2016 year in review

The year 2016 was filled with events both grand and everyday – the canonization of Mother Teresa, the anniversaries of the archdiocesan Latin America Apostolate and Pan y Amor program, door-to-door evangelization programs, evangelizing through Pokemon Go and stories of Catholics on fire for their faith. The Year of Mercy helped Catholics focus on God's infinite mercy. Our Catholic faith helped us in the sad times, the departures of Bishop Edward M. Rice and the Little Sisters of the Poor and the sudden death of Father Tim Bannes, among others.

As Catholics, we look back on 2016 as a year of mercy, and look forward to 2017 with hope and faith, trusting in God's plan for us.

Here are some of the St. Louis Review's top stories of 2016.

A joyful farewell to Bishop Rice

In May, former St. Louis auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice was appointed to shepherd the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. His presence in St. Louis had been a positive influence on so many people: from seminarians who learned from his service to the poor to the Pink Sisters and other men and women religious to his family, who said "he'll always be Eddie." At a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Bishop Rice thanked the people of St. Louis.

He noted that he has been sustained by so many people who have "reflected the light of Christ back to me. ... You are part of my mosaic, not in glass or stone, but written on my heart."

At a press conference prior to the Mass, Bishop Rice said he's not thinking about what he's leaving but is looking at the support he's felt. The people of his new diocese already have welcomed him. He's bringing an invitation to them to rediscover the sacraments and, especially for those who are fallen away or unchurched, to come to the Church and Christ.

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Weather troubles in January

Communities along several rivers in the St. Louis area began the year with recovery from flooding in late December and early January. Parishes, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent De Paul Societies provided necessities to people who lost everything in the flood.

In spite of it all, some remained hopeful. Steve Flannery stood at the edge of his driveway in Pacific, surrounded by furniture and household items and not far from clumps of debris stacked high in the street. Flannery warmly greeted visitors from his parish, St. Bridget in Pacific, and his smile and jokes belied a life turned upside down and the pain of a loss of possessions and a financial setback. He maintained perspective. "Until my day gets as bad as Jesus' on Calvary, I'm doing good," he said.

A few weeks later, thousands of teens had travel plans disrupted when a blizzard was forecast to hit Washington, D.C., at the same time the annual March for Life was scheduled. Some parishes, such as St. Joseph in Farmington, had groups that made it to the march, but many other groups were forced to cancel. In response, the Archdiocese of St. Louis hosted a special event at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Generation Life should be committed to ending the evil of abortion 365 days a year, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said in his keynote address to the teens. He asked the teens: "Are we united in a common cause to bring an end to abortion? Are we united? Let me hear it!"

In the end, the message was that snow didn't conquer, rather life was victorious.

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Race relations

The importance of continuing conversations on race relations was underscored by several events and programs throughout the year. In August, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Ill., listened to people who shared personal experiences of a racial divide and encouraged prayer and action on the issues.

"Listen to people who think differently than you. Tell your children and your children's children. Finally, act. Everyone can do something," he said, recalling St. Teresa of Kolkata who told him "I must do what I can" when he asked her why she continued her work with the poor and dying.

Walking the Delmar Divide was a two-mile pilgrimage in September that drew attention to the history and reality of racism in St. Louis and brought people of various ages, races and faiths together in an act of unity. It literally and figuratively crossed Delmar — a visual example of the racial divide in St. Louis. It was organized by the archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission and the North City Deanery Interracial Relations Commission.

Other events focused on racial issues included a panel discussion at De Smet Jesuit High School in April, in which African-American males ages 15-70 shared their personal experiences.

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Evangelization

Evangelization is a daily occurrence, and some Catholics get creative. One example was the Pokemon Go craze. Several parishes innovated ways to bring players of the augmented-reality game. Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County noticed an influx of visitors, and used signs and conversation to reach out to the young people playing the game.

The Society of Our Mother of Peace, based in High Ridge, used door-to-door evangelization to reach people in north St. Louis. Father Placid Guste, the order's founder, estimates "at least a couple thousand have come into the Church in St. Louis through that work." That averages out to roughly 45 per year, or one convert every eight or nine days for the past 45 years.

John O'Leary, who was severely burned in a childhood accident, has used his experience to call on people to make intentional choices to live "radically inspired" lives every day. He's seen how God has worked through him, even as he left his career as a real estate developer, now sharing his story with 50,000 people at more than 120 events a year all over the world. It's an opportunity to meet others and share a message through the lens of faith.

"We look at our broken world — why are people suffering? But God does His best through tragedy," O'Leary said. "Think about it in Jesus' suffering — Christ dies on Good Friday, but He returns on Easter Sunday. The same plays out in the world today. For some people, that's three days. Other times, it's decades. Good Fridays come, but Easter Sundays follow, and that gives me peace."

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Anniversaries

2016 was a big year for the Latin America Apostolate and the missions in Bolivia. Priests and women religious have been serving in Bolivia as part of the apostolate for 60 years. Currently, Father Jim Michler, Father Pat Hayden and Father Tim Noelker serve at Maria Reina Parish in La Paz, Bolivia. A Review photographer and writer traveled to Bolivia to tell their stories and those of the people they serve.

The priests perform pastoral duties, assist with marriage prep, youth ministry and other parish needs. The parish operates a health clinic providing much-needed care to poor Bolivians. They also assist at a rural parish in Calamarca, where the indigenous Aymara people live.

The year also marked the 25th anniversary of the Pan y Amor program, which operates several orphanages and other homes for underprivileged or at-risk youths in Bolivia and elsewhere.

The Redemptorists celebrated 150 years of spreading devotion to the icon of love – Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The icon was entrusted to the Redemptorist community in 1866, with the mandate to "make her known throughout the world." St. Alphonsus Ligouri "Rock" Church has had a special devotion to the icon for nearly a century, and celebrated a jubilee in June at the church. Then-Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrated Mass and gave the homily. A member of the Redemptorist order, the now-Cardinal Tobin said, "All who gaze upon her image are invited to ponder how God is inviting them to participate in redemption as ambassadors of reconciliation."

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Little Sisters of the Poor

At a press conference Aug. 24, the Little Sisters of the Poor cited an aging community and decrease in sufficient vocations to effectively staff the residence in north St. Louis, in the spirit of the community's foundress St. Jeanne Jugan.

While the decision was painful, "I know that this is what God is asking of the Little Sisters of the Poor at this time," said local superior Mother Gonzague Castro. "The work is in His hands and it will continue on one way or another."

The sisters have operated a residence in St. Louis for 147 years. Abiding by their vow of hospitality, the sisters treat the residents as family, and they hope that approach will continue, even after their departure. "We see our Lord Jesus Christ in the residents' face," said Mother Gonzague. "And it's Him whom we serve in them."

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Future of Catholic education

In October, the Catholic Education Office of the archdiocese announced a new partnership model of schools. The model allows for a better way to address some of the challenges and changes facing Catholic schools in our archdiocese. Earlier this month, Archbishop Carlson accepted a recommendation of the formation of a partnership model school at the current St. Joan of Arc School, serving St. Joan, St. James the Greater and Our Lady of Sorrows schools.

"We are really stressing similar quality," said Maureen DePriest, associate superintendent for elementary school administration. "One of the things that has been a detriment to Catholic education is the competition between schools. Schools are more and more becoming regional schools located at parishes because people are going beyond parish boundaries in picking and choosing schools, based on programs being offered and types of equipment being used."

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Global events

In the Year of Mercy, one of the defining moments was the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata, better known as Mother Theresa. For many Catholics, she was the very embodiment of mercy. At her canonization Mass, Pope Francis said, "Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded."

The World Youth Day celebration was held in Krakow, Poland. Pope Francis encouraged the youth to take the "path of craziness" toward God's mercy. A large group from St. Louis attended. Nick Lee, director of the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministry, was part of the group. "As Pope Francis was at adoration, there was a pink sunset behind his head," Lee said. "The monstrance was (the shape) of the Blessed Mother, and the Eucharist was where the womb would be. Seeing 1.6 million silent people holding candles was just amazing. It gave you chills."

The presidential and other elections were a tough time for many. It often seemed as if the 2016 election season was one of the most negative election seasons ever. Archbishop Carlson wrote a series of columns, offering advice on how Catholics are called to form their consciences before voting. In this way, Catholics might come to act upon their civic duties while remaining true to Catholic teaching.

He wrote: "Classifying issues as intrinsically evil, or by number and kind, isn't the last step in that process, but it's a step in the right direction. It helps us replace a subjective scale of preferences with a more objective scale of values. It helps us replace party identification with Catholic identity. It helps us engage in the deeper conversation we need to have with each other: How do we consider all the issues while giving each its proper weight?"

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Relying on faith

After the sudden death of Father Tim Bannes, the pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Gildehaus, parishioners and family members relied on faith to get through the tough times. Parishioners shared stories of Father Tim, who was always ready to greet and talk with the students at the parish school. Principal Gary Menke described the pastor's presence at school as "constant. Through the course of the year, (Father Bannes) was right in the middle of our celebrations. He was an important fabric of his school."

More than 1,000 people attended the funeral, including St. John's parishioners — now part of the Bannes family and vice versa. About 275 went to a Memorial Mass a few weeks later at Gildehaus. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated both Masses. At the funeral, with three bishops and more than 100 brother priests concelebrating with the archbishop, they sang "Ave Regina" in Latin — customary for a priest's funeral.

Parishioners have stepped up to fill needed roles, visiting priests have ensured that sacraments are available for all, and in general, a semblance of normalcy is returning to the parish.

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