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Novena for a Rebirth of Chastity and Purity July 18-26

July 16, 2018

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Join the Marriage, Family and Life Office in praying a novena for chastity and purity in the world. We will begin this novena on Tuesday, July 18 in preparation for the USCCB’s NFP Awareness Week and complete the novena on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne.

The prayers for the day on each day of the novena will be posted here daily at CatholicHotdish.com and the complete novena may be found at archspm.org on the event’s page.

Mary, our Mother, perfect model of purity and chastity, pray for us.

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For the Love of the Game: Where Fraternity and Faith Meet

May 17, 2018

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Eddie Rosario

Fr. Ubel with Puerto Rico native and Twins Left Fiedler, Eddie Rosario

By Father John Ubel

Like all grade school students of my era, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Of course I assumed then that he touched foot on what is now American soil. I would later learn that Leif Erickson and Viking explorers were likely the first Europeans to set foot in North America proper, landing on the northern tip of Newfoundland around the year 1000 A.D. But Columbus did anchor near San Juan, Puerto Rico for two days in November 1493 A.D. on his second voyage, and when I gazed upon the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon, known as the discoverer of Florida, in the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, suddenly the travails of the early explorers felt real. By appointment of the Spanish Crown, he was its first Governor in 1508-09.

Traversing the streets of old San Juan is reminiscent of many old European cities, with El Morro, the massive six-story 16th century fortress dominating the old city. The morning of our Cathedral visit coincided with the arrival of a giant cruise ship in port. The narrow streets were packed by 9:00 a.m. Our “tour guide” from the parish staff was José Lara Fontánez, who clearly loves his Cathedral as much as I love ours. We had mailed 345 pounds of medicines, to be distributed to the needy in San Juan and beyond. The island wide power outage delayed the post office pick up by a day or two, but they arrived safely. On top of that, I was delighted to present a gift in the amount of $25,000 to be used for Cathedral restoration, following Hurricane Maria. Ten minutes into our visit, my phone rang–it was Premier Bank. I gave authorization for the immediate transfer of funds and we all cheered when the transfer was final. What a thrill for me! I received a heartfelt thank you note from the rector, Fr. Benjamin Perez Cruz, who invited me to visit again in 2021 for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Cathedral!

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

Fr. Ubel presents gift check to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

With a typical high of 85 and low of 74, it is not difficult to plan for the day, unless it rains! And it did briefly, but powerfully one day. The cab driver lamented– “You see this? When it rains, the roads become a river!” And trust me, when the sun re-appears, it’s like a steam room! In its infancy as a territory, Puerto Rico relied heavily on its sugar crop, but by the mid-20th century, that shifted to manufacturing and tourism. Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. There are signs that tourism is slowly, very slowly coming back. I suspect this is one reason why Major League Baseball was intent on keeping its commitment to this two-game series. They added LED lights to the stadium (just as we did here at the Cathedral!) and repaired the significant damage to the artificial turf in Estadio Hiram Bithorn, built in 1962 and named after the first Puerto Rican who played in the Majors for the Chicago Cubs in 1942.

The scoreboard was reminiscent of the old Met Stadium. It was “no frills” baseball without the constant images flashing across giant video screens. Instead, we were treated to strolling musicians in the stands, with people breaking into dancing and singing right in their seats between innings. Cowbells, whistles and a cacophony of sounds seemed ever-present. It was a completely different feel in the stadium. We sat directly behind a friendly family– Mom, Dad, their identical twin sons aged about 12 or 13 and grandpa. They were all smiles during the game, though ironically the “twins” inexplicably sported Indians gear! On the first night I enjoyed fresh squeezed lemonade and a hot dog, and on the second night, felt ambitious an opted for a piña colada. If it had any alcohol, it was the weakest drink I’ve ever had– but it was tasty!

Back at the hotel after the first game, our group visited with a man at the neighboring table who worked for Major League Baseball. We began discussing the various charitable outreaches being made during the series. When I noted our own outreach to the Cathedral, he was genuinely appreciative. Not five minutes later, into the restaurant walked Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. After a few minutes, the Commissioner himself approached our table! He asked how we were enjoying our experience, and before long he invited us to a private event the next day unveiling a memorial marker in honor of Roberto Clemente, a national hero in Puerto Rico who tragically perished in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while on his way to provide disaster relief to Nicaragua. The entire visit was a wonderful experience of faith, fellowship and baseball, with a few surprise extras. The incredible support of the good people of the Cathedral parish truly made it an unforgettable visit.

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Glimpses of God in the everyday world

December 15, 2017

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By Christopher Menzhuber

If we believe God knocks on the door of every heart, . . . would He be working through Kesha and her new song Praying?

“I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees praying.”

In her first song to be released in almost four years the pop artist Kesha urges a nameless person who put her “through hell” to pray and change. Given the superficiality of Kesha’s other hits, “Praying” could be one more declarative ballad about triumphing over one’s enemies along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” or Queen Elsa’s “Let it Go”. But the emotional song also seems to contain the deeper religious message that interior peace comes with forgiving our enemies. And surprisingly, the music video reinforces this message in a couple of remarkable ways.

In the video we watch Kesha being brought from a kind of spiritual death to life, with the climactic moment unfolding at the summit of Salvation Mountain, a giant slab of painted clay in California topped with a Christian cross and dominated by the giant words “God is Love.” Kesha struggles out of fishnets and outruns monsters to arrive at the sunny peak, where she kneels down to pray.

“Sometimes I pray for you at night,” Kesha sings of her offender as she approaches the cross. It’s a lyric she described as particularly important to her in an interview with Zach Sang and it expresses she is willing the good of the other, which is at the heart of a Christian understanding of love. Then she respectfully touches the cross, which puts her in touch not only with other great men and women who have discovered peace through forgiveness, but Jesus Christ who asked his Father to “Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

It is therefore entirely fitting, that of all the many possible symbols of human goodwill, it is the Christian Cross that makes an appearance at the moment of forgiveness. The cross is the ultimate sign and source of self-sacrificing love. Furthermore, by connecting the cross to her moment of forgiveness “Praying” conveys the high cost of forgiving our enemies and even how it lies beyond our own power. “Some things only God can forgive.” Kesha sings.

If to Christian ears it sounds a little obvious to say we should forgive our enemies, it is far from being so in our contemporary culture which seems to be growing increasingly fascinated with Karmic redress. Many people seek satisfaction by blaming someone or some odious group– fill in your own worst enemy – for the problems and suffering in the world. Zach Sang even expresses his own incredulity at the idea of forgiving one’s enemies. “Every time I disliked somebody or I feel like somebody’s done me wrong or hurt me, all I do is wish – I wish bad things upon them, but that’s not the move?”

Kesha’s spirituality is likely too pantheistic to be considered Christian, but what she has done is made a powerfully emotive piece of art with a keen Christian message. The gritty style of the video will not appeal to everyone and the many symbols used probably have several interpretations. But the simple truth is that if more people prayed for their enemies –strengthened by the cross – the world would be a more peace-filled place.

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Travels to Tanzania are inspiring

December 4, 2017

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Father Michael Skluzacek, center, during Mass while on his trip to Tanzania. Courtesy Father Michael Skluzacek

By Father Michael Skluzacek

The Mass for the dedication of a new church is one of the most inspiring liturgies there is. I recently had the great privilege to concelebrate the Mass of Dedication for the new church of St. John the Baptist in Ngujini, Tanzania.

I traveled to Tanzania in early November with four other pilgrims: Renée Hosch from St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Father Cory Rohlfing and Laura Stierman from St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi, and Molly Druffner from St. Michael in Stillwater.  Molly is the Director of Partners 4 Hope Tanzania, and serves as a missionary in Tanzania with her family.

Ngujini is an “outstation,” served by Father Dr. Beda Kiure of Immaculate Conception Parish in Bwambo. In April 2016, Molly Druffner came to St. John the Baptist in New Brighton and did an appeal for funds to build a church at Ngujini.  Parishioners at St. John the Baptist responded with overwhelming generosity, and work soon began on the church.

Over the next 18 months, parishioners set to work in building a beautiful church that seats more than 200. Villagers of all faiths pitched in to help, and the project became a unifying force and source of pride for the entire community.

As the new church neared completion and the date was set for its dedication, Bishop Rogath Kimaryo of the local Diocese of Same (Sah’may) decided to name the church St. John the Baptist in honor of the people of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. As gifts for the new church, I brought over several altar cloths from the New Brighton St. John’s, as well as three chalices given by Knights of Columbus.

During the liturgy, when those chalices were brought out, and the altar cloth was placed on the newly anointed altar, I was deeply moved by the significance of our two parishes being united in the Eucharist. Every time that Mass is celebrated at Ngujini, St. John’s in New Brighton will be present there, through the sacred furnishings that adorn the Body and Blood of Christ.The Body of Christ that is the Church is present in the Body of Christ really and truly present on the altar.

When I was on sabbatical in Tanzania two years ago, I baptized three baby boys at an outdoor Mass at Ngujini. Now, on that very site stands a beautiful new church.

I was asked to give a speech at the end of the dedication Mass. I extended the greetings of the people of St. John’s in New Brighton to the people of St. John’s in Ngujini. I spoke of how we will always be united in Christ whenever the holy Mass is celebrated.

As I was speaking, three little boys, about 2 ½ years old, approached the sanctuary with their parents. The boys squirmed and wondered what was going on, but I realized that these were the three boys I had baptized two years ago. I saw in their parents’ eyes the gratitude and the love that unite God’s holy people through the saving grace of the sacraments.

 

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The most important non-profit in our household

November 27, 2017

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By Father Paul Jarvis

When we Jarvis kids grew up as exiled Minnesotans in early-60s Hartford City, Indiana – 3M exiled my father to Indiana, and the deal was we had to go with him – we discovered that Hoosiers in that part of Indiana celebrated holidays a little differently than Minnesotans then. And today.

Instead of going trick or treating once on Halloween, we went twice – including the day after. Ahem, we also soaped people’s window screens if we got Bible tracts from them.

Good Friday represented time off from school, public or parochial school. But it wasn’t exactly the kind of time off we kids wanted. We spent much of the day in church just sitting in silence.

4th of July wasn’t simply a time for fireworks. I remember going downtown the Blackford County Sourthouse to sit and be bored by a bewigged orator pretending to be Thomas Jefferson or another revolutionary. The worst, or the best, part of the event was guessing how long it would take the guy with the scratchy white wig, powdered cheeks, in layers of wool clothing in Indiana’s 90-something degree 100% humidity weather to pass out while reading the Declaration of Independence. While effecting an English accent in a Hoosier twang.

In pre-Beatles Indiana, Easter was just how a kid imagined Jesus celebrating it … with not just one hunt for treasure. But two. Like Mary and Joseph hiding around the house baskets of chocolate eggs, peeps, jellybeans, my parents hid the baskets in places a second grader could get his hands to.

Following the basket hunt was the one we Jarvis kids really looked forward to: an Easter egg hunt with real money taped to the candy eggs. Just like Jesus must’ve gone on.

Since I was the younger and dumber Jarvis brother, I would mindlessly follow after older brothers … surprisingly not finding any eggs. But just as Mary must’ve dropped an egg or two in front of Jesus so he could actually have some eggs to count afterwards, my mom surreptitiously dropped eggs around me. And like Jesus, I got the eggs with more valuable shekels.

We in Indiana also celebrated Christmas twice. On Christmas Eve, we – I mean my dad – would cut down our Christmas tree at the tree farm. And with “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Special” and “The Little Drummer Boy” playing, we’d all gleefully decorate it. Then we went off to eat at the only restaurant open in Hartford City … I believe it was a Chinese restaurant … where our dad would try to blind us with movie camera lights possessing the power of the sun. Christmas home movies only show us squinting.

Gorged and antsy, we returned home and opened the gifts we had given each other. Then came midnight Mass, where I pretended to be praying, with sleeping head held in my hands.

The following Christmas morning, we celebrated Christmas a second time. With Baby Jesus now safely in His crib, we kids scrambled to tear into gifts that St. Nicolas had brought us. The nuns at school always insisted on us calling the gift-giving Saint by his proper name. Not his nickname, “Santa Claus.” Sr. Mary Joseph Marie would rhetorically ask, “You wouldn’t call me “Sis” would you?” “No, Sister Mary Joseph Marie,” the class robotically responded. Of course, “Sis” is exactly what we would whisper when outside of wimple-range.

During Kennedy’s presidency, we Minnesota exiles did something that would seem very weird to today’s younger Minnesotans. We waited to go Christmas shopping until we saw the Christmas decorations and lights go up around town. And they wouldn’t go up until about a week or two before Jesus’ birthday. This was perhaps late for our Protestant friends, but way too soon for our Catholic nuns. It being still penitential Advent and all.

Looking around today, two weeks before Christmas is way, way, way too late. Holiday decorations start prompting Christmas buying aright around Halloween.

There was something wonderful in celebrating the holidays the Hoosier way though … besides getting twice as much candy on Halloween. For us kids, the shorter build up to Christmas helped intensify the excitement around Christmas gift-giving and gift-receiving.

The shorter period would also dramatically cut down the amount of junk mail Hartford City, Indiana households would receive at Thanksgiving and Christmasgiving time.

Then, as now, every household would receive heartfelt appeals to help this or that non-profit. The Jarvises certainly received a lot, but not two months’ worth …

… requests from the March of Dimes, Jerry Lewis’s MD effort, UNICEF, St. Jude’s, the Heart Association, the Red Cross, missions that allowed the give to name a pagan baby, the USO, Salvation Army, ad infinitum. But today, if you give to even just one charity, your address is sold to a baker’s dozen of other non-profits.

I have a friend today who gets roughly 10 requests a day to be generous. Multiply that times roughly 60 days … and that’s a lot of letters to recycle.

One day, Sr. Mary Joseph Marie called all of her classroom’s impressionable students into church, and brought out our patron saint’s statue, St. John. She silently handed out a simple holy card – this was back in the day when we Catholic kids collected them like our Protestant friends collected baseball cards.

Dramatically, she held up a huge stack of donation non-profit donation requests, and fanned herself as if weary from holding up so many.

With her other hand, she raised the holy card of St. John. She remained silent for a while, looking at us. One by one.

Then she asked – rhetorically – “Which of these non-profits (she probably said charity, now that I think about it) are organizations that help out a lot of folks outside our parish, and probably pay their presidents tens of thousands of dollars a year (remember, this is early 60s Indiana)? And which non-profit helps your family members from the moment they were born and baptized to the moment they have their funerals? With First Communions, with Confirmations, with Weddings, with Ordinations, with Sick Calls and weekly Sunday Masses in between? Which helps your school and catechism classes tuition?” To make a finer point of it, “And which non-profit is always there for your family – I mean, really there for your family? In fact, it IS your family?”

To not make too fine of a point, the good Sister helped us out by looking sideways at the holy card. The answer was obvious even to us second graders.

And the implication was just as obvious – we kids were to make the case for “our parish” at home during a time of giving and giving thanks.

She didn’t pick on any raised hands responding to her rhetorical question. But just to make sure the point got through, she had us kneel and pray before our parish’s patron saint’s statue. And if you looked closely, you could see a different set of Thanksgiving and Christmas contribution envelopes fanning out from a parish patron’s base.

As we left church, the class’s eraser-clapping, nerdy brown-noser asked Sister Mary Joseph Marie whether we could take an envelope home to mom and dad. Just like Ingrid Bergman in the “Bells of St. Mary,” she knowingly smiled at me and said, “No need to, Popo, I am very, very sure your parents already have some.”

We Indiana parishioners always considered our parish to be the most important non-profit in our household. It was there for us, like no other. Better still, we were simultaneously its charitable recipients.

The Salvation Army red kettle was nice for our – now remember these are pre-ecumenical days – fine for our Protestant friends. I’d even pray that they responded with St. Nick-level generosity to all the non-profit requests they no doubt got. But our Catholic parish was not only “our parish.” It was our non-profit.

Sister Mary Joseph Marie didn’t need to say it explicitly, but we understood that focusing our giving on our parish was the best use of the golden talents God had given us. (Matthew 25:14-30)

Early 1960s Indiana ways may seem very strange to us today. But as I see Catholics increasingly indebted by Happy Holidays commercialism, Halloween costumes become decidedly creepier and costlier than bedsheets with two holes cut out of them, and many a Catholic sending numerous checks to non-profits they know barely anything about and headed by million-dollar execs … they really, really, really make sense to this repatriated Minnesotan.

~ Fr. Paul Jarvis, Senior Associate Pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community, Minneapolis.

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My Breakthrough with Lectio Divina

January 26, 2017

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By Linda Harmon

Lectio Divina (divine reading) is a method of prayer I have studied and attempted to learn for quite some time.  I loved hearing stories of people who successfully practiced Lectio Divina, and I wanted to experience this prayer too.  I read books and searched the internet for how to pray Lectio Divina – and I practiced the steps for doing the prayer, however I never felt like I connected with this type of prayer.  Recently, I attended a workshop on praying Lectio Divina and my experience with this prayer changed — I had a breakthrough with Lectio Divina.

Linda Harmon

Linda Harmon

The workshop appealed to me because I personally knew the leader, Fr. Jonathan Kelly, and I thought he might be able to help me connect with what I felt I was missing with Lectio Divina.  To my surprise, it wasn’t what Fr. Kelly had to say but what I experienced when my small group practiced Lectio Divina together!  I was surprised because I believed Lectio Divina to be a personal prayer, and I was skeptical about our success when we were asked to practice the prayer as a group.  Instead, I witnessed each person hear a different message as they reflected on the same gospel passage.  What I had always been told – that God speaks to each of us, individually, through scripture – was playing out in front of me.   Somehow, by hearing the different and unique messages of others, it convinced me that the message I was hearing was truly a message for me from God.

I also realized from this workshop that a critical key for me to be successful at Lectio Divina is to be sure I am absolutely open to hearing God speak to me.  The skepticism I carried into the group practice could be a clue to why I had not been successful on my own.  Perhaps there was some spiritual warfare keeping me from my goal?  For me, clearing my mind and being present to God before, during, and after I pray is critical for me to feel connected to God.

Whether you are new to Lectio Divina, a master, or someone like myself who was trying to grasp what she was missing, I would encourage you to attend one of Fr. Kelly’s upcoming workshops.

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Casting perfect in Chan’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

March 14, 2016

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Muscle-bound Aleks Knezevich as Gaston isn't impressing Belle (Ruthanne Heyward), the beauty in Chanhassen's "Disney's Beauty and the Beast." Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

Muscle-bound Aleks Knezevich as Gaston isn’t impressing Belle (Ruthanne Heyward), the beauty in Chanhassen’s “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

I didn’t walk out of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres humming a memorable tune after seeing “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” What kept coming to mind, though, was, one, how spot-on each of the actors was cast for their roles, and, two, how perfectly the actors played their characters.

Yes, of course their are terrific voices, and yes, the full-cast song-and-dance numbers — what the Chan does best — were top-shelf. But the actors were exactly right for each and every role to the point that I wondered if anyone could have played a single one any better than the folks on the Chan’s stage.

Ruthanne Heyward is lovely and talented as the beauty Belle, and Robert O. Berdahl has all the right moves and hits all the right notes as the beast. Yet it was the other players who fit their roles to an even greater extent.

Aleks Knezevich was perfection as the muscle-bound egotist Gaston, who chases after Belle. If you created an animated cartoon character for the part you would use Knezevich for the model. Not only did he look and play the part to comic perfection, his voice is superb.

Scott Blackburn is Cogsworth the clock and Mark King Lumiere the candlestick, both perfectly cast in "Beauty and the Beast" at the Chan.

Scott Blackburn is Cogsworth the clock and Mark King Lumiere the candlestick, both perfectly cast in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Chan.

The smaller (but not small) parts of Cogsworth the clock (Scott Blackburn), Lumiere the candlestick (Mark King) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Susan Hofflander) were right up there with Gaston, perfectly cast and played so well it was as if they were born for the parts.

Costume designer Rich Hamson pulled out all the stops to create amazing looks for  the various household-item roles, with Laura Rudolph’s two-tiered serving tray perhaps the most creative.

A tip of the hat to director Michael Brindisi for pulling off another winner, scheduled to run through this autumn, and to Brindisi and choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson for great casting, with assistance from Andrew Cooke, music director.

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Local priest describes trip to Rome to become missionary of mercy

February 19, 2016

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Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

By Father John Ubel

My brief trip to Rome began with a plethora of questions from an inquisitive Jewish woman sitting next to me on the flight from Minneapolis. Among them: “What do you mean by mercy?” and “But does forgiveness actually accomplish anything?”

While a great discussion starter, on this evening flight to Amsterdam, I was most interested in sleeping. But when the pilot kept giving us Super Bowl updates every 20 minutes just as I began to doze, I accepted reality! But, her pointed questions left me pondering some very basic concepts, and how I ought to be able to explain mercy in terms understandable even to those who do not share my faith.

After a two-hour layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon (Feb. 8) only to discover that my phone’s battery had inexplicably gone completely dead, even though turned off. My rusty Italian was enough for me to comprehend that it was indeed an expensive fix and I’d be better off seeing if it was under warranty back home.

On to Plan B. I said a quick prayer they had Wi-Fi at the Domus Paulus VI. This is the clerical residence for priests working in the Vatican near the Piazza Navona that also welcomes occasional priest guests. Pope Francis stayed there in the days leading to the conclave that elected him, and you may recall the photo of him returning to pay his bill!

Thankfully they had Wi-Fi, because in typical “Fr. Frugal” fashion, I was too cheap to purchase a data plan for my iPad. My simple but comfortable room looked right over a bus stop (if elected to the Italian parliament, I’d immediately sponsor legislation to outlaw scooter horns and pigeons), but the priests and staff were most gracious and welcoming of their American interloper.

When I mentioned at table that I was from Minnesota, I was met with deadpan stares. I clarified that it was six hours from Chicago — still nothing. Finally I said that I lived near Canada! I began writing this travelogue while enjoying my third (alright, perhaps my fourth) cup of cappuccino on Tuesday morning. I could get used to this! I had time to pray and go to confession, as well as purchase a few Holy Year related gifts. While visiting the tomb of St. Monica in the Church of St. Augustine, I prayed for my mother and all mothers, as they labor tirelessly to pass the faith along to their children.

The Holy Year theme “Merciful like the Father” and the Jubilee Logo are omnipresent, as are the pilgrims here to venerate the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio, brought here from San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia. The logo was emblazoned on a beautiful commemorative violet stole given to each priest, which I plan to wear in the confessional. St. Pio stands as a model confessor, humble and simple, and he reminds me that we must never tire of offering forgiveness. I have a special devotion to Padre Pio since my days at St. Agnes, when I prayed for his intercession at a critical time in that school’s history in 2007. He came through then, and continues to inspire.

On Tuesday afternoon, the universality of the Church was especially evident as nearly 700 priests designated as Missionaries of Mercy gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo for a solemn procession toward St. Peter’s Basilica to enter through the Holy Door. It was a prayerful walk as we recited designated prayers, gathering by language groups. The procession took us inside the Basilica, all around and back out again. We continued around the perimeter of the outside of the Basilica leading us to the Apostolic Palace and the Sala Regia (Regal Room). Completed in 1573 A.D., it is adjacent to the Sistine Chapel and was originally used to receive foreign princes and ambassadors. But the purpose of this meeting was quite different.

Without really trying, I wound up in the eighth row, as the room quickly filled up. Archbishop Rino Fisichella prepped us for the audience. Among other things, he encouraged a total fast from all food on Ash Wednesday and reminded us to silence all cellphones. His American assistant, my friend Father Geno Sylva from the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, then stepped to the microphone and asked those without headsets (for the purpose of providing a simultaneous translation for non-Italian speakers) to move to an overflow room just off to the side because the headset reception only worked in the main Sala. No, please don’t ask me to move! Since I had chosen not to take a headset, I was banished, and would watch the address on a monitor.

But as it turns out, the Holy Father walked right past me on his way to and from the audience, and on his way out I shook hands with him and greeted him. God provides — the last shall be first! During his address, the Holy Father exhorted us to be patient and kind confessors — and not to ask too many questions! He reminded us that the sacrament of penance is an encounter with our loving and merciful Father and that sometimes our words get in the way. It was sage advice and I plan on heeding it carefully. After the meeting, we were treated to a delicious dinner in the atrium of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. It was after all, Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), so I enjoyed it as well as meeting priests from various parts of the World, truly a highlight for me.

On Ash Wednesday, I had the rare luxury of not needing to set my alarm. The fatigue of travel and the excitement from Tuesday’s activities coalesced, enabling me to sleep in until nearly 6 a.m.! I made my way down to the refectory for a cup of coffee at 6:45, but it was still brewing. I said my morning prayers and patiently waited. Roman coffee is always worth the wait, and I took the time to finish writing a Cathedral bulletin column before emailing it back home. Later in the morning I visited with David Kirsh, a lifetime Cathedral parishioner and St. John Vianney College Seminary student, spending the semester in Rome through the University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program.

Desiring to keep the rest of Ash Wednesday in a spirit of preparation, I neither shopped nor did any sight seeing. Instead, I spent some quiet time in prayer and reading at the Augustinianum, a Pontifical University right next St. Peter’s Square, specializing in Patristic studies. And where, I might add, I took the toughest oral exam I have ever had in my life 10 years ago — it still stings!

It was peaceful and prayerful, and I eventually made my way to St. Peter’s, thirty minutes ahead of our appointed time. But I was still far from first in line. The piazza was packed and people were trying to acquire tickets for Mass. One lady even asked if I would give up my ticket so she could attend with her toddler.

I politely declined, noting that the gold tickets were for concelebrating priests only. She was not impressed! We priests spent the next 90 minutes waiting patiently, as this is just part of the deal in the Eternal City. Those cobblestones really do a number on one’s back — a chiropractor could make a fortune in Rome! But it provided ample opportunity to visit with the other priests, whether Italian or English speakers, and I found this quite enjoyable.

A prayerful, yet jubilant spirit was kept throughout. While waiting I met Father Joseph Reilly from Newark, New Jersey, and learned that he was the rector of their Cathedral. I replied, “Father, you and I have at least two things in common — we’re both rectors and we are currently sharing an Archbishop!”

We made our way to the bronze steps where we waited for Mass to begin. There, final instructions soon followed in five languages (no, I did not need to be reminded to refrain from taking pictures during Mass!) and the long procession began. While I ended up toward the back of the reserved section for priests, it mattered little because we were all there together concelebrating with the Holy Father.

The Sistine Choir, composed of men and boys from the Basilica, provided the beautiful music. Readings, petitions and the gift bearers were provided by men, women and children from different countries, and the distribution of ashes began with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of the Basilica, imposing ashes upon the crown of the head of Pope Francis. In Rome, the ashes are not placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, but rather sprinkled on the crown of your head, recalling the Book of Nehemiah 9:1 in which the “Israelites gathered together while fasting and while wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.”

The highlight for me was the commissioning ceremony at the end of Mass. The prayer asked the Lord to “watch over these your servants, who we send forth as messengers of Mercy, liberation and of peace. Guide their steps with Your right hand and sustain them with the power of Your grace, so that they do not come under the weight of apostolic endeavors. May the voice of Christ resound in their words, and in their gestures the heart of Christ.”

It was so clear that the human aspect of the encounter is central for Pope Francis, and even his commissioning prayer was a sober reminder of the role that we are called to play. I would not be surprised if he wrote the prayer himself. I will not soon forget this powerful exhortation and the brief, but extremely rewarding, time I spent in Rome. And, I felt uplifted by the prayers of so many from home and kept the good people of the archdiocese close in my prayers.

Father Ubel is rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. He was commissioned to be a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday in Rome.

 

 

 

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Why this scientist is pro-life

January 22, 2016

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Although temperatures were in the low 20s, Ken Cobian — double hip replacements and all — joined in both the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the March for Life down to the State Capitol. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Although temperatures were in the low 20s, Ken Cobian — double hip replacements and all — joined in both the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the March for Life down to the State Capitol. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Two new hips and all, Ken Cobian walked from the annual Jan. 22 Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul down to the March for Life rally at the Minnesota State Capitol.

I first spotted him with his gray and blue knitted cap pulled over his ears as he slowly but steadily made his way back up St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill, Prolife Across America poster in hand, at the end of the rally.

Cobian, retired from his job as a material scientist at Medtronics, stopped back in the Cathedral to warm up before heading home, which was where I caught up to him.

I asked the question I’ve been asking folks at this Jan. 22 event since the first one back in 1974, when snowflakes kept smearing the ink on the notes I was taking outside the federal building in Peoria, Illinois: “Why is it important for you to be here today?”

Cobian had a ready answer, just as people have had since 1974: “I’m very much opposed to abortion, ever since I saw my children born years ago. That turned the light on for me.”

A parishioner with his wife, Susan, of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, Cobian earned a chemistry degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and did graduate work at both the University of Minnesota and at UCLA. Like some in the science fields, at one point he had turned away from his faith, he admitted. “My wife brought me back,” he said. “She’s my rock.”

He was at the pro-life rally two years ago, too, he said, but last year he couldn’t make it because he was in the midst of having hip replacements on both sides. “I’m fine now,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to the sin of abortion.”

He grabbed his hat to leave. “I’ve got to get home and get cleaned up,” Cobian said. “We’ve got a pro-life Mass tonight at St. Charles.”

 

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Franciscan Blessing Alive in Colombian Mission Work

January 21, 2016

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May God bless you with DISCOMFORT
at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships,
that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy ANGER
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
That you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection,
starvation and war, that you may reach out your hand to
comfort them, turning their pain to joy.

May God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
doing what others claim cannot be done.

CASFA and Cristo Rey students at dispensary praying before serving elderly Photo by Shelly Gill Murray

CASFA and Cristo Rey students at dispensary praying before serving elderly. Photo by Shelly Gill Murray

An unlikely partner resides a hemisphere away where mountains hover over a city in a bowl of ten million people, Bogota Colombia is intimately connected to Minnesota.  Fifty years ago Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Lourdes from Rochester, Minnesota opened a convent in Bogota.  They then started an all-girls school called Colegio Santa Francisca Romana or “PACHAS” now considered one of the top ten schools in Bogota.  Thirty years ago, they added a second school, Colegio Anexo San Francisco de Asis or “CASFA,” for children with limited resources.  CASFA students walk up and down the mountain to school every day.  They work to learn professional skills and go to school six days a week.

This vibrant community remains linked to Minnesota, both by its roots in Rochester and its friend Grace Strangis, the founder of Pathways to Children.  Grace, one of 12 siblings from rural Minnesota has two Franciscan sisters.  She founded Pathways to Children to support schools in Colombia, Ethiopia and India.  She provides trips for students who share her passion for mission work.  Unlike other mission programs, however, Grace recognizes those who give most abundantly are found in unlikely places…

The students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Minneapolis are also part of a unique program where students attend school four days a week and work the fifth.  In exchange for tuition payments, students train for the professional world working in a variety of industries.  95% graduate from high school and nearly all enter college.  However, the resume of these students does not begin to tell their story.

Last month, Pathways to Children brought 16 students from Cristo Rey across the Americas to learn about the culture of Colombia from CASFA students.   These students were chosen from 80 applicants.  When asked why they thought they were chosen, one said they may not know until the future. What is clear is they felt “chosen” not because they wrote a better essay or gave a better interview or had better grades or any other thing really-just Chosen. For some of them, it is probably the first time in their lives.  As he got on the bus to go to the airport, one student handed his phone to a parent because “This is a trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to miss a minute of it!”

Stepping off the bus onto the grounds of CASFA, the Cristo Rey students noticed a giant magnolia tree that somehow survived the surrounding sea of concrete.  Its single beautiful white bloom signified the positive outlook of the school community.  The older students and certainly the younger ones, likely don’t know the purpose of the plastic sheeting on the classroom windows to prevent injury from shattering glass caused by car bomb attacks in the 80’s.   More like a reunion than an introduction, the CASFA and Cristo Rey students became fast friends despite being from different schools, two countries, and four cultures: Colombian, American, Ecuadorian and Mexican.  Their connectedness allowed them to pass over the first-meeting awkwardness and dig into the work.  And they all gave as if they would never run out.

Early Thanksgiving morning the students headed up the mountain to build a playground out of old tires, paint, scraps of wood and rusty equipment. The work was heavy, hard and hot.  In five hours they transformed a gravel lot into a fenced brightly painted park with its own decorated Christmas tree!  Another day, students discussed political messages in music from both countries and took a CASFA student guided tour through Calle 26 known as the “street of murals” artists created to explain the peace process in the country’s 55-year civil war.  Then they went back to work in the southern suburb of Soacha.  This mining town grew from 200,000 to one million in the last seven years and it shows in the dusty streets surrounding the barrio’s single remaining tree.  The students’ task was to paint an after school haven for kids whose only fresh water comes by truck once a month and whose school recess was discontinued because drugs were being thrown over the playground fence to entice them to trade.

After several hours of work, one of the women in the community arrived with a huge pot of soup ladled with a hand-carved wooden “cuchara” the size of a dinner plate.  She planned to serve 50, but the steamy chicken and plantain broth aroma enticed those living nearby and the line grew.  The woman did not stop ladling bowls until 150 people were fed.  This modern “loaves and fishes” story serves as an apt metaphor for the students’ deep giving wells.  They might not know why they were chosen for the trip, but later recalling this memory, perhaps they will say it was the hand of God on the ladle and sense a deeper meaning in their presence in this place.

Some wonder why those who have less often give more than those with more to give.  How do CASFA teenagers walk up and down a mountain twice a day beginning at 6 am, work and attend class until 7 pm six days a week, have anything left to give?  The nightly check in with Cristo Rey students took on a theme of humble wonderment at the hospitality, acceptance and love they felt in Bogota.  Perhaps the answer lies in the Cristo Rey students’ capacity to receive the grace being offered.  Therein lies the definition of CHOSEN.

Shelly Gill Murray has visited Colombia many times over the last 18 years and dedicates significant time to mission work, including work with Pathways To Children.

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