Tag Archives: featured

Honoring the four ‘Immortal Chaplains’

February 2, 2012

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The chaplains were honored with a commemorative stamp in 1948.

Flags are flying at half-staff in Minnesota Feb. 3, but it isn’t because of a recent military casualty. It’s in memory of the heroic sacrifice made exactly 69 years ago by four Army chaplains on a troop transport ship torpedoed in the icy North Atlantic in the middle of World War II.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed Feb. 3 Immortal Four Chaplains Day in the state of Minnesota to honor the men and their interfaith spirit.

A Catholic News Service story from 2002 recalled the tragic, yet inspiring, story of the four chaplains — Father John Washington, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.; the Rev. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode; and the Rev. George Fox, a Methodist.

Gone in 18 minutes

On Feb. 3, 1943, a German U-boat fired three torpedoes at the Dorchester. One of them hit the ship’s boiler room, and it started to sink quickly.

David Fox, a nephew of Rev. Fox, told the story:

After the torpedo hit, “the chaplains were the first on board to calm the men. [They] found the lockers with lifejackets in them, handed them out and, when they ran out, witnesses said that … the chaplains simply removed their own and placed them on the men. They never asked, ‘What religion are you? What race are you?’ It didn’t matter to them. It was simply an action of compassion and love they extended to their fellow human being.”

Fox said the four men “were last seen, as the ship rolled onto its side, standing on the hull of the ship. All joined hands together — with heads bowed — praying together, each in their own way, as the ship went down with 672 men.” It was the third largest loss of life at sea for the United States during World War II.

The Dorchester sank in just 18 minutes about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland. Although it resulted in a huge loss of life, the chaplains’ actions are credited with helping to save the lives of 230 men.

The chaplains’ story is forever linked with their actions on the Dorchester, but they also changed lives before that fateful day.

Father John Washington

A niece of Father Washington, Joanne Brunetti, spoke in the same CNS story about her uncle, who “knew from the time he got out of grammar school that his calling was to be a priest.”

She remembered him as a “friendly, outgoing, fun-loving” man with a great sense of humor and a love of music who enjoyed working with youths.

“He ran the CYO and ran the youth groups in the parish. He took young teen-agers who had never been to a Broadway show to matinees just to open up their minds. He was just always trying to do something to make things better for someone else … and bridge the gap of the generations.”

Not forgotten

Today, the chaplains’ memory lives on in sculptures, plaques and chapels around the country, including at nearby Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel, which features a stained glass window of the men.

The Immortal Chaplains Foundation was created in 1997 to perpetuate their legacy. Its website features a video and other resources about the men and their service to others.

Today, after reading those words of David Fox, I can’t get them out of my mind: “They never asked, ‘What religion are you? What race are you?’ It didn’t matter to them. It was simply an action of compassion and love they extended to their fellow human being.”

If only we heeded those words more often in our own lives, particularly when it isn’t easy and when the cost may be great. That’s the legacy the chaplains leave us — an example that we should never forget and that we should always try to emulate.

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From Students for Life: “Thank you for 39 years of Pro-Life service”

January 22, 2012

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We’re turning the tide of Roe v Wade

According to an article by LifeNews.com, Students for Life of America has just released their latest video, Turn the Tide 2012, which features abortion survivors thanking the pro-life movement for its 39 years of service. The video shows how the pro-life movement is winning the abortion battle.

It depicts men, women and children who have either survived abortion themselves or who have overcome the suggestion or temptation to abort suggested by medical doctors or family members.

Kristan Hawkins–who is the current executive director of Students for Life of America–reminds us:

“This Sunday will mark the 39th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which legalized abortion in all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason in the United States. It will also begin the 40th full year of legal abortion.”

YouTube Preview Image

Thanks for all you do to embrace life!

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January 21, the Memorial of St. Agnes

January 18, 2012

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St. Agnes stained glass at St. Nicholas in Belle River, MN.

St. Agnes (292-304 AD) is one of the most revered and famous saints of the early Church.  Her courageous martyrdom was so inspiring to early Christians that her name was inserted into numerous litanies of saints, and she is included on the list of apostles and martyrs in the Roman Canon, today known as Eucharistic Prayer I.

Agnes was born in Rome into a wealthy family sometime around 292 AD during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD).  Christianity was not legal.  Undeterred, she became a devout believer already as a young girl.  She had a deep, abiding love for God and considered herself espoused to Jesus alone, and she steadfastly upheld her purity and maintained her virginity.  She died a cruel martyr’s death at the age of twelve or thirteen.  The details of her life are clouded in history, more legend than fact.

As the story goes, Agnes was a beautiful young lady who consecrated herself exclusively to God.  She attracted a great deal of attention from many young men, all competing to court her.  She rebuffed them one by one.  Infuriated by her refusals, her prospective suitors, all pagans, in retaliation revealed her identity as a Christian to the governor.  He interrogated her, and she replied, “I have no spouse but Jesus Christ.”  He threatened her with fire, iron hooks, and the rack, but she scoffed at them all.  She was ordered to offer incense to pagan gods, but she made the Sign of the Cross instead.

Enraged by her defiant attitude, the governor commanded that Agnes be sent to a house of prostitution where lust-filled men could violate her, but his plan was foiled.  When she arrived, those who intended to accost her were overcome with her aura of holiness and decided to respect her, all except one.  When this solitary individual advanced toward her, filled with wicked desires, he was struck blind.  The sightless man’s companions, awestruck by Agnes’ courage and faith, brought their friend to Agnes who offered a prayer and healed him.

Because of the cure, Agnes was accused of witchcraft and returned to the governor who, fuming with rage, condemned her to death by beheading.  She was taken to the Stadium of Domitian; the same location as today’s popular tourist attraction, the Piazza Navona.  St. Ambrose later wrote, “She went to her place of execution more cheerfully than others go to their wedding.”  It was there that she was beheaded by the sword.

St. Agnes has two symbols:  a palm branch, the symbol of martyrdom, and a lamb, because her name is so similar to the Latin word agnus which means “lamb.”  She is the patron saint of young girls, the Girl Scouts, purity, and Christian virtue.

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Making giving easy — stewardship’s next goal

January 17, 2012

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You’re paying most of your household bills online.

Instead of writing a check and putting it in the usher’s basket each week, you’ve got automatic-withdrawal set up so your parish gets your donation right from your checking account.

Think about the hassle it would save both you and the parish bookkeeper — not to mention the savings in printed material and postage — if you could make your annual stewardship pledge right online.

That was the kind of thinking that came out last week at a gathering in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development joined efforts with the Association of Parish Business Administrators for a listen-and-learn session that allowed parish administrators to hear some best practices of their peers and to give feedback to the archdiocesan Stewardship Committee about its efforts during the past year.

Stewardship director Mike Halloran was especially looking for feedback on the Stewardship Toolkit the archdiocese made available last spring.  Sample pastor letters, pledge forms and the suggested timeline for a parish stewardship campaign were among the most-used pieces of the toolkit, which was available both in a three-ring binder and online.

Parish business administrators also asked for more copy-and-paste features, for instruction on how to write good “ask” letters, and for help in bringing pastoral leadership (read clergy) on board with the approach the archdiocese itself is promoting, that is, stewardship as a way of life.

Four administrators showcased their efforts during the “best practices” portion of the morning.

From Deb Langlois, of St. John the Evangelist in Little Canada:

  • Rekindled the parish stewardship committee and used the Stewardship Toolkit as a roadmap;
  • Added accountability to the annual parish report;
  • Tailored two separate messages, one to active and engaged parishioners and one to inactive;
  • Suggested “growth-step giving,” asking, “Could you grow a step in your pledge, and if you do here is what we will do with the money.” Results? Biggest percentage back from new parishioners ever.

From Mike Laughery, St. Michael in Prior Lake:

  • Began sending out quarterly giving reports;
  • Added a ministry fair — and got 250 new volunteers;
  • Invited a nationally known speaker to give stewardship talk at Masses.

From Scottie Bahr, Holy Spirit in St. Paul, offered goals for coming year’s stewardship efforts:

  • Allow credit-card giving;
  • Give donors a personalized history of pledge giving.

From Jon Jakoblich, Transfiguration in Oakdale:

  • Saved $10,000-$14,000 by not using a consulting firm;
  • Did a parish census, reducing wasted mailings and postage;
  • Used the theme, “Reinvest in Your Parish”;
  • After a short homily, did an in-pew ask at all Masses and gave parishioners time to fill out simple pledge card that concerned finances only, not time or talent. Result was increased pledge of $140 per family.
  • Wrote hand-written thank yous that Sunday that were in the mail Monday.
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Cathedral hospitality warms cold Crashed Ice fans

January 14, 2012

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Robin and Tim Zima explore the Cathedral of St. Paul during a break from watching the Crashed Ice event Jan. 13. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

The competition is under way for the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship outside the Cathedral of St. Paul. Spectators around the icy track are enduring cold temperatures to watch the extreme sport. But when they need a break to warm up, Cathedral staff and volunteers are right inside the doors to welcome them.

A Crashed Ice competitor slides down from the starting gate during time trials Jan. 12. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

They greeted visitors Friday afternoon and invited them to walk around and explore the warmth of the Cathedral.

“I’ve seen this church so many times and never knew you could just walk in and look around,” said Robin Zima of Mound as she explored the church. She and her husband, Tim, planned to visit the Cathedral while they were in town for the Red Bull event. They even did research about it online the night before.

“I’ve never been to a church this nice. It really is breathtaking, just stunning, I can’t believe it,” Tim Zima said.

Chris Judd, a student at McNally Smith College of Music, grew up in Virginia and heard stories about the Cathedral from his parents, who lived in St. Paul 30 years ago.

“They said this is probably one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture they’ve ever been in, “ he said. “They always encouraged me to come here, but I didn’t until today. Something just said, ‘Come on in.’ It’s really peaceful here, it’s really cool,” Judd said.

The Cathedral is open to visitors today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as it has been throughout the event. There is a welcoming table in the narthex offering self-guided tour brochures. Visitors can purchase Cathedral souvenirs, including books, posters, sweatshirts and winter hats.

Cathedral liturgies and parish activities were moved to the St. Vincent de Paul campus at 651 Virginia St. in St. Paul Jan. 12-14.

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The unforgettable Cardinal John Foley

December 12, 2011

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Goodbye to a mentor and a friend

Cardinal John P. Foley, speaking at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Jan. 7, 2011. The American cardinal died Dec. 12, 2011.

Many will remember him as the voice doing the “play-by-play” during the Pope’s Christmas Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica, something he did for 25 years up until two years ago.

Journalists around the world will remember him as the archbishop who got them a radio or television feed or a straight answer about what the church teaches and why.

Those of us in Catholic media will remember the Philadelphian who became a Cardinal of the Church for his hilarious stories, his love of puns, and his commitment to his faith, to the church and to truthful Catholic journalism.

I remember John Patrick Foley as a mentor who became a friend.

Cardinal Foley, who died today, Dec. 11, at the age of 76, was the editor of Philadelphia’s Catholic newspaper when he hired me, just a 22-year-old, to be his news and sports editor back in 1974.

Best of mentors

I’m trying to avoid saying he was a demanding boss, because that would put too dark a tone on the reality of who he was. What he was was a boss who set high expectations — for himself as well as others.  He could never understand why anyone would ever give less than 100 percent when they could inform, form and inspire God’s people through the work we did.

Because he held those high standards, he could hold the reins loosely and let a young colt like me run. I tried out the latest in graphics. I cropped photos tight and used them big. I covered everything from high school football to the International Eucharistic Congress to the U.S. Supreme Court. When a tip about Catholic school teachers organizing a labor union got me into a sub rosa gathering at an apartment one night, then-Monsignor Foley not only published my full-page story but defended the story to archdiocesan officials because Catholics needed to know why their teachers felt they needed a union.

Along the way he taught me the importance of planning, the value of teamwork and collaboration, and the truism that Catholic media have nothing to fear from reporting bad news. His approach to Catholic news — one forged in part at Columbia’s School of Journalism and in part by his priesthood — was that Catholic media should tell every story, tell it honestly, and tell it with compassion. And he showed us all how to be Catholic, how to live out our faith every day in all we do, with everyone whose life touched ours.

When we worked for him in the mid-1970s we expected the monsignor to one day be named an auxiliary bishop. Instead he went right to archbishop; Pope John Paul II chose him to head the Vatican’s communication efforts. He became a cardinal in 2009.

I’d left Philadelphia in 1977, but through the years we’d see each other at Catholic Press Association conventions and correspond occasionally. He always helped me better understand the church and my faith. All his letters — every one — included “give my love to Barbara and the children,” never forgetting my wife and that he’d baptized two of our four.

When I think back I appreciate that he taught me the valuable lesson of having a reason for whatever I was doing. But even better, he showed me how to love the church, warts and all. The bureaucracy frustrated him and the politics drove him crazy, yet I don’t know how many times I heard him say, “I’ve never had an unhappy day as a priest.” It was a sentence he repeated last year when he came to the Twin Cities to help The Catholic Spirit celebrate its 100th anniversary.

He wowed ’em in Minneapolis

I thought the cardinal would be a big-name draw for our centennial celebration, so about a year in advance I invited him to be our keynote speaker in January 2011. Needless to say he was a hit. He had several hundred people laughing aloud as he quipped with his host, Archbishop John Nienstedt, and told anecdotes from his years in the Catholic news ministry.

It was only after he left town that I was told he had leukemia but didn’t want me to know it.

Once he was diagnosed with that cancerous blood disease he had cleared his calendar for two events: the 2011 Catholic Media Convention in Pittsburgh and the 100th anniversary celebration of The Catholic Spirit in the Twin Cities. I can’t describe them, so you’ll have to imagine my feelings upon hearing that our friendship meant that much to him that he would honor his commitment to me knowing that he hadn’t long to live.

Thank God he made it to Pittsburgh last June.  He was the keynote speaker there, too, and as we sat down for the centennial dinner I was asked to introduce the cardinal.

I wasn’t expecting that, but frankly it wasn’t difficult. I’d watched Foley through the years, and he was a master at self-effacing stories, at working an audience, at getting a message across clearly yet quickly.

The hard part, the lump-in-the-throat part, was finishing up the introduction by telling him — in front of several hundred people who work in Catholic media around North America — how much he meant to me. And how much I loved him.

Requiesat in pace, good and faithful servant.

 

 

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Who is known as the Immaculate Conception and why?

December 6, 2011

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The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve.

The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve. Photo/*clairity*. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s  logical to conclude that the Immaculate Conception refers to Christ because the Gospel at the Dec. 8 Solemnity Mass is about our Lord’s conception.

But the title and the feast day belong to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her conception isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bible, so it’s also logical to ask on what basis the Church teaches that her conception was immaculate.

Probably the strongest argument for Mary’s Immaculate Conception is that not just anybody could become the mother of God without a lot of grace.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium teaches that the Blessed Virgin:

“gave the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role. It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.” (LG 56)

In 1854, the long-held Church belief in the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception became Church dogma with foundation in scripture and tradition. Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

The Serpent’s Enemy

The first bible passage mentioning the promise of redemption also mentions the Mother of the Redeemer.  After the Fall, God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

Jesus is the conqueror who comes from the woman’s seed and who crushes the serpent’s head while Mary is the woman who is the enemy of the serpent. Mary’s continual union with grace explains the enmity between her and Satan.

Given from her conception “the splendor of an entirely unique holiness,” the Blessed Virgin is hailed by the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” (LG 56) The angel’s term (kechairitomene in Greek) is not applied to any other person in scripture. According to Pope Pius, that “showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Through the millenia, Church fathers and theologians have studied the issue of Our Lady’s conception. All insist on her absolute purity and her position as the second Eve. (I Cor. 15:22)

In the fourth century, St Ephraem asserted that Mary was as innocent as Eve before the Falll, a virgin without any stain of sin, holier than the seraphim, the sealed fountain of the Holy Spirit, and the pure seed of God. In mind and body she always was intact and immaculate. During the following century, Maximus of Turin called the Blessed Mother a dwelling fit for Christ, not because of her habit of body, but because of original grace.

In her own words

Another reason to believe Mary is the Immaculate Conception is that she herself has said so more than once in the last couple hundred years.

In 1830 the Blessed Virgin appeared to a French nun named Catherine Laboure and told her to place this prayer on what would become the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Then in 1858, only a few years after Pope Pius IX’s proclamation, she appeared to a young girl named  Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, and told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Apparitions don’t  fit well into a logical argument,  but the idea that God provides what we need for the tasks He gives us makes sense. Giving birth to the Savior and raising Him were not small assignments.

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

November 27, 2011

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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 TheCatholicSpirit.com/newromanmissal).

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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7 Ways the New Mass Translation is Closer to Scripture

November 17, 2011

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consecration-westminster

Photo/Catholic Westminster. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Because the Mass prayers are so familiar, I’m sad to say that once in a while I go on autopilot during the Liturgy. That will end in just over a week when English-speaking Catholics first bring the new translation of the Roman Missal to life at Mass. Many of the responses will be new and we’ll have to pay closer attention.

With the help of theologian Dr. Edward Sri’s book “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass,” and Father John Paul Erickson, director of the Archdiocese’s Office of Worship, I’ve tried to show how the new translation brings the Mass text closer to the scripture it’s founded upon. Whether or not you’re ready for the transition, this post provides something to reflect on during Mass and after. The new responses are in italic, followed by the old text in parentheses.

1. The Lord be with you
...And with your spirit. (And also with you). Instead of the polite response we’re used to, this one sounds almost New Age until we discover that St. Paul said it in Gal. 6:18, Phil. 4:23 and 2 Tim. 4:22. The new response acknowledges that through ordination and the Holy Spirit the priest represents Christ in sacred duties. We address the priest’s spirit, the deepest part of his being, where he has been ordained to lead us in the liturgy.

 2. The Confiteor
…through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. This prayer, which starts with “I confess,” doesn’t change much in the new translation except for this line and one other word. The new words, taken from 1 Chron. 21:8, sounds repetitious but in praying them we more accurately convey our true sorrow for our sins.

3. The Gloria
The previous prayer won’t work because more than half the words are different in the new translation. One difference is that Jesus is identified as the “Only Begotten Son,” which reflects his unique relationship with the Father as described in St. John’s gospel. (Jn. 1:12, 1 Jn. 3:1)

4. The Nicene Creed
There aren’t a lot of changes to the Creed but here are a few of the most significant ones.
…all things visible and invisible (seen and unseen). This phrase is a more precise translation of St. Paul’s reference to all created things. (Col. 1:16)
… consubstantial with the Father (one in being with the Father). Here’s a big new word that will take a while to get used to. It’s the right word because It’s closer to the theological language of the Council of Nicea held in 325 AD where the Creed was developed in response to a heresy denying Jesus’ divinity. The new word means that the Father and Son are of the same substance.
…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary (born of the Virgin Mary). Another big word, consistent with the Latin text of the Mass, emphasizing that Jesus took on human flesh (Jn. 1:14), not just that he was born of Mary.

5. The Sanctus
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. The last three words of this line are the only changes to this prayer that comes right before the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer. The new words are taken from Is. 6:3 where the prophet Isaiah received a vision of the angels praising God. “Hosts” refers to the angels in heaven.

6. Consecration Prayers
…Chalice of my Blood (Cup of my Blood) What’s the difference between a cup and a chalice? A chalice is associated with the liturgy–it’s a special Eucharistic cup that the Lord uses at the Last Supper. (Lk. 22:20, I Cor. 11:25)
…for you and for many (for you and for all) The word “many”  is closer to Jesus’ actual words at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:28) and more accurately reflects the Latin text. The addition of this word shows that Jesus died for all but not everyone chooses to accept the gift of salvation. The prophet Isaiah also speaks of how Christ’s suffering justifies many in Is. 53.

7. Prayer before Communion
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof (Lord I am not worthy to receive you). The new words better represent the centurion’s request of Jesus in Mt. 8:8 and Lk. 7:6-7.

 

 

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Venezuelan baseball: Kidnapping sadly an occupational hazard

November 16, 2011

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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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