Denver, Colo., Apr 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Roman Catholics will celebrate the missionary efforts of St. Vincent Ferrer on April 5. The Dominican preacher brought thousands of Europeans into the Catholic Church during a period of political and spiritual crisis in Western Europe.
Vincent Ferrer was born in Valencia, Spain, during 1357. His parents raised him to care deeply about his religious duties, without neglecting his education or concern for the poor. One of his siblings, Boniface, later joined the Carthusian order and became its superior general. Vincent, however, would become a Dominican, and preach the Gospel throughout Europe. He joined at age 18 in 1374.
As a member of the Dominican Order of Preachers, Vincent committed much of the Bible to memory while also studying the Church Fathers and philosophy. By age 28, he was renowned for his preaching, and also known to have a gift of prophecy. Five years later, a representative of Pope Clement VII chose Vincent to accompany him to France, where he preached extensively.
While Vincent sought to live out his order's commitment to the preaching of the Gospel, he could not escape becoming involved in the political intrigues of the day. Two rival claimants to the papacy emerged during the late 1300s, one in Rome and another in the French city of Avignon. Each claimed the allegiance of roughly half of Western Europe.
Caught between the rival claimants, Vincent attempted to persuade the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII to negotiate an end to the schism. Benedict, who was regarded as Pope in both Spain and France, sought to honor Vincent by consecrating him as a bishop. But the Dominican friar had no interest in advancing within the Church, and regarded many bishops of his time as negligent leaders distracted by luxury.
“I blush and tremble,” he wrote in a letter, “when I consider the terrible judgment impending on ecclesiastical superiors who live at their ease in rich palaces, while so many souls redeemed by the blood of Christ are perishing. I pray without ceasing, to the Lord of the harvest, that he send good workmen into his harvest.”
Vincent not only prayed, but acted, committing himself to missionary work and resolving to preach in every town between Avignon and his hometown in Spain. In a commanding style, he denounced greed, blasphemy, sexual immorality, and popular disregard for the truths of faith. His sermons often drew crowds of thousands and prompted dramatic conversions.
Popular acclaim, however, did not distract him from a life of asceticism and poverty. He abstained completely from meat, slept on a straw mat, consumed only bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays, and accepted no donations for himself beyond what he needed to survive. He traveled with five other Dominican friars at all times, and the men would spend hours hearing confessions.
For two decades, Vincent and his group of friars undertook preaching missions in Spain, Italy, and France. When he traveled outside these regions, into Germany and other parts of the Mediterranean, those who did not know the languages in which he preached would testify that they had understood every word he said, in the same manner as the apostles experienced at Pentecost.
Although he did not heal the temporary divisions within the Church, Vincent succeeded in strengthening large numbers of Europeans in their Catholic faith. He wrote little, although some of his works have survived, and exist in modern English translations.
St. Vincent Ferrer died on April 5, 1419 at age 62, in the city of Vannes in the French region of Brittany. He was canonized in 1455, and has more recently become the namesake of a traditional Catholic community approved by the Holy See, the Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer.
Indianapolis, Ind., Apr 3, 2011 (CNA) - Rena Becher knows there are moments in life when a simple gesture that says “I’m thinking of you” can forge an immediate bond between people.
As proof, she refers to the special thank you letters that American soldiers serving overseas have sent to the fifth-grade students at St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis.
The fifth-grade teacher mentions how quiet her students become when she reads them one of the letters, such as this one from an American soldier serving in Afghanistan, who had received a “care package” that the children had helped to make.
“Sitting in our small slice of heaven in Afghanistan, it started to be a looming notion that the holidays were all just going to meld into our daily routine,” the soldier wrote. “When our chaplain came down with your packages though, it moved me. Many a day I will catch flashes of news during chow and see such a distaste for this war that it makes me feel more than a little dissension toward us soldiers that have to fight it.
“However, the packages we received gave me renewed faith and a happiness that I truly haven’t felt since I was a child. The gifts you send us aren’t of candy, but of love and hope, which are truly what we needed. I could never tell you how much it means to us.”
The soldier signed his name under the words, “From the bottom of my heart, my deepest regards.”
‘It gives them a sense of the world’
That special connection between students and soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bosnia and other parts of the world has been a key part of the faith-based life lessons at St. Simon School for more than six years.
It’s an approach that can also be found at other Catholic schools in the archdiocese, including the schools at St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Matthew the Apostle, St. Monica and St. Pius X parishes, all in Indianapolis.
“It gives them a sense of the world beyond St. Simon,” Becher says. “We’re involved in this because it’s a way of giving to others, which God wants us to do. I don’t look at it just from a patriotic standpoint, but from a religious standpoint, too. This is our faith. This is a service we can do.”
The service is rooted in the fifth grade at St. Simon School because that’s the year when students study American history—and the American soldiers fighting in wars today are part of that history. It’s also a service touched by fun and joy, led by the three fifth-grade teachers at St. Simon School—Becher, Mary Beth Keiser and Laura Legault.
At Halloween, Keiser challenged the fifth-grade students to bring in their excess candy from trick-or-treating to give to the soldiers. The 77 students turned in more than 800 pounds of candy.
“It was a really big deal in our class,” recalls John Morrissey, a fifth-grade student. “We all crowded around as our boxes of candy were weighed. I actually gave all of my candy, except for a piece or two.”
At Christmas, the children write cards, collect toiletries ranging from lip balm to foot powder, and decorate the boxes for their gifts.
In March, they collect donated Girl Scout cookies for the soldiers.
“I just like helping the soldiers,” says Susanna Tsueda, who brought in a large quantity of Girl Scout cookies. “And I like it that they send back notes for the things we send.”
The students’ reactions continually touch their teachers.
“They really understand that it’s an amazing thing that we’re helping people that they’re never going to meet, but we’re touching their lives in a small way,” Legault says. “And we’re grateful to the soldiers because they’re serving our country, and they’ve volunteered to do that.”
A tearful encounter and a special plan
The efforts by the children show them that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
The children’s collections at St. Simon School are also part of a major project that has been led for the past eight years by a remarkable woman.
When the United States went to war against Iraq in March of 2003, Diane Spaulding of Indianapolis soon joined an effort by the Salvation Army to send care packages to American soldiers serving in Iraq.
After the Salvation Army effort ended a few months later, Spaulding faced a crossroads moment when she saw a man crying as she walked through the Hillcrest Country Club in Indianapolis, where she is a member.
“One of our maintenance men was in the hallway, and he had tears in his eyes,” Spaulding recalls. “I went up and asked him about it. He said his son was being shipped out to Iraq. His son had a wife and a child. I asked him, ‘What can we do?’ He asked me to pray for his son Jeff. I went home and talked to my husband, Doug, and said we need to do something. He said to go for it.”
Spaulding’s plan was to continue the “care package” program with the help of friends and country club members, a group that became known as the Hillcrest Guardian Angels.
“The first soldiers were members of the Indiana National Guard out of Terre Haute (which included Jeff),” Spaulding says. “They were there for 18 months. We would get names from other people, too. A mother would call. A grandmother would call, and we would add them to the list. We shipped 1,000 boxes for Christmas of 2004. By then, I realized we needed help.”
St. Simon School became involved through the interest of two women whose children have attended the school—Linda Collier and Meg Paligraf.
“That school has been the most wonderful benefactor to our soldiers,” Spaulding says. “Whatever we ask them, they are willing to do.”
That willingness leads to a story that makes Spaulding laugh every time that she shares it.
An unusual use for toothbrushes
“When we send a box to the soldiers, there’s always a letter from the Hillcrest Guardian Angels explaining who has helped,” Spaulding says. “We provide names and addresses in case the soldiers want to write back. A soldier wrote a letter that said, ‘Thank you for the toothbrushes. I’m using one to brush my teeth and one to clean the sand out of my gun.’ The boys at the school went crazy with that. They said, ‘We need to get more toothbrushes!’
“When we did that collection in 2005, we set a goal of 125 toothbrushes. The week before Thanksgiving, a teacher called and said, ‘We have 1,992 toothbrushes. The boys said they didn’t want those guns to jam.’ When we packed the boxes in the first week of December, we had 4,000 toothbrushes.”
The response was similar from St. Matthew School when American soldiers overseas requested stuffed animals. The soldiers use the stuffed animals to give to the children in the countries where they serve—as a way of showing they care about the people in those countries.
St. Matthew students went to their rooms and their closets and donated about 3,000 stuffed animals one Christmas.
Students at St. Pius X School embraced a plan to send the soldiers Girl Scout cookies in the spring, leading an effort that consistently collects thousands of boxes of the cookies. And children from St. Luke School and St. Monica School have also written cards and collected items for the soldiers.
“What big hearts they have,” Spaulding says of the children. “I’m just so proud of them.”
Her pride extends to the soldiers.
‘Don’t let the bad guys get you’
“I started the project to help our soldiers, support them and let them know they’re not forgotten,” Spaulding says. “They’re our soldiers, they’re far away and they’re faced with death every day. This is just our way of thanking them for the job they’re doing for us. It’s such a small gesture on our part to let them know we’re thinking of them and caring for them.”
The caring continues at St. Simon School, where teachers raised about $800 in February to help offset the considerable shipping charges involved in mailing the boxes around the world.
The care packages that were sent this week to the soldiers are the shipment that Spaulding calls the “Sweetheart Mailing.” Each package includes Girl Scout cookies and belated Valentine cards written by the students—cards that often come with the message, “God is watching you” and “Don’t let the bad guys get you.”
“I think we did well collecting everything,” says John Morrissey, a fifth-grade student. “I hope they like it.”
Sometime in the next few weeks, soldiers will open those care packages and know that someone is thinking of them, and thanking them for what they are doing.
“It’s a service project with faith, and a service project with heart,” says Laura Legault, one of the fifth-grade teachers at St. Simon School. “It means the world to us.”
Printed with permission from The Criterion, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ind.
Ellenwood, Ga., Apr 3, 2011 (CNA) - Tonya Roque and her four children are looking forward to Easter, a holy day that will hold special significance for them as they and nearly 2,000 others enter the Catholic Church in North Georgia at the close of this Lenten season.
On Sunday, March 13, the Roques joined the thousands who filled the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center for the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, a celebration led by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama.
This Easter in its parishes and missions, the archdiocese anticipates baptizing 647 catechumens, those who have never been initiated before into a Christian community. Another 1,265 candidates, those previously baptized in the Christian faith, will be initiated into the Catholic sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation.
It was an exciting time for the Roque family, who, as new Catholics, will be entering the faith of their husband and father, Fernando. They were seated with the other candidates and catechumens from St. Philip Benizi Church, the Catholic community in Jonesboro where the family will become parishioners.
Tonya Roque did not grow up in a Christian family, but said she has attended all types of Christian services during her life. But when she first started seeking more information about the Catholic Church, she felt confirmed that she was heading in the right direction.
“There is a difference when you walk into a Catholic church,” she said. “Everyone is so welcoming. It felt like a family.”
Her husband’s family in Texas is Catholic and first exposed her to the faith. She remembers attending celebrations with the family during a visit at Christmas 2009. She attended Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration reflecting the nine months Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Each night was spent at a different home where reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s journey and search for shelter took place. The sense of community among the faithful was inspiring to her and she felt called to try and foster the same closeness within her own family.
‘It Was Time To Make A Change’
Her journey to the Catholic Church officially began last year when Roque and her children began attending RCIA classes at St. Philip Benizi. It has been several months of prayer, learning and discernment, which eventually led her to the Rite of Election this past Sunday. They are catechumens.
“There was a time when I knew myself that it was a time to make a change,” she said about her family life. “I wanted to show them the right way to live.”
She began calling around to different churches and eventually spoke to Mary Mauldin, director of faith formation at St. Philip Benizi.
“The first person I talked to was Mary and just talking to her over the phone about the Catholic religion, I knew that was the place I wanted to go,” she said.
Roque and her four children, Justino, 17, Leticia, 16, Lisa, 14, and Joshua, 11, all began to participate in RCIA shortly afterward. They have been learning about the richness and depth of Catholicism, which has led to family discussions about God, something for which Roque is grateful.
The same feeling of welcome that Roque experienced when she first sought information from St. Philip Benizi was echoed in the archbishop’s words at the Rite of Election.
“On the first Sunday of Lent, the church in North Georgia gathers to welcome catechumens and candidates for the Easter sacraments. We all want you to realize how joyfully we receive you,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We choose you and promise to journey with you during these few weeks before the great celebration of Easter. Christ himself has sanctified these days through his own glorious example of fidelity to the truth. We are called to do nothing less.”
'Does God Hear Me If I’m Praying?’
Through the classes at St. Philip Benizi, Roque has learned things about the Catholic faith that she never knew and now understands other aspects of the religion that she wasn’t sure about. The divine and human natures of Jesus and the place of Mary have been topics of special interest to Roque.
As her knowledge of the Catholic faith continues to grow, her prayer life has strengthened as well. Roque said she used to be unsure of how to pray or if she should even pray at all because she was not practicing any particular religion. Now when she prays, she can feel God’s presence with her.
“When I would try to sit and pray, I felt like there was a guilt. ‘Why am I praying? Does God hear me if I’m praying and I’m not going to church or trying to learn more about him?’” she would ask herself. “And now when I pray, I feel a peace like I know he is there, that he is listening to what I’m saying.”
At the Rite of Election, more than 60 parishes with candidates and catechumens preparing to join the Catholic Church were represented. The total of 1,912 new Catholics in North Georgia is slightly fewer than 2010’s historic number of 2,062, which was the largest the archdiocese has received at one time.
“The Rite of Election is the celebration of the impending growth of the Church and of the unity of all those who belong to Christ and are thus safe from the tricks of the one who works best alone, whether in garden or desert,” the archbishop said, referring to the day’s readings, which included the tempting of Eve in the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Jesus in the desert.
“Let us take great comfort in being sisters and brothers in Christ, who has victoriously banished the tempter from all those he calls his own,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Printed with permission from The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Ga.
Vatican City, Apr 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict said during Sunday's Angelus that Christ heals men and women from spiritual blindness and gives them strength to “conquer evil” though the grace of baptism.
On April 3, the Pope invited Catholics to reflect on the grace of the sacrament and emphasized that this week's “Laetare” Sunday is a time of rejoicing and celebration as Christians prepare for Easter.
Pope Benedict said that an illustration of this joy can be found in the story of the blind man healed by Jesus in today's Gospel reading from John. The blind man not only gains his physical sight but comes to believe in Christ.
All people, “due to the sin of Adam were born 'blind,' but in the baptismal font we were illuminated by the grace of Christ,” he said. “Sin wounded humanity and destined it to the darkness of death, but in Christ shines the newness of life and the goal to which we are called.”
“In Him,” the Pope said, “reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to conquer evil and do good.”
The Pope pointed out that in the Gospel reading, those within the narrative have starkly different reactions to the miracle. The blind man himself goes through a gradual “walk of faith.” He meets Jesus who heals him, considers him a prophet, and then his spiritual “eyes” are opened to see Christ as the Son of God.
However, the Pharisees do not accept the miracle as they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and the once blind man's parents are now fearful of judgment.
The Pope asked, “what attitude do we assume before Jesus?”
“Christian life,” he said, “is a continuous conformation to Christ, the image of the new man, to reach a full communion with God. The Lord Jesus is 'the light of the world,' because in Him 'shines the knowledge of the glory of God' which continues to reveal the meaning of human existence in the complex storyline of history.”
The Pope explained that the presentation of the candle during the Rite of Baptism is a sign that helps one to understand what is happening the sacrament.
“When we let our life be illuminated by the mystery of Christ, we experience the joy of being liberated from all that threatens its full fulfillment,” he said.
“In these days that prepare us for Easter, let us revive in ourselves the gift received in Baptism, that flame that sometimes risks being snuffed out.”
“Let us feed it with prayer and charity towards our neighbor. To the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, we entrust the Lenten path, so that all might find Christ, Savior of the world.”
After the Angelus prayer, the Pope remembered the sixth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. As the faithful prepare themselves for Easter, he said, they also prepare for the late-Pope's May 1 beatification, entrusting themselves ever more to his intercession.