Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It looked like any other military parade with bands playing, flags waving and thousands of men and women marching in colorful uniforms decorated with medals and ribbons. But instead of impressive displays of tanks and trucks, troops from dozens of nations fell in line behind religious banners, a large wooden cross and a rose-strewn statue of Mary. Candles and rosaries -- not weapons or rifles -- were held aloft in soldiers' hands. Such scenes were common during the 56th International Military Pilgrimage to the sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes May 16-18. More than 12,000 retired and active duty military personnel, their families and compatriots from 36 nations took part in the annual encounter to pray for peace and the spiritual healing of nations and individuals. A large number taking part, and given special prominence in the many processions, were those wounded in the line of duty. Among the military personnel tackling disabilities were about 60 retired or active duty U.S. soldiers together with another 60 caregivers, family members, chaplains and support staff. They were participating in the "Warriors to Lourdes" pilgrimage, sponsored by the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Knights of Columbus. The Knights covered the costs for the wounded personnel for the May 13-19 encounter of prayer, healing and friendship in Lourdes. "It's really been great for both those who have come with a petition in their heart -- suffering in some way, and those who are helping them," Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson told Catholic News Service.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fleeing conflict and violence back home, refugees from Syria and Iraq praised the Catholic humanitarian agencies helping them to cope with their trauma while starting a new life in their adopted safe haven of Jordan. "We've come out of a nightmarish and desperate time. We're trying to regain some semblance of normalcy in life," said Um Ahmed, a Syrian refugee woman attending a life skills class run by the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Jordanian capital. The Roman Catholic Bishops' School perched on one of Amman's high hills buzzes with classes of refugees learning English, Arabic literacy, computer skills, handicrafts and cooking conducted after regular classes conclude. Living became impossible in Ahmed's northern Syrian city of Aleppo because of constant fighting and government bombardments. "My family was also extremely afraid because people were being detained and had disappeared. We feared for our lives," she told Catholic News Service. "Leaving everything, our work and possessions behind, we had to start from scratch again here," Ahmed said. Ahmed is among than 600 refugees who are slowly getting back on their feet through JRS-sponsored programs that include home visits, psychosocial support, educational opportunities for children and adults and college degree preparation. The organization also provides food parcels and hygiene kits. This is the Catholic Church I want to be a part of. My Church is there for those who struggle. We stand for those who are unable: the unborn, the poor, even non-Christians.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Receive Communion every Sunday and read the Gospel every day to keep discouragement and the blues away, Pope Francis said. "The word of God and the Eucharist always fill us with joy!" the pope said in his address to people gathered in St. Peter's Square May 4 to pray the "Regina Coeli" with him. The pope spoke about the day's reading from the Gospel of St. Luke (24:13-35), in which two of Jesus' disciples left Jerusalem, saddened and dejected by Christ's death. Failing to grasp the truth of the prophets, the despairing disciples did not recognize the risen Christ when he appeared before them on the road to the village of Emmaus. However, when Jesus explained the Scriptures, and blessed and broke bread with them, their "eyes were opened" and their hearts started "burning" with joy and hope. Often the same thing happens to people today, the pope said. Life's difficulties and disappointments take their toll and people head to Mass burdened with problems and worries. "Life sometimes hurts us and we go there, toward our 'Emmaus,' feeling sad with our backs to God's plan. We distance ourselves from God," he said. What a powerful message from Pope Francis. The reading makes me think of how marvelous it would be to walk and talk with Jesus for the seven mile trip between Jerusalem and Emmaus. That would certainly be two and a half hours worth the pain of walking. Make everyday your Emmaus. Spend time talking with Jesus and you will not have room for the negative thoughts to invade your mind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Supreme Court has upheld the right of local officials to open town council meetings with prayer, ruling that this does not violate the Constitution even if the prayers routinely stress Christianity. The court said in a 5-4 decision Monday that the content of the prayers is not critical as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion. The ruling was a victory for all people of faith. "The prayer opportunity is evaluated against the backdrop of a historical practice showing that prayer has become part of the Nation's heritage and tradition," the majority wrote in the opinion. "It is presumed that the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens." The majority justices further argued that the intended audience "is not the public, but the lawmakers themselves." In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation's fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday's ruling was consistent with the earlier one. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation's traditions. "The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers," Kennedy said. Let's continue to build a nation that makes prayer part of our heritage.