Funerals can be happy events

I found out yesterday that a good friend of mine from elementary school died the day before Valentine’s Day.

I hadn’t seen her in many years, but I felt the need to attend her funeral today at the Catholic Church of the Nativity in Lutherville, Md. — a suburb of Baltimore — and found the experience to be a happy one.

Of course I wasn’t happy that Stacy Burke Danko, 44, had recently died. She was a very important part of my life when I was young, and upon learning of her death, I’ve discovered she remained an extraordinary force in the lives of so many.

I met Stacy Burke when we were young children. Our parents were friends and we went to the same school and church.

In the second grade we had become so inseparable that we declared our never-ending love for one another and had a mock wedding ceremony, with my sister acting as the priest, to make our union official.

Stacy was an energetic and spontaneous girl. She was goofy and wild and just attracted friends easily.

Stacy also had cystic fibrosis and her parents were told that she wouldn’t live past the age of 18.

I remember my mother telling me this when I was young, but it never seemed possible that Stacy — a girl with such spirit and enthusiasm — could be chronically sick.

Though Stacy would talk about her disease, she never dwelled on it, let it slow her down, or let it define her.

Like most second-grade romances, Stacy and I grew apart, found separate circles of friends when we were no longer in the same class in school, and our contact with each other through junior high school was limited to the occasional friendly greeting in the hall.

We ended up going to different high schools and would bump into each other once in a while, and we’d share a laugh and chuckle about our childhood antics.

I ran into Stacy at a party when we were in our 20s and she told me that she still had the tinfoil ring with the tip dipped in nail polish that I had given to her at our second-grade wedding, a gift she said was very special to her.

I did think about Stacy during the next 20 years, but didn’t see her.

I heard from other friends and her brother Brian that she had become a nurse, gotten married, had a son and two daughters, gotten divorced and had become a crusader for research and public awareness for cystic fibrosis, the disease that had continued to dog her.

When I received word of her death, and read the obituary in The Baltimore Sun, I just knew I wanted to pay my respects to her family and attend her funeral service, and I’m so glad that I did.

The church was so packed, they had to set up chairs in the vestibule, and I was about to find out why.

Her children told funny stories about their mother that made me realize that funny little girl had grown into a free-spirited woman who continued to appreciate each day as if it was her last.

One of her dear friends spoke about how Stacy knew her time in this world was limited, so she saw each day as a gift.

I also had to the chance to see old friends who were very important to me. I sat with two people I attended high school with and it was a moving reunion.

Though tears were shed during the Mass and the reception afterward, I didn’t leave the church with sad feelings.

I walked away happy that Stacy had touched so many lives and, in death, brought us all together to enjoy one another and celebrate her beautiful life.

Priest’s violent death shocks Cuban church

MIAMI — The Church in Havana – and all of Cuba – remains in shock over the violent death of one of its priests.

(Full story)

Speaker Pelosi’s statement after meeting Pope Benedict

VATICAN CITY — Here is a statement by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, after her meeting with Pope Benedict XVI today. The statement was distributed by her staff. Click here for the earlier Vatican statement.

It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI today.

In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.

I was proud to show His Holiness a photograph of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.”

More headlines … (2/18/09)

Items on our clients’ sites in recent days:

House Speaker Pelosi, Archbishop Niederauer meeting – not happening?

Tom Hanks saves the Vatican

My interview with President Obama

Arizona’s first homegrown bishop: “It was shocking, and I was stunned”

Plaintiffs’ advocates call for release of L.A. documents

Paying it forward for Lent

SSPX ‘silver lining’

Indulging the NYTimes

The pope, Speaker Pelosi & Deal Hudson

Vatican statement on pope’s meeting with Nancy Pelosi

Here is the text of the statement released today by the Vatican regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s meeting with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

A look back at Catholic involvement in Selma civil rights protests

On Presidents Day, I covered a screening of a documentary about a group of Catholic nuns who participated in one of the 1965 civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., and I decided to go through our archives to see how we covered that historic period in U.S. history.

During the month of March and throughout the remainder of 1965, the precursor to Catholic News Service posted numerous stories about Catholic involvement in the marches and the civil rights movement in general.

In one story, it was reported that a priest from San Antonio who trudged the entire route of the 50-mile, Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march said he did so to protest the “inhumanity of the past 100 years.”

In another story, priests from Alabama said they encouraged their “negro” parishioners to participate in what would later be known as the “Bloody Sunday” march, where policemen who were ordered to break up the civil rights protest beat participants with clubs, whips and ropes, causing countless injuries and at least one death.

“I can state unquestionably that we priests felt very badly, because we could not take part in the march, but we abide by the decision of the authorities in this diocese that priests are not to join in street demonstrations,” Edmundite Father Maurice Ouellet, pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Selma, is quoted as saying the day after that March 7 event. “We did what we could, but we’d like to do more.”

In yet another story, it was reported that more than 600 priests, nuns, Protestant ministers and rabbis continued to pour into Selma in a series of protests that March.

It was reported that by March 15, 44 U.S. Catholic dioceses had sent representatives to Selma, including then Bishop-designate James P. Shannon of St. Paul, Minn.

When leading a group of protesters and clergy, Holy Cross Father John Cavanaugh — a former president of University of Notre Dame — was stopped by a Selma public safety officer, who said he couldn’t believe that men of God would march without a permit.

“We may talk cross while excited, but we ask you pray for us, that you may see our cause,” Father Cavanaugh reportedly told the officer. “We don’t look for violence. We believe in justice for all. We ask the blessings of God, of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost on all of you.”

The pages of yellowing paper in the CNS files are too numerous to copy down for you to read, but the stories are rich with history.

Teaming up to shine light on homeless youths

On Valentine’s Day this year hundreds of volunteers came together to shine a light on the plight of the nation’s homeless youths. The project was called Do 1 Thing, a team effort of Covenant House and the Heart Gallery of New Jersey.

In a 24-hour period at Covenant House shelters across the country, from Washington to Los Angeles and New York to New Orleans, people got involved in a variety of activities, from collecting donations to working in the clothing room to serving lunch to the kids.

And it was all documented by award-winning photographers, videographers and writers organized by the Heart Gallery. They all donated their time.

Covenant House spokesman Tom Manning told Catholic News Service yesterday that he was “grateful and humbled” by the efforts of everyone involved.

The Heart Gallery was launched in 2005 by Najlah Hicks and Pim Van Hemmen and some of the nation’s top photographers to use images to tell the stories of  foster children available for adoption — “because everyone deserves a family,” as the gallery’s motto says. Manning said Hicks knew somebody at Covenant House and wondered about using the same approach to telling the story of the nation’s 1.3 homeless youths. So Do 1 Thing was born.

More headlines … (2/17/09)

Items on our clients’ sites in recent days:

Lessons of isolated leadership

Faith leads stranded hiker out of ravine

Powerful Dominican preacher, former actor, looks back on 50 years in the priesthood

Glamour magazine tackles issue of post-abortion regrets

Matt Maher rocks Christian music

Passenger prayed chaplet as plane plunged toward river

Why do we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday?

FW: E-mail from passenger of Flt 1549

Passengers are rescued in the miracle on the Hudson. (CNS/Reuters)

Passengers are rescued in the miracle on the Hudson. (CNS/Reuters)

Who isn’t skeptical of an e-mail with a subject line that begins with the letters FW?

But when the forwarded e-mail comes from your wife, it’s wise to bump up the priority of the FW material.

Yesterday, I received an email from her with this subject line:

FW: E-mail from passenger of Flt 1549

The FW highlighted an e-mailed letter by Fred Berretta, who was aboard the U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River in New York Jan. 15. The letter was written to Vinny Flynn, a Catholic musician who operates a ministry called MercySong.

In the e-mail, Berretta tells Flynn how he had prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet the day before the plane impacted the water. When the flight was going down, Berretta said that he remembered the words of Jesus that nothing would be refused if asked for during the hour of mercy.

The plane ditched in the Hudson at about 3:30 p.m. during the hour of mercy. All survived, and the crash came to be known as the miracle on the Hudson.

Read more of Berretta’s story of Divine Mercy on Flynn’s Web site:

Update Feb. 17- The Florida Catholic reports that Berretta will share his experience at a Divine Mercy conference in Orlando Feb. 21. More here:

Crash victim recalled as star athlete who loved life, hockey

The community of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota is mourning the loss of one of its own in the Feb. 12 plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y.

Madeline “Maddy” Linn Loftus of Parsippany, N.J., 24, who was a 2006 graduate of the university, perished along the other 48 passengers and crew onboard and one person on the ground. A marketing major, she was a star on the school’s women’s hockey team from 2004-06.

“Maddy was the first senior to graduate from my program. She will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Terry Mannor, St. Mary’s women’s hockey coach. She remembered Loftus as someone who was “full of life and compassion.”

While at the university, Loftus also was involved in launching an athletic council, which represents student athletes and is active in community service projects.


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