Jordyn Glover, a senior at Holy Cross High School, helped Mary, Mother of God Parish design this billboard which has been put up at the intersection of North Main Avenue and Providence Road in Scranton. The billboard, which reads, “Families Need a Stable Background,” is an invitation to the community to return to church this Christmas. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

 

 

 

 

SCRANTON – With thousands of drivers passing by it each day, a Scranton parish hopes a new billboard will remind them of the importance of Christmas.

Mary, Mother of God Parish has put up the billboard at the intersection of North Main Avenue and Providence Road in North Scranton, aiming to catch their eye and  invite them to church.

“We have to work very hard to come up with new and creative ways to get the message out, to get the invitation public. We put campaign-style signs all over North Scranton in visible places which said, ‘Shopping for a church this Christmas’ with our very visible, massive church that most people recognize if they live in the city of Scranton. The billboard was the next step up,” Father Cyril Edwards, pastor, said.

The billboard features the words “Families Need a Stable Background.”

It features a drawing of the parish along with the manger scene in front.

Father Edwards asked Advanced Placement Art students at Holy Cross High School in Dunmore for help in designing the billboard.

Senior Jordyn Glover responded.

“I just always loved to draw, even with chalk, simply on a sidewalk, even with a rock,” Glover explained. “I just wanted to showcase Jesus and Mary.”

With the billboard in place, Father Edwards is hoping it has an impact.

“In a day where the Advent season is lost to secular shopping, if we’re not reaching the family, we’re wasting our time. If it’s not about the stable, then we’re just shopping for presents. It has to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ,” Father Edwards explained.

Glover was excited the first time she saw her billboard on full display.

“It was really amazing,” she said. “I just like driving by it now. It’s really amazing that something I did is out there.”

Father Edwards says if the billboard helps to bring one person back to church – or even make Jesus present in the minds of people – the effort will have all been worth it.

“The church exists to evangelize,” he noted. “If it just catches a few eyes, oh yeah, I need to get going back to church … it is worth it.”

 

Parishioners of Saint John the Baptist Church in Larksville take pride in the dough they use to make their popular pierogies. (Photos/Dan Gallagher)

LARKSVILLE – For parishioners at Saint John the Baptist Parish, it is all about the “pinch.” The perfect “pierogi pinch” that is.

Beginning on Oct. 25 – and continuing every Monday morning through Dec. 6 – dozens of parishioners gathered in the basement of their church to prepare all of the delicious dumplings that were to be sold for the parish’s annual Advent Pierogi Sale.

“Pierogi are kind of synonymous with Christmas, just like the Christmas tree and the manger,” Rev. Gerald J. Gurka, pastor, Saint John the Baptist Parish, said.

With their fingers deep in dough, each volunteer explained why they loved coming together to make the thousands of pierogies necessary.

Volunteers work hard to pinch each pierogi to make sure it doesn’t  leak when it is cooked.

“Everybody loves to be together. It really is a mission of love. We get to share our good pierogies with people all around the valley,” parishioner Rose Feddock said.

For many in the room, making pierogies is also a beloved family tradition.

“I think it’s passed on from generations. Their parents or great-grandparents, they all made the pierogies,” she added.

The pierogi pinching party always brings back personal memories for Father Gurka. He believes the beloved tradition helps to unite the past and present.

“My mother would always make pierogies on the Sunday before Christmas so you have those wonderful memories and I think pierogies bring back those wonderful memories to people with their loved ones that are no longer here,” he said.

The basement of Saint John the Baptist Church in Larksville was busy recently on Monday mornings as volunteers came together to make pierogies for the parish’s annual Advent pierogi sale.

Bob Lewis, longtime volunteer, said the pierogi pinching parties have become a well-oiled operation.

“We all have a specialty here. Everyone knows their job and it just goes really smooth,” Lewis explained.

But – what is the secret to the perfect pierogi? What makes people come back year after year to Saint John the Baptist Church? Is it the dough, the filling, or the perfect pinch?

Unfortunately, the volunteers won’t tell.

“That’s a secret. The ingredients are a secret and only Father Jerry knows!” Lewis joked.

What is known is one of the benefits of the pierogi pinching parties. All ages are involved, including many young people.

Josephine Krzak and her sister, Virginia, were eager to help this year.

“My grandparents are here and it’s fun,” Josephine explained. “It’s not work, like chores or anything, it’s being with friends.”

The young women helped wherever they were needed, from passing out supplies to bringing the pinched pierogies over to be cooked.

Father Gurka is thankful to all of the parishioners who volunteer their time to help the parish. Each Monday, some arrive as early as 3:30 a.m. to get the stoves and supplies ready.

“That’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of love for parish and I think they extend that love to the tables of the people when they take the pierogis home with them,” Father Gurka ended by saying.

 

Following the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in August 2018, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera made a promise that he would be open and transparent in the way that the Diocese of Scranton handles occurrences of child sexual abuse. That commitment remains true.

In August 2018, the Diocese published on its website a list of all clergy, staff and volunteers who had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Since that time, additional names have been added to the online list as necessary, with public notification.

The Diocese was recently notified by the Franciscan Friars, Holy Name Province, that the name of a friar who had previously been stationed in ministry within the Diocese was being included on its listing against whom credible sexual abuse/misconduct claims have been made. As a result of this information, the

Diocese of Scranton has also decided to add the following name to its original list of credibly accused individuals:

MEMBERS OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS

Hennessy, Placid (OFM)

If you are aware of additional allegations of wrongdoing or any information that should be included on this list, please contact our Victim Assistance Coordinator, Mary Beth Pacuska at (570) 862-7551 or Father Gerald W. Shantillo, Vicar General, at (570) 207-2269. If you have suffered abuse by clergy or anyone working on behalf of the Diocese, you are encouraged to immediately contact law enforcement and/or Mary Beth Pacuska.

 

 

A group of dancers in the procession to Saint Nicholas Church make their way through the streets of Wilkes-Barre. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

WILKES-BARRE – Masses and special processions were held throughout the Diocese of Scranton on Dec. 12 to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

More than 300 people took to the streets of Wilkes-Barre for a procession that started on Old River Road and ended up at Saint Nicholas Parish on South Washington Street. Throughout the entire procession, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was hoisted high on a rose-covered platform as the faithful danced, sang and threw rose petals in her honor.

Andrea Perez, who is originally from Mexico, calls the procession a beloved tradition.

“The Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus and that is why we love her,” she explained. “We are from Mexico and she appeared in Mexico.”

Hundreds of people celebrate the 1 p.m. Mass at Saint John Neumann Parish in South Scranton for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican Indian peasant – now venerated as Saint Juan Diego – in December 1531 in Tepeyac, near present-day Mexico City. The Blessed Mother’s appearance is believed to have resulted in millions of conversions to Catholicism, and her message of hope continues to inspire those of Hispanic descent.

“For us, this is one of the biggest events,” Gilberto Vasquez, parishioner of Saint Nicholas Church, said. “She is the mother of Jesus and our mother too!”

The procession featured every age group. Yasmin Guzman, a young adult herself, says she has been participating since she was little.

“We do this all together as a family tradition and it’s been going on from generation to generation,” Guzman said.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera blesses the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Saint Nicholas Church.

Father Fidel Ticona of Saint Nicholas Parish was not surprised by the large crowd that turned out for the procession or the 5 p.m. Mass that followed with the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton.

“Our Blessed Mother holds a special place in our hearts, especially among the Hispanic community. She is our intercessor. She is our friend. She is our mother who walks with us, who understands our joys and also our needs and sufferings,” he said.

In addition to the Mass at Saint Nicholas Parish, Bishop Bambera also celebrated Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – which took place on the Third Sunday in Advent – at Saint John Neumann Parish in Scranton.

Long before sunrise, beginning at 3 a.m., parishioners of Saint John Neumann Parish also held a procession from the Cathedral of Saint Peter to Saint John Neumann Parish. The bishop joined the faithful for a Mass at 1 p.m.

“We gather today in joy and gratitude to celebrate many things: our cultural roots, our traditions, but most especially our faith – a faith that reminds us all that with faith in God, all things are possible,” Bishop Bambera noted in his homily.

Bishop Bambera also shared words from Pope Francis, in which he said, “because she is the handmaid of the Lord, she became a servant of her brothers.”

“It would be well for us to learn from her example and to reflect upon our relationship with Jesus and the simple gifts that he comes to bring: the gift of life, the gift of each new day, the gift of faith and peace at our center and the gift of joy, born from our service of our brothers and sisters,” the bishop said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations also took place at Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg, Annunciation Parish in Hazleton, Holy Name of Jesus Parish in West Hazleton, Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary Parish in Jermyn, Saint Joachim Parish in Meshoppen and Saint Boniface Parish in Williamsport.

 

 

HANOVER TOWNSHIP —The new year will bring with it a new addition to the landscape of Catholic cemeteries covered by the umbrella of care offered by the Diocese of Scranton.

As of New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2022, the historic Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Hanover Township will be among those under the direction and management of the central office of Scranton Diocesan Cemeteries, which is supervised by Dominic Rinaldi.

Diocesan cemeteries are classified as such due to the number of their annual interments — and the full-time staff required to manage them — being deemed too great for a single parish to maintain.

According to Rinaldi, the transition of Saint Mary’s from a parish to Diocesan cemetery was necessitated by last summer’s linkage of the Wilkes-Barre parishes of Our Lady of Fatima and Saint Nicholas.

The city parish communities, which are in close proximity of each other, are now under the pastorship of Father Joseph Verespy, who assumed the pastorate of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, with its worship site of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church, as he continues to serve as pastor of Saint Nicholas Parish.

“Saint Mary’s Cemetery has for decades been a place of prayer, loving remembrance and hope in the promise of resurrection and eternal life,” Father Verespy commented, regarding the cemetery’s new designation. “While the operation of the cemetery will be carried out under the direction of the Diocese of Scranton, faithful can be assured that Saint Mary’s will continue to be tended to with the same care and reverence as always.”

Rinaldi stated that his office was notified of the cemetery’s transition in July, at which time it was determined that Saint Mary’s would join the five other active Diocesan cemeteries of Cathedral in Scranton; Saint Catherine’s in Moscow; Holy Cross in Old Forge; Mount Olivet in Wyoming; and Calvary in Drums.

“Since then, an analysis was conducted with employees regarding policy, procedure, software and capital needs,” Rinaldi said, further commenting that area funeral directors were apprised of the change in the cemetery’s status on Nov. 1.

While there are still some operational and personnel issues that need to be resolved, the Diocese of Scranton is committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for the families, employees, parish communities and all other stakeholders.

The director of Diocesan cemeteries indicated that there are currently seven full-time employees at Saint Mary’s Cemetery, which will increase the total number of full-time Diocesan cemetery staff members to 29.

“With the addition of Saint Mary’s to the Diocesan cemeteries, it will bring the total of interments at these cemeteries to more than 2,000 annually,” Rinaldi explained.

Established in 1881, Saint Mary’s Cemetery is located on Main Street in Hanover Township on 110 acres of land, with its graves and other interment sites currently serving as the final resting place for approximately 90,000 deceased.

Second only to Cathedral Cemetery as the largest in the Scranton Diocese, Saint Mary’s conducts some 500 interments annually.

Also noted is that Resurrection Cemetery in Montoursville, Lycoming County, transitioned from a Diocesan to parish cemetery on Sept. 1 and is currently under the direction of Father Glenn McCreary, V.E., pastor of Resurrection Parish in Muncy.

As Director of Diocesan Catholic Cemeteries, Dominic Rinaldi can be contacted at the Diocese of Scranton Chancery Administration Building, 300 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, PA 18503, or by phone at (570) 558-4310.

 

MILFORD – Parishioners at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish spent their Thanksgiving giving back to the people in their community.

The parish prepared and served 170 takeout meals on Thanksgiving Day to members of their Pike County community.

Using the manta, “many hands make light work,” the parish had a number of volunteers who helped to prepare and package the meals for distribution.

The following pictures capture some of the generous spirit of parishioners who volunteered to help their community through the assembly line that was established to package the meals and the other shows the volunteers who put the finishing touches on the meals.

 

 

Pope Francis is greeted by young people as he arrives at the international airport in Larnaca, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. The pope was beginning a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNS) – The Catholic Church is a mosaic of different rites and cultures and must show the world the beauty of welcoming all people as brothers and sisters, Pope Francis told the Catholics of Cyprus.

Beginning his Dec. 2-4 visit to the island with a meeting with bishops, priests and religious rather than with government officials, the pope highlighted the religious value of welcoming and diversity in a nation struggling with migration.

Located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and just south of Turkey, Cyrus has a large Orthodox majority, but also centuries-old communities of Maronite and Latin-rite Catholics, whose numbers have grown because of foreign workers, especially from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India.

On the flight from Rome to Larnaca, a city on the sea about 30 miles from Nicosia, Pope Francis told reporters, “It will be a beautiful trip, but we will touch some wounds.”

One of those wounds — the fact that for more than 40 years the island has been divided between the mostly Greek Cypriot south and the mostly Turkish Cypriot north — explained why the pope landed in Larnaca. The Nicosia airport is now mainly the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force that patrols the “green line” between the north and south.

The other wound – migration – was the center of the pope’s attention even before he left his residence Dec. 2. He met with 12 refugees from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan now living in Italy. Some of them, the Vatican said, came to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos with the pope in 2016. The pope is scheduled to make his second visit to Lesbos Dec. 5.

And, before arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, he stopped at the nearby parish of St. Mary of the Angels and greeted the 15 refugees the parish is supporting.

On the plane, a French reporter gave the pope a gift from a Catholic parish in Calais, France: a kite made from the tattered tents of asylum-seekers stuck in Calais but hoping to get to England. It included the name, Aleksandra Hazhar, of a baby girl born prematurely on the Calais beach in 2020; she died a few days later.

Meeting with the bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the Maronite Cathedral, which is located on the “green line” and has the blue-bereted peacekeepers patrolling out front, Pope Francis described Cyprus as “a land of golden fields, an island caressed by the waves of the sea, but above all else a history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters.”

“The church, as catholic, universal, is an open space in which all are welcomed and gathered together by God’s mercy and invitation to love,” the pope said. “Walls do not and should not exist in the Catholic Church. For the church is a common home, a place of relationships and of coexistence in diversity.”

“Who is the source of unity in the church?” the pope asked. “The Holy Spirit. And who is the source of diversity in the church? The Holy Spirit.”

And, encouraging the bishops and priests to be patient with their people and sensitive to their cultural differences, Pope Francis said “proselytism within the church” can be just as harmful as proselytism outside. Guiding and correcting people is one thing, he said, but must be done gently and with great mercy.

“We need a patient church,” he said, “a church that does not allow itself to be upset and troubled by change, but calmly welcomes newness and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel.”

“The work you are carrying out on this island, as you welcome new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world, is precious,” he said. Like the apostle Barnabas, described in the Acts of the Apostles as a Cypriot, “you, too, are called to foster a patient and attentive outlook, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God, who never leaves anyone outside the home, bereft of his loving embrace.”

“The church of Cyprus has these same open arms: It welcomes, integrates and accompanies,” the pope said, after listening to St. Joseph Sister Perpetua Nyein Nyein Loo speak on behalf of the four women’s congregations that work on the island.

In addition to running schools, she said, “much of our work consists in defending the basic human rights of those in need and of migrant workers, who frequently must bear the burden of disproportionate debts as well as harsh and unfair treatment, including unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, verbal and physical abuse and other forms of discrimination.”

Pope Francis also encouraged the Catholics to show “respect and kindness” for the nation’s other Christian communities.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Lebanon-based patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, welcomed the pope to the cathedral and told him that the main Christian communities on the island — Cypriot Orthodox, Maronite and Latin-rite Catholic and Armenian Orthodox — have “optimal relations.”

But Pope Francis said that same kind of patience and acceptance is needed within the church as well.

“We are brothers and sisters loved by a single Father,” he told them.

Arguing is normal, the pope said, adding as an aside that he and his four siblings argued almost every day when he was growing up, but they still came together as a family around the dinner table.

“This is what fraternity in the church means: We can argue about visions, sensibilities and differing ideas,” he said. “Yet let us always remember: We argue not for the sake of fighting or imposing our own ideas, but in order to express and live the vitality of the Spirit, who is love and communion.”

 

A pro-life activist holding a crucifix joins a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Dec. 1, 2021, ahead of the court hearing oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee Dec. 1 urged Catholics, people of other faiths and all people of goodwill to unite in prayer that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in its eventual ruling on Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

His statement was issued the same day the court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal from Mississippi. Its ban was struck down by a federal District Court in Mississippi in 2018 and upheld a year later by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The Mississippi law is being challenged by the state’s only abortion facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s the first major abortion case the court has heard in decades.

“In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that.”

“We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act,” he added. “We invite all people of goodwill to uphold the dignity of human life by joining us in prayer and fasting for this important case.”

If the court’s ruling, expected in July, upholds the ban, it possibly also could overturn Roe and send the abortion issue back to the states to decide laws on it.

Archbishop Lori directed people to www.prayfordobbs.com for Catholic and ecumenical prayers and resources for community engagement and action “as we await the court’s decision in this case.”

Pro-life advocates and supporters of keeping abortion legal gathered outside the Supreme Court rallying for their respective positions on the issue as the justices heard oral arguments in the case inside the court.

Beyond the court building’s steps, statements about the Mississippi law and predictions about the outcome of the case came from all quarters.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., predicted there would be “a revolution” if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Shaheen, who is on record as a supporter of widespread access to abortion, said that young people in particular would find it unacceptable if the court strikes down the legal precedent set by Roe in 1973 legalizing abortion nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called on the Senate to Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The measure, passed by the House Sept. 24, codifies Roe and establishes the legal right to abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states under federal law.

“The Mississippi case brought before the Supreme Court is a product of Republican attacks on reproductive rights spanning decades,” said DeLauro, a Catholic. If Roe is overturned, the court will be “depriving individuals across the country of their right to choose to have an abortion,” she said.

Many pro-lifers hoping Roe will be overturned emphasized how many scientific advances have been made in the nearly 50 years since that decision was handed down, advances they argued that have led to unprecedented information on the developmental stages of the unborn child from conception to birth.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, pointed to what he called the “utterly weak and time-worn arguments” that he said were made by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor, considered the liberal members of the court.

Among their comments was Sotomayor’s claim that only “fringe” doctors believe in the existence of fetal pain as a reason to restrict abortion.

“They do not acknowledge that the changes in science are real, or that the confusion thrust upon judges and legislators by the court’s approach to abortion is also real,” Father Pavone said in a statement.

“These and other objective reasons have led us to the day when Mississippi, and other states, believe it is time to enact stronger protections for the unborn, and for unelected judges to stop imposing policies that the legislatures should be responsible for instead,” he said.

At the rally outside the court, Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist and a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, similarly commented that “incredible advances in science and fetal medicine have rendered viability a totally incoherent legal standard.”

“Science and common sense tell us children in the womb are as undeniably human as the rest of us,” remarked Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, an independent political advocacy group. “We know for instance that by 15 weeks they already have beating hearts, can suck their thumbs, and even feel pain.”

“It is time to overturn Roe and allow Americans to once again pass laws that reflect these basic values,” he said in a statement.

He added that “millions of faithful Catholics across the nation are hopeful after today’s oral arguments that the Supreme Court of the United States will restore sanity to its abortion jurisprudence which has enabled over 62 million American children to be aborted since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided.”

“Protecting innocent life is the preeminent moral issue for Catholics but it is also the condition of any just society, and abortion robs our most vulnerable citizens of that most basic human right,” Burch said.

Not all eyes on the court were in the nation’s capital.

In Illinois, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said the country has “the first real legal opportunity in over a decade to topple” Roe, which “has left a tragic trail of human carnage: more than 62 million dead children and countless broken families and wounded souls.”

He said the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, has assisted thousands of clients, including some of the nation’s leading pro-life figures, “all of whom have either spoken to the opportunity now facing the Supreme Court or are actively engaged in the cry to ‘Overturn Roe.'”

Louisiana Right to Life associate director Angie Thomas said that while no one can predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case on the basis of oral arguments, she was heartened that at least six of the nine justices asked questions that seemed to support Mississippi’s ban.

In a news conference outside the pro-life organization’s New Orleans headquarters, Thomas noted that Justice Brett Kavanaugh stressed the court should remain “scrupulously neutral” on issues “that are just this complicated and this divisive,” allowing those issues to be decided by individual states and their elected representatives.

In addition, Thomas said, Justice Samuel Alito interjected during the nearly two hours of oral arguments that the rights of the unborn child had to be considered along with the rights of the mother.

“Alito mentioned that the fetus has an interest in life, too, when the other side was talking about the women’s interest,” she said. “He mentioned how there are two interests there that actually are difficult to hold together.”

“These justices are really digging into the difficult issues of where there is an objective line of protection (for the unborn child) and how do you truly balance these interests, and should the court even be doing that?” Thomas said after the news conference. “It’s more important that the Supreme Court just remain neutral and allow the states to work this out.”

“New York is going to be very different than Louisiana, but it is the power of the people to make that decision,” she told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Thomas said advances in science have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt about the humanity of the unborn child from its earliest stages.

“At 15 weeks, the child is moving, the child has a beating heart and the child’s organs are formed,” she said.

“We have the chance to protect that child. … We could have a significant change in abortion law in America today,” Thomas added. “And, if that change happened, in Louisiana we are ready to be a post-Roe, abortion-free community where women are truly helped and babies are protected.”

 

Members of the Irish American Association of Lackawanna County presented $1,000 in support of work and mission of Saint Francis Kitchen. These funds were raised in connection with their recent golf tournament. Shown here from left to right are: John Monaghan, Tournament Director, Rob Williams, St. Francis Executive Director, Atty. Tim Kelly, Irish American Association of Lackawanna County President, Bill Egan, Jerry Gerrity, and Dennis Gavin, Past President.

 

Father John C. Maria prays over the Eucharist at the altar of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, Pa., March 9, 2020. According to Catholic teaching, the bread and wine, upon consecration, become the body and blood of Christ. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S. bishops approved their statement on the Eucharist with 222 “yes” votes Nov. 17, the second of two days of public sessions during their Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly.

Their OK came a day after their discussion of the document – a discussion that took a drastically different tone than their previous debate about what the document could potentially contain during their virtual assembly five months ago.

At that June gathering, a major focus highlighted whether it would address denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Some bishops said a strong rebuke of President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, should be included in it because of Biden’s recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while others warned that this would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

The document the bishops discussed and approved does not specifically call out Catholic political leaders, but it does more generally point out the seriousness of the sacrament.

The discussion, just prior to the vote, focused on some of the statement’s wording. Specific amendments were approved and additional comments about wording changes, that were raised on the floor, did not.

One of the bishops, for example, wanted to add the word “etcetera” after a list of vulnerable people the church was responsible for in order to show its broad inclusion, but the bishops, who had already added to the list to include the unborn, chose not to add the additional descriptor.

As points of discussion, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, outgoing chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, stressed the prelates must not forget the responsibility they have to “take care of the souls” of Catholic politicians who do not publicly support church teaching on abortion.

And Bishop Donald E. DeGrood of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, noted that there is a healthy tension for the bishops, to call out what isn’t right but to do so in love and to be united as they find ways to apply this new document in their dioceses.

The document on the Eucharist states: “One should not celebrate Mass or receive holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the sacrament of reconciliation and received absolution.”

It also says that if a Catholic in his or her personal life has “knowingly and obstinately” rejected the doctrines of the church or its teaching on moral issues, that person should refrain from receiving Communion because it is “likely to cause scandal for others.”

Back in June, at the end of the bishops’ discussion of the document, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee, said the draft would not focus on denying Communion to people but would emphasize the importance of the sacrament.

And in his Nov. 16 presentation of the 26-page statement titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” Bishop Rhoades said it “addresses the fundamental doctrine about the Eucharist that the church needs to retrieve and revive.”

In his short presentation to U.S. bishops, followed by just a handful of comments from the floor, the bishop said the document is addressed to all Catholics in the United States and “endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church.”

He also said it is intended to be a theological contribution to the bishops’ strategic plan and to the bishops’ planned eucharistic revival “by providing a doctrinal resource for parishes, catechists and the faithful.”

Discussion from the floor included a request from Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, that the document include more about the paschal mystery, or the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, wondered how the document would be understood by college students, high schoolers or children, noting that “a lot of it’s over their heads” and they would have to have some kind of theological foundation to grasp it.

“We have these beautiful, beautiful documents that sometimes are just ignored,” he said, suggesting that it should be made “more readable and understandable.”

In response, Bishop Rhoades said the document “as it stands is really meant for adults,” but he could see it being used in high schools with a teacher who would explain it better. He also said it could be developed by publishers as a resource for catechesis for grade school students.

Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, said the work put in “laboring over texts should not discourage us,” pointing out that often language falls short but that the church has many other means at its disposal to express the faith such as music, dance, poetry and visuals.

The draft of the document explains the importance of Communion, often calling it a gift, and uses references from Scripture, prayers of the church and Second Vatican Council documents to back this up. It also explains, citing words of the saints, how Communion is not just a symbol but the real presence of Christ.

This transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the document says, is “one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith” which is a “doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception” of God’s presence.

It notes, almost halfway through, that the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) describes the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It also says that as Catholics understand what the Eucharist means, they should more fully participate in Mass and also reach out to serve those in need, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says: “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

It concludes with examples of saints who were transformed by their reception of the Eucharist and their deep understanding of what it means.

This heavily footnoted statement also has a pastoral message urging those who have left the church to come back. It ties this return back to the Eucharist quoting St. Teresa of Kolkata, who said: “Once you understand the Eucharist, you can never leave the church. Not because the church won’t let you but because your heart won’t let you.”

What this document might say and how it could specifically call out Biden and other Catholic politicians has been disputed for months and has not just been a topic for the U.S. bishops and Catholics across the country, but also involved the Vatican.

Prior to the bishops’ initial discussion of this document, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, urged the bishops in a letter to proceed with caution in developing a national policy “to address the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils.”

And Pope Francis said on a Sept. 15 flight back from Bratislava, Slovakia, that he preferred not to comment directly on the issue of denying Communion, but he urged U.S. bishops to take a pastoral approach rather than wade into the political sphere.

More recently, after the pope and Biden met at the Vatican Oct. 29, Biden was asked by reporters in Rome if abortion was one of the topics of their meeting and the president said: “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic, and I should keep receiving Communion.”