The Missionaries of Maryknoll Continue To Move Forward

By , July 31, 2013 5:07 am

The other day I mentioned that changes in the missionary thrust of the Catholic Church in the United States had gone through major changes over the last two or three decades. In the past, most missionaries were either priests or nuns trained, sent and supported by religious communities back home. Changes in the Church and the world over the last fifty years have caused the number of missionaries to decline dramatically. The mission of the Church must go forward and to face that one of the dramatic changes that we have seen is the number of lay people who are coming forward to be willing to go overseas to serve for different periods. Some are for a year or two. Some for decades and others for as long as their health permitted. It is a beautiful story of generosity!

While the idea of going to South America or Africa is frightening for many people, others find that assisting needy people is a source of great joy and satisfaction. American skills and know-how can make tremendous differences in remote and undeveloped parts of these continents. Volunteers improve health care, education, leadership training, they teach economic development, they work for justice and peace and they give marvelous amounts of pastoral care. Those who make the decision to do this report to being extremely blessed.
Maryknoll Lay Missioners want to take the nervousness and fright out of the idea and they developed a faith and service experience for anyone who is willing to give it a try. There are eight mission awareness trips being planned and anyone interested in getting a brief experience of missionary life can contact Cecilia Espinosa, manager of the program Friends Across the Borders at P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, New York 10545, (914) 762-6364 X207. These trips are usually for eight to ten days.
My own life was dramatically changed when I began to visit Maryknoll Missioners in Guatemala in the 1960’s. Try it – you will like it!

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Change Is Coming But Ever So Slowly

By , July 30, 2013 4:09 am

Father Helmut Schuller

Over the centuries, the Church has faced every imaginable type of opposition, conflict, division, controversy and pain. Led by the Holy Spirit, it limps on and on and on.
Today, early in the third millennium, the Church is facing new problems and does not yet know exactly how to handle them. One of the problems that the Church has had for centuries is an inordinate commitment to the idea of secrecy. Church leaders have frequently felt that when scandals occur they must be covered up because the lay people would be shocked and their faith would be damaged. Well, there have been scandals enough for the last thirty years and the great majority of the people strongly, faithfully adhere to their beliefs in Jesus Christ. Sexual abuse of the clergy, Cardinals in conflict in the Vatican, cooperation with dictatorial regimes, Vatican bank scandals, etc., etc. People are well equipped to handle scandal which we bishops have provided in abundance yet Church leaders still don’t understand that the “cover-up” is almost always worse than the original sin or crime.
Another problem the Church leaders have is that they can’t stand the idea of public discussion of problems. They simply can’t stand it. There is no effective vehicle for dialogue on serious controversial subjects. The shortage of priests threatens the very heart of the Church’s life. The right of the faithful to receive the Eucharist is denied all over South America but the possibility of a married clergy cannot even be discussed. Relations between clergy and bishops are tense over many parts of the world. Some priests want to discuss it. Currently, Church authorities are trying to block such discussion.
An Austrian priest, Father Helmut Schuller, once the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vienna, has organized hundreds of priests in his country to endeavor to confront issues that they see as truly damaging to the cause of Jesus of Nazareth. Hundreds of priests have joined him in this and he has been invited to other parts of the world to discuss the various issues.
Father Schuller has undertaken a speaking tour in the United States. One of his first speeches was to be in Boston but the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston forbid any parish or Catholic facility to allow Father Schuller to speak. He was also scheduled to speak at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. The Archdiocese objected but Chestnut Hill College, a Catholic institution of 2,500 students, allowed the presentation to move forward stating that Father Schuller was welcome to the campus “as part of the college’s continuing mission to encourage dialogue on issues of importance to society.”
Onward through the fog.

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The Missionaries of Maryknoll Continue To Move Forward

By , July 29, 2013 5:07 am

When I was a kid in the 1930’s and 1940’s Maryknoll was but one of many missionary organizations. However, for us, it was the best one known. It was classically American. It was founded by diocesan priests from Boston early in the 20th century. The first mission field chosen was China. As kids that made the pictures that the Maryknollers sent home seem very exotic and romantic. China was then as it always has been a mysterious country and the Maryknollers made great strides. They had two separate organizations – the Maryknoll Priests and the Maryknoll Sisters. They grew rather rapidly and continued to do so until the years following the Second Vatican Council.
When I was in high school, two of my classmates became Maryknoll missioners and one of them would be martyred in Guatemala and the other would become one of Maryknoll’s most important leaders. When my classmates were ordained there were 59 other priests in the class. Can you imagine that!
Regretfully, the Church in the United States has not stressed the importance of missionary activity. Over the last 40 years, the number of ordinations has dropped down to a trickle.
However, Maryknoll has not lost the fact that the Church is essentially missionary and over the last few decades that missionary thrust has taken a different stride. As the number of religious vocations declined and the availability of priests and nuns were ever more scarce, a number of lay people began to step forward and commit themselves to carrying Jesus’ message of salvation around the world. Through the years, hundreds have come forward and others are planning to join them. Marknoll Lay Missioners are serving on three continents – South America, Africa and Asia. Although the lay missioners work very closely with their Maryknoll counterparts of priests and nuns, they are a distinct organization with their own leadership and responsibility for their own expenses. Needless to say, it is a real challenge. While the members are essentially volunteers, there is an expensive period of preparation, transportation and maintenance in their field. If you can’t go to Africa, then why not send a few dollars to help somebody else get there?
The National Director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners is Mr. Sam Stanton at P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, New York 10545, (914) 762-6344.
Tomorrow I will tell you about an exciting new program Sam is developing for people who are interested at least in increasing their mission awareness can take trips to interesting places like El Salvador, Tanzania, Cambodia, Brazil, Kenya and Bolivia. Oh, to be young again!

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A Scriptural Collage

By , July 27, 2013 5:10 am

July 28th, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is hard to count all the good outcomes flowing from the Second Vatican Council but as the Council recedes into our past and our memories fade, many of us tend to be less clearly aware of those gifts. If you are 70 or 80 years old, you remember that when we came to Sunday Mass there were only two Scriptural readings, one of which was always from the Gospel. Those readings would be repeated every year so people who would come to Mass every Sunday and listen attentively would be exposed to a very small smattering of God’s word. What a tragedy. What a lost opportunity! With the Council, we moved to three separate readings and they are on a three year cycle. This is a much improved situation but only a start in the right direction.
Not only is much more of Sacred Scripture presented to the faithful on Sunday, but their arrangement reflects an enormous amount of work by the editors who put together what we call the Lectionary, the book of readings of the Roman Catholic Church. They did a good job!
Today is a marvelous example of these readings flowing into each other and forming a collage of grace and inspiration. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, there is an absolutely delightful story about the power of prayer and how we ought to approach our Heavenly Father. The answer is simple. Pound on the door!
The text describes a scene where Abraham, because of his persistence and ultimate confidence in the goodness of Yahweh, would generously try to save the sinful city of Sodom. Abraham negotiates and you know the rest of the story. Despite the effectiveness of Abraham, it is not a successful ending because 10 good people were not to be found in that sinful city.
The Gospel strengthens today’s theme with the teachings of Christ where our Divine Lord provides us with the essence of the prayer that we all know as the “Our Father.” Jesus stresses that we should be confident in our prayers because we need to know how much God loves us. Frail human beings will try very hard to provide for our children. Don’t you think that an infinite loving God would as well?
As is almost always the case, the second reading brings concrete application of the other two excerpts which reflect the importance and the power of prayer.
“God gave you new life in company with Christ!
He pardoned all of our sins. He canceled a bond that stood against us with all of its claim, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross.”
In my opinion, that is one of the most encouraging sentences in the bible and it is a joy to read it.
Onward through the fog but with ever-deeper faith.

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A Horribly Painful Memorial

By , July 26, 2013 5:44 am

Weeks ago I mentioned that I was very startled about the number of anniversaries that seem to be passing by at this period in my life. Among two that come immediately to mind are the Second Vatican Council and the Battle of Gettysburg. I have a very clear memory of the Vatican Council (1962-1965) but regardless of comments from some of the younger priests, I was not around at Gettysburg. At any rate, being older does make it possible to have many more memories – some of them wonderful, some of them stark. Today I would like to mention one that is hard to remember without pain or even harder to even imagine it happening. I am referring to the terrible genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 during a terrible conflict in which more than three-quarters of a million Tutsi tribes people were murdered by their Hutu countrymen.
The ultimate cause of this horrible tragedy was the careless way in which Winston Churchill and his co-workers drew up boundaries for new countries following World War I. These imaginary boundaries formed Rwanda, a new country from what had previously been German and Belgium colonies. Although the colonizing European nations were oppressive, they did succeed in bringing Christianity to the area and most of the inhabitants of Rwanda were Christian and most of them were Roman Catholic, thus making the tragedy all the more painful. In giving boundaries to Rwanda, they joined in one country two large tribes that had always been at war and hated each other. That hatred would explode towards the end of the 20th century with the destruction of so many human lives.
During the short period in which the horrors went on, Catholic churches were natural gathering centers. Some of them became centers where people could be protected by the clergy. Others were centers where killing was of the most ferocious and destructive. Three Catholic Bishops were counted among those who were killed. Many priests were extraordinarily heroic leaders. It cannot be forgotten, however, that at least two priests were leaders in the killing! We know their names but I wouldn’t honor them by listing them here. I would like to mention, however, the Reverend Celestin Hakizimana, who saved thousands at St. Paul’s Church in Kagali. There were many others like him.
Rwanda has just entered into a year of remembrance known as Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Let us pray that Rwanda’s agonizing memory of tragedy will motivate the people to center their faith on the loving Christ and rise above the feuds and hatreds of the past.

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The Catholic Campaign for Human Development – Under Attack Again!

By , July 25, 2013 5:05 am

I don’t know as to whether or not it is the case that they never seem to stop or because their attacks go on for so long it looks like there is no interval. I am, of course, referring to the right-wing Catholics bitter opposition to one of the best things that the American bishops have ever done together and that is that they established and have operated for more than 40 years the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
The 1960’s were very difficult years for the United States. The Vietnamese War was raging, the central part of many American cities were facing riots and burnings. All of this was due to the fact that that the impoverished cities of the core cities, mostly black but also some Hispanics, had no way to get the attention of the American nation that they were suffering and suffering terribly. When flames ripped up the heart of Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Chicago and other cities began to become more clearly aware that the central cities were suffering and that something had to be done. Many Protestant churches and other concerned organizations came forward with programs and projects to help the poor of our urban centers. The Roman Catholic response was slow but finally it came.
As urban riots continued for several summers, the bishops at last chose to set up a permanent national effort to use the resources of the Church in cooperation with other groups struggling for a more just society to develop programs in the inner-cities that would assist the poor and the marginalized to lift themselves out of poverty.
But regretfully, the problems were so intractable that many of the other well-meaning entities soon dropped out of the picture and their programs were shut down. However, the American Bishops continued with determination to do the best they could to make a difference in the lives of the poverty stricken and discouraged citizens in those awful neighborhoods. It is 40 years later and the bishops are still there…still trying to make a difference!
During its lifetime, the Campaign (CCHD) has raised tens of millions of dollars and has done its very best, and effectively in my opinion, to place those dollars in the hands of people to develop self-help programs to help lift themselves out of poverty. Far right critics, who are not famous for doing effective work in the slums, examine every program funded, study the names and membership of all boards and related boards, and when they find a gnat on the scene they jump upon it with great enthusiasm and once again chant, “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is an evil force that should not be continued.” But the bishops plow on!
God bless Pope Francis, now happily reigning. He speaks every day and one of his principal themes is his concern for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. The pope calls the Church to “work at the periphery and at the margins, especially for the poor.” He says that a church that does not do so is “sick.” Pope Francis has even said that it is better to go the margins and make mistakes than to become self absorbed. Well, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development certainly works on the margins and is willing to take risks as it encourages people’s upward struggles.
We have a pope, thanks be to God, who understands where the Church should be. May God continue to bless the bishops for their long-term commitment to the goals that Pope Francis has placed before us.

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The Lord’s Prayer

By , July 24, 2013 5:10 am

Is it not amazing that we are here 2,000 years after Jesus walked among us and we have a prayer that most likely he himself taught to his apostles. I am referring to the Lord’s Prayer which we popularly call the “Our Father”. All of us are familiar with it but the fact is that along with the angelic salutation (The Hail Mary, for your information!), we seem to say it so often that we don’t really take the time to think about it. It seems obvious to the people of faith that each of us should want to pray using the words that come from our Lord himself and to offer that prayer as thoughtfully as possible.

It is a great prayer. First, we worship him. “Hallowed be thy name.” Then we express hope about our future. “Your Kingdom come.”(We all want to get there, don’t we?) Help us as we struggle with life today. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We recognize our weaknesses. “Forgive us our sins.” We assert that we are willing to forgive those around us, sometimes a more difficult part of the program. “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then please help us as we struggle forward. Don’t let our problems be too heavy. Now there is a prayer that covers virtually every important aspect of our spiritual journey.

All prayers are heard but not everything that we pray for is in our best interests. Trust God to know the difference. We need to pray but always with humility, patience, trust and confidence.

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How Long Has It Been Since You Were Baptized?

By , July 23, 2013 4:22 am

Has it been 21 years? Fifty-eight years? Three months ago?

Whenever that awesome event occurred, each of us needs to try to think about it from time to time. Our faith tells us, and we need to remind ourselves, that at the time of our baptism each one of us entered into a new relationship with the Triune God and with all the other believers who share baptism with us.

Baptism is the great equalizer. Pope Francis was baptized and became a brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Your great-grandfather was baptized and lived his life walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. You and I were baptized and by that fact are joined to each other through our faith and through our shared brotherhood with Jesus of Nazareth.

Baptism presents us with a challenge of taking our redemption seriously, to be conscious of the fact that what happened on Calvary nearly 2,000 years ago is still taking affect, is still calling us to be conscious of who we are, what we are, where we are going and how to get there.

If we were baptized as infants, our sponsors answered for us but when we returned at Confirmation the questions were presented to us again and if we responded sincerely, we are still bound by the faith-filled obligation of walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

How are you doing?

How am I doing?

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Tension Back Home

By , July 22, 2013 4:21 am

Recently, the leaders of the Brazilian Bishops Conference announced their support for massive demonstrations that have been sweeping their nation of late. Protests are occurring all across the country, organized originally by student groups in protest to 10 percent increase in public transportation fares, has expanded to a long list of grievances. The Bishops Conference “declares its solidarity and support for these demonstrations as long as they are peaceful. These demonstrations show that it is not possible to live in a country with such inequalities.”

I may be reading too much into it but it is hard for me to imagine that the Bishops Conference in Brazil would not be in some communication with the Holy See in this difficult situation. Therefore, I think it is a safe guess that Pope Francis is aware of this since he himself was the President of the Bishops Conference of Argentina.

On a related issue and in the same week, our new pope met with leaders of the indigenous population in Argentina. “The indigenous leaders expressed great appreciation to Pope Francis who understands the difficulties faced by the indigenous peoples of Argentina and all of Latin America, as well as his concerns for the protection of their rights, especially in regard to their territory and cultural identity.”

May God bless Pope Francis. He is certainly living up to his name.

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Did Mary Take The Shortcut?

By , July 20, 2013 5:09 am

July 21, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have to admit that every time I read St. Luke’s Gospel and the story of Mary and Martha comes up I feel a little uncomfortable. We all know the story. We’ve heard it hundreds of times. Time and again, Mary is placed before us as a model of our relationship with our Lord. I understand that. He should be the center of our thoughts and plans. We should be constantly looking at the messages that we receive, centuries old messages that still have powerful validity today. I know all that but somebody has to do the work!

For me, the best way to handle feeling that uncomfortable is that I should try to use the principle of proportionality. Baking bread is important and has to be done at the right time but listening to the voice of Jesus of Nazareth should be paramount in our lives. Even as I write this, I am aware of the fact that I have not been paying attention to my own advice. Each of us should do some spiritual reading every day just to give our brain a proper orientation to religious values, but after all, it is time for the evening news!

If we do center our thoughts and minds on Jesus in a disciplined way, everything else will fall into place. Don’t worry Martha. We are all really with you but I think it is time to go sit beside Mary and listen!

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