Category Archives: Features

Father Lombard Celebrates 65 Years of Priestly Ministry

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by John Mark Willcox

There are few Catholics who live in Shreveport or Bossier City that have not had their lives affected in a positive way by Fr. Richard Lombard, who celebrates his 65th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on December 20. After he received Holy Orders in 1953, Fr. Lombard was encouraged by the late Bishop Charles P. Greco to minister in the mission field of Louisiana.

Upon his arrival in Alexandria, Fr. Lombard began providing his unique priestly ministry to the Catholics of central Louisiana. His many early assignments included serving as an assistant in three locations until he came to his first pastor’s assignment at St. Edward Church in Tallulah, LA, in 1962. Four years later, Bishop Greco asked that he go to west Shreveport and serve as the founding pastor of a new parish. Thus, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Shreveport was born in August of 1966, and the parishioners there enjoyed 20 years of Fr. Lombard’s pastoral leadership.

Fr. Lombard departed Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in 1986, but not before proudly burning the mortgage of the new church and leaving the parish entirely debt free. He then served short appointments to Shreveport’s St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in 1986, and Christ the King Parish in Bossier City from 1987-90. The remainder of his active ministry has been centered on St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport, where he served as an associate priest before being named as pastor, later guiding St. Joseph during the parish’s 50th anniversary in 1999.

Throughout his priesthood, Fr. Lombard has excelled at instructing and welcoming new Catholics through the RCIA process and helping divorced Catholics through the marriage annulment process. Through his devoted ministry, thousands of new Catholics have entered the Church and hundreds among the faithful are able to lead new lives following their successful annulments. Fr. Lombard has never lost a case he brought before the Marriage Tribunal, a feat of which he is most proud.

Even with his senior priest status, Fr. Lombard continues to offer his ministry to the people of our region without hesitation. He is a priest who built and renovated parishes, guided his people in true stewardship to God’s many blessings, marked and celebrated milestones with his congregations, and spent decades bringing people into and back to Mother Church. He is truly devoted to his vocation and remains a wonderful example of the priesthood to thousands of Catholics in two different dioceses.

God bless you Father Lombard, and thank you for your years of service to the faithful of Louisiana!

The Immaculate Conception

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by Fr. Matthew Long

There are countless images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No Catholic Church, hospital, school or home is complete without at least one. Her role in our redemption and salvation has always been recognized by the faithful. The Blessed Virgin Mary bears many titles, but the title of Immaculate Conception is the one that was bestowed upon her not by man, but by God.

The Immaculate Conception as a Dogma of the Church was not formally pronounced as an infallible teaching by the Pontiff until December 8, 1854. On this date the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus (ID) was issued by Pope Pius IX. A reading of this encyclical indicates that although it was the first formal pronouncement supporting this dogma, the Church’s tradition has always held the Immaculate Conception to be a doctrine of the Church handed down by the Fathers and professed by the faithful in every generation.

The importance of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception can never be underestimated: it is the foundation upon which our belief in the Divinity of Christ  rests. Christ is God and he was with the Father from the beginning. As the Creed states, he is “consubstantial with the Father,” which means that Christ is of the same substance as the Father.

We believe that sin or anything unholy cannot be in God’s presence; God cannot be contained in a sinful place. Therefore, in order for Mary to be the Bearer of the Christ, it was necessary that she not be tainted by any sin. Since, all of humanity bore the taint of Original Sin passed down to us by our first parents, Adam and Eve, “before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for His only-begotten Son a mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world.” (ID).

At her conception in the womb of St. Anne, God endowed “her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of His divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity.” (ID). This free gift of grace and privilege granted by God was only possible because of the merits of Jesus Christ.

Under the title of Immaculate Conception, Mary, our mother, is the patroness of our country and of our diocese.

I once visited the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, within it lies the remains of the first Bishop of Natchitoches, Augustus Marie Martin. Upon the marble slab marking his tomb is his Episcopal Coat of Arms, and at the center of his shield is the symbol of the Immaculate Conception. As I began to read about the Immaculate Conception, I discovered that this same symbol was on the back of the Miraculous Medal. I then obtained some Miraculous Medals for each of our seminarians and the bishop blessed them. I sent them to each of our seminarians and asked them to pray each morning with me:

“O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Therefore all of us were united in our prayer to our patroness to foster a culture of vocations and to be faithful sons of the Church.

I encourage all of you to place your own lives under the Immaculate Conception’s patronage and join me in this prayer for the Church in the Diocese of Shreveport and our nation as all of us work together to re-evangelize our world.  •

*This is an edited version of an article that was originally printed in the December 2012 edition of  The Catholic Connection.


Keep Christ at the Center of Your Celebrations

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by Katie Sciba

I sauntered through the Christmas section of a department store last year, beaming because my heart equates decorations and ornaments with bliss and glee. Ribbons, tiny pine trees and clunky wood signs were everywhere donned with reindeer and messages of “Merry & Bright.” Aisle after aisle overflowed, but it was only on a single, small rack where I found decor relevant to Jesus. Christmas has been secularized for years, I know, but more than any other year, I felt deeply bothered. The reality of God coming into the world He created is a more enormous and profound idea than our minds can comprehend. Christmas is the Lord’s birthday, yes, and also the dawn of man’s salvation. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say we should keep Christ in Christmas, and in case you’re pragmatic like me, here’s a list of ways to do it.

1. Learn Salvation History During Advent

A fantastic way to recognize Jesus in the Christmas season is to spend Advent learning salvation history, and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. Get your tree set up for Advent and decorate it with Jesse Tree ornaments. These special ornaments are hung one day at a time leading up to Christmas, and each has a corresponding scriptural passage about the ancestry of Jesus. Complete kits are available online, or you can sort through your own decorations to find ornaments relevant to this time-honoring tradition.

2. Give Catholic Presents

Maybe our kids are weird, but they get all giddy opening clothes as well as toys Christmas morning. We typically get them fun graphic tees featuring superheroes or fairies; but it occurred to me that our kids would relish showcasing their favorite saints on their clothes; they are, after all, real-life superheroes. Other meaningful Catholic gifts are saint medals, holy water, a blessed crucifix, art for bedrooms or living areas or a rope rosary. Or call your parish and ask for a Mass to be offered for your loved ones – the Mass card will make a perfect stocking stuffer, with out of this world perks!

3. Decorate for Advent

When it comes to big decor trends, the writing’s literally on the wall. We eat up signs with gorgeous lettering, so this year put up “Oh Holy Night” or “Glory to the Newborn King.” Display your nativity scene, heirloom or Fisher Price, and save the baby Jesus for Christmas Day. LSU fans know purple goes with everything, and it’s conveniently the same liturgical color for Advent! Deck your halls with all the purple and gold you have and you’ll see that your parish will feature the very same colors before Christmas. Trade them in for whites, reds and greens just before the Big Day to give yourself and your family a visual hint that the season has changed.

It’s time to actively underscore Christ in Christmas. Prepping our hearts with a Jesse Tree and short Bible readings, adding a touch of faith to our gifts and decorating our homes with words joyfully proclaiming Christ’s coming and birth will stir a change within us. Making exterior room for Jesus in our homes will in turn make interior room for Him within our souls. Our experience of Christmas will be happier than ever when we immerse ourselves in the “Reason for the Season.” •

 

Shreveport Martyrs and the 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic

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by Fr. Peter Mangum, Ryan Smith and Dr. Cheryl White

In the late summer of 1873, Shreveport was besieged by the third worst epidemic of Yellow Fever that is recorded in United States history. On scale, the population loss was unprecedented. From late August until early November, Shreveport lost approximately one-fourth of its population to an illness that no one fully understood, although previous experience had taught that once the first frost arrived, the epidemic would abate. No one had yet made the connection that the virus of Yellow Fever is actually mosquito-borne, and in fact, requires the third vector of the insect to spread in a human population. Because of the unique conditions of a transient commercial population in this river port city, the density of population, and as home to a large mosquito population in the summer months, Shreveport was no stranger to the illness. However, the scale and ferocity of the epidemic of 1873 proved to be one for the history books. This year marks the 145th anniversary of this milestone in Shreveport history, but it marks a significant passage of Catholic history, as well.

Counted among the city’s dead were five Roman Catholic priests and two religious sisters of the Daughters of the Cross, as well as a young novice of that order. The sacrifice of their lives in the service of the city’s sick and dying provides compelling testimony to the Christian virtue of charity, and their willingness to die for others is a model for true selflessness. Their stories, while tragic, are yet inspiring in their witness to the very ideal given us by Christ: “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The religious demographic of Shreveport in 1873 reflected a city that was mostly Protestant, but with a large Jewish population as well. Roman Catholics were but a small minority, and indeed, only three priests were assigned here at the time. Shreveport was a remote location of the Diocese of Natchitoches, founded in 1853. Its first bishop, Auguste Marie Martin, recruited priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Rennes in France to come to northern Louisiana. Among those men were five who could not have known at the time that their mission in Louisiana meant going to their deaths.

Fr. Jean Pierre, the founding pastor of Holy Trinity, had been in the area since 1854, when Bishop Martin first assigned him to Holy Apostles parish church in the Bayou Pierre community (Carmel, Louisiana today). Fr. Pierre built the first Catholic parish of Holy Trinity in Shreveport, and by the time of the Yellow Fever outbreak in 1873, he had only recently been joined by an associate pastor, the young 26-year old Fr. Isidore Quemerais. At the Daughters of the Cross convent, located on the site of the old Fairfield Plantation, Fr. Narcisse Le Biler served as chaplain.


With the Yellow Fever virus spreading rapidly, the Daughters of the Cross convent opened its doors as a hospital, as did Holy Trinity and many other churches, and even private homes throughout the city. Those who undertook the care of the sick and dying knew well the risks, and as the epidemic grew in both strength and numbers of lives claimed, it became apparent that 1873 was worse than the region had ever seen. Yet, the care for others did not cease. The sisters of the Daughters of the Cross worked alongside the clergy to minister to both physical and spiritual needs.

On September 15, 1873, Fr. Isidore Quemerais died of the virus. The following day, September 16, Fr. Jean Pierre succumbed as well. Two days later, on September 18, realizing that he was also ill with Yellow Fever, Fr. Le Biler sent a telegram to Fr. Louis Gergaud, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Monroe, asking for help. Fr. Gergaud boarded a stagecoach bound for Shreveport, and his final words to his assistant were, “Write to the bishop and tell him I go to my death. It is my duty, and I must go.” Indeed, Fr. Gergaud’s prophecy proved true, for he contracted the virus almost immediately upon arriving in Shreveport, and died on October 1.

Providentially, Fr. Gergaud arrived in time to provide comfort and final sacraments to Fr. Le Biler, who died on September 26. At the convent hospital, the epidemic had also already claimed the lives of Sister Marie Martha on September 17, and Sister Marie Angela on September 23. Also receiving word about the increasingly desperate situation in Shreveport was Fr. Francois LeVezouet in Natchitoches. The ensuing meeting between Bishop Martin and Fr. LeVezouet is recounted in this excerpt from a forthcoming book by these authors about the Shreveport martyrs:

Upon his return to the Natchitoches Cathedral of St. Francis on Second Street, positioned just one block from a dead arm channel of the Red River, Father LeVezouet tied up his horse at the stable near the rectory, where he was soon met by the grim face of Bishop Auguste Marie Martin.

The Bishop wasted no time in handing LeVezouet the two documents. The parish priest unfolded the letters and examined them. One was a desperate letter scrawled by Mother Mary Hyacinth Le Conniat at the Fairfield convent and girl’s academy on the southern outskirts of Shreveport. The matron was bearing witness to the virtual eradication of the small Catholic community there and she feared Shreveport and its suffering masses would soon be without the sacraments. Both of the priests in the city were deadly sick and the strong probability was arising that they would soon die in tandem. She was concerned also there would be no clergy remaining to carry on the affairs of the mission, to offer the daily Masses, let alone minister to the multitudes of the sick and dying from the sweeping epidemic.

The second note was the even more worrisome letter from Father Le Biler himself, pastor of the convent, who in a desperate voice and shaking hand requested aid at once, as it was feared by all that he would not last much longer.

Father LeVezouet took in the contents of the dispatches and looked up at the bishop to find him searching the priest’s face as he stood before him. A great sadness was perceptible, almost tangible in the air as the moments passed.

“What would you like to do, my son?” Bishop Martin asked, at last breaking the painful silence.

“Monseigneur, if you tell me to go, I go, if you leave it up to me, I stay.”

Bishop Martin paused and thought for a moment trying to understand “the real meaning of his words.” The bishop was not convinced his priest was shirking in fear, but nonetheless did not understand his meaning all at once. He was puzzled, like a disciple on a Galilee hilltop awaiting the parable’s explanation: do you not yet understand? Some more painful moments passed.

Then, Father LeVezouet added, “I want to go so much that, if you left the decision up to me I would believe that in going I was acting according to my own will… I do not want to do anything but the will of God.”

The bishop was leveled by the piety before him. He could hardly speak any further and only told the priest to make ready to go at once in relief of Shreveport.

Fr. LeVezouet arrived in Shreveport just in time to provide viaticum to Fr. Louis Gergaud on October 1. It was not long before Fr. LeVezouet was also ill and knew his own death was near. He died on October 8, but not before two priests from New Orleans arrived. Fr. James Duffo, S.J. and Fr. J. Ferrec both had been exposed to Yellow Fever before, and their arrival in Shreveport was timed, yet again, to assure that the Catholics of the city were never without the sacraments. By that time, a third death had been recorded at the convent. Sister Rose of Lima, who was yet a novice, died October 5.

It is remarkable, and even miraculous, that the grim timeline of 1873 bears out such Providential care at work. Each priest arrived in succession, just in time to care for the one before, with the end of their lives timed so that the terminal phase was not reached until another priest could offer the sacraments. To again draw from the forthcoming book on their lives:

What is certain is that Francios LeVezouet died violently, expelling black vomit throughout his last evening on Earth. Then, through Divine mercy personified, the New Orleans priests arrived by his bedside with what was recorded as only moments to spare before his passing, knowing full well it was not only his earthly cry for help they had answered, but that they were also serving the will of God.

Within whatever parlor, boarding house room, or commercial structure the dying priest lay, Fathers Duffo and Ferrec administered Francios LeVezouet, a child of God and a devoted disciple of Christ, his final sacraments, and with little time to spare as he passed quickly thereafter. Thus the New Orleanian Jesuit and the assistant pastor to the Cathedral of St. Louis were initiated into the confraternity of the charnel house priests, with the dual missions to bring hope and peace to the dying strangers surrounding them and to continue the sacraments without a moment’s secession, to the handful of remaining Catholic faithful in northwestern Louisiana.

As this area commemorates the 145th anniversary of the Yellow Fever epidemic in Shreveport, it provides Catholics with an opportunity to foster a lively devotion to these priests and religious sisters who truly were martyrs to their charity. Their lives, and especially their deaths, provide the strongest possible witness to the fundamental call of our historic Catholic faith, which is to serve others. The population statistics underscore the poignant truth of their ultimate sacrifice: they did not question the creed or faith of the dying they comforted. They did not choose to suffer and die just for Catholics, but for any and all – because they were Catholic. Their ongoing witness to us is resoundingly clear, their sacrifices were not in vain, and may the memory of them be forever woven into the rich tapestry of our local Catholic identity.

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Let us pray through the intercessions of these servants of God for divine favor for those we know who have special need of our prayer, especially the ill, as well as for ourselves and for our city. 

St. Joseph Cemetery: Remembering & Revitalizing

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by Kate Rhea

In November of 1882, less than a decade after arriving in Shreveport, Fr. Joseph Gentille, the second pastor of Holy Trinity Church was contemplating a major decision. North Louisiana’s growing Catholic population was in need of space to bury its dearly departed; a private place for peaceful rest during a turbulent time in history.

His faith and devotion to his fledgling parish led him to use his own savings to establish Shreveport’s first Catholic Cemetery. He named it in honor of his patron saint, and 136 years later, St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery is still operating as a resting place for departed Catholics in the area. Since taking over operations at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in 1996, the Diocese of Shreveport has facilitated the burial of hundreds of Catholics who have the privilege of being interred in a cemetery full of rich and enduring history.

St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery has developed over the decades. Its present state offers nearly 100 sections arranged into plots and crypts. In addition, a Garden Mausoleum and Chapel Mausoleum feature over 200 interred tombs. For older cemeteries, the common question is whether or not expansion is necessary or optional. In the case of St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, there are already nearly 300 plots currently available with a projected additional 200 plots which will become available when needed.

Those interred at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery are in good and honorable company. Many notable persons are buried throughout the cemetery, including local religious leaders, such as two of the beloved priests who died during the Yellow Fever epidemic, 14 Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Fr. Gentille himself.

Shreveport’s early champions of entrepreneurship and philanthropy are also buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery. One such champion is Justin Vincent Gras who came to Shreveport from France in the late 19th century, ran a successful family grocery, and later became the largest landowner in Caddo Parish by the 1920s. A benefactor of St. Vincent’s Academy and St. Mary School, Gras was a community contributor. He is credited with the phrase, “What’s good for Shreveport is good for me!”

Contributors to academia and the art world are also present at the cemetery, including Lebanese novelist Afifa Karam. Karam was an advocate for Arab Feminism who made her literary debut in 1906 by the age of 23. She was put in charge of an Arabic-language newspaper called Al-Hoda in New York City, and created al-’Ālam al-Jadīd al-Nisā’ī, a monthly periodical for women. She settled with John Karam in Shreveport and is described by biographers as an ardent and involved Catholic.
Veterans of several wars are interred at St. Joseph including Pvt. A.J. Stacey, a Confederate soldier and member of Stewart’s Louisiana State Guard C.S.A. and Henry Lane Mitchell, a veteran of World War II who served as Shreveport’s public works commissioner from 1934 to 1968.

Local football legend David Woodley, who played quarterback for Byrd High School, LSU and professionally for the Miami Dolphins, is buried there also. In 1983, Woodley played in Super Bowl XVII as the youngest starting quarterback in history at that time, solidifying his place in sports history.

Presently over a dozen beloved Catholics and their family members are buried annually at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery and the cost of such a privilege is less prohibitive than one might imagine. With national averages for burial plots in private cemeteries hovering around $1,500, buying a plot at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery costs $750, with cremation burial rights costing considerably less at $375. The range of prices for opening and closing fees associated with burial at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery are between $850 to $1,100, depending on whether the service is held on a weekday, weekend or holiday.

Other items needed for grave side services, such as tents and chairs, are available upon request and for a reasonable fee. The staff at the Diocese of Shreveport are courteous and professional with many years of experience and can answer any questions you have about the process, whether you’re planning for the future or dealing with an unexpected burial need.

In early 2018, the Diocese of Shreveport honored St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery’s past by revitalizing its digital archival database for those interred over the last 100+ years. The complicated yet necessary tasks of mapping and confirming burial sections, researching records and preserving individual documents are currently underway. Cemetery prayer services, cleaning days and genealogical study groups for family members are all a part of the plan for keeping St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in the hearts and minds of Catholics in the diocese.

For more information about burial costs and available spaces, please contact Ed Hydro at ehydro@dioshpt.org, or 318-219-7277. If you would like information pertaining to a loved one interred at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, please contact Slattery Library and Resource Center at 318-219-7264, or e-mail Kate Rhea at krhea@dioshpt.org. •

Q&A with Illustrator Deacon Andrew Thomas

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Beginning with the cover of this issue of The Catholic Connection, we will start printing one to two pages of a graphic novel on the five priests who gave their lives in service to others in the Shreveport Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. Deacon Andrew Thomas is the artist behind this amazing new series. We chatted with him about his art and faith to give you an idea of the person behind the pen.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – when you became a deacon, where you serve.
I am married to my lovely wife, Patty, and I have four beautiful children: Sara (15), Lisa (11), Monica (10), and Benedict (4). I became a deacon on February 11, 2017, ordained on the Feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes for the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. I am very blessed to be serving at St. Michael Catholic Church in Murrells Inlet, SC, just south of Myrtle Beach.

How did you begin drawing graphic novels?
I began drawing comics at a very young age. I really loved reading comic books when I was a child. There was a group of us in sixth grade that used to collect and draw comics, and I remember distinctly getting in trouble one day for drawing one of my comics during class time. My teacher told me to write on the back of the comic book I was making, “I was drawing this during English class,” and have it signed by my parents!

Did you go to art school?
Yes, I was very fortunate to go to one of the best art colleges in the world, Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Our instructors there pushed us really hard on fundamental drawing skills. We had to study muscular and skeletal anatomy as well, drawing very frequently from live models. Our illustration instructors stressed the importance of sketching out and then choosing the best idea before starting the final composition. Competition was fierce, but the majority of us left the college as highly-skilled illustrators.

How did you grow your talent?
I have been drawing throughout my entire life. I don’t ever remember a period of my life when I was not drawing. The two desires I contemplated with respect to utilizing my art talent were either to draw animated cartoons, or to draw comic books. Animated cartoons are such an involved process and take so many artists to put together even a very short film, so I lost interest in doing so very early on. What I liked about comic books is that one person could do them, so I decided I would illustrate comic books, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity not only to draw captivating scenes, but also to use them to tell a story.

What are some other graphic novels / series you’ve done?
My first graphic novel is a book titled, Borderline. I did most of the drawing of this book when I lived in Puebla, Mexico, early on in my marriage. I think it’s a really unique story. The main character, Bart Selmer, a south Texan, crosses the border to Mexico for the first time, and he is shocked by the level of poverty he sees, but gains a healthier perspective of his neighbors south of the border.

My second graphic novel is a book titled, The Life of St. John Berchmans. I had found a reprint online of an old biography of the saint and had a strong desire to read about him. Once I found out that the miracle that led to his canonization took place only an hour west of Baton Rouge where I had grown up, I felt compelled to tell his story in a graphic novel format.

I’m continuing to work on A History of the Diocese of Charleston for our diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Miscellany, which will culminate in the celebration of the bicentennial year for the diocese on July 11, 2020.

How does your faith play a role in your art?
I decided early on, having left my graphic art career in 2002, upon entering Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, that I would only use my artwork for God’s greater glory. In the seminary, I started an illustrated book of saints, but never finished the book or my seminary formation. However, my marriage benefited tremendously from the seminary formation, and my diaconal ministry benefited from it as well, and I would again illustrate saints, but now in a more compelling graphic novel format. God had a plan! I am very thankful that all of the graphic novel work that I have been blessed to produce has been God-centered.

What is your process for creating a comic book?
I start by researching as much as possible. Not only do I have to understand the time period and environment that I am illustrating, but I also have to be aware of the architecture and fashion of the time. Then, I try to make a number of sketches of the main characters that I will be illustrating. Once I feel comfortable, I jump in page by page and try to bring life to each panel, starting with pencils, then brush and ink, finally adding color and dialogue with the computer.

Many comic illustrators today produce all of their artwork digitally, and they certainly achieve dynamic results. I still prefer to use traditional materials, using pencil and paper, and brush and ink. I try to give my work a classic look throughout which lends itself well to the historical work I’ve produced lately.

Join Us for iGiveCatholic on Giving Tuesday

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by John Mark Willcox

shreveport.igivecatholic.org

We are excited to announce that the Diocese of Shreveport will be participating in #iGiveCatholic, the first-ever online giving day created to celebrate our unique Catholic heritage! The #iGiveCatholic Giving Day inspires faithful stewards to “Give Catholic” on Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving.

The goal of the #iGiveCatholic Giving Day is to rally the Catholic community of our diocese in support of the organizations that shape our souls: Our Annual Appeal programs and ministries, our Catholic schools and nonprofit ministries dedicated to helping those in need. We know that, for Catholics, generosity and giving have a profound meaning. As children of God, giving is the ultimate expression of mercy as we provide quality education to our young people and help those in need while preserving our Catholic heritage in North Louisiana for future generations. Compelled to action by our shared faith, our prayer is that area Catholics will be energized to give back with critical needed financial support.

This is the first year that the Diocese of Shreveport will take part in this unique and very successful program which has provided monetary assistance to many worthy ministries over the past several years. #iGiveCatholic will take place this year on November 27th (Giving Tuesday) from midnight until 11:59 pm Central Time. Plan to visit #iGiveCatholic on the web on November 27th and remember that this is a wonderful opportunity to offer your generous support to our core efforts to serve our region through gifts to our Annual Appeal, Catholic schools, the Society of  St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities of North Louisiana.

If you have any questions or need more information on this year’s #iGiveCatholic day of giving, contact the Diocesan Development Office, bvice@dioshpt.org. •

Martyrs and Saints: A History of Witness & Holiness in the Church

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by Cheryl H. White, Ph.D.

The earliest centuries of Christianity are punctuated by periods of severe persecution of the faithful in the Roman Empire, beginning in earnest under the reign of Emperor Nero, when the Church was just decades old. The very first persecution was of Jesus Christ, followed of course by the Apostles. The word “martyr” in Greek was applied to describe the Apostles, both who they were, and what they had done, for the word literally translates as “witness.” By their deaths, they provided the ultimate witness to the Truth they had seen and known in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the pagan culture of the Roman Empire, there was a civic expectation that people would recognize the gods worshipped by others, and the refusal of this in Christianity naturally made its followers suspicious to Roman authorities. Through the first three centuries of the Church, generalized edicts condemning Christianity were common, and resulted in many Christians going to what was often a sentence of horrific torture and death. This did not deter or discourage the faithful. In fact, martyrdom became the model and ideal for the Christian, as it has been likened to “the narrow gate” by some scholars. Tertullian of Carthage, a prominent theologian of the second century, expressed this concept well when he wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The persecuted Church only grew in numbers.
Martyrdom became such an identifiable aspect of the faith that when active persecutions ended during the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century, Christianity sought new ways to find the highest possible calling in other expressions, such as asceticism and monasticism. Still, to die a martyr’s death remained an ideal for centuries to come, as Christians continued to identify with the sacrifice of the persecuted faithful of the earliest era. Those early martyrs quickly became recognized as the first saints of the Church, and the willingness to lay down one’s life for Christ became a clear path to holiness.

In the first centuries of the Church, there was no formal process of canonization as there is today, with elevation to sainthood usually occurring at the level of the local bishop. By the sixth century, the names of the most well-known of these were being commemorated in the liturgy, evidenced by the Roman Canon. Martyrdom, while the first ideal of the Church, eventually gave way to the recognition of other models of exceptional holiness, heroic virtue, and rigor of life, as equal potential for sainthood. By the tenth century, it became standard that all such canonizations took place at the level of the papacy, and the formal process known today has existed since the sixteenth century creation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The stages of the canonization process are defined as: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint. To be recognized as a Servant of God states that the Church has begun the process of official investigation into the life of a potential saint; to be declared Venerable is to have been associated with heroic deeds; to be Blessed (beatified) is to have one miracle confirmed through the intercession of the person in question; and finally, to be a Saint (the final step) requires the confirmation of a second miracle.

In 2017, Pope Francis articulated another way to beatification in an apostolic letter, Majorem Hac Dilectionem, or “greater love than this,” drawn directly from the Gospel of John. The pope stated that besides martyrdom and heroic deeds, the offering of one’s own life out of charity is yet another pathway to the Church’s recognition, with the same requirement of at least one miracle for beatification. “They are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.”

Pope Francis went on to say in the apostolic letter, “It is certain that the heroic offering of life, suggested and supported by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ, and therefore deserves the admiration that the community of the faithful usually reserves to those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised in a heroic degree the Christian virtues.”

From the persecutions and martyrdoms of the earliest Christians, to the countless heroic and selfless acts on the part of many other saints throughout history, the Church has always formally recognized holiness. By the new guidelines offered by Pope Francis, the Shreveport “martyrs to their charity” of 1873 seem particularly worthy of this consideration, as they all knowingly offered the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives in the service of others.

Picture: St. Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr. The objects around his head and body are the rocks, which were used to kill him.

Domestic Church: Taking Little Ones to Mass

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by Katie Sciba

I have a confession to make: I haven’t always liked going to Mass. There have been some lengthy periods when the idea of going to Sunday Mass with my family made me want to head for the hills. Our kids were challenging and obnoxious in Mass, so much so that I was resolved that Andrew and I would attend Mass separately each Sunday just so we could avoid hauling our traveling circus into parish-view. We’ve received fantastic advice and insight from veteran parents that made going to Mass as a whole family not just possible, but enjoyable. It’s taken tears, fits and persistence to get us where we are, but we’re grateful for the wisdom passed to us.

1. Up your pre-game.

We’ve learned there’s no such thing as getting ready for Mass “real quick” for our family. It has to start 1 ₂ to 3 hours ahead of departure time, and it takes a divide-and-conquer approach from Andrew and me. Teamwork from us parents is a must if we want to arrive on time and stave off mutual resentment. The kids’ Mass attire is presentable, but it has to be comfortable, too. Uncomfortable shoes, pants and shirts make it hard for the kids to deliver good behavior. To avoid further disruption and tears during Mass, every child takes two trips to the bathroom an hour before and immediately prior to our departure. Though things can be pretty chaotic at our house, we try to keep Mass prep slow to avoid the stress of rushing.

2. Check and voice expectations.

Regardless of how terribly or well our preparations go, the ride to church is a behavioral pep talk. We’ve been going over the same rules every Sunday for years, and now every little Sciba can recite them. They know there won’t be any trips to the bathroom, they have to be prayerful with their bodies – folded hands and upright posture – and they have to pray along, saying the responses. Three simple rules. When our kids slip in any area, we give them a nudge and then model what we want them to remember.

3. Sit up close and talk.

This one is counter-intuitive. It’s tempting to sit toward the back in case we have to make a quick exit with a fit-thrower or potty-goer; but it turns out that kids with comfy clothes and empty bladders are more likely to behave, and with the added bonus of being able to see, the whole family has a shot at making it through Mass, sanity intact. There in the front pews the kids experience every part of the liturgy in plain sight. For our younger ones, we hold them and whisper what’s happening on the altar, “See how Fr. Dan kisses the Gospel after he reads it?” “Watch the servers when they ring the bells. They do it because Jesus is here.” We talk almost the whole Mass to our little ones learning so we can help keep them focused.
4. Respond to behavior.

For the children with angelic manners during Mass, there are stickers or check marks on a chart at home; high fives for the older ones. Whatever we use to reward, the kids get psyched for it. For the kids whose behavior needs tweaking (or revolutionizing), there is a conversation about what they need to work on with follow-through the next Sunday. Really bad behavior gets bigger discipline.

Above all, the biggest, most important tip I’ve received was to KEEP GOING. Practically speaking, parents and kids need consistent practice for behavior and experiences to improve; but even setting this aside, there is nothing more powerful than bringing our families before God. Wild kids will at least be in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, as well as their tried and tired parents. The Lord sees our persistence, our struggles and victories with our families, and loves us in both.

Protecting Our Children in the Diocese of Shreveport

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by Deacon Michael Straub, Safe Environment Coordinator

It is hard to miss all the news in the last couple of months on sex abuse by those placed in a position of trust in the Church. Even though most of these cases are 40 to 70 years old, they still bring strong emotions to the forefront. We are angry for those who were harmed, perplexed on how this could happen, and feel an urgency concerning the safety of our children today.

In 2002, the Diocese of Shreveport established a Safe Environment Program and Sex Abuse Policy, which can be found on the diocese’s website (http://www.dioshpt.org/administration/human-resources/safe-environment-2/), to not only protect our children and vulnerable adults from harm today, but to also address those who wish to report abuse that might have occurred in the past. This is where some confusion arises and questions are asked. What happens when someone wishes to report abuse?

It is important to know that our diocese has published information on how to report abuse. One document already mentioned is our sex abuse policy, or more formally titled Diocesan Policy Concerning Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clerics, Employees or Commissioned Volunteers. This almost 50 page document explains all the processes, procedures and individuals involved in assisting with sex abuse issues reported in our diocese. The full policy can be found on our website at the above mentioned link.

Another document is our one page handout, “Protecting Our Children in the Diocese of Shreveport,” which explains what we do in our diocese to protect children. On the back are clear, simple instructions on reporting a possible sex abuse issue within our Church (see the sidebar). All of our churches and schools are required to have these handouts easily accessible to all who enter our locations.

As these documents state, when reporting a possible child abuse issue, the authorities must ALWAYS be contacted, which in this case would be Child Protection Services. Following this, we ask that the victim or their family to call our Victim Assistance Coordinator. Contact information for CPS and Victim Assistance can be found in the sidebar, as well as on our website and flyer. This allows those who have been harmed to not wait for the courts to decide if there was abuse, but gives them a chance to receive immediate counseling and healing.
Our sex abuse policy calls for the establishment of a Permanent Review Board made up of non-Catholic volunteers who help the diocese in its decision making process for the victim and their families, as well as transparency to the authorities, church communities and the public in general. The victims’ names are not released to the public for confidentiality reasons, but if the claim is credible, then the offender’s name would be released and the diocese would encourage anyone harmed by this individual to come forward to find healing and help.

It is unfortunate that sex abuse occurs in our society, and more so in our churches. We as a Church are called to not only keep children, youth and vulnerable adults safe, but to also reach out to those who have been harmed. Yes, the Church is a place for our souls to be healed, but to also bring comfort and hope to those who struggle in their daily lives with past hurts and pains. Through the hard work of many volunteers, we continue to be the hand and heart to those who are in most desperate need of Christ’s love and healing.