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Archive of June 2, 2012

Catholic history buff inspires leadership

Galena, Ill., Jun 2, 2012 (CNA) - Within these walls came a turning point” for Ulysses S. Grant, says James Wirth, owner of the 18th president’s first home in Galena.

Most people are familiar with Grant’s second home, which is an Illinois historic site. On Aug. 18, 1865, Galena, Ill. celebrated the return of its Civil War hero with a jubilant procession, much flag-waving and many speeches. That day, a group of Galena citizens presented the general with a handsome, furnished house on Bouthillier Street.

Wirth’s more modest home was the one Grant left to return to military service. Wirth has given tours of the home to visitors, including troops of Boy Scouts, as he works to keep the home authentic and make more tours possible.

“I (told the Scouts), ‘If Grant had decided to stay in this home, only his descendants would have known his name,’” Wirth says. “Without his leadership, would there (now) be a United States? Under Grant’s leadership, we ended up with peace, unity and a country no longer with slavery.”

In 1861, after a month of volunteer service as a civilian to prepare Illinois troops for Civil War battle, Grant returned to his Galena home.

“But during six days in these walls, it comes to him that that is not what he is (called) to do,” Wirth says.

Quoting from a letter Grant wrote to his father, Wirth says he believes that Grant was inspired “from up above” to rejoin the U.S. Army when the Civil War began. In 1854, Grant had left his army career to return to his beloved wife and children.

But in 1861, he put service to our nation ahead of everything, Wirth says, including ahead of a partnership in the family business.

“Grant is a hero,” because, Wirth says, “he gave up this home and happy family life to go off to the battlefield. He placed himself to be of service. Think of how much good can come if we (also offer ourselves) to be of service. We need to take time to discern what (our) service is, and what would be best, and what God wants.”

Wirth also has lived those same convictions. His love for history and ability to make historic stories come alive stem from his childhood years in a California neighborhood filled with elderly neighbors who told him numerous stories of what life was like when they were young. “In grade school,” he says, “I’d read the history textbook like (it was) a novel — What happens next?”

After years of work in business and volunteer service with preservation projects out West, Wirth came to the Chicago area in service to his extended family, to settle his aunt's estate. Unanticipated complications turned his planned few months of service into years of all-consuming work that eventually brought him to Galena to clear out her second home. While showing an out-of-town helper around town, Wirth noticed a “For Sale” sign at the Grant home.

He recalls that he felt “compelled” to act immediately. “I implored the Blessed Mother,” he says, telling her that he would do his best “to try to (do) something good for families and young people” with the Grant home.

“I was the person who got the chance to buy this,” Wirth says, explaining that he later learned that offers had come in from near and far. “It seemed someone was helping me,” he adds, because he paid the “reasonable” asking price and “never could have outbid anyone.”

Since then, establishing the non-profit Foundation for U.S. Grant’s Legacy has been a “long, uphill process,” he says, with each step bringing unanticipated challenges. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, balked at providing a Federal Tax ID number, one of the requirements to establish 501(c)(3) status.

“Ultimately there was a whole series of questions from the IRS — it seemed to them (that) what was here couldn’t be the reality,” Wirth says, naming other people who have had trouble believing that the home wasn’t made a National Landmark long ago. “Some have said to me that it would not only qualify as a National Landmark, but if the Park Service had resources, they thought it would be made one of America’s National Park (sites). No place seems to have any means to assist that.

“It is rather strange. This is the counterpart to Robert E. Lee’s Arlington, Va., home. Each made a monumental decision (in their respective homes) – (Lee) to leave the U.S. Army and (Grant) to join it … It would seem there would be at least a similar designation” for Grant’s home.
“The IRS finally gave approval on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows,” Wirth, a lifelong Catholic, says. “I’ve put this in her hands.”

He credits the Blessed Mother with inspiring other assistance that has come, including a new roof and other funds and volunteers along the way.

“(It is) out of the generosity of their hearts that I’ve been able to maintain things as long as I have,” he says, admitting he is now at a crisis point, having exhausted his personal funds and working without an income for the six years he has owned the home.

He still faces fees for required professional services from architects and engineers, as well as numerous other expenses — for things such as a special use permit and a traffic study — necessary to get the home ready and open for tourists. Other expenses can’t be avoided, he says regretfully. “I have to keep the heat on or the plaster would crack.”

“I don’t think anybody will be disappointed with Grant’s home,” Wirth says.

First Lady Julia Grant’s memoirs “are a detailed account of the family life when they were here. When you are here, you get an intimate, personal look into the life of Grant … these are the very same rooms, same floors … you are beholding the same settings. People have a chance to get to know a person of national significance in ways (they’ve) never seen him before.”

“The kids applauded and applauded,” Wirth says of one tour that he provided to Boy Scouts and their leaders. “I have prayed that if God wills it, that I can help bring this reality (of the personal side of President Grant) to people. All of us have some opportunity to be of service, sometimes in humble ways, but always important in God’s sight.

“I hope (this house) will not only be an opportunity (for visitors) to learn about history, but also how much good that they themselves can bring about with that attitude of service."

Posted with permission from The Observer, official newspaper for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill.

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Denver missionaries' weekend event brings love to homeless youth

Denver, Colo., Jun 2, 2012 (CNA) - Dozens of homeless young people in Denver are receiving food, clothing, and other essentials through "48 Hours," a new initiative being launched by the Catholic group Christ in the City.

“Christ in the City’s goal for the 48 Hours Event is to build on our relationships with the homeless youth in order to promote their God-given dignity,” said Hollyn Ernstmann, who has spent the past year participating in the volunteer program that combines service with spiritual and intellectual formation.

Organizers expect to serve 50 homeless youth during the June 1-3 event. Hosted at Central Presbyterian Church and the local YMCA, it has been undertaken in partnership with the Denver Homeless Ministry and Stand Up for Kids.

Christ in the City's Homeless Taskforce Director Adam Ureneck told CNA that it had “truly been a blessing” to collaborate with other groups working to “offer a comprehensive array of resources and care” to young people in need.

As the YMCA opens its doors for recreation and showers, the Catholic missionaries will offer supplies and food donated by residents of the Denver archdiocese. Program director Yvonne Noggle said the event comes at a critical time, as the city prepares to implement a ban on urban camping.

Local shelters are reporting unusually high occupancy, as the new ban goes into effect. In a May 30 Denver Post editorial, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock argued that the controversial ordinance will help “connect those in need with vital human services.”

During this time of transition, Noggle said, Christ in the City's weekend event “allows the youth to get off the street, and find resources for permanent housing while being loved and doted on by our missionaries.”

Ureneck said the initiative was part of the group's mission to help homeless teens realize their potential, calling them to a “new future” and “a dignified life” that rises “to the stature of Christ.”

Formed in response to Blessed John Paul II's call for a “New Evangelization” of Western culture, Christ in the City is completing its first year of service in July.

In August, the program will begin training a new group of college-age Catholic missionaries for service in the Denver archdiocese.

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HHS mandate 'ominous' threat to religious liberty, priest says

Washington D.C., Jun 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the battle to defend religious freedom continues, a Capitol Hill priest said the contraception mandate should be a cause for concern for all Americans.

“The trend set by the current administration has ominous overtones which recent history shows should be taken very seriously from the beginning – before further liberties are taken away,” Fr. Gonzales told CNA June 1.  

In his native Cuba, Fr. Gonzales said that Catholics faced similar restrictions before the start of an all-out persecution.

“In 1960 after the takeover of Fidel Castro in Cuba,” Fr. Gonzales said, “the Catholic Church began to feel the sting of anti-Catholic policies which reduced the right to religious freedom to the freedom to worship in private temples.”

Fr. Gonzales said the rhetoric behind such persecutions is similar to that which is found in the federal contraception mandate.

“This smacks of the present language used by the current administration that seeks to redefine religious freedom to the freedom to worship,” as in private houses of worship.

His comments come the same day as the U.S. release of the epic war drama “For Greater Glory” which charts the history of Mexico's Cristero War that was sparked by anti-Catholic legislation passed at the hands of President Elias Calles.

The highly anticipated film has already prompted much praise from clergy and laity alike as an example of the courage that is necessary to defend one's faith in the face of religious persecution. Some have also called it highly relevant in light of the battle over the contraception mandate.

Drawing attention to the timely message of the sacrifices necessary for religious liberty, the Knights of Columbus featured a spread of the film in their May issue of “Columbia” magazine.

But the cover, which featured an image of actor Andy Garcia as Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde – the leader of the Cristiada martyrs – with the phrase, “Freedom is Our Lives” in bold red, has already received sharp criticism from opponents.

In his recent post for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Steve Schneck called such rhetoric both “scandalous” and “dangerous” while accusing Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus of attempting to incite escalation in “America's highly partisan culture war.”

However, Fr. Gonzales said that rather than downplay the threats posed by the federal government, the Catholic Church has a “moral obligation to be a sentinel in this area and earned the right to be hyper-sensitive to this trend.” This is due to the fact that the Church has “recorded the largest number of martyrs in the 20th century, more than all the previous centuries combined.”

In order to protect religious freedom, Fr. Gonzales said Catholics need to actively participate in the upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom” and follow guidelines on the issue laid out but the U.S. bishops conference.

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