Category Archives: Features

In My Weakness is My Strength: Answering the Call to Prison Ministry


by Jessica Rinaudo

God often calls us to serve in unexpected ways. We resist, shrug it off, tell God that it’s too hard, but the Lord can be persistent and surprising. It can be especially challenging to answer the call to service when that service is something as intimidating as prison ministry.

Deacon Burt Ainsworth was introduced to prison ministry by Fr. Richard Pusch, an Air Force priest.  “Fr. Pusch was like a brother to me. Over the years, I started going to the prisons with him. When he died, I made a commitment that I would follow him as much as I possibly could,” said Deacon Burt.

The diaconate and the Air Force pulled Deacon Burt away from prison ministry for a time, but after retirement, he pursued it again. One evening, prison minister Holly Wilson invited Deacon Burt to join her at David Wade Correctional Center. That evening, after Bible study was over, Holly surprised everyone, including Deacon Burt, by announcing that she was retiring from prison ministry and he would be taking over.

“Lord, you know I can’t do this by myself,” said Deacon Burt. “Please, if it’s possible, send me some help.”

Van Sanders was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico when the Lord started tugging at him. His wife was very involved with prison ministry and wanted him to join her, but he wasn’t ready. Then one day Van’s priest, Fr. Doug Mitchell, spoke to him after reconciliation, “Out of the blue, he said, ‘Have you ever thought about prison ministry?’” Van recalled.

Fr. Mitchell’s invitation put Van on the path to prison ministry. He first visited a prison geriatric unit, and then became part of “Encounter,” a weekend-long faith event for men in jail.

Van, born in New York, eventually moved to Louisiana to be near his wife’s family. As a member of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Shreveport, Van received an email from his deacon asking if he might be interested in helping Deacon Burt Ainsworth with prison ministry.

And just like that, Deacon Burt’s prayers for help were answered by way of Van Sanders. Now the two of them, along with Mary Morgan and Chris Leach, work together to serve the men of David Wade Correctional Center. Both Deacon Burt and Van see themselves as instruments of the Lord, insisting that the important part of prison ministry is allowing Christian men to come together inside the walls.
Every Wednesday, Deacon Burt and Van travel to David Wade to lead Bible study or assist with Mass.

Prison Ministers Van Sanders and Deacon Burt Ainsworth

“When we started out about a year ago, we had about five or six guys in the class,” said Deacon Burt. “Now we’re up to just under 20. We talk about how the Gospel of John affects our lives, and how it talks to them especially… It’s their conversation. We’re not trying to put anything into them. What’s there, we’re trying to draw it out.”

Van added, “Sitting in the classroom, it’s not just Catholic men. … So the men have these books they can study. When they come in, they’re primed and ready to go. We sit, and we talk. … We don’t always have the ready answers, so sometimes lessons last three or four weeks. Deacon asks them, on occasion, to write prayers, which is really good because that’s another way of developing them as men. They also have prayer cards and prayer requests. We bring the prayer requests out and put them on the altar.”

Deacon Burt emphasized that recruiting men to join them in Bible study is extremely difficult.  “This is something that’s very important for people on the outside to understand. Why can’t you get more people involved in prison ministry? It’s because for those who don’t believe in the Gospel, who don’t believe in Christ, they see these guys as weak, so the men who attend Bible study get picked on tremendously. … They really put up with a lot just to come to this class.”

“We tell them, you’re a Christian community,” added Van. “As a Christian community your job is to evangelize the other 1,200 men in this compound. And the prisoners say, ‘They look at us as being weak.’ I said, ‘Remember what Paul says, ‘in my weakness is my strength,’ so you just keep doing what you’re doing.’”

Deacon Burt and Van have met many men who have done terrible things over the course of their service in prison ministry. If it seems like it would be difficult to minister to these men, it’s even harder for the prisoners to allow themselves to be seen as worthy of forgiveness.

Van shared a story that has stuck with him that is especially relevant and powerful during the Lenten and Easter season.

“During Lent, in New Mexico, we would always show The Passion of the Christ, and there’s a scene in it where Jesus is all chained up, and he’s walking up the steps with two guards on both sides. And when we were inside the prison chapel doing the lessons, you could look out the chapel windows and see the men in yellow, the men in segregation. And as they moved, they always had to have the belly chains, the ankle chains, the wrist chains. They were all chained up. And I would tell the men, ‘Look outside the window, because remember we’re all made in the image of God, now look at that man, look at all those people around him. Who does that remind you of?’ Some would guess, some wouldn’t know, but one would always say, ‘That’s Jesus.’ That’s exactly how Jesus was presented to Pilate. Remember one thing: Jesus has so much in common with you and you have so much in common with him. Yes, he did not sin, but we do and we did. Remember that he knows your pain and when you think of your mother, remember the Blessed Mother knows what it’s like to have a son on death row.’”

“You begin to realize that yes, they’ve committed crimes and they’ve done some things that are bad,” said Van, “but God forgives them. All they have to do is ask for that forgiveness.”

But going inside the walls of a prison and working directly with those inside is not everyone’s calling. Van shared a story of ways other ministries help prisoners’ families.

Deacon Burt Ainsworth greets a prisoner at David Wade Correctional Center during an Advent dinner at the prison hosted by St. Jude Parish.

“One time I was doing prison ministry and also working with St. Vincent de Paul. … Then we had an Encounter weekend and one man had a really hard story to tell. He told his story. And then on that Saturday night, he broke down and started crying. He asked, ‘Is there anyone here who works with St. Vincent de Paul?’ And there were three of us… And he said, ‘I especially want to thank you guys because of what you did for my family. You didn’t know me, and I didn’t know you, but you helped my family survive while I’m in here.’”

Van later added, “A lot of times there are men and women who leave their family because they are incarcerated and the family does time with the men or the women who are in prison. And so, it’s like when they get locked up, the family gets locked up. And if the one who gets locked up is the breadwinner, then the family is going to struggle. And that’s where St. Vincent de Paul can come in and they can find those people who have someone that’s incarcerated and they can help that particular family.”

Deacon Burt added that when men get ready to leave prison, often the only clothing available to them is whatever they had on when they entered jail. – usually it’s a sweat suit or an old pair of jeans. There is a real need for decent clothing. Recently Catholic Charities provided clothing to David Wade including sports coats, slacks, dress shirts and shoes. Because men re-entering society are required by law to have a permanent residence and a job, these clothes go a long way in helping men prepare for a new life. Consider donating these types of clothing items to Catholic Charities.

By listening to God’s plan for their lives, Deacon Burt and Van have not only helped those inside prison walls, but have been transformed and challenged in their own spiritual lives.

“Some of the prisoners come at us really hard because we’re Catholic, but what’s amazing is that when they come at you, you have to be able to look at them say, ‘I understand what you’re saying, but look in the mirror, because guess what? When you look in that mirror and see your image there, remember that’s the image of God, because you’re made in His image and He loves you. He loves you with all His heart, no matter what you do. If you come to Him seven million times asking for forgiveness, He’s going to forgive you seven million times.’”

There are many ways to answer a call to prison ministry – whether it’s inside or outside the walls. Talk to your parish priest or deacon, or contact Deacon Burt Ainsworth at, Van Sanders at, or Deacon Clary Nash at  •

The Harm of Pornography and Hope Beyond Addiction: Spouses


Series written by Katie Sciba under guidance of Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL

This is the third article in a four-piece series on pornography; the first two can be found in the January and March 2017 editions of the Catholic Connection.

Because pornography addiction is more prevalent in men and spouses of addicts are more commonly women, the respective pronouns he and she are used. Regardless, pornography addiction is found in both men and women, and spouses of addicts can be husbands as well as wives.

“Pornography use within marriage severely damages the spouses’ trust and intimacy both because of the pornography use itself and because of the deception and lies usually involved in one spouse hiding […] behavior from the other” (Create in Me a Clean Heart, USCCB).

Wedding vows carry significant implications. The words “I take you as my husband…” and “I take you as my wife…” convey acceptance of the whole person, and the conjugal act is a reiteration of the vows through the body. There is no love without truth, and so there must be truth in the marriage bond.

Pornography is an obvious problem for the addict, yet leaves some spouses struggling to put their finger on why its use causes so much pain. St. Paul says our bodies are not our own, but belong to our spouses. “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does…likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor 7:4). The reason many spouses feel betrayed when they discover their partners’ pornography use is that the addict uses what rightly belongs to their spouse in isolation for personal pleasure or emotional regulation. Masturbation and pornography violate truth in the marriage bond because they withhold sexuality from the spouse. Conjugal love is the most concrete manifestation of the gift of self promised on the wedding day, and any misuse of our sexuality is a violation of the wedding vows.

The rollercoaster of pornography addiction inflicts feelings confusing enough to make a wife feel legitimately crazy. The fantasy involved in pornography leaves a spouse feeling rejected both physically and relationally. There’s often a strong sense of fight or flight, leaving her wondering what she needs to do — whether she and her husband should try counseling or if she should leave altogether.

The hopelessness and helplessness are isolating. It’s common for the wife of a pornography addict to distance herself from her husband or conversely, to experience hyper-bonding – the inclination to cling to him emotionally and physically. She may detach socially because she feels alone in her husband’s addiction or “because her marriage no longer feels safe,” says Dr. Kevin Skinner, Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist. “If the most intimate relationship she has doesn’t feel secure, there’s a resulting general distrust of others.”

The stress can manifest physically and neurologically leading to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and chronic melancholy. “I see a lot of eating disorders among women, or there’s a tendency to become hyper-focused on exercise because they feel the need to compete,” said Dr. Skinner. “There’s an ensuing chronic fatigue because the body is in a state of constant stress…if a wife is in fear of her husband acting out, that she’s not being told the truth, it increases her fight.”

With all of the above occurring within one person, it’s no wonder many spouses of addicts develop Betrayal Trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.

Betrayal Trauma and PTSD involve recurrent, intrusive thoughts, memories or dreams that won’t go away; avoiding people, situations or locations she previously enjoyed or places that may trigger anxiety; a negative mood and the tendency to be hyper-vigilant of her husband’s behavior.

The pain is real. Coping with a spouse’s addiction to pornography is an emotional and psychological burden that often goes unvalidated because the appropriate role of a spouse is difficult to discern. Questions like “How am I supposed to feel? What do I say? Am I crazy? Am I not enough? Is our whole marriage a lie?” can make balance in her mind and relationship hard to achieve.

“You have to be able to understand what you’re experiencing,” said Dr. Skinner. “If you don’t understand, you can’t recover.”

The healthiest action a wife can take is to seek help.  “A pornography addiction is not only ‘his problem.’ Beginning her own healing is a way to further healing in the marriage,” says Fr. Kilcawley, STL, theological advisor for As with addicts, seeing a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT), a spiritual director and having communal support is the most effective way to begin and continue recovery. Local CSATs can be found through

Through recovery, the spouse of a pornography addict will learn to heal within herself and with her husband; and the greatest hope comes in knowing God is present to open the hearts of both husband and wife to restore them to love and peace.

Resources – Books
•  Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal: The Essential Tools for Healing by Dr. Kevin Skinner
•  Shattered Vows: Help and Healing for Women Who Have Been Sexually Betrayed by Mark and Debra Laaser
•  Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means
•  Mending a Shattered Heart by Stefanie Carnes

Resources – Online
• The Integrity Restored Podcast
• The Betrayed, The Addicted, The Expert Podcast
• Love Rice Podcast by Bloom for Women

Volunteers Care for Orphans Through Pick It Forward


by Jamie Jett

Pick It Forward (PIF) for Orphans is a small nonprofit organization that has accepted the challenge to do what they can for orphaned and foster children on behalf of the service of Christ. The support of many has allowed them to be the heart, hands, feet and voice for God’s children at multiple orphanages and many in the Louisiana foster care system.  In particular, God called them to put significant time, effort and love into Trisker Orphanage – an orphanage out in the middle of a field in Boquete, Panama. Last year, after resources became available through a variety of fundraising events, Pick It Forward hired Kathy Gaitan to serve as their sponsored missionary.

In spring 2016, the PIF leadership felt led to plan for its first mission team to travel to Panama. Over the years, several board members went on trips to Panama with other church groups, helping out where needed. However, in March 2016, the group felt it was time to go!  In June, a few board members traveled to Boquete, Panama to begin the plans for the first PIF mission trip, scheduled for February 2017.

PIF members had some ideas of what they might do during our first official mission trip in 2017, but quickly, within two days of their arrival in June 2016, the Holy Spirit changed their vision for the trip. He aligned the leadership at Trisker Orphanage, Youth With a Mission (YWAM) and Pick It Forward with the shared vision to build and equip a classroom at Trisker!  That is a tall order for a board of 10 women, but each of them knows God is capable of making it happen if they step out in faith!

The classroom will give hope to these young girls. It will provide space for sewing machines, a kitchen, a small library and a small area with computers. Christ wants a way to touch these girls so that they can provide for themselves when they leave Trisker Orphanage. If they can learn to read and write, sew, cook, speak English or learn computer skills, they will be better prepared to find work and not be just released from Trisker Orphanage at 18 years of age, unprepared with no hope of a future.

So, God through the Body of Christ raised enough money in five months to build and equip the classroom!  Pick It Forward set off on February 4, 2017 with a three ring binder, 20 missionaries and suitcases full of supplies on its first ecumenical mission trip to Boquete, Panama. The team was made up of missionaries from St. Jude Catholic Church, Word of Life, Word of God, First Baptist in Haughton and the Simple Church.

There were three goals for the team to accomplish in five days:

1. Build a classroom at Trisker Orphanage. 2. Provide a summer Vacation Bible School camp for the children as the classroom was being built, and 3. Take blankets, hats, gloves, stuffed animals and dental hygiene items to the Ngobe people.

This team was unique. There were members from all age groups – teens to 60’s – with a multitude of gifts to share, including two Spanish-speaking members!  The team worked hard and met every goal God assigned to them.

“He supplied us with outcomes above and beyond what we could have imagined,” said founder Jamie Jett.  “A special thank you to Father Pike Thomas, who was the team member who participated in every way despite being unable to attend. His prayers and support helped make the team effort the best it could be.”

Catholic Community Volunteers Resources to Help Flood Victim


by Bonny Van

On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, the skies opened up on North Louisiana.  “It rained a long time,” says 89-year-old Shreveport resident Lizzie Harris. “And, I heard it in my back bedroom when all the sheet rock had come down.” That’s when she knew her aging roof was no match for the deluge.

By the weekend, the National Weather Service in Shreveport reported over 20 inches of rain in some areas.

“It started to leak in the bedroom and in the kitchen and then in another bedroom,” Harris says. “Every time it rained, I put out buckets and pans to catch the water.”

Harris and her husband moved into her small bungalow when it was built in 1959. “We had a new roof put on in 1983, but after my husband passed, I couldn’t afford a new one.”

Like many residents who suffered damages from the flooding, Mrs. Harris qualified for disaster assistance from FEMA.  Jean Woods, Disaster Case Manager for St. Vincent de Paul, was assigned Mrs. Harris’ case. “The wind and rain had caused a lot of damage to the shingles on her roof,” says Woods.

Harris outside her home

So, Woods began calling roofers to get a bid on the work. “The cost, with labor and materials, was $3,600 and it was more money than they could come up with,” says Jay Murrell, owner of Pintail Roofing in Shreveport.  “So, I sent two workers to lay tarps on the roof to keep the rain out, but that only lasted for two-and-a-half months.”  But, Murrell could not stop thinking about Mrs. Harris and her situation.

“I’ve been broke before and had a leaky roof.  Every time it rained I was scared, so I empathized with her,” says Murrell.  “Sometimes, the Holy Spirit comes to me in different places and I just felt moved to do something for Mrs. Harris.”

Murrell contacted a fellow roofer, who was able to get the shingles donated.  Together, they shared the cost of labor and other materials to get the job done.   “Now, Mrs. Harris has the best roof in the neighborhood!”  However, there was still more work to be done.

“When Jay repaired the roof, we went into the backyard to take pictures and saw a tree had fallen in the yard,” says Woods.  That’s when the wrestling team from Loyola College Prep jumped in to help.

The team practices at St. Catherine Community Center, where the office of the SVDP Disaster Services Division is located.  I asked Ms. Woods if we could help them in any way so she told us about Mrs. Harris,” says Loyola wrestling coach Darrick Roberson.  “Wherever we can get involved in the community, we do.”

It took one Saturday afternoon for students Reese Ebarb, Eli Poole, Alan Hedrick and Jonathan Durel and Coach Roberson to cut up the tree and remove other debris from the backyard. “There were also leaves piling up, so the kids raked and bagged up the leaves and hauled it out,” says Roberson.

Roofer Jay Murrell volunteered his services to give Mrs. Harris a new roof.

Still, the work continues for Mrs. Harris.  “I just helped her fill out an application with FEMA to get funds to repair a leak under her house,” says Woods.  “She needs foundation work and more work inside to clean up the damage from the flooding.”

For many residents, the aftermath and the cleanup of the March 2016 flood has been a life changing experience; and, for some, in very unexpected ways.  Coach Darrick Roberson also plans to continue his team building with more community service projects.  “They loved it!  We’ll definitely do more activities like that in the future.  And, we’ll try to open it up to the rest of the school to get others involved.”
For Jay Murrell, communication is underway with area roofers and contractors to help other needy residents through SVDP’s Disaster Relief Program.  “I hope to work on other projects like this one. You know, from a seed a giant oak will grow,” said Murrell.  “There are a lot of needs out there.  Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  And, he really means that.”

Jo Cazes Retires, Leaves Legacy at SJB School


by Kelly Phelan Powell

After 44 years spent changing the lives of students, Jo Cazes’ own life will take a happy turn when, at the end of the school year, she retires from her distinguished career as an educator and school administrator. The Principal of St. John Berchmans Catholic School in Shreveport for the last 12 years, Cazes will leave SJB a much better place than when she found it. The school’s many lofty achievements during her tenure (just one example: SJB has won the Science Olympiad State Championship for eight years running) are due to many factors and tremendous effort on the part of teachers and staff, but one of the most profound and lasting changes Cazes made was asking students to step up and take ownership in every aspect of their school. The results have been consistent academic excellence, improved facilities and a better organized place to learn, teach and work.

When Cazes’ career began at Alexandria Senior High School in Rapides Parish, she never imagined that she would spend the majority of her career in Catholic schools. The Lord, however, decided that Catholic schools were exactly where she needed to be. Looking back, she marvels at how perfectly all the pieces fit together that led her to St. John Berchmans. “I’ve often thought of writing a book,” she said, “and I’d call it, Connect the Dots.” The past Louisiana Environmental Science Teacher of the Year and Regional Teacher of the Year moved from Alexandria to New Orleans with her husband Geoffrey’s career, and the family landed in Birmingham, AL in 1984. Throughout each move, she made a point to continue her education with graduate courses and professional development. “Every time we moved, I went to school,” she said.

During her time in Birmingham, Cazes was Principal of Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School. It was at OLV that she first became involved with Science Olympiad, the organization that would become one of her finest legacies at St. John Berchmans. In 1995, she became Assistant Principal of Curriculum at John Carroll Catholic High School, a position she accepted on one condition: she wanted to teach a class. She remained at John Carroll for a decade. After her son settled in Shreveport, she and her husband decided to keep the family close and moved.

Upon arriving in Shreveport, she met with Frank Israel, former Principal of Loyola College Prep, who connected her with Sister Carol Shively, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Shreveport. Shively hired her as a consultant for St. John Berchmans, doing professional development and teacher observations. “I fell in love with the teachers,” she said. She accepted the Principal position in 2005, and she’s been leading the school forward ever since.

One of Cazes’ greatest accomplishments for the school has been its total physical renovation. Together with Fr. Peter Mangum, Rector of the Cathedral, the school has had a major facelift with summer projects every year since 2006. Some of those projects include new floors, walls and lighting in the multi-room and cafeteria, a renovated office area and computer lab, a new playground, an elevator and, most recently, a brand new parish hall and library and technology center.

Assistant Principal Jennifer Deason, will succeed Cazes, and Trey Woodham, recently awarded Regional Coach of the Year, will be the new Assistant Principal.  Together they will continue to build a lasting legacy and quality education at St. John Berchmans.

In retirement, Cazes hopes to spend more time with her three grandchildren, and there’s no doubt she’ll continue her lifelong love of learning. “I continue learning from everyone I meet,” she said.

There will be a retirement reception in her honor after the 11:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday, April 30 in the Parish Hall at St. John Berchmans. All are invited to attend and say farewell to the Principal whom the school will miss nearly as much as she will miss it. “I love this school,” she said, and it shows.

Navigating the Faith: The Origin of Palm Sunday


by Dianne Rachal, Director of Worship

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna!’” (Jn 12:13).

The Sixth Sunday of Lent is “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.”  This liturgy will unite two commemorations: that of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and that of his passion. All four gospels recount Jesus’ messianic entry into Jerusalem in triumph as the people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.”  Palm branches were used to welcome great conquerors. The Hebrew word “Hosanna” means: “(O Lord), grant salvation.”  Within days, the crowd will shout, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

The diary of Egeria, pilgrim to the Holy Land, tells us that at the beginning of the fifth century the Christians of Jerusalem used to gather in the early afternoon on the Mount of Olives for a lengthy liturgy of the word. Then, toward evening, they would go in procession into Jerusalem, carrying palm branches or olive branches. This rite was soon esteemed and imitated in other Churches of the East. As for its spread in the West, the name Palm Sunday occurs in Spain and Gaul around 600, but there is no procession with the palms. In these countries, the sixth Sunday of Lent was devoted to the giving of the symbol (the Creed) and the anointing of catechumens.  Because of this the gospel for the Mass of the day was taken from John 12, which tells of the anointing at Bethany.  But the passage continued on to the story of the entrance into Jerusalem.  For this reason the Sunday soon acquired the name Palm Sunday, although there was as yet no special ceremony in commemoration of the event.

The custom of blessing the “palm branches” is attested around the middle of the eighth century in the Bobbio Sacramentary.  Since palm and olive branches were obtainable only in southern countries the custom was early introduced of blessing the green and blossoming branches of other trees.

People fastened the branches to crucifixes in their homes in order to protect the residents from any adversity.  They saw palms and the Church’s blessing as a form of intercession for God’s salvation and help against many threats.

At the end of the eighth century there was an increasing number of witnesses to a procession with the palms. The hymn Gloria, laus et honor (“All glory, laud and honor”), which Bishop Theodulf of Orleans composed for the purpose, soon became a fixed part of the ceremony.  In the Middle Ages the procession became increasingly dramatic and theatrical. The presence of Christ in the procession was symbolized either by a cross or by the Book of the Gospels.  In Germany the so-called Palmesel was often used. This was a wooden donkey on wheels, bearing on its back a figure of the Savior. The medieval custom was to gather at a church outside the city walls for the blessing of the palms and then go in procession to the principal church of the city.  This procession has been revived in a sense in the new Holy Week Order of 1955.

Today’s procession on Palm Sunday is not intended to be a historically faithful representation of the entrance of Jesus, but is rather a public profession of a discipleship inspired by faith and grateful love. The congregation assembles at a secondary church or in some other suitable place. The priest greets the community and gives an introduction to the meaning of the procession with palms, and then blesses the branches.  After the branches have been sprinkled with holy water, the passage of the entrance of Jesus is read from one of the four gospels. The procession forms and songs and antiphons are sung as the people process to the church.

The Mass of Palm Sunday receives its stamp from the gospel pericope. It consists of the passion narrative from Matthew, Mark or Luke, depending on the three-year cycle. The theme of the redemptive suffering of Jesus also dominates the other parts of the Propers, except for the entrance antiphon, which voices the jubilation felt at the messianic entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Because the palms are blessed, they are now sacramentals, which “are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare [us] to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (CCC 1667). Sacramentals should be treated with respect and never be thrown away. Palms may only be burned or buried.

Mike’s Meditations: Who is Life? Jesus.


Seeing Life, Seeing Jesus, in the Incarcerated

by Mike Van Vranken

Very early in the Bible, God tells us he has set before us life and death, and to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). Our human instincts force us to ask the question: “What is life?”  Consequently, for the last several thousand years, we have argued the answer to that query; in our country even taking it to the Supreme Court for a resolution.

I am convinced after all these millennia of warring over this debate, we’ve been asking the wrong question. It’s not “What is life?”  The proper question is “Who is life?”  Life is not a thing; it’s a being. But, it’s not just any being. Much later in the Bible, Jesus tells us: “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  The question is “Who is life?”, and the answer is “Jesus!”  And if Jesus is life, then life includes all who Jesus is: his compassion, his mercy, his love, his peace, his infinite nature, and his mystery. To choose life is to choose Jesus.

Now, take a deep breath and let’s gaze on one issue where our perspective on life (Jesus) might need a little refocusing. With your eyes closed, imagine the Holy Trinity looking down on the earth, paying particular attention to the United States. As they gaze on us scurrying around in our busyness, they notice that about 2.2 million adults are in American jails or prisons, and another 4.8 million are on probation or parole. That’s about 7 million human lives (Jesus) they see in our correctional system. As they look closer at those incarcerated, they see solitary confinement, hard labor, abuse and even some on “death row.”

Our impulse now is to move on, but let’s sit in this reality for a while. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are surveying how we rehabilitate criminals. How we integrate their lives (Jesus) back into ours. In this meditation, we don’t forget, Jesus is life. Our God is surveying how we treat life (Jesus) in our prison system and how we reconcile life (Jesus) back into our communities.

As I experience this image, I hear God whisper to me: “How does the life (Jesus) in you treat the life (Jesus) in the prisoner?”  I hear Jesus say: “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” That passage makes a little more sense to me now that I realize Jesus is the very essence of life.  I continue to think about all who Jesus is.

Jesus (life) is reconciliation. Just how important was reconciliation to Jesus? It was “to die for.”  Am I willing to die a little to reconcile the life (Jesus) of a prisoner back to society?  Am I eager to reach out in some way to help rehabilitate the life (Jesus) of someone who is incarcerated right now? Am I encouraged to share Jesus (life) with a woman or man who is confined to a small cell in a prison right now?

Engaging in this meditation might make us a little uncomfortable. Picturing the Triune God observing how we treat life (Jesus) in jail could cause us to squirm a little. But, if we choose life, we choose Jesus. And, equally true, if we choose Jesus, we choose life.

As we continue our Christian journey of transformation, it would be good to come back to this meditation again and again to see how God might be calling us to transform by showing how we choose life (Jesus) or don’t choose life (Jesus) in our correctional system.

And, as we revisit this image of Jesus as life, he may ask us to contemplate other ways we choose life (Jesus) in our society. Such issues as: war, genocide, euthanasia, physical and mental torture, subhuman living conditions, poverty, immigrants and refugees, prostitution, human trafficking, health care, and many other concerns, including abortion. When we do anything to harm a life – and especially to end life, we are indeed harming Jesus – and even ending Jesus.

So, the next time you say: “I’m pro-life,” remember, God has set before us life and death.  He asks us, in every situation, to choose life, to choose Jesus.

Bishop’s Reflection: Speak Charitably, Confidently & Joyfully


by Bishop Michael G. Duca

I have always been at a loss for how to greet people at Easter. I suppose the default common greeting is “Happy Easter,” but that has always seemed too small for so wondrous a Solemnity of our Faith. It is also a little secular, mundane like “Have a nice day.”  The greeting I believe is big enough is the one above that comes out of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This Easter greeting is proclaimed as I approach the other and I say, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” and then the response of the other is, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” This greeting is not a simple desire that the other will have a good time, but rather a PROCLAMATION that flows out of and draws us into the center of the mystery of our faith in Christ Risen from the dead for our salvation.

This proclamation though can be hard to adopt in our lives since religion is considered a private matter in today’s world.  We may even shy away at times from bringing up a religious reason for disagreeing with a point of view in a group conversation, such as abortion and immigration, for example.  What is the religious reason that I am speaking of? It is a reason GOD has passed on to us, through Jesus Christ, for example, that we are to respect the sacredness of the human person, to welcome the stranger and to clothe the naked.  We believe that God has shown us what is good, right and wrong. Morality is not just a human enterprise, but also an application of the 10 commandments and Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” We can be considered naïve and behind the times, but we cannot be silent. God is being stripped out of our culture and our social morality. We must speak out, charitably, confidently and joyfully about the truths that find their source in GOD.

Simply saying this Easter proclamation out loud, even to ourselves (out loud is important), will cause us to feel a new energy, a model of the kind of joy and courage we should have to proclaim the Good News. “Happy Easter” is a good greeting, but a somewhat generic one that can come off the tongue almost without thinking, and is certainly not expecting a substantial response.  We cannot proclaim “Christ is risen,” OUT LOUD, without being pulled into the mystery of our faith, without giving a public witness of our faith, without considering what I truly believe and how it is reflected in my life.

To proclaim this Easter proclamation reminds us that we are called to share our faith and not be ashamed.  We are to be the SALT OF THE EARTH! The message we bring is the hope we proclaim in Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who was raised from the dead to save us from the darkness of sin and to take away the sting of death. In Jesus we have the true hope that gives our lives an eternal meaning, a hope that not even death can destroy. This same Lord comes to us in the celebration of the Mass as Eucharistic food, His true body and blood to strengthen us to become more like Christ each day.  This is the heart of the Church, it is our proclamation, our hope and our witness in the way we live our lives.  This is the witness that we need to bring back into the marketplace, our social lives and into the discussions we find ourselves in every day.  To be salt for the earth is to bring God back into our lives, our choices, our morality and into the policies and laws of our city, state and country.

The challenges before the Church today are calling us to consider whether our Catholic faith is just a generic title that has little influence in our lives or whether our Catholic faith is something that we embrace with a love that influences our whole lives and that we give witness to in the way we live.  Give witness to your faith in your life.  Do not just hope for a Happy Easter, but rather pray for a faith that is willing to proclaim Jesus Risen from the dead, OUT LOUD!

“CHRIST IS RISEN!” And to that I gladly respond, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

Medical Miracle: Shreveport Catholic Doctor Reaches Out to Brazilian Family Seeking Help for Their Daughter

Dr. Celso Palmieri (far right), talks with the Braga family. Palmieri was instrumental in bringing the family from San Paolo, Brazil to Shreveport, Louisiana to treat 3-year-old Melyssa's myxoma tumor. (Photo Courtesy of LSU Health Shreveport)

by Lisa Cooper

When Loyola parent and St. Joseph parishioner Dr. Celso Palmieri saw the face of Melyssa Delgado Braga while looking through online publications from his native country, Brazil, he felt compelled to get involved.  Braga’s family posted a plea seeking help to get their daughter to America, where she could find treatment for a large, rare facial tumor.  Dr. Palmieri, associate professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at LSU Health Shreveport, took a screen shot of Melyssa and sent it immediately to his colleague and department chairman, G.E. Ghali, DDS, MD, FACS, who said right away that they could help the little girl.  Dr. Ghali then contacted Willis-Knighton Health System seeking help to support the effort, and the health system agreed to provide housing for the family and to underwrite the cost of the hospital stay.

Within an hour, Palmieri found the Bragas on Facebook, and told them the good news.  In the course of his correspondence with them, Palmieri discovered that the family had been able to raise enough money through donations to cover their travel expenses.  He also discovered an underbelly of predators who sought to take advantage of the family.  “The family had people contacting them, offering their help if they could have control of the money,” Palmieri stated. From the time of his initial communication with the Bragas, he sent them links to the LSU Health Shreveport website and to his department in hopes of assuring them of his and Dr. Ghali’s credibility and sincerity.  It was on the night before the Bragas were to arrive in Shreveport, that Palmieri discovered something surprising.  Speaking of Caroline, Melyssa’s mom, he said, “She called the night before we were to pick them up from the airport and asked for a picture of me.  I realized she had never opened the links I sent.” When he asked her about why she hadn’t followed up on the information he provided, Caroline said that she never felt a need to.  She said she had a peace about Palmieri’s offer and trusted God through the entire process.

Once in surgery, Palmieri served as Ghali’s assistant in removing what turned out to be a five-pound myxoma tumor from the jaw of three-year-old Melyssa.  When asked about the possibility of the tumor’s returning, Palmieri said he is confident that there is “almost no chance” of that. Melyssa’s surgery was a great success, but she still has some time ahead of her before she is fully recovered.  After having been relieved of such an enormous weight, Melyssa is having to learn to balance differently so that she can walk fluidly again. She has a titanium plate reconstructing her mandible now, so she will have to have more surgeries in the future to replace the plate, and at the end, she will need a bone graft to reconstruct the mandible. She will also need to have implants placed so she can have teeth. “At this point,” says Palmieri, “chewing and eating is a challenge for her as well, since she has no teeth in the right side of the mandible, but she is recovering well and finding her way to eat.”


Before LSU Health Shreveport faculty successfully removed a myxoma tumor from 3-year-old Melyssa Braga.

Braga with her mother Caroline after successful removal of the tumor.

Although this story, which has now been covered across the globe, has pushed Palmieri and Ghali into the world-wide spotlight, Palmieri says it was the compassion he had for Melyssa the moment he saw her that prompted him to work to meet an immediate need.  He never expected such notoriety.  Sharing about how his faith prompted him to act on Melyssa’s behalf, Palmieri acknowledged that he has been “blessed with a gift and blessed to have received an excellent education and experience in Brazil, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and here at LSU Health in Shreveport.  I felt I needed to give something back.”  For the Palmieris, giving back has been a family affair.  The Palmieri family went together to meet the Bragas at the airport, and Palmieri’s wife Ingrid, a computer analyst, would spend time she had away from work serving the Bragas and helping to make the family feel at home here.  “Because they did not have a car here, [Ingrid] would drive them to the grocery store or take them to run errands.  We also had the help of many great friends who welcomed the Bragas with us and helped them shop and run errands as well,” says Palmieri.

Noting the effect his involvement has had on his children, Palmieri says, “It’s important to me that my children see my faith through my actions and not just through my words.”  Palmieri’s son, Loyola junior, Felipe spent last summer putting this principle into practice as a volunteer at an MDA camp, where he served as the daily caretaker for a camper with MD. The Palmieris are intentional about teaching their children the importance of living their faith.  “Giving money is easy compared to being involved,” says Palmieri, “but your time and attention are what people need most.”

When it comes to living his faith, Palmieri takes a practical approach.  “I don’t worry about changing the world.  I probably won’t,” he says, “but if I can change the life of just one person, I have lived my faith well.”

Ignatius of Loyola Movie Coming to Diocese of Shreveport


by Randy Tiller

Ignatius Press announced the new theatrical release of Ignatius of Loyola, Solider, Sinner, Saint on December 1, 2016. Due to the past relationship our diocese has with Ignatius Press, the Diocese of Shreveport was one of the first to be offered the opportunity to book a showing for this film.

Not since the release of Mary of Nazareth and Restless Heart has there been such an epic Catholic film of this scope, quality and grandeur. The last full-length feature film on St. Ignatius of Loyola was produced over 70 years ago.

Filmed on location in Spain with an extremely talented cast of Spanish actors, the story of Ignatius, his tumultuous life, passions, sinfulness, conversion and ultimately virtuous life bursts onto the screen and into the minds and hearts of the viewers, illuminating the life of St. Ignatius like never before.

The story of St. Ignatius is as relevant today as it was more than 500 years ago. And now, our diocese is able to offer an opportunity to view this powerful story in the Holoubek Theatre at the Catholic Center, located at 3500 Fairfield Avenue in Shreveport.

This outstanding Catholic film is being brought to our diocese for the purpose of evangelization and entertainment.

The diocese is offering this film on three different days and times so that everyone will have an opportunity to view it. Although there is no admission charge, donations are accepted. Your generosity makes it possible to continue bringing such events to our theatre.

Showings will be as follows:
• Wednesday March 22, at 2:00 p.m.
• Thursday, March 23, at 6:00 p.m.
• Friday, March 24, at 8:30 a.m. for middle and high school students. (The producers advise the film is not suited for under 13 years of age).

Souvenir bookmarks will be handed out at each showing as a memento of the screening. Patrons will also have the opportunity to purchase DVDs for sale at the theatre after the screening. They will only be available at the theatre, not online or at other locations until its general release after April 2017.
Some interesting facts:

In 1521, Ignatius was struck by a cannonball in the legs. One leg was merely broken, but the other was badly mangled. After suffering for a month, his doctors warned him to prepare for death. Ignatius began to improve and part of one leg was amputated. During his healing, Ignatius began to read De Vita Christi (The Life of Christ). The book would inspire Ignatius’ own spiritual exercises.

Other men joined his exercises and became followers of Ignatius. The group began to refer to themselves as “Friends in the Lord.” Pope Paul III received the group and approved them as an official religious order in 1540. They called themselves the Society of Jesus. Some people who did not appreciate their efforts dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them.  Before Ignatius died in 1556, his order established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members.
For more information about the movie, contact Randy Tiller, 318-868-4441, or