In liturgical terms, the coronavirus pandemic the world currently finds itself in the unrelenting grip of began with the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord in March.

Fast forward nine months and Christianity finds itself on the eve of the Miracle of Christmas — the Nativity of the Lord foretold by the Angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary in the obscure town of Nazareth.

Now the question becomes: How do pastoral ministers throughout the Church of Scranton answer the challenging call to offer messages of joy, peace and hope to their scattered flocks for Christmas 2020?

For Father Carmen Perry, a Diocesan priest of 43 years who serves as pastor of Saint Luke Parish in Stroudsburg, the answer came recently while praying the Liturgy of the Hours as he was touched more deeply by one of the readings he has perused so often in the past.

“Perhaps it is because, during this dark time of the pandemic, as we journey through the holy season of Advent, we are reminded to welcome and open our lives to the Light of God and follow the Light,” Father Perry said.

The seasoned pastor was referring to a meditation from Saint Augustine in which the great Doctor of the Church reminds us:

“God, who is faithful, put Himself in our debt, not by receiving anything, but by promising so much to us. Through the prophets, He committed to writing those promises so we could see the way in which He would discharge them.”

Quoting the saint’s writings, Father Perry explained, “(God) promised us eternal salvation, everlasting happiness with the angels, an immortal inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of His face, His holy dwelling in heaven, and after resurrection from the dead, no further fear of dying.”

“God not only made a written contract,” Father continued, “but also established a Mediator — not a prince or angel or archangel, but His only Son.”

Hearkening words from the popular Christmas carol  O Little Town of Bethlehem — “where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in” — Father Perry offered, “As we celebrate the miracle of Christmas, and even though we are in this dark world of sin and death, Jesus has come to raise us in God’s own Eternal Life.”

“May the Light of Christ shine within you in the Christmas season — and always,” he concluded.

Referring to the fact that his Christmas congregations will be comprised of those in attendance in church and those participating through closed circuit television or virtual broadcasts in the comfort of their own homes, Father Brian J.W. Clarke stated, “The celebration of Christmas Mass will be no less of a celebration of the birth of Christ.”

Ordained in 2002, Father Clarke shepherds the parish faith communities of Holy Rosary in Hazleton and Holy Name of Jesus in West Hazleton.

“As discussions began regarding Christmas preparations,” Father said, “people asked about decorating the church. Originally we planned to scale back quite a bit. As people heard this, they asked if we could decorate as before. They offered to help and make sure everything was prepared.”

Regarding his faithful, the Hazleton pastor indicated that it did not matter to them if they were physically in the pews or watching the Mass virtually online. They expressed strong sentiments to be able to experience the season’s familiar festiveness in order to help them enter into the celebrations.

“This year, even more so, the message will focus on the true celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ,” Father Clarke expressed. “We are reminded that whether we are in a pandemic or facing some other crisis, it does not change the fact of Christ’s birth and the reason to celebrate. We pray that no matter the situation, all will be open to receive the joyful spirit of Christmas during this blessed season.”

As the pastor of Saint Peter Parish, Wellsboro, and Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish, Elkland, Father David Bechtel plans to convey his Christmas message on the true meaning of the Incarnation by way of hypotheticals: What if all the trappings we associate with Christmas — Santa Claus, toys, festive dinners, decorations and presents under the tree — were suddenly absent from our celebrations? What if we cannot gather with loved ones due to sickness, death or even a global pandemic?

“If we believe Christmas is all of those things, that if we don’t have those things we cannot have Christmas, then we have a problem,” he remarked. “All of these have little to do with Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas is that God has come among us and God is with us.”

The youthful pastor continued by stating that many wonder why a loving God would not suddenly eradicate the pandemic or allow it to happen in the first place.

“God most certainly can take it from us,” he said of the ongoing health crisis, “but it is in times of adversity that we grow. It is in times of adversity that we find out who we really are. Times of adversity become times for the power of good to reveal itself.”

Such a pandemic, he suggested, allows for the opportunity of personal and spiritual growth and to utilize the God-given gifts and talents at our disposal to overcome life’s challenges.

“God is with us in this pandemic just as He has been with His people during times of crisis throughout history,” Father Bechtel offered. “The gift of Christmas serves as a reminder that God is with his people. God walks with his people. God will never leave us or forsake us. He is united with us and can never be divided from us.”

 

 

 

Bags of pre-packaged toys filled every seat in the meeting room at Parker Hill Church as the Gift for Kids toy distribution began. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

DICKSON CITY – Thousands of children across northeastern Pennsylvania will have presents under the tree this Christmas, thanks to an ongoing partnership between Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton and the Friends of the Poor.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, more than 500 families picked up gifts as part of the annual Gifts for Kids holiday toy distribution.

“It’s a privilege to be able to serve those in need. It’s the mission of Catholic Social Services and what better time than Christmas to be able to reach out and help, particularly children, celebrate the Christmas and holiday season,” Mary Theresa Malandro, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the distribution process changed significantly this year. Instead of being held at the University of Scranton’s Byron Center, where parents could select their own toys from tables, this year’s distribution was held by drive-thru in an effort to promote social distancing.

Volunteers with Catholic Social Services and Friends of the Poor distribute 10,000+ toys on Dec. 15, 2020. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

“They (families) registered and we took the information and spent four days putting all of the gift bags together,” Malandro explained.

Parker Hill Church generously donated space for volunteers to sort and package all of the gifts. The parking lot of the Church also provided ample room for families to wait in line during the distribution process.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a blessing, it’s a privilege to be able to help everybody in the community,” Tracey Mulrain, Director of Catholic Social Services’ Offices in Lackawanna & Luzerne County, said.

In the Scranton-area, approximately 530 families registered for assistance. That translated to more than 10,000 gifts for roughly 1,800 children.

Catholic Social Services and Friends of the Poor received 7,700 toys from the Marine Corps ‘Toys for Tots’ programs and supplemented that with gifts provided by community members, Diocesan parishes, schools and other organizations.

“Our biggest age range was 9-11,” Meghan Loftus, President and CEO of Friends of the Poor, said. “We try to make sure that each child has one large and one or two small toys, along with stocking stuffers like animals, puzzles, books, that sort of thing.”

Because of the pandemic, many families registered for help for the first time.

“It has been challenging in the middle of the coronavirus,” Malandro explained. “Many families and parents have become unemployed and cannot give to their children as they would like to, so I think this year, more than ever it is a real privilege to be able to help those that wouldn’t have a Christmas.”

While organizers of the toy distribution say they’re happy to be able to bring some holiday cheer just before Christmas, they are unfortunately well aware of the need and poverty in this region.

“Our poverty rate in this area is 25-percent, compared to the state and federal level that is only 12 or 12 and a-half percent,” Loftus said. “One in four people in our area live in poverty and need some sort of assistance. That is what our agencies do 365 days a year.”

In addition to the toy giveaway in Scranton, Catholic Social Services also sponsored several other toy distributions this week. Nearly 400 families in Carbondale and another 400 families in Hazleton received toys as well in separate distributions. Families involved in youth programs through Catholic Social Services in Wilkes-Barre also received toys from the agency this holiday season.

 

LaShawn Scott, a nurse at University of Louisville Hospital, is inoculated with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at the Louisville, Ky., health care facility Dec. 14, 2020. (CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The “gravity” of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and “the lack of availability of alternative vaccines,” are “sufficiently serious” reasons to accept the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees said Dec. 14.

“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community,” they said. “In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”

The bishops addressed the moral concerns raised by the fact the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have some connection to cell lines that originated with tissue taken from abortions.

However, this connection to morally compromised cell lines is so remote and the public health situation is too grave to reject the vaccines, said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Late Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency-use approval to the Pfizer vaccine, with approval expected for Moderna the week of Dec. 14. UPS and FedEx began shipping the doses across the country Dec. 12, with the first shipments arriving Dec. 14.

Each state has a distribution plan for administering them. National guidelines call for health care workers and those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to be first in line to get immunized.

On Dec. 8, The Lancet medical journal reported that four clinical trials of a third vaccine, being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca “appears to have moderate efficacy in preventing symptomatic illness, and may significantly reduce hospitalization from the disease.” Astra Zeneca is expected to apply to the FDA for emergency use of its vaccine in the coming weeks.

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said they found the AstraZeneca vaccine it to be “more morally compromised” and concluded this vaccine “should be avoided” if there are alternatives available.

“It may turn out, however, that one does not really have a choice of vaccine, at least, not without a lengthy delay in immunization that may have serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others,” the two prelates stated. “In such a case … it would be permissible to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Shortly after Pfizer and Moderna announced Nov. 11 and Nov. 16, respectively, that their vaccines were 95% effective against COVID-19, critics claimed the vaccines have been produced using cells from aborted fetuses, leading to confusion over “the moral permissibility” of using these vaccines.

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann addressed this issue in a Nov. 23 memo to their fellow bishops and addressed it again in their 2,400-word statement Dec. 12. In the memo, they noted some were “asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

In their new lengthy statement, the two committee chairmen emphasized that any such cell lines were derived from tissue samples taken from fetuses aborted in the 1960s and 1970s and have been grown in laboratories all over the world since then.

“It is important to note that the making of the rubella vaccine – or that of the new COVID-19 vaccines – does not involve cells taken directly from the body of an aborted child,” Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said. “Cells taken from two abortions in the 1960s were replicated in a laboratory to produce two cell lines that can be reproduced again and again, indefinitely.”

“To make the rubella vaccine, cells from these cell lines are stimulated to produce the chemicals necessary for the vaccine,” they explained. “It is not as if the making of the vaccine required ever more cells from ever more abortions.”

The two committee chairmen said the Vatican, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy for Life, “has offered guidance on the question of whether it is morally acceptable to receive a vaccine that has been created with the use of morally compromised cell lines.”

Both the congregation and the academy “emphasize the positive moral obligation to do good,” they said, “and in so doing to distance oneself as much as possible from the immoral act of another party such as abortion in order to avoid cooperation with someone else’s evil actions and to avoid giving scandal, which could happen if one’s own actions were perceived by other people to ignore or to minimize the evil of the action.”

“Our love of neighbor should lead us to avoid giving scandal, but we cannot omit fulfilling serious obligations such as the prevention of deadly infection and the spread of contagion among those who are vulnerable just to avoid the appearance of scandal,” the two prelates said.

At the same time, the bishops also cautioned Catholics against complacency about the moral issue of abortion and ethical issues surrounding the development of some vaccines.

“While having ourselves and our families immunized against COVID-19 with the new vaccines is morally permissible and can be an act of self-love and of charity toward others, we must not allow the gravely immoral nature of abortion to be obscured,” Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said.

“It is true that one can receive benefits from an evil action in the past without intending that action or approving of it. The association with the evil action that comes with receiving benefits from that evil action, however, can have a corrupting influence on one’s perception of the evil action, making it more difficult to recognize it as evil,” they explained.

“One might become desensitized to the gravely evil nature of that action. One might become complacent about that action and ignore the obligation to do what one can to oppose the evil action,” they said, adding that others might see “one’s acceptance of benefits from an evil action” and feel the action isn’t really evil, feel less urgency “to oppose that evil” or even miss opportunities to do what they can “to oppose it.”

“We should be on guard so that the new COVID-19 vaccines do not desensitize us or weaken our determination to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of fetal cells in research,” Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said.

 

John Hambrose, left, and his wife Meg, middle, parishioners of the Church of Saint Gregory, deliver dozens of gifts collected by members of their parish to Sonya Sarner, Refugee and Immigration Services Program Manager of Catholic Social Services on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The gifts will be distributed to local refugee families. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

CLARKS GREEN – Nearly 60 refugee children, many from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will have gifts this holiday season thanks to the kindness of parishioners from the Church of Saint Gregory.

For the last several weeks, the parish has been collecting gifts for refugee families and their children, who range in age from newborns to teenagers.

“We created an Angel Tree at Saint Gregory’s and the parish adopted all the kids,” parishioner John Hambrose said.

Over the course of two days, Friday, Dec. 11, and Monday, Dec. 14, Hambrose and his wife delivered all of the gifts to the Catholic Social Services Immigration Program Office in Scranton.

“I’m very fortunate that Saint Gregory’s is working with us and my clients,” Sonya Sarner, Refugee and Immigration Services Program Manager of Catholic Social Services, said.

Sarner provided the Church of Saint Gregory’s Service Commission with the names and ages of children, along with their clothing sizes and some things that would make good gifts for them. Parishioners handled the rest. In addition to toys and practical gifts, the parish is giving each family a Walmart gift card so that they can purchase other items they need.

“It really elevates everybody’s Christmas spirit,” parishioner Meg Hambrose said. “This is what it’s all about – giving to others, welcoming people who are foreign to our community and making them feel welcome. That is part of what Saint Gregory’s mission is.”

In recent years, Scranton has become home to many new communities, including Congolese, Bhutanese, Syrian, Afghani, Somali, Burmese and other refugee groups who have resettled here with assistance from Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton.

This is not the first time the Church of Saint Gregory has assisted local refugees. For the last several years, the parish has sponsored a large Christmas Party for refugee families. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the party could not take place this year.

The Christmas Party has been a favorite annual event for both parishioners and the refugee children. For many Congolese kids, it was the first time they were able to see Santa Claus.

Outside of the holiday season, the Church of Saint Gregory also helps refugee families whenever Sarner is in need of assistance.

“I recently had a single grandmother, she lost her job, no food, no money,” Sarner explained. “They stepped in immediately and provided gift certificates and donations.”

As they dropped off dozens of bags of beautifully wrapped presents, John Hambrose took pride in being able to help his new neighbors.

“We hope the generosity reflects how fortunate we are,” he said.

 

 

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Scranton on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.

The annual observance commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican Indian, Juan Diego, in December of 1531.

The Blessed Mother’s message of hope continues to inspire people of Hispanic descent, especially those from Mexico.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s celebrations were much more subdued across the Diocese. Large processions, which traditionally take place in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton were suspended in order to protect the public.

Masses marking the celebration continued in the Valley cities, along with East Stroudsburg, Jermyn and Hazleton among other places.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera celebrated two Masses, the first at Saint John Neumann Parish in South Scranton at 11:00 a.m., the second at Saint Nicholas Parish in Wilkes-Barre at 6:00 p.m.

While noting how this year’s celebrations are different than normal, the bishop said the Virgin Mary’s words should be a powerful reminder to all of us.

“Her words emerge from a world filled with suffering and pain – a world of hardship, abuse, struggle and grief – a world in many ways no different than our own,” Bishop Bambera said. “Yet, her praise of God and her willingness to say ‘yes’ to God’s plan to bring salvation to His people are rooted in a faith so strong that it serves as the blueprint for authentic discipleship down through the ages, even to our own day.”

Bishop Bambera told the faithful that sometimes we take the depth of Mary’s faith for granted.

“When the angel announced to her that she would be the mother of God, she was not informed that her son would suffer, be put to death and then rise from the dead. She didn’t know any of this. She simply trusted that the God who called her would care for her, regardless of how her life unfolded,” the bishop said.

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The ministry of a Catholic bishop must reflect the Catholic Church’s commitment to Christian unity and must give ecumenical engagement the same kind of attention as work for justice and peace, said a new Vatican document.

“The bishop cannot consider the promotion of the ecumenical cause as one more task in his varied ministry, one that could and should be deferred in view of other, apparently more important priorities,” said the document, “The Bishop and Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Vademecum.”   “El Obispo Y La Unidad De Los Cristianos: Vademécum Ecuménico”

Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the 52-page document was released Dec. 4 after its publication was approved by Pope Francis.

The text reminds each Catholic bishop of his personal responsibility as a minister of unity, not only among the Catholics of his diocese, but also with other Christians.

As a “vademecum,” or guidebook, it provides lists of practical steps the bishop can and should take to fulfill that responsibility in every aspect of his ministry, from inviting other Christian leaders to important diocesan celebrations to highlighting ecumenical activities on the diocesan website.

And, as the chief teacher in his diocese, he must ensure that the content of conferences, religious education programs and homilies at the diocesan and parish level promote Christian unity and accurately reflect the teachings of the church’s partners in dialogue.

Demonstrating the importance of the document, the online news conference to present it featured not one, but four top Vatican officials: Cardinals Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

With its explanations and its concrete suggestions, Cardinal Ouellet said, the booklet provides the tools for realizing “the ecumenical conversion of bishops and every disciple of Christ who wishes to better incarnate the joy of the Gospel in our time.”

Cardinal Tagle said the vademecum reminds bishops in missionary lands that they must not import Christian divisions to new parts of the world and asks Catholics to understand just how much the divisions within Christianity turn off people who “are looking for meaning in life, for salvation.”

“The non-Christians are scandalized, really scandalized, when we Christians claim to be followers of Christ and then they see how we are fighting one another,” he said.

But ecumenism is not seeking a truce or “compromise as if unity should be achieved at the expense of truth,” the document explained.

Catholic doctrine insists there is a “hierarchy of truths,” a prioritizing of essential beliefs based “on their relation to the saving mysteries of the Trinity and salvation in Christ, the source of all Christian doctrines.”

In conversations with other Christians, the document said, “by weighing truths rather than simply enumerating them, Catholics gain a more accurate understanding of the unity that exists among Christians.”

That unity, based first on baptism into Christ and his church, is the foundation on which Christian unity is built step by step, the document said. The steps include: common prayer; joint action to alleviate suffering and promote justice; theological dialogue to clarify commonalities and differences; and a willingness to recognize the way God has worked in another community and to learn from it.

The document also treated the question of sharing the Eucharist, an issue that has long been a thorny one in ecumenical dialogue as well as within the Catholic Church itself, as demonstrated by recent Vatican efforts to caution the bishops of Germany about issuing broad invitations for Lutherans married to Catholics to receive Communion.

Catholics cannot share the Eucharist with other Christians just to be “polite,” but there are pastoral situations in which individual bishops may decide when “exceptional sacramental sharing is appropriate,” the document said.

When discerning possibilities for sharing the sacraments, it said, bishops must keep two principles in mind at all times, even when those principles create tension: a sacrament, especially the Eucharist, is a “witness to the unity of the church,” and a sacrament is a “sharing of the means of grace.”

So, it said, “in general, participation in the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing is limited to those in full communion.”

However, the document noted, the Vatican’s 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms of Ecumenism” also stated that “by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities.”

“‘Communicatio in sacris’ (sharing in sacramental life) is therefore permitted for the care of souls within certain circumstances,” the text said, “and when this is the case it is to be recognized as both desirable and commendable.”

Cardinal Koch, responding to a question, said the relationship between the sacraments and the full unity of the churches is the “basic” principle, meaning that in most cases eucharistic sharing will not be possible until the churches are fully united.

The Catholic Church, he said, does not see the sharing of the sacraments as “a step on the way,” as some Christian communities do. However, “for one person, a single person, there can be an opportunity for sharing this grace in different cases” as long as the person meets the requirement of canon law, which says a non-Catholic must request the Eucharist of his or her own accord, “manifest Catholic faith” in the sacrament and be “properly disposed.”

The Catholic Church recognizes the full validity of the Eucharist celebrated by the Orthodox Church and, with many fewer restrictions, allows Orthodox Christians to request and receive the sacraments from a Catholic minister.

Cardinal Sandri, speaking at the news conference, said the document “is a further affirmation that it is no longer legitimate for us to be ignorant of the Christian East, nor can we pretend to have forgotten the brothers and sisters of those venerable churches that, together with us, constitute the family of believers in the God of Jesus Christ.”

 

Shown at the AllOne Charities check presentation to the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center, from left: Ryan Smith, CYC Program Officer; John Cosgrove, Executive Director, AllOne Foundation & Charities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera and Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary for Development. (Photos/Dan Gallagher)

A $15,000 grant from AllOne Charities will support the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center’s Respite Care Program, which offers a much-needed break to caregivers for children ages 5-13 who are actively receiving mental-health services.

The program is run in partnership with Luzerne County Mental Health & Developmental Services and its System of Care and has seen greatly increasing client numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Wilkes-Barre CYC is on the front lines of providing excellent, compassionate and quality care for those with special needs and for those who care for them,” said John Cosgrove, executive director of AllOne Foundation & Charities. “AllOne Charities is pleased to support their invaluable work.”

The program serves newfound caregivers who lack child-care resources or natural supports as well as the children themselves. Many of the caregivers are grandparents or great-grandparents raising grandchildren or great-grandchildren, so they welcome the opportunity for supervised recreational, athletic and social activity, along with overnight care, especially when they are feeling most stressed and exhausted from their new responsibilities.

The Respite Care program offers sanctuary for children and solace for caregivers needing time to rest, restore energy and provide self-care. It serves more than 50 children and has a growing waiting/referral list that now includes 95 more children.

“Given the numbers we are seeing during the pandemic, we are incredibly grateful to AllOne Charities for helping us accept new families into this valuable program,” said Ryan Smith, program executive at the CYC. “Mental-health struggles have been another unfortunate result of the COVID-19
crisis, so we are especially appreciative of such assistance as we continue to prioritize programs that foster emotional health and psychological well-being.”

Healthy meals are an important component of the Respite Care program as well. The CYC has become the main provider of daily nutrition to the children it serves. Overall, the CYC serves 11,100 meals per month during the school year and 23,100 meals per month during summers. Of those
meals, at least 80 per month during the school year and 260 per month during summers are offered to children in the Respite Care Program.

“Emotionally caring for children, feeding them and now helping them one-on-one with their virtual schooling are now core and critical to what we do at the CYC,” Smith said. “Many of the children we serve, in addition to needing socialization and recreation opportunities, also need our assistance
now more than ever with their schooling, so having these children come to us throughthe Respite Care Program ensures that we are not leaving students behind and that we are
meeting their full range of needs.”

 

Shown at the AllOne Charities check presentation to Catholic schools, from left: Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools; Jason Morrison, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Chief Executive Officer; John Cosgrove, Executive Director, AllOne Foundation & Charities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera and Sandra Snyder, Diocesan Grant Writer.

Thanks to a $22,000 grant from AllOne Charities, Holy Cross High School and the NEPA Center for Independent Living have formed a pilot partnership to ensure that special-needs students get the best hands-on educational experience possible.

Four students in Holy Cross’s Individualized Instruction program will directly benefit from this grant by attending a specialized program at NEPA CIL that will help them develop the critical life and practical skills that will best position them for post-graduation success in the workplace. These students suffer from various health-related conditions and challenges.

“AllOne Charities is pleased to serve as a partner in the innovative and collaborative work between Holy Cross High School and the NEPA Center for Independent Living,” said John Cosgrove, executive director of AllOne Foundation & Charities. “There is so much more we can achieve together in improving the access to quality programming for our friends and neighbors with special needs.”

Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Education Jason Morrison recognized AllOne Charities’ commitment for enhancing access to special-needs programs for Catholic school students.

“We are grateful to AllOne Charities for the generous support of our students with exceptionalities,” he said. “This gift achieves our goal of ensuring that all students achieve their God-given potential and are prepared for life beyond the classroom.”

Diocesan Catholic schools currently offer four separate Individualized Instruction programs for students with special needs. At the elementary level, these students can attend Good Shepherd Academy in Kingston or All Saints Academy in Scranton, and at the secondary level they can attend Holy Redeemer High School in Wilkes-Barre or Holy Cross High School in Dunmore.

Partnerships such as these supplement the personal attention and support students are able to receive and ensure that those attending Catholic schools are receiving a complete range of services tailored to their unique needs.

“By holding students to high expectations, individuals acquire the academic, functional, and social skills necessary to live as active members of society and stewards of God’s creation,” said Doreen Dougherty, principal of Holy Redeemer High School. “Families gain an invaluable support system in close relationships formed with other families. Students grow to respect and appreciate the gifts God has given each of us.”

 

Multiple Diocese of Scranton organizations received grants for important programs thanks to the generosity of several local and national charitable foundations. Among the most recent awards were:

  • The Robert H. Spitz Foundation, administered by the Scranton Area Community Foundation, supported Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton with a $20,000 grant for a project titled “Reviving a Core Model for Self-Sufficiency: A Return To Evidence-Based Relief Assistance.”

The grant is helping Catholic Social Services provide relief assistance in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in a manner that has measurable impact on recipients’ lives. Clients who receive relief assistance, for example, are tracked in their progress toward achieving individualized goals, such as maintaining stable housing, obtaining or retaining employment or repairing family finances through better credit management.

Relief assistance, especially via case management, has always been a hallmark of Catholic Social Services’ work.

  • Shown at the AllOne Charities check presentation to Catholic schools, from left: Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools; Jason Morrison, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Chief Executive Officer; John Cosgrove, Executive Director, AllOne Foundation & Charities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera and Sandra Snyder, Diocesan Grant Writer.

    AllOne Charities supported Holy Cross High School with a $22,000 grant to form a pilot partnership with the NEPA Center for Independent Living to ensure that special-needs students get the best hands-on educational experience possible.

“AllOne Charities is pleased to serve as a partner in the innovative and collaborative work between Holy Cross High School and the NEPA Center for Independent Living,” John Cosgrove, executive director of AllOne Foundation & Charities, said. “There is so much more we can achieve together in improving the access to quality programming for our friends and neighbors with special needs.”

Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Education Jason Morrison recognized AllOne Charities’ commitment for enhancing access to special-needs programs for Catholic school students.

“We are grateful to AllOne Charities for the generous support of our students with exceptionalities,” he said. “This gift achieves our goal of ensuring that all students achieve their God-given potential and are prepared for life beyond the classroom.”

  • AllOne Charities also supported the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center’s Respite Care Program, which offers a much-needed break to caregivers for children ages 5-13 who are actively receiving mental-health services.
Shown at the AllOne Charities check presentation to the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center, from left: Ryan Smith, CYC Program Officer; John Cosgrove, Executive Director, AllOne Foundation & Charities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera and Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary for Development. (Photos/Dan Gallagher)

The program, run in partnership with Luzerne County Mental Health & Developmental Services and its System of Care, has seen greatly increasing client numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It serves newfound caregivers and the children for whom they are responsible. These caregivers lack child-care resources or natural supports to help them in their new roles.

“Wilkes-Barre CYC is on the front lines of providing excellent, compassionate and quality care for those with special needs and for those who care for them,” Cosgrove said. “AllOne Charities is pleased to support their invaluable work.”

  • The Margaret Briggs Foundation supported Catholic Social Services’ Food Pantry in Carbondale with a $10,000 grant to continue providing food amid rapidly increasing demand during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Carbondale pantry saw a record 1,154 households served, representing a 106 percent month-over-month increase and an unprecedented turn of events that has continued late into fall.
  • The Pulte Family Charitable Foundation, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., also supported Catholic Social Services’ Carbondale Food Pantry with a $15,000 grant. This was the first grant Catholic Social Services has received from the Pulte Foundation.
  • The Luzerne Foundation, in conjunction with the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, awarded $5,870 to the Catholic Youth Center to take the initial steps toward creating a new meal kit and recipe program for Wyoming Valley families living in poverty. The program is on track to launch early in 2021.
  • The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation also awarded a $25,000 discretionary grant to support Catholic Social Services’ COVID relief efforts.
  • The Luzerne County COVID relief grant program, made possible by the CARES Act, awarded the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center $11,845 and Catholic Social Services $8,730 to support COVID relief efforts.
  • Finally, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools’ Targeted Grants Program awarded a total of $471,671 to Diocesan Catholic elementary and secondary schools to upgrade security systems.

“The Diocese of Scranton is incredibly appreciative of the work all of these supporters do locally, in our country and in our world,” Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary of Development, said. “Their grantmaking makes a notable impact on all who are served by our various nonprofit entities, and we thank them for their partnership, especially during these turbulent times.”

 

 

Pope Francis uses incense as he celebrates Mass marking the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this Jan. 1, 2017, file photo. Conflict, climate change and poverty are driving the demise of the tree that produces frankincense resin. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will celebrate the Vatican’s traditional Christmas “Mass during the Night” Dec. 24, but will begin the liturgy at 7:30 p.m. local time so that the few people invited to attend can get home in time to observe Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew.

The curfew is one of many measures the Italian government has employed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to the early start time, the Vatican’s COVID-19 measures are still in force: only a small congregation will be allowed inside the basilica; people’s temperatures are checked as they arrive; masks are required for the congregation and servers; the seating is socially distanced.

While the nighttime Mass often is referred to as “Midnight Mass,” it has not been celebrated at midnight at the Vatican since 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI moved it to 10 p.m. Pope Francis moved it to 9:30 p.m. in 2013, his first Christmas as pope.

The pope’s Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) will be given, as usual, at noon Christmas Day from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Other liturgies announced by the Vatican Dec. 10 include:

— Dec. 31, 5 p.m., evening prayer and the singing of the “Te Deum” in St. Peter’s Basilica to thank God for the past year.

— Jan. 1, 10 a.m., Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day.

— Jan. 6, 10 a.m., Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany.