HAZLETON – In addition to the large-scale Christmas Gifts for Kids Program that Catholic Social Services helps to organize in the Scranton area, the agency also has two other gift distribution programs in Carbondale and Hazleton.

After registering 250 families in October, the toy giveaway in Hazleton will take place on Dec. 17 this year. Parents and caregivers will once again be able to shop and pick up toys and clothes for their children.

Lee Ann Lywiski, who helps organize the Mountain City’s gift program, said the event would not be possible without the support of area churches and generous community members.

“We have a lot of churches that will take tags and put them on a tree. Parishioners will take those tags, purchase the items, bring them back to the church and then they find their way up here,” she explained.

With decades-high inflation, Lywiski, who also manages the Saint Joseph Food Pantry operated by Catholic Social Services, has seen many new people looking for assistance this year.

“With the price of everything going up, people are struggling. We’re seeing a lot of new faces come through our pantry and for the toy program,” she explained.

The story is very similar in the city of Carbondale. Catholic Social Services helped distribute toys and gifts to several hundred families on Tuesday, December 13, at Saint Rose of Lima Church.

The distribution began at 8 a.m. and lasted for the entire day.

In both areas, staff of Catholic Social Services helped fulfill the agency’s mission by responding compassionately to the needs of the community and replacing despair with hope.

“It is such a joyful time because the parents are getting a need met and we’re getting to help and that feels good. It feels good when you get to help somebody,” Lywiski said.

$100 bills in U.S. currency are seen in this photo. (CNS photo/Lee Jae-Won, Reuters)

SCRANTON- Through the Diocese of Scranton’s listening efforts during the Synod on Synodality in 2022, one of the main themes that emerged from online surveys and in-person listening sessions was a broad demand for greater transparency from church leadership in all matters of importance. One of the areas frequently mentioned is parish financial matters.

Financial matters can be difficult for clergy to talk about, and in some cases, difficult for parishioners to understand. However, as the People of God, parishioners who donate money and service to their parish have the right and responsibility to understand how their money is used.

The bottom line is that in order to be good stewards, parishioners should have a basic understanding of parish financial operations.

On August 31, 2022, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera signed a decree instituting “Norms for Annual Parish Financial Reporting” which are to be considered law in the Diocese of Scranton. Each year beginning in 2023, on the second weekend in January, every parish in the Diocese will be required to publish a five-year financial trend analysis in its bulletin, which will include a narrative to help people understand the document.

While a pastor/parish life coordinator is primarily responsible for the day-to-day supervision of a parish’s financial and physical resources, they receive assistance from a Parish Finance Council. The Parish Finance Council is a consultative body of laypersons that advise a pastor in matters pertaining to the financial affairs of the parish. It is widely accepted that an active, well-informed Parish Finance Council strengthens accountability and assists the pastor with his responsibilities.

Parishes are much more expensive to maintain now than they were in the past. As the Diocese of Scranton continues in its Vision 2030 Pastoral Planning Process, striving to meet the opportunities and challenges of the coming decade, it is critical for parishioners to have an understanding of the financial position of their parish.

It is the hope that by having more financial transparency between a parish and its parishioners, there can be greater trust and cooperation to further the mission of the Church. Pastors and parish staff must be open, consultative and collegial in the conducting of affairs and parishioners must accept responsibility for their parish and contribute generously – both money and service – to its programs and projects.

LUZERNE – Beautiful music, fitting for the days leading into Christmas, filled Holy Family Church on Thursday, Dec. 8, as a popular Advent service of Word and Song continued for another year.

“We Long for You, O Lord,” was the theme of this year’s event, which featured the combined choir of voices from Holy Family and Saint Ignatius Parishes in Luzerne County and from the Dunmore parishes of Saints Anthony & Rocco and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

“Separately we are all very good choirs. We all have wonderful music ministries in these parishes, but together, we are so much more,” Linda Houck, Director of Worship/Business Manager at Holy Family Parish, said. “I think some of that is the shared faith, the shared preparation for Christmas and we have people who are in our choirs who look forward to this every year.”

This year’s joint choir featured a combined 38 voices.

“It is a tremendous sound,” Houck added.

In addition to featuring the choral reflections, several soloists and an instrumental ensemble, the Advent service also features numerous scripture readings.

Many people who attend the free event come back year after year.

“There really is a longing in everyone’s heart,” Houck said as she reflected on this year’s theme. “What we find as we progress through the Advent season and into Christmas is that longing is really satisfied in God. That is what we celebrate at Christmas and that is what we are preparing to do.”

Father David Cappelloni started the Advent tradition 13 years ago when he was pastor at Holy Family Parish. When he moved to Dunmore in 2007, he had the idea to create the multicounty service.

“He said wouldn’t it be a great idea to combine our efforts and do an Advent service together and we did,” Houck explained. “People have made crosscounty friendships and they’re participating in something that is bigger than just their parish.”

In addition to Holy Family Parish, the Advent service of Word and Song was also presented on Sunday, Dec. 11 in Dunmore.

Parishes around the Diocese of Scranton are spreading Christmas joy to nursing home residents and the homebound.

Mary, Mother of God Parish in North Scranton filled 65 bags with personal care items, puzzles and candy to be delivered to homebound parishioners. Each bag was also adorned with ornaments made by faith formation students.

Faith formation students at Saint Eulalia Parish in Roaring Brook Township have been busy making Christmas cards for the residents of nearby Saint Mary’s Villa in Elmhurst. In this photo, fifth grade students were showing off their creativity

A girl holds a figurine of the baby Jesus after Pope Francis’ recitation of the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 11, 2022. The pope blessed figurines of the baby Jesus brought by children for their Nativity scenes. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Even the most fervent believers go through moments of doubt and questioning about God, and it is a good thing, Pope Francis said, because it helps one see that God does not fit into the little box people make for him.

Doubt “helps us understand that God is always greater than we imagine him to be. His works are surprising compared to our calculations; his actions are different, always, they exceed our needs and expectations; and therefore, we must never stop seeking him,” the pope told people joining him for the Angelus prayer Dec. 11.

People face a constant “temptation: to make ourselves a God to our measure, a God to use,” the pope said. But “God is something else.”

Pope Francis spoke about the day’s Gospel reading about how John the Baptist, while in prison, sent followers to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah even though John had earlier baptized Jesus in the Jordan.

With an estimated 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the midday prayer, the pope said sometimes people find themselves in an “inner jail,” unable to recognize the Lord or even trying to hold him “captive” to preconceived ideas about who God must be.

“Dear brothers and sisters, one never knows everything about God, never!” he said. “Perhaps we have in mind a powerful God who does what he wants, instead of the God of humble meekness, the God of mercy and love, who always intervenes respecting our freedom and our choices.”

And, he said, it is a temptation to think one knows everything about other people, too, using one’s prejudices “to attach rigid labels to others, especially those we feel are different from us.”

Advent, he said, is a time to let go and allow oneself to be surprised by God.

Especially as families prepare a Nativity scene or one goes to look at one set up somewhere, he said, it is an occasion to think about who the Lord really is and how to imitate him in daily life.

“Advent is a time in which, instead of thinking about gifts for ourselves, we can give words and gestures of consolation to those who are wounded, as Jesus did with the blind, the deaf and the lame,” the pope said.

After reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis blessed figurines of the baby Jesus that hundreds of children had brought to the square in preparation to place them in Nativity scenes at home or at school.

He asked children “to pray before the creche that the nativity of the Lord will bring a ray of peace to children all over the world, especially those forced to live the terrible and dark days of war, this war in Ukraine that destroys many lives, so many lives, and many children.”

BRODHEADSVILLE – On Saturday, Nov. 26, the ladies of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish were treated to an “Advent by Candlelight” celebration.

The evening began with a delicious meal served by candlelight in McCawley Hall, after which the women proceeded into the church for a program with the theme of “Advent Through The Eyes of Mary.”

The program consisted of beautiful music, reflections and the personal stories of some of the women. The evening ended with dessert and fellowship.

It was agreed that the theme touched the hearts of all who attended and gave participants a wonderful focus for the four weeks of anticipation and waiting for God’s entry into humanity.

A Priesthood Perspective on the Eucharistic Revival by Fr. Bob Simon

In the fall of 2021, in my first months as the new pastor in Brodheadsville, our staff began to discuss our Advent Adult Formation Series. Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish has a longstanding commitment to adult faith formation. Many of our parishioners crave learning more about their faith.

With folks coming back as COVID-19 numbers decreased, and as we desired to reconnect parishioners with Sunday Mass, I presented a series on the Mass. We took a deep dive into the parts of the Mass as well as the historical development of the Mass and its meaning, especially by reflecting on the insights of the pioneers of the liturgical reform of the twentieth century and the Fathers of the Church.

This year, we are currently in the midst of a series I am leading on the Mystery of the Eucharist. We are using the series, Presence, offered by Formed.org and produced by the Augustine Institute. I am also presenting material from Jean Danielou, S.J., in his classic work, The Bible and the Liturgy, published in 1956. We are considering how at every Mass, the once-for-all-sacrifice of Calvary is made present. Likewise, at every Mass, we participate in the heavenly liturgy.

My own love of the Mass goes back as far as I can remember. I explain this love of the Mass when asked about it by relating that even as a very small boy there was something I just “got” about the Mass and the liturgy of the Church. I can still picture the raised hands of our assistant pastor, Fr. Richard Zavacki, elevating the host at the consecration.

I know that each year back then, and even today, the celebration of Holy Week is my personal, annual Eucharistic revival. As a boy, my brother, my sister, and I were very blessed that my family actively participated in liturgies of the Sacred Triduum. As children, we processed each year in the Holy Thursday procession. We were very blessed that after the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, my dad would take us to visit parishes to spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at the carefully prepared Place of Reposition. The short visits to each church were wisely planned to accommodate a child’s short attention span. But my dad, took us to a good number of churches. We delighted every year in the experience. We would talk often of which churches were our favorite and how touched we were by the faith and devotion of the other adorers.

Last year as we celebrated the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper during the Sacred Triduum, there was a moment that gave me hope as we pray and yearn for a Eucharistic revival. Our Lady Queen of Peace has long had a tradition of inviting everyone at Evening Mass to join in the procession to the Repository.

This past year we processed outside the church while the Knights of Columbus bore a canopy over the Holy Eucharist. The cross, candles, incense and girls strewing rose petals all passed between an honor guard of parishioners who lined the path bringing the Blessed Sacrament to our chapel. As the Holy Eucharist neared him, a high school age boy, unfamiliar to me as involved in the parish, dropped to his knees. I saw his faith and devotion, and thought, “that young man will never doubt the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.”

I pray that our National Eucharistic Revival will help us to celebrate each Mass with utmost reverence. I believe our faith, devotion and reverence at each Mass is a powerful witness to others. Adult faith formation is important, but ultimately it is each of us and our active participation at Worship that will, by God’s grace, bring about a Eucharistic Revival. I know that I, like so many others, love the Mass and gift of Faith, not primarily because of what I learned in a classroom about the Mass or the mystery of the Eucharist. It is in the school of the liturgy that I’ve fallen in love with the greatest of Sacraments.

Let’s start with small steps. I find when celebrating multiple liturgies, that if I try at each Mass to put a focus on one part of the Mass and really let it come alive for me, I soon find myself overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the “Sacrament of Sacraments” celebrated for the life of the world.

Local and national media in University City, Mo., report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones Feb. 21, 2017, after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis. (CNS photo/Tom Gannam, Reuters)

BALTIMORE – During the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall general assembly in November, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera was voted chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs by his brother bishops.

Bishop Bambera was elected over Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith of Portland, Oregon, in a vote of 128 to 111. He will begin his three-year term at the end of the 2023 fall general assembly.

While Bishop Bambera is currently a member of the committee, this will be his second time leading the group that assists the bishops in their commitment to advancing Christian unity and building ties of friendship and understanding with other religious traditions.

On Nov. 28, the committee recently made headlines by decrying rising antisemitism in the United States. Saying they are outraged by growing “antisemitic rhetoric” across the country, the members of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs urged Christians to decry hate-filled statements and violence aimed at Jewish individuals, homes and institutions.

Committee members also denounced “any rhetoric which seeks to demonize or dehumanize the Jewish people or Judaism as a religious tradition,” in a statement. “In unequivocal terms, we condemn any and all violence directed at the Jewish people, whether motivated by religious, racial, or political grievances,” said the committee.

“The rising trend of antisemitic incidents has become even more painful in light of the church’s relationship to the Jewish tradition and our connections to the Jewish people in dialogue and friendship,” the committee said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks incidents of antisemitism, reported 2,717 cases of harassment, vandalism and assault in 2021, an increase of 34% from a year earlier. The number of incidents is the highest on record since the group began tracking them in 1979.

Two rabbis involved in ecumenical dialogue with the committee praised the statement for the resilient solidarity it signifies to the Jewish community.

“The main emotion with the statement is gratitude,” said Rabbi Allyson Zacharoff, representative of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in the National Council of Synagogues.

“Knowing that the bishops, that the church, is so willing to speak in such a strong way against antisemitism is incredibly fulfilling, incredibly gratifying,” Rabbi Zacharoff told Catholic News Service.

Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee, wrote in an email that the statement “reminds the Jewish community that we are not alone, that U.S. Catholic leadership understands resurgent antisemitism as a threat to Jews.”

He also said that antisemitism must be addressed by “all peoples, including, perhaps especially, the faith community.”

The bishops’ statement draws its inspiration from “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”), the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic faiths. It explains that over six decades the committee has built partnerships with the National Council of Synagogues, the Orthodox Union and the newly established Modern Orthodox group.

SCRANTON – For the second consecutive year, a lay organization of faithful Catholics has named the Diocese of Scranton as being one of the most financially transparent dioceses in the United States.

For six years, Voice of the Faithful has reviewed all U.S. Catholic dioceses’ online financial transparency. The group’s 2022 report identifies the Diocese of Scranton as one of only five dioceses to receive an overall score of 100% in regards to transparency. This year’s other top-scoring dioceses include Charleston, Lexington, Orlando and Rochester.

The Diocese of Scranton also received an overall score of 100% for financial transparency in 2021.

The Voice of the Faithful’s sixth annual review of all dioceses was conducted between June 1 and Aug. 31 by three independent reviewers and their report, “Measuring and Ranking Diocesan Online Financial Transparency: 2022 Report,” was released on Nov. 28, 2022.

In addition to receiving a perfect score in the report, the Diocese of Scranton and its website was highlighted as having one of the best finance pages. The report indicates the Diocese of Scranton’s finance page stands out from others with “key financial information easily accessible.”

“I am happy to report for the second year that the Diocese of Scranton is being recognized for its commitment to financial transparency,” the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Diocese of Scranton, said. “Each one of us is a steward of the resources given to us by God and we all share in the mission of making sure they are used responsibly. By having easy access to financial reports, policies and procedures, every parishioner can see that the money donated to the diocese goes exactly where it is intended.”

Voice of the Faithful scores dioceses’ financial transparency practices on a scale from zero to 100. The organization awards each diocese points for publishing a variety of financial documents, including audited financial reports, information about the diocese’s cathedraticum (tax collected from individual parishes) and a current list of members on the diocesan finance council.

Information on the Diocese of Scranton’s financial policies and guidelines, audited financial reports and finance council members can be found at dioceseofscranton.org/directory/offices/financial-services.

The Voice of the Faithful’s 2022 report shows that overall, diocesan online financial transparency scores increased from 69% in 2021 to 70% in 2022.

Voice of the Faithful 2022 reviewers concluded that, “Although significant progress in financial transparency has been achieved in the last decade, and in particular during the last three years, members of the Church in the U.S. must be vigilant if they wish to prevent financial mismanagement and abuse.”

WILKES-BARRE – The spirit of giving and generosity filled Saint Nicholas Church on Dec. 6 as parishioners came together to celebrate their patronal feast day.

After several years of subdued celebrations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and families were invited to bring forth to the altar toys, games and gifts which will benefit people in need in the community.

“It is a wonderful experience to show the kindness and the giving of the people of Saint Nicholas Parish,” parishioner Bob Hines explained. “It is not just one group of people that get involved, it is everybody. It’s our Social Concerns Committee, our Liturgy Committee, and our Events Committee.”

Father Joseph Verespy, pastor of Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes, felt the energy inside the church during the special 6 p.m. Mass.

“The last couple years were very low key because of the pandemic. This year, we really wanted to revive the spirit and enthusiasm so we reached out to the kids in faith formation, the kids in Saint Nicholas/Saint Mary School. I think we succeeded in stirring up the fire again. We’re really happy,” Father Verespy said.

During his homily, Father Verespy invited all of the children in attendance to come forward and sit near all of the toys that had previously started to amass at the altar before the Mass even began. The Wilkes-Barre pastor asked the kids questions about Saint Nicholas and highlighted the gifts being donated at the Mass is one way we can show people we love them, even if we don’t know them.

“Saint Nicholas lived a long time ago but we still honor him, we still love him and we try to be like him,” he explained.

Following the homily, at the time of the presentation of the gifts, anyone who had not previously brought forth their gifts was encouraged to bring them to the altar.

“The kids really understand, as we found out during the homily, they really understand what Saint Nicholas is all about,” Hines said.

At the conclusion of Mass, after the final blessing concluded, the parish received word that a special visitor had arrived – Saint Nicholas himself, accompanied by his helper, Ruprecht – who was played by 11-year-old Adam Martino.

“This is the time to show people that we love them, even when we don’t know them,” Saint Nicholas told the crowd.

Before arriving at the church, Father Verespy said Saint Nicholas was also able to visit Saint Nicholas/Saint Mary School.

“Saint Nicholas went through the school and the littlest kids put their shoes out and got a treat from Saint Nicholas and he visited all the classrooms so they were thrilled. It has been a great day here on the campus of Saint Nicholas/Saint Mary’s,” Father Verespy said with enthusiasm in his voice.