WILKES-BARRE – During the Season of Lent, the faithful of Our Lady of Hope Parish have not only been focusing on prayer and fasting – but also almsgiving – and young people in their community will directly benefit.

As Holy Week approached, dozens of bags filled with soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and more filled the side of the Park Avenue church as parishioners continued donating hygiene products for those in need.

Father John Terry, pastor, Our Lady of Hope Parish, Wilkes-Barre, looks over hygiene items donated by parishioners during the Lenten Season. The items will all be distributed to local young people in the community. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

“Every Lenten Season, we always have some encouragement for our people to be able to show some form of almsgiving, the sharing of what they have,” Father John Terry, pastor, said. “Over the years, we’ve always tried to figure out who is in need in our area.”

The parish’s Social Concerns Committee helped spearhead the collection – which will benefit local teenagers.

“As we went along, it went from basic things like toothpaste and shampoo and underarm deodorant to other things as well, like items for young boys and girls going through the change of life,” Father Terry added. “Our parishioners were most responsive. This is a very fine community of people and they respond to all charitable outreach.”

Deacon Joseph DeViza is happy that so many people were generous in responding to the call to help.

“Our Social Concerns Committee has really come alive with all of this and it has been wonderful,” Deacon DeViza said. “It is one person caring for another.”

Deacon DeViza knows first-hand the needs that many local teenagers face having previously worked at the Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre.

“When kids are being supported by community structures, such as this parish community, it makes a big difference,” he added. “The more support that teenagers and families can get, the better off they’re going to be in the long run.”

While Our Lady of Hope Parish is no stranger to helping its community, its leadership is encouraging other religious and charitable groups to join them in providing a helping hand to young people.

“We’ve planted a seed and it is beginning to grow and flower and blossom. It is something really nice and beautiful for our children,” Father Terry said.

SCRANTON – After going to church regularly for more than 20 years, Jerry Garner of Lenox Township is now consciously making a decision to join the Catholic faith.

“I think it’s time right now for me to join the church,” he explained. “There has always been an open invitation. I just think it was the right time, the right calling.”

Like thousands of other catechumens, Garner will receive the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Communion – during the Easter Vigil April 8 at Saint Patrick Parish in Nicholson. He has been participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, and feels fully prepared for the faith journey ahead.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, addresses catechumens and their godparents during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton Feb. 26, 2023. (Photo/Mike Melisky)

“I have been able to get more in touch with Jesus and God and really focus,” he explained. “The process has been terrific. I’m learning a lot more about the church than what I previously knew and it’s been a spiritual journey for me to go through this.”

Clifford Pinner, who will serve as Garner’s godparent, believes there has also been some divine intervention.

“I have three sisters who have been saying novenas for years. The ladies of our parish, after Mass, will also always say to him, ‘When are you going to do it, When are you going to do it,’” Pinner joked.

Garner is one of 162 people from parishes around the Diocese of Scranton who participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Feb. 26, 2023, the First Sunday in Lent.

During the Rite of Election, catechumens – supported by their sponsors, godparents, family members and parish ministers – freely proclaim their desire to receive the Sacraments of Initiation to Bishop Bambera. The individuals who have never been baptized record their names in the Book of the Elect. After the rite, the bishop signs the book as a witness to their faith.

The Call to Continuing Conversion is similar for candidates – those who have been baptized in another Christian tradition and seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter. They also publicly profess their intention to receive Communion and confirmation.

Ellen Gomez signs the Book of the Elect for Saint John the Apostle Parish in East Stroudsburg during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton Feb. 26, 2023.

Cassandra Johnson of Saint Michael Parish in Canton is planning to receive Confirmation this Easter.

“My family has been helping me through everything but mostly it has been the calling from the Lord to come back to be one of His children,” the 15 year old said.
Johnson says she has learned a lot about the Catholic faith through this process.

“We’re learning about each one of the Sacraments and breaking them down. I’m learning a whole lot more than I knew before,” she explained.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as presider and homilist for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgy. He reminded each person that by answering Jesus’ call they are not only affirming His presence in their life but are also committing themselves to embracing His example of service and selfless love.

“You too are being called by God to be here today, to enter into a relationship that has the power to save you from the brokenness of this world and to give you meaning and peace – to do more for God’s people – and to be more than you imagined that you could be,” Bishop Bambera said.

Joseph Maazola and Cheyenne Swimpson, both of Saint Luke Parish in Stroudsburg, are joining the Church so they can be godparents to their niece who will be baptized in late April.

“It was always something I planned on doing but now is the best time because of my goddaughter. It pushed us to move forward,” Swimpson said. “Every Wednesday we have night class for about three hours. We talk about the church and learn what God has created. It is just a wonderful learning experience. You really get to know yourself too throughout the whole process.”

After studying religions for decades, Barbara Clarke and her husband, Dennis, will also join the Catholic Church this Easter.

After being raised in the United Church of Christ, Barbara feels the Catholic Church is the only one not succumbing to societal pressures.

“A lot of churches are changing to become more worldly and I like that Catholics stay with God’s word and do not cave into worldly pressures,” she said.

CRESCO – With a little more than three weeks left until Easter, many parish decorating committees will be working overtime to make sure their worship spaces are beautiful.

At Most Holy Trinity Parish in Cresco, which will celebrate Easter in its brand new home for the first time, volunteers have been preparing for several months.

“I do it to glorify and adore God, to show him that I am thankful for my gifts,” parishioner Madeleine Forssell said.

Barb Page, left, helps to organize decorations for Easter along with Julie Conroy and Arlene Calemmo at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Cresco on Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

Forssell helps to coordinate a large team of dozens of volunteers who constantly work to keep the church, its narthex and meeting areas properly decorated for each liturgical season.

“We get inspiration from Pinterest and Facebook or we capitalize on ideas or pictures that we see,” she explained. “We try to enhance the beauty that is already here. When we decorate this place, it’ll take your breath away.”

Rev. Brian J.W. Clarke, pastor, Most Holy Trinity Parish, said the decorating committee had 42 people volunteering at Christmas.

“There is just so much enthusiasm. Madeleine brings in people of all different age groups and abilities. She gets everyone included. Once they start working together and can see that they have a part to contribute, it just blossoms,” Father Clarke said.

Arlene Calemmo of Mount Pocono volunteers with the group because she loves to see the finished products.

“These ladies are incredible. They are unbelievable. They work so hard and really do a wonderful job,” she explained.

“Christmas was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was just so beautiful,” fellow volunteer Julie Conroy of Canadensis, added. “There are quite a few people that get involved and everybody does a little something.”

Most Holy Trinity Parish was formed as a consolidation of three area parishes so the decorating committee has plenty of supplies to work with.

“This is a family. Your church should be part of your extended family. Wherever they need me, that is where I go,” volunteer Ayleen Rios of Tobyhanna, emphasized.

“Everybody has a talent and you just have to find where their niche is and fit them in!”

The Most Holy Trinity Parish decorating committee invites everyone to see their work beginning Palm Sunday when there will be special palm decorations adorning each pew and then the following Sunday where Easter lilies will be prominently featured throughout the parish.

SCRANTON – As hundreds of people gathered to begin the Lenten season at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on Ash Wednesday, they were reminded of their need for God and encouraged to trust more deeply in God’s merciful presence.

“Saint Matthew, in today’s Gospel, reinforces the words of the prophet Joel and sets forth in practical terms the lifestyle that we are called to embrace as authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus,” the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, said during his homily. “Pray, fast, and give alms in support of the poor. But do so not because such behavior will make us appear to be righteous. Do so because such acts for a Christian are the consequence of faithful lives rooted in Jesus, who teaches us how best to live.”

Bishop Bambera told those who had gathered for the rite of the imposition of ashes that the Lenten journey draws each one of us to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.

The faithful receive ashes during the 12:10 p.m. Daily Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton
on Feb. 22, 2023. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

“Through baptism, we are brought into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which, in turn, invites us to trust in the power of God more deeply and equips us for mission – the proclamation of the “Good News” of Jesus – and the service of our sisters and brothers,” the bishop explained.

As Pope Francis marked the beginning of Lent at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina, he told the faithful that Lent is the time to let go of the frivolous.

Lent is the time, Pope Francis said, “to proclaim that God alone is Lord, to drop the pretense of being self-sufficient and the need to put ourselves at the center of things, to be the top of the class, to think that by our own abilities we can succeed in life and transform the world around us.”

“How many distractions and trifles distract us from the things that really count? How often do we get caught up in our own wants and needs, lose sight of the heart of the matter, and fail to embrace the true meaning of our lives in this world!” he added.

The faithful receive ashes during the 12:10 p.m. Daily Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton
on Feb. 22, 2023. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

“Lent is a time of truth, a time to drop the masks we put on each day to appear perfect in the eyes of the world,” he said, and to “reject lies and hypocrisy. Not the lies and hypocrisies of others, but our own.”

Pope Francis also asked that the faithful use the 40 days of Lent to: “rediscover the joy, not of accumulating material goods, but of caring for those who are poor and afflicted”; to put God at the center of one’s life and pray and dialogue with him from the heart; and to become free “from the dictatorship of full schedules, crowded agendas and superficial needs, and choose the things that truly matter.”

SCRANTON – On Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will be principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It is a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter.

Faithful from the Diocese of Scranton participate in Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on March 2, 2022. This year, Ash Wednesday is on Feb 22, 2023. Ash Wednesday Masses at the Cathedral of Saint Peter this year will be held at 6:30 a.m., 8 a.m., 12:10 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

During Lent, the following fasting and abstinence regulations are observed:

FASTING is to be observed on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22, 2023) and Good Friday (April 7, 2023) by all Catholics over 18 years of age to the beginning of their 60th year. On days of fasting, one full meal is allowed. Two smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs, but together should not equal another full meal, unless dispensed or excused.

ABSTINENCE from meat is to be observed by all Catholics who are 14 years of age or older. Ash Wednesday, all of the Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday are days of abstinence.

“The Season of Lent provides us with many grace-filled opportunities to grow in our faith,” Bishop Bambera said. “May we be filled with awe and comforted by Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist – strengthened for mission – and ready to assume our responsibility in proclaiming the mercy and love of Christ for our world.”

In addition to the 12:10 p.m. Mass with Bishop Bambera, ashes will also be distributed at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton during Masses held at 6:30 a.m., 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. A full listing of Ash Wednesday Masses for all 114 parishes in the Diocese of Scranton is also available on the main page of dioceseofscranton.org.

Throughout the Season of Lent, Bishop Bambera will also visit every geographic area of the Diocese of Scranton holding a Lenten Holy Hour. A Holy Hour is a period of time spent in prayer before the Lord, present to all sacramentally in the Eucharist. A Holy Hour involves personal prayer, meditation readings from Scripture, hymns and more.

The dates and locations for Bishop Bambera’s Lenten Holy Hours across the Diocese of Scranton are:

Thursday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Saint Rose of Lima Parish, Carbondale


Tuesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m.

Most Holy Trinity Parish, Cresco


Wednesday, March 8, 7 p.m.

Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Montoursville


Thursday, March 9, 7 p.m.

Ss. Peter & Paul Parish, Towanda


Monday, March 13, 7 p.m.

St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Wilkes-Barre


Tuesday, March 14, 7 p.m.

Mary, Mother of God Parish, Scranton


Monday, March 20, 7 p.m.

St. Gregory Parish, Clarks Green


Wednesday, March 22, 7 p.m.

Corpus Christi Parish, West Pittston


Thursday, March 23, 7 p.m.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius Parish, Hazleton


Monday, March 27, 7 p.m.

Queen of Peace Parish, Hawley


Tuesday, March 28, 7 p.m.

Ss. Anthony and Rocco Parish, Dunmore


Wednesday, March 29, 7 p.m.

St. John the Baptist Parish, Larksville