Author Archives | Joe Towalski

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

New words at Mass: How did it go at your parish?

November 27, 2011


A woman reads the new words for Mass prayers from a pew card Nov. 26. (Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit)

With the implementation of the new Roman Missal this weekend at parishes across the United States, I was curious how worshippers at my parish’s Saturday evening Mass would adapt to the changes to the words of many prayers.

While no one seemed too flustered, autopilot did kick in for many people, including a gentleman sitting behind me who was having trouble remembering that the response “And also with you” — previously spoken five times during the Mass — had now changed to “And with your spirit.” He ended up being one for five.

My parish, like most others, provided worshippers with pew cards highlighting the changes, and the priest who presided at Mass briefly held up a card each time a new response was coming up.

For the longer prayers, people took the cues and read accurately from the cards, although they noticeably stumbled over still-unfamiliar words like “consubstantial” and “incarnate.” When it came to the quick, brief response, “And with your spirit,” however, people forgot to glance at their cards and there was a noticeable mix of old and new responses. To his credit, our priest didn’t seem to stumble over any of the newly worded prayers he was responsible for speaking.

My parish offered a great deal of catechesis about the changes in bulletin inserts over the last several months. So did The Catholic Spirit, through a six-month series on the changes and a special edition focused on the new Roman Missal (see

Still, change is never easy, and no one should expect a perfectly smooth transition to new prayers the first week after 40 years of having different words ingrained in our minds and hearts. People will inevitably acclimate themselves to the new language in the coming weeks and months.

How did the changes go in your parish on this first weekend?

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Venezuelan baseball: Kidnapping sadly an occupational hazard

November 16, 2011


Souvenir from Maracay: An Aragua Tigers cap

Baseball in Venezuela has been getting a lot of media attention lately, but the news hasn’t been good. Earlier this month, Washington Nationals catcher and former Twins player Wilson Ramos was kidnapped at gunpoint outside his family’s home in the city of Valencia and held for ransom. Security forces rescued him unharmed two days later from a remote mountain hideout.

Father Greg Schaffer, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who serves at the archdiocesan mission in the Venezuelan Diocese of Ciudad Guayana, says kidnappings happen throughout the country, although those involving the families of Major Leaguers get the most press coverage.

The Ramos incident was a bit unusual because more often it’s the family members of ballplayers who are targeted for kidnapping, with the players expected to dip into their deeper pockets to pay the ransom.

According to Father Schaffer:

“Many of the baseball players who play in the United States in the major and minor leagues are from working class families or from families struggling to makes ends meet. When these players return home to visit family during the offseason they stay with their families — many of which live in neighborhoods affected by violence and delinquency. Consequently, the ballplayers and their families become targets. Last year, Luis Rivas, who used to play second base for the Minnesota Twins, was in Venezuela during the offseason visiting family, and he was shot in the leg as guys stole his car.

“Most of the well-known baseball players have bodyguards for themselves and their families. When I baptized the son of [former Twins pitcher] Johan Santana a couple of years ago in his hometown of Tovar, which is a small town in the western part of the country in the mountains, I saw he had six bodyguards at that time that rotated to protect him and his family. I asked one of the bodyguards what was the hardest part of his job and he said protecting Johan’s father, Jesus.”

Before Santana signed a Major League contract, Father Schaffer said, the pitcher’s father loved visiting with people as he traveled around town selling bread for his in-laws. Today, when Jesus returns for visits, he still enjoys visiting with townspeople. But now, because of his son’s fame and fortune, Jesus’ outgoing personality creates a security challenge.

Pumped up fans

Many other ballplayers and their families face similar challenges, and it’s hard to imagine the stress this causes. Currently, 164 Major Leaguers hail from Venezuela, according to the Baseball Almanac, including Minnesota Twins pitchers Lester Oliveros (Maracay) and Jose Mijares (Caracas).

It’s a sad situation for a country that loves baseball — a love I was able to experience firsthand several years ago.

Back in January 2005, my wife and I traveled to the city of Maracay for the priesthood ordination of one of our Venezuelan friends. The Diocese of Maracay, located in the state of Aragua in the north-central part of the country, has been in a partnership since the mid-1960s with the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., where I used to live.

When we visited, Maracay’s residents were buzzing with excitement about their hometown team — the “Tigres de Aragua” or Aragua Tigers (the same team that Wilson Ramos had returned to play for). The Tigers were competing with a team from Caracas in Venezuela’s version of the World Series.

Hours before the start of the series’ deciding game, Tigers fans had already filled the streets, creating a tailgate party of sorts that lasted all the way until game time. That night, my wife and I settled into our room to watch the game on TV — which we did, until the power went out in the stadium and the surrounding area.

We waited for hours along with fans across the city for the power to return before we eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of people yelling and horns blowing. I half-joked that Venezuela must be undergoing another coup attempt. I say half-joked because a former bishop of St. Cloud — now Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa — was visiting Maracay in the early-1990s when rebels did, indeed, attempt a coup.

In our case, it was the neighborhood celebrating a Tigers victory that came late in the night after the power finally returned.

“Venezuelans love baseball,” Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez, a native of Caracas, told kids a few years ago when he announced a new scholarship to help young people from southwest Detroit go to college. Many other Venezuelan players have also given much back to their communities — both their home communities in Venezuela and their new homes in the U.S.

Venezuelans do indeed love baseball, and it’s a tragedy that the players and their families increasingly face threats to their safety. Let’s pray that the successful rescue of Ramos sends a message that will discourage other would-be kidnappers and that Venezuelans throughout the country get to enjoy their national pastime in peace.

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Cadavers at St. Kate’s: New lab gets archbishop’s blessing

September 23, 2011


Archbishop John Nienstedt blesses one of two new human anatomy labs in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at St. Catherine University Sept. 19. (Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit)

Archbishop blesses new anatomy lab at St. Catherine University — and yes, Catholics may donate their bodies to science

As far as unique events go in the life of an archbishop, this one might find a place near the top of the list: Blessing a lab where medical students will dissect human remains in the interest of science.

That’s what Archbishop John Nienstedt did this week at the invitation of St. Catherine University, which dedicated two new human anatomy labs in Mendel Hall on the school’s St. Paul campus.

The labs will be used by physical therapy students — who previously had to travel to the University of Minnesota to dissect cadavers — as well as eight other academic programs, including nursing and biology. More than 500 students are expected to participate in classes in the labs this semester.

Studying anatomy using real human bodies offers students an educational experience and research opportunity they can’t get from books and computer models alone.

But is it something the church approves?

Yes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that if a person freely gives proper consent, “donation of organs after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity.”

And the U.S. bishops state in their “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” that “Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death.”

Bodies used for scientific research must be treated with reverence and respect and the remains properly interred afterward. St. Kate’s plans to start each semester with a religious service to give students an opportunity to express thanks for the gift provided by each donor.

The new labs are a place where faith and science meet — something that Archbishop Nienstedt noted at Monday’s blessing:

“In educational circles, one of the big themes today is the relationship between faith and science. So often people think that there is no relationship. What we are doing here today really is the highlight of the complementarity of these two forms of learning, these two forms of living — because it’s our faith that really gives us the profound reverence and respect that we have for each human person as a son or daughter of God. And the science helps us, it leads us to foster [and] promote the discovery of that human body — what makes it tick, what makes it run — and to promote, in the end, therapies for healing and discoveries that will give us new insights into how we can live better. And, so, it’s very appropriate it seems to me that we ask God’s blessings upon this work today because it really is the best of what we’re about, bringing faith and science together.”

Read more about the labs in next week’s issue of The Catholic Spirit.

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The Ten Happiest Jobs: And the winner is?

September 15, 2011


A priest baptizes a boy during the Easter Vigil. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

When I saw a Facebook link to a recent article in Forbes magazine about “The Ten Happiest Jobs,” I checked to see if “editor” made the list. It didn’t. But I also was happy to see that it didn’t make the other list, further down in the same article, of the “ten most hated jobs.” In my book, being the editor of a diocesan newspaper is a great job.

But the winner in the happiest jobs ranking? Clergy.

“The least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all,” the magazine said. Most of the priests and deacons that I know enjoy their “jobs” — really vocations. They love to serve God and his people, particularly at significant points in their lives: baptisms, weddings and funerals, among others.

The list of happiest jobs is mostly devoid of the ones that pay the most or enjoy the highest social status. You’ll find more of those on the “hated” list. Why? In the end, job satisfaction doesn’t hinge on money or prestige. People are fulfilled when they are doing something worthwhile — when they have a job they feel makes a difference in the world.

Where would you rank your job?

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Run of ‘Vito Bonafacci’ extended another week

August 31, 2011


Paul Borghese stars in a scene from the movie "Vito Bonafacci." (CNS photo/Cavu)

The Catholic movie, “Vito Bonafacci,” currently showing at AMC Theatres in Maple Grove, did so well during its Aug. 26 to Sept. 1 run that it is being held over for another week. The story of Vito, a lapsed Roman Catholic in spiritual crisis, will now be showing through Sept. 8.

Showtimes for Sept. 2 through Sept. 8 are daily at 11:30 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 7:20 p.m., 9:45 p.m.

AMC Arbor Lakes 16 is located at 12575 Elm Creek Blvd., in Maple Grove — north of the I-94/I-494/I-694 junction in the Arbor Lakes Mall area.

The Catholic Spirit recently ran a review of the movie and a commentary article featuring an interview with Paul Borghese, the actor who plays the title character.


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Look skyward tonight for the ‘Tears of St. Lawrence’

August 12, 2011


Each August, skywatchers are treated to the Perseid meteor shower — one of the best annual displays of “shooting stars.”

This year the Perseids peak on the night of Aug. 12-13, although the nearly full moon will interfere with your ability to see many meteors — debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle through which the Earth passes. If you’re lucky, this year you might see as many as a few dozen per minute.

The shower gets its name from the location in the sky from which the meteors appear to radiate — in this case, a point near the border between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, although the meteors might flash anywhere across the sky.

The Perseids are also known in some circles as the “Tears of St. Lawrence”  — named after the third-century martyr whose feast day, Aug. 10, typically falls when the meteor shower is most visible.

The easiest way to watch the Perseids is to lie back in a comfortable lounge-style chair with a blanket and snacks. Plan on staying outside for an hour or two for the best viewing experience.

For those in the Twin Cities area and western Wisconsin who would like to learn more about the Perseids and the night sky, the University of Minnesota astronomy department is hosting a free Perseid Meteor Shower Party from 9 to 11 p.m. Aug. 12 at William O’Brien State Park near Marine On St. Croix. The evening will include a short indoor presentation and then telescope viewing of celestial objects in addition to meteor shower watching. For more information, call 651-433-0500.

So pray the skies stay clear and make it a family night under the stars, planets and the Tears of St. Lawrence.

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For sale: Car, lightly used by pope and astronauts

August 4, 2011


Photo courtesy of Bonhams

In the market for a new car?

If so, and you have a lot of money to spend, you might consider buying this limo that was used by Pope Paul VI and some Apollo astronauts.

Bonhams, which describes itself as “one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques,” describes the car — to be auctioned Aug. 19 in Carmel, Calif., this way:

The 1964 Lincoln Continental Limousine was built at the special request of the Vatican to Ford Motor Company to convey Pope Paul VI through New York to address the United Nations on World Peace. It was rushed to completion in a span of less than two weeks from receipt of the request to delivery of the finished parade car to New York on October 5, 1965.

The wheelbase is stretched to a massive 160″ with an overall length of nearly 21 feet. Exterior step plates and handrails for security, additional interior seating for aides and prelates, a raised seat for the Pontiff, extra interior lighting, public address system, auxiliary power from a bank of seven batteries were only a few of the many detail changes.

The most visible attribute is the removable roof section, transparent rear landaulet roof and roof-mounted auxiliary windshield to protect the Pope and his entourage while allowing the thongs of spectators that lined the parade route to see the Pontiff.

After the Papal visit the Lincoln was loaned to the city of Chicago — after removal of the bubble top, Papal chair and associated internal fittings — where it served as a parade car and courtesy vehicle for visiting dignitaries.

In 1968 the Vatican remembered its performance and once again called upon Ford to use it for another Papal visit, this time to Bogotá, Colombia for the 39th Eucharistic Congress.  The task was complicated by Bogotá’s altitude, 8,600 feet above sea level, which required extensive engine modifications, aviation gasoline from the Colombian Air Force and a comprehensive kit of tools and spare parts.

On December 27, 1968 the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned space flight to orbit the moon, splashed down in the Pacific. Its astronauts, mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders were fêted with a tickertape parade through Chicago. They rode in this Lehmann-Peterson Lincoln Continental, as would the Apollo 11 (Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin), 13 (Lovell, Mattingly, Haise) and 15 (Scott, Worden, Irwin) astronauts as well.

It has been carefully maintained in completely original and well preserved condition as it was taken out of public service in the early 70’s.

The 1964 Lincoln Continental Parade Limousine has a marvelous history intricately entwined with some of the most memorable events of the Sixties and early Seventies, the Apollo space program and Pope Paul VI’s outreach to world leaders and citizens with his message of peace and understanding.

Its equipment includes the auxiliary power, climate control systems and dual rear-facing auxiliary seats added for the Bogotá, Colombia Papal excursion. It has enjoyed both special care and attention during its period as a Ford Motor Company special use vehicle and subsequently in collections that have appreciated and honored its special status and the important personages who have been favored to ride in it.

Its 21-foot long presence is imposing, as it should be for its history and importance, a reflection of the gravity of the accomplishments of its passengers.

So, who do you think should buy this? And, how much do you think it will go for?

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2010 abortion report: Good news and bad news

July 27, 2011


Yesterday’s release of the 2010 abortion report by the Minnesota Department of Health contained both good news and bad news.

First, the good news:

From 2009 to 2010, there was a 7.1 percent drop in the number of abortions performed in our state, from 12,388 to 11,505 — the biggest one-year decline since 1993, according to Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The 2010 number is the lowest yearly number of abortions since 1975 and the lowest rate of abortion — 10.1 per 1,000 females ages 15-44 — ever reported.

Furthermore, abortions performed on minors fell 16.8 percent to 482, the lowest number since 1975, when statistics for minors were begun, according to MCCL. Minor abortions peaked in 1980 at 2,327 and have been pretty much in steady decline since then.

What accounts for this decline? Regarding abortions performed on minors, MCCL credits Minnesota’s 1981 parental notification law, which requires that both parents be notified at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed on their child (although the law includes a judicial bypass option).

More broadly, MCCL credits the state’s Woman’s Right to Know law, signed in 2003, which provides mothers with medically accurate information about fetal development, abortion procedures and alternatives to abortion. MCCL also points to the 2005 Positive Alternatives law that provides resources and support to pregnant women in need.

In addition to such laws, education is also crucial, and MCCL as well as other groups — including local parishes — remain important sources of information and support for building the culture of life.

So what’s the bad news regarding the 2010 report?

Planned Parenthood performed more abortions than ever in 2010, even in light of the 7 percent decrease. PP now performs 35 percent of all abortions in the state — its highest percentage ever, according to MCCL.

Fischbach noted in a press release:

“Planned Parenthood officials need to stop claiming they want to reduce abortions in Minnesota, because the statistics don’t lie. With its massive new abortion clinic under construction in St. Paul, which will be the nation’s third largest, Planned Parenthood is poised to further expand its already bloated business of killing the unborn in record numbers.”

Also, chemical abortions rose to 20.7 percent of all abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions climbed to 33.8 percent of all abortions — the highest number since the state Supreme Court cleared the way for such funding in 1995. Complications as the result of an abortion — such as a perforated uterus or incomplete abortion — rose from 88 in 2009 to 164 in 2010.

Despite some of the good news, it’s obvious there is plenty of work that still needs to be done by the pro-life community to change hearts and minds on the issue of abortion.

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What’s causing the drought in East Africa?

July 26, 2011


A woman holds her baby outside a tent serving as a medical clinic established by the African Union peacekeeping operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 16. (CNS photo/Stuart Price U.N. handout photo via Reuters)

The drought in East Africa is reportedly the region’s worst in six decades, and it threatens the lives of millions of people with food shortages. Thousands are fleeing Somalia to seek food in Kenya and Ethiopia, according to Catholic Relief Services, which is responding to the disaster.

But what is causing this severe drought and the looming threat of famine?

Rains that normally fall from October to December in parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia failed to arrive last year. This year, spring rains were less than adequate, according to CRS, and many areas have now missed two growing seasons. Consequently, food prices are rising beyond affordability.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California in Santa Barbara believe that the trend of decreasing precipitation will continue and that it’s linked to global warming.

According to a press release earlier this year from the USGS:

“As the globe has warmed over the last century, the Indian Ocean has warmed especially fast. The resulting warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian Ocean produce more frequent rainfall in that region. The air then rises, loses its moisture during rainfall, and then flows westward and descends over Africa, causing drought conditions in Ethiopia and Kenya.”

These scientists concluded, after examining the region’s weather and climate data, that most of that warming is the result of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions from human activities.

The situation in East Africa is one example of how climate change is negatively impacting world populations. And it is the world’s poor who are paying the heaviest price.

The long-term solution is to work to reduce greenhouse emissions. But, right now, what’s most needed is a generous response to the needs of those immediately affected by the drought and food shortages. You can help by making a contribution to CRS to help its efforts in East Africa.

And prayers are always needed for the hungry, for those working to assist them and for the future, which remains uncertain.

According to CRS:

“What will happen next is weather dependent. If the fall rains appear on schedule, they will be a great help, although we still must ensure that farmers have seeds to plant, because the crop failure has left many without seeds. If the rains do not appear or are deficient, then the food crisis will worsen considerably as hunger becomes more acute and displacement more widespread. If the rains are too strong, falling on the parched ground, they could wash away crops and lead to flooding.”

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Flood relief volunteers needed

July 25, 2011


Volunteers worked last month to repair a levee that was protecting the Church of St. Therese, the Little Flower, in Minot, N.D., as floodwater from the Souris River spilled over levees and dikes. The river peaked at slightly more than 1,561 feet above sea level, 4 feet above the record level it reached in 1881. (CNS photo/Allen Fredrickson, Reuters)

Catholic United Response is seeking volunteers for flood relief efforts in Minot, N.D., starting July 29. Those interested can register on the official Minot city volunteers website and should indicate they will be working with Catholic United Financial.

Catholic United Response is a disaster relief effort of the Catholic United Financial Foundation in St. Paul. The organization helped with relief efforts in North Minneapolis following the tornado that struck there May 22.

Thousands of Minot homes were destroyed or damaged last month when the Souris River flooded. Executive director Paul Naumann sent out this notice late last week:

“The most recent communication we received from the coordinators at Lutheran Disaster Response says they are working with the Minot city emergency manager to establish a process for assisting homeowners with clean up. If you intend to go to Minot, please register at their online site and indicate you want to work with Catholic United Response.

“If you are planning to go, please send me an email with your contact information so I can let you know where we will be. In most circumstances you will be directed to a central site in Minot. From there you will be assigned a volunteer job and site location. We probably will be at the central site every morning for our assignments so we will be easy to find.

“My plan is to send an email to those who are planning to volunteer notifying you how to reach me in Minot. We are planning to deploy next Wednesday, July 27 to Minot and spend a minimum of two weeks and then reassess how much additional time is needed. We have rented a travel trailer that will accommodate up to 6-7 people for sleeping if necessary. (Alternative housing for volunteers will likely be provided.)

“My best estimate of when we will be ready for action would be Friday the 29th or Saturday the 30th at the earliest. It will take a couple of days for us to get coordinated with the emergency managers and get a list of sites to start working on. If we get started earlier, it will be with local volunteers. I have spoken with Father Fred Harvey at the Little Flower Parish in Minot and he said many people are still without power and/or water at this time. There is plenty of work to be done, but prayers as we all know are most powerful.

“Please keep those who suffered losses and those who are working and volunteering in your prayers.”

Updates can be found on the Catholic United Response website:, or sign up to receive regular updates through email about deployments.


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