Word getting around that Sept. 1 is World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis a year ago declared that Catholics would join their Orthodox brothers and sisters and other Christians to formally mark Sept. 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

This year awareness of the day is gaining momentum as church groups and faith-based environment advocates have instituted a series of prayer services and programs for Catholics in particular to observe the day.

Nuns join climate justice activists at a plaza in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 29, a day ahead of the start of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris. (CNS/Simone Orendain).

Nuns join climate justice activists at a plaza in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 29, a day ahead of the start of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris. (CNS/Simone Orendain).

“Sept. 1 is huge because it is the first time in our Catholic liturgical calendar we have an official day for creation care,” said Tomas Insua, coordinator of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. “It’s a massive opportunity to start getting ‘Laudato Si” deeply imbedded in our Catholic mindset and the life of the Catholic family.”

The day opens what numerous Christian communities are calling the Season of Creation that runs through the feast of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 4. Christians are invited to pray and care for God’s creation over the five-week period.

The Sept. 1 day of prayer originated when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople instituted a similar day of prayer for the Orthodox Church in 1989. It has gradually expanded to include much of the Christian world.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Catholic Climate Covenant has developed its own program for the St. Francis feast day. The educational program is called “Dial Down the Heat: Cultivate the Common Good for our Common Home.” You can see a video about the program here.

Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant executive director, said it is designed to bring diverse people together to in a civil dialogue on climate change in a time of political polarization and to find common ground to protect Earth by thinking about ways to use less energy so “we put less CO2 into the atmosphere.”

“We need to be thinking about how do we create the space for people to have civil dialogue as opposed to people shouting at each other,” he told Catholic News Service.

A kit on the program is available from the Catholic Climate Covenant website.

Insua knows that much work remains to create awareness about the day “because the vast majority of Catholics still have no clue that Pope Francis instituted it.”

Having a longer period, a season, helps, he said.

“By definition, it’s ecumenical,” Insua added. “In the Catholic agenda of ecumenism this is a very concrete way of coming together with other Christian churches.”

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 21, 2016

"I come to gather nations of every language." -- Isaiah 66:18a

“I come to gather nations of every language.” — Isaiah 66:18a

 

Aug. 21, Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 66:18-21

      Psalm 117:1-2

      2) Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

      Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

 

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

The final part of the Gospel for this week speaks of an event many of us are looking forward to with eagerness. Jesus says, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Having lived a pretty privileged first-world life, I’m not looking to rise in the rankings in the kingdom of God. But it has also been my privilege to know many people — despised because of their poverty and their lack of education — who will.

My wife has the added privilege of working with the poor in the form of refugees and immigrants who have literally come from the east and the west, the north and the south: from Africa, Asia and from all of Latin America.

They come here with hope and a vision to achieve a new life free from fear and free to earn a living that will sustain them and their families.

Though not all are virtuous to a fault, most of them have grown up in families where they were nurtured and protected. However, some fight against deeply dysfunctional family dynamics that caused them to live on the streets in their home countries. But they do fight their circumstances, and my wife and her co-workers at her school assist them, offering them a hand up through education, kindness, empathy and simply the presence of a listening ear.

Many, though not all, are believers. Some follow the Hindu and Muslim faiths.

Many of them will someday be among those our Savior greets in eternity in the kingdom of God, where, having experienced life in this world among “the last,” they will everlastingly experience life in the kingdom among “the first” as they recline at the table with our Lord.

QUESTIONS:

Who do you know whose lives in this world would put them in the category of “the last”? In what way are you looking forward to seeing them experience life among “the first” in the kingdom?

Volunteering with Mother Teresa’s nuns: ‘Getting right in the dirty of things’

Lay missionary Eloisa Greenwald volunteered at Shanti Dan, home for women and girls with disabilities. (CNS photo/courtesy Eloisa Greenwald)

Lay missionary Eloisa Greenwald volunteered at Shanti Dan, home for women and girls with disabilities. (CNS photo/courtesy Eloisa Greenwald)

By Anna Capizzi

What is it like to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata?

Thousands travel to Kolkata, India, each year to give their time helping the order of sisters Blessed Teresa founded to “satiate the thirst of Jesus” by serving the poor in the slums of India.

Anyone can volunteer. And you don’t have to make prior arrangements — just find lodging in advance and apply for a tourist visa. The sisters hold orientations three times a week for new volunteers.

Volunteers come from all over and might not necessarily be Christian or even religious. Some are curious about Mother Teresa’s work and just “want to do some good,” said Joe Reciniello, who has served in Kolkata six times.

Upon arrival the “cacophony of noises, smells and sights” struck volunteer struck volunteer Renee Roden, who volunteered in 2013 for two months with University of Notre Dame’s International Summer Service Learning Program.

Missionary of Charity Sisters chat in alley near the motherhouse in Kolkata, India, before afternoon prayer. (CNS photo/courtesy Victoria Vissat)

Missionary of Charity Sisters chat in alley near the motherhouse in Kolkata, India, before afternoon prayer. (CNS photo/courtesy Victoria Vissat)

Navigating through the chaotic, dusty streets thronged with people, “poverty hits you in the face, right along with discomfort,” said Eloisa Greenwald, a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, who volunteered for three weeks in 2015.

Volunteers find it difficult to see so many families and individuals sleeping along the road and “even more difficult to understand the greater complexities of poverty” and not become “desensitized,” said Jenna Ahn, who spent two summers volunteering.

But this is why volunteers come: to tend to the unwanted, the forgotten, those on the margins of society.

The day begins with Mass at 6 a.m., followed by a simple breakfast of chai tea, bread and a banana. The sisters sing a “thank you” song for departing volunteers and send everyone off with a prayer for the day’s work.

Volunteers pray before the tomb of Mother Teresa and ask for her intercession. (CNS photo/Victoria Vissat)

 

The volunteers split into groups and travel to the different homes the sisters have throughout the city. Each home has its own apostolate, a specific purpose.

At Shanti Dan, the home for women and girls with disabilities, Ahn spent mornings with the girls “singing, dancing, mediating, working on nonverbal modes of communication, learning colors and numbers, watering plants in the garden.”

“Over two years, the girls at Shanti Dan taught me so much more about love and acceptance than I could ever repay,” said Ahn.

Other volunteers assist with manual labor. To do laundry by hand “hit me hard,” Greenwald said. “You’re getting right in the dirty of things — carrying buckets of water, wringing out loads.”

While most volunteers typically can’t converse in Bengali or Hindu, they still find ways to communicate. “We would try to learn their name,” noted Levi Rash, a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students who spent five weeks there in 2015.

Rash’s group visited Titagarh, a leper colony Mother Teresa founded on the outskirts of town. Weavers there create the sisters’ saris and blankets for the sick and dying.

When Rash’s group arrived, the weavers “started working even harder, weaving the looms” to show us “the worth they had as humans.” The sight reminded him “that every single person has worth … and they should be cared for and loved as if you were loving Christ.”

The sisters allowed Dani Bell, a medical student on a five-week mission with Creighton University’s School of Medicine, to work with women they had brought in off the streets.

The most moving part of her trip, Bell said, was when she spent hours “hunched over one woman pulling dead pieces off her skin that maggots had eaten away. She was emaciated and barely alive. I remember looking in her eyes and telling her she is safe now.”

Flower petals on Mother Teresa’s tomb spell a different message each day for those who come to pray. (CNS photo/Christiana Molnar)

Flower petals on Mother Teresa’s tomb spell a different message each day for those who come to pray. (CNS photo/Christiana Molnar)

After the morning shift, volunteers break for lunch and a much-needed nap. The afternoon shift ends with evening eucharistic adoration. Volunteers then depart for dinner and are free to choose their own evening activities

During their time there, volunteers get a sense of the spirituality and personality of the Missionary of Charities.

Roden described the sisters as “tough,” yet “so full of joy.” The strength and will of the sisters to love and help others “simultaneously puts me to shame and inspires me to be better.”

Like their founder, the sisters are straightforward. When Susan Johnson volunteered in 2011, she told the sisters she missed her six children back in New Jersey. Instead of comforting her, the sisters offered a challenging response: “These children here need you more right now.”

For all volunteers, the experience is transformative. “I’ve always known it was important to serve the poor,” but there “I realized how much help was actually needed,” said Greenwald.

To go to Kolkata takes careful planning and spiritual preparation. But a response to Christ’s words “whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” is possible anywhere.

As Mother Teresa said, go “find your own Kolkata.”

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 14, 2016

"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished." -- Luke 12:50

“There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” — Luke 12:50

 

August 14, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

      Psalm 40:2-4, 18

      2) Hebrews 12:1-4

      Gospel: Luke 12:49-53

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I live at the edge of Appalachia, where I’m awed every day by the beauty of the mountains. But despite a sense of serenity, I know the scene before me is not at peace.

The paradox of the Appalachian region is well-known: Its natural beauty and rich culture belie a continuing struggle with environmental exploitation and poverty.

An inspiring, ongoing story I covered as a reporter for my diocesan newspaper was the work of the church advocating for justice in Appalachia. Over recent decades, much of that mission has been carried out at the grass roots by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, an active group of religious and laypeople living and laboring with the people, lifting a prophetic voice against such degradation as mountaintop removal, industrial pollution and myriad social problems that come with endemic poverty.

The Holy Spirit is at work among God’s faithful people there, characteristically stirring up conflict. Characteristically?

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?”

On the contrary, he states, he intends to set the earth on fire, bringing division and, yes, that can mean conflict even among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

A stark example is the struggle for justice in Appalachia, alive with Christ’s Spirit as the members of the church grapple with their differences of opinion on environmental issues.

Members of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia last year applauded Pope Francis’ encyclical on the global threat of climate change. The pope’s words appeared to speak directly to conditions in Appalachia as he described the critical depletion of the earth’s natural resources and its particular impact on the poor.

But the response of some local dioceses differed from the committee’s. They disagreed on the environmental and economic impact some of the document’s proposals would have on the region as well as on how to address the problems it raised. Nevertheless, the committee encouraged all the bishops of Appalachia to engage the church in the concerns and conflicts raised by “Laudato Si’,” even though the conversation may be contentious.

So it is with many issues our church faces, but in bequeathing his Spirit to his disciples, Jesus baptized us in fire and calls us to work through the conflicts to accomplish his will.

QUESTIONS:

How would you describe the attitude of Jesus in this Gospel? When have you witnessed the Spirit of Christ working through conflict?

Sisters of Life live up to their name

Sister of Life during opening processional Aug. 6. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

Sister of Life during opening processional Aug. 6. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

The liturgy — and celebration afterward — for the six women who professed final vows as Sisters of Life Aug. 6 truly lived up to the order’s name.

The nearly three-hour-liturgy  in a tightly-packed Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, was filled with friends, relatives, sisters from other religious orders, people who have volunteered with the sisters and many women who have been helped by them with their babies or young children in tow.

“You have been called to special heroic work in a world that has lost its soul,” Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara of New York told the sisters in his homily, adding that in their pro-life ministry they would bring life where there is death, joy where there is sorrow and love where there is hate.

That love, joy and life was on full display Aug. 6. It was clear these women loved God, the work they felt called to and each other. After the six women professed vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and to protect and enhance the sanctity of human life, they were hugged by each member of their order. Then after Mass, the hugging (and picture taking) continued from those who came from near and far to witness this occasion.

The liturgy included special recognition of the parents of these new sisters who joined their daughters in the offertory procession. It also paid tribute to the order’s founder, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York. His chalice was used in the Mass and his sister was in the congregation.

The order’s superior general, Mother Agnes Donovan, spoke at the end of the of liturgy and specifically thanked everyone who had played a role in making the day special. She also thanked the six new sisters for their “faithfulness to grace.”

Sister Francesca, left, one of the first members of the Missionaries of Charity, poses with her niece, Sister Grace Dominic, a new Sister of Life. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

Sister Francesca, left, one of the first members of the Missionaries of Charity, poses with her niece, Sister Grace Dominic, a new Sister of Life. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

“Your bless us with your lives,” she added.

She then invited the entire congregation to join them for a celebration at their nearby retreat center where they fed, visited and took more pictures with hundreds of guests.

The ongoing celebration under white tents on the grounds of the Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center seemed a fitting way to close the day.

As Bishop O’Hara said in his closing remarks: “After a lot of prayer, there needs to be a good party.”

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 7, 2016

"They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar." -- Hebrews 11:13

“They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” — Hebrews 11:13

 

August 7, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Wisdom 18:6-9

      Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-22

      2) Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12

      Gospel: Luke 12:32-48 or Luke 12:35-40

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I make very few promises in my life. I do my best to never say the word “promise” unless I know I can deliver on it.

However, when I was a youth minister, there was one promise I would routinely make. I would start off every new confirmation class saying, “Confirmation is a time to seriously consider your relationship with the Lord.”

I would go on to explain that if they came every week, listened to the teachings, participated in the group discussions and were at the very least open to growing in faith, I could promise that they would leave at the end of the year changed people. I was never wrong.

This was an easy promise to make, mainly because I was not the one keeping the promise. I know that all God needs to transform a person is a heart that is open. So my job was to create an atmosphere that would help these young people open their hearts to the possibility that an unseen God loves them enough to die for them. Once the heart was open, the promise would begin to bloom.

God is a promise-keeper, even when we cannot see to completion the promise kept. This week’s reading from Hebrews tells the story of Abraham and Sarah, and the promise that God made to them that they would be the parents of a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. But they died with a modest family, nothing close to the size of a village, let alone a nation.

Hebrews says, “They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” I really like that verse because it speaks of hope and the power of faith. Earlier in the same reading we hear that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Life may not always turn out the way we plan, and we cannot always see past our circumstances to the promise of God, but if we lean on our faith and hold on to hope, we can get a glimpse of what remains unseen.

QUESTIONS:

What promise from God have you seen come to pass in your life? What promises are you still waiting to come to fruition?

A WYD Q&A with Cardinal Tagle

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A #YoungCaritas group selfie with Cardinal Tagle in Krakow. (Photo: Caritas Poland)

KRAKOW, Poland — Michelle Hough, communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, shared her interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the international Caritas network.

Q: The pope gave you a big hug when he saw you on the stage after he arrived at WYD. What’s the pope like as a hugger?

(Laughing) He’s a gentle hugger. The hug is a hug of a father, but also of a friend. When he hugged me on the stage during the opening ceremony he said, “Here he is!” – a hug of recognition – and then he said, “Ma questo ragazzo, you should be there (in the audience) with the young people and not here with the cardinals.”

WYD CARITAS SERVE TAGLE

Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila claps while speaking to World Youth Day pilgrims July 27 at St. Joseph Church in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Q: When you were introduced to Pope John Paul by Cardinal Ratzinger, referring to your youthful looks the future pope said, “Don’t worry, he’s made his first Communion.” How come you still look like a youth?

I think I don’t take myself seriously, I take the Savior seriously. There is such a great love in the one who died for us that just the thought of that should make us so joyful, energetic and hopeful.

Q: You sang the song “Where is love?” from the musical “Oliver!” following Caritas’s youth gathering the other day, do you know any other show tunes?

I grew up surrounded by music and every occasion reminds me of a song like when I saw #YoungCaritas the other day. I had no plans on referring to that song but when I saw all the young people it came back to me, “Where is love?”

When I was talking about opening ourselves to mercy to a crowd earlier this week and I thought about pride and how we sometimes say emphatically “I can do it my way,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” came to mind. It’s not Jesus’ way, I’ll do it MY way. The people in the crowd of my generation knew the lyrics and were dictating them to me…. These songs, the lyrics are good and they allow us to write our own words to continue the song and the melody.

Q: Have you cried yet at World Youth Day?

Yes – in every catechesis! (laughs). I don’t know, it’s not part of the script, it just comes. During the Stations of the Cross (with Pope Francis) there were moments where we just had to cry not only with, but for the many people who are crucified.

Q: What’s the hardest question you’ve received from a young person during the catecheses you’ve done over the past few days?

The questions of the youth are real questions. They’re about life and they can even be called metaphysical, but they’re framed using very simple and innocent terms. One of the most difficult questions was, “How do we forgive terrorists?” There I was confronted with the folly of the cross. We have to beg God for the grace to do this. We turn to stories, to Jesus who forgave not just terrorists from outside, but his own friends who betrayed him. Then you go to the story of John Paul II who even visited the man who tried to kill him … then you know it’s real, it’s not theoretical, you’re not talking about terrorism but coming face to face with a terrorist. That’s where the story begins.

Q: Horrific crimes against humanity took place (at Auschwitz) not far from where WYD is being held in Krakow. How do we forgive without forgetting?

I am a firm believer that you don’t need to forget in order to forgive. In fact remembering might help us forgive. Remembering first the horror of these crimes and that we make a commitment to never allow that to happen again and never to participate in any horrific action. We also remember, not only the victims but also the perpetrators who are also made of dust, like us. Like them, we are all sinners. So in the mystery of sin and failure, we are brothers and that’s why God can be forgiving because God always remembers we’re made of dust and we have to be picked up again and again. I think we need to condemn horrible acts of terror. In fact, we need to hate terrorism. We need that strong feeling. But at a certain point we need to hate hatred itself.

Q: What resources do Polish youth have to face the future?

I really admire the tenacity and strength of the Polish people. I think every generation of Polish people should cherish this legacy of love and country and of culture, love of the earth and of their identity. They should discover over and over again the secret of this strength and they should treasure it, make it grow and pass it on.

Q: How many selfies have been taken with you at World Youth Day?

(Laughs) I don’t know! I think for the young people it’s a way of being present with them. It’s their way of connecting with you.

Q: You have a very busy schedule. Do you ever want to just go home, put your feet up and have a cup of tea?

The one thing I miss terribly is just being by myself and being a regular person, but it’s becoming much more difficult to do that even at home. People think that I’m an extrovert and I know how to handle crowds but I’m really an introvert and very shy. But for me it’s a mission.

Q: One sentence on what it means to be young?

Being young is a grace, it is a gift, and it is a gift to be shared.

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