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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

TAKE ACTION: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has a ‘Voter Voice’ message that can be sent to lawmakers. To send a message to your Representative and Senators in Washington, visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the bishops’ letter to members of Congress can be found online at



February 23, 2021

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

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

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

Daniel J. Myers, Ph.D.

Myers Appointed as Fifteenth President of Misericordia University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker’s brother echoed those sentiments.

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, sprinkles ashes on the head of Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 17, 2021. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Lent is a time to reconsider the path one is taking in life and to finally answer God’s invitation to return to him with one’s whole heart, Pope Francis said.

“Lent is not just about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed,” he said, “toward God or toward myself?”

The pope’s remarks came in his homily at Mass Feb. 17 for Ash Wednesday, which included the blessing and distribution ashes, marking the beginning of Lent for Latin-rite Catholics.

Because of ongoing measures in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the Mass and distribution of ashes took place with a congregation of little more than 100 people at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis did not do the traditional walk from the Church of St. Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill to prevent large crowds of people from gathering along the route.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope received ashes on his head from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to about three dozen cardinals, as well as the priests and deacons assisting him at the Mass.

In his homily, the pope said one must bow to receive ashes sprinkled on the crown of the head, which reflects the “humble descent” one makes in reflecting on one’s life, sins and relationship with God.

“Lent is a journey of return to God,” especially when most people live each day ignoring or delaying their response to God’s invitation to pray and do something for others.

“It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends,” he said.

“The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom,” he said, noting the easy temptations along that journey, including yearning for the past, or hindered by “unhealthy attachments, held back by the seductive snares of our sins, by the false security of money and appearances, by the paralysis of our discontents. To embark on this journey, we have to unmask these illusions.”

The way back to God, he said, starts with understanding, like the prodigal son, how “we have ended up with empty hands and an unhappy heart” after squandering God’s gifts “on paltry things, and then with seeking God’s forgiveness through confession.

The pope again reminded confessors that they must be like the father in the story of the prodigal son and not use “a whip,” but open their arms in a welcoming embrace.

“The journey is not based on our own strength. Heartfelt conversion, with the deeds and practices that express it, is possible only if it begins with the primacy of God’s work” and through his grace, the pope said.

What makes people just is not the righteousness they show off to others, “but our sincere relationship with the Father,” after finally recognizing one is not self-sufficient, but in great need of him, his mercy and grace.

The pope asked people to contemplate daily the crucified Christ and see in his wounds, “our emptiness, our shortcomings, the wounds of our sin and all the hurt we have experienced.”

“We see clearly that God points his finger at no one, but rather opens his arms to embrace us,” he said.

It is in life’s most painful wounds, that God awaits with his infinite mercy because it is there “where we are most vulnerable, where we feel the most shame” and where he comes to meet his children again.

“And now,” the pope said, “he invites us to return to him, to rediscover the joy of being loved.”



Distribution of ashes will be different due to COVID-19 pandemic

SCRANTON – On Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera will be principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

The Mass will be open to the public following COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing face masks and physical distancing. The Mass will also be broadcast live on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website and across all social media platforms.

Due to the pandemic, Ash Wednesday will look different this year but the significance of the day will not change. Ashes can be distributed to the Catholic faithful as long as there is no direct contact. Parishes have been asked to select one of two possible options for the distribution of ashes on February 17.

  1. Ashes can be sprinkled on top of the head

In much of the world, the normal way of distributing ashes is to sprinkle ashes on top of the head, with no contact, rather than imposing them on the forehead. During distribution, both the minister and the recipient must be wearing masks.

For this distribution method, the priest will say the prayer for blessing the ashes. He will sprinkle the ashes with holy water, without saying anything. Then he will address all those present and only once say the call to repentance (“Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”). The minister will then take the ashes and sprinkle them on the head of each individual without saying anything.

  1. Ashes can be distributed using an individual Q-tip type of cotton swab

For this distribution method, the minister would use an individual cotton swab for each recipient to distribute ashes. With the cotton tip, the minister will trace a cross on the recipient’s forehead. Both the minister and recipient must be properly wearing masks during the distribution. A new Q-tip cotton swab must be used for each person. After the use, each swab will be placed in a receptacle for burning.

Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of great importance to the faithful as they enter the Lenten season. The faithful are reminded that receiving ashes is not required. Parishioners should recognize that their own internal disposition and intention to repent is the importance of Ash Wednesday and that the ashes are an external sign of that internal reality. Individuals who cannot receive ashes can still enter into Lent with a repentant heart.

For a list of scheduled Ash Wednesday services across the 11-counties of the Diocese of Scranton, visit A complete set of guidelines for Liturgical Celebrations during the Season of Lent can also be found on the Diocesan website.


The Catholic observance of Lent includes days of fast and abstinence. Those 14 and older are obliged to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all the Fridays of Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, healthy people ages 18-59 are to fast by limiting themselves to one full meal and two lighter meals. Those with a medical condition that makes fasting inadvisable are not obliged to fast but should perform some other act of penance or charity.


The Sacrament of Reconciliation will remain available to the faithful throughout the Season of Lent.

“The Light is On For You,” an initiative in the Diocese of Scranton in which churches are open for quiet prayer and Confession will continue.

Beginning on Monday, February 22 and every Monday through March 22, confessions will be heard in each parish of the Diocese of Scranton from 5:30 until 7:00 p.m., unless another time is established by the individual parish.

All COVID-19 guidelines for Confessions must be followed, including that both the priest and the penitent must wear masks and celebrate the Sacrament in a space that allows for adequate distance from each other. Parishes have once again been discouraged from hosting large reconciliation services.



A crown of thorns is seen at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, N.J. “Giving something up” for Lent is an act of penance and sacrifice that reminds us of Christ’s sacrifices for us. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Christians pray, fast and give alms during Lent, they also should consider giving a smile and offering a kind word to people feeling alone or frightened because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said.

“Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need,” the pope wrote in his message for Lent 2021.

The message, released by the Vatican Feb. 12, focuses on Lent as “a time for renewing faith, hope and love” through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And, by going to confession.

Throughout the message, Pope Francis emphasized how the Lenten practices not only promote individual conversion, but also should have an impact on others.

“By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others,” he said. “Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain.”

The pope’s message contained several references to his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

For example, he prayed that during Lent Catholics would be “increasingly concerned with ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,'” a quote from the encyclical.

“In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be ‘willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference,'” he said, again quoting the document.

The Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer were preached by Jesus and continue to help believers experience and express conversion, the pope wrote.

“The path of poverty and self-denial” through fasting, “concern and loving care for the poor” through almsgiving and “childlike dialogue with the Father” through prayer, he said, “make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”

Pope Francis emphasized the importance of fasting “as a form of self-denial” to rediscover one’s total dependence on God and to open one’s heart to the poor.

“Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down — like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false — in order to open the doors of our hearts to the one who comes to us, poor in all things, yet full of grace and truth: the son of God our savior.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presenting the message at a news conference, also insisted on the importance of “fasting and all forms of abstinence,” for example, by giving up “time watching TV so we can go to church, pray or say a rosary. It is only through self-denial that we discipline ourselves to be able to take the gaze off ourselves and to recognize the other, reckon with his needs and thus create access to benefits and goods for people,” ensuring respect for their dignity and rights.

Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffe, secretary of the dicastery, said that at a time of “anxiety, doubt and sometimes even despair” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lent is a time for Christians “to walk the way with Christ toward a new life and a new world, toward a new trust in God and in the future.”


Volunteers from Epiphany Parish in Sayre prepare dozens of meals to be distributed to the community in 2020.

SCRANTON – For the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created struggles and hardship for many people. Parishes throughout the Diocese of Scranton have responded compassionately to that need in an overwhelming way.

Parishes across the Diocese formed nearly 50 new ministries since the beginning of the pandemic, including youth ministry outreach to essential workers, volunteer programs that serve free meals to the community and outreach efforts to the homebound.

In December 2020, The Catholic Light sent a survey to all parishes, looking for the ways that they are responding to community needs during the coronavirus.

An overwhelming response from 93 parishes provided great clarity on the impact our parishes are having in our community – and how parishioners have provided selfless service to their brothers and sisters in need.

Here are just a few of the survey highlights:

  • Thirty-percent of responding parishes operated their own food pantry in 2020. Together, these pantries helped more than 2,000 families/individuals each month during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For parishes that did not operate their own food pantry, 94-percent collected food for another local agency or food bank. The food collected benefitted tens of thousands of additional local residents during the coronavirus.
  • Despite the challenges of organizing volunteers on a large-scale basis, 23% of parishes hosted a free community meal during the pandemic. Another 20% provided meals directly to seniors or the homebound.
  • Nearly two-thirds of parishes provided direct help to families struggling with food, fuel, utilities or rent. Often unadvertised, many parishes reported that the number of requests received in 2020 rose due to people facing unexpected layoffs or a reduction of hours.
  • Currently, 75% of Diocesan parishes are now streaming Mass to the faithful. This effort comes after Bishop Joseph C. Bambera has stressed the importance of keeping the faithful connected during the pandemic.



Nearly every parish responding to The Catholic Light survey indicated that food assistance for the community was a main priority of their social ministry programs.

That includes the widespread outreach of Saint Ann Parish in Shohola and its sister parish of Saint John Neumann in Lords Valley, both of which are located in Pike County.

According to Carol Laput, administrative manager at Saint Ann’s, the parish coordinates no less than a four-prong effort in providing social services to the area’s less fortunate, especially with regard to food assistance.

The Saint Ann’s Bridgepoint Food Pantry opens its doors on the first and third Thursday of each month, with 45 families registered as patrons, but serving many more.

Supported by the generosity of parishioners and assisted by several community grants, including those provided by the Diocesan Annual Appeal, the food pantry recorded 620 food distributions in 2020.

Located near the bank of the Delaware River in the eastern most part of the Diocese, the food pantry and other parish charitable giving programs are “interstate,” whereby also providing for their neighbors in need across the New York state border in Sullivan County.

“Our parish is literally in walking distance of the bridge that takes you across the river into New York,” Laput said. “We are so proud to provide assistance to those who make the trip into Pennsylvania for help. The fact we can serve all who arrive at our doorstep is a true tribute to the generosity of our community.”

The “Food for Families and Friends” program operated by Knights of Columbus Council 12571, which is based at Saint John Neumann Parish, provides a nutritious, home-cooked meal every month for families and individuals experiencing financial difficulties.

Dinners are distributed on the second Sunday of the month and it is estimated the Knights and their army of volunteers provided nearly 1,400 meals last year.

“This is most impressive when you keep in mind the program was shut down for two months due to COVID precautions,” Laput added.

Between 150 to 180 meals are typically served each month and the food assistance effort estimates that it may provide nearly 2,000 dinners in 2021.

Holiday assistance programs providing Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets are also a hallmark of Saint Ann Parish.

“We make available grocery bags with one of four shopping lists,” Laput explained. “Parishioners shop for the items on their list and return the bags to the church.”

She also noted that special collection envelopes are distributed for the Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, which allow parishioners to donate funds to purchase extra food.

Finally, the parish’s “Lorenzo’s Lunch” program, recently highlighted in The Catholic Light, was launched to give out-of-school children a healthy meal during the summer months. The project has since expanded to include anyone in need.

Laput noted that with the pandemic postponing students return to the classroom, the program extended into the first week of October. Operating every Thursday from June through Oct. 1, “Lorenzo’s Lunch” distributed more than 1,900 afternoon meals during 2020.

In addition, nearly 1,300 lunches were served as part of Saint Ann’s “Grab ‘n Go” program to ensure area students had access to nutritious food while schools were closed due to the coronavirus.



The food pantry sponsored by Saint Paul Parish in Scranton’s Green Ridge section has been a mainstay for providing help to working families and senior citizens facing a food shortage.

“For a long time (Saint Paul) parish has always felt a need to support as broad a clientele as possible,” Barbara Burkhouse said of the program, which operates out of the basement of Saint Clare Church, a nearby worship site of Saint Paul Parish. “People would be surprised, and just don’t realize, how many individuals count on a place like this to meet their food needs.”

The Scranton food pantry welcomes clients twice a month on Friday afternoon from 3 to 4:30 p.m., with plenty of volunteers to serve the incoming patrons.

Burkhouse explained the assistance program is unique in that it features “client choice,” or a la carte service, where clients can pick between various items based on their needs, rather than being given an assortment of pre-packaged or bundled food.

“Volunteers are absolutely critical,” Burkhouse said of the operation. “Parishioners are always there to help, along with students from The University of Scranton,” who volunteer while in school during their fall and spring semesters. “Every year, they also recruit new volunteers among their college peers.”

In Luzerne County, Holy Family Parish helps roughly 50 to 75 families in need on a monthly basis. Its food pantry provides non-perishable meal items on the last Saturday of every month.

According to pantry coordinator Carol Cardoni, bags of food are distributed based on family size and no one is ever turned away.

“We give food to anyone in need from the surrounding areas, so we do not only serve members of our parish,” Cardoni explained. “In fact, almost all of the people who come for food are not members of the parish.”

Cardoni credited former pastor Father Dave Cappelloni for launching the parish food pantry nearly 20 years ago. She and her husband Louis have served as coordinators for the past six years after taking over the reins from longtime directors Kathy and Ken Long.

“We have a loyal group of volunteers who faithfully come to work at the pantry every month,” Cardoni noted. “Some are members of our parish and some are from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Swoyersville,” which holds food drives on a regular basis to support the pantry.

According to the Holy Family pantry coordinator, the program receives tremendous support from local groups and businesses that often run food collections to donate to its operation. Faithful parishioners donate food via receptacles at the church’s entrance, and a parish envelope is distributed four times during the year for monetary donations in support of the pantry.

“All of the volunteers love their work at the pantry,” Cardoni concluded. “We feel that the pantry is such a worthwhile endeavor. It feels good to be able to help our community out in this way.”



During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been significant focus on individuals who are hospitalized with the virus. Numerous parishes, including Saint Therese Parish in Shavertown, have established ministries to make sure people know someone in their parish is thinking about them.

“We have a program in place where if we know a parishioner is home from a recent hospital stay, we give them a call to see how they are doing,” Saint Therese staffer Terri Besecker, who heads up the parish ministry support team, explained. “We ask if they are in need of assistance by way of meals or transportation to a follow-up visit with a doctor.”

According to Besecker, the unique apostolate is part of the Pastoral Outreach and Hospital Ministry at the parish in Luzerne County’s Back Mountain region, and has adapted with the changing times over the years.

One parishioner who knows that better than anyone is Terry Brown, who has been contacting area hospitals to reach out to Saint Therese patients every weekday morning since the program’s inception in the late 1990s.

“That information is given to the Hospital Visitation Volunteer for that week, as well as the pastor,” Brown said. “If allowed, the volunteer would personally visit any patients and pray with them for their health and healing.”

Once the patient is released, Brown alerts the next volunteer to offer any assistance the parish can provide.

Due to HIPAA regulations and the current COVID restrictions, Besecker said, “Things are much different these days.”

“We now rely on family members or the parishioners to tell us when they or a loved one is in the hospital, because we can’t always get the information we need by calling the hospital,” she continued.

Meals and transportation are considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on volunteer feasibility.

“This program has had to change with the times,” Besecker remarked. “Even though we cannot visit anyone in person for the time being, we still want to know when someone is sick and in need of prayers.

“We know how important a phone call can be or a kind word to say we care. Of course, prayers for someone who is going through a tough time are most appreciated.”

How Every Parish in the Diocese of Scranton is Responding to Community Needs during COVID-19


Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will celebrate the Diocese of Scranton’s annual Developmental & Intellectual Disabilities Mass on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

The liturgy prayerfully celebrates the many gifts those with developmental or intellectual disabilities bring to the Church and the community. The Mass will be sign-language interpreted for the hearing impaired.

The Mass will be open to the public following COVID-19 guidelines and will also be broadcast live on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website and across all social media platforms.