Denver, Colo., Jan 8, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Jan. 12, Roman Catholics remember Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, who not only founded a religious congregation, but was also instrumental in establishing the Canadian city of Montreal.
Marguerite Bourgeoys was born on Good Friday of 1620, during a period of both colonial expansion and religious strife for Europe. She was the sixth of twelve children born into the middle-class household of Abraham Bourgeoys, a merchant, and Guillemette Gamier, in the northeastern province of Champagne in France.
By her own account, Marguerite had been “very light-hearted and well-liked by the other girls” while growing up. Her turn toward God's calling began in 1640, not long after her mother's death. On Oct. 7 of that year, during a procession honoring Our Lady of the Rosary, Marguerite had a mystical experience involving a statue of the Virgin Mary at Notre-Dame Abbey.
“We passed again in front of the portal of Notre-Dame, where there was a stone image above the door,” Marguerite later recounted. “When I looked up and saw it I thought it was very beautiful, and at the same time I found myself so touched and so changed that I no longer knew myself, and on my return to the house everybody noticed the change.”
In later life, Marguerite would live out a profound imitation of the Virgin Mary – who was, as she noted, “not cloistered,” but “everywhere preserved an internal solitude” and “never refused to be where charity or necessity required help.” During the 17th century, it was unusual for consecrated women to have an active apostolate outside the cloister as Marguerite would go on to do.
From 1640 to 1652, she belonged to the non-cloistered “external” branch of the Congregation of Notre-Dame at Troyes, consisting of women trained as teachers in association with the order. She also sought admission to several religious orders, including the Carmelites, but was rejected. Being turned down, the teacher from Troyes was free to volunteer for a 1653 voyage to the Canadian colony of Quebec.
Life in the colony was physically very difficult. When Marguerite arrived, she found that children were not likely to survive to an age suitable for attending school. Nevertheless, she began to work with the nurse in charge of Montreal’s hospital, and eventually established her first school in a stable in 1658.
She traveled back to France that year, and returned to Montreal with three more teachers and an assistant. Because of their association with the original French Congregation of Notre-Dame, these women were called the the “Daughters of the Congregation.”
They would eventually become a religious order in their own right: the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Montreal, whose sisters sacrificed comfort and security to teach religion and other subjects to the children of the territory then known as “New France.” They would live in poverty and travel wherever they were needed, offering education and performing the works of mercy.
The founding of the order involved two further trips to France in 1670 and 1680. During the first, Marguerite's project received approval under civil law from King Louis XIV. The church hierarchy, however, showed reluctance toward a women's order with no cloistered nuns. Their rule of life would not receive final approval until 1698, though the Bishop of Quebec had authorized their work in 1676.
Meanwhile, Marguerite and her companions persisted in their mission of teaching and charity. This work proved so integral to life in Quebec, that Marguerite became known as the “Mother of the Colony.”
Though the teaching sisters often lived in huts and suffered other hardships, the order grew. They did not dedicate themselves solely to teaching children, but also set up schools where they taught new immigrants how to survive in their surroundings. As the order expanded, Marguerite passed leadership on to one of the sisters.
During the last two years of her life, the foundress – known by then as Sister Marguerite of the Blessed Sacrament – retired to pray in solitude. On the last day of 1699, after a young member of the community became sick, Sister Marguerite prayed to God to suffer in her place. The young woman recovered, while the aged foundress suffered for twelve days and died Jan. 12, 1700.
Blessed Pope John Paul II canonized St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1982, as the first woman saint of the Catholic Church in Canada.
Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 8, 2012 (CNA) - At least 225 people started lining up at 7:30 a.m. for the second-annual Coats-4-Kids for a noon distribution at the Saint Vincent de Paul dining hall Dec. 17. A few were turned away when the coats ran out.
"We gave away 200 coats and the hardest part is running out and turning people away," said Andy Airriess, Knights of Columbus State program director.
The Knights of Columbus also distributed 200 coats to children in need at Catholic Community Services’ Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank in Ogden, Utah Dec. 17. Knights councils also gave away about 200 coats across the state in Park City and Heber City the same day.
The Knights of Columbus approached Catholic Community Services of Utah last year because their organization had begun distributing new coats across the nation to children living in poverty in cold-weather cities.
"The Knights wanted to start the program in Utah, so in 2010 they distributed 300 coats to children at St. Vincent dining hall," said Lauren McCarty, public relations and marketing representative at Catholic Community Services. "That was a central location for all the kids in need, but it was not practical."
Catholic Community Services of Utah was happy to partner with the Knights of Columbus again this year because there is so much need locally, said McCarty. "The coats were given away on a first-come, first-served basis and the children had to be present with a parent to receive a coat. CCS programs identified the families or single parents with children who were in need and let them know about the distribution date. Unfortunately, the number of families with children keeps increasing."
Dennis Kelsch, Catholic Community Services of Utah Basic Needs Services director, agreed there are more families with children in need this year. "In recent months, CCS has been serving meals each day in our dining hall to an additional 200 to 300 individuals and families with children," he said. "Receiving a new coat is such a wonderful gift to our families whose children rarely get new items."
The Knights of Columbus realize that many families are struggling to make ends meet, said Airriess. "We wanted to donate the coats so these children in need could make it through the winter in Utah, as well as take the burden off their parents."
Knight of Columbus councils across the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah held fundraisers to collect coats in sizes 2-18 to be given away as holiday gifts.
"The response from the Knights to participate in Coats-4-Kids was amazing," said Ray Lopez, State Deputy for the Knights of Columbus of Utah. "Receiving a coat can make such a difference in the lives of these children. We see them coming for a coat in their pajamas, wrapped in a blanket to stay warm or wearing thin hoodies and it is disheartening. Then they walk out with a coat and the expression on their faces changes to one of happiness."
"The look on the children’s faces as well as the parent’s faces is priceless because they are so appreciative," said Airriess. "This could be the first new piece of clothing they have ever received and the feeling is fantastic."
Coats-4-Kids was initiated by the Supreme Council in New Haven, Conn., three years ago for children in need in the United States and Canada, said Airriess. "The Supreme Council buys the coats and last year gave away about 40,000 coats. We buy the coats from our Supreme Council. This year the need doubled. Coats will also be given away at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Kearns and at the Cathedral of the Madeleine at a later date."
Printed with permission from Intermountain Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 8, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia encouraged the people of his archdiocese to allow their hearts to burn with love for Christ as they work to renew the Church in the coming year.
“Building or rebuilding anything of value always takes effort,” he said in a Jan. 5 online column.
The archbishop's remarks will become a weekly feature on the site Catholicphilly.com, which he said will allow him to discuss “the life we share as a Church in a more direct, immediate way.”
Archbishop Chaput said that the greatest challenge faced by the archdiocese in 2012 will not be legal or financial, but pastoral.
Noting that the Catholic faith should never be a mere habit, he warned against spiritual problems such as a lukewarm faith that is void of zeal and a desire to fit in and live comfortably.
These “shadows” affect everyone, he said, and they can draw us away from Christ.
The archbishop asked the people of Philadelphia to renew their love for Christ as they seek to address the challenges of the new year.
Among the difficulties faced by the archdiocese is the need to restructure the education system in order to provide greater strength and stability.
After a year of examining Catholic education in Philadelphia – a process that was begun under the archbishop’s predecessor, Cardinal Justin F. Rigali – a Blue Ribbon Commission report was released on Jan. 6 indicating that more than 40 schools in the archdiocese cannot be financially sustained and will likely need to be closed or merged.
Archbishop Chaput said that “a careful pruning of our educational system” is necessary to build “the foundation for a new and stronger future for Catholic education in the Archdiocese.”
He called on the archdiocese to recover the spirit of Bishop John Neumann, an early bishop of Philadelphia, who “was famously frugal with himself, and famously generous in his love for others.”
Bishop Neumann, who is known as one of the founders of Catholic education in the U.S., saw himself as a missionary first, said Archbishop Chaput.
The people of the archdiocese must have a similar approach, he explained, remembering that the proper goals of Catholic education are “the building up of the Church, the salvation of souls, the ennobling of young minds and the conversion of American culture.”
With God’s grace and hearts that are “truly on fire for Jesus Christ,” the archdiocese can overcome difficulties and help Catholic education to thrive once again, he said.
“Nothing great is ever accomplished without suffering,” the archbishop noted.
He called on the people of Philadelphia to give of their energy and devotion to restore the local Church. “She is worth every sacrifice we make to renew her.”
Vatican City, Jan 8, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used his Sunday Angelus address to remind Christians of the joy of being “children of God,” courtesy of baptism.
“God is the origin of the existence of every creature, and the Father in a unique way of every human being: he has a unique, personal relationship with him or her,” said the Pope from the window of his apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square Jan 8.
Earlier in the morning the Pope had baptized 16 newborn infants in the Sistine Chapel to mark the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
Reflecting upon that event, he observed that being a child is “the fundamental condition that binds us together,” for while “not all of us are parents,” we are all children.
“Coming into the world is never a choice; we are not asked first if we want to be born,” he said.
During life, though, we can develop an attitude toward life itself so that we “welcome it as a gift and, in a sense, ‘become’ what we already are: we become children.”
The development of this attitude marks “a maturity in our souls and our relationships with our parents, which is filled with gratitude.”
It is this attitude that makes people capable of being parents themselves “not biologically, but morally.”
In God “we are all children,” as he is “the origin of the existence of every creature,” who has a “unique, personal relationship with him or her.”
“Each of us is willed, is loved by God,” such that it is appropriate to speak of being ‘born again,” as children of God.
This happens through faith, explained the Pope, and in our “deep and personal ‘yes’ to God as the source and foundation of our existence.”
“What is the basis of this faith in God the Father?” asked the Pope. “It is based in Jesus Christ,” he answered.
“His person and history has shown us the Father, it has made Him known to us, as far as possible, in this world.” Therefore, believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, allows us to be ‘born again.’”
Quoting the words of St. John, the Pope said that “to all who received him, he gave the power to become children of God.” This is the “new birth,” that occurs in baptism “through the Holy Spirit and in the womb of the Church.”
The Pope urged Christians worldwide to give thanks to God for the “great mystery” of baptism which “is a source of regeneration for the Church and for the whole world.”
“God became the son of man, because man becomes a child of God,” and so Christians should rejoice for being “born of love of a father and a mother, and born again by God’s love through baptism.”
The Pope concluded his comments by commending all present to “the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ,” before leading the pilgrims in the praying of the Angelus.
Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Church’s Christmas season.
Vatican City, Jan 8, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI baptized 16 newborn babies during Sunday Mass within the historic surroundings of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on Jan. 8.
“We can say that this was your first educational choice as witnesses of the faith to your children: the fundamental choice,” said the Pope to the parents, godparents, families and friends.
The annual ceremony marks the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and thus, the conclusion of the Church’s Christmas celebrations. The Pope explained to those gathered that their role is now to educate their children in conjunction with God.
“Educating is very demanding; it is sometimes arduous because of our human capacities, which are always limited,” he said.
“But education becomes a wonderful mission if it is done in collaboration with God, who is the first and true educator of every man.”
To distance ourselves from God, though, is to become like the prodigal son because “we would soon find ourselves in trouble” and “above all we would lose our human dignity.”
“Fortunately for us,” he said, “we can always come back to Him,” knowing that when we do “it will bring forth good fruit in our lives, as the rain irrigates the earth.”
That is why the parents and godparents turn to “the source of salvation,” that is “the Word of God and the Sacraments.”
Parents, like priests, are not “the source” of a spiritual education but are "like the channels through which the lifeblood of the love of God must pass.” Therefore, the first and best way to educate children “is through witness.”
Pope Benedict pointed to how John the Baptist lead his disciples to Jesus in today's Gospel as a model for educating people in the faith.
“The true teacher does not bind people to him, he is not possessive,” but instead, he or she “wants the son or disciple, to learn to know the truth, and establish a personal relationship with it,” the Pope said. Therefore, while a “true teacher” will always provide an “attentive and faithful presence,” the primary goal is that “the student will listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and pursue a personal journey.”
Since parents and godparents are aided in their task of imparting the faith by the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict said it is “very important” for them to "believe strongly" in his presence and action, and to welcome and invoke Him “through prayer and the sacraments.”
For it is the Holy Spirit “who enlightens the mind, warms the heart of the educator so they know how to pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus,” the Pope explained.
When parents begin to educate their children in the faith, they must begin with prayer, because “in prayer we leave the initiative to God, we entrust our children to Him, who knows them before and better than us, and knows exactly what their true good is.”
It is also in prayer that “we are listening for God’s inspiration so we may do our part well, which still is our task and which we must achieve,” the Pope said.
He also suggested that a sacramental life is equally crucial for parents and godparents – particularly the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist – so that the task of education is carried out “in communion with Him and (they are) constantly renewed by his forgiveness.”
By remaining rooted in prayer and the sacraments, parents will know when to “keep silent and when to speak” to their children, as well as when to be tender or firm.