Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

Hispanic Catholic communities are celebrating the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, this week through traditional prayer, procession and song.

The feast commemorates the appearance of Mary over several days in 1531 to peasant Juan Diego in the hills outside of Mexico City.

Mary had asked Juan Diego, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, that a church be built on the site. At first the local bishop hesitated in responding to the request from the saint-to-be and asked Mary for a sign. Juan Diego returned to the rocky mountaintop and gathered an assortment of roses, an impossibility in normally cold mid-December. As further evidence, Mary left her image on the peasant’s tilma, made of ayate, a low quality cactus cloth typically worn by the poor of the region.

The church on the site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world.

To this day, 477 years later, the tilma and its indelible image survive in remarkable condition. Experts are at a loss to explain why is still exists. Normally, such cloth deteriorates in 20 years.

Praying a nine-day novena, culminating on the feast day, is one of the most common ways Mexican Catholics celebrate the feast. During the period people visit the sick and homebound, provide food baskets for the needy and support mourners who have lost loved ones.

At Hispanic parishes people gather late on the night of Dec. 11 to pray and sing as they prepare to conclude the novena with Mass early the next morning.

And then it’s on to Christmas.

Thomas Merton, 1915-1968

The Journey of Thomas Merton," edited by Morgan Atkinson with Jonathan Montaldo. (CNS)

The cover of the most recent book of Thomas Merton's writings "Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton," edited by Morgan Atkinson with Jonathan Montaldo. (CNS)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, one of the 20th century’s most influential Catholics. His death through a freak accident in Bangkok, Thailand, came 27 years to the day he entered the Abbey at Getshemani in Trappist, Ky.

A prolific author whose comtemplative writings were an inspiration for a generation of Catholics coming alive in the church in the era around the Second Vatican Council, Merton remains as popular as ever. New books based on his journals, letters and essays continue to be published today.

What’s so attractive about Merton’s writings is his ability to speak to people seeking answers to life’s important questions. Like many of us, he wrestled with purpose and direction in life. His work remains a cornerstone for people striving to overcome the principalities and powers of the world.

The Thomas Merton Center and International Thomas Merton Society at Bellarmine University and The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living continue to promote his teachings and his work.

In his honor, we offer what has become known as the Merton Prayer from his book “Thoughts on Solitude”:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Need a smile? Check this out.

People who know me say I spend way too much time on the Internet. That may be true, but it also means that I’ll find hidden gems while looking for something else, like this item from the blog of the Catholic Herald in Arlington, Va. It’s guaranteed to make you smile, even if you don’t live here in the D.C. area and don’t know the unwritten rules of being a passenger on Metro, our subway system. Enjoy …

Black Catholics and the Obama victory

No matter what one’s political leanings, it’s hard to deny the historic nature of an African-American being elected president of the United States. We explored the mixed views of black Catholics toward a pro-choice African-American candidate in a story two months ago, and some of our client newspapers did the same.

Now, Our Sunday Visitor contributes its own reporting on this double-edged question in a story by former OSV editor Gerald Korson. He found extreme pride in the black Catholic community tempered by Obama’s views on the politics of abortion.

14-hour day a snapshot of an archbishop’s routine

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stands outside Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, Sept. 25 as the 2008 Red Mass prepares to get underway. (CNS/Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stands outside Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta Sept. 25 as the 2008 Red Mass prepares to get underway. (CNS/Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin)

Ever wonder what makes up the day of a bishop or archbishop? Sure, we have our ideas, but do we really know all that goes into the typical day of a diocesan leader?

Wonder no more.

In its current issue, The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, offers a glimpse into a single day of the life of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Writer Andrew Nelson followed the archbishop around for the day –14 hours at that — and offers wonderful insight into the man’s personality and warmth.

Coincidentally, Archbishop Gregory became a bishop 25 years ago in Chicago and he shared his reflections on a quarter century as a leader in the church with the newspaper. Writer Mary Anne Castranio had the chance to sit down with the archbishop on the occasion of the anniversary to learn more about one of the country’s most prominent and respected Catholic clerics.

The newspaper offers a package of stories and sidebars that portray a church leader who is widely respected and appreciated not only for his enormous in his clerical role but as a human being as well.

Story highlights bishop’s membership in Facebook

(From Arkansas Catholic)

(From Arkansas Catholic)

The Arkansas Catholic has a story in its current edition about Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s membership in Facebook, where he has more than 800 “friends” on the social networking site.

We’ve blogged here before about Facebook and how some members have set up “fan clubs” on Facebook for certain bishops, such as Cardinal Anthony N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. And the Arkansas Catholic story reveals that it was a nephew of an Arkansas priest who, after attending Bishop Taylor’s ordination ceremony last June, got the ball rolling with the Bishop Taylor fan club that led to the bishop joining Facebook.

(And in the shameless plug department, don’t forget that Catholic News Service has a page on Facebook that you can visit even if you’re not a member.)

Jail sentences loom for four peace witnesses

Jesuit Father Steve Kelly and Franciscan Father Louis Vitale talk with soldiers at Vandenberg Air Force Base just prior to their May 19, 2007 arrest for trespassing. (CNS/Los Angeles Catholic Worker)

Jesuit Father Steve Kelly and Franciscan Father Louis Vitale talk with soldiers at Vandenberg Air Force Base just prior to their May 19, 2007, arrest for trespassing. (CNS/Los Angeles Catholic Worker)

Four peace witnesses were convicted of trespassing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in a Dec. 4 trial in U.S. District Court in Santa Barbara, Calif. Their crime: stepping two feet across a green line on a roadway limiting where protesters can gather.

Jesuit Father Steve Kelly, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker in Guadalupe, Calif., and Jeff Dietrich of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker were found guilty in verdicts handed down by Magistrate Rita Coyne Federman.

The case against a fifth defendant, L.A. Catholic Worker Mike Wiskiewski, who was photographing the encounter, was dismissed. Coyne Federman ruled prosecutors failed to prove he was given a warning to move back across the line before his arrest. The others were given the warning, hence the guilty verdicts.

The arrests came during an Armed Forces Day vigil May 19, 2007, according to Dietrich. He said Apel originally wanted to talk with the base soldiers about their role in carrying out military orders that have led to the maiming and killing of innocent civilians, especially in Iraq. When he refused to step back across the line, the others joined him in support and also were arrested.

Father Kelly told Catholic News Service the defendants had built their defense around their religious convictions and on international law that prohibits the development of weapons of mass destruction. However, Coyne Federman prohibited such testimony after the federal prosecutor objected.

The group faces sentencing March 12. Because all are long-time protesters and have been tried and found guilty of similar charges in the past, they face up to six months in jail.

Vandenberg has been the site of monthly prayer vigils organized by Apel and others concerned about the development work being done at the base on a space-based missile defense system.

Vatican Christmas tree to be recycled for toys

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Workers last Friday maneuvered the trunk of the Vatican's Christmas tree into its stand in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo by Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican will recycle its Christmas tree – and not for firewood, paper or mulch.

It will be turned into wooden toys, toy chests, benches and other things that children can decorate and use.

Yesterday’s edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said the wood of the majestic, 108-foot-tall spruce in St. Peter’s Square would be given to several companies that make “semi-finished” products for children, including benches and gazebos for schoolyards or parks, as well as toys, boxes and frames.

The companies’ rough work will be given to schools and other institutions that run children’s workshops, and the kids themselves will paint and varnish the objects, the newspaper said.

The project is motivated by a desire “not to waste” the 120-year-old tree, but “to reuse it to benefit the planet’s new generation,” L’Osservatore reported.

Meanwhile, people can keep track of the Vatican workers’ progress in decorating the tree by checking out the webcams the Vatican has focused on St. Peter’s Square from the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica and from the top of the colonnade surrounding the square.

“Would you kill someone for a flat panel HDTV at half price?”

That was the lede sentence in a commentary in Our Sunday Visitor by Greg Erlandson. Headlined “Advent on the Precipice,” Erlandson recalls the “Black Friday” death of a Wal-Mart employee trampled by onrushing bargain-hunters and notes the importance of getting beyond the consumerist mentality of the season — especially at a time when the economy is in a freefall — and focusing on what’s at stake for us this month spiritually.

Also writing on the same theme was Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., in his diocesan newspaper, The Beacon. The headline on his column: “Advent: Black Friday Turned Inside Out.”

Update: Another reminiscence on Chicago school fire

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the four “Chicago guys” we wrote about in this blog last week, also wrote a column in The Georgia Bulletin in Atlanta of his own memories of the Our Lady of the Angels fire in Chicago 50 years ago last week — he was in sixth grade at a different Chicago school at the time — that took the lives of nearly 100 members of the school community.

“It was an unthinkable catastrophe, which broke hearts far and wide beyond that parish, community and diocese,” he writes. “Its repercussions ushered in an extensive and much needed obligatory reform of school safety standards and practices across our nation.” Read the full column here.

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