A family on the run

The Kapral siblings surround their mother, Dorothy, following the Fox Cities Marathon. (CNS/The Compass)

The Kapral siblings surround their mother, Dorothy, following the Fox Cities Marathon. (CNS/The Compass)

Talk about a family on the run.

All 16 siblings of the Kapral family of Oshkosh, Wis. ran in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon in nearby Appleton Sept. 20. Not only did they run in the popular annual event, but each one of them completed the 26.2 mile trek in less than six hours.

It’s the largest group of brothers and sisters to ever accomplish such a feat within eight hours, earning the Kaprals — all graduates of Lourdes High School in Oshkosh — a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., recently profiled the family’s accomplishment.

Interestingly, The Compass reported, the Kaprals were not the first Oshkosh family to be recognized by the Guinness book for accomplishing the same feat. Thirteen siblings of the Weisse family, also graduates of Lourdes, held the record for a month in 2007 until an Irish family running in the Dublin Marathon in Ireland surpassed them.

What’s in the water up there?

Oprah discovers a book CNS readers knew about in 2008

Oprah’s latest book club selection, “Say You’re One of  Them” by Jesuit Father Uwem Akpan, should sound familar to CNS readers.  BOOK-AFRICAWhen Elizabeth Rackover reviewed it for us last year, she found some of the Nigerian priest’s short stories difficult to read and said she was reminded of something the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had once written:

“When they see the innocent suffering, every time they lift their eyes to heaven and say, ‘God, how could you let this happen?’ it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: ‘How could you let this happen?'”

Confessions of a former FBI intern

As a young man James Carroll, the Boston Globe columnist, author and former priest, stepped into his father’s shoes while studying at Georgetown University in Washington. For one summer, he was an FBI intern; his dad served in the FBI until 1948, at which point he was commissioned as an intelligence officer by the Air Force. One day the FBI interns were invited to a meet-and-greet with the U.S. attorney general.

At the meet-and-greet Carroll took his place in the receiving line until he got to shake hands with the attorney general, who asked  him his name, where he was studying and what he planned to do in the future. Carroll told the attorney general that once his internship was over, he was going to a seminary to study for the priesthood.

The attorney general replied, “Get out in the streets with the Protestants, and fight for civil rights. We don’t have enough Catholics out there. The Protestants are taking the lead on this.”

The year was 1962. The attorney general was Robert Kennedy.

Hearing Kennedy speak about civil rights — and not anti-communism or any of a host of other issues — as the leading cause for the United States at that time “validated my calling,” Carroll recalled during a Sept. 30 symposium on Catholics and the media. “It showed me what I needed to do.”

Carroll served as a civil rights and a community organizer in Washington and New York. He left the priesthood in 1974, five years after his ordination, to become a writer.

Year for Priests: A reflection on black spirituality

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

As a result of the current Synod of Bishops for Africa in Rome, there is a renewed interest in the African church.  While many Americans feel, at best, a distant connection to this culture, I have spent several years immersed in the African-American community and believe much can be learned from their expression of faith and spirituality.

Prior to my association with the Basilians, I taught in a high school that was predominantly black (comprised of slave descendants, Africans, Haitians and some South Americans).  Eventually, I also found myself worshiping in this community and sought to learn about its spirituality.  As an extrovert who often felt out of sync with the more subdued liturgies to which I was accustomed, I embarked on a quest to find an expression of faith that would fulfill and challenge me.  I found all that I was looking for and more in the black Catholic Church.

In the U.S. bishops’ document, What We Have Seen and Heard, black spirituality is defined as joyful, holistic, communal and contemplative — each one representing a “pillar” of this expression.  Each is combined with a rich expression of song, a deep-rooted love for the Word of God, and a sense of urgency to evangelize.  Underneath all of this lies a deep sense of the paschal mystery.  I found that black spirituality is seemingly synonymous with suffering and the ability to overcome it.

One of my spiritual guides taught me that black spirituality is an expression more than a thought.  It is a song before a letter.  It is a movement before a stillness.  Black spirituality, as I understand it thus far, is neither accepting nor rejecting — it is simply being.

Of course, I do not believe these traits are exclusive to one spirituality or another, but I do believe uniqueness is often created by emphasis.  People are longing to hear a joyful noise again, to express their thankfulness to their Creator with their whole being. They long for a community which accepts — rather than judges — them where they are, and they long to find an authentic understanding and meaning to our suffering.  While I am not naive enough to believe these ideals can always be found in any one place, I do believe that the expression of faith found in the black Catholic Church fills many of the voids we desperately long to have filled.

In the end, I believe our greatest contributions come from neither black nor white, but from the gray — our ability to share and accept these gifts from each other.  During my experience in African-American communities, I met many who were skeptical of me because of the harm they experienced from people imposing one expression of faith on another.  As a result, gifts are kept hidden and conversations remain mute.  People are afraid of losing all that they have gained or what new ideas may be found, but I see so much hope and joy in the area between African and European.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Alaska archbishop finds Scouting has a spiritual side too

Scouting doesn’t get a lot of recognition these days. Whether it’s a wilderness adventure or learning a new skill, the diverse programs of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts offer young people the chance to become better prepared for life.

Surely there are a lot of advantages to Scouting and one bishop is investing some of his valuable time and energy in promoting this  worthwhile activity.

A recent story in the Catholic Anchor, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, looks at the work of Archbishop Roger Schweitz, a former Scout himself, who believes Scouting for both boys and girls has a definite spiritual side in addition to the fun activities.

Knights on horseback at papal audience

VATICAN CITY — A group of Knights of Malta and members of the Italian forestry police from the region around L’Aquila — devastated by an earthquake last April — rode their horses the 70 miles from L’Aquila to the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square this morning.

L'Aquila Knights

(Cindy Wooden/CNS)

Father Romano Damy, the knights’ chaplain, said the group left L’Aquila last Thursday and mounted their pilgrimage to thank the pope for visiting the region a few weeks after the quake.

Year for Priests: A hospital bedside marriage

By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series

DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — I had been away from Tanzania for one month enjoying a vacation with family at home.  The highlight of the vacation was presiding at the marriage ceremony for my niece.  Joined by over 200 guests, it was a great occasion for family and friends at a beautiful church and reception hall in New Jersey.  It was a day filled with celebration and joy.

Upon returning to Dar es Salaam I continued with ministry at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences where I serve as the Catholic chaplain.  On my first Sunday back, after celebrating Mass at our university hospital chapel, there were some people who wished to see me.  They had a sick person who they feared was in danger of death.

The patient was a woman in her mid-30s.  Her husband and two relatives came with a request.  The woman, Anna, has suffered with stomach cancer for several years.  She has received treatments and has been in and out of hospitals throughout the ordeal.  Although they have one child, Anna and her husband, Valentine, have not yet had their marriage blessed in the church, a condition so common in Tanzania today.  Valentine, fearing that Anna may soon die, came to request that I come to the ward and bless the marriage.

After gathering some details I went with Valentine to see Anna.  She was indeed very ill, nothing but bare bones.  But, she was conscious and alert.  I asked Valentine to sit on the bed next to his wife.  I explained to Anna that I had come to bless her marriage.  She was grateful.  Some nurses gathered around the bed and, together with the two family members, I conducted a marriage service.  While beginning the prayers in Swahili I had an immediate flashback to my niece’s wedding of just one week ago!  As Valentine and Anna exchanged their vows I could feel a lump in my throat.  When it came to rings, of course there weren’t any.  So I did some quick thinking and improvised, asking that each simply repeat these words: “Anna (Valentine), accept my word of promise as a sign of my love and fidelity to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The two weddings were so different.  Instead of a beautiful church in New Jersey, our service was conducted in a hospital ward in Dar es Salaam on a bed with sheets stained with Anna’s pain and suffering.  From the richest to among one of the poorest countries in the world I was struck by the contrast!  Throughout the service I sensed the tears coming to my eyes and had to work to hold them back.  After the wedding ceremony, Anna and Valentine received holy Communion for the first time since their marriage eight years ago.  As the service ended, despite the contrasting scenes, I realized there was something so much in common with my niece’s wedding: it was that moment of great joy and celebration when Anna and Valentine were announced husband and wife.  As they held hands on the bed, those present shrilled the sound of ululation, the traditional African expression of joy. Anna’s constant physical pain was suddenly eased by the joy of love shared between them.  In taking care of his wife, Valentine was a living witness to the promises they shared: “I promise to be faithful to you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love and cherish you all the days of my life.”

Two days later, Anna passed away.  How grateful I am for this brief encounter with Anna and Valentine.  May she rest in peace!

Fr. Michael J. Snyder is a member of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as Maryknoll. A native of New Jersey, he was ordained in 1979 and assigned to work in Tanzania, East Africa. In addition to various parish assignments, Fr. Mike served as the regional superior for the Maryknoll priests, brothers, and lay missioners working in Tanzania (1989-1995). In 1996 he returned to the U.S. to serve on the General Council for Maryknoll until 2002. Fr. Mike also served as vocation director for Maryknoll for seven years. In 2007 he returned for missionary service in Tanzania where he resides today.

Click here for more in this series.

An ‘A’ for accuracy?

During a Sept. 30 symposium in Washington on how self-described progressive Catholics can reframe media coverage of church issues, speakers talked about one thorny media problem for Catholics of all stripes: the shrinking number of reporters with religion as their beat.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, of Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, sends a weekly e-mail to religion reporters. He commented that every week “I get more and more bouncebacks” as reporters’ work-based e-mail accounts have been deactivated now that they no longer work for the publication.

Father Reese noted that some reporters newly assigned to cover religion are unfamiliar with knowledge of basic church matters that with other writers would have been taken for granted. When being interviewed by one scribe — the name of the news outlet will be withheld here since we are confident the writer continues to learn on the job — Father Reese said he was asked “what the difference is between a Jesuit priest and a diocesan priest.” Later in the interview, when Father Reese made a reference to “St. Peter, the first pope,” the writer asked him, “And what was his last name?”

Archbishop Gregory’s address at synod for Africa

SYNOD

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta takes his seat at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops for Africa in the synod hall at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta spoke before the Synod of Bishops for Africa Oct. 5. The Vatican released the full text of his remarks today:

“I welcome this opportunity to summarize the importance that this Second Synod for Africa holds for the church in the United States of America. We Americans find ourselves increasingly drawn in by issues and events that occur on the African continent. We, like people everywhere, feel ever more acutely the impact of the intensifying global character of our world.

First and foremost, we praise Almighty God for the gift of the One Faith that binds the church in the United States to all of the other churches throughout the world.

Our Catholic community has benefited directly during the past generation from a growing number of clergy and religious from the great African continent who now serve Catholics throughout our nation and who serve them generously and zealously. We know though their presence of the deep faith and generosity of the church in Africa.

The church in the USA is also deeply grateful for the opportunity to assist the local churches in Africa, through the support of Catholic Relief Services, by the many ad varied missionary cooperative ventures that spring from the generous heart of our people and frequently bind diocese to diocese and parish to parish in mutual prayer, financial assistance, and by personal contacts.

I am happy and proud to report that agencies within the United States Conference of catholic Bishops have a long history of working with the Episcopal Conferences and associations of Episcopal Conferences on the American continent in the pursuit of peace and justice. These are very positive signs in which the church in my country and the church in the countries of Africa have engaged each other in the work of evangelization and social outreach and thus have rendered the theme for this Synod “In Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace” an important reminder of how the church in the USA and the church in African are conjoined in faith and in charity.

Yet we know that we can merely say in the words of St. Luke’s Gospel, “We have done only what we ought to have done” [Lk 17:10b]. We recognize that the greatest resource that the church in Africa has are its people. The church in the USA continues to benefit from those people from Africa who recently have come as visitors and new residents to our shores. These new arrivals come, not like those of an earlier moment in time, wearing chains and as human chattel, but as skilled workers, professionally trained businessmen, and students eager to make a new life in a land that they view as promising. Many of these new peoples bring with them a profound and dynamic Catholic faith with its rich spiritual heritage. These wonderful people challenge us to rediscover our own spiritual traditions that so often are set aside because of the influence of our secular pursuits.

While my own nation has made outstanding and blessed progress in our own struggle for racial reconciliation and justice, we have not yet achieved that perfection to which the Gospel summons all humanity. We also need to achieve reconciliation, justice, and peace in our own land until as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama paraphrased the Prophet Amos and we see the ultimate fulfillment of our great potential and [5:24] “Let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

 This great land of Africa has many other resources that the world today lusts for and at times pursues with ravishing greed and frequent violence. Your resources are a blessing for this planet that can be used to bring not only prosperity to the peoples of Africa but properly viewed bring a sense of the oneness of the earth and the interconnectedness that people everywhere have when we wisely use the natural resources that God has placed in our hands as a common patrimony.

I am deeply grateful to our Holy Father for inviting me to engage my brother bishops from the African continent and to learn from them some of their hopes, struggles, and dreams and to share with them the deep affection and respect of the church in the United States of America.”

The ultimate honor for a priest who never sought them

Catholics around the world — but especially in Hawaii — are preparing to celebrate the canonization this Sunday of Blessed Damien de Veuster, the Belgian-born priest who gave his life to minister among those with Hansen’s disease in Hawaii.

CNS photo/courtesy of Honolulu Diocese.

CNS/courtesy of Honolulu Diocese.

Over the years and particularly in recent weeks, we’ve had many stories about the lives Blessed Damien touched. Here are a few:

Life has changed for woman whose cancer cure led to canonization

Woman whose father knew Blessed Damien brings family back to Hawaii

Park service planning for future of community served by Blessed Damien

Canonization of Father Damien to end long journey for priest

Charity in action: Impact of new saints continues in United States

You can also follow the blog entries and the tweets from members of a pilgrimage group from Honolulu heading to Rome — via Belgium — for the canonization. Check the Hawaii Catholic Herald blog and the pilgrims’ Twitter feed.

Be sure to return to the CNS blog next Monday to read what Pope Benedict XVI has to say when he canonizes Father Damien and four others.

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