Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Relief Services’

DEATH COMES TO THE SOMALIS

Monday, August 15th, 2011

One of the wonderful aspects of the privilege of serving as bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been how generously our people have responded to emergencies and disasters in our own country and throughout the world. I shall never forget that in one nine month span of time Catholics in this diocese contributed 1.7 million dollars to CRS for tsunami relief in the area of the Indian Ocean (that was in early January) and then turned around and contributed an additional 2.1 million for relief the the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Likewise your response to the Haitian earthquake has also been very admirable. One thing which has always helped when I appeal has been the attention the media, radio, television and the electronic media have shed on the human suffering. moving you beyond my words to want to help.

This week-end in conjunction with your pastors we will be appealing for your generosity once again for a disaster of gigantic proportions but which has not received the notice of the media that those I mentioned above received – the famine and drought in Somalia and East Africa. I am told by Catholic Relief Services that tens of thousands of people are on the move in search of sufficient food and water to sustain life. Without it, they know they will die. Thousands already have.

Catholic Relief Services has been on the ground and present in Somalia for some time now and their staff has been warning us of the growing scope of the disaster. They say that it will take about eighty million dollars of aid from our country and others to save the lives which are at risk as I write this. With all the arguing in Congress about debt ceiling and budget cutbacks, our governments normally generous response to prior emergencies like this is embarrassing. So someone has to stand up and feed the starving and give water to the thirsty. I ask your help once again and even in our own hard economic times, this challenge ranks up there with the famous Ethiopian famine in the mid-eighties of the last century as a killer of enormous proportions. What follows is the letter which I hope will be in every parish bulletin this week-end or read aloud in every Church. Think and pray about it and then join me in helping our sisters and brothers in the horn of Africa.

August 11, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

From time to time I have written to ask your generous response to a major disaster somewhere in the world or in our own country. Specifically I recall your incredible charity at the time of the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina later that same year and more recently the earthquake and consequent devastation in nearby Haiti.

Less well known but of disastrous consequence is the current famine and drought in Somalia and eastern Africa where millions of people have already been forced from their homes, migrating in search of food and water. I believe that this situation is at least as bad if not worse than the famine and drought which hit Ethiopia in 1984 and 1985 resulting in major loss of life. Even though we as a nation remain in the grips of a recession of our own, the pain, suffering and needless loss of life pales in comparison to the present situation in the horn of Africa.

Consequently, I am asking all pastors of parish churches and administrators of our institutions to appeal for special help through special collections to address the desperate needs of the Somalis and others. Catholic Relief Services is “on the ground in these areas/countries providing assistance with present but dwindling resources. They have an outstanding record of success in these situations.

Please be as generous as you can once again in responding to this appeal and be assured that once again we can make a difference. Then you and I can hear the words of Christ, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Mt. 25:35]

All collections will be sent immediately by the diocese to Catholic Relief Services with the specific intention to be used for famine and drought relief. Thank you once again in advance for your mercy and kindness.

 Sincerely yours in Christ,

+RNL

IT’S MIDNIGHT! DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SEMINARIANS ARE?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Ever wonder what our thirty+ seminarians do in the summer? Hopefully after reading this you will have some appreciation that even the beginning of a vocation to the priesthood can easily lead to 24/7/365 while still in formation. Well almost, some episcopal hyperbole to be sure but recalling that old maxim that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” we do try to keep our seminarians busy and accounted for.

The college seminarians mostly work in their home parishes during the summers, painting, mowing, sprucing up buildings and grounds. Two of our seminarians are working at Good Counsel Camp in Floral City this summer as counsellors. A stint at Good Counsel at one time was almost a prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood but now they volunteer if they wish to work there. Two of our college men are also working in Omaha, Nebraska at Creighton University for the Institute for Priestly Formation (more about this program in a few seconds).These two seminarians are at the service of those older seminarians who are in the IPF program and they drive cards, make airport pickups, serve meals, etc. And there are two seminarians working with CRS in Africa for eight weeks.

Those in theology have longer commitments. This year there are four men on what is called the Pastoral Year. We interrupt the theological education program of the seminary at the exact midpoint, between second and third year to allow those approaching ordination to have two experiences which we feel will either confirm their vocation or suggest priesthood is not for them. The first component which is currently taking place is something called “Clinical Pastoral Education” or CPE. Three of our seminarians are taking CPE at Tampa General Hospital and one is doing the same at Woodside Nursing Home in Pinellas Park. During this quite labor intensive experience, the men learn a lot about themselves and their ability to deal with the sick and dying. Under close supervision and sometimes very challenging evaluation, CPE students get an immersion course in death and dying, sickness and health, and their own capacity to listen closely, minister appropriately, and evaluate with others in the program their experiences. The three men in CPE at Tampa General spend their nights and week-ends at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City (not much sleep at night on week-ends for these men) and they live and assist a wonderful pastor, Father Thomas Stokes who welcomes them annually with great Irish hospitality and priestly kindness. The fourth is living at the rector of Sacred Heart parish in Pinellas Park with Fathers Anthony Coppola and Tom Tobin. At the conclusion of CPE they will be assigned from Sept. 1, 2011 to May 2012 at four parishs in the diocese learning the art of the possible and sometimes the impossible in parish life. These four men can be found at St. Ignatius of Antioch parish in Tarpon Springs, St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, Christ the King parish in Tampa, and Nativity in Brandon.

Four other seminarians are also involved in an immersion experience, this time in the Dominican Republic learning Spanish. The program is required by our seminary and I would wish it anyway even if the seminary did not. Within fifteen years, the majority of Catholics in many areas of this diocese will be Spanish speaking and we need men able to function in Spanish. Thus, the six to eight week program in the Dominican Republic.

Two seminarians are actually enrolled in a nine week program of spiritual formation and direction at the Institute for Priestly Formation, held each year at Creighton University in Omaha. A mixture of classes on ascetical theology (how those who have gone before us have become saints), spiritual direction and a rather lengthy silent retreat, these men who will begin their theology studies this August are experiencing a much deeper engagement with the spiritual life than would be possible even in a five year program of formation such as we have in our seminaries.

Finally, nine of our theologians are assigned to parishes during the summer and while admittedly some things slow down, most find their summer experience to be enlightening at a minimum and challenging at a maximum. Of the nine, two men are deacons, having been ordained in the Spring and they are baptizing, preaching and witnessing marriages in addition to conducting inquiry classes and RCIA, etc.

So there you have it. Gainfully employed, hands not idle at all, learning the ropes and the “tricks” of the trade during their summer vacation. They all have some time to themselves to travel, relax and rest but no more than a typical working father or mother would likely have. Most are compensated for their summer in a small way but that helps pay for gas, haircuts and an occasional movie during the school year. Come August our college men will return to Saint John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and our theology students to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts and the North American College in Rome. They have a three day convocation at the Bethany Center coming up the second week in August where they will surely share stories of their summer experiences.

I conclude by using this moment to thank those pastors who welcome our seminarians for their summer assignments. Their hospitality to those studying for the priesthood is only outdone by their witness to their own happiness and fulfillment in priestly ministry. So, our seminarians are not “kids” but we still know where they are most midnights.

+RNL

WOO WOO

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Photograph from Notre Dame University Website

This morning in South Bend and in Baltimore, Notre Dame University and Catholic Relief Services respectively announced that Dean Carolyn Y. Woo of the Mendoza School of Business has been chosen to become the President/Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Relief Services, our church’s worldwide disaster relief and development agency. CRS now exists in slightly over 100 countries and has program revenues approaching one billion dollars in the coming fiscal year. Dr.Woo is known to a number of people in the Diocese of St. Petersburg as this year’s main speaker at the Catholic Foundation Dinner last February. There she told an amazing story of being born on mainland China and the family moving to Hong Kong where she studied with the Maryknoll Sisters who had been expelled from China following the revolution. One of eight children, Dr. Woo chose, mostly against her father’s wishes, to pursue a college education and earned a scholarship for her freshman year at Purdue University. Eventually she earned not only a bachelor’s degree but a Masters and Ph.D. as well. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame approached Dean Woo and literally “wooed” her to coming to Notre Dame as head of the Business School. The rest is history as under her leadership the Mendoza School is currently rated first among undergraduate business schools and sixth among those who award Master’s Degrees, no small feat to be sure.

Loved on campus and admired by almost every student in the Business school as well as her faculty, she will be missed under the “Dome.” A daily Mass attendee who met her husband at Purdue where both attended daily Mass at the campus ministry center, they have two children, the oldest of whom just graduated from the Medical College of the University of Virginia and the youngest is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology at Notre Dame. Nine or ten years ago while I served both as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services as well as its President,  the bishops of the US voted almost unanimously to allow lay people to serve on the Board of Directors. CRS for many years did not have a board of directors but was generally run and overseen by the Archbishop of New York and had its offices there as well. In the seventies the by-laws were changed to allow bishops to serve on its board after being elected by the membership of the United States Catholic Conference. CRS always had a bishop as its Executive Director (CEO). The first lay person to serve as Executive Director was Lawrence Pezzullo in the early eighties and he reported to an all bishop Board. Finally, in about 2003, the by-laws were changed to allow for non-bishop membership and I as chair willingly ceded the title of President to the Executive Director to come more in conformity with other international agencies. Carolyn Woo was chosen among the first group of non-bishops invited and elected by the Board to serve a total of six years, ending her service, she thought, two years ago.

Eighteen years ago I was on the Search Committee which recommended Ken Hackett to succeed Pezzullo who had been asked by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador Pleni-Potentiary to Haiti following the violence and overthrow of the government in that country. For seventeen years, Ken Hackett has served the poor of the world with distinction and his special diadem will be the solid Catholic identity which he and his colleagues have imbued in the agency. I deeply admire his tenure and respect his decision to retire and turn the leadership over to whomever the Board might choose. Starting on January 1, 2012 Carolyn Woo will serve as his successor.

Catholic Relief Services is admired throughout the world because of the competence and commitment of its people, some 5000 plus strong, many as it should be nationals of the country in which they are working. It is the “go-to” agency because it has a unique delivery opportunity throughout the world through parishes and diocesan charities structures but it never, ever excludes anyone because of their religion nor does it proselytize. There have been many challenging moments in its history including working under the Marcos family in the Philippines, the Diems in Viet Nam and repressive governments in many other parts of the world. Its non-political nature has made it possible to succeed in places like Sumatra, Indonesia after the tsunami, Sri Lanka and throughout Africa. Its mission is securing the present and future of people, not governments. It makes Christ present – nothing less and in Dr. Carolyn Woo it will be led by a woman of great faith, a history of vision for organization, and a winning personality which made her one of Notre Dame’s most successful fundraisers – and saying that about any one person at Notre Dame is a “mouthful.” I enjoyed serving with her on the board, travelling with her to remote parts of the world (together we survived an 8.9 earthquake in Medan, Indonesia (she did not come looking for me by the way) and hearing the amazing story of her childhood. But I so deeply admire her love of her Catholic faith. She is making a great sacrifice to leave Notre Dame for many reasons but like heading to Lafayette, Indiana when she was eighteen, she follows Blessed Pope John Paul II’s challenge to “put out into the deep.”

+RNL

DEVOTEDLY YOURS

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, then the second Archbishop of Miami, ordained me a priest. He was an incredibly fine man, almost a kindly uncle to me and to most of the other priests in the Archdiocese. His primary way of communicating with the people of the Archdiocese was through an occasional column in THE VOICE  (the weekly Archdiocesan newspaper)and later the FLORIDA CATHOLIC which he entitled “Devotedly Yours”. Every time it would show up, we knew the Archbishop was writing at “altitude” or above 30,000 feet on an airplane going to someplace or coming home. Laptops were not available in those days so the Archbishop would take out a brown pen and write on the back of the air-sickness bag, a piece of hotel stationary – anything he could get his hands on and his wonderful secretary would transcribe it on a typewriter prior to submission for publication. Priests can sometimes be quite “catty” and occasionally when someone would read one of his “Devotedly Yours” columns, some crack would be made about a lack of oxygen at altitude. But those columns were very personal and one never had to struggle to discern what the great man meant.

Well, I am tonight at altitude, on board a small United Airline plane bound first for Denver and then I must switch to their fiancée in the airline business, Continental for the remainder of the trip to Seattle. Having left Tampa on Pentecost night at 710pm EDT, I will arrive Seattle at 235am EDT (1135pm PDT) and probably climb into my Hyatt hotel bed about 4 am by my body time. The Catholic bishops of the United States are holding their spring meeting this month in Seattle. You may recall that last June they held a longer assembly in St. Petersburg which they loved enough to talk about coming back again. How I wish I could once again drive down the street for twenty minutes to attend the meeting.

The actual meeting begins on Wednesday morning and ends on Friday evening but I must leave Seattle at 545am on Friday to return for the celebration of a “Blue Mass” for policemen and firemen on Saturday morning and the second and last wedding of my summer later Saturday. On Tuesday, however, the Search Committee on which I serve for a new CEO/President for Catholic Relief Services will present two candidates to the CRS Board of Directors for their ultimate decision. I am no longer able to fly coast to coast and start a meeting the next morning without some kind of rest day in between. How I hate being 70 (except that on Saturday I was called for Jury Duty in Pinellas County and discovered that if you are over seventy you do not have to serve – the first “bene” from being ancient!)

On these two very long westbound flights I have been able to read the documentation, which precedes each meeting. The most important thing I find on the public agenda is a discussion of the Dallas Charter, which was passed in 2002, and deals with how the Church will handle accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. I have written an “Op-Ed” piece at the invitation of the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times for today’s paper in which I outline the experience in our diocese in the last ten years. It is possible that this agenda item will receive more than its share of media attention this week, but reading the changes, which are being recommended to the bishops to me indicates that there will not be a wholesale re-working of the Charter but some tightening up and tweaking. There will be a first discussion of a new document of the Conference on physician-assisted suicide entitled “To Live Each Day With Dignity, another seeking permission to develop a document on preaching, and some liturgical matters all dealing with the liturgy in Spanish. Once again it is not a particularly heavy or burdensome agenda.

So as I chase the sun west tonight on a never ending evening, I recall celebrating Pentecost this morning at St. Jude’s Cathedral and a lovely confirmation of about seventy-five young people. What a great day to confirm! Pentecost, the birthday of the Church which is the body of Christ. Have a great week and stay tuned – I intend to interrupt any boredom which may occur with blog posts.

+RNL

 

 

OUT OF AFRICA – 2

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Robert Angel, First Theology, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and currently a summer intern with Catholic Relief Services, Sierra Leone

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here http://african-angels.blogspot.com. Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.

Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.

I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.

What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.

Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.

At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.

After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.

Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.

 

Christopher Mertens and myself outside of Corby Hall on the Notre Dame campus in October 2010

There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.

I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.

+RNL

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUT OF AFRICA (EIGHT WEEKS FROM NOW)

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Daniel Angel, Christopher Mertens, Robert Angel - Off to Africa With CRS

One of the greatest delights of my life as  both a priest and a bishop has been a long association with Catholic Relief Services. For twelve years I served on the Board of Directors of our Church’s overseas development and relief agency and for the last six I was privileged to be its Chairman of the Board and for a time, its President. During all those years I came to deeply appreciate CRS’s work throughout the globe to the poor, disadvantaged and ignored. Its staff, U.S. and international, are both committed and extremely competent. At the present moment I serve on a Search Committee seeking a replacement for Kenneth Hackett who is retiring after eighteen years at the helm of this agency which will approach one billion dollars in program services in the coming year. I was also on the Search Committee when chose Mr. Hackett. So my history, knowledge of and love for CRS runs very deep and is in my DNA.

Two years ago I invited a college Junior at what was then Loyola Baltimore and a graduate of St. Jude the Apostle elementary school and Jesuit High School to consider a summer internship with CRS. At the time I thought he would likely be assigned to Africa or South America, but instead the agency sent him to India for eight weeks. Brendan J. Stack who on Saturday graduated from Loyola Maryland had a great summer watching the Church work in an environment which was not easy and he came away with a deep respect for the work of CRS and a personal commitment to serve the poor as long as he might. This August he leaves for Idaho to spend a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps work with the homeless and undocumented in Boise, Idaho.

This summer I have invited two seminarians and one junior at Notre Dame University to take advantage of a similar opportunity and they leave shortly for their eight week assignments on the African Continent. Bob Angel is a graduate of Holy Family elementary in St. Petersburg and Northeast High School where he was a competitive swimmer. After graduating from the University of Florida he worked for one year as a fireman with the Tampa Fire Department where we won an award as the most spirit-filled recruit the department had in 2009. However, he heard the voice of the Lord suggesting to him that he might wish to try priesthood and he has spent the last two years in the pre-theology program at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and will enter St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach for his theology studies this August. Bob has been assigned to Sierra Leone where he will be involved in peace-building efforts in which CRS is engaged in a country that has recently seen the end to a long and bloody civil war. He will also work with children in a Catholic parish.

One year after Bob entered the seminary in Miami, his younger brother Dan who was halfway through  his college studies at the University of Central Florida decided to do the same and he joined his older sibling last Fall and finished his junior year a few weeks ago. Dan, like Bob, attended Holy Family Catholic School and Northeast High School where he also was a competitive swimmer. While attending UCF, Dan worked as a watchman and “friend” of Shamu at Sea World in Orlando. Dan has been assigned to a parish in Liberia, 100 miles outside of Monrovia, the capital. Liberia is also in the midst of reunification of purpose and people following a deadly and long civil war.

If it seems like all the CRS interns this year have swimming in their background, it is true but merely an accident. Christopher Mertens will be a junior in pre-med at Notre Dame University this fall as well as a student manager to the football and other varsity sports. He was the St. Petersburg Times “Male Scholar-Athlete” for Pinellas County in 2009, was captain for two years of the Palm Harbor University Swim Team, held a couple of school records and led his team to successful post-season competition in regional and state swimming meets. At Notre Dame, Christopher is one of the leaders in  his dorm’s commitment to Dismas House, a halfway house for convicted felons who have served their prison sentences, have been released and are looking for employment and some future better than what they have just left. Christopher has been assigned to Ghana and will work with a Doctor in an AIDS clinic in the northern small city of Tamale for eight weeks as a medical assistant.

If these three men have a great experience in the universal Church and a new appreciation of the role of Catholic Relief Services, then as long as CRS accepts young people in its program, I will be open to offering the opportunity to other young women and men who might wish to be sent to any where on the globe where there are people in need and suffering. Remember, however, it could be tough like Haiti and all the assignments have a certain amount of low risk and major inconvenience to the standard of living to which we are accustomed.

The Angel brothers are blogging their experiences this summer on http://african-angels.blogspot.com/ The first installment is up and ready for your viewing and I shall throughout the summer be posting from all three things I think you will be interested in reading and/or learning about our “three ambassadors to Africa” from the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

+CRS

BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II – PART FIVE

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

When World Youth Day 1993 came to an end and knowing that my eleven year service to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-United States Catholic Conference would most likely end on February 3, 1995, I was certain that my life as a U.S. “travel agent” for Pope John Paul II would come to an end and that in Denver I watched for the last time his plane leave these shores for Rome. Imagine my surprise when in 1994 we received notice that the Pope had accepted a second invitation from the United Nations for a visit later that year which would include Newark and Baltimore. Both Archbishop McCarrick (now a Cardinal) and Cardinal Keeler, archbishops of Newark and Baltimore respectively, had successfully lobbyed the Holy Father to visit their cities during what was to be simply a three day sojourn back in the United States. Once again my friends in Rome, Father Tucci, Monsignor Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbari got in touch with me and said, “guess what?” This trip was to be different, I was told, as it would not be a pastoral visit per se but a response to the U.N. which would include brief stops in the two cities.

The United Nations always likes to throw its weight around and in 1979 and again in 1994 did not want the Church to take control of the New York visit, or to put it bluntly, they did not want anyone else “raining on their parade.” In 1994 the papal representative to the United Nations shared their vision, so planning which the Holy See sought from the bishops’ conference became something of a challenge. I asked Archbishop McCarthy, of my home archdiocese of Miami, to lend me Father Michael Souckar to represent my office in the planning and the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N. and the Office of Protocol of the United Nations basically told him to stay away from their moment. I might also add that even though the United States Secret Service was responsible for the Holy Father’s safety from landing to take-off, the U.N. did not “cotton” to their presence either. So the planning was somewhat challenging. To the disappointment of the United Nations, the arrival from Rome was to take place at Newark International Airport, not Kennedy, and the Pope would follow his usual custom when visiting a new arch/diocese of going directly to pray in the local Cathedral or Church in thanksgiving for his safe passage. This meant the magnificent and beautiful Cathedral in Newark. Then to top it all off, when the visit to the United Nations was finished, the Pope would celebrate Mass in what was then the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Unlike in 1979 when the Pope stayed at the Cardinal’s residence on Madison Avenue in New York, attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this time the case was made that he would stay at the very small residence of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations from the Holy See on the East side.

Baltimore was to be the final stop on the visit prior to departure from the United States and its inclusion was due to the respect which the Pope had for Cardinal Keeler and the fact that Baltimore was the first diocese to be erected in the United States. After a couple of months of planning and preparation, the Holy Father fell in the shower and broke his leg, the trip was to be postponed for a year and I was home free. He eventually did all that I have outlined above in 1995 but I had left the bishops’ conference and personally felt that I had “done my time” with huge papal events.

I would see the Holy Father next in 1997, just after concluding my first year as bishop of St. Petersburg. The occasion was the Ad Limina Visit which is required of every bishop in the world whereby we visit the Successor of St. Peter, report on our diocese, and pray at the tomb of the Apostles which means Mass at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where it is believed the mortal remains of St. Paul are buried and at St. Peter’s Basilica. Being always a gracious host, Pope John Paul II scheduled four occasions in one week in which the bishops on their Ad Limina (meaning to the “threshold of St. Peter) visits would be with him: concelebrate the morning Mass in his private chapel, pranzo (the midday meal), a private twenty minute audience with him in his office, and a final session in which he would offer a discourse to all the visiting bishops from each region in the United States. On my first visit, he said to me “You were the General Secretary?” As quickly as I replied “yes,” he said, “and now you are in St. Petersburg?” “Yes, thanks to you Holy Father,” I replied. And then without hesitating he said to me, “How is Bishop Larkin? Give him my best and my blessing.” When the Holy Father was a graduate student priest in Rome he lived at the Belgian College and Bishop Larkin as a young priest was there as well. In fact, Bishop Larkin and the future pope would take long walks in the afternoon during which Bishop Larkin taught Karol Wojtyla English. Then we made the obligatory trip to a large Rand McNally World Atlas on the table and he asked me to point out to him where St. Petersburg and the diocese was in the United States. We then sat down and he asked questions about vocations, the number of priests and religious, marriages, general information that I am sure we were all asked. When he was finished he would ring a bell and the papal photographer would magically appear from behind a curtain, take our picture together and on that occasion they brought Monsignor Muldoon into the office for a picture with the Pope as well.

My final time with Blessed John Paul II was a year before he died, April of 2004, and he was so infirm that I personally felt very guilty taking his time that day, as did all my brother bishops from the region. I have a picture of him taken with the group from what was then Region 4 of the USCCB – Wilmington, Delaware to Miami, Florida and I shall post it here. It was horrible taking my leave of him that day because I knew it would be my last time with a man who shaped my life in the Church and with whom I intersected on so many occasions and in so many ways. I only had similar feelings to those that day as a youngster in high school when I  would say “good-bye” to my aging grandparents in Boston during our once yearly visits knowing that I might never see them alive again. To this man I owed so many memories, so many blessings, the gift of my episcopal office. I never ever saw him mad, angry, distressed. He was always so serene and so supportive. Twenty-five years had passed since that moment when in Boston he came down for coffee at Cardinal Medeiros’ residence at 4:30am in his cassock, largely unbuttoned. Vigorous, athletic, needing practically no sleep, pumped by crowds and sharply focused when saying Mass, it was hard to see him laboring for breath and to be understood. There was a part of me that wished to embrace him, hug him, say thanks, but I knew he needed what was left of my time to prepare to see the next bishop in line and one did not do that with popes. My time with this saintly man had come to an end.

My final time in the presence of this saint in the making with the other bishops of Region IV

I was at Paris Charles deGaulle airport when I learned that John Paul II had gone to His Father’s house. I was returning from a Catholic Relief Services visit to Banda Ache in Indonesia where in ninety minutes 212,000 people has lost their lives in the tsunami the previous December 26th. I found a quiet corner, took out my rosary and offered him to the Father, Son, Spirit and to Mary to whom he had offered everything (“Totus Tuus”). I grieved his death and celebrated his life with the people of the Church of St. Petersburg like Catholics all over the world. He was in many ways, my spiritual father.

+RNL

FAREWELL FRIEND

Friday, March 11th, 2011
Bishop John Ricard

Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, Bishop-Emeritus of Pensacola Tallahassee

Today is a sad day for me personally. Pope Benedict has formally accepted the request to resign from my good friend, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Long time readers of this blog should recall that almost a year ago to the day I wrote here about a visit to Bishop Ricard who was then recovering from a series of strokes. I included a picture of the two of us taken that day and I was shaken then by how much my friend had changed as a result of  his medical challenges. At that time also I was beginning to finally fully recover from my own series of operations and recuperations and I hoped that +John would make the same progress which I had made, although I was also skeptical at the time. To my and everyone’s amazement, he managed within days to celebrate the Chrism Mass in his diocese and preside at Holy Week Services, all the time working to recover as much of what he lost as he could. He still was not the old +John Ricard, however. The two of us often think alike on matters before the Florida Catholic Conference and especially at the meetings of the Board of Trustees of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary. He was my predecessor as Chairman of the Board and President of Catholic Relief Services and continued to serve CRS by countless trips into Darfur in the Sudan and other challenging parts of the African continent. Even in the last twelve months he continued to go to Africa for CRS but those travelling with him could see how tired he would become and the limitations on his stamina were obvious to everyone else but the bishop who just wished to soldier on.

An African-American bishop of the Society of St. Joseph (or Josephite Fathers), John Huston Ricard was born, raised and educated until the seminary in Louisiana. After joining his religious community and being ordained, while serving in parishes in the Washington, D.C. area he earned his Ph.D. in Psychology.  Ordained again as an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, he served there for a number of years prior to coming to Pensacola-Tallahassee thirteen years ago. There we renewed our friendship and since then my admiration and affection for this man has steadily grown to the point that today I feel a great loss. So do the priests, deacons and people of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee who know well how much he loved and served them and they returned that love in great measure.

Now I am the longest serving bishop in the province of Miami at fifteen years and Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach is the senior among us in episcopal ordination. I never thought it would come to this. A great deal of sophistication in dealing with the Governor and Florida legislature in Tallahassee leaves our state with the retirement of Bishop Ricard and while we have an extremely competent lay staff at the Florida Catholic Conference led by Dr. D. Michael McCarron, they would be the first to say that when they needed “a cross and chain” to make a case for the Church, they could count on the Bishop jumping in his car and driving three hours plus to represent us. They just don’t make us like that anymore.

I used to look forward to the seven or eight times each year when the Florida bishops would gather because there would be a reunion of sorts with the “panhandle bishop.” Now, he will no longer be there. This has been a very painful moment of transition for Bishop Ricard and for his diocese – he and they are hurting. But the genius of our Church is that none of us are irreplaceable and our service to the local churches which we love is finite. It is just the reality of separation and farewell which is so difficult. I have five more years to try and be half the bishop my brother +John has been so as someone else in Tallahassee is so fond of saying, “let’s get to work.” Thanks, Bishop Ricard, for your tireless and generous example, for your friendship and support. I will miss you terribly.

+RNL

TERREMOTO

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The Italians have a phrase which once fit while I was in Rome during a  minor earthquake called “terremoto” or loosely translated, “the earth moved.” Yesterday was the first anniversary of the earth moving in a large portion of western Haiti in an earthquake in this hemisphere causing massive destruction, dislocation and loss of life. Haiti one year later is only marginally better and recovery is still something of a dream despite the generous response of people from all over the world seeking to help in the recovery effort. Heaven and earth has not moved significantly in that tormented nation so close to ours in aiding the people to resume their lives, find work, and occupy safe housing. Why not? What success can be shown? What can be expected?

In Haiti, success like beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.” Certainly until the onslaught of the cholera epidemic a few months ago, it can be said that early response and relief efforts kept disease to a negligible minimum, food and water found its way to the dispossessed quicker and more effectively than in past calamities in that nation, and medicine and medical assessment and treatment were provided to the thousands wounded and sickened by the earthquake and its aftermath. A lot of credit needs to go to the U.S. military and especially the U.S. Navy for coming quickly and organizing the first response. A lot of credit should also go to some relief agencies, especially Catholic Relief Services which was already on the ground and able to begin relief efforts immediately. A point of humble pride (I know, that is an oxymoron) is that our initial and immediate gift from the Diocese of St. Petersburg of $250,000 were the first monies sent to CRS for Haiti and our final total to them is around $1,750,000 from this diocese alone. Stabilization of water, food, medicine and temporary housing were successful. But then it seems the success ended.

Every relief organization, CRS included, is sitting on sizable amounts of contributed funds, goods and supplies awaiting the permission of the Haitian government to begin the process of reconstruction. Haiti just recently completed general elections which turned out to be mandatory prior to any action. Now the world continues to wait while millions of Haitians  sleep in tents, refrigerator boxes, very temporary and often shabby housing. The cholera epidemic set timetables back to be sure but it is the government of Haiti who must approve and signal the start of the real relief effort. When will they? They don’t know and I doubt if God knows.

The Church in those portions of Haiti where the earthquake was the worst lost lives, buildings and property. There is evidence that the bishops of the country are ready to work together for reconstruction of churches, schools, hospitals, clinics, orphanages, you name it,  lost one year ago yesterday. Most of you know that the Archbishop of the capital city of Port-au-Prince died in his own Cathedral when the walls came tumbling down upon him. Today in Rome Pope Benedict XVI named a new archbishop for Port-au-Prince who while he is 68 years old has a reputation for getting things done. This is a hopeful sign.

Many who gave to the Haitian earthquake relief collections and funds are frustrated by the lack of action and some suspect that CRS and other relief agencies are just sitting on the money, accumulating interest, etc. Both of these possibilities are likely true and necessary but I can tell you from personal experience that until nation and those who wish to help can agree, spending money in that country at this moment is throwing good money down a dubious hole. Painful as it is, it is far better to wait and spend it wisely for the relief of the people than waste it now in an environment of corruption. It will be spent and sometime soon, we hope, the lives of the Haitian people now displaced will improve. The Haitian people long ago learned all about patience and they have much to teach us.

Finally, not only the earth moved on January 11, 2010 but hearts were also moved as well. Your response like that to the tsunami and Katrina humbles and edifies me at the same time. What you gave will continue to be spent in a wise and prudent manner and as soon as we are allowed. Parishes in this diocese who twin with other parishes have already stepped up and the progress there is more measureable since the Haitian government need not have been involved. But settling title to land rights, assigning property for the erection of new permanent and storm/earthquake resistant homes – that requires working with the government which at times can seem so callous toward the obvious and painful needs of its citizenry. 366 days ago the earth shook, now might the government?

+RNL

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Stain Glass Window of the Holy Family at Holy Family Church, St. Petersburg

Some weeks ago, in fact during the November meeting of bishops in Baltimore, you may recall that I wrote of a luncheon I had with two seniors at Loyola Baltimore. One was from our diocese, Brendan Stack who wrote so well in this space of his experience with Catholic Relief Services in India during the summer of 2009 and his roommate whom I had never met until then, Patrick Sullivan who attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. I asked both men what the Church could do generally and what I might do specifically as bishop to staunch the flow of young people from leaving the Church of their baptism for other faiths or no faith. Patrick must have spent some time reflecting on the question because shortly after I returned home he wrote me quite a letter which I think is very appropriate to share with you today. I have his permission and what follows in strictly Sullivan and not Lynch:

“As I was thinking more about our conversation, particularly about our ‘losing’ of  practicing Catholics, I thought about our families being the foundation of our faith. I can not tell you the amount of times I have heard from my friends, even those strong in faith, that prayer in the home is few and far between. I can speak from personal experience; my mother is extremely involved with the Church, spending the majority of her day working with those who form men for the priesthood. My father is a recent convert to Catholicism whose fervor for the Church is paralleled by few. Even with their strong convictions, though, familial prayer is something that is hard to find in my home. Perhaps, if we stress the noticeable presence of Jesus within the Catholic home, the foundation that Brendan alluded to might be formed on more solid ground and so would be less likely to fade away in the relativist storm that is the university. The effect that our families have on our faith formation is paralleled by few others. If prayer and familial worship become a normalcy in Catholic life, imagine the type of young men and women entering the world. Built on a strong familial prayer life, imagine the influx of young men and women entering the ordained and consecrated life.”

As I think of this traditional feast, I often think of things in my own life as a child which might have been formative. We were not all that great on family prayer except before every meal and occasionally when we were “monitored” at night before going to bed but there was one annual experience which still looms large in my memory and life sixty-five years later. On our annual June family vacation trip to see my paternal grandparents and large family in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the evening meal had to be finished by 6:40 pm so that all of us, three generations could move from the Dining Room to the Living Room and kneel down on the floor while the radio (there was no TV) was properly tuned. At exactly 6:40pm a male voice sounding something like what I thought an archangel would sound like announced, “Live, from the Cardinal’s Residence on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, Richard Cardinal Cushing will now lead the faithful of the Archdiocese in reciting the Rosary.” If the announcer had an archangel’s voice, my brothers and I thought the Cardinal sounded like God – nasal, prolonged pronunciation of words, stentorian – it had to be God who spent twenty-minutes each night leading us in this prayer which we seemed only to say in Boston, where God lived. Beyond the sound of the radio, however, remains the image of my then eighty year old plus Grandfather, rosary in his hand, his wife of sixty years, my grandmother with a rosary in her hands, my grandmother’s spinster sister who kept an account of our sins and misbehavings with a rosary in her hands, my mom and dad with rosaries in their hands, and we three boys, skillfully provided the necessary beads by our Mom who feared reprisals if her kids did not have the proper equipment for prayer, all as one family joining God in Hail Marys and Our Fathers and Glory Be’s. As Patrick Sullivan said above, there is power in a family at prayer.

Perhaps on this great feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph those who still have a family about them could think about more time together in prayer. While I desperately want an increase in vocations, I want more young people to remain true to their baptism as Catholic Christians and enlighten the world.

The new shrine to the Holy Family at Holy Family Church in St. Petersburg using an original statue and placing in a spot for prayer and meditation.

Some words later in the week on the meaning of Epiphany and then more silence as I am on retreat. Back for the Baptism of the Lord.

+RNL