CNA STAFF, Aug 16, 2009 (CNA) - This week the Church is preparing to celebrate the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church thanks to his writings and sermons which greatly influenced Europe during the 12th century, and his efforts which helped to avoid a schism in the Church in 1130.
Born in 1090, Bernard spent his early years near Dijon, France before leaving to joining the Cistercians at the age of 22. He was well educated and so passionate about his faith that he convinced his brothers, his uncle, and many of his friends to join him at the abbey.
Bernard first entered the abbey at Citeaux, but only three years later was sent with 12 other monks to establish another monastery in the Diocese of Champagne. The monastery came to be known Clairvaux (Valley of Light). He led the other monks there as the abbot for the rest of his life.
St. Bernard knew how to harmonize the contemplative life with important missionary work, the Pope noted in 2006. However, the saint’s strict observance of silence and contemplation did not impede him from living a very intense apostolic life. His humility and his commitment to tame his impetuous temperament were exemplary, he said.
The Pope also highlighted the saint’s focus on the truth that God, who is love, created mankind out of love and that man’s salvation consists of adhering firmly to Divine love, revealed through the crucified and risen Christ.
“The richness of St. Bernard’s preaching and his theology were not in pursuing new paths, the Pope said, but in succeeding to propose the truth of the faith in a clear and incisive way so as to fascinate the listener and lead the person to prayer.”
He became widely known throughout Europe and was consulted by Popes and political leaders. He died in 1153 and was canonized less than three decades later in 1174.
In August 2008, Pope Benedict spoke of the saint during his weekly general audience. He recalled that Pope Pius VIII labeled the “Honey-Sweet Doctor” for his eloquence and that he traveled throughout Europe defending the Christian faith.
Benedict XVI added, “He was also remembered as a Doctor of Mariology, not because he wrote extensively on Our Lady, but because he understood her essential role in the Church, presenting her as the perfect model of the monastic life and of every other form of the Christian life.”
Hilo, Hawaii, Aug 16, 2009 (CNA) - Even in Hawaii’s longstanding cultural melting pot, this is a first. A community of Indian nuns has made its home in Hilo. The four sisters, members of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, were invited last year to work in St. Joseph Parish by the previous pastor, Father Thomas Purayidathil.
“Father wanted to have the sisters who were in habit here to work for the people,” said Sister Marykutty Kottuppallil, the nun’s local superior.
She said that Father Purayidathil, who is also originally from India, “knew the charism and spirit of the congregation” and thought it would be a good fit for the parish.
That “charism,” or mission, is “evangelization and new evangelization.”
“New evangelization,” Sister Marykutty explained, is reaching out to those Catholics who have “fallen away” from the church.
The Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC) were founded in 1942 in Guwahati, in northeast India, as part of the family of Salesian orders. (Father Purayidathil was once a Salesian priest.) Their motto is, “Go Proclaim the Good News.”
The congregation has 167 communities in and outside of India. Their ministry includes sacramental preparation, retreats and home visits, with particular care for women and children in rural areas. In India and elsewhere they operate schools and homes for the sick, the elderly, abandoned street children and children with disabilities.
The sisters, whose convent is on Olu Street in Hilo, are in the United States on R-1 religious worker visas. For all of them, St. Joseph Parish is their first American assignment.
Meet the sisters
Sister Marykutty, 42, the daughter of a businessman and homemaker, grew up a middle child with two sisters and three brothers. Two of her aunts are nuns and an uncle is a priest.
She described her home city of Kottayam in the south Indian state of Kerala as “just like here — Hilo — surrounded by seashore.”
“The weather is also just like Hilo,” she said. “All the fruit trees of Hilo are found in my place.”
Kottayam is urban, completely literate, and “fully Catholic,” Sister Marykutty said. It’s also a place where Hindus and Christians live in harmony.
Sister Marykutty said she discerned her religious calling at age 14, and entered the convent as an aspirant at 17, even though her entire family, including her grandparents, originally opposed her decision.
Finally, she said, her father granted his approval.
She made her vows at 22 and enrolled in college at 25, majoring in zoology and earning a minor in chemistry and botany.
Before coming to Hawaii last Nov. 15, she worked in Rome as a pastoral assistant.
A warm, friendly and well organized woman, Sister Marykutty speaks English, Italian, Hindi, and Malayalam.
At St. Joseph Parish, Sister Marykutty serves as a pastoral assistant, coordinating liturgies and church ministries. She is also an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and a lector. She teaches religious education on Sundays, brings Holy Communion to the sick and homebound, counsels parishioners and prays for their intentions.
Sister Lisa Chettri joined the convent at 15, encouraged by her family, especially her father.
“I didn’t want to become a nun,” she said, but her father believed that, of the family’s four girls, it would be good to “give at least one to the Lord.”
“And so he inspired me and he supported me,” Sister Lisa said. Now 38, she’s the only one in her family with a religious vocation.
Sister Lisa’s father was a government employee. Her mother is a housewife and runs a grocery store. She has one brother.
After joining the Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, Sister Lisa earned master’s degrees in English and sociology. Thoughtful and intelligent, she speaks English and several regional Indian dialects.
Before coming to Hawaii, she was principal of Tome Memorial Secondary School, a large high school in India. She arrived in Hilo on May 9 and is now the vice-principal of St. Joseph Elementary School.
Sister Ruth Zonunthari, a quiet nun of 32, is from Serchhip, Mizoram, a small town and “fully Christian” area in northeast India. She arrived in Hawaii with Sister Marykutty on Nov. 15.
Her father, now deceased, was a high school mathematics and English teacher. He influenced her “in every way,” she said. “He always said, ‘Your life is a responsibility. I will support you always to achieve your aim.’”
A middle child with three brothers and three sisters, she left home at 16 for the convent.
She felt the “guidance of God” through her formation period and attributed it to the prayers of her devoted father.
“He prayed a lot,” she said.
Sister Ruth said that it was only three years ago that her mother came to fully understand her calling. She told her daughter, “You are the source of blessing for our family.”
With a master’s degree in social work, she ran a rehabilitation center in India and taught high school English and history as well.
Sister Ruth’s ministry at St. Joseph is social outreach. She serves the homeless, distributes food at the food pantry on Mondays and Wednesdays and emergency rations at other times. She also offers spiritual support to the grieving through the parish bereavement ministry.
Sister Lusika Sangma, 41, belongs to the Garo tribe of Maghalaya State. She is from Kharkutta, Meghalaya, in northeast India.
She noted that Kharkutta means “abode of clouds.” It’s a small town and similar to Hilo, because it rains a lot, though much more than Hilo. It is in a Christian state, but more American Baptist than Catholic, she said.
She’s the youngest of four daughters and one son of a military father, who has died, and a homemaker mother. One of her sisters has also passed away.
Sister Lusika joined the congregation at the young age of 12 and began her pre-novitiate after grade 12. She has her master’s in sociology and has done post-graduate studies in media and communication.
Back in India, she was the director of media and social communications for her religious congregation in Guwahati.
Sister Lusika arrived on Jan. 24 at St. Joseph Parish where, as the religious education coordinator, she organizes faith formation and sacramental preparation for children and adults.
A warm Hilo welcome
The Hilo people have welcomed the sisters warmly. After Masses, many approach them to chat or give them a hug. One woman, Else DeMello, drove the sisters around to various destinations and errands for a while after their car was damaged in an accident.
“She’s an angel,” said Sister Lusika.
The sisters, in turn, love Hilo.
“I enjoy the people, the environment,” Sister Ruth said. “I love to see the ocean. I love to see green everywhere around like my place.”
Sister Lisa, too, is charmed by the island’s natural beauty and its people. “They’re very friendly, very welcoming, and very, very polite — gentle and polite.”
Sister Lusika appreciates “the warm nature” of Hawaii’s people. She described them in one word: “loving.”
How long will the sisters stay?
“As long as we live and as long as our superiors want,” Sister Marykutty said.
“We love the people of Hawaii,” she said. “They are very simple, very spiritual, and very hospitable. We feel that they are our own people. We call them ‘our people.’”
“We are happy, contented,” she said. “We can do much here.”
In their ministry to lapsed Catholics, the new sisters are reaching out with compassion and encouragement.
“When they come to share, we always encourage them to return,” Sister Marykutty said. “We say, ‘Our God is a God of compassion: He’s ready to welcome always.’ With that attitude, we welcome the people.”
Many have returned to the church, she said. She also hopes to reach out to those who don’t belong to any church.
The sisters use a structure called the Basic Christian Community to meet regularly with small groups of Catholics to study the Word of God and share reflections.
The Hilo Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians are expecting a fifth sister, Sister Leena Piholi, to join them soon. She will teach at St. Joseph Preschool.
Paperwork has delayed her arrival, but when she comes, the sisters will greet her at the airport with a lei and take her on an outing — a special treat for all since the sisters are so busy.
Have they been anxiously, prayerfully or joyfully awaiting Sister Leena’s arrival?
“All!” Sister Marykutty laughed.
The sisters would also welcome any local women interested in a religious vocation.
Said Sister Lusika: “We want to invite the young people to join us. Those who wish to become Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, they are all welcome.”
And with such wonderful sisters, who wouldn’t feel welcome? God will bless their efforts here in Hawaii, and they will surely reap many fruits from their patient endeavors.
Printed with permission from the Hawaii Catholic Herald. The original story published August 7, 2009.
Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2009 (CNA) - As the opening of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly approaches, a group of Lutherans is gathering support to defend traditional marriage and defeat proposed changes in their church’s teaching on sexuality.
The Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) describes itself as a coalition of pastors, lay people, congregations and “reforming groups” that seeks to preserve Biblical authority in the ELCA.
It claims to be “a voice for the solid, faithful core that is the majority of ELCA members, pastors, and congregations.”
Lutheran CORE is preparing for the August 17-23 Assembly, which is to be held in Minneapolis. The group has criticized proposals to affirm and bless homosexual relationships and to permit pastors to be in same-sex relationships.
Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pennsylvania, is the chair of Lutheran Core. He said in a statement that the churchwide assembly has no authority to vote on such matters.
“The constitution of the ELCA says that the Bible is the source and norm of the church's faith and life. A church meeting does not have the authority to overturn what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage and about homosexual behavior,” he said.
Rev. Spring reported that his group would be working together with “faithful Lutherans” from throughout the ELCA.
“We have voting members and volunteers ready to bear witness to the truth as it has been revealed in Scripture and confessed by faithful Christians for nearly 2,000 years,” he added.
Rev. Mark C. Chavez, a pastor in Landisville, Pennsylvania, charged that the consideration of the proposals threaten the ELCA’s relationship with partner churches in the Lutheran World Federation.
“Church leaders from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe have already written letters stating that approval of the sexuality proposals would greatly damage the ELCA's relationship with their churches,” he reported.
“These proposals will also severely damage the ELCA's relationship with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestant Christians,” continued Rev. Chavez.
According to Ryan Schwartz, a Washington, D.C. member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee, the debate over the proposals was not about sex but rather about the “source of authority” in the ELCA.
“The ELCA claims that the Bible is the source and norm of its faith and life. The sexuality proposals are based on a different source and norm. They reject the clear teaching of Scripture and seek consensus on a different basis… The question is whether the ELCA practices what it says it believes.”
Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 16, 2009 (CNA) - The Kenyan man named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest pupil, who enrolled in classes to learn to read the Bible and converted to Catholicism in the final years of his life, died in Nairobi on Friday morning at the age of 81.
Stephen Kimani Maruge died at Cheshire Home for the aged after receiving the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick from Comboni missionary Fr. Paulino Mondo, the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) reports. He had lived the last three years of his life at the home, where he ultimately succumbed to cancer of the esophagus.
Fr. Mondo said one of Maruge’s children was present at his death. He reported it was Maruge’s wish to die at the home and said the man would be given a Christian funeral.
In 2003, Maruge enrolled at a primary school in western Kenya after the government of President Mwai Kibaki fulfilled its election pledge to offer free and compulsory primary education.
Maruge, who said he enrolled in order to learn to read the Bible for himself, was in Class Seven at the time of his death.
While at the home for the aged, Maruge was led through the Catechism of the Catholic Church for one and a half years before being baptized at Kariobangi Parish.
Castelgandolfo, Italy, Aug 16, 2009 (CNA) -
On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his Angelus reflections to Our Lady. Speaking to 4,000 people gathered in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo’s apostolic palace, he explained that, like Mary, Catholics are called to say yes to God.
Inspired by Sunday’s Gospel, Pope Benedict said, “One cannot but be affected by this correspondence, which revolves around the symbol of the heavens. Mary was ascended to the place from which her son descended. Of course, this language, which is biblical, expresses in a figurative way something one can only draw close to through certainly far from easy concepts.”
“But let’s stop a moment to reflect,” he added. “Jesus is presented as the living bread, that is the food that contains the very life of God and that is able to communicate it to those who east of him… well, from whom did the Son of God take his flesh, his real and earthly humanity? He took it from the Virgin Mary. God took her human form to enter into our mortal condition.”
“In turn, at the end of her earthly existence, the body of the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven by God and allowed to enter the heavenly condition,” the Pope continued. “It is a kind of exchange, in which God always has the initiative, but in a sense, in which he also needs Mary to prepare the matter of his sacrifice: the body and blood to be offered on the cross as an instrument of eternal life and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist as spiritual food and drink.”
“What happened to Mary is also valid for every man and woman,” he expounded. “God asks each of us to welcome him, to make available to him our hearts, our bodies, our entire existence, so that he can dwell in the world. He calls us to join ourselves to him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, to form the Church together…by the very nature of our yes, that mysterious exchange also happens to and in us. We are assumed in the divinity of he who assumed our humanity.”
“The Eucharist is the means, the instrument of this reciprocal transformation, which has God as the end and as a main actor,” the Holy Father told the faithful. “He is the head and we the members, he the vine and we the branches. Who eats of this Bread and lives in communion with Jesus, allowing himself to be transformed by him and in him, is saved from eternal death. He will, of course, die like everyone else, participating in the mystery of the passion and cross of Christ, but he is no longer a slave of death and will rise on the last day to enjoy the eternal feast with Mary and all the saints.”
“This mystery of eternal life begins here in the mystery of faith, hope and love, which is celebrated in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and is expressed through fraternal communion and in service to our neighbor,” he concluded. “Let us pray to the Blessed Virgin to help us nourish ourselves in faith, with the Bread of eternal life, to experience already on earth the joy of heaven.”