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2017 Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal: Our Vision, Our Mission

by John Mark Willcox The coming months will see our community of faith again striving to enable the work of Christ within our diocese by supporting our Annual Stewardship Appeal.  A new More »

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Catholic Youth Day Coming March 11!

by Nicky Prevou Middle school and high school youth and their adult leaders are eagerly looking forward to Saturday, March 11. Catholic Youth Day (CYD) 2017 will be held at St. Paschal More »

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God is Calling – Diocese in Search of New Deacon Class

by Deacon Mike Whitehead It has been a little over 11 years since the first Permanent Diaconate formation for the Diocese of Shreveport ordained 18 men in 2005, and three years since More »

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Community Volunteers Give Back to Catholic Charities

by Lucy Medvec As with any non-profit agency, the work and support from volunteers are important to the success of the organization. This is no different with Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. More »

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Bishop Friend’s Book Collection in Slattery Library

by Jessica Rinaudo The Catholic Center’s Slattery Library has recently had a huge boost to its book collection. Upon his passing, Bishop William B. Friend bequeathed his vast collection of literature to More »

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Vocations View: Want to Change a Life? Support Catholic Education

by Lisa Cooper Catholic vocations in all forms, from religious and priestly to living and working faithfully as a layperson all have to start somewhere. Oftentimes that place is in Catholic schools. More »

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Navigating the Faith: St. Blaise & the Blessing of Throats

by Dianne Rachal, Director of Worship The feast day of St. Blaise is celebrated on February 3 with the unique ritual of blessing the throats of those with throat disorders and anyone More »

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Domestic Church: Prayer Turns Burdens to Blessings

by Katie Sciba Andrew has been waking me early every morning. A little nudge and a “Were you going to pray?” I croak “Mm hmm.” He goes to a corner of our More »

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Mike’s Meditations: Who Do You See?

by Mike Van Vranken If the man in this picture came to our country claiming to be a displaced refugee fleeing persecution, would you vote to allow him to stay?  I read More »

CCW Celebrates Members

The Council of Catholic Women in Zwolle held their Annual St. Martha Circle Christmas appreciation dinner for its members.

Mike’s Meditations: Who Do You See?

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by Mike Van Vranken

If the man in this picture came to our country claiming to be a displaced refugee fleeing persecution, would you vote to allow him to stay?  I read that the Louvre Museum in Paris has offered to protect art treasures rescued from conflict-ridden countries such as Syria and Iraq. This is a great cultural service, but it causes me to ask:  “What is more important to us than human beings?”  How do we protect art and worldly artifacts, but not protect the treasure of the gift of life?

We say we don’t want to accept more refugees because it might allow terrorists to show up in our cities and towns. We do have a responsibility to protect our families, right? We fear that people that look like the man in the picture above might be suspect – they may harm us.  What are we to do?

“If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?  Children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth” 1 John 3:17-18.  It’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it?  No love for others means God’s love is not in us.  And all the flowery talk of love means nothing if we don’t love others.  Jesus himself gave us the story of the Good Samaritan; the hated Samaritan helped his enemy, the Jew. And of course, Jesus’ bottom line statement on such matters was: “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” Matthew 25:45.  Not much ambiguity there.

Of course it may be hard to see Jesus in the man in the picture above. In my role as a Spiritual Director, I often ask people how they imagine Jesus. Very few of them portray him as the Middle Eastern man that he was. We all seem to see him as resembling ourselves. It’s easier for us to love someone who looks like we do. But, how can we protect art and worldly treasures and not people?  How do we ignore human beings in trouble?

Maybe it’s not a lack of love and compassion. We all want to help others, don’t we?  Perhaps it’s fear that restrains us from demanding that our country, and all other countries as well, welcome these 60 million refugees and offer them food, lodging and an atmosphere of Christian love. After all, this is a pro-life issue, isn’t it?  But, we’re afraid we may give help to a terrorist. Or, we fear that too many refugees will destroy our ability to help the people who are already here. We even fear that this influx of humanity will hurt our economy.  “But God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather of power and love and self control” 2 Timothy 1:7.  No, the fear does not come from God. But he does have a remedy. “Perfect love casts out fear” 1 John 4:18.

When we act in love, fear goes away. Then, we are free to believe, in faith, that God will protect us; that God will provide for us. Can we step out in faith and lovingly see Jesus in every human being to such an extent that we provide help to the needy and do it with no fear whatsoever? I believe God has promised us that we can.

I also believe when we act out of love, our eyes are opened so wide that we see Jesus in the ones we are loving. We become free to live the Gospel we preach. We destroy the shackles that hold us back.  The Holy Spirit who lives within us can then go to work. We release his power, his anointing and his love on the world. Only then can our focus move from taking no action out of fear, to seeing and encountering the risen Jesus in ourselves and in everyone else.

The man in the picture above was my great, great uncle. He was a monk and a priest in Lebanon for almost 50 years. His name was Father Bechara Abou-Mourad, and he has been given the title “Servant of God,” which means that the cause for him to be canonized as a saint by the Church has been opened.

So, again, I ask: If the man in the picture came to our country claiming to be a displaced refugee fleeing persecution, would you vote to allow him to stay?

Mike is a writer, teacher, and co-author of the book, Faith Positive in a Negative World. You can contact him at  www.mikevanvrankenministries.org

Bishop’s Reflection: Be a Good Steward of Your God-Given Gifts

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

This month we kick off our annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal.  This successful yearly collection to fund the work of our diocese is a witness of the generosity of our diocesan family.

Some say Catholics don’t give as much as members of other churches who tithe, but I know they are wrong. Catholics give generously each year to faithfully support their parishes, the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal, second collections that send help throughout the world, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, pro-life ministries, St. Vincent de Paul, and so many others.  I suppose though, since the need is great, we should reflect on how our giving should be seen as an extension of our faith and the response of a disciple of Jesus.

You may have noticed that we call our yearly collection the Diocesan STEWARDSHIP Appeal. The spiritual attitudes at the foundation of our giving are summed up in the word “stewardship.” To understand the importance of being a good steward is to fundamentally shift how we understand the relationship we have with the things we own and the blessings and opportunities we have received.  To be a good steward is to understand that our giving to the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal is not like paying a bill or dues, but rather sharing in the mission of the Church.

A spirituality of stewardship is founded on the understanding that a steward is not the owner, but the caretaker of something.  A good steward cares for, protects, invests, improves and respects all that is placed under his care. For us as disciples of Christ, a good steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.  Stewardship is a lived vision of a sharing, generous, accountable way of life rooted in Christian discipleship, which people can take to heart and apply to all the circumstances of their lives. Our giving should flow out of an understanding that we are good stewards. In clear terms this means that we should have a spirituality of stewardship that is rooted in the core belief in our hearts that everything we own and are is a GIFT.  We are not meant to be owners of things, rather to see ourselves as stewards of what is placed under our care.

There is a big difference between saying, “I own this, I earned this and I will use it as I want” and saying, “I have earned this, worked hard for it and I thank God for all that makes this possible and I will try to be a good steward of the blessings I have received.”  Once you see your life more as a gift, then gratitude becomes a part of your daily attitude and the idea of stewardship is a regular part of your daily decisions about time, talent and treasure.

Viewing life as a gift makes you more attuned to your life from the viewpoint of your faith and the teaching of Jesus. Our attitude and decisions begin to include the awareness of the needs of others and we become more generous and hospitable. I also see that I am called to use my gifts, that is my talents, time and treasure, to help build up the kingdom of God, lend a hand to those in need and give witness to God from whom all good things come.

To adopt the attitude of a good steward is an invitation from God that helps free us from the temptations of things. When we see what we own only in regards to ourselves we can be tempted to use our wealth, time and talent to influence and manipulate others for our purposes. We can become trapped in vanity and greed.  We can surround ourselves with so much that we stop hearing the cry of the poor and become isolated from those who need our help. We live in the illusion of self-sufficiency and superficial pursuits.

The faithful disciple of Jesus, the good Catholic, sees everything as a gift coming from God. The proper response is to accept these gifts as a good steward, thankful and accountable that their use is to the glory of God.  It is my hope that every parishioner will choose to be a part of the mission of our diocese and donate to the Appeal. It is not about a tithe or how much we give, but about giving, being a good steward and supporting the larger mission of the Church. I want the donation you give to the Appeal, in fact any donation of your time, talent and treasure, to be an act of stewardship. I want us all to see how freeing it is to see our life as a gift, to live each day with a thankful heart and to know the joy of a cheerful giver who gives out of the abundant blessings that come from God. Please, prayerfully consider a gift to the Appeal this year out of a desire to be a good steward.  Be assured that I receive them as a blessed gift and I will handle them as a good steward for the glory of God.

Calling Catholics Home

During the 2017 Lenten season, parishes throughout the diocese are taking the opportunity to welcome back those who were “once Catholic” through the program “Calling Catholics Home.” If you are a Catholic who has been away from the Church for a while, this invitation is for you. Our faith community misses you and is incomplete without you. No matter how long you have been away, and for whatever reason, we invite you to consider renewing your relationship with the Catholic Church.

Please join us for informal sessions and an update of the Catholic faith. The sessions are conducted in a support-group format with speakers including local lay people, priests, deacons and Bishop Michael Duca. Everyone is welcome.

Please keep this program in mind while visiting with friends and family who might be fallen away Catholics.

This six week program will take place at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans Parish Hall, located at 939 Jordan Street in Shreveport, on Tuesdays, beginning February 21, 2017, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. For more information, contact Kathy Snelling at 318-423-0112, or go to www.callingcatholicshome.com.  •

Monroe High Schoolers Serve Street Shelter

St. Frederick high schoolers work together to provide for those in need at DeSiard Street Shelter in Monroe.

by Randy Smith, JGS Community Outreach Director

Members of Mrs. Olga Trejo’s Spanish class at St. Frederick High School in Monroe recently decided to undertake a community service project benefiting those in need.

Prior to Christmas a number of students collected 200 personal care and hygiene items and packaged them in approximately 30 large plastic baggies. Among those students participating in the project were students Kelly Glaze, Emily Brodtman, Auburn Morgan, Frances Doyle, Annie Juneau, Gabriela Trejo and Nory Brockman.

Trejo then contacted Randy Smith, Community Outreach Director of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Monroe, in search of an appropriate ministry to which the gifts could be presented. Coincidentally, Smith, who serves also as Vice-President of the DeSiard Street Shelter, a non-profit corporation serving the needs of the homeless in the Monroe area, was at that time helping plan the organization’s annual Christmas open house.

Invitees to the open house were being asked to bring entry donations such as food and winter clothing for distribution to those who are fed meals at the shelter.

“I figured the toiletry and personal hygiene items would be a perfect complement  to the other gifts,”  Smith said.
Smith delivered the items to Arthur Hogan, a kitchen supervisor at the shelter, on December 17, and they were later distributed to the less fortunate.

According to Trejo, the students are delighted to have been of service to the needy, especially during the holiday season, and plans are already underway to participate in such endeavors in the future.

Student Annie Juneau said, “It’s a great thing to serve and help out in our community, and seeing the effect it has on those in need is amazing.”

Francis Doyle recollected on her participation. “Helping people is a really great thing, especially around the holidays when everyone is concerned about what they are getting. It’s nice to remember what the season is really about.”

Student Gabriela Trejo described the experience as a privilege, stating that it is wonderful to help those who cannot care for themselves. “I will definitely be doing it again,” she said. Class member Auburn Morgan re-discovered the truth in the old saying that giving benefits the giver as well as the receiver. “Helping others makes our community stronger,” he observed. “Just the thought of helping others is satisfying. It makes each of us a better Christian.”

The DeSiard Street Shelter is biblically based and serves over 34,000 meals a year to the under-resourced in the Monroe area. Many of the shelter guests also utilize available shower and laundry facilities and participate in Bible study sessions during the week.

For further information, please visit the shelter website at www.desiardstreetshelter.org, or check out its Facebook page.

Students of the Year at St. Joseph

St. Joseph School announced in Mass on December 14, the 2016-2017 Students of the Year. This year’s winners are Ellie Kate Jackson, 8th Grade, and Olivia Shuff, 5th Grade. These two students were chosen from a group of six finalists in each grade level by a committee of faculty members. The selection process included each finalist submitting a personal essay, participating in a faculty panel interview and having their grades, service hours, and other qualifications reviewed. “Olivia and Ellie Kate both have excellent academic achievement, leadership skills and exemplary citizenship traits,” Principal Dr. Judith McGimsey said of the winners.

Spelling Bee Winners at St. John Berchmans

Congratulations to all St. John Berchmans School Spelling Bee Finalists! Pictured here are 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners: Reynard Landreneau, Tiffany Siharath and Harrisen Smith. Reynard will go on to compete in the Regional Spelling Bee at Louisiana Tech. The winner of that bee will compete in the National Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Fr. Jim Shares Nativity with JGS

Fr. Jim Moran surprised Mrs. McDuffie’s Kindergarten class on the day of their class Christmas party with a story about “The Newborn King.” Fr. Jim, in his priestly Christmas attire, sat with the children and the parents to share the story of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The children gathered around Fr. Jim to listen, and afterwards had many questions about the birth of Jesus. It was a special blessing that Fr. Jim bestowed on the children, to share his time and knowledge of the Lord and we thank him for sharing his love of Jesus with all of us at Jesus the Good Shepherd School.

Christmas at Fatima

Our Lady of Fatima School celebrated the holiday season with a special program: “Christmas in Concert.”

Catholic Charities Touching Hearts and Improving Lives in Our Community

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by Lucy Medvec & Jessica Rinaudo

Since its inception in 2010, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) has dug its roots into the Shreveport-Bossier community and has begun to spread them across the state to Lake Providence and Monroe. Through its vast array of social programs, CCNLA helps people not only meet their immediate needs, but also receive education on everything from money management to healthy eating, child care and safety to English as a second language.

Giving Families a Hand Up

April is one of the many hundreds of people Catholic Charities helps each year. April, 25, has three young children and her work fluctuates depending on how business is going. She found herself in need this past summer. Upon her mother’s suggestion, she approached Catholic Charities to both receive help paying her rent and to attend their Money School classes.

“I learned how to budget and save a little money when I come across it,” said April. “Mr. Carl [Piehl] showed me how to budget with food, how to save my money, save my meals, save my food and use my food stamps.”

The three-hour class takes place weekly and is a requirement for those seeking financial assistance from Catholic Charities.
“Our philosophy is, whether or not we can help you financially, we want to educate you. We want to help you with a budget and show you ways you can effectively use your money,” said Lucy Medvec, CCNLA Director of Development.

While attending the Money School classes, teacher and Director of Financial Education and Emergency Assistance Carl Piehl told April about Gabriel’s Closet – a ministry of Catholic Charities that reaches out to parents and young children, providing everything from children’s clothes to diapers, formula, car seats and pack and plays.

“With Gabriel’s Closet there’s no cash ever exchanged there, they earn merits,” said Lucy, “and they can earn merits not just by watching parenting videos, but by going to doctors appointments, taking their children to doctors appointments, working and turning in check stubs. If they go to church they can bring their church bulletin in and get merits for that.”

“It’s quite reasonable in the sense that they don’t need a large number of merits to get a car seat. The items are very achievable because we want clients to have a buy-in in a sense,” Lucy added. “We want to educate people and we feel that Gabriel’s Closet is really good in helping them become the best parents they can be.”

Gabriel’s Closet has been a huge relief and help for April and her family. The Closet has allowed her to provide clothing for her three-year-old and four-year-old children, freeing up funds to supply her five-year-old with clothing. “It takes so much stress off of me,” she said.

When asked about earning merits, April talked enthusiastically about some of the videos she has watched and things she has learned, especially the video about car seat safety.  “I didn’t use to have my kids in car seats, but that changed a lot. The videos showed me a lot of safety information, because I could easily lose my kids by not having them in a car seat. That made an impact on me,” said April.

In addition to the videos, there are also bi-monthly live classes on baby safety taught by volunteer nurses.

Gabriel’s Closet is one of the most visible ministries of Catholic Charities and operates purely on donations from individuals, churches and schools. It is manned by volunteers twice a week. Lucy said more volunteers is one of Catholic Charities’ chief needs. Right now the Closet is open twice a week, but they would like to open it more frequently with the help of volunteers.

Taking the Initiative: From Immigration to Education

In 2012, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana saw a void in the community for services available to the immigrant population. With the formation of its Immigration Integration Services Program, CCNLA slowly grew its program and over the years added an Immigration Advocate and Immigration Attorney to its staff.  CCNLA has been able to provide a variety of services to low-income immigrants including assistance with legal documentation, relative petitions for family members, visas for immigrants seeking humanitarian relief, English as Second language classes and classes for U.S. citizenship.

Catholic Charities is the only agency in North Louisiana recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).  Although the majority of its clients are provided assistance through the Shreveport office, immigration services will be offered on a regular basis in the Monroe office beginning in 2017. CCNLA has three members on staff who are fluent in Spanish and is able to offer all of its programs, including the Money School, in Spanish.  Since 2012, hundreds of immigrants have received assistance from Catholic Charities and have become active members of their communities. One such client felt a particular need to show his gratitude.

Raymund Benavidez, 52, first came to Catholic Charities of North Louisiana in November 2013 seeking help in converting his dependent visa to a work visa.  A native of Cebu, Philippines, Raymund and his wife, Maria came to Shreveport in May 2010 with their two daughters.  Raymund received help with the conversion of his visa through Catholic Charities’ Immigration Integration program and immigration attorney, Briana Bianca.

After learning more about Catholic Charities’ programs, he saw a need for a nutrition program and offered his expertise as a chef to teach clients how to cook healthy foods while living on a limited income.  In March 2014, CCNLA’s Healthy Eating on a Budget Initiative was created, offering free cooking demonstrations twice a month as well as nutrition classes and grocery store tours.  During these demonstrations, clients learn how to purchase healthy foods and prepare them for their families.  After Chef Raymund prepares the food, they get to eat the meal and take the recipes home to prepare for their families.

Raymund currently works as a sushi chef for Margaritaville Casino and his wife, Maria, teaches special education at a local high school. Their daughters attend school locally. As a family, they are currently applying for permanent residency in the United States.

The services offered by CCNLA’s Immigration Integration program helped the Benavidez family become engaged in the community. Raymund sees his volunteer service to Catholic Charities as a way of giving back to an organization that was able to help his family.

“What I enjoy most,” says Raymund “is teaching them not only how to prepare the food, but how to taste it and enjoy it. Too often, we eat our food so quickly that we are not taking the time to enjoy the taste, smell and experience of eating good food together as a family.”

Gilda Rada-Garcia serves as the Program Coordinator for Healthy Eating on a Budget. She works closely with Raymund to prepare for the cooking demonstrations and teaches the nutrition education portion of each class. “Raymund is very committed as a volunteer.  He works well with the clients and wants to talk to them about ingredients and cooking techniques,” said Gilda. “When teaching cooking classes to families, he works well with the children and is very patient.”

Growing Services in Monroe & Lake Providence

Monroe volunteer Brenda Taylor meets with Program Coordinator Joann Worley.

In July 2013, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana expanded its service area to help people in northeast Louisiana with the opening of an office in Lake Providence in 2013, and most recently, in Monroe this past May.

The Lake Providence office is run solely by volunteers under the guidance of Sr. Bernadette (Bernie) Barrett.  There, they teach The Money School and give emergency assistance funds for rent and utility bills to those in need. The dedication of Sr. Bernie and her army of volunteers and donors has created a vital organization to one of the poorest areas in Louisiana. The Lake Providence office wants to expand its services in 2017 to include SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits enrollment and the Cooking Matters grocery store tour program, teaching low-income families how to shop for healthy and affordable food items at the store.

Joann Worley serves as the Program Coordinator for the Monroe CCNLA office. A parishioner of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Joann teaches The Money School and serves as case manager for clients who seek assistance.  In addition to giving emergency assistance funds to help with rent and utility bills, the Monroe office also helps low-income parents through its Gabriel’s Corner, a small “shop” that contains baby necessities including clothes, diapers, formula and baby wipes. Clients, both male and female, can also receive professional clothing for job interviews.  Joann and her volunteers work with clients from as far away as Ruston and Grambling to provide financial education and assistance.  In 2017, the Monroe office will offer immigration services as well as SNAP benefits enrollment to clients throughout northeast Louisiana.

Catholic Charities of North Louisiana is always working to carry out the social justice arm of the Church, and the staff and volunteers do so with love and compassion. Their care for clients shows. “My kids love coming here, they love the people,” said April. “And ever since I started coming here, it gives me a little peace of mind… I can come here and be in the lobby for five to 10 minutes and it’s like being in church. It’s so peaceful.”

For more information on donations and volunteering, contact Lucy Medvec at 318-865-0200, ext. 101, or lmedvec@ccnla.org. •