Arlington, Va., Dec 1, 2012 (CNA) - As his 99th birthday approaches, Missionhurst Father John Morel hardly seems as if he’s a man reaching the century mark. Sure, he sometimes struggles to remember certain dates. And he said he now feels the incline on the walk from the Missionhurst chapel in Arlington to his residence next door.
But Father Morel clearly still can recall memories from his childhood — events and dates and even who-said-what-whens. He reads the newspaper every day and watches the Missionhurst campus comings and goings from his second-floor room in the big brick priests’ residence.
Since his retirement in 2002 from being pastor of Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church in Madison, Father Morel has been living with his fellow retired Missionhurst priests on their north Arlington property. After 32 years in the Arlington Diocese, Northern Virginia has become his home even though he was born nearly 4,000 miles away.
Born in Brussels Nov. 18, 1913, Father Morel lived through two world wars, segregation, the civil rights movement, the 1960s riots in Detroit — and that was all before he moved to Virginia in 1980.
His parents, Lawrence and Alice, raised him Catholic and sent him to Catholic school. After Alice died when he was 11, his “Papa” (who lived until he was 103) remarried Marie.
While in school and influenced by the priests around and teaching him, Father Morel began to consider the priesthood, but he had some concerns — mostly that he wasn’t “good enough.”
He began to see a spiritual director who assured him: “Nobody is good enough to become a priest, but just try to do your honest best … and God will show you the way.”
Father Morel began borrowing magazines from his spiritual director, and one day picked up the one belonging to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), known as Missionhurst priests in the United States. He was transfixed by a photograph on the wall of a man “with a big heavy coat and a cap with flaps” atop a small horse. He found out that the man was his spiritual director’s best friend and a Missionhurst missionary in China.
Carrying all these things in his heart, Father Morel went to Mass and stayed after to pray.
“I didn’t do much meditation,” he said. “I would just sit there and tell Jesus that I love Him very much and to tell me please what He wants me to do with my life. One day it was so clear: ‘You go to Missionhurst.’”
“What a relief,” Father Morel said. “I don’t have to worry anymore.”
And, as an added bonus, he found out that the CICM house was right there in Brussels, only a short trolley ride away.
The life of a missionary
Father Morel entered the CICM order Sept. 7, 1933, and was ordained Aug. 6, 1939. At that point, the missionaries were very active in China, and Father Morel assumed he’d join his confreres there. But God and the Communists had other plans, and China was closed off to those doing mission work.
Instead, Father Morel spent four years as a parish priest in Brugge, Belgium, before being sent west in 1946 to the United States and St. Ignatius Church in Philadelphia. At that time, race was a big factor in the inner-city church, but Father Morel quickly realized that the only thing different between a black person and a white person truly was color. When receiving Communion, their hands and their tongues were the same as anybody else’s, he said.
“For Jesus there is no difference,” he said. “When you dealt with a black person, there was no difference. His motivation, his longings, his pains are the same.”
Still, he said, speaking on the heels of the re-election of President Barack Obama,
“I never thought that in my lifetime there would be a black president.”
After nine years in Philadelphia, Father Morel was sent in 1954 to St. Leo Church in Detroit — another challenging assignment in the time of the civil rights movement and race riots. In downtown Detroit white people moved to the suburbs and African-Americans moved to the city, he said. But no one ever touched church property. And he knew the community members appreciated the presence of the church and the school.
In 1980, Father Morel came to the Arlington Diocese. For several years he lived at Missionhurst, taking care of the order’s many aging priests. In 1989, he was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, where he stayed until his retirement in 2002.
Madison was a total change from his former urban parishes. When he arrived, the parish was primitive: no sanctuary, Mass in the basement and three liturgies with few congregants. He also was hesitant about being in a part of the country where Catholics were, by far, the minority.
“I’ll have to be very careful here and learn and watch my words and watch my doings,” he thought. But then, one after the other, the ministers and pastors from surrounding churches called to introduce themselves.
“I was very, very welcomed,” he said.
In his 13 years in Madison he built up the church, literally and figuratively. Among the Blue Ridge Mountains and unable to see any other house from his own, he embraced the outdoors.
“I am a nature man,” he said. “I always loved gardens or parks and woods and rivers.”
99 years strong
Approaching his 99th birthday this weekend, Father Morel is not quite as mobile as he used to be. When he first moved back to Missionhurst in 2002 he could walk everywhere and would regularly work in the garden. Now he uses a cane or a walker (which he calls his “Cadillac”) and tries daily to complete five laps around the property — meditating on one line of the Apostles Creed per lap.
Though Father Morel no longer does any pastoral ministry, he stays as busy as he can and he’s grateful to be where he is.
A stack of birthday cards sit on his desk, with messages from former parishioners and his Missionhurst confreres. You never realize what an impact you can have on people, he said, and he is grateful for the acknowledgments.
“I’m well taken care of,” he said. “And God blesses me with good health.”
Posted with permission from Catholic Herald, official newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Va.
Rome, Italy, Dec 1, 2012 (CNA) -
During a recent book launch in Rome, a noted theologian said that China will be home to the majority of the world's Christians within the next two decades.
“Interfaith dialogue is something that China, which will have the world's largest Christian population in 20 years, lives with every day,” said Harvey Cox during the presentation at the city's Jesuit Gregorian University.
Cox presented the book “Catholic Engagement with World Religions: A Comprehensive Study, in dialogue with its two editors” on Nov. 30 with Cardinal Karl Josef Becker, a German theologian of the Vatican's the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The editors include Ilaria Morali of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who also presented the book, and Cardinal Becker.
Cox, who teaches at the Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts, said the new book “will play an invaluable role” in determining “where we've been in the past, where we are now, and where we're headed.”
“There are two world phenomena happening right now,” he added. “The first is that we can't recognize Christianity as a western religion anymore and the second is that countries with the fastest growing number of Christians don't have a Christian culture or traditions.”
Ilaria Morali, Director of the Department of Missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, noted that the “starting point of the book was the experience we had in different contexts.”
“I've been seven times to Turkey where I met a Muslim professor and we discussed many topics concerning our religions,” Morali said.
“I told him about the need for young students to have an instrument to help them understand and deepen their theological knowledge and the Catholic theology's attitude toward non-Christian religions.”
According to her, it's fundamental that people keep their identity.
“We have to acknowledge that we have different ways of considering the Divine and we can't avoid these differences, but I believe our identity is many times the instrument necessary to enter into a deeper dialogue,” she said.
Morali reflected that interreligious dialogue is important because “it's the unique way today to overcome some tensions and to know each other.”
The book launch was part of a two-day session of talks at the Gregorian University on missiology to mark it's 80th anniversary of the faculty of missiology, the study of missionary work.
Mexico native Father Fernando Velázquez, who also attended the book presentation, told CNA he believes interreligious dialogue to be “one of the most important issues” that the Church faces today.
“Dialogue has a great future and the Church is heading it being extremely opened to it because it's not afraid,” he noted. “Prof. Cox has refreshed our minds and we need to go back to Jesus Christ's main message and what he did when he would meet someone different.”
“Jesus always met with people who were different to him,” Fr. Velázquez said, adding that fear and misunderstanding often comes from the media, “which only portrays a tiny part of what other religions are and, unfortunately, people don't inform themselves better.”
“The solution,” he emphasized, “is to meet with people of that other religion and share your faith from a personal experience.”
Corrected on Dec. 12, 2012 at 9:36 a.m. The story incorrectly described the institution and title of Prof. Ilaria Molari in the seventh paragraph. Prof. Molari the is Director of the Department of Missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
London, England, Dec 1, 2012 (CNA) -
The evangelization office of the English and Welsh bishops' conference has launched a program of daily tweets to teach the faith to Catholics throughout the countries.
“This is within the spirit of the new evangelization, using new means and methods of communication to share the Gospel,” Clare Ward, home mission adviser for the bishop's conference, told CNA Nov. 28.
“The great benefit of something like Twitter, is that it offers bite-sized pieces of information that are immediately digestible, immediately accessible, and don't pose too many demands upon people during a very busy day.”
The service, @YoFtweets, leads its followers through the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and books of Scripture.
“We think it's the first time that Twitter is being used with a specific catechetical theme in mind; it's not just random tweets, there's a catechetical scheme behind each tweet that's provided every day,” Ward said.
“They are being offered as a resource to the Christian community...to help them do precisely what the Holy Father has asked for, which is to re- read the documents of Vatican II, to re-read the Catechism and to study it, to know the scriptures and to generally know the faith.”
Ward said that to cover each day of the Year of Faith, more than 400 tweets had to be prepared by the Home Mission Desk, “which as one can imagine was a ginormous task.”
“Even though they're just bite-sized extracts, trying to put together material...that has some sense of coherency was an enormous challenge.”
Bishop Kieran T. Conry of the Arundel and Brighton diocese, and who is chair of the English bishops' department for evangelization and catechesis, stated Nov. 27 the department hopes “that by reading the material on Twitter people might be inspired to read more of the documents, the Bible and the Catechism. The Twitter initiative is, we hope, a helpful starting point for people.”
Ward added, “It's important to see the Twitter initiative as part of a bigger picture which stems from, going right back to the visit of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux to England and Wales that few would have predicted, in 2009.”
“Then again, the great joy of welcoming the Pope in 2010 and then all the legacy initiatives that come from that, and now the Year of Faith. Its really a good time, we've had so many positive national events that have gone on, its created a sense of buoyancy.”
The Pope's 2010 visit to England is what has “set the tone for the Catholic Church” in the country in recent years, Ward said.
“The bishops have done a huge amount of work since then to support the legacy of that visit, through a vast array of new initiatives and rejuvenating existing initiatives, so the feel here at the Conference is one of great enthusiasm and buoyancy at the moment.”
She said the Twitter enterprise should be seen in context with other initiatives, including those reaching out to lapsed Catholics and to non-Catholics.
Bishop Conry's evangelization department, she added, will have a “Come Home for Christmas” campaign this winter, similar to the American “Catholics Come Home.”
And on the eve of the Year of Faith, Ward reported, the Faith Department printed some 1 million “faith cards” and distributed them across the dioceses of England and Wales.
“They are to support to Catholic identity, to give people something to carry to give them Catholic confidence, and secondly to be used as a tool of evangelization, to have that in your wallet,” so that others can see that your Catholic faith is just as important to you as the photos of family kept also in your wallet.
“It would be used to give to someone who expresses interest in the Catholic faith.”
The Twitter initiative is of particular importance, Ward suggested, because it shows that the Church is “connected with contemporary culture and is embracing new means and methods to communicated and to dialogue with people.”
“We hope that, especially for very busy people, it will provide an easily accessible daily encouragement to grow in faith and to share it. Please do 'follow' and share it with your friends,” Bishop Conry requested.