The give and take of mission work

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of  Philadelphia sings with Kenyan sisters during Mass following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15.  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sings with Kenyan sisters during Mass following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — When Americans think of missions, many think of what they can provide to others in developing countries. What they don’t often realize is that they can learn much from Catholics in those countries.

Diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States and Kenya met yesterday at the Archdiocese of Nairobi’s Resurrection Gardens to share problems, exchange ideas and get to know each other.

The Americans discovered that their Kenyan counterparts are really using the societies as a means of evangelization.

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said the way Kenya’s Pontifical Missionary Childhood — or Holy Childhood Association in the U.S. —  is organized is almost like a parish religious education program. The national director gives weekly lessons that tie a Bible reading to a mission theme. Those themes are given to diocesan coordinators to distribute to parish animators, or coordinators.

Dominican Sister Suzanne Brauer of New Orleans and Elizabeth Howayeck of Milwaukee join Kenyan church workers following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15, 2011.  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Dominican Sister Suzanne Brauer of New Orleans and Elizabeth Howayeck of Milwaukee join Kenyan church workers following the meeting between Kenyan and U.S. mission directors at Resurrection Garden retreat center in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., called the day “pretty awesome. I was impressed.” He said he asked one Kenyan national staffer if he could take her back to the United States — and if he could use her materials.

Sister Ursula Fotovich, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from Wichita, Kan., called it an excellent exchange.

“We found out we share a lot of the same issues even though we are from different countries,” she said.

The Kenyans, too, were happy.

“You’ve really touched us,” said Father Peter Muvea of the Kitui Diocese. “It was an experience that we have really become a family. We are really tied by Jesus. That’s the common denominator — Jesus.”

Sister Lucy Mwangi, a member of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate from the Diocese of Muranga, said she had just been working with children in parishes, and she was encouraged to try working with children in schools.

She said she also received encouragement to keep going when she gets discouraged. “Christ also had sufferings,” she said.

Cleveland’s retired social action director honored, calls for civility rather than divisiveness in church

For 25 years, Tom Allio led the social action office in the Cleveland Diocese and worked on issues as diverse the bankruptcy of  LTV Steel, the danger of nuclear weapons, payday lending and northeast Ohio’s alarming poverty.

Allio retired in 2010, leaving a legacy that few in the church-based social justice movement can match. Not satisfied to sit on the sidelines though, Allio continues to be a voice for justice in Ohio even if his role is not quite as public as it was before.

The veteran advocate for justice was honored Saturday for his leadership with the Servant of Justice Award from the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, which met in Washington over the weekend in conjunction with the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which concludes Wednesday.

But Allio had to wait until Sunday to give his acceptance speech. In it he credited retired Cleveland Bishop Anthony M. Pilla for his vision of justice that allowed the Cleveland social justice program to become the largest in the country — with five separate offices — during the 1980s and 1990s.

“He taught us that anyone who aspired to be a ‘Servant of Justice’ must always strive to manifest Christ’s love for the poor and most vulnerable,” Allio said of Bishop Pilla. “He insisted that we effectively give voice to the least in the halls and offices of the powerful. He also taught us that respect for the leaders we oppose is a requirement of Catholic social action.”

Allio said the collaboration that Bishop Pilla fostered could serve as an example these days for the American Catholic community, which in recent years has experienced widespread incivility among people holding opposing views on justice concerns. Allio particularly singled out Catholics who “unfairly demonize” lay social justice leaders as “social progressives, liberals, activists and radicals.”

“We cannot allow the secular media and their friends in the blogosphere to define us,” Allio told the social action directors. “Despite what some pundits say, social justice is not a dirty word. In fact, Catholicism without social justice is a contradiction in terms.”

Allio noted that despite smearing and name-calling Catholics share far more common ground because of their beliefs than there are differences.

He called upon the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to undertake an effort to unite Catholics and work to end divisiveness within the church on social issues. He cited Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who recently addressed the topic of Christian discourse when he wrote: “Christians must not only speak the truth but must also do so in love.”

“My sincere hope is that new leadership of the USCCB might consider taking on this challenge of ending the civil war within the church,” Allio said.

The round table also honored the Education for Justice project at the Center of Concern in Washington with its Harry A. Fagan Award for an outstanding contribution to spreading the Catholic social teaching. Accepting the honor were Sister Katherine Feely, a Sister of Notre Dame who is project coordinator, senior adviser Jane Deren, and Jesuit Father Jim Hug, the center’s executive director.

One church in mission

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of  U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

NAIROBI, Kenya — In 1908, as the Vatican declared that the United States was no longer a missionary church, three missionary orders were in the process of reintroducing the faith in Kenya.

Both countries now have missionary outreach to other countries and, in mid-February, mission directors from the U.S. and Kenya are meeting to compare and contrast their challenges and successes. The Kenyan visit, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States and Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, includes 10 members of U.S. diocesan mission offices. While in Kenya, they will visit projects started by U.S. missionaries and turned over to the local church, as well as meet church officials and laypeople and visit parishes — urban and rural.

Bishop Anthony Muheria of the Diocese of Kitui, Kenya, told U.S. visitors from the Pontifical Mission Societies that the Kenyan church is young, full of joy and generosity. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Anthony Muheria of the Diocese of Kitui, Kenya, told U.S. visitors from the Pontifical Mission Societies that the Kenyan church is young, full of joy and generosity. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Today, the group’s first full day in Kenya, Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui thanked U.S. Catholics for their help and told the Americans that Kenyan church leaders now ask themselves, “How do we continue with the same momentum that our missionary brothers and sisters” have left them, their legacy: education and schools, hospitals and hygiene, and church building and parishes.

He spoke of the church’s priorities — catechesis in parishes and schools; inculturation — including getting people to carry over Christian values in all parts of their lives; organizing evangelization; and encouraging the self-reliance of the people. But he also spoke of the great gifts Kenyan Catholics offered the church: joy, generosity and the gift of time for God.

The joy is palpable, uplifting, he said. And, when he sits with his people, no one gets edgy or looks at their watches.

“They are poor, but their generosity is noticeable,” he said, adding, “They are not giving extra … they are giving what they really have need of.”

Book publisher sees evangelization opportunities in e-books, new media

News abounds these days about iPhone apps being created and used by Catholic dioceses, newspapers and other church entities. Take the newly released confession app, not meant to be a substitute for confession but to help Catholics prepare for the sacrament.

Now a publisher of Catholic children’s books based in La Jolla, Calif., has teamed up with a university to create an iPad application. The publisher is Rock House Press and the university is John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego.

A recent story by Our Sunday Visitor that is posted on the book publisher’s website describes the team effort. Ilow Roque, president and founder of the company, says he sees many evangelization opportunities in e-books and new media.

Pope’s Lenten retreat to focus on Pope John Paul and saints

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s weeklong Lenten retreat this year will be led by Discalced Carmelite Father Francois-Marie Lethel, an author and expert on “the theology of the saints.”

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported this evening that the pope and top Vatican officials will be on retreat March 13-19 and that Father Lethel, secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, would offer the meditations.

With Pope Benedict watching from a small room at the left, Italian Cardinal Giacomo Biffi leads the 2007 retreat. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

L’Osservatore said the Carmelite’s topic would be: “The light of Christ in the heart of the church: John Paul II and the theology of saints.”

The topic is Father Lethel’s specialty; he has written a book in French on the theology of saints and another on the Christology of St. Therese of Lisieux.

The Carmelite nuns of Parma, Italy, have the text of several of Father Lethel’s articles and speeches on their website — in Italian.

Game on: pierogies and kielbasa vs. brats and cheese

(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NFL)

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., have placed a friendly wager on the outcome of Super Bowl XLV on Sunday. If the Steelers win, Bishop Ricken will make a personal donation to Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh; if the Packers win Bishop Zubik will do likewise, donating to Catholic Charities of Green Bay.

But wait, there’s more — and it involves foods special  to each bishop’s home region.

The bishop of the losing team’s diocese will send a package of food associated with the team’s region to the winning team’s diocesan bishop. For Pittsburgh, that’s pierogies and kielbasa;  for Green Bay, that’s brats and cheese. Once the bishop with the winning team receives the food package, he’ll deliver it to a local food pantry.

Besides cause for an episcopal wager, the big game has been the subject of two informative and entertaining pieces by veteran journalist James Breig, who retired a couple years ago as editor of The Evangelist in Albany, N.Y. Both articles are posted on the Fathers for Good website.

In “Faith on the field,”  Brieg writes about the Packers’ chaplain, Norbertine Father Jim Baraniak. The priest is also featured in the latest issue of The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper.

His second piece, “Super Bowl Catholics,” is about the deep Catholic roots of both the Steelers and the Packers.

When the two football powerhouses face each other Feb. 6, “you may want to pray for your team to win,” writes Breig. “But you should know that both teams have equal favor in heaven with their deep Catholic roots.”

‘We’re at the beginning of a pontificate’

Archbishop Rino Fisichella (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — “We’re still at the beginning of a pontificate, and in my opinion it’s always difficult to make judgments or offer a far-ranging analysis at the beginning.”

Those simple words of Archbishop Rino Fisichella last night took some people by surprise. He was commenting on a new and somewhat critical book about Pope Benedict’s pontificate, which will reach the six-year mark in April.

The idea that Pope Benedict might enjoy a long reign is not new. Reporters have noticed that the German pope seems to deliberately pace himself, much as a long-distance runner would do. At 83, he seems in good health and of quick mind.

But Archbishop Fisichella is the first Roman Curia official to suggest that the controversies, scandals and missteps during Pope Benedict’s first six years may not loom so large in the future. At the very least, he said, “a sense of history should make us prudent and cautious from this point of view.”

He recalled that Pope John Paul II’s first years were also troubled by disagreement and internal dissent, making them “the most terrible and the longest years” of his pontificate. Pope Paul VI in his first six years was ignored, a true “voice crying in the wilderness,” and he gained stature in Italy only later, with actions like his direct appeal to Red Brigades terrorists, Archbishop Fisichella said.

As head of the newly formed Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, Archbishop Fischella said he appreciates that Pope Benedict has unfinished business as supreme pontiff. He said the pope’s main project is one of formation, in response to an “educational emergency” that afflicts people inside and outside the church.

He made the remarks at a press conference in Rome to present the book, C’era una Volta un Vaticano (“Once Upon a Time There Was a Vatican”) by Massimo Franco, a respected journalist who has written about Italian politics and the Catholic Church. The book describes a series of challenges that have greatly reduced the church’s influence in social and political life, including the sex abuse crisis and what the author calls the Vatican’s “gaffe factory.”

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