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Busloads Of Turned-Back Immigrants, An Image Of Shame

July 14, 2014

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This post by Sister Mary Ann Walsh originally appeared on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ media blog July 3. The issue is still in the news and the blog was republished by Huffington Post. See their post, which includes some news footage of the incident, here.

Birmingham, Vietnam and Murrieta

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh 
Sometimes a picture says it all. Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, California, turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

The first two images helped turn the tide when they awakened U.S. citizens to a shameful tragedy. We know the aftermath. The Congress 50 years ago passed Civil Rights legislation to guarantee basic human and equal rights for minorities that Civil Rights workers fought (and some died) for. We pulled out of Vietnam, a war we could not win.

We now await a moral conscience moment in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Parents and children from these countries have made the difficult decision to leave their homes and have endured dangerous journeys to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. They risk it because the possible horrors of the treacherous migration, such as trafficking, abuse and even death in the desert, still look better than the almost sure death by gang violence at home.

Some hopes exist already. Contrast the mob in Murrieta, with the people of Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. There Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley offers welcome centers at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville. The youngest guest: a one-day-old baby girl. The baby and others are being helped by a host of volunteers.

Heroes are emerging. First might be Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ (Missionaries of Jesus), executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She is convening the local faith communities to address the problem and organizing the local populace to collect food, medicine, children’s sweaters and hoodies, men’s sneakers, and women’s socks and underwear. The city of McAllen is collaborating by providing portable shower facilities and tents for overnight stays.

Another is Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. He gets the problem. On his social media blog, he notes: “What we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes is a humanitarian and refuge reality, not an immigration problem.” He adds that “the Church must respond in the best way we can to the human need” and says “at the same time we ask our government to act responsibly to address the reality of migrant refugees. A hemispheric response is needed, not a simple border response. And we ask the government to protect the church’s freedom to serve people.”

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, spoke before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in late June. He called the number of children crossing the US-Mexico border “a test of the moral character” of our nation. “We must not fail this test,” he said.

Right now, the welcoming community of Brownsville and surrounding communities are acing the test. In Murrieta, the mayor and the citizens who drove back the buses need to study more. President Obama looks for ways to return the children to their perilous homeland. The U.S. Congress sits on its hands. To prepare for the test of moral character, protesters in Murrieta, the President and the Congress, might hit the books, especially the New Testament. A place to start is Matthew 25, where Jesus states: “Whatever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you do also for me.”


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Open Window Theatre’s Lilies of the Field is an inspiration

May 13, 2014


21Lilies-of-the-Field_webBy Tom Bengtson

If you’ve ever wondered what a miracle looks like, go see The Lilies of the Field playing at the Open Window Theatre and you’ll see the answer: it looks like Homer Smith.

The downtown Minneapolis theater is presenting a stage adaptation of the William Barrett novel and 1963 movie with Sidney Poitier through May 25. Artistic Director Jeremy Stanbary and director Joy Donley make the most of a minimalist set to create a wonderful night of music and story-telling.

Smith, an African-American Baptist wondering about the country taking day jobs where he pleases, finds himself in the Arizona desert where a group of East German immigrant nuns have set up shop. There is lots of work to be done and Smith agrees to help repair their roof. Mother Maria Marthe, the mother superior, convinces Smith to build the sisters a chapel. Smith agrees, not knowing how the job will ever get done given their lack of resources. Over the course of the play, people in surrounding villages donate the needed supplies and labor, and the chapel gets built. Smith leaves and everyone calls the construction of the chapel a miracle. In the closing scenes, some of the people we meet in the play tell us with great pride about their connections to the saint – Homer Smith – who made this happen.

I like this play for a lot of reasons. First the acting is marvelous: Lamar Jefferson does a great job as Homer Smith. Second, there is some really delightful music by Christopher Erickson. And third, the play’s message really gives the audience something to think about.

The story shows us that one person can do a lot – in this case, a lot more than the person initially himself thinks he can do. It shows us the power of encouragement from someone else. Smith persevered because Mother Maria Marthe believed in him. She is the person who identified Smith as the answer to her prayers, and although Smith resisted that description early on, he eventually accented to that role.

Lilies of the Field shows us that if we are truly being called by God to build something, we should move forward even if we don’t have every detail figured out in advance. This doesn’t mean it will be easy. The nuns in the play lived an austere life, worked hard and prayed hard. There was a little friction at times between Smith and the nuns, and at one point Smith abandoned them and the project. Smith was stubborn and thought he needed to follow his own will. The beauty of the play is the way in which he came around to doing God’s will, at least as the nuns saw it.

Furthermore, I love what came out of that miraculous construction project. The narrator of the play tells us the chapel became the centerpiece of a haven for troubled children who came to the nun’s encampment for rejuvenation. Many other buildings eventually were constructed around the chapel as others took interest in what was going on there. Smith himself moved on so he didn’t see all the good his work led to, but he did what he was called to do. The first phase in any project is often the most difficult.

Lilies of the Field is an encouraging and inspiring story. Watch closely. God may be calling you to be the next Homer Smith.

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The Temperate Feast

May 13, 2014


Celebrating the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Celebrating the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

By Patrick Conley

During this past Lent, I was engaged in a host of disciplines, including abstinences (some old, some new), fasting, prayer, almsgiving, etc., and indeed these disciplines continue to reap spiritual benefit in my life…it was a good Lent, as it were.

That said, one of the most profound lessons I have learned from this year’s Lenten journey did not actually come from within the Holy Season of Lent itself, but rather from Easter. Clearly there is — and should be — a sharp contrast between the disciplined, penitential, fasting season of Lent and the celebratory, exuberant, feasting season of Easter. And therein lies the rub: while I’m becoming more practiced at fasting, I have discovered that I don’t know how to feast.

Sound peculiar? Feasting…you know, living it up, having fun, celebrating. You’d think it’d be easy. Who can’t do these things? Well, apparently, I can’t. Not, anyway, as it’s meant to be done under the auspices of faith.

Here’s what I mean: somehow I have made the great Feast of the Resurrection of Christ into a casting off of Lenten discipline to the extent that it has become a willful turn to the manifold vices of sensual overindulgence. Overeating. Overdrinking. Reengaging bad habits. Letting my thoughts and my gazes wander astray. In sum, Easter “feasting,” sadly, is little more than a holy excuse for unholy behavior. As an aside, I am now keenly aware of the depth of influence common, secular perceptions about the meaning of “having fun” have had on me!

Clearly, this is not what is intended in marking the stark contrast between Lent and Easter, between the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The death of Jesus occurred that I might be set free from my sinful overindulgence. He was raised that I make partake in new, divine, eternal life. What bitter irony that I then return him to the Cross by my actions—and how utterly shameful that I do it in the name of his Resurrection. Kyrie, eleison!

Upon reflection, what my feasting has been sorely lacking is virtue. The good things from which I abstained during Lent can, and indeed should, be embraced again when Easter arrives…but I need to embrace these things in the new freedom found in the Risen Christ: one wherein my lower appetites and passions submit to the higher faculty of virtuous reason.

More specifically, the appropriate Easter feast is one governed by the virtue of temperance: using those good things created for us, but using them appropriately—to indulge, but not to overindulge. The teeth of temperance is in knowing that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing—and living accordingly.

In the divine economy, the more we live a temperate Easter feast, the more we are liberated from our old ways of sin, and the more we are freed to revel in the joy and fulfillment of Easter.

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Blessed Trinity principal and teachers camp out to bring attention to school’s 20th anniversary

February 1, 2014

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The Frozen Five ready to spend some time out in the cold. Photo submitted

The Frozen Five ready to spend some time out in the cold. Photo submitted

Fearless Frozen 5 to camp outside Feb. 1 

To bring extra attention to the school’s 20th anniversary, the Catholic Schools raffle and its $20,000 goal, a group of school staff, called the Fearless Frozen 5, will camp out in the cold night air at Blessed Trinity’s Penn Campus Feb. 1. after the school’s Sno*Ball dance and auction. Mr. Patrick O’Keefe (principal), Mrs. Patty Armbrust (4-6 grade teacher), Mrs. Melody Wyrick (first grade teacher), Mr. Brian Stock (middle school teacher) and Mr. Matt Miller (gym teacher for preschool though grade 8) will spend four hours in a tent outside. 

At 10:15 p.m, the school community will gather with the Frozen 5 and send them into the tent with a cheer, prayer and care package. Once inside the tent, their experience will be documented via social media. Follow them on their Facebook page at

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Cathedral hospitality warms cold Crashed Ice fans

January 14, 2012


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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Three photos you haven’t seen in The Catholic Spirit

August 22, 2011


For the Aug. 4 issue of The Catholic Spirit, I wrote a story about a memorial for victims and survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse. I took several photos for that story, but only one appeared in print.

That got me thinking about photos I’ve taken for which there wasn’t room in the print edition.

Three specific photos come to mind that I hoped would be used but weren’t:

Helen Hausmann

I really thought this portrait of Helen on the platform overlooking the river and the new bridge was powerful. Unfortunately the memorial isn’t in the photo and there was only room for one — so we needed one with the memorial in it.


Father Tony O’Neill, 2011 ordination

I loved this picture because it really looks like Father O’Neill is connecting with Archbishop John Nienstedt, and Father O’Neill looks really happy at the ordination ceremony last May. Other photos from the ceremony can be viewed in our online photo gallery.


Funeral for Maplewood Police Sgt. Joe Bergeron

The number of officers that came to show their support that day in May 2010 was awesome. The funeral was held on a day right after we published. A few appeared online, but none in the next print edition. Many others were published in our online photo gallery.

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John Wolszon Egypt Vacation Interview

March 7, 2011

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A parish looking for photos

February 12, 2011


Raindrops on leaves (photo by Dianne Towalski)

Here’s one way parishes can take advantage of the photographers in their pews.

On its website, Pax Christi in Eden Prairie is calling all amateur photographers from the parish to submit their photos of God’s creation. “God is HERE! Photographers Needed!” The Environmental Challenge Ministry — who’s mission it is to “educate, energize, and enable our faith community towards greater appreciation, concern, and action for God’s creation” — is looking for photos the parish can use on a screen during Mass, on the website and in a gallery.

I think this is a great idea. There is a lot of talent out there and this is just one way a parish could benefit from the photography expertise of its parishioners.

Other ideas:

Photos could be submitted and sold during a parish festival or other event to raise funds for good causes, like the local food shelf, crisis pregnancy center or parish youth activities.

There could be a contest (with an entry fee) with winning photos being displayed in a gallery or gathering space.

More and more people are picking up a camera and creating beautiful images.  As Christians we are called to appreciate and be good stewards of the natural world — as Pope Benedict summed up in a quote featured on Pax Christi’s website:

“Contemplating the beauty of Creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator; that love which moves the sun, and the stars.”

—Pope Benedict XVI
World Day of Prayer 2010

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Praying, marching for life

January 23, 2011


From left, Duane, Eric, Kathryn, Anne and Emilia Fredrickson of St. Dominic in Northfield sing during a prayer service for life at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion in America. Archbishop John Nienstedt led the prayer service, with Bishops Lee Piché and Paul Sirba also attending. Hundreds braved single-digit temperatures to come to the Cathedral and march to the State Capitol afterward to take part in a rally sponsored by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Youth from Maternity of Mary in St. Paul carry signs as they march from the Cathedral to the State Capitol.

Photos by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

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Sharing favorite photos

January 10, 2011


What are your favorite photos? We all have photos that we’ve taken that are special to us. Maybe they are of people that are important in our lives or maybe they were really hard to get. For whatever reason we like them.

As a photojournalist I take hundreds of photos each year. Some of them I think I could have done better, some I’m happy with, and then there are my favorites. These are the photos that have meaning to me, photos that have a story behind them. They are not award-winning work, but I like them.

I have several, but I’ve narrowed it down to three here.

This photo of my husband Joe interviewing Minnesota Twins center-fielder Kirby Puckett in 1995 has a special place on my wall at work. I look at it often. We were working together at the St. Cloud Visitor then and Joe was still a reporter. (Now he’s the editor of The Catholic Spirit and The Visitor.) It took a while, but we managed to get a few minutes with him. We met him in the dugout during batting practice before a game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. He was such a nice guy, and he was willing to move all over the field so I could get the shot of him I wanted. It is always fun to meet a celebrity, but the fact that he was such a nice person made it so special.

I knew I had something good the second I took this photo of Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. Again I was working at The Visitor and our whole editorial staff traveled to this event. One person rode a bus to Denver with students from the diocese and stayed on a gym floor. Another actually rode his bike all the way there with another group from the diocese.

I was lucky. I flew and stayed in a hotel! This photo is from the Mass at Cherry Creek State Park. Hundreds of people had arrived the night before to get a good spot. I was supposed to take my reserved spot on the photographers’ platform at the back of the VIP section, but my editor had a pass for the VIP section, so I followed her to her seat. No one stopped me. I managed to get a seat on the end near the aisle I thought the pope would be walking down. And he did walk right down that aisle, shaking as many hands as he could along the way. When he got to me, he looked right at me and held out his hand.

For a split-second I debated whether I should shake his hand or take his picture. In the end, the photographer in me won out and I took his picture. I’m glad I did.

This shot of Archbishop Harry Flynn is one of my favorites because it really shows what kind of a person he is. He is so pastoral and caring and it really shows in this photo. This one appeared in The Catholic Spirit and was also used as part of a tribute to Archbishop Flynn during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. It was used to illustrate a song about love that was written for the event. It was an honor for one of my photos to be used in a tribute to such a wonderful man.

Do you have a photo with an interesting story behind it? E-mail the photo and short story to me ( and I’ll post the best ones on this blog.

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