Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Aug. 2, 2015

"Whoever comes to me will never hunger." -- John 6:35c

“Whoever comes to me will never hunger.” — John 6:35c

By Jeff Hensley Catholic News Service

August 2, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle B. Readings:

      1) Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15

      Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54

      2) Ephesians 4:17, 20-24

      Gospel) John 6:24-35

The Israelites grumbled as they fled Egypt. They wished they were back in captivity, sitting by their stewpots, eating the bread of that land. God had mercy on them and provided quail for meat and manna from the surface of the desert for bread.

When Jesus came, the crowds following him after he multiplied loaves and fishes went with him across the Sea of Galilee in search of more. Miraculously, he provided food. Jesus berates them for looking to him for food instead of something of lasting value.

Someone brings up the example of Moses having provided God’s people with bread from heaven to eat. Jesus corrects them:

“It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

When they ask for that heavenly bread always, he responds, “I am the bread of life;whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Pattie Watson recently retired from her position as social ministry director at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas. When she first had contact with that ministry’s food pantry, she was estranged from the church. She was so estranged she would not accept help for her family from Franciscan Brother Ed Bennett. She relented only when he told her, “This isn’t charity. This is family helping family, and someday, somehow, you’ll be able to give back.”

In time, her relationship with the church healed, and she became, once again, one of those receiving the bread from heaven that is Jesus.

And in time, she came to accept what she believed was God’s direction to take the job of director of the social services ministry.

She says she came to realize that “it didn’t matter what anybody else did to me. It mattered what I did, and that’s what faith is all about. My faith is strong. It got stronger with every package of food I handed over.”

QUESTION:

How have you found your life as a Christian more clearly defined through giving to others?

Interfaith leaders welcome Pope Francis

Nearly three dozen religious leaders sent a letter to Pope Francis welcoming him to the United States in September.

Nearly three dozen religious leaders sent a letter to Pope Francis welcoming him to the United States in September.

A group of interfaith leaders are welcoming Pope Francis to the United States.

In a short July 27 letter sent directly to the pope at the Vatican, the religious leaders said their work on behalf of social justice, inclusion and equality has been “renewed by your clarity of vision and your bold statement of the truth of the needs of our time.”

“We know that we all need to be called to a change of heart and we are so grateful for raising up that call,” the letter said.

Noting that the pope will address Congress Sept. 24 on the last day of his visit to Washington before heading to New York and Philadelphia, the leaders said they were eagerly anticipating the pontiff’s visit.

“As people of faith we look forward to your message and are eager to share it with members of our various faiths and denominations. Our nation needs to hear your word of hope and challenge,” the leaders said.

Fourteen of the letter’s 35 signers are Catholic including the heads of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Franciscan Action Network, Jubilee USA Network, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, Pax Christ USA, Pax Christi International, Maryknoll Sisters, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Sisters of the Good Shepherd as well representatives of other Catholic organizations.

They joined leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups including National Council of Churches, USA, Lutheran Services in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Islamic Society of North America, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and Unitarian Universalist Association.

Anniversary marks Empire State Building plane crash

A New York Times newsletter July 28 called attention to the 70th anniversary of an event that rang faint bells — yes, on Sept. 11, 2001, there were references to another time an airplane had hit a New York highrise. That crash had a high toll among employees of the National Catholic Welfare Council, the precursor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Times linked to this History Channel post, about the 1945 crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the Empire State Building.  The Army bomber with three people aboard was flying low on a route from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to La Guardia Airport in New York. Heavy fog obscured the city’s taller structures and the plane swerved to avoid the Chrysler Building, but on a path that put it smack on course to the city’s tallest building, the Empire State.

The plane hit around the 79th floor, spreading flames through several other floors. Nevertheless, firefighters were able to limit the spread of the fire and quickly extinguish it. In addition to the three aboard the bomber, 11 employees of the NCWC, as it was known, were killed, nearly all of them women. Dozens more were injured.

This story from the Times archives goes into great detail about the crash and the victims. And this newsreel report from British Movietone and posted on FaceBook by The Associated Press tells the story as people would have heard about it in movie theaters of the time.

U.S. says “sí” to Cuban Embassy

As the Cuban national  anthem plays, the country's flag goes up for the first time over its Washington embassy since 1961. (CNS Photo by Rhina Guidos)

As the Cuban national anthem plays, the country’s flag goes up for the first time over its Washington embassy since 1961. (CNS Photo by Rhina Guidos)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – For the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the Cuban flag today flew over its embassy in the capital of the United States. In 1961, the United States and the island nation severed diplomatic relations and embassies in each country closed. Relations had been on the decline since the 1959 Cuban revolution. Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro began siding with Communist nations. After a series of events, including the confiscation of American properties, the rift deepened. Neither country trusted the other. Though neighbors, the two nations remained diplomatically estranged for more than five decades until late last year.

That’s when leaders from both countries announced that, after negotiations involving the Vatican, they were ready to work toward normalizing relations. The 10:30 a.m. ceremony in Washington saw protestors, most of them against the U.S. embargo.

Some onlookers chanted “Cuba sin Castro,” or “Cuba without Castro” and pointed out human rights violations on the island. Others chanted support for the Castro brothers and yet others were there to protest the embargo. When some in the crowd began chanting “Cuba sí bloqueo no,” or “Cuba yes, embargo no,” officials on the grounds of the embassy clapped.

The Cuban Catholic bishops in a June statement said the “new possibilities of dialogue taking place” between the governments of the U.S. and Cuba have brought “an air of hope” to the island.

For a video of the Cuban flag going up  –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZI5LvAzQ5Q&feature=youtu.be

Catholics among 12 faith leaders to be honored by White House for climate work

Two Catholics are among a dozen faith leaders who will be honored at the White House July 20 for their work on climate change.

Franciscan Sister Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, and Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, were named Champions of Change by President Barack Obama.

Both told Catholic News Service they were surprised by the honor.

“There are a lot of people out there who do really good work. It’s a blessing into be among the 12,” said Carolan, whose work in helping form the Global Catholic Climate Movement earlier this year was cited by the White House.

“All the people being honored are people that I work with. It shows how connected this community is, which is what Pope Francis talks about in the encyclical (“Laudato Si’”) — that we all need to be connected and we all are connected,” he said.

Sister Joan said she was humbled to be selected for the honor and that she was but one of many people in the faith community who are working on raising awareness about climate change and protecting the environment.

“In the work I do with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light we collaborate with a number of different organizations because we find we when we work together we can do a lot of good,” she said.

The basic work of education and organizing never ends for the Franciscan nun from Minnesota, but she acknowledged she is seeing inroads into understanding the importance of caring for God’s creation.

“I’m actually finding more and more people of faith are making these connections and seeing the issues are quite large and needing to be engaged at some level,” she said.

The White House said in a statement that the 12 leaders “have demonstrated clear leadership across the United States and around the world through their grass-roots efforts to green their communities and educate others on the moral and social justice implications of climate change.”

Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, herself a Catholic, and Brian Deese, a senior adviser to Obama, will speak during the ceremony.

Other honorees include Huda Alkaff, founder and director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin; Steven Beumer, member of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Winter Park, Florida; Cassandra Carmichael, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment; the Rev. Gerald Durley, dean of Clark Atlanta University; Nana Firman, member, Green Mosque Initiative of the Islamic Society of North America; Rachel Lamb, chair of the steering committee for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action; the Rev. Kim Morrow, executive director, Nebraska Interfaith Power and Light; Rabbi Marc Soloway, chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Board for Hazon, a Jewish organization promoting sustainability; the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr, president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus; and Susan Viswanath, co-founder of Women for Afghan Women.

Letters to pope open window to Paraguayan kids’ concerns

By Barbara J. Fraser ASUNCION, Paraguay -- They drew icons, doves and portraits of the pope. One 11-year-old asked the pope to pray for his 7-month-old sister who has a heart murmur. A 9-year-old asked for his mother to get out of prison.  One asked for an end to violence against children. Several wrote entirely in Guarani. One began, “Hi pope! How are you? I’m fine.” Another asked, “What’s the Vatican like?” A few asked for prayers so they could be promoted to the next grade. Most addressed Pope Francis as “tu,” the familiar form of “you” used with relatives and friends. There was a sprinkling of hearts and smiley faces. The letters were written by 2,500 children from low-income neighborhoods in six parishes along the bank of the Paraguay River, one of which Pope Francis visited June 12. The project was coordinated by schools in the neighborhoods, which flood every year when the river rises, and where residents are being threatened with eviction to make way for shopping centers and luxury high rises. Dozens of the letters and drawings, reproduced on huge panels beside the chapel that the pope visited, open a window into a world in which children sometimes have grown-up concerns. Several children told of the flooding that destroyed their houses and forced them to take refuge in shelters or move repeatedly. One drew the scene, showing a child, a few household goods and a bony dog on the only patch of high ground as floodwaters swamped nearby houses. “I will ask you a question. Why do street children suffer if God helps and loves everyone? I hope you understand,” one wrote. “I want the president to pay attention to our problems or for him to be replaced by another,” said another. In a neighborhood where many people eke a living out of collecting and selling recyclable materials, one young artist showed how a bottle could be turned into a pencil holder, a piece of cardboard into a painting and a tin can into a cup. A first grader drew a picture of his school and asked that it not be closed. Another child asked the pope “to do me a nice favor, that my mother and father get back to normal and we can be together and happy again.” Drugs and crime got frequent mention. Some said they hoped their parents could find steady work. Others were less serious, but no less urgent. “I ask if you can give me an opportunity to become a singer,” one wrote, adding, “because God says the kingdom of heaven is for the children.” “Pray for me when I go play soccer,” said another. “I want to tell you that I know the Our Father in Guarani,” wrote one child to the pope, who recited the prayer in that language during Mass on July 11. Nearly all said they were looking forward to the pope’s visit, thanked him for coming and asked him to bless their families and their country. And at least one took up a political topic that the pope has mentioned in several speeches. “I ask you to touch the hearts of corrupt government officials,” the child wrote. “Tell God to forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Paraguayan children wrote letters to Pope Francis. (CNS/Barbara J. Fraser)

By Barbara J. Fraser

ASUNCION, Paraguay — They drew icons, doves and portraits of the pope. One 11-year-old asked the pope to pray for his 7-month-old sister who has a heart murmur. A 9-year-old asked for his mother to get out of prison.

One asked for an end to violence against children. Several wrote entirely in Guarani. One began, “Hi pope! How are you? I’m fine.” Another asked, “What’s the Vatican like?” A few asked for prayers so they could be promoted to the next grade.

Most addressed Pope Francis as “tu,” the familiar form of “you” used with relatives and friends. There was a sprinkling of hearts and smiley faces.

The letters were written by 2,500 children from low-income neighborhoods in six parishes along the bank of the Paraguay River, one of which Pope Francis visited June 12.

The project was coordinated by schools in the neighborhoods, which flood every year when the river rises, and where residents are being threatened with eviction to make way for shopping centers and luxury high rises.

Dozens of the letters and drawings, reproduced on huge panels beside the chapel that the pope visited, open a window into a world in which children sometimes have grown-up concerns.

Several children told of the flooding that destroyed their houses and forced them to take refuge in shelters or move repeatedly. One drew the scene, showing a child, a few household goods and a bony dog on the only patch of high ground as floodwaters swamped nearby houses.

“I will ask you a question. Why do street children suffer if God helps and loves everyone? I hope you understand,” one wrote.

“I want the president to pay attention to our problems or for him to be replaced by another,” said another.

A Paraguayan boy looks at some of the many letters  children wrote to Pope Francis. (CNS/Barbara J. Fraser)

A Paraguayan boy looks at some of the many letters children wrote to Pope Francis. (CNS/Barbara J. Fraser)

In a neighborhood where many people eke a living out of collecting and selling recyclable materials, one young artist showed how a bottle could be turned into a pencil holder, a piece of cardboard into a painting and a tin can into a cup.

A first grader drew a picture of his school and asked that it not be closed. Another child asked the pope “to do me a nice favor, that my mother and father get back to normal and we can be together and happy again.”

Drugs and crime got frequent mention. Some said they hoped their parents could find steady work.

Others were less serious, but no less urgent.

“I ask if you can give me an opportunity to become a singer,” one wrote, adding, “because God says the kingdom of heaven is for the children.”

“Pray for me when I go play soccer,” said another.

“I want to tell you that I know the Our Father in Guarani,” wrote one child to the pope, who recited the prayer in that language during Mass on July 11.

Nearly all said they were looking forward to the pope’s visit, thanked him for coming and asked him to bless their families and their country.

And at least one took up a political topic that the pope has mentioned in several speeches.

“I ask you to touch the hearts of corrupt government officials,” the child wrote. “Tell God to forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Following a millennium’s worth of footsteps on Italy’s Via Francigena

Garitan

A portion of the Francigena Way near St. Thierry. (Photo by “Garitan” on Wikimedia Commons)

By Clara L. Dorfman

MONTERIGGIONI, Tuscany —  “You’re here late.”

The head of the pilgrims’ hostel in Monteriggioni, Tuscany, gave us an amused look. We were five university students, none Italian, who had spent the entire day traveling ceaselessly to get to this miniscule hilltop village. All the work we’d done to get here wasn’t strictly necessary: we’d spent the past seven-and-a-half hours walking from another nearby town, San Gimignano, rather than catch the hourly regional bus.

Why? Because while studying at the University of Bologna for the year, each of us wound up hearing about the Via Francigena, a pilgrimage that leads from the Swiss-Italian border all the way to Rome, one way or another, and had decided that we wanted to try it out. Since it’s rather difficult to take off the multiple weeks needed to complete the entire trail, many Italians break the path into more manageable, weekend-sized chunks. This allows them to return home for the workweek after a strenuous but fulfilling weekend hike. After classes were over for the school year, we – two French, one German, one Norwegian, and one American – decided to do one such hike.

The Via Francigena is an excellent way to see the Italian countryside, not to mention the many smaller and larger towns it weaves through along its way south. For Catholics, there’s the additional appeal of its long legacy as a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s in Rome. According to the official website for the pilgrimage, the route originated as a way to unite upper and lower Europe in the 7th century. Christians began using the route on their way to Rome around the turn of the second millennium, although – as a gardener informed us about two hours outside of Siena – the modern-day pilgrim’s route is really just one of the many paths those pilgrims would take south. Indeed, the medieval pilgrimage to Rome went along the Via Cassia, which is now a major freeway. “You’d be crazy to try and walk that way anymore,” the gardener told us.

The route that’s maintained nowadays is crossed daily by dozens of pilgrims – mostly Italians, though the occasional non-Italian European may be encountered as well – and traces its way from one city or village along the path to the next. San Gimignano and Siena, our group’s starting and ending points, respectively, are pretty large towns by Tuscan standards; Monteriggioni, on the other hand, is almost comically small, with its one main piazza surrounded by a handful of alleyways, and immediately afterwards by fortress walls. “It’s a Tuscan-village theme park,” one of my friends joked when he realized just how little it was.

Many pilgrims take the route by themselves – a practice also common along the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim route that is meant to trace the path taken by the apostle James through France and northern Spain. Given how little free time I had to walk, however, I wouldn’t have had much time to make friends with other pilgrims on the route – one of the reasons I’m glad I decided to go with others.

Via-Francigena-sign

Sign located in Valdena marking the Francigena Way. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The walking itself was arduous, but not at all brutal. The Via Francigena’s main path is marked by red-and-white trail markers, and meanders up and down rolling hills, in and out of local farmers’ fields. We came across one rest area along the way to Siena, run by a local homeowner. He provides sandwiches and espresso to anyone who asks; in return, walkers can leave a donation and a thank-you note in his guestbook. The pilgrims’ lodgings we stayed at in Monteriggioni were clean and comfortable, with a small kitchen in which to prepare your own dinner and beautiful views of the church next door. In contrast, the pilgrim’s hostel in Siena (where I stayed last fall for a weekend, meeting many kind pilgrims and learning about the walk from them) provides a communal meal for guests. Unlike most rooms to rent in Italian cities, especially those where tourists tend to concentrate, prices for pilgrims along the Via Francigena are truly reasonable: bed spaces cost on average from 10 to 20 euros, and sometimes just a donation of your choosing is requested.

My friends and I walked 30 km (about 18 miles) the first day and, with a wrong turn, a bit more than 20 km (12 miles) the second; by the time we arrived in Siena, all of us were ready for a gelato break. We spent about an hour sitting in the city’s main piazza, the famous Piazza del Campo – where the annual Sienese horserace, the Palio, takes place every August – and then headed to the train station for our return trip to Bologna.

For Americans, the opportunity to take a pilgrimage doesn’t come every day. We have nature hikes and trails in the United States, but most of the historic religious paths crisscross the Old World, not the New. The Via Francigena is one of the lesser-known European pilgrimages, overshadowed by the Spanish Camino’s fame (the Camino was featured in “The Way,” a 2010 film by Emilio Estevez). Nonetheless, the Via Francigena provides a welcome respite from the day-to-day bustle of touring Italy: craning one’s neck around others to catch a glimpse of a statue by Michelangelo, maneuvering through the crowds that inevitably flock famous landmarks, eating overpriced pizza at a sit-down cafe. Besides all this, it offers the opportunity for reflection on life and faith, for those who seek it, along a route taken by countless Christians over the past thousand years. This medieval pilgrim’s path towards Rome is one budget-friendly way to see some of the Italian countryside – and to participate personally in an age-old phenomenon of Catholic faith.

Clara Dorfman is an American student studying in Italy. She walked a portion of the Francigena Way in May 2015.

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