Archive of November 18, 2012

Feast of St. Columbanus, Irish monk and 'Father of Europe,' falls on Nov. 23

Denver, Colo., Nov 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An originator of Ireland's unique monastic tradition, who went on to serve as a missionary to continental Europe during the early Middle Ages, the abbot Saint Columbanus – also known as St. Columban – is honored by the Catholic Church on Nov. 23.

Despite their similar names and biographies, St. Columbanus is not the same person as Saint Columba of Iona, another monk from Ireland who spread the faith abroad and lived during the same time period.

In a June 2008 general audience on St. Columbanus, Pope Benedict XVI said he was “a man of great culture” who also “proved rich in gifts of grace.” The Pope recalled him as “a tireless builder of monasteries as well as an intransigent penitential preacher who spent every ounce of his energy on nurturing the Christian roots of Europe which was coming into existence.”

“With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and neighbor,” St. Columbanus “truly became one of the Fathers of Europe.” According to Pope Benedict, the course of the Irish monk's life “shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn.”

Born during 543 in the southeastern Irish region of Leinster, Columbanus was well-educated from his early years. Handsome in appearance, he was tempted by women and was eventually advised by a nun to follow her example and flee from temptation by embracing monasticism. His mother disapproved of this intention, but his will prevailed even when she tried to prevent him from leaving home.

The aspiring monk studied initially with Abbot Sinell of Cluaninis, before moving on to a monastery headed by the abbot later canonized as Saint Comgall. It was under his direction, in the Abbey of Bangor in County Down, that Columbanus formally embraced the monastic calling, as one of a growing number of monks drawn to the Bangor community's ascetic rigor and intellectual vitality.  

Though Columbanus was known as a dedicated monk and scholar, around the year 583 he felt called to undertake foreign missionary work. Initially denied permission by the abbot, he was eventually allowed to depart with a band of twelve men, with whom he sailed to Britain before reaching France around 585. There, they found the Church suffering from barbarian invasions and internal corruption.

Received with favor by King Gontram of Burgundy, Columbanus and his companions founded a monastery in an abandoned Roman fortress. Despite its remote location in the mountains, the community became a popular pilgrimage site, and also attracted so many monastic vocations that two new monasteries had to be formed to accommodate them.

These monastic communities remained under Columbanus' authority, and their rules of life reflected the Irish tradition in which he had been formed. Meanwhile, as they expanded, the abbot himself sought greater solitude, spending periods of time in a hermitage and communicating with the monks through an intermediary.

As heirs to the Irish monastic tradition, Columbanus and his monks ran into differences with the bishops in France, partly over the calculation of the date of Easter. He also met with opposition from within the French royal family, because of his insistence that King Thierry should not live with a woman outside of wedlock. He had been urged to do so by his grandmother Queen Brunehild, who thought a royal marriage would threaten her own power.

Columbanus' moral stand for marriage led first to his imprisonment, from which he escaped. But the king and his grandmother had him driven out of France by force, and they separated him from his monks by insisting that only those from Ireland could accompany him into exile. This group traveled and evangelized in present-day Germany, though political circumstances eventually forced them to cross the Alps into northern Italy.

Welcomed by the ruling Lombards, Columbanus nonetheless found the Italian Church troubled by heresy and schism. The monk wrote against the Arian heresy (which claimed that Christ was not God but only a highly exalted creature), and asked Pope Saint Boniface IV to help restore the unity of the Church in the region. Columbanus himself was involved in a theological dispute with Pope Boniface, but he remained “bound to the Chair of Peter” and acknowledged the Pope's authority.

Having received a grant of land from the Lombard king, Columbanus founded his last monastery in the town of Bobbio during 614. Although St. Columbanus died on Nov. 23 of the following year, the abbey at Bobbio remained a center of theological orthodoxy and cultural preservation for centuries afterward.

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Franciscan Outreach provides shelter to Chicago’s homeless 365 days a year

Chicago, Ill., Nov 18, 2012 (CNA) - In mid-October, Teresa Widman did not know where she was going to sleep, or what she was going to eat. Her diabetes was out of control, and her blood sugar was sky high.

Things looked bleak, and she didn’t see how they would get any better.

Homeless since 2008, she had stayed in shelters in Chicago and other cities before finding her way to the House of Mary and Joseph, a homeless shelter on West Harrison Street operated by Franciscan Outreach. There, she can get dinner in the evening, breakfast in the morning and a bed in between.

Since she can sign up to come back when she leaves in the morning, she has a plastic bin to leave clothing and other possessions in during the day. And with the case management help of Darlene Bell, she has been able to see a doctor, get insulin to regulate her blood sugar and make a plan for dealing with her other health issues.

“I love it to death here,” she said. “Everybody’s friendly. They’ve already really helped me. I’ve been in a lot of homeless shelters, and I can tell this is a good place.”

Now Bell is talking about the next step for Widman: maybe getting her into Franciscan Outreach’s interim housing program, where she wouldn’t have to sign up every day for a bed and would be able to stay in the shelter during the day, doing volunteer work and preparing herself to be successful with a job; or maybe going back to Texas, where she has family.

“One thing I know I want,” Widman said in an interview in Bell’s office. “I want a key of my own, to my own place.”

Franciscan Outreach has been offering direct services to poor people since Franciscan Father Philip Marquard established it in 1963, said Diana Faust, the current executive director. He thought it would be an outlet for secular Franciscans — lay men and women like Faust — to offer service.

The non-profit organization maintains many Franciscan ties, including offering case management services out of St. Peter’s in the Loop and having several Franciscan volunteers, but it welcomes help from anybody, and is open to serving all.

When it was founded its main service was a halfway house for men coming out of prison; now it has the House of Mary and Joseph, a shelter that offers 209 beds for men and 37 beds for women 365 nights a year; a soup kitchen, shower and laundry and the Marquard Center; and case management services that have helped nearly 500 people find permanent housing since 2007, according to case management coordinator Nick Benedetto.

The most recent addition is a new shelter for 65 men that the city of Chicago asked Franciscan Outreach to take over last summer when the previous operator was unable to maintain services. That shelter is paid for by the city, Faust said.

Case managers meet thousands of clients a year, helping them set goals and figure out how to meet them once they are ready — which is usually after they have spent some time connected with the agency, with a bed to sleep in or a regular source of food.

“If you are hungry,” Faust said, “you don’t care about tomorrow. You care about today.”

One thing that makes it unique, Faust said, is its commitment to the gritty work of providing food and shelter on a daily basis to people who otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere to turn.

Other nonprofits have turned more toward transitional housing, for people who are ready to make the leap to permanent housing, because there is more funding available for that, she said. Franciscan Outreach stands ready to take people as they are, even if they aren’t ready to take that kind of a step toward stability, and even if they sometimes make mistakes and wander off the path. The only time people are barred from returning is if they have harmed or threatened someone else.

“We’re not judging them, no matter where they are,” Faust said. “St. Francis accepted people where they were, because everyone is a child of God. These are people with hopes and dreams and goals.”

While it is not a religious organization per se, Faust said, it has two slots for Franciscan friars on its board, and money dropped in the “poor box” at St. Peter’s in the Loop funds Franciscan Outreach’s efforts.

The shelters, she said, are actually busier in the summer, because so many other shelters shut their doors in the warm-weather months. But even if it’s not cold, Faust said, “It’s not safe to sleep under a bridge. It’s not safe to sleep in an abandoned building. There are a lot of people out there who are there to rob and hurt others. People come to the shelter for safety.”

While there, they can also get access to clothing if they need it, showers with toiletries provided, even medical care from staff at Rush Presbyterian Hospital, which has provided volunteer doctors and other staff for a clinic one night a week for 20 years.

Franciscan Outreach operates with a shoestring paid staff and the help of 12 full-time volunteers, who commit a year to the project and live at the Marquard Center, and 2,500 part-time volunteers.

But the work is never easy or well-funded. Faust and the other staff are trying to raise more money this year, putting them in some ways in the same position their clients are, begging for money. This year, she said, the shelter will need to raise about $300,000 more than the $1.8 million that came in last year.

“We’re on the edge,” Faust acknowledged, “just like a lot of them are.”

Shelter client Carroll Holloway stopped for an interview on Nov. 1, the day she was to move into a new apartment. It was the first place she could call home since being evicted from an Edgewater condo in March.

With turquoise nail polish and a jaunty leather cap on long, curly hair — with an upbeat, bubbly attitude to match — many wouldn’t guess how she has struggled.

She was homeless years ago, and Franciscan Outreach helped her then. When she moved into her last apartment, Catholic Charities helped find her a bed. When she got evicted — she believes illegally — she was right back where she started.

For six months, she put her possessions in a shopping cart and spent nights in various hospital waiting rooms or anywhere else she could find that felt safe. When her Social Security check came, she would splurge for a night or two at a hotel — “I wanted that luxury,” she said — but soon would be back on the street.

Someone reminded her of how Franciscan Outreach helped before, and she returned. She was able to save up some money and get some help finding a place to live. She can’t work — she gets disability payments from Social Security — but she plans to resume volunteer work as soon as she can. She also plans to keep in touch with Bell and others at Franciscan Outreach, to help her keep setting goals and taking the steps she needs to meet them.

The worst part about being homeless, she said, is the rainy days.

“Rainy days are bad for us,” she said, momentarily downcast. “You’re standing outside, and you’re soaking wet, and you can’t go home. What do you do?” Bell reminded her that she was going home that day, and she smiled again.

Posted with permission from Catholic New World, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Hurricane Sandy efforts move from relief to recovery

Camden, N.J., Nov 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dioceses in the mid-Atlantic are starting to move their Hurricane Sandy relief efforts to a focus on recovery, 18 days after the storm first touched American soil.

“This weekend, we're going to make the pivot from relief to recovery...relief is a shorter term proposition,” said Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities of Camden.

“Its length really depends on the scale of any given disaster...recovery is, first of all, long term.”

In a Nov. 16 interview with CNA, he said relief efforts in Camden, N.J. involved the setting up of “two disaster distribution points to handle relief supplies, to get them out and into communities as fast as possible.” Those relief distribution points will be closed on Sunday, Nov. 18.

Efforts now turn to long-term recovery, which Hickey said will be “at least a six month process,” though he had heard a disaster specialist saying that for the state of New Jersey in general, it could last as long as 24 months.

“Our own recovery operations will be long term case management. We're structuring our response...which would include things like rental assistance, security deposits, helping people clean up their homes, replacing furniture and bedding.”

Catholic Charities of Camden has a “preferential option to serve poor and vulnerable people,” and those in need will be assisted with replacing their goods.

While “it's hard to predict the exact range of needs that will be presented to us,” Hickey said he anticipates a particular need to purchase refrigerators and bus passes.

While the relief distribution sites in Camden are being closed, a donation distribution site in the disaster zone itself, on the coast, is being kept open, and Catholic Charities of Camden will be expanding their storage capability in the disaster zones.

Hickey noted gratefully that the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, had recently contributed $2500 to the Camden diocese's recovery operations, and he had heard that similar contributions were being made to all 12 affected American dioceses.

Patti Phillips, development director at Catholic Charities West Virginia, echoed the move from relief to recovery.

“We know that as the immediate needs are met, long term recovery and repair to homes will be significant,” she told CNA Nov. 16.

Catholic Charities West Virginia will “begin to assess the damage and start working to make those repairs,” as they've seen “roofs collapsed, power outages causing damage to appliances and so forth.”

Phillips said that the recovery process “can take up to six to eight months,” and is exasperated this year because of the multiple storms which have pummeled West Virginia. Heavy storms in the spring caused power problems and storm damage to homes, and another storm hit in the summer.

“Many of those repairs were in process when the snow from Sandy fell; some of the homes were still tarped and beginning those repairs, trying to get them done before the winter.”

West Virginia has distribution centers for food and supplies throughout the state, and Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston has asked all his parishes to take up a second collection the weekend of Nov. 18.

Kim Burgo, senior director of disaster operations at Catholic Charities USA, told CNA/EWTN News Nov. 15 that there has been an outpouring of generosity to help people “begin the recovery process.”

Both supplies and crisis counseling are being offered, and she reported that displaced persons will be placed in a disaster case management process to help them in their long term needs.

The Knights of Columbus announced Nov. 15 that their donations to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in the United States have totaled more than $500,000.

“Charity is the first principle of the Knights of Columbus,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, “and in a disaster such as this, we are grateful to the many people who have made donations in support of our relief efforts and are pleased to be able to directly aid those most in need.”

And in the Caribbean, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas America Latina y el Caribe have been responding to Hurricane Sandy's effects in Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.

According a Nov. 6 press release from Caritas, some 85 percent of housing in Santiago de Cuba has suffered some damage, and many people have been displaced from their homes.

“In light of this situation, the response of Caritas Cuba has been to concentrate on basic necessities like food and water which remain priorities to this day. Also, Caritas Cuba has distributed to affected persons articles of personal hygiene and household needs.”

Caritas Cuba is focusing on the most needy families, in particular single mothers of young children and elderly people without children to help them.

“We are only able to do a little bit,” said Maritza Sanchez, director of Caritas Cuba. “But that little thing, alleviates some of the anguish and uplifts the hope of persons and families who are going through such difficult times.”

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Jesus Christ is constant in transient world, Pope says

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his Sunday Angelus remarks at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Sunday gospel reading about the passing of the world is a reminder that Jesus Christ is the focus and source of all creation.

“Everything passes, but the Word of God does not change, and each of us is responsible for his behavior before it,” Pope Benedict said Nov. 18, from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. “It is upon this that we shall be judged.”

Jesus does not act as a visionary who gives forecasts and dates, the Pope explained. Rather, he wants to show his disciples “the right path to walk on, today and tomorrow, to enter into eternal life.”

The Pope emphasized the centrality of Jesus in his comments to English-speaking pilgrims.

“Jesus tells us that although heaven and earth will pass away, His words will remain,” he said. “Let us pledge ourselves to build our lives more and more on the solid foundation of His holy word, the true source of life and joy.”

The Pope focused his remarks on the Sunday gospel reading from St. Mark, a passage he said is “probably the most difficult text of the Gospels.”

The reading “speaks of a future beyond our categories” and uses images and words taken from the Old Testament.

But above all, the Pope said, the reading “integrates a new center:” Jesus Christ himself and “the mystery of his person, and of his death and resurrection.”

The Word of God is “the source of all creation” and its creative power is “focused in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.”

Jesus’ words are the “true firmament” that directs the thoughts and the path of mankind.

Even though Jesus uses the apocalyptic images of a darkened sun and moon, falling stars and the shaking of the heavens, these images are set against the backdrop of his statement that the Son of Man, Jesus himself, is coming “with power and great glory.”

“He is the true event that, in the midst of the turmoil of the world, remains the firm and stable center,” Pope Benedict said.

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