Wilmington, Del., Oct 17, 2009 (CNA) - In July 1999, when Tony Cecere was approached by then-pastor Father Roy Pollard to start a group for seniors at St. Mary of the Assumption, in Wilmington, Delaware, Cecere wasn’t sure how the idea would materialize. A decade later, however, it has far-exceeded his expectations.
“You go to church and as you leave you say 'hi' and 'bye,' but we wanted to give seniors the chance to really socialize,” said Cecere, who then served as the parish's director of social ministry. “I thought maybe we’d have some soup and sandwiches, work on some crafts, watch some TV. But it really didn’t happen that way at all.”
That October, Cecere, along with a committee of six, organized a luncheon for 42 senior parishioners. The group then decided to convene for monthly luncheons and “from there we just multiplied,” said Shirlee Steenkamer, now the group’s co-chair along with Phil Donohoe. “We knew we didn’t want to just stay around and play cards and bingo.”
On Oct. 7, the senior group, known as the Sages of St. Mary’s (the name “sages” means “old and wise”) celebrated a decade of food, fellowship and service with a special Mass and catered luncheon. The pastor, Father Charles Dillingham, was the chief celebrant of the Mass, which was concelebrated by three other priests. Father Dillingham called the Sages, which now has more than 300 members, “a shining jewel of faithfulness” for the parish.
The Sages committed to meet monthly in the parish hall for a luncheon. Though Father Pollard told the Sages the parish could allocate funds to support the group if necessary, the group opted to completely self-support using money from non-mandatory donations to purchase food.
Lunches ranged from stews and pasta dishes to turkey with all the trimmings, which, to this day are all prepared by Cecere.
In addition to sharing a meal, the Sages enjoy postlunch entertainment, whether it’s a performance by singing jazz duo Cloud 9, or a speaker addressing a health-related topic for seniors.
“I just feel like I can identify with a lot of these people,” said Michael Alvares, 66, of Wilmington, who has been a Sage for about five years. “I would see them at daily Mass before joining but now it’s more than that.”
Travel is an integral part of the group — they travel somewhere at least once a month, sometimes filling up to two busloads.
Destinations range from one-day visits to Lancaster, Pa., to a four-night stay in Nova Scotia, to several mystery trips per year — “no one ever knows where we’re going until we get there,” Steenkamer said.
Annual retreats are also hosted at the Jesus House in Wilmington.
Equally vital to the camaraderie provided by having a group like this is their desire to give back to the community. Over the past 10 years, the Sages have donated food, money and other basic-need items like clothes and diapers to charities, including the West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington.
Frank Fountain, 67, of Hockessin, joined the Sages four years ago when he retired from his job at Hewlett Packard. “The fellowship keeps me here, this great group of people.”
Printed with permission from The Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2009 (CNA) - A former abortionist has said he believes that Our Lady of Guadalupe enlightened him about the destructive nature of his work, adding that Jesus’ mercy has affected and forgiven him. Devotion to The Divine Mercy, he said, is an answer to the pessimism, skepticism, relativism and cynicism of the world.
Dr. John Bruchalski, who founded the pro-life Tepeyac Family Center in Virginia in 1994, performed abortions before his return to the Catholic faith.
He is a speaker at the upcoming North American Congress on Mercy and discussed his conversion in an interview published at the Congress’ website.
The doctor recounted that in 1987 he was a “typical gynecologist” who believed that contraceptives would liberate women. On a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said, he “very distinctly” heard the words “Why are you hurting me?”
“It was an internal voice. It was a woman's voice — very loving, very non-threatening. It was very clear, but I didn't entirely understand it. I believe that voice was Our Lady of Guadalupe trying to make me see what I was doing. But it would be years before I fully understood the message.”
For his residency, Bruchalski worked at an in-vitro fertilization center that was also a contraceptive research and development center. His mother took him on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Yugoslavia, where he said the nature of his actions became very clear to him.
Even though he built contraceptive devices and performed abortions, he insisted that God “can save any one of us.”
“None of us are too far away. None of us are too lost,” he told the Mercy Congress organizers.
“Yes, Jesus' mercy affected me. Christ doesn't look back on my past. I have been forgiven. ‘Repent and believe.’ The Chaplet [of The Divine Mercy] is so important to me — I have to say it over and over again for me to believe it.”
Bruchalski said everyone can learn from mercy, from the Diary of St. Faustina, and from the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
“Remember: the Holy Spirit does the hard work. I know that if you take time and engage Christ, He will speak to you,” he commented.
The doctor said Divine Mercy should be emphasized because “society is in the slop.”
“Pessimism, skepticism, relativism, and cynicism are abundant everywhere you look.”
“Divine Mercy gives us hope. And when you're in the slop, you need hope,” he added.
Returning to the topic of his medical practice, Bruchalski explained that he named the Tepeyac Family Center to remind him why he was doing what he was doing.
Tepeyac is the site where St. Juan Diego had his vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The center treats the person “body, soul and spirit.” The doctor reported that he is “absolutely not hesitant” to speak about God when treating patients, who come from a wide variety of beliefs.
“What we try to do is to meet people where they are. What we do is we try to encourage people if they are not praying or meditating, they need to do that, to get them in touch with that higher power.
“You can't slam them over the head and talk to them in a language they don't understand. Over time, God does the hard work,” he explained, adding that all the center’s patients appreciate knowing they are being prayed for.
The doctor told the Mercy Congress that he saw four basic negative attitudes in his mainstream medical practice: fear, malformed conscience, arrogance towards human life, and the loss of a view of health that integrates religion.
There is fear of getting pregnant and the fear of overpopulation, both fears which treat the child as “a sexually transmitted disease.” There is also the fear of being sued, the fear of personal impoverishment, and the fear of not making enough money. Christian doctors also fear they will have no patients if they follow their faith.
“The answer to fear is ‘Jesus, I trust in You’,” Bruchalski commented.
He explained that in contemporary society people sometimes are viewed as objects.
“Michael Vick and dog fighting received more press time than the partial-birth abortion debate. Embryos are being pitched around in scientific experiments. They're being tested. They're being frozen. And yet, there's human life there.”
Tepeyac Family Center and its companion organization Divine Mercy Care are efforts to correct those attitudes, Bruchalski said.
“What happens in medicine is that science and technology bring progress; they don't bring redemption. The only person who brings redemption is Christ. So if you can't tie the two together, you're lost,” he told the Mercy Congress.
The North American Congress on Mercy will take place Nov. 14-15 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Congress says its focus will be the mercy of God as a source of hope, healing and renewal for people of all creeds.
Its website is at http://mercycongress.org.
Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2009 (CNA) - The University of Notre Dame’s Student Activities Office is facing criticism for allowing a group of five students to use student activities funds to travel to a national homosexual political demonstration that advocated for same-sex “marriage” and related issues.
The Office approved Notre Dame’s Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) request to use PSA funding to travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Equality March on the weekend of Oct. 9-11, the Notre Dame Observer reports.
The March, organized by the group Equality Across America, says on its website that the march was for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people “equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.” In the organizers’ view, this “one single demand” included freedom from harassment and discrimination, the right to serve freely in the military, the right to marry, and “the right to equitable healthcare, and the right to donate blood.”
Organizers rejected a “piecemeal strategy,” saying they sought “one federal solution to full equality.”
For the event the Notre Dame students marched two miles across the District of Columbia and then joined homosexual activists for a rally at Capitol Hill.
PSA President, sophomore Jackie Emmanuel, told the Observer that the group initially had about 20 students signed up for the event but most could not participate due to midterms.
"The fact that we were university-approved was surprising but it was a wonderful surprise," Emmanuel remarked. "The university hasn't always been entirely receptive in the past."
She said she has felt “a slight tone of homophobia” from some areas on campus, but she expressed her belief that the student body is “generally supportive.”
Colleen King, another student participant in the event, described herself as a “straight ally” and said attendees had “a real sense of frustration” with government inaction on the activists’ issues. She also reported there was “a sense of celebration.”
She told the Observer that the group hung out in the homosexual neighborhood of the city and stayed with friends to minimize costs.
King also said she believes homosexual rights are a social justice issue that should be addressed on campus.
“I think it's hard to be gay at Notre Dame," she continued. "I wish there was more of a gay rights movement on campus."
Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society, was among the critics of the Student Activities Office’s decision to fund the students’ travel.
“Faithful Catholics will ask whether Notre Dame has learned its lesson from the scandalous commencement ceremony last spring,” he commented in a press release. “What university seeking to reassure families of its Catholic identity would pay for students to attack the family and oppose Catholic teachings on marriage?”
CNA contacted a University of Notre Dame spokesman on Friday but did not receive a response by publication time.