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!”

 

SCRANTON – The 2020 Diocesan Annual Appeal: Bound Together in Hope has raised $3.4 million in gifts and pledges reaching 75% of the $4.5 million goal. More than 16,500 donors have made donations to the Appeal and 15 parishes have surpassed their Annual Appeal goal. A chart listing the progress toward Appeal goals for all of our 118 parishes is shown at the bottom of this page.

New this year was the Annual Appeal Commitment Weekend, a special online giving opportunity that began on the weekend of November 20 & 21. This fundraising effort raised more than $100,000.

“I deeply appreciate the support of our Diocesan Annual Appeal from so many parishioners throughout the Diocese at a time when many are facing financial struggles of their own,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said. “The generosity of parishioners to help their parish reach its Annual Appeal goal is vital to our ability to serve those in need especially now as we respond to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Bishop Bambera added, “If you haven’t given yet to the Appeal, I would be most grateful if you would consider making a gift at this time so that we may continue to provide hope to all those who rely on the life-giving ministries of our Diocese and our parishes.”

For parishes that have not yet reached goal, the Diocesan Development Office staff is currently working with pastors and parish life coordinators, Appeal lay and clergy chairs and Appeal parish representatives to conduct special Appeal collections, make contact with past donors and present information on the ministries supported by the Annual Appeal at weekend Masses.

“I offer my heartfelt gratitude to our Appeal regional chairs, parish representatives, pastors, parish life coordinators and parish staffs who closely work with us to continue to forward the mission of our local Church,” Jim Bebla, Diocesan Secretary for Development, said. “We have some more work to do to reach goal but I am confident that we will be successful.”

Diocesan ministries supported by gifts to the Annual Appeal include Catholic Social Services; parish social justice and faith formation programs; Catholic education in our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs; care for our current and retired priests and support for seminarians preparing for the priesthood; parish life and pastoral planning efforts; and communication programs such as The Catholic Light and Catholic Television.

Parishioners and friends who have not yet made an Appeal gift are asked to consider a donation at this time. Gifts of any amount are welcome. Interested donors may make a gift to the Diocesan Annual Appeal by visiting www.annualappeal.org to give online, by calling the Diocesan Development Office at 570-207-2250 or by sending a donation to: Diocesan Annual Appeal, 300 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, PA, 18503

January Appeal Goals

 

The Vatican health service began vaccinating employees, residents and retirees with the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 13, 2021, in a makeshift clinic set up in the atrium of the Vatican audience hall. Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI have both said they will be vaccinated. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Both Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI have received the first dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 after the Vatican started vaccinating its employees and residents Jan. 13.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, confirmed the news Jan. 14.

While it was reported widely that Pope Francis received the vaccine Jan. 13, the retired pope’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, told Vatican News that Pope Benedict received his shot the morning of Jan. 14.

The archbishop had told the German Catholic news agency KNA Jan. 11 that the 93-year-old pope, who lives in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens, and his entire household staff wanted to be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine was available in Vatican City State.

He told Vatican News that the retired pope has been following the news “on television, and he shares our concerns about the pandemic, about what is happening in the world, about the many people who have lost their life because of the virus.”

“There have been people he knows who have died because of COVID-19,” he added.

Archbishop Ganswein said the retired pope is still very sharp mentally but that his voice and physical strength have weakened. “He is very frail and only can walk a little with a walker.”

He rests more, “but we still go out every afternoon, despite the cold, in the Vatican Gardens,” he added.

The Vatican’s vaccination program was voluntary. The Vatican health service was giving priority to its health care workers, security personnel, employees who deal with the public and older residents, employees and retirees.

In early December, Dr. Andrea Arcangeli, director of the Vatican health service, said they would begin with the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with BioNTech.

Pope Francis had said in a television interview broadcast Jan. 10 that he too would be vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as it was available.

He said that he believed that from an ethical point of view, everyone should take the vaccine because those who did not would not only put their own lives at risk, but also the lives of others.

In a press release Jan. 2, the Vatican’s health services department said it purchased an “ultra-low temperature refrigerator” for storing the vaccines and said it expected to receive enough doses to cover “the needs of the Holy See and Vatican City State.”

The Vatican reported its first known case of infection in early March, and since then there have been another 25 reported cases — including 11 Swiss guards in October.

Pope Francis’ personal doctor died Jan. 9 of complications caused by COVID-19. Fabrizio Soccorsi, 78, had been admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital Dec. 26 because of cancer, according to the Italian Catholic agency SIR, Jan. 9.

However, he died because of “pulmonary complications” caused by COVID-19, the agency said, without providing further details.

 

Every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation we pray the Nicene Creed, our Profession of Faith. One of the articles states, “We believe in one holy Catholic and apostolic church.”

It is worthwhile from time to time to meditate on the words of our prayers and our Profession of Faith. The Catholic Catechism is a good place to begin a reflection on the four marks of the Church: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. Our belief in the unity of the Church is meant to be lived each day as we cooperate with the grace of God.

The modern ecumenical movement began for Catholics at the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm as Catholics and other Christians gathered for prayer and began to learn what we have in common and where we are different. As time goes on, we periodically need to re-energize our interest in promoting the unity of the Church and the will of Jesus for the unity of his disciples.

On May 25, 1995, Pope Saint John Paul II issued his encyclical Ut Unum Sint. Twenty-five years later, Bishop Joseph Bambera, serving as chairman for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued the statement: “This anniversary should serve as a reminder that the way of ecumenism is the way of the Church, and that all Catholics are called to espouse a strong commitment to building Christian unity.”

Pope Saint John Paul, who worked tirelessly to build ecumenical relationships, described the impulse of working for unity between Christians as “a duty of Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love.”

We rejoice that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have continued to advance this singular mission between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities. May this anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s call for Christian unity serve as a unique pastoral opportunity to build bridges by continuing to reach out with love to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. “May He heal our wounds of division and help us grow closer in unity.”

This year, the Scranton Diocese will broadcast a virtual prayer service for Christian unity on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 12:10 p.m. Father Russell McDougall, C.S.C, of King’s College will serve as the homilist.

All Christians have a responsibility for the sake of the Gospel to pray for unity, develop ecumenical friendships, and cooperate for the common good.

 

SCRANTON – The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will take place from January 18-15, is: “Abide in my love…you shall bear much fruit.” (John, 15)

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commemoration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will take place in a slightly different manner.

The annual Ecumenical Service of Prayer will be broadcast on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 12:10 p.m. on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton. At the same time, it will also be made available on the Diocese of Scranton website and across all Diocesan social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Rev. Russell McDougall, C.S.C., rector of the Holy Cross Community at King’s College and former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, will serve as homilist.

The recent document from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, “The Bishop and Christian Unity: an Ecumenical Vademecum,” reminds the faithful that, “Our Lord’s Prayer for the unity of his disciples, ‘that they may all be one,’ is tied to the mission that he gives them, ‘so that the wor d may believe.’ (Jn 17:21).”

The annual week of prayer is an opportunity for every person to examine and renew their commitment to promote the unity that Our Lord desires.

The Ecumenical Directory states, “…rather than begin with our relations with other Christians, it is necessary for Catholics … to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the church and accordingly to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform. This inner renewal disposes and orders the Church towards dialogue and engagement with other Christians.”

During this special week, the faithful can ask themselves questions including: Do we pray for unity and work to overcome disunity within the Catholic community and with other Christians?  How do our parishes, deaneries and our diocese express unity and cooperation in mission?

To begin to achieve such noble ends, parishioners can participate in ecumenical prayer opportunities, programs and joint projects, especially in service of the poor. The faithful can also actively take membership in regional ministeriums to strengthen our commitment to the realization of Jesus’ prayer for unity.

About the homilist:

Holy Cross Father Russ McDougall, originally from northwestern Indiana, received his B.A. and M.Div. from Notre Dame University, and S.S.L. from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He made final vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1990 and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1991. He has served in parochial ministry at Holy Cross Parish in Nairobi, Kenya; as formation director, academic dean and lecturer in Old Testament at the Queen of Apostles Philosophy Centre in Jinja, Uganda; and most recently as rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Currently he serves as lecturer in theology and campus minister at King’s College in northeastern Pennsylvania and as superior/director of the local Holy Cross community at King’s.

 

People arrive for the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 23, 2020, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 vigil will only be broadcast Jan. 28 at 8 P.M. ET, and then bishops from across the country will take turns leading livestreamed Holy Hours throughout the all-night vigil. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Each year on the night before the annual March for Life, at least 10,000 people have filled the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington for the National Prayer Vigil for Life.

This year, due to local restrictions on attendance sizes because of the pandemic, the prayer vigil will be virtual.

Catholics across the country are instead being encouraged to take part in a nationwide prayer vigil from Jan. 28 through Jan. 29, marking the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion.

The vigil will begin with a live broadcast at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 28 from the basilica, starting with the praying of the rosary followed by Mass.

Bishops from across the country will be leading Holy Hours throughout the night in the livestream vigil.

The service can be viewed on EWTN or livestreams from the basilica or from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The principal celebrant and homilist for the opening Mass will be Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, USCCB’s chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The vigil will end at 8 a.m. Jan. 29 in a closing Mass celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

“Now, more than ever, our nation is in need of prayer for the protection of the unborn and the dignity of all human life,” Archbishop Naumann said in a statement. “I invite all Catholics to spend time with our Lord and join in this nationwide vigil for life.”

The closing Mass for the vigil Jan. 29 will be open to the public but because of attendance restrictions allowing only 100 people inside the basilica, admission will be allowed on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

HAZLETON – In lieu of organizing buses to the March for Life in Washington this year, Pennsylvanians for Human Life will sponsor a pro-life rally commemorating the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at City View Park, 700 South Poplar Street, Hazleton, on Friday Jan. 22, 2021 at noon.

Author Starr Rogers will be the guest speaker for the event. Rogers will talk about her four abortions and journey to becoming a pro-life activist who defends the unborn. Rogers will be accompanied by her son, Matt Finney, who represents siblings of those who have lost brothers or sisters to abortion.

Dr. Frank Schell, Northeast Regional chairperson of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, will act as master of ceremonies. Other featured speakers will include Maryann Lawhon, JMJ Catholic radio show host and executive producer of The Voice of John documentary; Father Peter O’Rourke, champion of the unborn; and State Representative Tarah Toohil, speaking about adoption and fostering as a healthy alternative to abortion.

The program will open with prayer from Marian Catholic High School principal Rev. Allen Hoffa, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance by Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat. Sam Lasante will be the recipient of the “Defender of Life” award. Music will be provided by Spirit of Grace Music Ministry.

Adequate free parking is available on site. The venue offers several large covered pavilions, tables and benches.  COVID-19 precautions will be in place. Bob’s BBQ food truck will be on site beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Prior to the rally, a “Mass for Life” will be held at Holy Annunciation’s Church of Saint Gabriel at 10:00 a.m. Due to COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, those wishing to attend Mass must sign up by going to the Holy Annunciation Parish website.

After the rally, the group will proceed to Hazleton’s Saint Gabriel’s Cemetery Memorial to the Unborn Child to pay tribute to 64 million babies who have died due to abortion.

For more information, contact Mary Ann Lawhon at (570) 764-5428 or Chris Calore at (570) 824-5621.

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Parish Resource

 

Young adults from Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish pose with Bishop Joseph C. Bambera at the 47th annual March for Life in January 2020. This year, instead of traveling to Washington, the parish is planning a local “March for Life” in East Stroudsburg on Jan. 29, 2021.

EAST STROUDSBURG – While they will not be able to attend the March for Life in person in Washington this year, two parish youth groups in the Poconos are still planning to highlight the importance of the day.

Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg and Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville are joining forces to hold a local “March for Life” on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.

“We are not able to go to the March itself in Washington but we didn’t want the day to go by without recognizing it,” Dori Hurley, Youth Ministry Director at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, said.

Starting at 12:30 p.m., young adults are expected to take part in a one-hour march through East Stroudsburg. COVID-19 precautions will be in place. Because of the ability to remain physically distant from one another, the parishes have also invited community members to take part in the walk.

“The route is about an hour. We’ll start at the corner on the campus of Saint Matthew Church and we’ll head up onto Prospect Street and go up past the hospital. We thought if we went past the hospital and past a couple of the main streets in East Stroudsburg we would get a lot more eyes,” explained Sean Robbins, Youth, College and Young Adult Minister at Saint Matthew Parish.

Prior to the march, students from the two parishes will watch the Virtual Youth Rally from Washington, attend Mass and have other prayer opportunities.

Following the local march, they are expected to participate in a Holy Hour and a witness talk, along with having time for small group discussion and reflection.

Nancy Gabana, a parishioner of Saint Matthew Parish, will discuss her personal witness. When she was in medical school, Gabana will explain how she was pressured to abort her child but refused. Gabana now has a beautiful daughter who is in her 20s.

“I hope that they (young adults) can see that choosing life is never the bad option. Even when things may seem dim, God always has a plan for our lives,” Robbins said.

Organizers of the event are looking forward to sending a positive message to their community.

“I think this is going to be a little different for the kids. When you’re at the March, everyone is there for the same reason,” Hurley said. “Here locally in East Stroudsburg, our presence is going to be something very different. Some people may not even know the significance of the day.”

“This is an opportunity right in our hometown, right where our parishes are, where many parishioners live, where many of our local businesses and donors live. It’s a great opportunity to show the community that we’re standing up for life,” Robbins added.

Both youth ministry directors say this event is turning into a real parish-wide effort, crossing generations and ministries, as everyone is focused on making sure the event runs smoothly.

 

My Dear Friends,

Every year since my appointment as Bishop of Scranton in 2010, I have been privileged to join with many of you for the annual March for Life in our nation’s capital to give witness to our shared belief that all human life is sacred and must be protected – especially the lives of the unborn, who are unable to protect themselves.

This year, because of the coronavirus and, frankly, out of concern for the safety of all who might gather in our nation’s capital in light of the tragic events and the blatant disrespect for life that we’ve witnessed during the past week, the March for Life will take place in a different way. While some will still likely gather in Washington, faithful souls who treasure life from throughout our diocese and country have mobilized at local levels using all sorts of virtual platforms to advocate for the right to life of the unborn. As a result, the 2021 commemoration of the tragic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion has the potential to make our message on behalf of human life and the unborn heard more loudly than ever before.

In an address to the Pontifical Academy for Life in June 2018, Pope Francis asserted, “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of the human person, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her age or stage of development.” As such, for us as Catholics, respecting life, especially the unborn, is intrinsic to our identity as people of faith. It admits no denial, no exception and no compromise.

If we have learned nothing else during this very difficult year in which our world has been enveloped by the deadly coronavirus pandemic, most of us have come to appreciate the value of human life as never before. We’ve also come to understand that so much of life is beyond our ability to control and, on our own, we are helpless to address the challenges that confront us. Only by handing ourselves over to the power of God and working together to care for the lives that have been given to us, will we ever discover a way forward filled with peace and hope for all.

The theme selected for this year’s March for LifeTogether Strong: Life Unites – is rather providential, given the divisions that exist within our land, as evidenced by the recent events in our nation’s capital. Ironically, within the past year that has been fraught by so much suffering and loss of life, the value of something as fundamental to our lives as Christians as the dignity of the human person – from the moment of conception to natural end – tragically seems to have evaporated in the face of political and ideological divisions that have enveloped our country and even our Church.

A year ago, the U.S. Bishops affirmed, “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” The Bishops did not, however, conclude their teaching on the value of human life with a focus solely on life in the womb. To the contrary, the Bishops went on to propose a more comprehensive perspective, “At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

While our focus during these latter days of January has traditionally witnessed the value and dignity of the unborn life, we can never authentically embrace such a reality without including a plea to respect every life as having been made in the image and likeness of God. One wonders what will become of our land if we continue to advocate for laws that subjectively respect life in some forms while disregarding its value in its earliest stages of development. The words of Pope Saint John Paul II offer a sobering perspective, “When some lives, including the unborn, are subjected to the personal choices of others, no other value or right will long be guaranteed.”

Make no mistake about it; our work in defense of human life is far from over. Thank God for the efforts of so many who work, pray and witness on behalf of life! Locally, in the Diocese of Scranton, through the good efforts of those who work with agencies and programs such as Saint Joseph’s Center, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Friends of the Poor, Rachel’s Vineyard and organizations like Pennsylvanians for Human Life, a difference for good has and continues to be made.

This year, I invite you to avail yourselves of the many opportunities that are being provided in the Diocese of Scranton to witness to life. On Friday, January 22, 2021, the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I will celebrate a Mass for Life at 12:10 p.m. in Saint Peter’s Cathedral in observance of the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children and have invited all of our parishes to celebrate the Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life on the same day. The Cathedral Mass will be broadcast live on Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and on other diocesan social media outlets. Additionally, a Rosary for Life featuring faithful from across our Diocese and resources for the “9 Days for Life Novena” are available on our diocesan website, among many other prayer opportunities. Finally, countless numbers of faithful, particularly young people from our parishes and schools, are organizing local prayer gatherings and socially distant marches through their local communities to raise awareness of the sanctity of human life and the singular treasure of the unborn.

Brothers and sisters, may we come to understand that together, we are indeed strong and are united by God’s singular gift of life. May our recognition of the presence of God within the lives of all who have been created in his image and likeness give us the courage and resolve to love generously and to proclaim ever more boldly Jesus’ Gospel of Life.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Joseph C.Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton