SCRANTON – For the last 47 years, Catholic schools across the country have participated in Catholic Schools Week and this year will be no exception.

Traditionally held the last week of January, this year’s celebration will take place from Jan. 31 – Feb. 6, 2021. Each of the Diocese of Scranton’s 19 Catholic Schools are busy preparing numerous activities in which students can participate.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, principals and staff members are adjusting some popular annual activities to make sure safety remains paramount.

“While faced with unprecedented challenges, our Catholic schools have been at the forefront of providing an excellent, in-person, education. We have been nimble and innovative and never forgotten why we are called to this work – to serve children and families,” Jason Morrison, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Chief Executive Officer, said. “Because of our health and safety protocols, Catholic Schools Week will look different. However, our schools will use new technologies and platforms to bring to life the Catholic School difference.”

Each year, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) chooses a theme to highlight an aspect of Catholic schools. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” calls attention to the purpose of Catholic schools – to form disciples, to grow the whole person and encourage students to be witnesses to Catholic social teaching.

“Catholic Schools Week sets aside time to reflect on the truly remarkable and amazing schools we have and, in a fun way, celebrate them,” Superintendent of Schools Kristen Donohue added. “Although the pandemic requires some changes to the activities planned for the week to be conducted virtually, we will in a genuine and creative way, share our gratitude for our schools while also sharing good health.”

In addition to holding fun events for students, numerous Diocesan schools are planning events that will show their students’ kindness and generosity to others. A central aspect of Catholic education is learning the importance of service to others.

Some of the activities currently being planned include Saint Mary of Mount Carmel School in Dunmore holding a collection for the Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen, while All Saints Academy in Scranton will collect canned food items.

Catholic school students at Saint Agnes School in Towanda and Epiphany School in Sayre will make Valentine’s Day cards for residents of personal care and nursing homes.

Many other Diocesan schools are planning similar events.

“Our school’s motto this year is ‘See the face of God in all you meet; be kind, loving, compassionate, and respectful,’ so for every one fun activity we have scheduled, we are also doing one service project,” Kelly Wilhelm, principal of Saint Agnes School in Towanda, said. “Our Pre-Kindergarten teacher has done projects for a personal care home that is located very close to the school and they have always been so appreciative. When we talked about projects that the whole school could do, we decided that valentines would be perfect. The children will make at least one during their class time and for those that finish faster, maybe one or two more, so we know that every resident will receive a special gift from a Saint Agnes student. Each valentine will be as unique as the student who make it.”

Catholic schools offer academic excellence and a faith-filled education for students nationwide. National test scores, high school graduation rates, college attendance and other data show that Catholic schools frequently outperform schools in both the public and private sectors.

National statistics show that 99-percent of Catholic school students graduate from high school. The percentage of high school graduates who attend a four-year college is 85-percent, compared to 44-percent of public school students.

Catholic schools also save taxpayers money. Based on the average public school per pupil cost of $12,756, Catholic schools provide $22 billion in savings each year for the nation.


Pope Francis leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Jan. 27, 2021. The pope continued his series of talks on prayer, reflecting on the theme “Praying with Sacred Scripture.” (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Praying with Scripture is not meant to be a mindless repetition of biblical quotes but instead is a gift that is meant to be accepted in people’s hearts, Pope Francis said.

During his weekly general audience Jan. 27, the pope said the words contained in Scripture were “not written to remain imprisoned on papyrus, parchment or paper, but to be received by a person who prays, making them blossom in his or her heart.”

He also said Christians must not exploit the Bible or use it for “ulterior motives” like justifying “his or her own philosophical and moral view.”

“It irritates me a little when I hear Christians who recite verses from the Bible like parrots: ‘Oh, yes, the Lord says (this), he wants this,'” the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks.

“But did you encounter the Lord with that verse? It is not a question only of memory; it is a question of the memory of the heart, that which opens you to the encounter with the Lord. And that word, that verse, leads you to the encounter with the Lord,” he said.

Livestreaming his audience from the library of the Apostolic Palace, the pope continued his series of talks on prayer by looking at how Christians pray with Scripture.

“The Bible was not written for a generic humanity, but for us, for me, for you, for men and women in flesh and blood, men and women who have a name and a surname, like me, like you,” he said.

The Christian tradition of “Lectio Divina,” reflecting on and praying with the biblical readings, allows Christians to enter “into dialogue with the Scripture,” he said. And recognizing oneself in a particular passage, biblical character or situation “is a grace.”

However, he added, praying with Scripture is “delicate” because those who pray “must not slip into subjective interpretations” but instead be united to Scripture and view it as “an icon to be contemplated.”

Pope Francis said the word of God “inspires good intentions,” gives strength and serenity to those in need and “even when it challenges us, it gives us peace.”

“On ‘weird’ and confusing days, it guarantees the heart a core of confidence and of love that protects it from the attacks of the evil one,” he said.


People walk up Constitution Avenue headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court while participating in the 47th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 24, 2020. The 2021 March for Life in Washington will be held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing political unrest in the nation’s capital. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)


WASHINGTON (CNS) — For the first time since 1974, when it first began, the message of the national March for Life to participants is: Stay home.

Like the satellite events connected to the annual National Mall rally and march to the Supreme Court, including the Rose Dinner, a youth conference and the Mass for Life, the rest of it will be online only Jan. 29.

March organizers had already hired a production company to make a livestreamed event possible in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and to enforce mask wearing and social distancing.

But the plan was still to have as large a live rally as could be arranged. Many of the bus caravans from the Midwest, long a staple of the event, were canceled last fall as a result of the pandemic, and the assault on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 and threats of subsequent violence by domestic terrorist groups, as reported by the FBI, made security impossible.

“The protection of all of those who participate in the annual March, as well as the many law enforcement personnel and others who work tirelessly each year to ensure a safe and peaceful event, is a top priority of the March for Life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement issued late Jan. 15.

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol … the annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the march virtually.”

There will still be a small in-person presence. “We will invite a small group of pro-life leaders from across the country to march this year,” Mancini said.

“These leaders will represent pro-life Americans everywhere who, each in their own unique ways, work to make abortion unthinkable and build a culture where every human life is valued and protected,” she added.

Marches in recent years had drawn at least 100,000 participants, and last year’s event, when President Donald Trump spoke at the rally, was believed to have had the largest attendance in its history. The smallest March for Life previous to this was in 1987 during a snowstorm, and drew an estimated 5,000.

The march is held on or near the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

The National Park Service closed “core areas” of the National Mall Jan. 15. They will remain closed at least through Jan. 21.

Most marches and prayer vigils affiliated with the March for Life at state capitols are still planned, and some have already been held. State marches have been postponed in Arkansas and Oregon, and an online alternative has been announced in Oregon.



Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Biden’s wife, Jill, holds the family Bible during his inauguration at the Capitol in Washington Jan. 20, 2021. The next day President Biden participated in the Inaugural Prayer Service hosted virtually by the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Joe Biden became the second Catholic to be inaugurated as president of the United States Jan. 20, giving some U.S. Catholics and their religious leaders a reason to rejoice and others to fear more access to abortion under his leadership.

As Biden placed his hand on the Bible and was sworn in as the 46th president of the U.S., Marie Yanulus Calderoni, a Catholic from Spring Township, Pennsylvania, said a prayer for the 78-year-old Delaware resident as he assumed the responsibility of the nation’s highest office.

He becomes president at a time when the country is enduring a deadly pandemic, profound polarization, racial divisions and financial uncertainty.

For as pleased as Calderoni — a 60-year-old parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church in Reading, Pennsylvania — is to see a fellow Catholic in the White House, she remains troubled by his support of legal abortion.

Many Catholics across the U.S. share her conflicted enthusiasm and Biden received barely half the Catholic vote in the 2020 election.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who read a Scripture passage at President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, wrote in a recent column for Catholic New York — the archdiocesan newspaper — that Biden “speaks with admirable sensitivity about protecting the rights of the weakest and most threatened,” but added the new president “ran on a platform avidly supporting this gruesome capital punishment for innocent preborn babies.”

Emphasizing the rights of the unborn are equal to other human rights, he quoted Pope Francis: “We defend and promote all legitimate human rights. But what use are they if the right of the baby to be born is violated?”

Though many Catholics are celebrating Biden’s rise to the presidency, many U.S. Catholics are fuming over it, mostly because of his support for legal abortion and same-sex marriage, both sins according to church teaching.

Social media is rife with posts from Catholics offended that Biden identifies himself as a Catholic, with some American priests telling parishioners during the 2020 presidential campaign that it would be a sin to vote for him.

A denouncement of Biden’s Catholicism only creates more divisiveness, said Oblate Father Kevin Nadolski, vice president for mission and a professor of education at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.

Catholic scholars argue all humans are flawed and Vatican leaders frequently confirm that anyone who is baptized Catholic is identified as Catholic, even if they have fallen away from the church.

“Even people who would be well disposed to the president find it difficult to (understand how) he can conjugate his stance on (the abortion) issue — which is so important to Catholics — and this faith that has been so important to him all of his life,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. “What I don’t understand are people who use very harsh words and want to cut off all communication with the president because of this.”

The U.S. bishops and popes have been in dialogue with all modern U.S. presidents, but it should be easier for Catholic leaders to convey their concerns to a Catholic president who understands the doctrines of the faith, Father Nadolski said.

“I’m very optimistic that our U.S. Catholic leaders — specifically our bishops — can work with President Biden, despite his present position as it relates to abortion,” he said. “Pope Francis has been crystal clear about the need for dialogue.”

Biden faces an overwhelming agenda at this period of time and Catholics from the ranks of church leadership to those in the pews should offer their prayers to help guide him, Cardinal Tobin told Catholic News Service.

The inauguration should also be a moment of celebration among the faithful to see the second Catholic president take the oath of office, whether they supported his candidacy or didn’t, Father Nadolski told CNS.

It’s significant that only two of 46 presidents have been Catholic and some have expressed hope that Biden’s election means another prejudice has been overcome.

The U.S. electorate had been suspicious of Catholic presidential candidates throughout the 20th century, fearing they would be unduly influenced by the pope, a notion that President John F. Kennedy — the first Catholic to serve as president — rejected by proclaiming he would keep his faith life and role as public servant separate.

Though Cardinal Tobin doesn’t expect Biden to take orders from Pope Francis, he does anticipate he will employ the guiding principles of Catholic social teaching to usher him through the health and financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, healing the wounds following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, trying to unify the country amid political and racial divisions, and working for immigration solutions.

A man who often calls on his Catholic faith to guide him through the challenges of his life is uniquely suited to lead the U.S. in this turbulent era, said Father Nadolski, who is pleased Biden has signaled he will address the festering problem of institutional racism in the U.S.

“Pope Francis reminded us this summer that there is no way that anyone of us as Catholics can advance the dignity and sacredness of human life if we are in fact racist,” he said.

“Because of Joe Biden’s commitment to Catholic social teaching — both his sensitivity and sensibilities — I think it’s high time for us to have a very productive, proactive and Gospel-grounded conversation on race in our nation,” Father Nadolski said, “especially as we’re emerging from the past four years where there have been accusations and real questions around race in our nation in a way in which our leadership at the time has addressed them.”


Demonstrators in support of DACA hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Nov. 12, 2019. U.S. President Joe Biden Jan. 20, 2021, revoked Trump’s 2017 executive order that authorized massive expansion of immigration enforcement in U.S. and implemented 100-day moratorium on certain deportations. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Two leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day executive action ordering the federal government to keep in place and strengthen the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Biden also pledged Jan. 20 to produce immigration reform legislation.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, said they were prepared to work with the president and Congress on such an “urgent matter of human life and dignity” for immigrants.

In a statement released Jan. 21, the prelates said action on DACA was particularly important for about 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S illegally as children.

They said the young people who benefit from the program, known as Dreamers, deserve the opportunity to continue working legally in the U.S., access educational opportunities and not fear deportation.

“We welcome the announcement preserving and fortifying DACA,” they said. “For years, DACA youth have been enriching our country. They are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities and leaders in our parishes and communities. They and their families deserve certainty, compassion, generosity and justice.”

DACA recipients have been living in uncertainty in recent years as former President Donald Trump’s administration sought to overturn the program that was implemented in 2012 and deport them. Immigrant advocates have protested those moves, saying the issue is a matter of justice and that most of the people eligible for DACA would be forced to return to a country they did not know and face untold danger.

DACA was suspended last summer by Chad Wolf, acting Homeland Security secretary. However, a federal district court judge in New York in December ruled Wolf’s action was invalid because he was serving in his position illegally.

Biden’s memorandum was directed at the departments of Homeland Security and Justice. It called for “preserving and fortifying” DACA. It also allows the government to accept new applications to the program.

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville said protecting Dreamers “should be only the first step in the systematic reform of our outdated immigration laws.”

“Now is the time to move forward in a bipartisan manner to fix our broken immigration system,” they added.

Legislation will be necessary to address the status of Dreamers. Their supporters have long called for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

The archbishop and bishop repeated the call for such legislative action, saying the time has come for comprehensive immigration reform not just for Dreamers but others who are in the country illegally.

They advocated for reform that “upholds family-based immigration, honors due process and the rule of law, recognizes the contributions of workers, protects the vulnerable fleeing persecution and addresses the root causes of migration.”

Biden also issued executive orders shortly after taking office, revoking steps by the Trump administration to restrict immigration.

One order mandated that immigrants in the country illegally be counted in the census, reversing a Trump effort to prevent them from being included in the population count. The Trump order has faced numerous lawsuits, however.

A second Biden order rescinded a Trump order calling for wide-scale efforts to find and deport immigrants who are in the country without authorization.

The Department of Homeland Security also announced late Jan. 20 that under a Biden directive, it would pause deportations of some noncitizens for 100 days starting Jan. 22.

The agency said the moratorium will allow it to “review and reset enforcement priorities.” The Trump administration had implemented a plan to deport unauthorized immigrants, including families and longtime residents.


U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during his inauguration at the Capitol in Washington Jan. 20, 2021. (CNS photo/Patrick Semansky, pool via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In his inaugural address Jan. 20, President Joe Biden said he is committed with his “whole soul” to bring this country together.

He pleaded with Americans — having come through a bitter election, a time of racial reckoning and still in the midst of a deadly pandemic — to similarly take up this cause.

“It’s time for boldness because there is so much to do,” Biden said in a 21-minute speech, urging Americans to work together for unity in this historic moment and stressing that the “American story depends not on some, but all.”

The nation’s second Catholic president also urged the nation to recognize that the American story is one of hope, not fear, light, not darkness, and said “democracy has prevailed” despite efforts to shut it down just two weeks previously in the Capitol riots, which took place when Congress was confirming the election results.

On a cold, breezy but sunny day, he spoke with a somber sense of urgency reminding the crowd present — which was small due to both the pandemic and the security lockdown — that “we have come so far, but still have far to go.”

Mixing realism with hope, he said there is much to repair and much to restore but added: “We will press forward.”

And referring to the deep divide within the country, the 46th president said sternly: “We have to be better than this” and promised that democracy will not be driven out as Americans strive to end this “uncivil war that pits us against each other.”

The president called for a moment of silence for all those who had died during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also spoke of the destructive nature of racism and the need to reject political extremism and manufactured facts.

“I will be president for all Americans,” he added, referring to those who voted for him and those who didn’t.

This very different presidential inauguration was obvious from the start with attendees wearing face masks and greeting one another with elbow bumps because of the coronavirus but also because of the increased security presence a stark reminder of the Jan. 6 violence.

Also, although former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were in attendance, now-former President Donald Trump was not.

Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts using the family Bible he has used many times before: twice when being sworn in as vice president and seven times as senator from Delaware. It also was used by his son Beau in his swearing-in ceremony as Delaware’s attorney general.

He said in an interview in December with talk show host Stephen Colbert that this Bible has been a family heirloom since 1893.

The inauguration’s invocation was led by Jesuit Father Leo O’Donovan, former president of Georgetown University and current director of mission for Jesuit Refugee Service. The priest, a friend of the Biden family, was the main celebrant at the funeral Mass for Biden’s son Beau in 2015.

In his prayer, the priest quoted Pope Francis and stressed the need to care for one another “in word and deed, especially the least fortunate among us.”

Another Jesuit priest, Father Kevin O’Brien, president of Santa Clara University in California, gave the homily at a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington just before the inauguration. The Mass was attended by Biden, now-Vice President Kamala Harris, family members and some members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

In his homily, he also spoke of the need for healing and said the president and vice president will lead this country forward.

“Every day, you will strive to heal our nation’s wounds and reconcile differences and bring us together. You know too well the challenges ahead and the cost of service,” the priest said. “My deepest prayer for you today, as a priest, citizen and friend, is that you always remember that the Lord is near and no matter the sound and fury around you, that God wants to give you peace, a deep-seated peace that will sustain you.”

The theme of healing a divided nation and the role everyone should play in it was prominent throughout inaugural ceremonies. It was highlighted by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who said in the introductory remarks of the inauguration ceremony that this day was one when “democracy picks itself up” after what it went through Jan. 6.

She emphasized that it falls to all Americans to “take up the torch of our democracy, not as a weapon of political arson, but as an instrument for good.”


January 4, 2021

His Excellency, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, announces the following appointment, effective as follows:

Deacon Stephen B. Frye, from diaconal ministry, St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Williamsport, to diaconal ministry, St. Ann Parish, Williamsport, effective January 4, 2021.


Statement of the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, on Inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

January 20, 2021

As our Nation inaugurates its 46th President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala D. Harris, I encourage the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton and all people of goodwill to join me in praying for our Nation and its new leaders.

At a time when our country is facing not only a global pandemic, but also division and hostility, we must all pray for peace and unity. No matter our differences, we are one human family, our brothers and sisters keepers.

As Catholics, we are called through Baptism to imitate the servant leadership of Jesus Christ. May our Merciful God grant all of our leaders the wisdom, courage and compassion to protect and defend religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the rights of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

Together, let us pray to our Heavenly Father that President Biden, a native son of Scranton, may have the strength and courage to carry out his duties and lead our nation in ways of peace.


January 20, 2021

As our Nation inaugurates its 46th President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala D. Harris, I encourage the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton and all people of goodwill to join me in praying for our Nation and its new leaders.

At a time when our country is facing not only a global pandemic, but also division and hostility, we must all pray for peace and unity. No matter our differences, we are one human family, our brothers and sisters keepers.

As Catholics, we are called through Baptism to imitate the servant leadership of Jesus Christ. May our Merciful God grant all of our leaders the wisdom, courage and compassion to protect and defend religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the rights of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

Together, let us pray to our Heavenly Father that President Biden, a native son of Scranton, may have the strength and courage to carry out his duties and lead our nation in ways of peace.


Sister Anna Nguyen, SCC, sorts sandwiches made by parishioners at Saint Nicholas Parish in Wilkes-Barre. The parish receives a Social Justice Grant from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to provide sandwiches to four local shelters on a monthly basis. (Photos/Chris Dolan)

WILKES-BARRE – The love that Sister Anna Nguyen, SCC, shows for the poor is evident in the way that she is able to inspire others to join her in service.

Sister Anna, a Sister of Christian Charity and director of social ministries at Saint Nicholas Parish, brings together dozens of people on a monthly basis to make sandwiches for several local shelters in Luzerne County.

“I feel very, very happy to give,” Sister Anna explained on a recent morning as volunteers filled the lower level of Saint Nicholas Parish to make sandwiches. “I feel thrilled.”

With the help of a Social Justice Grant from the Diocesan Annual Appeal, Saint Nicholas Parish is able to help bring the Gospel message alive, helping the less fortunate in the community.

Members of the Saint Nicholas Parish Social Concerns Committee work to package sandwiches for residents of four shelters in the Luzerne County area. The parish receives a Social Justice Grant from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to help fund this important ministry.


Wearing both gloves and masks to protect others from COVID-19, volunteers made ham and cheese and chicken salad sandwiches for individuals who are staying at Ruth’s Place, Keystone Mission, the McCauley House and the Kirby House.

“We’re feeding the Lord. Whatsoever we do to the least of His brothers and sisters, we’re feeding the Lord,” the Rev. Joseph Verespy, pastor of Saint Nicholas Parish, said. “In a simple thing like a ham and cheese sandwich, God’s life is touching us and we’re touching God’s life.”

Due to the coronavirus, the sandwich-making ministry was temporarily paused between April and July, not due to a lack of volunteer interest, but because many of the shelters were not able to accept the donations in the early days of the pandemic.

When volunteers resumed their efforts in August, there was a renewed sense of mission and purpose. Parishioners know their small efforts make a big impact.

“We’ve been doing three locations where people in need are and we’ve added a fourth location,” parishioner Rich Burns said. “Most of us have had an opportunity to deliver the sandwiches and baked goods and those kinds of things.”

Thanks to generous donors to the Diocesan Annual Appeal, parishes are able to apply for grants that help pay for social concern ministries. The theme of this year’s Appeal is Bound Together in Hope.

Father Verespy says the theme is very fitting because many people are looking for hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I look for hope in all little events, kind words and simple gestures. It is like the little flower coming up through the crack in the sidewalk. There is always hope!”