When tragedy hits, ‘Be there with the people’

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6.

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto/EPA)

What’s a bishop to do?

Even as the death toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti was climbing toward 800 in early October, the storm was hitting eastern Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.

Days after the hurricane hit, Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Guantanamo-Baracoa spoke of the damage he saw: chaos, trees without leaves, houses without roofs. “All this horror was experienced in few hours, in the night of Oct. 4,” he said.

In a translation just obtained by Catholic News Service, the bishop spoke of what he asked his priests and nuns to do in the days after the hurricane:

A woman stands in a street near damaged homes Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Baracoa, Cuba. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

A woman stands in a street near damaged homes Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Baracoa, Cuba. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

— Be there with the people right where they are. To wipe away their tears. Raise their spirits. Give them some hope. Do what the apostles did and said: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you.” (Acts 3:6)

— Give food to those who are hungry. By the way, yesterday, we picked up a man who was walking along the road looking for his family, and he confessed that he had not eaten anything or slept for two days. Fortunately, Caritas-Guantanamo staffers … are taking care of this case.

— The coordinators of every community had to make a list with the names of the persons that need help. There is a truck from the diocese transporting … all the donations: crackers, rice, beans, cooking oil, sardines, sausages, soaps, candles, detergent, matches, etc.

— Invite everyone to pray, like Moses did …. You can suggest any initiative about it. To say the rosary to the Virgin, consolation of the upset people, it could comfort in all these days.

— Don’t stop celebrating the Sunday Mass, especially in those places where the churches collapsed. I recommended to put away the rubble and use a table as a temporary altar and invite the faithful to bring an umbrella or something to cover their head for the sun or if it rains. We have to be clear on something that you all know: The building was destroyed but not the church.

He also spoke of things that gave him hope: Catholics and Protestants praying together; people looking at the bright side of things:

— The example of a motorcycle driver who was carrying a passenger. When the passenger tried to pay, the driver refused to accept the money. He did not want to take advantage of the situation of the disaster or the misfortunes of the others.

— When a convoy of utility workers from other provinces passed by … the chief of the electricians said, “Bishop, pray for us (because) we are working with electric current.”

Things are returning to normal now, but various Catholic groups are helping with recovery. You can find them here.

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)


Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Nov. 6, 2016

"The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever." -- 2 Maccabees 7:9

“The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” — 2 Maccabees 7:9


Nov. 6, Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

      Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15

      2) 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

      Gospel: Luke 20:27-38


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

While reading this week’s Scriptures a song from the 2005 David Crowder Band album, “A Collision,” came to mind. One line in the song says, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” The reading from 2 Maccabees describes how many members of the Maccabee family were tortured and martyred by the occupying Greek army. To a person, they all welcomed death rather than violating their faith because they knew they would see God upon their death.

To be sure, this is an extreme situation and few of us will ever be required to choose faithfulness to Jesus over death, but the question all of us can ponder is: “How real to us is the prospect of eternal life?”

Years ago at a Bible study, my pastor asked for a show of hands of those in attendance who were ready to go to heaven that night. Of the 50 or so people in the room only a few people raised their hands.

Believing in the Resurrection is one thing, but the process of taking part in it can be less than appealing because, of course, it involves our death.

Last year at a young adult retreat, I listened as one of the participants was explaining how fearful she was about a particular situation. I said, “Worst case scenario is that you will die and get to see Jesus.” There was some laughter, but then the truth of my snarky comment began to settle in along with the realization that no matter what happens in this life, there is a greater, holier life that awaits us all.

A woman I worked with at my parish embodied this attitude and outlook on life. She was terminally ill and had the good fortune to be in her home as she passed to the next life. She had always said she wanted to die sitting up with her feet on the ground as though she had someplace to go, and that is exactly what happened.

Our faith calls us to the realization that we are destined to die, but it is not our ultimate destiny. Death is also a doorway to the presence of God.


Which do you think is harder, to die for your faith or to live every day like it is your last? Are you ready to die if Jesus called you home today?

Pittsburgh bishop asks all churches to be open for prayer before Election Day

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

PITTSBURGH (CNS) — Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh has asked every church in his diocese to be open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all day Nov. 7, so that people of faith can pray for the nation and the Nov 8 election.

“Let us pray that all people will vote in good conscience, seeking the common good and the dignity of all human persons, even when the choices before them seem neither good nor dignified. We must pray that, no matter what the results of the election, our people will work to build a civilization of love, hope and peace,” he wrote in an Oct. 27 letter to all pastors.

“Encourage your people to come before the Lord present in the Eucharist and ask for God to guide our nation and shape the consciences of its citizens. Pray for all of our political leaders, present and future, to support laws and promote programs that respect human life at every stage, promote peace among people and nations, care for God’s creation, preserve religious freedom and protect those who are the most poor and vulnerable,” Bishop Zubik wrote.

In his column in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic, he urges Catholics to “pray before you enter that voting booth.”

“A conscience rooted in true and open prayer will never let you down,” he writes. “Then vote as that Catholic conscience tells you. Vote in faith, hope and prayer this Tuesday. Vote as a faithful citizen.”

In the column he also talks about the flood of political ads this election season that he thinks “have helped to create an unprecedented level of distrust and division as Election Day approaches.”

“One side calls the other criminal; the other side declares many of the other’s supporters deplorable,” Bishop Zubik says. “We are going to need to go a long way to bring back any sense of unity, decency and harmony in our culture after Tuesday’s election, no matter the result.

As a bishop, he says,  in this presidential year more than any other, he has heard on a daily basis that he should speak out, “telling the faithful why they cannot vote for Donald Trump, or why they cannot vote for Hillary Clinton.”

“The church never — this bishop never — will tell you which candidate to embrace or which lever to pull or which button to press or which checkmark to mark in Tuesday’s election,” he said in his “Bridging the Gap” column, which he headlined “I’m David Zubik and I approve this message,” a takeoff on all the campaign ads in which candidates proclaim their approval for the ads. “But the church — and this bishop — will tell you,” he continued, “that you must consider all the critiques and weigh them with a Catholic perception, a Catholic focus and a Catholic conscience.

‘Carpool Karaoke’ parody is big hit in Illinois diocese

Two priests of the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., and their bishop are the stars of a new video making the rounds on the internet that parodies the “Carpool Karaoke” segments made famous by James Corden’s “The Late Late Show” on CBS.

According to the Rockford Register Star, the video was unveiled last Sunday at an annual youth summit in the diocese attended by 1,700 teens. Father Keith Romke and Father Kyle Manno pretend they’re driving to the summit. Halfway there (at about 3:50 into the video) they pick up their “boss,” Bishop David Malloy, to give him a ride. You can watch the whole thing here:

So far, the video has nearly 21,000 views. The paper called it a big hit with the teens.

U.S. Catholics encouraged to weigh issues carefully as they enter voting booth

(UPDATED with Bishop Zubik statement and a new column by Cardinal-designate Tobin.) 

(CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, EPA)

(CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, EPA)

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In the weeks leading up the hotly contested Nov.8 election, many Catholic bishops have written columns, issued statements or preached homilies encouraging their people to weigh the issues carefully as they enter the voting booth.

Many of the statements draw on “Faithful Citizenship,” the quadrennial document issued by the bishops to help guide Catholics in weighing the issues deciding whom to support.

Some of the statements express dismay at the choices presented in the persons of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, put it bluntly: “The political climate in the United States is chaotic and dispiriting. The Presidential nominees of both major political parties seem scandal-plagued and corrupt. America deserves better but perhaps these two contenders for our nation’s highest political office are simply a reflection of the citizenry.”

As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote in his column, “Both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.”

The archbishop went on to say: “This is depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.”

“The deepest issues we face as a church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election,” he said in another column. That’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square. We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term. We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines.”

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik issued a statement Oct. 27 urging all parishes in his diocese to keep their churches open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament Nov. 7 so people could prayerfully prepare for Election Day Nov. 8. ““Encourage your people to come before the Lord present in the Eucharist and ask for God to guide our nation and shape the consciences of its citizens, he said. In his column in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic, he urges Catholics to “pray before you enter that voting booth.”

For Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud, Minnesota, it was important to encourage some of his flock: “’Do not be afraid,’ Jesus told his disciples. In this election year, as we prepare to vote for candidates who will make important decisions for our country and our state, I would add: ‘Do not be discouraged!’”

“We modern-day disciples face many challenges when it comes to voting and living out our civic responsibilities,” he wrote. Being a responsible voter isn’t easy, he acknowledged, but “Our Catholic voices are needed more than ever this election year.”

For Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Catholics must form their consciences rightly and seek the common good, not simply a partisan agenda. “The common good is not identifiable with any party platform or ideology. Catholics should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. Nor is the common good what the majority of people want. It is rather ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily.’”

For Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, it is important that the clergy not dictate who to vote for or to intervene directly into the political process. In a column in his archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal Wuerl wrote: “Each year in which we move toward a national election, I remind my brother priests that we are in the pulpit as proclaimers of the Gospel, not as political leaders. No one elected us as their political representative and there might be serious reason to believe they probably would not.”

(CNS photo/Joe Raedle pool via Reuters)

(CNS photo/Joe Raedle pool via Reuters)

“This presidential election presents all Americans with a difficult choice. Both major political parties have nominated very flawed candidates,” wrote Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, in his column in The Leaven, the archdiocesan newspaper. “In making your decision as a voter, I encourage you to think not only of the candidate, but who they will appoint to key Cabinet and other powerful government positions if he or she becomes president. We are choosing not just a president, but an entire administration.” He joined other Kansas bishops in recording a video message about the elections.

Writing in “Angelus,” the online news outlet for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez noted that many issues facing the country have not really been discussed — from abortion and racial injustice to homelessness to the death penalty and growing support for euthanasia and assisted suicide. “At the heart of the discontent in American life, I see a confusion about the human person. … We don’t know what it means to be a human person. Democracy cannot stand without a proper understanding of the human person.”

Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis has addressed the U.S. election in now nine of his columns in The Criterion,  the archdiocesan newspaper. His latest was published Nov. 4: “Despite the challenges we face, we should approach the coming election with gratitude to God for the freedom we have to exercise our right to select our public officials and participate in setting direction for our local, state and federal governments.”

“The bishops do not tell us whom to vote for, but they do advise us on the moral principles that must be applied to each major issue,” he wrote in an earlier column. “Then it’s up to us to study the positions of candidates and the platforms of political parties, and determine where they stand in relationship to fundamental moral values. … An informed conscience is one that looks beyond political correctness and the ideologies of the left and the right to find the truth.”

On behalf of Georgia’s bishops, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory recorded a video series on “Faithful Citizenship.” “The church does not support or oppose candidates or politicians for any public office. Indeed, it is clear that no political party reflects the fullness of Catholic social teaching in its entirety,” he said. “In the Catholic tradition, participation in the political process is a moral obligation, rooted in our baptismal commitment. It is a duty for us as both Americans and as Catholics.”

The bishops of Minnesota likewise recorded a video message on the elections released by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, their public policy arm. “Stop complaining and start praying. Use our Election Day novena to prayerfully prepare yourself for faithful citizenship on Nov. 8 and beyond,” says the conference website.

Writing in America magazine back in February, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy examined “four central pillars of life” he said are “at stake in the political common good” of the country this election year: abortion, poverty, care of the earth and assisted suicide. “Each of them reflects the ‘throwaway culture’ that Pope Francis has identified as a central cancer of our modern world,” he said.


(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Allow your ongoing personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the church to guide your political decisions,” Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote in his column on the archdiocese’s Denver Catholic news website. “I say this because we believe that the truth about ourselves and the world we live in is revealed in and through him. Our society suffers and has suffered for quite some time because too few people live an integrated life — one that does not divide ‘the personal’ from ‘the public.'”

In Vermont, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington told Catholics in the statewide diocese: “My first encouragement is that each of us who can vote in this November’s election do so. Do not abdicate your right to vote. It is a privilege and a duty. … We must exercise that right to vote and have our voices heard. Secondly, I ask that as people of faith we not leave that faith in Jesus Christ and in his church at the door of the voting booth but allow that faith to inform the choices we make in that booth. I encourage you to spend some time in prayer prior to voting, asking the Holy Spirit to infuse you with her guidance in making choices that are in keeping with our faith and the common good of all.”

“Like many of you, I lament the current climate of division, and the mean-spiritedness and intolerance of some toward those who do not agree with candidates and positions that do not fit their worldview,” wrote Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, in a letter to Catholics posted on the diocesan website.

“If you think you are confused and slightly battered by the noise, public protests and private misgivings,” Bishop Murphy said, “you have every reason to be so. But as responsible citizens and faithful men and women of God, we have to exercise our right to vote in a way that is serious, well-informed and reflective of who we are as Americans and Catholics.” He also talked about voting in the October issue of The Long Island Catholic diocesan magazine.

Voters this election year “need a great deal of ambiguity tolerance,” said Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, in a message on the diocese’s website. “You and I have a lot to pray for between now and Election Day — especially for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak and the pursuit of the common good. And of course we must also consider each candidate’s integrity, philosophy and performance. We don’t just need ambiguity tolerance this election cycle, we need the wisdom of Solomon and the guidance of the Holy Spirit!”

After such a “contentious and unsettling presidential race,” Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of San Jose, California, asked in a blog post that Catholics and all people of goodwill “come together on Nov.  8th and 9th and on all of the days that follow to continue to forge one nation, subject to the rule of law and to unite as one American people, committed to the common good.”

In urging Catholics in his archdiocese to look to “Faithful Citizenship” for guidance for the elections, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, said that by offering that guidance, “some accuse the bishops of trying to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote, thus embroiling the church in partisan politics. Others think that the bishops are timid, and that they should be more pointed in telling Catholics exactly how to vote in light of the gravity of the moral issues.”

But in the document, he said, “the bishops state flatly: ‘The church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The church cannot champion any candidate or party.’ What the church is calling for is ‘a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.’”

In New Mexico, Archbishop  John C. Wester of Santa Fe, too, reminded Catholics of the bishops’ document.  “As we near the finish line of this election cycle” Nov. 8, it is understandable that emotions are running high,” he said. “This is certainly true for those of us who care deeply about the sanctity of human life, particularly vulnerable human life in the womb.  Yet these emotions do not give us license to espouse positions that do not embrace the full moral teaching of our Catholic tradition.  Nor do they allow leaders in the church to endorse or denounce a candidate because of his or her position on a given issue.”

In the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a blog post likewise pointed to “Faithful Citizenship.” He acknowledged the dilemma facing Catholic voters this year, but he also said that beyond Election Day, “we desperately need citizens of character, committed to the common good and guided by revealed wisdom, to step up and be involved if our democratic republic is to continue to be a place of well-being for its people and a source of hope for the world.”

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Oct. 30, 2016

"You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!" -- Wisdom 11:26-12:1

“You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” — Wisdom 11:26-12:1


Oct. 30, Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Wisdom 11:22-12:2

      Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14

      2) 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2

      Gospel: Luke 19:1-10


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Amid last summer’s series of tragic shootings in cities across the country, a news story reported that the alleged gunman who killed several police officers in Dallas had received tactical instruction at a private self-defense academy two years earlier.

According to the story, an instructor at the school recalled that the man had attended training there, but said, “I don’t know anything about Micah … he’s gone. He’s old to us. I have thousands of people.”

Naturally, this school spokesman wanted to distance the academy from the tragedy. But someone he’d once called by name in his class now had become to him a nonperson forgotten in a faceless crowd.

That gunman is an extreme example of a person lost from God.

While society no longer desires to claim him, today’s Scriptures tell us that God still does.

As unbelievable as that may seem, the Book of Wisdom explains the Creator’s unconditional love: “You love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made.”

Whether it is an extreme case or a mild case of someone turning away from God, Wisdom says God has “mercy on all” and “overlook(s) people’s sins that they may repent.”

It is unimaginable to the human mind, but the depth of God’s love and mercy is such that he forever seeks out the fallen and failed of his children to lift them free of evil and redeem them for a new life.

Simply put, that’s why he sent Jesus.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus embraces the reviled, sinful tax collector Zacchaeus, who then, transformed by love, responds by becoming the good man God created him to be. Jesus explains, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

He wants us to believe it — and to be part of it — even today when we see our world rocked and riven by meanness, violence and hatred.

Because we ourselves are blessed and redeemed by God, when we encounter a person in the throes of evil or otherwise lost from God, we need to remember here is someone who was preciously made by him in love. Then Jesus’ mission becomes ours: to seek and save the lost.


What are some specific examples of God’s love and saving grace in your life that inspire you to more intently seek out and embrace others who are lost? Who do you know who is lost from God?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Oct. 23, 2016

"Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner." -- Luke 18:13

“Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.” — Luke 18:13


Oct. 23, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18

      Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23

      2) 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

      Gospel: Luke 18:9-14


By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

When I pointed out in a homily that not all saints are officially canonized, a woman said to me after Mass, “That may be true, but the great saints get to wear a crown in heaven, like St. Paul in today’s epistle!” It got me to thinking: Are there trophies for us in heaven, blue ribbons as eternal accessories?

The real underlying issue in today’s Scriptures is: Why is it OK for Paul to boast of his faith, but not for the Pharisee in the Gospel to declare his virtues superior to the tax collector? Actually, the distinction is clear.

Paul boasts of his unwavering trust in the Lord, not of his own earthly merits. Conversely, the Pharisee believes that his diligent efforts obligate God’s praise and eternal reward, especially relative to the despised tax collector.

Like Paul, the humble tax collector gets it. Unable to proudly raise his face to God’s, he simply bows and begs for God’s mercy.

We cannot make deals with God, punching our ticket to paradise. Salvation is attained not by virtuous acts — adherence to the law — but by our acceptance of Jesus’ redemption on the cross, which was perfect and complete. We could never do enough good works to demand eternal residence with God.

Our task is to humbly accept God’s gratuitous love and respond by living a life of gratitude. Hence, we are eucharistic people: The Greek term “eucharisteo” means to give thanks. We must do good works, not to earn salvation, but because it is the only logical response to Jesus’ free and unmerited gift to us.

Note that Paul proclaims the crown is available to all, whereas the arrogant Pharisee bases his self-righteousness relative to other sinners.

The heavenly crown, trophy or ribbons we might receive upon crossing that threshold may be the sacred privilege of seeing firsthand the wounds Christ bore for us. What greater testimony do we need of his love for us?

It has been said that the Bible can be summed up in one word: trust. Salvation history is written by the Author of Life. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, God constantly promises his covenant with humanity and never fails us. Of that we can boast.


Is doing good works out of guilt or fear a help or hindrance to our spiritual growth? How can we improve our consciences to better understand our motivations?