Category Archives: Features

Walking with Philippians: Reflecting on Paul’s Words in Our Daily Lives

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by Kim Long

Okay, I admit it, I was never really a big fan of the “apostle Paul.” Chalk it up to that often quoted verse reminding wives to obey their husbands – and here is the unfinished bit which seldom gets as much press – husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. As a daughter of the 60’s and 70’s, there was little room to embrace poor old Paul.

So imagine my joy and surprise when I realized Paul’s letter to the Philippians contains a perfect joyful framework for our holiday celebrations – celebrations which are too often strained to the breaking point with expectations and often misremembered moments laden with emotion.

My grocery bill will easily double in the next few months with ingredients for everything from turkey and dressing to the last gumbo and King Cake of the season. Frustration, anxiety and panic – an “unholy” trinity – often take over my mind.

Still though, grocery trips must be made. Things I tend to bring to the grocery store: 1. My list, usually written on the back of a used envelope. 2. The calculator on my phone. 3. An attitude which, at times, is fearful and less than charitable, not really wanting to let the person with a few items go before me in the line to checkout. In the end, at times with an uncharitable and forced smile, I grudgingly motion that they should “go first.” They are usually surprised, hurrying past me and my sense of exaggerated urgency and purpose.

Enter the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. It was hovering on my shopping list somewhere between produce and spices. In the letter of St. Paul, which is by all accounts the most loved, he stresses three themes: love for the community, appreciation for their support, and joy for the strength of the church in Philippi.

Thusly armed I exited my car and entered the grocery store.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Philippians 2:14
Well I am here, I muse, so I may as well get on with it. Surprised by unexpected sale items and smiles from other harried shoppers, I smile, but just a small one mostly to myself.

“I can do all things with Christ because he gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
The sign on the freezer says turkeys are 39 cents a pound and the line is a mile long. Two shoppers turn away to the opposite side on the bin where turkeys are selling for a higher price. My heart sinks. “There goes my carefully planned budget,” I think. A manager appears pushing a cart laden with the turkeys on sale. “That poor employee,” I think, knowing his day has been longer than mine. “I will remember him in my prayers tonight.” Then, not daring to wait lest I forget this patient person, this verse springs to mind: “I thank God every time I think of you.” Philippians 1:13

Finally all groceries are resting in my shopping cart. I make the final sweep of my list and realize it is finished. Wouldn’t you know it, a mother of several with only a few items in her cart is in line behind me. She looks tired. I notice her coat is careworn. Turning toward her, I tell her to go ahead. With a look somewhere between guilt and gratitude, she accepts.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5
Now, belted in, I am driving toward home, purchases in tow.  I contemplate the apostle Paul and his letter to the church at Philippi. Their problems cannot have been, at their root, that different from mine, from ours.

Navigating the final miles, my thoughts turned to the upcoming days and weeks ahead. I am guilty of nostalgia abuse in this way. In memory my table was laden with food and family, at least 30 people deep. The front door opened and closed while laughter mingled with the blessing and joy of seeing those whom work and distance usually kept at bay. This memory is in sharp contrast to the 10 who will celebrate Thanksgiving Day around my table this year. And in sharper contrast still to those who will eat alone or not at all. Another passage is offered to me here…

“Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4
Putting away the groceries I am assaulted with fatigue and guilt. I forego the usual cup of tea, which always serves as reward when a task, especially a difficult one, is finished. Reaching for coat, keys and purse, I head back to my car. I have done nothing for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul this year and that, I smile, is about to be remedied. Thank you St. Paul for being your persistent self. I don’t seem to be as bothered by the crowds in the grocery store just down the street, even though they are heavier. Instead I buzz around with the old youth group song we sang in a round rolling through my head…

“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
Of course feeding strangers, and donating food are often easier and more painless than dealing with some family situations. And we all have them… or at least most of us do. Going over my “to do” list, I fortify with a cup of tea and a bit of joy. Perhaps this year the dynamic will be softened, after all we are all a year older and theoretically wiser. I remember that my priest told our congregation we should all develop an “attitude of gratitude” Please God help me with that.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” Philippians 2:5
As I get out of bed, I actually consider not going to Mass on Thanksgiving Day, but it is a fleeting temptation. There are only a few worshipers present, but our priest knows we need to get home to “see to the lunch,” as he put it, so we receive a brief few sentences which seem to be filled with meaning. After our true thanksgiving, the Eucharist, we go forth feeling the blessing of Almighty God in a distinct way.  I am soothed by the sure knowledge that I have control of nothing, a thought I normally rebuke in favor of my rebellious nature. I rationalize that God knows that about me, so I talk myself into believing my way is best. Today, however, that fallacy is easily cast aside. Soon my family will be putting their feet under my table and we will eat our annual meal of turkey and dressing. “Please God,” I pray, as I drive away from the church, “Help me to remember You are God and I am not.”

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. Our church bulletin asks for donations to the food pantry. The Angel Tree is assembled in the vestibule, its branches filled with tags and hope. I am re-reading Philippians not wanting to let go of the joy it brought me in the pre-holiday season. It is difficult though, holding onto that joy, which is strange since it carries a weightlessness that is almost indescribable.

I think the small space between Thanksgiving and Advent is the best time of the season – a quiet few days to acknowledge our gratitude and the expectant season we are moving toward.

Another verse buffets me from the relentlessness of advertising. It is a verse I carry with me to Mass as we celebrate the culmination of all our labor and God’s love for us on the Feast of Christ the King. It is the most well-known passage from this letter of unbridled joy. Yes, joy despite the fact that the author of this letter was likely imprisoned while reminding us of freedom and love. There is joy in the Lord, freedom given to us by God and love which IS the Lord.

“That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10
Joy and being grateful are often lessons which are acknowledged when something has shaken our world. They are simple lessons, but not easy ones. May your holiday season be filled with joy, grateful hearts and hands held with family and friends. May you find your way there and back with those you love. And as Paul reminds us, “Then the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 

(Dedicated to Jim McGill and Gene Guilliano, scripture teachers par excellence).

Evangelists Remind Us of Our Precious Gift of Faith

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by Deacon Mike Whitehead

Bunny Austin, Gerald Govin, Bobbie Harlan, John Munger, Terry Byrnes, Josephine Pupillo, Norma Lenard, Joycelyn Majeste, James Tuma, Sam DeFatta, Cambize Schardar, Maria Steele, Judy Landry, Maudie Baranowski, Agatino DiStefano, Sudie Corbett, Oris Remedies, Regina Rivers, Matilda Yamin, Ruth Driver, Charles Kammer, Mary Ann Simms, Jaye Byrd, Lelia Hill, Peggy Harky, Patsy Blanchard, Marilyn Lang
Perhaps you know one or more people on this list. Perhaps not. But every one of them has helped me improve my faith life. All of them reside at The Oaks of Louisiana and I have the  privilege of bringing them communion most Monday mornings.

If you asked them individually, they would never call themselves evangelists. But they are true evangelists, true witnesses to the good news of our Catholic faith. Over the time I’ve been going to The Oaks, these women and men have inspired me and guided me. Mostly, they have reminded me of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what a precious gift that is for all of us.

We begin our Monday at The Oaks with Mass at 9:30 a.m. Not all of our Catholic brothers and sisters are physically able to attend Mass, but we do have a faithful and faith-filled group that regularly come to the beautiful chapel.

John Munger is among them. For years, Mr. John has come early to set up for Mass. You always can count on Mr. John. Even if he’s not feeling his best, he’s there, and his sense of humor is always front and center. You could say he’s been the cornerstone to make sure everything is ready to go for the priest celebrating that morning. Lately, Terry Byrnes has been helping, as well. In fact, Terry is so excited, he arrives before all of us and gets things going. Mr. John, Mr. Terry and all our regular attendees live their faith, and you can see that in the sacred moments of our worshiping together.

Every week, Mr. Schardar wheels in on his motorized scooter, and every week we begin with the same greeting. I ask Mr. Schardar if he had a good weekend, and Mr. Schardar always describes his weekend in one word, “fabulous.” Now, I’ve had a fabulous weekend every-now-and-then, but not every weekend. But Mr. Schardar always has a great attitude, and that wonderful spirit always gives me a lift every Monday morning.

There is someone who comes every week, but doesn’t live at The Oaks –– Kenneth Richard. He’s been coming to The Oaks since 1989, the year his parents moved into the facility. In 1994, Kenneth lost his dad, then in 1995, his mom passed away. But Kenneth didn’t stop coming. He comes to Mass every Monday, and after Mass, he serves donuts, bananas and candy for everyone. Since the mid-1990s, he’s brought around 15,000 donuts and 50,000 bananas. He does this as a labor of love for the residents at The Oaks.

For those who are not physically able to attend Mass, I make my rounds to bring communion. It is an honor to be with these women and men and bring them Eucharist. This certainly is not about me.

My first two stops on my rounds are Mrs. Simms and Mrs. Hill. They are indeed the face of Christ to me, as is everyone I visit. They so embrace Eucharist and understand on a deep level what a cherished sacrament we have.

Everyone I see loves to pray with me, and no matter their physical or mental capabilities, they know their Catholic prayers. Mrs. Pupillo is particularly inspiring because she prays in Italian. I don’t speak Italian, but her prayers speak to me in a profound way.

When I leave The Oaks, I am so excited to tackle my week. The women and men at The Oaks remind me that God is indeed good all the time. After all, that’s what evangelists do.

A Call to Diaconate Service

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by Deacon Mike Whitehead

It’s not too late to respond to a continuing call of service in the Diocese of Shreveport, but the clock is ticking.

Bishop Michael Duca is looking for a few more deacons and laymen and laywomen to serve in leadership roles in our churches.

The University of Dallas once again will provide the Diaconate Intellectual Formation Program, along with the Theological Education Formation for those wanting a Certificate of Theological Studies.

This latest formation is scheduled to begin in January 2018.

“The University of Dallas has allowed us to increase the class size so we can offer this opportunity to more of our church community, but the cutoff date is November 13,” said Deacon Clary Nash, formation director. “Just email me that you are interested (cnash@dioshpt.org), then go the Diocese of Shreveport website under Ministries and Permanent Deacons for all the forms.”

This is a four-year diaconal formation of prayer, study and pastoral training. Course work will cover a wide range of topics, from philosophy and theology, to scripture and homiletics. Pastoral training will encompass a variety of ministries, including sacraments, parish social concerns and parish administrator training.

The Theological Education for Transformative Services Program is open to and beneficial for those who serve in a variety of leadership positions. Just a sampling of the course work being offered includes:

•  Christian Spirituality
•  Synoptic Gospels
•  The Catholic Church in America.
•  Introduction and History of Liturgy
•  Bioethics: Medical and Moral Ethics

This formation will mark the third group of permanent deacons to be ordained in our diocese. The first group of men was ordained in 2004 and the second group was ordained in 2014. Presently, 32 men are actively serving as permanent deacons in our diocese.

Since the year 2000, deacons of Shreveport have answered the call to service. They help make Christ more relevant, human and understood in the world. They give witness to Christian values in the marketplace as ordained ministers. Deacons are called to leadership, to find ways to promote justice and charity and support Christian values in the world, in the name of the Catholic Church.

Catholic deacons are ordained to serve and called to speak in the name of the Catholic Church. He is called by his community to serve his diocese, his community and anyone in need.

His motivation is to know the heart of God and to be that heart of God for God’s people. As an ordained minister of the Catholic Church, the deacon serves in four areas:

•  Word
•  Sacrament (or liturgy)
•  Charity
•  Pastoral Governance

If you feel called by God to serve God’s people in one or more service areas, and enjoy doing that; if you are at least 35-years-old; and if you have leadership ability, perhaps you ought to pray for the gift of discernment of your vocation, and talk with your pastor about the permanent diaconate.

“As a deacon for the past 30 years, my life has been enriched and rewarded in so many different ways as they are incalculable, Deacon Nash said. He will once again be the director of this formation. Deacon Nash also served as formation director for the past two diaconate formations in our diocese.
For more information, please go to the diocesan website, www.dioshpt.org/ministries/permanent-diaconate/ or call Deacon Clary Nash at 318-868-4441.

Flyers Make Hurricane Relief a Personal Mission

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by Lisa Cooper

Loyola Flyers strive each year to fulfill the charge to be men and women for others.  One of the most significant efforts toward this end is the hurricane relief sent to Catholic schools and dioceses most affected by these storms’ destruction. But this year’s efforts hit home in a tangible way as one of their own was directly affected by Hurricane Maria, which swept across Puerto Rico.

Spanish teacher and Puerto Rican native Arelis Soberal’s family lives in Puerto Rico. When Maria hit, Flyers went into action raising money and gathering gift cards to help Soberal’s family and others ravaged by the storm get the supplies they need.

Stephanie Johnson, Academic Assistant Principal, said “I think I can speak for the faculty as well as myself when I say that all of the relief efforts at Loyola have been important to me, but having such a close proximity to someone directly affected by this tragedy has really made it something we all take more personally.”

This year Loyola is working directly with Soberal’s family and others in order to get them the help they need. Hearing Soberal’s accounts of what is happening to her family and to others as they try to recover from the devastation of Maria has helped everyone in the Loyola family connect on a much more personal level with the suffering of others.

Conditions in Puerto Rico have made getting relief to those in need very difficult. Soberal explained that roads and bridges have been washed away by the storm, leaving many to travel by boat. Even in places where the roads are passable, food, water and gas are scarce, and help is not reaching people fast enough. Eighty-five percent of the island is without power, so supermarkets where food and water were once readily accessible are now closed.
Soberal said even the small things we take for granted become major obstacles as “ATM’s and banks are closed, so people have no access to their money in order to purchase supplies from the few stores that are open.”  Because many gas pumps are not working, gas has become scare as well. “People are waiting in lines for hours to get the limit of $15 worth of gas,” said Soberal.

Health care is suffering as well. “Without power, medicine that needs to be refrigerated can’t be, ventilators can’t work and pharmacies can’t distribute medicine,” explained Soberal.

“We heard on the Puerto Rican news that one hospital on the west coast had to be evacuated because the stench from the morgue was starting to move into the hospital, and a children’s hospital was about to run out of gas for the generators and couldn’t get more,” she said.

She went on to explain that those living in metropolitan areas are receiving more help than those in the outlying areas of the island. “The island is in bankruptcy,” says Soberal, “with a government that has never seen or prepared for a storm of this magnitude—and no logistics in place to tackle the resulting situations. The first response was chaotic—rescuers just trying to save lives in the areas that were flooded. Then came the realization that you can’t move things when your truck drivers can’t get to the port of San Juan. It’s been a mess.”

Although being separated from their families has been hard on Soberal and her husband, she has been greatly moved by the love and compassion her Loyola family has extended to her. “I can’t express my feelings,” she says, “I never thought the school would do something like this… it means so much to me.”

When Soberal was asked about the morale of her family under such trying conditions, she pointed to what she loves most about her culture: “Puerto Ricans can find the good in any situation. Yes, we are out of food and water, but neighbors are sharing. Yes, we do not have electricity, but now children are in the streets playing, running and getting to know each other. In reality, neither my family nor any Puerto Rican family will tell their loved ones in the States the real situation. They will always say, ‘We are okay. Do not worry. We got it!’ They are a group of people who trust in God and have their faith to get them through.

Soberal did make one simple request: “Please continue to pray for the people of Puerto Rico and for those of us who are an ocean away. Maria not only destroyed the physical land of Puerto Rico, but also it destroyed the hearts of five million Puerto Ricans who live throughout the world.”

Catholic Charities Employees Share Stories of Assisting in Houston

CCNLA Employee Carl Piehl volunteers in Houston.

by Lucy Medvec

One month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, over 500 employees and volunteers attended the Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering in Houston. Even though the area was still recovering from devastating floods, CCUSA felt that its presence was needed more than ever in order to help those who had been affected. In addition to attending seminars and listening to speakers, Annual Gathering attendees were given the opportunity to go out into the community to help with disaster relief efforts. Here are stories from two Catholic Charities of North Louisiana employees who saw firsthand the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

Suhad Salamah, Benefits Manager
I worked in the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston- Houston warehouse where we assisted with sorting, creating packets/boxes and inventory. We were a group of 55 and we divided up into four groups to create packets/boxes of food, hygiene, cleaning supplies and baby items. Once the items were boxed up and completed, we loaded them onto the truck that would be taking them to the neighborhoods.

I didn’t get to speak with anyone that was directly affected by the hurricane, but I was told that while they were in neighborhoods doing intakes on the affected families, trucks loaded with boxes of items came and were hand delivered to the people. Knowing that our work in the warehouse went straight to the families the same day, gave me a good feeling.

Carl Piehl, Director of Financial Stability
“I participated in three relief projects. The first night there were about 100 volunteers assembling care packages consisting of personal hygiene and household cleaning products. We must have assembled several hundred boxes.  The next day we went into a low income neighborhood where the flooding had occurred. Neighbors told me that the water had risen very quickly. In a very short time they were unable to move their cars and within several hours, the water was chest high. People could do nothing more than escape with their lives. They couldn’t bring any belongings. They had to float their children or carry them over their heads as they searched for higher ground. It sounded like a nightmare. We went to unload and distribute a large truck of supplies that had come from some amazing people in Steubenville, Ohio. As soon as we started unloading, we were surrounded by the residents of the neighborhood. They were tired and weary from their ordeal but greeted us with smiles and expressions of gratitude. Everyone had suffered losses but they all seemed to share the same resolve: to fix what needed fixing and get on with their lives. The next day we went to an even poorer neighborhood where nearly all the homes had been completely ruined. We brought in two truckloads of relief supplies and canvassed the area looking for those who had returned to their homes. We collected names and phone numbers so that they could be contacted about ongoing needs.

I worked alongside CCUSA board members, executive directors from other Catholic Charities agencies, and even Sr. Donna Markham (CCUSA CEO). We were all there to help those who needed it most. What I took away from the experience was the knowledge that these disasters can happen to anyone. It takes an enormous effort and resources to respond to disasters and that there are thousands of great people that want to help. I’m grateful that I was able to do something to help.  Mother Teresa said “of ourselves we can do no great things, but only small things with great love.”

In addition to helping during the Annual Gathering, CCUSA has donated to date over $2 million to the Houston area. Disaster relief efforts are still going on in all areas affected by this season’s hurricanes. You can make a donation at www.ccnla.org/donate - 100% of funds raised are going to those affected. •

St. Francis Medical Center Hosts Memorial Service for Infants Born Before 20 Weeks

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by Bonny Van

Emotions were high at a special memorial service for infants born before 20 weeks. Parents and family members gathered at St. Matthew Parish Cemetery in downtown Monroe on Saturday, September 16, for the service. The prayer service, an annual event sponsored by St. Francis Medical Center, is intended to assist parents through the grief process.

“It is very important for most of the parents who have faith in God and eternal life. It offers a safe place for family and friends to honor the deceased baby and celebrate its life,” said Fr. James Dominic, manager of pastoral care at St. Francis Medical Center.

Bro. Charles Headrick, a hospital chaplain at St. Francis, said parents of a baby born before 20 weeks have the option of handling burial arrangements or letting the hospital handle them. For the latter scenario, St. Francis works with Mulhearn Funeral Home, Downing Pines Crematory and St. Matthew Catholic Church to handle the remains.

St. Francis Medical Center started this service in 2008. A special memorial bench and Guardian Angel statue was placed in the cemetery in honor of these infants.

Headrick said parents respond in different ways to the situation, especially so in the earliest stages of pregnancy. While some might want to “press on and move forward,” others will talk about the baby as being their child.

“The human life from conception is different from any other life,” said Headrick. “As scripture says, ‘God breathed the breath of life and created man.’”

St. Matthew Parish has placed two marble benches in the cemetery to serve as gravesites for the babies. One bench is inscribed with a passage from Psalm 119:76: “May your unfailing love be my comfort according to your promise.” The other bench is inscribed with Isaiah 49:16: “See, upon the palms of my hands, I have written your name.” The area provides a place for parents to visit and remember a lost child.

Headrick said it’s important for parents to take time to grieve and process the loss of a child so that it won’t “manifest itself in other ways.”

Headrick knows first hand about such loss. His wife, Lydia, was pregnant with triplets 21 years ago. Only one, his second son, survived.

“Very often people will say, ‘At least you have your other children,’ or ‘God must’ve needed this baby more than we needed the baby.’ The comments are meant to help but they don’t acknowledge the reality of the loss,” he said. “Very often it’s not seen as a genuine loss because its not well formed as far as the remains are concerned. Very often people will not think of this as a child.”

More than 50 people attended the Infant Memorial Service for 35 babies. Among the group, six families were represented with some family members traveling from several states to attend the ceremony.

“We honor the dignity of life from conception to death,” said Fr. Dominic.

The 30-minute service featured special prayers, scripture readings, benediction and music by Lydia Headrick, which included a song she wrote titled “Your Life is Still Precious.”

“It helps many to get emotional support from those present at the service and help them to cope with one of the most difficult experiences of their life. It highlights the value of life from conception and the importance of spirituality. It is an opportunity to share with those who are undergoing the same grief,” said Fr. Dominic.

Bishop’s November Reflection: “The Shepherd Cannot Run”

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On September 23, I attended the Beatification of Father Stanley Rother. I was deeply moved by Fr. Rother and how this Oklahoma farm boy became the first U.S. born martyr to be proclaimed Blessed.

Stanley Francis Rother was born March 27, 1935, in Okarche, OK. He was the oldest of four children and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School in Okarche. Being a normal farm boy, he did his chores, attended school, played sports, was an altar server and lived the small town life. While in high school, he began to discern the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. He first entered Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, TX, but his journey to ordination was halted when Stanley’s struggles with Latin led to inadequate grades and he was asked to leave the seminary.

But Stanley was allowed a second chance, and enrolled at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. He was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. Following his ordination, Fr. Rother served as an associate pastor for five years in Oklahoma. Heeding the call of Pope John XXIII, he sought and received permission to join the staff at the diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

Fr. Rother’s connection with the people of Santiago Atitlan was immediate. He served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil, who are decedents of the Mayans. In order to serve his people, Fr. Rother had to speak Spanish and the Tz’utujil language. He not only learned both languages, but his working knowledge of Tz’utujil enabled him to celebrate Mass and assist in translating the New Testament into their language. Tz’utujil was not a written language until the Oklahoma mission team arrived. What he accomplished was remarkable.

As the years passed, Fr. Rother tried to live a simpler life to be in communion with his people, who were extremely poor. He ministered to his parishioners in their one-room homes, eating with them, visiting the sick and aiding them with medical problems. He even put his farming skills to use by helping them in the fields, bringing in different crops, and building an irrigation system.

While he served in Guatemala, a civil war raged between the militarist government forces and the guerrillas. The Catholic Church was caught in the middle due to its insistence on catechizing and educating the people.  Catechists began to disappear. People slept in the church for protection and death lists began to circulate in the towns. During this conflict, thousands of Catholics were killed.

Fr. Rother’s name eventually appeared on the death list after a parishioner made the false accusation that he was advocating for the overthrow of the government by preaching the gospel. For his safety and that of his associate, Fr. Rother returned home to Oklahoma, but he didn’t stay long. He was determined to give his life completely to his people, stating that “the shepherd cannot run.” He returned to Santiago Atitlan out of love for his parishioners.

Within a few months of his return, three men entered the rectory around 1 a.m. on July 28, 1981, fought with Fr. Rother and then executed him. His death shocked the Catholic world. No one was ever held responsible.

The people of Santiago Atitlan mourned the loss of their leader and friend.  Because of the affection and veneration the people of Santiago Atitlan displayed for the priest, they requested that Fr. Rother’s heart be kept in Guatemala where it remains enshrined today.

Father Stanley Rother is now Blessed Stanley Rother.  When someone is declared “Blessed,” public veneration in the Church is permitted by the pope, but only in the diocese or country, or religious community to which the Blessed belonged. A person who is named Blessed becomes a saint for the whole Church with one verified miracle attributed to his intercession.

Blessed Rother is the first official martyr of the Church from the United States, and he reminds us we are all called to be saints!  Not by doing the same things Blessed Stanley Rother did, but by living our lives with the same dedication to loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. Fr. Rother revealed his love for his people when he proclaimed “the shepherd cannot run,” knowing he might be killed when he returned to Guatemala.

It was this act of love that makes Fr. Rother blessed in our eyes.  You may think your life is not as dramatic or holy as his, but it depends on how you consider the acts of love in your life. Fr. Rother’s act of love is really not any different than that of the father or mother who faithfully gets up early for work every day to provide for their family when they would rather be doing a thousand other things, or the adult child choosing to give more of their free time to care for their aging parents, or the pastor who gets up at night for a call to the hospital, or a student who gives service hours to those in need.  As we choose to love as Christ has loved us, let us call on the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother to make us strong, faithful and loving, and to give witness to Christ in the world by our saintly lives.

Embrace Grace: A Pro-LOVE Movement for Single and Pregnant Women

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by Kelly Phelan Powell

Amy Ford grew up in a happy, loving, church-going, Christian home. She knew abortion was wrong; she had even prayed with other believers outside abortion clinics. But when she found herself pregnant and unmarried at the age of 19, it suddenly became a very real and tempting possibility. “I know it was the enemy,” she says now. Too ashamed and afraid to face their families, she and her boyfriend decided the best way out of the trouble they were in was an abortion.

At the abortion facility, a nurse performed a sonogram in which Ford discovered she was farther along in her pregnancy than she thought she was. Having hoped she could simply “take a pill” and “make everything go away,” she was horrified to learn that a surgical abortion would be her only option. Hysterical and hyperventilating, she fainted. When she came to, she was surrounded by nurses. In a miraculous moment, something occurred that any woman who has ever visited an abortion facility will attest is not at all typical: One of the nurses told her she was clearly too distraught to make a decision that day and to go home and reschedule her appointment for an abortion. “She was an angel of a nurse,” Ford says. She and her boyfriend finally worked up the courage to tell their parents, who were understandably disappointed but supportive. The two married and now have four children. The baby who was almost aborted is now a 19-year-old young man, the same age his mother was when she nearly made a deathly tragic mistake. “I really feel like all of our kids are called to an amazing destiny in life,” she says.

Ford certainly is. Her experiences with unplanned pregnancy led her to co-found Embrace Grace, a national program for single and pregnant women. Their mission is “to inspire and equip the church to love on single and pregnant young women and their families.” With Bishop Michael Duca’s permission, Embrace Grace came to the Diocese of Shreveport in 2015. Director L’Anne Sciba explained that Mary’s House Pregnancy Care Center at 906 Margaret Place in Shreveport (a block away from the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans) holds the program twice per year. Each program is 12 weeks long, or a “semester,” with the first 10 weeks focusing on basic Christian principles and encouraging the women to share life-giving fellowship through prayer, activities and crafts. In the 11th week, volunteers celebrate the mothers-to-be with a baby shower where they can invite family and friends. Week 12 includes a Special Event Day. Currently, there are three women enrolled in Embrace Grace, which is in its third semester.

This year’s Embrace Grace baby shower is taking place at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 22, at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans Parish Hall. Like all showers, it hopes to furnish the new mothers with the items they will need to care for a newborn, but more importantly, it demonstrates to the women that the Body of Christ accepts them, loves them and celebrates them and their babies. “We would like as many ladies as possible to attend the shower,” Sciba said. “Gifts are really nice, but when complete strangers show up to attend a shower for your baby, it changes hearts and fills them up with God’s love.” If anyone is interested in bringing a gift or participating in upcoming showers, email L’Anne Sciba at maryshouse.sport@gmail.com or call (318) 220-8009.

Expectant mothers generally learn about Embrace Grace and Mary’s House online or through church members reaching out to women who are single and pregnant. Mary’s House invites every woman who visits to join an Embrace Grace group either there or at one of the other three groups in the Shreveport-Bossier area. In addition to addressing women’s spiritual needs, Mary’s House also offers free and confidential pregnancy testing (including Pregnancy Verification in order to receive medical care and other social services), ultrasounds and counseling services. Ford said, “The most common response from the girls who try Embrace Grace for the first time is, ‘I thought I was coming here to learn about where I screwed up and go over everything I’ve done wrong.’ But the good news is that they quickly find out how wrong they were. They are quickly overcome by the love and grace of Jesus…the pro-life movement saves babies, but the pro-love movement saves the babies and the mommies.”

Saving love can’t come too soon for Shreveport and the world. An abortion facility in Bossier City closed in April, but there is still one operating in Shreveport (in addition to one in Baton Rouge and one in New Orleans, for a total of three in the State of Louisiana). Louisiana Right to Life Federation (prolifelouisiana.org) reports, “There were 8,972 abortions performed in Louisiana in 2016, down from 9,362 abortions reported in 2015 and 10,211 abortions reported in 2014. The number of abortions performed in the state had increased steadily from 2008-2014 as population numbers returned to pre-Katrina levels… Even with numbers going down, on average, 25 abortions per day were performed in Louisiana.” The website notes that these statistics are from the Louisiana Department of Health and do not factor in the number of women who sought abortions outside the state. On the positive side, these same statistics indicate that the number of abortions performed fell by 14 percent from 2014-2016, meaning that more than three babies were saved per day last year. Pro-life efforts are clearly making an impact, but they must continue stronger than ever.


“I heard today that Mother Teresa picked up 90,000 poor people herself, one person at a time,” said Sciba. “That doesn’t count her 4,000 Sisters of Charity across the world. Mary’s House and Embrace Grace are impacting North Louisiana one woman and baby – unless it’s twins! – at a time. It makes a big difference to that woman and child!” Anyone who wishes to make a difference through Embrace Grace and Mary’s House should email maryshouse.sport@gmail.com. “[We] always welcome donations of money and time,” Sciba said. Women in the diocese are welcome and encouraged to attend the Oct. 22 baby shower as well.

“We believe that the church should be the first place girls should run to during an unplanned pregnancy instead of the last because of shame and guilt,” said Ford. That’s exactly what Sciba and her fellow volunteers aim to do. She said, “In time, with God’s grace and by His providence, Mary’s House and Embrace Grace will have made a positive impact on North Louisiana.”

Embrace Grace & Mary’s House: Sylvia’s Story

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by L’Anne Sciba

hen I first met Sylvia* she came to Mary’s House for a free pregnancy test. She’d already been to the abortion clinic and received the abortion pill. Now two months later, she realized she still might be pregnant. What if the pill hadn’t worked – she already had young twins at home.  Horrified, with a hurricane of whirling thoughts filling her mind, she thought the peer counselor at Mary’s House might hold a glimmer of hope for the next thing to do… at least she could find out for sure if she was pregnant.  She was.

Medical care is very important and a plan for Medicaid and a doctor’s care was addressed first. At the same visit, Sylvia was invited to join Embrace Grace, a 12 week course, hosted by Mary’s House and the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans. On the first night of class, Sylvia nervously rang the doorbell hoping for help from complete strangers. Was this a waste of time?
Week after week at class, Sylvia listened to stories of how women in similar circumstances let go of chains of resentment and un-forgiveness; she learned that the lies and wounds she carried around with her could be replaced with God – that made her feel better. As Sylvia prayed to God, He began healing areas in her life that created problems for her.

Little by little, she began to recover her sense of humor, and began to have small hopes and dreams. Then she took baby steps of action. By the time the Baby Shower at St. John’s was held, Sylvia had a new vision of herself, what her future could be with God in her life and her parents were so grateful for the change in their daughter.

It’s been one year since Sylvia came to Mary’s House that first time.  In that year, after having her baby, working at a steady job, talking with her parents, investigating possibilities and adjusting ideas, she has a solid plan for her future and her children.  Her parents are a big support and encourage her as she enrolls in college. Sylvia will be successful because she knows God guides her in His commandments, through family and people in the Church and in daily events. She is never alone because she trusts God who says: “Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you.” The Lord declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and hope.

The vision of Embrace Grace is for every girl in an unplanned pregnancy to have a church to go to for spiritual, emotional and physical support. Its mission is to inspire and equip the church to love single and pregnant girls.

If you have the love of God and determination to  host Embrace Grace at your parish for single and pregnant young women, visit EmbraceGrace.com, or call Mary’s House for more information. Be Pro-Life. Be Pro-Love.

*not her real name

Compassion for Outsiders: Locals Assist Immigrant Harvey Victims

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by Jessica Rinaudo

The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place, or disposable.”
 – Pope Francis, Message for the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, September 3, 2014

As Hurricane Harvey moved through Texas and dumped as much as 52 inches of water in some areas, the world watched as cities were swallowed and people were rescued from rooftops. Many lost everything, including access to basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. People piled into emergency shelters, quickly overfilling available buildings. And while the government stepped in to help, there was a group of people inside Texas who could not even accept that assistance.

Immigrants living in Texas without the documentation required by the government to gain assistance, found themselves at the mercy of whoever would take them in. Many found help in local churches, but they were quickly overrun.

A local group of Hispanics in West Monroe heard their pleas and pulled together to help. Maria and Lorenzo, members of St. Paschal Parish in West Monroe, have family members in Houston. As they spoke to one another, their family members told them about the things they were seeing there during the hurricane.

“If there was a shelter, they were telling people to go there,” said Maria, “but when they got to the shelter, they were asking for state ID’s and driver’s licenses. Everyone was afraid to go to a shelter.”

Maria and Lorenzo felt called to aid these people. Her family put her in touch with the churches there that were housing more than 400 people and who were in desperate need of supplies.

“I asked what they needed the most,” said Maria. “I noticed they weren’t worried about clothes for adult people. They were more worried about the little kids and needing canned food and medicine for pain relief. They gave me a list of their biggest needs.”

To help gather the needed supplies, Maria reached out to the local Hispanic community in Monroe through Facebook. She spoke with Sr. Edith Schnell and was granted permission to use the St. Paschal Parish parking lot as a collection point for people to bring their supplies. And the local community came through.

“We gathered Saturday before we left. We got a really good response from the Hispanic community. We got three pallets of water bottles, big boxes of personal care items, another of canned food, and another of cleaning supplies.”

Maria and Lorenzo packed up the supplies and drove them to Houston. They felt that it was their personal responsibility to make sure the items were delivered to the people who truly needed them.

When they arrived, many of the people had been forced out of overflowing shelters, so they created individual supply packages with the items they brought and let people in the neighborhood know the supplies were available.

Although Maria and Lorenzo had seen the news coverage of what was happening, it was still a shock to see the devastation and the faces of the hurricane’s victims in person.

“It was sad,” said Maria. “When we finally got there to the first neighborhood – it was so sad to look into people’s faces. It made me cry. I felt like I was one of them, it felt like it happened to me and to my children.”

Maria and Lorenzo answered God’s call for these people by putting their faith in action, working as the hands of Jesus Christ and loving their neighbors with their words, actions and prayers.