CNA STAFF, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - On Saturday, December 26, the universal church will commemorate the death of St. Stephen, the first man to give his life in witness to the Faith.
St. Stephen was a deacon in the early church. The sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles says that, Stephen was “a man filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit... filled with grace and fortitude.” The Bible also notes that Stephen was a gifted orator and that his logic was sound. The conversions of many people are attributed to him.
However, his outspokenness provoked the ire of some of his listeners and he was accused of blaspheming against Moses and against God. He was brought before the high priest and many false witnesses testified against him.
In his defense, he gave an eloquent analysis of Salvation History and the love and mercy of God. He also recounted Israel's repeated ungratefulness towards their God. However, it didn't sway his accusers who proceeded to take him outside the city and stone him.
As he was about to die, Stephen looked up to heaven and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” Then, as he was being stoned, he cried out, ““Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
His last words, as the stoning had brought him to his knees were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
St. Paul, Minn., Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - Tim O’Meara, 50, heartily shook Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Most Rev. John Nienstedt’s hand and grinned broadly, his excitement transparent. He had been anticipating the archbishop’s visit for a while, he said. O’Meara is one of about 990 men who are currently in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City. Archbishop Nienstedt celebrated Mass and visited with inmates Dec. 15.
The visit coincided with Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Advent that calls people to rejoice in the Lord.
In his homily, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke about God’s gift of joy and the faithful’s need to rejoice. He also spoke of conversion, which is at the heart of St. John the Baptist’s message in the Gospel.
“These Scriptures speak to everyone in the church, no matter what condition he or she finds themselves,” he said. “Even in this situation of being incarcerated, there can be real joy in the realization that God is here in your midst, calling you to a change of heart. . . .”
“The past is what it is,” he continued. “The future lies open to what you want to make of it.”
Twenty-one men attended the Mass, a number that slightly disappointed inmate Eric Dahlin, 28. “There should be more people than this, but there’s not, and that’s OK,” he said.
“[The archbishop’s visit] means a lot to us,”added Dahlin. “It brings up our day — spiritually and mentally.”
The visit was arranged by Deacon Michael Martin, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch who has been assigned to minister to the offenders in Rush City since his September 2008 ordination.
A time for transformation
After Mass, Archbishop Nienstedt fielded questions from the inmates, who asked about the difference between Catholics and Lutherans, and when a new pastor would be assigned to Sacred Heart in Rush City.
Until his new appointment to St. Albert in Albertville and St. John the Baptist in Dayton Oct. 31, Father Xavier Thelakkatt served as pastor at Sacred Heart and visited the prison twice monthly.
In the absence of an assigned priest, Deacon Martin and other volunteers have offered Communion services in the facility’s modest chapel.
“The Eucharist is important to them because without it they would be left abandoned from their faith,” Deacon Martin said.
Deacon Martin also preaches the Gospel, and the men have a chance to think about it and ask questions.
However, they miss a priest, he said. “The men are yearning for confessions,” he noted.
Prison can be a spiritually transforming time for offenders, said Rush City Correctional Facility chaplain Gail Nord. In the seven months she’s been working there, she’s seen the role faith plays in the lives of some of the men.
“It can give them hope, it can give them meaning, it can give them a foundation to deal with all the challenges of day-to-day life in a place like this,” she said.
The archbishop’s visit was significant to the men because it was a sign that they are remembered, “particularly at this season, which is very difficult,” she said, as men are away from family and friends during the holidays.
Being at the correctional facility has deepened the faith of 51-year-old inmate Jeff Bauer, he said.
“I’m very strong in my Catholic beliefs,” he added. Bauer encourages men to join him for Mass and talks about the Scriptures with them. He also prays the rosary every night, he said.
‘Joy and happiness’ possible
Although this is the first time Archbishop Nienstedt has visited a prison in the archdiocese, he visited prisons while he was bishop of New Ulm and auxiliary bishop of Detroit.
While living at the North American College in Rome, he also visited English-speaking offenders every Saturday at Regina Coeli, a prison named after the convent whose building it repurposed.
“They literally turned the [monastic] cells into cells,” he said. “There was no central heating, no central bathrooms. . . . It was overcrowded,” he recalled.
“So early on, I knew this was a very valuable ministry,” he said.
During Mass, Archbishop Nienstedt prayed for the men and their families. “There were looks of concern on their faces, and skepticism, I suppose; unhappiness,” he said. “What a wonderful Sunday to come to preach joy and happiness.”
Archbishop Nienstedt said he would be “very willing” to visit other correctional facilities within the archdiocese. “I think that’s an important thing for a bishop to do on a regular basis,” he said.
A rewarding ministry
On this particular Sunday, Deacon Martin was accompanied by three volunteers, including Jim Noon, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Rush City who has been visiting prisons for 10 years, he said.
Dan Chippendale, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch, has also been helping with Mass or Communion services once per month.
“I felt drawn to it,” he said. Yet, initially he was “very intimidated” by the thought of prison ministry, he said. However, as he started to volunteer, his fears were tempered.
“You see the faces of the people, and they’re pleased to see you,” he said.
Deacon Martin describes his experience as “very rewarding.”
“What I appreciate . . . is that for the majority of the men who show up, this is bringing Christ,” he said. “I’m called, as a deacon, to be an icon of Christ, so I bring Christ to them, and they’ve been very receptive.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Spirit, newspaper from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Kericho, Kenya, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - The memorial Mass for Fr. Jerry Roche, an Irish priest slain by burglars in Kenya, was held on Thursday. The Mass was attended by five bishops, the entire fraternity of the Kiltegan Fathers, scores of priests and religious and thousands of other Christians.
The priest was stabbed to death last week at his home on the outskirts of Kericho town, about 120 miles west of Nairobi, Reuters reports. The burglars stole his laptop, his mobile phone and an unknown amount of money.
The 68-year-old priest had worked in Kenya for 41 years. His body was found after he failed to appear for an early morning Mass.
Bishop of Kitale Maurice Crowley was the celebrant at the funeral Mass. He called on all Christians to emulate Fr. Roche’s selflessness in giving his life for the people of Kericho.
He also called on the murderers to repent and return to the Lord, the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) says.
Bishop of Kericho Emmanuel Okombo remembered Fr. Roche as a “pioneer missionary” and an exemplary priest who lived his life to the fullest.
“Fr. Roche will be remembered for his prayer life and hard work in all the parishes in worked in,” the bishop said, describing his death as a “big loss” for the entire Catholic Church.
Bishop Okombo also conveyed condolences from Pope Benedict XVI and the cardinal heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
All the other bishops expressed condolences to Fr. Roche’s family, represented at the funeral by his nephew. The family has requested to have Fr. Roche’s body returned to Ireland, where he will be buried alongside his parents in Limerick.
Bishop of the Military Ordinariate Alfred Rotich moved the congregation to tears by appealing to the Kipsigis community to repent the murder and the abominations committed in their land. Speaking in Kipsigis, the bishop called on local leaders to rally the people back to the Lord.
“Human life is sacred, no one has a right to take away life,” the bishop added.
The priest was known for his hard work and good humor. His confreres eulogized him as a man who stood for the truth, love and justice.
Fr. Patrick Devine, speaking in a message on behalf of the Association of Religious Superiors of Kenya, said the priest has not died in vain and his spirit will continue living “among all those he touched by his work and love.”
“This is not a moment of fear but one of restoration, may the planners and murderers of Fr. Roche repent and return to way of love, justice and truth that he stood for,” he continued.
Reuters reports that Kenyan police have arrested three suspects in Fr. Roche’s murder.
Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI’s so-called “green revolution” differs in key ways from parts of the environmentalist movement, Vatican expert Sandro Magister says. While some forms of environmentalism place nature first in relation to mankind, he explains that the Pope has as his priority the “ecology of Man” in relation to God.
Magister, writing at www.chiesa.espressonline.it/?eng=y, commented on Pope Benedict's Dec. 8 message for the World Day of Peace, observed every January 1.
At the center of this message, he says, is the biblical image of the Garden of Eden, “entrusted by God to man and woman for them to protect and cultivate.”
“Nature therefore has no primacy over man, nor is man a tiny part of nature. Nor, in his turn, can man usurp the right to despoil nature instead of taking care of it,” Magister writes.
The Vatican analyst cites as an illustration a masterpiece of Piero della Francesca, which shows a “cultivated, orderly and luminous” background landscape highlighting the same characteristics of the woman in the foreground who is “illuminated” with pearls.
An essential concept of Pope Benedict is that the ecology of nature and the ecology of man share “the same destiny.”
“Care for creation must be one and the same with care for the ‘inviolability of human life in every one of its phases and every one of its conditions,’” Magister adds.
“Wherever hatred and violence break out, nature weeps as well. A devastated landscape and an uninhabitable city are the product of a humanity that has made a desert of its own soul,” his analysis at www.Chiesa concludes.
Vatican City, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI led the Angelus from the window of his Vatican chambers on this crisp, clear winter morning of the fourth Sunday of Advent in Rome. In his pre-Angelus address to thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square, he echoed the words of the prophet Micah in Sunday´s liturgy, inviting the world to look to Bethlehem for peace.
The Holy Father began his address by quoting Micah's prophesy from 1,000 years before Christ's birth, 'But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.'
"So, there is a divine design that knows and explains the times and places of the coming of the Son of God into the world," said Benedict XVI of the prophesy.
"It's a design of peace ..." one that comes with the arrival of the Lord on Earth, he said.
"He himself will be the peace," adds Micah in his prophesy.
Benedict XVI said that Bethlehem is thus is a "city-symbol" of messianic peace, although, he lamented, "Unfortunately, in our days, that doesn't represent an achieved and stable peace, but one tiringly sought after and hoped for."
God doesn't give up, though, he continued, and so this year, as in all years, "he will renew in the Church the mystery of Christmas, prophesy of peace for every man and woman."
The Pontiff highlighted the power and timelessness of the message, saying, "Today, as in the time of Jesus, Christmas isn't a fable for children, but the answer from God to the drama of humanity in search of true peace."
"Even if we don't understand it fully, we trust ourselves to his wisdom and kindness. We seek, before all, the Kingdom of God, and Divine Providence will aid us."
Pope Benedict concluded with a "Merry Christmas to all!" that echoed through the pillars of the Square and was met with cheers from the crowd.
Vatican City, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - After the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI sent a "cordial greeting" out to the employees of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Personnel from the paper are taking part in a special Advent initiative to raise funds to build a school in Africa.
Vendors are including a small Nativity icon along with copies of the paper on sale in a mobile stand in St. Peter's Square every Wednesday and Sunday. The proceeds of these sales will go to the construction of a school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Vatican City, Dec 20, 2009 (CNA) - After Sunday's Angelus in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI congratulated the new primate of the Polish church, Archbishop Henryk Muszynski. The archbishop takes the place of Cardinal Jozef Glemp.
Cardinal Glemp served in an interim role as the primate of the Polish church, but as of his 80th birthday on Friday, the reins have been handed over to Archbishop Muszynski. Commenting on the new appointment for the Archbishop of Gniezno, Benedict said, "This honorary title returns to the oldest Metropolan Diocese in Polish lands, tied to the devotion to Saint Adalbert, Patron of Poland." Until 1981, the primate of the Polish Church had always been the Archbishop of Gniezno.
Benedict XVI thanked Cardinal Glemp for "carrying out his primatial mision in the difficult period of transition."
Cardinal Glemp had been the primate of the Catholic Church in Poland since 1981, which spanned a time of great transition in Poland due to the fall of communism in 1989.