U.S. Bishop Chairmen for Doctrine and for Pro-Life Address the Use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine

March 2, 2021

WASHINGTON– On March 2, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States:

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.[1]

“However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

For further details, we refer people to our earlier December 2020 statement, to our Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines, to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note, and to the statement of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.

[1]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines” (17 Dec 2020), no.2.

 

 

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 28, 2021. In his Angelus address, he encouraged people to read the Gospel during Lent and fast from gossip. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People should fast from gossiping and spreading hearsay as part of their Lenten journey, Pope Francis said.

“For Lent this year, I will not speak ill of others, I will not gossip and all of us can do this, everyone. This is a wonderful kind of fasting,” the pope said Feb. 28 after praying the Sunday Angelus.

Greeting visitors in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said his advice for Lent included adding a different kind of fasting “that won’t make you feel hungry: fasting from spreading rumors and gossiping.”

“And don’t forget that it will also be helpful to read a verse from the Gospel every day,” he said, urging people to have on hand a pocket-size edition to read whenever possible, even if it is just a random verse.

“This will open your heart to the Lord,” he added.

The pope also led a moment of prayer for the more than 300 girls who were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen Feb. 26 in Jangebe in northwestern Nigeria.

Adding his voice to statements made by Nigeria’s bishops, the pope condemned the “vile kidnapping of 317 girls, taken away from their school,” and he prayed for them and their families, hoping for their safe return home.

The nation’s bishops had already warned of the deteriorating situation in the country in a Feb. 23 statement, according to Vatican News.

“We are really on the brink of a looming collapse from which we must do all we can to pull back before the worst overcomes the nation,” the bishops wrote in response to a previous attack. Insecurity and corruption have put into question “the very survival of the nation,” they wrote.

The pope also marked Rare Disease Day, held Feb. 28 to raise awareness and improve advocacy and access to treatment.

He thanked all those involved in medical research for diagnosing and coming up with treatments for rare diseases, and he encouraged support networks and associations so people do not feel alone and can share experience and advice.

“Let us pray for all people who have a rare disease,” he said, especially for children who suffer.

In his main address, he reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mk 9:2-10) about Peter, James and John witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and their subsequent descent back down to the valley.

The pope said pausing with the Lord on the mountain “is a call to remember — especially when we pass through a difficult trial — that the Lord is risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.”

However, he added, “we cannot remain on the mountain and enjoy the beauty of this encounter by ourselves. Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amid our brothers and sisters and into daily life.”

People must take that light that comes from their encounter with Christ “and make it shine everywhere. Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the mission of a Christian,” he said.

 

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington Jan. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

TAKE ACTION: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has a ‘Voter Voice’ message that can be sent to lawmakers. To send a message to your Representative and Senators in Washington, visit: https://www.pacatholic.org/resources/voter-voice/?vvsrc=%2fHome

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in a 224-206 vote Feb. 25.

A couple days ahead of the vote, the chairmen of five U.S. bishops’ committees said its mandates will “discriminate against people of faith” by adversely affecting charities and their beneficiaries, conscience rights, women’s sports, “and sex-specific facilities.”

The bill, known as H.R. 5 and recently reintroduced in the House, also will provide for taxpayer funding of abortion and limit freedom of speech, the chairmen said in a Feb. 23 letter to all members of Congress.

H.R. 5  amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system and jury duty.

“Human dignity is central to what Catholics believe because every person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion,” they said. “This commitment is reflected in the church’s charitable service to all people, without regard to race, religion or any other characteristic.”

“It means we need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive,” they continued. “It also means that people of differing beliefs should be respected. In this, we wholeheartedly support nondiscrimination principles to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

H.R. 5 “purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations,” they said.

“This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” they said. “As Pope Francis has reflected, however, ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex — gender — can be distinguished but not separated.'”

Signing the letter were: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” the bishops said, further quoting Pope Francis.

“Tragically, this act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience,” the committee chairmen added.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” they said. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The measure first passed the House May 17, 2019, in a bipartisan 236–173 vote, but the Senate did not act on the bill after receiving it. President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.

House leadership pledged to see it reintroduced in the 117th Congress. On Feb. 18, Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, reintroduced it. Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin are expected to reintroduce a Senate version soon.

A group of faith leaders who support the Equality Act who held a webinar for the media Feb. 24 included Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is the outgoing executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby organization.

Network has long supported the measure, she said. “It’s critically important to ensure there is no discrimination in our nation especially with regard to the LGBTQ community.”

In the Catholic faith, all are welcome, she said, “and if all are welcome, all need to be protected. I think the bedrock position of our faith is to welcome and secure safety and the ability to flourish for all.”

Campbell and representatives of other faiths, including Jewish, Muslim and other Christian leaders, said in the webinar that the measure “will not reduce religious liberty,” as protected by the First Amendment and religious exemptions in current law, “but it will reduce religious bigotry.”

However, the U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen said in their Feb. 23 letter that if passed, the Equality Act will “discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs by partially repealing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an unprecedented departure from that law and one of America’s founding principles.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, is a 1993 law that protects religions against government intrusion.

Among its other provisions, the bishops said, the measure would expand “the government’s definition of public places into numerous settings, even forcing religiously operated spaces, such as some church halls and equivalent facilities owned by synagogues or mosques, to either host functions that violate their beliefs or close their doors to their broader communities.”

The USCCB on its website posted an “Action Alert” — https://bit.ly/3qVHIkL — asking Catholics to write to their representatives and senators to urge them to vote against the Equality Act.

Some state Catholic conferences have done the same, including the Montana Catholic Conference. In a Feb. 24 “Call to Action,” it said: “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The Equality Act … in many ways does the opposite and needs to be opposed.”

Editor’s Note: The full text of the bishops’ letter to members of Congress can be found online at https://bit.ly/3dEDhXE.

 

The Oblates of St. Joseph religious community will host the annual Novena to St. Joseph, March 10 – 18, in preparation for the Solemnity of the Patron of the Universal Church, Friday, March 19th. Daily Masses will be held in the Chapel of St. Joseph, 1880 Highway 315, Laflin, at 8:00am, 12 Noon and 7:00pm. The daily Noon Mass will be live streamed on the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary Facebook page and broadcast live on JMJ Catholic Radio (98.9 FM / 750 AM). Serving as celebrant and homilist of the novena Masses will be priests of the Oblates of St. Joseph. Devotions to St. Joseph will conclude each Mass, before the distribution of Holy Communion.

The Solemnity of St. Joseph will be celebrated on Friday, March 19th, with Masses at 8:00am & 12 Noon. A Pontifical Mass will be celebrated at 7:00pm by Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., Bishop of Scranton. The Mass will be live streamed on Facebook and broadcast on JMJ Catholic Radio. No reservations are required, but the chapel’s maximum allowed capacity will be strictly observed.

Covid restrictions and regulations, mandated by the diocese, will be enforced in the chapel at all times, which require the wearing of facial masks and proper social distancing.

Fr. Paul McDonnell, OSJ, rector of the Oblate religious community, invites the faithful of the diocese during this Year of St. Joseph to participate in the novena and feast day celebrations. For more information, contact the main office at (570) 654-7542.

 

Archbishop Jan Pawlowski, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State and papal delegate, celebrates Mass at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Plock, Poland, Feb. 22, 2021. The Mass marked the 90th anniversary of the first apparition of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska. (CNS photo/Katarzyna Artymiak)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Marking the 90th anniversary of the apparition of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Catholics in Poland expressing his hope that Christ’s message of divine mercy would remain “alive in the hearts of the faithful.”

According to a statement released by the Polish bishops’ conference Feb. 22, the anniversary of the apparition, the pope said he was united in prayer with those commemorating the anniversary at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow and encouraged them ask Jesus “for the gift of mercy.”

“Let us have the courage to come back to Jesus to meet his love and mercy in the sacraments,” he said. “Let us feel his closeness and tenderness, and then we will also be more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.”

In her diary, St. Faustina wrote that she had witnessed a vision of Jesus on Feb. 22, 1931, while she was living at a convent in Plock, Poland.

Christ, she wrote, had one hand raised in benediction and the other resting on his breast, from which emanated two rays of light. She said Christ demanded to have this image painted — along with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” — and venerated.

Her sainthood cause was opened in 1965 by then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, who — after his election to the papacy — would go on to beatify her in 1993 and preside over her canonization in 2000.

Recalling St. John Paul II’s devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska and Christ’s message of divine mercy, the pope said his predecessor was “the apostle of mercy” who “wanted the message of God’s merciful love to reach all inhabitants of earth.”

Pope Francis also marked the anniversary of the apparition during his Sunday Angelus address Feb. 21.

“Through St. John Paul II, this message reached the entire world, and it is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, and who gives us his father’s mercy,” the pope said.

“Let us open our heart, saying with faith, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,'” he said.

 

SCRANTON – Despite all of the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, this Lent is filled with hope and joy for Andrew Farr. After wanting to become Catholic for years, the Scranton man’s dream is about to become a reality.

“I’m incredibly excited to be welcomed into the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up religious so this whole process has been eye-opening for me,” Farr said.

Farr is one of 85 people who made their final declaration of intent to join the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Scranton at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, held on the first weekend of Lent, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Due to the pandemic, three different celebrations took place on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 so people could maintain proper physical distancing.

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is when candidates and catechumens participating in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) publicly declare their intention to fully enter the church.

This year, the Diocese of Scranton had 30 catechumens, who will receive all the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist), and 55 candidates, who have been baptized but have not finished receiving the sacraments of initiation.

Farr, who is a catechumen, is sharing this journey with his two children, Lilly and Cayden, who are both candidates. Farr says the experience of learning as a family has been a blessing.

“It allowed us to learn the faith together and to be able to have the conversations together, because we were all starting from the same spot and luckily we have my wife who has been through all of this so she has been a great resource in the process as well,” Farr explained. “It feels like we’re a lot closer now. We have these conversations about our faith and what it means to us. We never really got to have those conversations before.”

Gregory Gies of Saint Michael Parish in Canton also participated in the Call to Continuing Conversion.

“I’ve always had faith but I was never part of a religious community and I wanted to gain more of that and better myself for my family,” Gies said.

As a father of two young children who have been baptized Catholic, Gies says he is excited about fully joining the Church this Easter.

“Taking part in the Eucharist and Confirmation and becoming Catholic was my ultimate goal and it’s coming closer and closer,” Gies added.

Sisters Stephanie Sanchez, 18, and Destiny Sanchez, 19, from Saint Rita Parish in Gouldsboro will also be joining the Church at Easter.

“It has been a long process but it is all worth it,” Destiny said. “It was very special for us to do this together. I’ve been wanting to do this my whole life and I’m so glad I’m living it.”

Several years ago, Destiny Sanchez said she witnessed the baptism of a cousin and realized its significance. This year, as her sister joins her this Easter, it will be an equally important occasion.

“I learned so much,” Stephanie added about the process.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, was celebrant and homilist at each celebration. He officially accepted the catechumens, signing each parish’s Book of the Elect after being presented with it.

During his homily, the bishop reminded everyone that God calls each of us to be converted, to trust and discover that He is the true and lasting source of our life and well-being.

“He’s inviting you to walk a path with Him that ultimately will lead you to a life of meaning, purpose and peace. He is saying, through his invitation, that your life – with all of its struggles and joys, with all of its blessings and challenges – has a unique place and role to play within his plan,” Bishop Bambera said. “He’s sharing with you the same words that He shared with His disciples on the very night before He died, ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.’”

The bishop also told both the candidates and catechumens that they do not walk alone.

“Your presence here today, in the midst of so many challenges that have resulted from the (COVID-19) pandemic that has enveloped our lives, is a vital reminder to all of us of the power of faith and the reality of God working mightily even and especially in the midst of a most unlikely time in our history,” Bishop Bambera added.

 

 

 

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington Jan. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

TAKE ACTION: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has a ‘Voter Voice’ message that can be sent to lawmakers. To send a message to your Representative and Senators in Washington, visit: https://www.pacatholic.org/resources/voter-voice/?vvsrc=%2fHome

 Bishops: If passed, Equality Act will ‘discriminate against people of faith’

WASHINGTON (CNS) — If the House of Representatives passes the Equality Act, its mandates will “discriminate against people of faith” by adversely affecting charities and their beneficiaries, conscience rights, women’s sports, “and sex-specific facilities,” said the chairmen of five U.S. bishops’ committees.

The bill, known as H.R. 5 and recently reintroduced in the House, also will provide for taxpayer funding of abortion and limit freedom of speech, the chairmen said in a Feb. 23 letter to all members of Congress.

H.R. 5 would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system and jury duty. The House was expected to vote on the measure before Feb. 26.

“Human dignity is central to what Catholics believe because every person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion,” they said, “This commitment is reflected in the church’s charitable service to all people, without regard to race, religion or any other characteristic.”

“It means we need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive,” they continued. “It also means that people of differing beliefs should be respected. In this, we wholeheartedly support nondiscrimination principles to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

H.R. 5 “purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations,” they said.

“This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” they said. “As Pope Francis has reflected, however, ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex — gender — can be distinguished but not separated.'”

Signing the letter were: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” the bishops said, further quoting Pope Francis.

“Tragically, this act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience,” the committee chairmen added.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” they said. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The measure first passed the House May 17, 2019, in a bipartisan 236–173 vote, but the Senate did not act on the bill after receiving it. President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.

House leadership pledged to see it reintroduced in the 117th Congress. On Feb. 18, Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, reintroduced it. Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin are expected to reintroduce a Senate version soon.

The full text of the bishops’ letter to members of Congress can be found online at https://bit.ly/3dEDhXE

 

 

February 23, 2021

“I take this opportunity to congratulate Dr. Daniel J. Myers on being selected to serve as the 15th president of Misericordia University. At the same time, I would also like to thank Dr. Kathleen Cieplak Owens for serving as president of Misericordia University for the 2020-21 academic year and leading the institution through the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.”

“Dr. Myers brings significant leadership experience to his new position, having served at American University in Washington, DC, Marquette University and the University of Notre Dame. As Misericordia University continues to build on its strong tradition of academic excellence, it will no doubt benefit from Dr. Myers’ background and skills. I look forward to working with Dr. Myers to make sure Misericordia University remains faithful to its mission as well as the charisms of the Sisters of Mercy.

“Rooted in Our Lord’s love and mercy, we ask God’s blessing on Dr. Myers, as well as all of the students, faculty and staff of Misericordia University.”

Daniel J. Myers, Ph.D.

Myers Appointed as Fifteenth President of Misericordia University

Dallas, PA – The Board of Trustees of Misericordia University has appointed Daniel J. Myers, Ph.D., professor and acting chairperson of Sociology at American University in Washington, D.C., as the next president of Misericordia University.  Dr. Myers will begin his presidential term on July 1, 2021.

“Dr. Myers brings extensive experience in the areas of planning, new program development, community engagement, faculty development, enrollment management, fundraising, and diversity and inclusion,” says Dr. Deborah Smith-Mileski, chair, Misericordia University Board of Trustees. “His strategic vision and administrative experience will serve this university well into the next century.”

Myers earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, before completing a master’s and doctorate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is a well-known expert in the study of collective behavior and social movements. He has published books and articles primarily focused on protest and unrest, the diffusion of social phenomena, social psychology, and urban politics. He has won awards for both his research and teaching.

Myers previously served as provost at American University and Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Before that, he spent 17 years at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, serving as vice president and associate provost for Faculty Affairs, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Letters, and as chair of the Department of Sociology. Myers had also been the director of Faculty Development and Research in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and he founded and directed the Center for the Study of Social Movements.

“I am tremendously excited to join the Misericordia community and contribute to the wonderful work done by this engaged community,” says Myers.  “I want to thank the search committee, the board of trustees, and all of the faculty, staff, and students who participated in the interview process.  Their testimony about the commitment to the charisms and mission of Misericordia were powerful, meaningful, and resonated deeply with me.”

Myers will succeed Kathleen Owens, Ph.D., who continues to serve as president of Misericordia through June 30, 2021.   Dr. Owens was appointed to serve as president for the 2020-2021 academic year, succeeding Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., who left Misericordia for the presidency of the University of Mount Union, Alliance, Ohio, in June 2020.

For more information about Misericordia University, please call 570-674-6400 or visit www.misericordia.edu. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County’s first four-year college and offers 56 academic programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels in full- and part-time formats. Misericordia University ranks in the “National Universities” category of U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 edition of Best Colleges. The Princeton Review recognizes Misericordia as a 2021 “Best Northeastern” college, and Money Magazine includes Misericordia in its 2020-2021 “Best Colleges” list. College Consensus and the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education rank Misericordia among the top colleges and universities nationally.

 

SCRANTON – Rich in symbolism, the distribution of ashes brought many faithful together at parishes across the Diocese of Scranton on Ash Wednesday.

“After dealing with this pandemic almost a year now, it’s frankly wonderful to see so many of you gathered here today,” the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, said during the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

With people wearing masks, sitting in alternating pews and spaced out to remain physically distant, the Cathedral reached its maximum capacity in accordance with established COVID-19 protocols.

“People have wondered, will people come back at the end of this pandemic? I think those people who have a depth of faith will not only come back but come back with a greater sense of resolve,” Bishop Bambera said to the media directly following Mass.

During his homily, the bishop preached on the words taken from the prophet Joel in the book of the Old Testament: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

“The message of Ash Wednesday calls us to change our lives…however, remember that Joel boldly challenges us to do so, not merely through gestures and religious practices – but by peering intensely into our hearts to ensure that our spirit – the core of our being – is honest and pure and open to the transforming power and presence of God,” Bishop Bambera said.

The bishop emphasized the importance of the Lenten journey, which draws people to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

“May we have the courage to confront the reality of our broken, struggling hearts and lives as we continue to face the pain and uncertainty born of the pandemic that has enveloped us. May we pray for the grace to turn away from all that distracts us from our resolve to authentically live our relationship with God. And may we selflessly serve the poor among us and so discover our merciful and loving God present in our lives,” the bishop added.

This year’s ash distribution was different because of the pandemic. Parishes in the Diocese of Scranton were given two options: to either sprinkle ashes on the top of the recipient’s head or use a cotton swab to trace a cross on the recipient’s forehead. The Cathedral used the cotton swab option, ordering extra-long cotton swabs in order to protect both the ministers and the public.

Ashes are an important symbol to Catholics for several reasons. First, they represent a physical sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Second, they remind the faithful that God created us from the earth and when we die, we will return to it.

Just like the Cathedral of Saint Peter, Saint Paul of the Cross Parish in Scranton also saw a large number of faithful attend its noon Mass on Ash Wednesday.

“Just being able to come here today in a safe environment, and clean, it meant a lot to us,” Joshua Walker, parishioner at Saint Paul of the Cross Parish, said.

Walker’s brother echoed those sentiments.

“I think in times of anxiety, I think this is when we need God most for His strength and to allow everyone to feel a sense of comfort and unity,” Justin Walker added.

At Saint Paul of the Cross Parish, the pastor decided to sprinkle ashes on the top of each person’s head. The faithful say they are glad ashes were still available as they begin the 40 days of Lent.

“We have to think of the season, think of what God went through and He is going to help us through this situation, like all of the other situations we have to deal with,” parishioner James Kryzanowski said.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Since childhood, the typical U.S. Catholic’s response to Lent is giving up, as in “What are you giving up for Lent?”

If you haven’t been keeping track, Catholics in the United States and worldwide — just about everyone, really — have been giving up a lot since the coronavirus pandemic struck 11 months ago, with no clearly defined end in sight. You would need the fingers on both hands to name some of the things that have been lost, not to mention nearly a half-million lives lost in the U.S. alone.

So, given all that, how should a Catholic approach Lent this year?

“Maybe this Lent isn’t the year to give up something, because we’re already doing it involuntarily,” said Marie Dennis, senior adviser to the secretary general of Pax Christi International.

It’s time, Dennis said, to “dig deeper and to think more deeply about what are the lessons that we’re learning from this pandemic. For example, how we’re treating the earth and about the racism and inequality in our own society and inequality around the world when we’re looking at who is being most hurt by the COVID pandemic.

“That would be my practice during Lent,” Dennis said. “That would be to remind myself of the really deep changes that need to be made in our society and in our world as move forth from this pandemic.”

“There is real discernment that is needed this Lent,” said Marian Diaz, a professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago who directs grants to aid Catholic professionals in ministry.

“Many people have been giving and sacrificing on behalf of others during this past year,” Diaz said. “And for those people, I would just ask them to consider what do they need to do to be able to sustain that service? If our God is a God of love who comes to serve us in our creation and incarnation, we also have to consider how we are serving our brothers and sisters, but also how we are serving ourselves. What must we do to sustain ourselves during this time?”

She added, “Maybe sometimes the call is to grow in love for ourselves and we have the supports around us that we need so that we can make it for the long haul in terms of whatever forms of love or service or ministry that is functioning in our life and we’re committed to.”

“I just want to really express empathy for the situation that we all are going through, and the difficulty, not only in terms of the pandemic but the political situation in our country and the situations in our world,” Diaz said.

“I’m beginning to think our best discipline for Lent would be along the lines of ‘Fratelli Tutti’ — a reflection on nonviolence as an ethic and not as some kind of namby-pamby way of avoiding conflict, but nonviolence as a strong, direct confrontation without violence to the violence that’s taking place,” said Franciscan Father Joe Nangle, former co-director of Franciscan Mission Service.

As a religious priest, Father Nangle said his vow of poverty doesn’t give him any special insights on the giving-up concept.

“If you try to live like St. Francis, you kill yourself in this society. It’s a tough call. I try to live simply and let it go at that,” he said. “I think that laypeople are living a much more life of poverty in many ways than many of us religious. I think religious life can be very, very comfortable, I think the average layperson struggles except for the 1%.”

“It has felt like a long Lent,” said Rose Marie Berger, a senior editor at Sojourners magazine, adding: “I started thinking about this a while back.” How far back? “I wrote my Lenten spirituality column four months ago.”

Berger, who told Catholic News Service she misses physically receiving the Eucharist the most, said: “Maybe Lent this year is not so much doing something extra, giving something extra, it’s more spending some deep time in contemplation in what has been taken from us, what we have been forced to sacrifice from the pandemic, what are the sacrifices others have made for us, and where have we been able to give in ways we hadn’t expected to — it’s a reflection on our almsgiving — and in what ways have prayed.”

“I’m a big proponent of what St. John of the Cross says: If you don’t find love, bring love, and then you’ll find it,” said Bishop William D. Byrne, recently installed to head the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. “And so, in this time where we’ve had so much taken away from us, and … to lose hope, to be discouraged, what we need to do is bring hope, and then we’re going to find it. Bring joy, and we’ll find it.”

Bishop Byrne said, “Let’s start with the blessings. It isn’t the negativity, but embrace the positive and bringing that to people each day. In order to do that, you have to look at the other two parts of Lent. There’s prayer and almsgiving. You can’t really bring positivity without prayer. Otherwise, it’s just play-acting.”

He added, “You’ve got to have something at the start of the day. Get your cup of coffee or tea, and get your rosary, get your prayer book and start. Make a conscious effort in the morning and say, ‘I am going to bring positivity to the people I’m going to meet this day. Disarm them with your joy, if you will. Bring hope where we’re feeling hopeless.”

Jesus can be our companion in our suffering, said Becky Eldredge, a spiritual director and author of “The Inner Chapel,” who is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I imagine Jesus him reminding us, ‘I’m here. I’m with y’all. Tell me what you’re going through. Tell me what you’re feeling. Engage me in it,'” she said.

Lent is “an invitation to fix our eyes on Christ right now, right? More than just a giving up, it’s a looking to Christ in the here and now,” Eldredge said.

She suggested “letting Christ draw as near as possible to our suffering. A lot of what I’ve been seeing in retreat work and in (spiritual) direction, we’re keeping Jesus a little at arm’s length, we’re not letting him come close to our suffering.”

Eldredge added Catholics can follow Jesus’ “model of doing for others — reminding people, ‘Hey, I’m here for you. Tell me, I can listen to you.’ Show people a fixed point in Christ.”

“In the pandemic, we’ve probably settled into some routines. Some good routines, probably there may have been some unhealthy routines that we’ve settled into,” said Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director assistant director of youth and young adult ministries in the the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Family, Marriage, Laity and Youth.

“If nothing else, it’s a good time to examine what we’ve settled into,” Jarzembowski said. “I know I’ve got some bad habits that have crept into my time. I’ve got the ‘COVID 19’ — I’ve gained 19 pounds. I’ve been more sedentary. I haven’t been as active because I can’t be.”

Lent, he added, is “a time for renewal, a time for reexamining. Lent is about giving up, but it’s a time of renewing, about making some new choices, making some resolutions, I look at it not so much as giving up as what can be renewed, what can be recharged.”