ADA working at home too

With thanks and well-deserved congratulations, Archbishop Justin Rigali has acknowledged the success of the 2001 Archdiocesan Development Appeal (ADA) this week in surpassing its $11 million goal. The consistent, generous response of the faithful coupled with the superb organizational structure at the archdiocesan and parish levels is a combination that pays off for so many needy - Catholics and non-Catholics - of our area.

In addition to the daily works of mercy - emergency shelters, food pantries, immigrant and refugee programs - and the many other agency-administered ministries of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese, much money comes back to us as direct support for the mission in the parishes.

As school begins, teachers, school families and other contributing parishioners should be proud of the significant sum ADA again gives to our Parish School Assistance Fund. More than 13,000 students in 65 parish elementary schools that employ 740 teachers will be helped to stay in Catholic schools because of this year's appeal. That means our schools stay open, securing jobs for the teachers and faith-laden learning for thousands of our youngsters. Many of us are who we are today because of the opportunities we were provided in one of the largest and best Catholic school systems in the United States.

Approximately 4 percent of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary budget is provided by your ADA gifts. Men are being prepared for the priesthood here in the archdiocese. They will serve us for the rest of their lives as the pastors of our parishes and guides in the faith. They will fortify us in the Church's sacramental life, accompanying us at significant moments from birth to death. The priest alone will forgive our sins in Reconciliation, and offer, in the person of Christ the head of the Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. ADA money supplements the work of seminary formation.

Parishes in the majority of the 10 deaneries have been beneficiaries of grants (not loans!) from the ADA-sponsored Parish Emergency Fund. Unexpected needs - boilers and roofs and other emergency maintenance and repairs - are met without seriously impairing the other necessary work of the parish. In this way we all provide support for each other through the Archdiocesan Development Appeal, sustaining the structures that make the Church's work continue.

These are just three of the "close to home" needs met by ADA. Thanks and congratulations to the donors, the many volunteers, and the parish and ADA staff for being such generous and trustworthy stewards of God's gifts for the care of his people.

Responsibility for priestly vocations

The image of hundreds of priest-concelebrants processing into the Trans World Dome for June's Eucharistic Congress Mass was described by one participant as "breathtaking." Similar images from the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass or at last week's episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Dolan help us realize our identity and mission as the Catholic Church in the third millennium. Indeed, a growing chorus of faithful obedience to the Holy Father, of vigilant attention to the Holy Eucharist and confident professions of love for our Blessed Mother - as well as the devoted service of God's people that must necessarily flow from these attestations - are welcome symptoms of the "New Springtime" to which we look in hope.

Ask Bishop Dolan what it means to him to be a bishop, and he will speak first about how proud he is to be a Catholic and what a thrill it is to be a priest now home among his brother priests in St. Louis. Earlier this spring, in an interview with Zenit news service, then-seminary rector Msgr. Dolan spoke about priestly celibacy as "a gift, a call from the Lord to love him and his Church totally, exclusively, radically." Those who have met Bishop Dolan bear universal testimony to his joy - joy which seems to stem from his deep connections: to Almighty God, to his family, to his brother priests and to the people of God in the many places he has served. That is a deliciously far cry from the images of isolation and sterility that critics and cynics would have us associate with celibacy.

In the St. Louis Archdiocese we are abundantly blessed with joyous, holy, healthy priests who lovingly balance the heavy loads often placed upon them. We have reason to believe that God is calling more young men to the priesthood here in the archdiocese. Priests and religious, teachers and coaches, and especially mothers and dads and all family members must be willing to give unqualified, hope-filled and deeply prayerful support to their sons considering such a call.

Archbishop Justin Rigali has assigned the new Bishop responsibilities for "coordinating all the efforts of our local Church in promoting vocations to the priesthood since every vocation in the community of the Church needs the Eucharist and, therefore, the priesthood." We have seen Bishop Dolan's success in his seminary work of formation. As he assumes this new work on the "supply side" of vocations, let us do our part to help make him "look good" in this vital task. We must renew our own commitment to be happy, faithful Catholics and to prayerfully pass on that zeal within our families. Let us often be on our knees before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, frequently availing ourselves of God's mercy in sacramental confession, and persistent in our devotion to Mary, the mother of priests. From these should flow an enthusiastic apostolic service, as we humbly beg the Lord of the harvest to send us, and help us to nurture, more priestly vocations.

Heavenly patron

Readers of the recently published historical sketch "Archdiocese of St. Louis, Three Centuries of Catholicism 1700-2000" will recall that this year marks the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the archdiocese. In 1826, the work of the missionaries was crowned by Rome's decision to divide the Louisiana Purchase territory into two dioceses, New Orleans and St. Louis. The ecclesiastical boundaries of St. Louis then encompassed Missouri, western Illinois, and all American territory north of Louisiana and west of the Mississippi river. The see city had been named by Pierre Laclede in honor of St. Louis IX of France.

The life of our patron saint is both inspiring and humanly touching, and should be more widely known. He was born on April 25, 1214, at Poissy, France, the son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, who was half English. At the age of 12, he succeeded to the throne under the regency of his mother. At 19, he married Marguerite of Provence, with whom he had 11 children. He was a devoted husband and a loving father. From his earliest years his faith in and love of God were the center of his life. His mother taught him that it would be better to die than commit a mortal sin.

We know much about the daily life of St. Louis, thanks to the fascinating and extensive memoirs of his lifelong friend, Sieur de Joinville, which include innumerable anecdotes, which are both charming and revealing.

He assumed full royal authority in 1234 and proved an able administrator and an impartial dispenser of justice. He always sought to secure peace but at times had to resort to war. He was ever a faithful son of the Church, though he did not hesitate to rebuke an overbearing bishop. He did his best to maintain good domestic relations between his mother, who was pious but had a penchant for control, and his dear wife. He began each day with attendance at Mass.

Two places attest to his memory to this day: the magnificent Sainte Chapelle in Paris which he built to house the crown of thorns; and the abbey of Royaumont near Chantilly. Royaumont was an edifice of peace, devotion and splendor which was a paramount shrine in Europe for more than five centuries.

St. Louis undertook two crusades in response to the call of the Church. He died of fever on his second crusade in 1270 at the siege of Tunis after receiving the last rites.

Throughout his life, St. Louis displayed deep faith in God, a warmly human love of neighbor and an unyielding hope and trust. No less than 65 outstanding miracles were attested for his canonization in 1297.

Nowhere is the spirituality of this great saint revealed more than in the letter he left for the son who would succeed him. "My son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without that there is no salvation. ... Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted ... always side with the poor ... be devout and obedient to our mother the Church ... work to remove all sin from your land ..."

We are fortunate to have St. Louis as our heavenly patron and guide.

Faith-filled storytellers

Everyone loves a good story. From tots to the elderly, we like to hear and read stories or watch them on stage and screen. And most of us like to tell stories. We often delight in relating something that happened on our vacation, a memory from our childhood or a passed-down episode from our family history. Why is it, then, that so few of us are willing to share our faith stories? Why do we refrain from telling stories of our encounters with God and stories of how God has worked in our lives?

Stories are a wonderful and easy way to pass on the faith to the next generation and to others. Jesus taught with stories. The Catholic Church nourishes us with stories, drawing from Scripture and the lives of the saints. Should we not be doing the same with our children, grandchildren, family members, friends and neighbors? The U.S. bishops think so. They are looking to adults with a mature, vibrant faith to be the messengers who pass on the faith by telling their own stories of God in their lives. This is what the early Christians did. This is what we must do.

In their recent pastoral letter "Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?" the U.S. bishops called for the Church to prepare adults to spread the faith. It is a major undertaking. Some studies show that only 10 percent of Christian families discuss their faith with any regularity and, in 43 percent of families, faith is never discussed.

For many years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis has emphasized adult faith formation. Offerings range from Paul VI Institute courses to parish RCIA and Scripture study programs. In addition to these learning opportunities, most parishes offer faith-sharing programs, such as Renew. These small faith-sharing groups provide an environment where we can learn and practice how to share our faith experiences through storytelling.

Anyone who has participated in such groups knows, however, how easy it is to avoid the faith-sharing part of the session by focusing on reading and discussing Scripture. We find it difficult to reveal our intimate relationship with God. We fear embarrassment or what others might think. We fear pricking old hurts and memories that bring tears to our eyes. Yet unless we are willing to take such risks in our world of family and friends, we will miss the experience of healing, joy and love that flow when hearts are opened to one another.

A culture that devalues life

President George W. Bush has made his decision regarding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Elsewhere in this week's St. Louis Review Archbishop Justin Rigali offers his thoughts on the president's decision.

An intriguing aspect of the entire matter is that the Church's position on the issue was actively sought out by our nation's leader. For the past eight years, the former leader of our nation - in accord with many in the secular news media - openly disparaged Catholic thought, especially as it related to the most important life issues of the day. It is almost impossible to count the number of times in the last administration the word "extreme" was used to dismiss important elements of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body.

To Bush's credit, his speech to the American people spoke of his worry "about a culture that devalues life," and that as president he has "an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world." If one may separate his words from the actual decision he has made - and that indeed is debatable - the language marks a refreshing change.

Conversely, the embryonic stem cell discussion showed that many in the news media remain either hostile or ignorant regarding Catholic intellectual thought. A columnist for The Seattle Times, for example, lamented that the recent meeting between President Bush and Pope John Paul II was "of great concern." "It's not easy to apply 12th-century religious doctrine to life in 2001," the columnist hissed, arguing that "the best we can do is stick to secular and practical values of human progress and urge politicians to leave theology to the theologians."

Our local daily newspaper, using a communications strategy perfected by President Bill Clinton, consistently cited polls it said showed the issue was "clear cut." In antiseptic, amoral fashion, the paper's editorialist referred to a human embryo as simply a "product of conception."

Only a day after its editorial, the same newspaper told the tragic story of a British woman suing a California couple for whom she had contracted to be a surrogate mother. It seems the couple backed out of the deal when they discovered the surrogate was pregnant with twins. Because the "product of conception" was not what they were expecting, the California couple allegedly demanded the woman abort one of the two babies she was carrying. She declined, but apparently only for personal reasons: "Fearing the procedure would endanger her own health, she refused," the Associated Press said.

In both the California case and the issue decided by the president, the human beings at the center of the dispute are thought of, by some, merely as commodities. Praise God that the Church plays an active part in the societal debate, so that one day our society may more aggressively take heed of the Church's wisdom that all of God's "products of conception" are of inestimable intrinsic value.

An 'unmarketable' tragedy

During the last 100 years the world has witnessed unprecedented religious persecution and genocide. In fact, human slaughter and wholesale human exploitation have become so much a part of modern life that we risk becoming hardened to its presence and its cause in our own political and cultural lives. One contemporary situation which has garnered scant attention in the Western press is the civil war and the enslavement of women and children in the Sudan. At present the Sudanese government continues aerial bombardment of civilians, poisons their water supplies, restricts American attempts at humanitarian food assistance, conscripts child soldiers and kills and maims Christians.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees reports that in the southern and central parts of the country, civil war and related atrocities have caused the death of almost 2 million Sudanese - more than all the casualties in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda combined. The state of Bahr el Ghazal in southern Sudan has been the site of devastating famine and starvation, and this summer has intensified the gravity of the already dreadful catastrophe. The south is also continually the focal point for slave raids and the majority of the persecution continues because the southern inhabitants are Christians.

Rather than wage conventional war with the rebels, the Sudanese government prefers to attack villages, abducting and killing or maiming unarmed civilians, mostly women and children. These abductions should not be confused with taking prisoners of war. In 1994, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Sudan reported that women and children were abducted by the government's Popular Defense Forces and then sold into slavery to northern Sudanese and persons from abroad. Again, in 1996, that same U.N. report found that women and children captured as "war booty" were in many cases subjected to "sexual slavery" and forced into a program of "Islamization." In September of 2000 the Special Rapporteur announced to the General Assembly of the U.N. that between 5,000 and 15,000 southern Sudanese children had been abducted and sold to Arab Baggara tribesmen.

It is an absurd understatement to observe that the United Nations has been ineffectual at bringing attention to the Sudan. But what is more alarming is the silence of the West. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remarked, "The human rights situation in Sudan is not marketable to the American people." Franklin Graham of the Wall Street Journal suggests a reason for the silence in a March 15, 2000, editorial on the subject: "When several thousand Europeans are killed and tens of thousands displaced, the world calls it genocide. But when 1.9 million black Africans are killed and millions more are displaced, tortured and even sold into slavery, the world remains strangely silent."

However, the Church continues to speak out, and the exiled Roman Catholic bishops of the Sudan continue to protest the National Islamic Front Government. Bishop Macram Max Gassis, especially, has traveled to the United States to inform our government and the American people about the realities of the Sudanese civil war. For these efforts he has been branded a criminal and risks execution when he frequently travels to his country to visit his diocese. It looks as if his efforts are beginning to have an effect. Christian relief organizations throughout the United States have helped to educate various members of Congress to the situation in the Sudan. Now what is needed is for Americans to be educated as well.

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