and again in 2002 so that it would reflect the mandates of the Bishops’ Charter.
The Diocese of Jackson is committed to protecting our children and young people from abuse at the hands of clergy, religious and lay ministers as well as equipping young people with knowledge, confidence and tools to help them recognize and protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations in every aspect of their lives. The Diocese is also committed to transparency and ongoing improvements to our policies.
Anyone who has been a victim of abuse or exploitation by clergy, religious or lay church personnel and has not yet reported it is encouraged to do so. The Diocese of Jackson places no deadline or time limits on reporting. The Victim Assistance Coordinator, Valerie McClellan and Vicar General, Fr. Kevin Slattery are available to assist in making a report. The contact number for the Victim Assistance Coordinator is 601/326-3728. The contact number for the Vicar General is 601/969-2290.
For more information about the Diocesan policies and procedures, you can visit the diocesan website at www.jacksondiocese.org.

Asking for your support for Sister Thea Bowman

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz was traveling this week for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall meeting. He sent the speech he presented at the conference asking for his fellow bishops to support the cause for canonization for Sister Thea Bowman as his column for this week. See related story in this issue. His regular column will resume in the next issue.)

We all share in the joy of this moment presenting the Cause for Canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, from Canton, Mississippi. With one mind and one heart the faithful within and well beyond the Diocese of Jackson have asked that Sister Thea’s cause be undertaken. I would like to frame my words around her final six years. In 1984 Sister Thea, an only child, suffered the deaths of her beloved parents, Dr. Theon and Mary. In that same year she was diagnosed with cancer. With the press of mortality, and understanding the severity of her disease, she courageously proclaimed that “she would live until she died.” Indeed, she did, traveling, evangelizing, teaching, singing and inspiring to the very end.
Likewise in 1984, this Conference issued a Pastoral Letter on Evangelization: What We Have Seen and Heard, a labor of love from the African American Bishops of the time. This letter was issued five years before Sister Thea’s celebrated presentation to the Conference in June 1989 at Seton Hall University. Her witness in word and song testified to her joy-filled holiness, even as she embraced the Cross of terminal illness. (Pause: How many Bishops present today were on hand in June, 1989?)
The Bishops in What We Have Seen and Heard gave thanks for the early missionaries who planted the seed of the Gospel in the Afro-American families and communities. In her address to the Bishops Sister Thea offered her gratitude to the missionary disciples in her life.
“Catholic Christians came into my community, and they helped us with education, they helped us with health care, they helped us to find our self-respect and to realize our capabilities when the world told us for so long that we were nothing and would amount to nothing. And I wanted to be a part of that effort. That’s radical Christianity, that’s radical Catholicism.”
Throughout her life, the gift she received, she gave as a gift until her final breath.
What We Have Seen and Heard reflected movingly on the gift of reconciliation, rooted in suffering, liberation and justice, that which the African American experience can offer to the Church, to the nation and to the world. The Bishops wrote: “A people must safeguard their own cultural identity and their own cultural values. Likewise, they must respect the cultural values of others. On this foundation can be erected an authentic Christian love, “because we who once were far off have become near by the Blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.’ (Ephesians 2, 13-14)” As an ambassador of Jesus Christ and a minister of reconciliation, Sr Thea tirelessly laid down her life for this Gospel vision, truly the essence of her holiness. With Biblical like eloquence she declared. “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work, when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
This is the power of the Gospel that is so urgently needed in the Church and in society today.
The Church embraced Sister Thea from her early years, yet there were times she felt deeply like a motherless child. She challenged the Bishops to provide a space at the table for collaboration and leadership for all of God’s children. Today, we are most mindful of the victims of sexual abuse who live in that dark void of homelessness in the Body of Christ, and we pray that Sister Thea’s witness will be a beacon of hope for all victims and their families. There is an urgency for Sister Thea’s sanctity to be a leaven in the bread of our Church and society.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, Guadete et Exultate. In the words of Pope Francis “Christianity spreads through the joy of disciples who know that they are loved and saved.” What We Have Seen and Heard stirringly presented the gift of joy as essential for understanding African American spirituality. “Joy is first of all celebration. Celebration is movement and song, rhythm and feeling, color and sensation, exultation and thanksgiving. We celebrate the presence and the proclamation of the Word made Flesh. Joy is a sign of our faith and especially our hope. It is never an escape from reality.” Sister Thea manifested this radiance throughout her life, and valiantly lived it in her final years. If reconciliation toward a new creation for this world was Sister Thea’s daily passion, surely joy was the charism that nurtured her great soul and holiness. Sister Thea exhorts us. “Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, go! There is a song that will never be sung unless you sing it. There is a story that will never be told unless you tell it. There is a joy that will never be shared unless you bear it. Go tell the world. Go preach the Gospel. Go teach the Good News. God is. God is love. God is with us. God is in our lives.”
Toward the end of her presentation to the Conference in 1989, Sister Thea counseled that all in the Church are charged with finding new ways to go forward together. What a moment of Providence to introduce and celebrate her cause at the very time that we are about to vote on “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” which we pray will provide an added torch for our path as joyful missionary disciples in our fractured and wounded times. With Sister Thea’s smile upon us, and through the witness of her uncompromising spirit and joyful zeal, we do proclaim that our true citizenship is in heaven, and that we are about God’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of Justice, Peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your prayerful support!

Cause for canonization for Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Ph.D. 1937-1990

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
During the month of November, we bask in the glow of the Feast of All Saints, and the Commemoration of All Souls. The great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12,1), some officially canonized, most not, remind us that our citizenship is in heaven with Jesus Christ, the way and truth, the resurrection and life. From the Feast of All Saints, the vision of Saint John in the book of Revelation affords us a glimpse of eternity in “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb. (Revelations 7, 9-10)
On November 13, at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops annual meeting in Baltimore, I will formally introduce the Cause for Canonization for Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Servant of God, an African-American, from the town of Canton, in the bosom of the Diocese of Jackson, whom we declare in faith to be a member of the Cloud of Witnesses. Much is already known about her life, but I would like to shine the light on her final six years. In 1984 Sister Thea, an only child, grieved the deaths of her beloved parents, Dr. Theon and Mary, and in the same year she was diagnosed with cancer. With the press of mortality, and understanding the severity of her disease, she courageously proclaimed that she would “live until she died.”
Indeed she did, traveling, evangelizing, teaching, singing and inspiring to the very end. In 1984 on the national scene, the Black Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a Pastoral Letter on Evangelization: “What We Have Seen and Heard.” This letter was released five years after the 1979 publication by the entire Conference of Bishops of “Brothers and Sisters to Us: Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”
In June, 1989, 10 years after the first letter against racism, and five years after the second, Sister Thea was invited to speak to the conference of bishops at Seton Hall University. Her witness, words and song on that occasion embodied so much of what was written in the earlier Pastoral Letters.
“What We Have Seen and Heard” gave thanks for the early missionaries who planted the seed of the Gospel in the African-American families and communities. In her address to the bishops Sister Thea offered her gratitude to the missionary disciples in her life. “Catholic Christians came into my community, and they helped us with education, they helped us with health care, they helped us to find our self-respect and to realize our capabilities when the world told us for so long that we were nothing and would amount to nothing. And I wanted to be a part of that effort. That’s radical Christianity, that’s radical Catholicism… I was drawn to examine and accept the Catholic faith because of the day-to-day lived witness of Catholic Christians who first loved me, then shared with me their story, their values, their beliefs, who first loved me, then invited me to share with them in community, prayer and mission. As a child I did not recognize evangelization at work in my life. I did recognize love, service, community, prayer and faith”
“What We Have Seen and Heard” reflected movingly on the gift of reconciliation, rooted in suffering, liberation and justice, that which the African-American experience can offer to the Church, to the nation and to the world. “Without justice any meaningful reconciliation is impossible. Justice safeguards the rights and delineates the responsibilities for all. A people must safeguard their own cultural identity and their own cultural values. Likewise, they must respect the cultural values of others. For this reason, sincere reconciliation builds upon mutual recognition and mutual respect. On this foundation can be erected an authentic Christian love. The Scripture testifies: ‘But now you who once were far off have become near by the Blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.’ (Ephesians 2, 13-14)
We seek justice then, because we seek reconciliation, and we seek reconciliation because by the blood of Christ we are made one. The desire of reconciliation for us is a most precious gift, because reconciliation is the fruit of liberation. Our contribution to the building up of the Church is America and in the world is to be an agent of change for both.” Toward the end of her life Sister Thea echoed the words of her brother bishops. “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work, when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
Earlier this year, Pope Francis published the Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, “Guadete et Exultate,” translated, Rejoice and Be Glad, our Lord’s own words from the Beatitudes. It illuminates the Holy Father’s previous exhortations on the Joy of the Gospel, and the Joy of Love.
Sister Thea would have called for an “Amen” or two over these exhortations. “What We Have Seen and Heard” eloquently presented the gift of joy as essential for understanding African-American spirituality, and Sister Thea magnanimously lived it. “Joy is first of all celebration. Celebration is movement and song, rhythm and feeling, color and sensation, exultation and thanksgiving. We celebrate the presence and the proclamation of the Word made Flesh. Joy is a sign of our faith and especially our hope. It is never an escape from reality.” Forever a joyful missionary disciple Sister Thea exhorts us. “Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, go! There is a song that will never be sung unless you sing it. There is a story that will never be told unless you tell it. There is a joy that will never be shared unless you bear it. Go tell the world. Go preach the Gospel. Go teach the Good News. God is. God is love. God is with us. God is in our lives.”

Moving forward through listening, addressing concerns

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
A few weeks ago, I participated in four listening/dialogue sessions around the Diocese of Jackson in response to the current crisis in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal. These sessions occurred over four consecutive days, October 4-7, in Tupelo, Cleveland, Madison and Natchez with a combined total of nearly 200 concerned Catholic parishioners in attendance. Sister Dorothy Heiderscheit, who served in the Diocese of Jackson on two different occasions spanning three decades, facilitated the four sessions. She is now the Director of the Southdown Institute outside of Toronto, Canada. All in attendance were given the opportunity to respond to the following three questions.
1. What feelings, emotions, concerns surface for you at this time?
2. How do you sustain yourself as a faith filled person during this time?
3. What will help you continue to move forward?
Following the model of the 17 Envisioning Listening Sessions from two and a half years ago all participants were able to reflect quietly at table, engage in conversation, and then share the fruit of their table discussions with all in attendance. I believe that the participants, although not as numerous as the 1,100 who attended the Envisioning Listening Sessions, well represented the Diocese of Jackson as a whole. The questions gave everyone the opportunity to air in a heartfelt and respectful way the depth of their emotions, share their faith, their love for the Church, and to ask pointed questions about our diocesan structures, our polices and protocols, our support and compassion for victims of sexual abuse, our response to allegations of abuse today, our relationship with civil authorities, the voice of women and their consequential roles at all levels of diocesan life, the authentic independence of our diocesan lay boards and of those who investigate allegations, the selection of candidates for the seminary, as well as seminary formation, transparency and accountability, the current state of safe environments in our parishes, schools and ministries, and how the bishops will respond at their November meeting in Baltimore, especially regarding transparent protocols for their own accountability.
The sessions lasted between one-and-a-half and two hours, and Sister Dorothy observed, “many in attendance expressed their gratitude for having an opportunity to share concerns and frustrations and ideas with the bishop, and to have their questions answered with honesty and openness.”
I shared with the attendees that their emotions and their voices that cry out for repentance, justice and reconciliation from the center of the Catholic Church to the margins, arise from the heart of God. We all have a deep sense that abuse by an ordained cleric far surpasses the sexual abuse of a teacher, coach, trainer, neighbor or an extended family member, etc., In these instances, as brutal as it is, a victim often can find comfort, support and hope in their families. Clergy sexual abuse is more on par with the abuse by a parent because in both instances the safety and security of home, in this case one’s spiritual home, the Church, is destroyed. It’s an outrage because it can shatter one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and his saving love. Indeed, the participants expressed their visceral emotions of anger at the abusers, especially predators, and the mis-management and cover up of some in the hierarchy. Other feelings were shame, profound sorrow, confusion and uncertainty about the future of the Church, fear, overwhelming sadness, embarrassment about being Catholic, worry, compassion for the victims and families, and for all faithful clergy.
Many of the participants were midlife and older. There was a shared sentiment that this is a heavy burden for cradle Catholics whose trust in the Church and her leadership has been the foundation for their lives. Why a preponderance of attendees from the second half of life? On the one hand, many young people are not stakeholders in the Church and this is not a priority. Another observed, on a positive note, that younger families who are involved in the Church have experienced first-hand since 2002 that our ministries and programs maintain a high level of safety for their children and young people, fostering confidence in the Church’s commitment to protect within safe environments. It was reinforced for me during these four sessions that it is not inconsequential to discuss appropriately the Church’s efforts since 2002, not in a smug or matter-of-fact way, but in the context of transparency and accountability. Older Catholic who have not directly experienced safe environment protocols in recent decades were appreciative to know the positive effects of our safe environment standards, the active relationship with the District Attorney in each county, the independent and timely manner of investigating and processing allegations when they come to light, and most of all, our outreach and active concern for all victims of sexual abuse in the Church.
The deeper levels of repentance, conversion, healing and hope are always a work in progress and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord Jesus is speaking at this time through many prophets in the Church and society, most of whom are not ordained. Because the Church is a 2,000-year-old world-wide organization, change can be painfully slow. Paradoxically, because the Church is a world-wide body, at times change can happen at an accelerated pace. What evidence is there for this? In the 16-and-a-half years since the Dallas Charter our commitment to effective protocols for safe environments have transformed the landscape and culture of the Catholic Church in the United States. The entire Body of Christ, laity and ordained, has been turning the wheel of transparency and accountability since 2002.
It occurred to me last Sunday at Southaven Christ the King during the celebration of Confirmation that the vast majority of the 74 Confimandi who celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit were born in 2002 or later. They have known the blessings of effective safe environment standards in the Church’s ministries and programs. I share this reflection as an example of what can happen when laity and ordained work together for the good of the entire Body of Christ, the Church, especially on behalf of our children and young people. I have hope and confidence, not naively, that wherever the rot of clericalism, and the resistance to conversion festers in the Church, the light of Jesus Christ will shine in this darkness, transforming the Body of Christ. All who love the Lord Jesus and the Church are called to pray and work together to this end.

Abused cry out to heaven for justice

+Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

+Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Throughout the Catholic Church in the United States many are agonizing over the revelations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s crimes against minors, flagrant abuse of power, and unrestrained sexual behavior with seminarians and others. Hurt, anger and shame are casting a widespread pall over the faithful as old wounds are ripped open. There are many unanswered questions but as ugly as the truth will be, the truth will set the victims and their families, and the Church on the path to healing, justice and new life.
The disclosure of the sinful behavior of a high-ranking prelate in the Church does not undermine all the good work that the Catholic Church has done to protect children and young people since 2002, but it is an awful setback in the efforts to restore trust. The vast majority of Catholic dioceses in the United States have worked hard during the past 16 years to be faithful to the Promise to Protect and the Pledge to Heal, the document we know as the Dallas Charter. The fostering of safe environments in our ministries is now the norm, and the steadfast support for victims of sexual abuse who struggle for healing and hope in their lives, has been an unflagging commitment.
The results are commendable because Church safe environment programs and protocols have reduced significantly the abuse of minors by Church personnel. However, we also know that it takes 20 to 30 years on average for a victim to muster the resolve to come forward with their tragic story. This was the case with Cardinal McCarrick’s victims. Many never reveal their woundedness because it is just too painful to do so.
This is the reason why we repeatedly disseminate the statement that encourages all victims of sexual abuse by Church personnel to come forward no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Suffering has no statute of limitations. Sexual abuse is an evil and a crime that wreaks havoc, destruction and despair, and the enemy, the Evil One, loves it, because it is shrouded in darkness, lies and shame. It unleashes the power of hell upon victims and their families and it often spreads from one generation to the next unless the cycle is broken by the light of truth, healing and reconciliation.
Earlier in my priesthood, I had the opportunity to teach Human Development during a 15-year span to early adolescents in three of our elementary schools in the Diocese of Scranton. The gift of sexuality is flowering at this age and to know that there are those in the Church who would prey upon these young teens, and upon minors at each stage of their development, is an unconscionable assault against human dignity. In the Diocese of Jackson we are committed to foster safe environments in our Catholic Schools, in our Religious Education Programs and in our Youth Ministries so that the children and young people entrusted to us can reach their God-given potential in every aspect of their lives.
Moreover, I served as a Formation Director for 14 years at our College Seminary in Scranton, Pennsylvania and to hear of the exploitation of young men who are discerning a vocation by those in authority who should be nurturing them, also cries out to heaven for justice. Transparency and the cultivation of a culture of trust, respect and accountability are the standards at the seminaries where our Jackson seminarians are in formation: Saint Ben’s (St. Joseph Seminary College) in Covington, Louisiana, Notre Dame in New Orleans, and Sacred Heart in Hales Corner, Wisconsin.
For the past two years as a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have been serving on The Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. This places me at the center of the Church’s ongoing resolve to protect and to heal as set forth in the Dallas Charter, and to apply these efforts and best practices to our own network of safe environments in our Diocese. The Charter directs action in all the following matters:
• Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
• Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
• Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
• Cooperating with civil authorities;
• Disciplining offenders;
• Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.
May the Lord Jesus who welcomed the children and embraced them in his love, bring about the truth that will set us free, the justice that will restore right relationships with God and with one another, and the healing and reconciliation that are the standards of all Christian communities, his Body, the Church.