Davenport, Iowa, Apr 16, 2011 (CNA) - In Rome in October 2002, while waiting with Catholics from around the world for a papal Mass to begin, Roy and Roberta Wilson believed they saw the Blessed Mother’s hand at work.
As the couple passed time by making knotted cord rosaries, nearby pilgrims showed interest. Members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, the Wilsons tried to teach rosary making to the Catholics, many of whom didn’t speak English.
“Amazingly, they learned the quickest of any group we’d ever taught,” Roberta said. Then, she learned why.
“A man three or four rows behind us said, ‘Praise to Our Lady of the Rosary!’ It was her feast day. So we had some help from her.”
The Wilsons believe Mary has guided them throughout the 14 years they’ve been making and donating knotted cord rosaries, which Roy said have gone to Catholics on six continents. The couple makes 1,200 to 1,300 of the devotional aids each year, and several Catholics who learned the art from the husband and wife also make and donate rosaries.
The ministry has spread further than the Wilsons imagined it would when Roy took up the craft in 1997.
That year he was on a retreat at which a fellow participant, who was often seen carrying cords, piqued his curiosity. “I had to ask, ‘What are you doing?’” The man showed Roy a rosary and asked, “Would you like to learn to make these?”
Roy, who works as a tile setter, learned. “When I got home, I had to make the rosaries; I didn’t know why. I think Our Lady was whacking me around a bit.”
As he continued crafting them, requests poured in from friends, family and fellow parishioners. Seeing he needed help fulfilling those requests, Roberta started making rosaries, too.
Since then rosaries have gone to hospitals, rest homes, mourners at funerals, residents of several foreign countries and, with the help of St. Wenceslaus’ Knights of Columbus, to U.S. troops overseas. The cord rosaries are hard to break, so they’re well suited for children and soldiers, said Roberta, a school teacher.
The most challenging request for rosaries came in 2008 from a Slovakian seminarian who met a friend of the Wilsons while in the United States. The seminarian, now Father Jan Dolny, asked for 600 rosaries for everyone who would attend his ordination Mass — just two months away. Friends and family of the Wilsons ended up helping the couple make 850 rosaries — while praying for each future recipient.
The agnostic boyfriend of one such recipient later went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Roberta said. “He was overwhelmed by the idea that someone in a different country was praying for him.”
Brother Erik Ross, a Dominican friar native to Wisconsin, also was moved by gifts of rosaries that the Wilsons sent his community in Poland in 2008. Many of the rosaries went to people whom missionary priests minister to in various countries, Br. Ross e-mailed the Wilsons. “Your generosity, and the generosity of your whole network of rosary-makers, is just astonishing… you are an example and witness to all of us,” he wrote.
Hearing such examples of how rosaries and prayers have touched people keeps the Wilsons going, Roberta said.
Roy agreed. “Realizing I can help promote the faith and bring people closer to God is my reward.”
Monica Hemingway feels similar benefits. She said that after taking a rosary-making class from the Wilsons about three years ago as she prepared for confirmation, she fell in love with the craft. “I like knowing my handiwork will be used by other people and they’ll be able to enjoy it,” said the 16-year-old member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. She has helped the Wilsons with rosary-making workshops at the Davenport Diocese’s youth rallies and given rosaries to family members, dinner guests and others. “It makes me feel closer to God and other people.”
At Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, the rosary ministry has snowballed since the Wilsons taught a class there a couple years ago at parishioner Jennifer Hildebrand’s invitation, she said. Prayer partners for Catholics preparing for first Communion or confirmation pray with the knotted cord rosaries, then give the devotional aids to the parishioners when they receive the sacraments. Hildebrand estimates about 300 rosaries also have gone to residents of Grand Bois, Haiti, home to Our Lady of the River’s “sister parish” and where LeClaire parishioners have made mission trips.
For St. Wenceslaus parishioner Jan Dostal, knotted cord rosaries offer a way to reach out to an ill or injured Catholic. She takes them and Communion to patients at University of Iowa Hospitals. Lapsed Catholics there decline the Eucharist but seem happy to receive a rosary, she said.
She and her husband, Bill, have made the rosaries for at least a decade since taking a class from Roy. “As much as we try to pay him for his cord, he absolutely refuses,” Bill said. “He and Roberta are just so devoted to this. It‘s a wonderful cause.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Messenger, newspaper for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.
Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2011 (CNA) - A federal court has rejected of a lawsuit that sought to remove President Barack Obama’s right to proclaim the National Day of Prayer.
Kevin Theriot, senior counsel at the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund legal group, praised the decision.
“Public officials should be able to participate in public prayer activities just as America’s founders did.”
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation lacked standing to sue.
“Plaintiffs have not altered their conduct one whit or incurred any cost in time or money. All they have is disagreement with the President’s action,” the court said in an opinion by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook. “A feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.”
The proclamation is a request, not a demand, and citizens are not obliged to pray “any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all citizens to support the Red Cross or other charities,” Judge Easterbrook said.
The court returned the case to district court with instructions to dismiss the lawsuit.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that the decision was “part of an ominous trend in the federal courts to deny Americans the right to challenge church-state violations.” His group filed a brief in support of the case.
The Alliance Defense Fund’s Theriot defended the decision, saying:
“The 7th Circuit has clearly understood that the Freedom From Religion Foundation simply had no legal standing to attack the federal statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer simply because the group is offended by religion.”
The 7th Circuit panel’s opinion cited President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which mentions God seven times and prayer three times. The address is chiseled in stone at the Lincoln Memorial, Judge Easterbrook noted.
“An argument that the prominence of these words injures every citizen, and that the Judicial Branch could order them to be blotted out, would be dismissed as preposterous,” the decision said.
In April 2010 U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had ruled that the day of prayer was unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. She said the government cannot enact laws supporting a day of prayer any more than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.
President Harry Truman in 1952 signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1998, specifying that the event should take place on the first Thursday in May each year.
Historically, all 50 governors and U.S. presidents have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
Rome, Italy, Apr 16, 2011 (CNA) - A renowned Catholic composer says he fully agrees with the critique of modern Church music mounted by Grammy Award winner Joseph Cullen.
Cullen, the choral director of the London Symphony Orchestra, told the English Catholic publication The Tablet that since the 1960s there’s been a “glaring lack of sympathy” for “worthy sacred music.”
Now the composer James MacMillan has told CNA that Cullen is spot on. “The Church should not ignore this timely and expert insight into the crisis in our liturgy. We have ignored our music and our musicians for too long,” he remarked.
MacMillan is currently in Minneapolis, Minn. for the premiere of his third piano concerto, “The Mysteries of Light,” which is inspired by Pope John Paul II’s Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. In 2004, Queen Elizabeth bestowed MacMillan with the title of Commander of the British Empire for his musical contributions. Last year he also composed much of the liturgical music for the Papal Visit to the U.K.
In MacMillan’s view, many “faithful sons and daughters of the Church who have great musical skills” are being ignored. “It is a shame that they are being peripheralized at the expense of an increasingly mocked, dumbed down and aesthetically inappropriate utilitarianism in liturgical musical thinking.
“There will be those who accuse Joseph Cullen of elitism, but they will be wrong,” he said.
Most controversially, Cullen also accused diocesan musical directors of frequently indulging in practices that “would be regarded as corrupt in any other field” by commissioning and promoting their own work.
It’s an accusation that the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales seems to reject. Martin Foster of their Liturgy Office told CNA, “To be honest I am unclear what Joseph Cullen might be referring to as I presume he has particular instances in mind. In England and Wales there has not been a separate Church Music Committee since about 2002 – its role has been part of the Liturgy Committee. I am trying to think of any projects that might be open to his accusation but none come to mind.”
Cullen is now calling for a greater adherence to the Church’s documents on sacred music and increased training for parishes by those schooled in the choral traditions of the Church.