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Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

What a prisoner-priest in the USSR learned about isolation: Diocese to livesteam Tuesday lecture on Fr. Walter Ciszek 

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:15

Denver Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. wanted to be a missionary in the Soviet Union. He didn't know he'd spend most of the decades he lived inside the country within the walls of a prison, much of the time in complete isolation. But Ciszek found closeness to God in labor camps and prison cells, never knowing what might happen to him next.

The isolation Fr. Ciszek experienced as a prisoner of the Soviet Union brought out heroic virtues that can help those suffering from the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic today, says a priest who will discuss Ciszek’s life in an April 28 webcast.

“Father Ciszek lived many kinds of isolation,” Father Eugene Ritz told CNA. “He experienced physical isolation from his family, his Jesuit spiritual family, and friends. He often lived in isolation from the sacraments. He lived in isolation from a culture that permitted a notion of God and worship of Him. He lived in interior and spiritual isolation, especially when he could not present himself as a priest or exercise ministry.”

“Many lost faith during their time in the Gulag, including other priests,” said the Pennsylvania priest. However, Ciszek showed the virtue of fortitude in his isolation. Ritz praised Ciszek’s “firmness in difficulty, his constancy in pursuit of the good, and his resolve to resist temptation, conquer fear and face tremendous trials.”

Ritz’s presentation, “Living in Isolation: The Story of Fr. Walter Ciszek,” will be livestreamed Tuesday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. The event is presented by the diocese’s Commission for Young Adults.

Fr. Ciszek was born in 1904 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, in what is now the Allentown diocese.

He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928 and was ordained in 1937, after training to say Mass in the Russian rite. After two years in Poland, he used the chaos of World War II as cover to enter the Soviet Union so that he could minister to Christians who lived under communist persecution.

He was arrested by the Soviet authorities as a supposed spy in 1941. His imprisonment included torturous interrogation, solitary confinement and years of hard labor near the Arctic Circle. Despite the dangers, he said Mass in secret and heard the confessions of other prisoners.

When he was not imprisoned, he also ministered to several parishes. Ciszek was not released until a 1963 prisoner exchange, when he returned to the United States. He recounted his experiences and their spiritual meaning in his popular memoirs “He Leadeth Me” and “With God in Russia.”

Ritz, who serves as the Allentown diocese’s chancellor, is co-postulator of Ciszek’s canonization. In this role he helps advance the late priest’s case to become a saint through the processes of the Catholic Church.

For Ritz, there is much to learn from the priest’s example.

“One of my favorite lessons of Father Ciszek is that Christ alone guarantees success,” he said. “It was his message to the priests in the labor camp in Siberia that in their struggles of being isolated from their families, friends, parishioners, religious communities, and too frequently the celebration of the Sacraments, Father Ciszek called them to refocus on the person of Christ and his providence.”

The lecture is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed some 200,000 people worldwide.

The pandemic has left many people isolated. Those in the hospital are barred from receiving visits. In dozens of countries authorities have ordered millions more to stay at home, disrupting family life, social life and economic life around the world.

“To those not handling this very well I would tell them that they are in good company, and remind them that what we suffer helps us to grow in virtue, and that in all things trust the providence that God remains with us, and he alone guarantees our success,” Ritz said.

Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown will provide opening remarks for Ritz’s lecture. The bishop, too, reflected on Ciszek’s example in a world rocked by a new disease.

“The people of the Diocese of Allentown, especially those in the area where Father Ciszek was born and raised, pray always that this man who once walked among us, will someday be a saint,” Schlert told CNA April 27. “As a priest, he spent many years in captive isolation in the Russian gulag. Due to the pandemic, we now live in a form of isolation, and so we look to Father Ciszek to teach us what God would want us to learn about our spiritual lives in this time of hardship.”

Father Ritz said the lecture will give an overview of Ciszek’s life and his cause for canonization. His heroic virtue is particularly relevant due to his response to atheistic communism and contemporary Americans’ response to secular relativism. As a priest, Ciszek is a model of holiness and identity for priests today.

Ciszek also escaped his isolation, Ritz told CNA, telling the story of the long-suffering priest’s return home.

“One of my favorite pictures of Father Walter is at JFK Airport, being escorted by his sisters. They have expressions of sheer joy on their faces while Father Walter almost looks startled,” Ritz said. “He recounts being ‘taken back’ when the agent of the U.S. State Department addressed him as Father Ciszek in English. It was the first time he heard that in decades. To my knowledge, he did not know he was returning home until it happened.”

Father Ciszek, who died at Fordham University in 1984, is buried in the Allentown diocese on the grounds of the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. The Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League, the official organization to promote his cause for canonization, is located in his hometown of Shenandoah.

“His accounts of time in Russia speak of his desire to return to Shenandoah,” said Ritz, who reported that Ciszek is “very well remembered there.”

“His grave is a place of pilgrimage, as is the font at which he was baptized, still in use at Saint Casimir Church,” Ritz continued. “To say that he is the most favorite son of the town or a hometown hero would be an understatement. We seek his intercession in ways that are miraculous, and learn heroic virtue from studying his life.”

The Easter season is also a key time to reflect on the Gospel passages that inspired Ciszek.

“The life of Father Walter points us directly to Christ,” Ritz said.

“There are moments we cannot feel the presence of God, especially when absent from usual consolations and especially the sacraments,” the priest continued. “From Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb we learn that at moments of grief Christ is calling to us by name.”

In the gospel account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, when the distraught disciples only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, “we understand that when we are downcast Jesus is there, even when we don’t recognize him,” said Ritz.

More inspiration can be found in the account of St. Thomas in the Upper Room, or the story of when Peter recognized Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias.

“In that locked room we become certain that in our deepest moments of fear Christ can reach us and offer us peace, even when we can only recognize him by the wounds of his suffering,” said Ritz. “At the Sea of Tiberias we recognize that Christ is still concerned for our earthly needs, and that at times it takes moving closer toward him or even the miraculous to know he is present.”

Ciszek’s canonization cause was opened in March 2012.
 

 

Virginia church sues governor over Stay at Home Order

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A small church in Virginia has filed a lawsuit against the governor of the commonwealth, after a pastor received a summons for hosting a Palm Sunday service with 16 people. Lawyers for the pastor say the church serves poor people, many of whom live without internet, and that the state’s Stay at Home Order disproportionately impacts the poor, and churches that serve them.

Pastor Kevin Wilson of Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague, Virginia, faces up to one year in prison or up to $2,500 in fines for violating the state’s Stay at Home order. The order, which was issued on March 30, stated, among other things “All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited.” 

Wilson’s Palm Sunday service was held on April 5, after the state’s stay at home order was issued. During the service, a police officer came into the church, and informed the worshippers that "they could not have more than 10 people spaced six feet apart."

Per a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, which is representing Wilson, police officers threatened to arrest anyone present at the service if they returned the following week for Easter services. Easter services were then canceled.

Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, told CNA that the church was unable to move services online as it lacked internet, and that many of the worshippers who attend services at Lighthouse also do not have access to the internet. 

“Some of them are former drug addicts, that have come out of drug addiction; others are some people who have been in prostitution--not all of the people in the church, but some of them are from that background,” said Staver. “For some of those individuals, the church is the only family that they have and they rely upon the church for support.” 

The church has a transportation ministry, where it brings worshipers to medical appointments, and provides assistance in applying for disability and other benefits. Many of its congregation do not have cars. 

These are “things that you cannot do online,” said Staver. 

The 16 people at Palm Sunday service were spaced out in the church’s sanctuary, which seats 293 people. Under Virginia’s Stay at Home order, the size of the building does not matter. Services cannot move outside as outdoor gatherings of more than 10 are similarly prohibited. 

“The pastor is now facing a criminal charge for having six people over the governor’s magic number of 10,” said Staver. He said that the police were regularly patrolling churches to see if they were in violation of the Stay at Home order, which was how they discovered the 16 worshippers at Lighthouse. According to Staver, the church--and other churches in the area--are still monitored by police today to ensure that there are no more than 10 people present. 

Staver told CNA he was particularly perturbed that Wilson faces jail time while businesses deemed “essential” in Virginia--which include hardware stores, abortion clinics, and liquor stores--regularly have more than 10 people in an enclosed area and do not face any sort of reprimand. 

“When you put all those facts together, this (prohibition of more than 10 gathering) is so beyond the constitutional authority of the government, and it reeks with injustice,” said Staver.

“Frankly, I don’t think the government has the authority at all to limit the number of people at a church, other than zoning based upon how many people can fit in a particular building,” he added. “They don’t have the authority to tell people that the form of worship has to be online.” 

Staver said that he believed churches would be willing to take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations, such as limiting the capacity of the building and requiring people to spread apart from each other, but they were not given the chance to do so under this policy.

Most public religious services were suspended following the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, and are just beginning to resume. 

In the Diocese of Las Cruces, Bishop Peter Baldacchino was the first to announce that public celebration of Mass would return, albeit in line with the governor’s directives. 

Baldacchino’s April 15 to his diocese letter noted that the state of New Mexico recently updated its Public Health Order, which no longer includes churches as “essential services.”

“I strongly disagree,” he said. “Sadly, the Governor is no longer exempting places of worship from the restrictions on ‘mass gatherings.’ It seems to me that while we run a daily count of the physical deaths we are overlooking those who are dead interiorly.”

To comply with the governor’s directive, guidelines issued to all priests limit attendance at Mass in church buildings to 5 people, including the celebrant, and insist that a minimum safe distance of six feet be observed and all seating sanitized after Mass ends.

Baldacchino also authorized priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in compliance with state guidance on social distancing, and specifically recommended setting up an altar in the parish parking lot with parishioners remaining in their cars with an empty space between each vehicle.

Officials for Chincoteague Island, where Lighthouse Fellowship Church is located, were unable to tell CNA if there are any coronavirus cases on the island. The most recent press release from the town, dated April 15, said there were 19 cases identified on Virginia’s eastern shore. 

Data from Virginia shows that there have been fewer than 150 confirmed coronavirus cases in Accomack County, where Chincoteague is located.

Trump talks education on call with Catholic leaders

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 17:37

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2020 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump held a call with more than 600 Catholic leaders on Saturday that focused on education and relief funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholic educational leaders on the call touted the work of Catholic educators during the pandemic, and explained the financial difficulties facing Catholic schools.

Bishops, diocesan school superintendents, and other Catholic stakeholders from across the country all participated, according to a briefing on the call provided by the White House, and accounts of participants.

Trump also used the call to tout his credentials on life and religious freedom issues during an election year.

Archdiocese of Denver schools superintendent Elias Moo was selected to speak during the call.

“I spoke to the president about the long history of Catholic education in our country, and how our nation needs schools that provide an educational experience that forms the whole child and values the primacy of parents and of the soul of the human person,” Moo told CNA.

“I also told him of the phenomenal job our Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Denver are doing in serving over 12,000 students from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, countries of origin and economic situations, at three-fourths the cost per student of our public-school counterparts,” he added.

With the mass closures of offices and schools in recent months, Catholic schools have had to make  a rapid transition to distance learning.

Many Catholic schools are facing with a funding shortfall as a result of the economic downturn; and some dioceses have announded school closures.

“The parochial school system is in the middle of enduring a systemic shock to their finances, and certainly to their students and teachers,” said Lou Murray, who was on the White House call. Murray is the chairman of the board of Boston Catholic Radio.

Trump said during the call he worked to include Catholic schools in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the $349 billion emergency loan program for small businesses and non-profits during the pandemic. Initial funding for the program ran out on April 16, and Trump signed legislation to add $320 billion in funding for the program just over a week later.

On Saturday’s call, Catholic bishops— including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, the USCCB’s education committee chair—along with several Catholic diocesan superintendents noted the importance of the PPP loans for Catholic schools to continue operating, and asked for tax deductions for parochial schools and direct tuition aid for parents, according to accounts from leaders on the call.

Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, told CNA that he asked Trump on Saturday to work with bishops, and state and local leaders, to quickly resume public Masses and liturgies.

“Mr. President, all of the policy initiatives that have been enacted in response to this crisis are based on a material understanding of the human person. But there is a deeper and more real understanding of the human person and that is the metaphysical understanding,” Check told the president during the question-and-answer portion of the call. 

“What is needed right away and more than anything is a restoration of public worship and a restoration of the dispensing of the sacraments,” he added. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was also on the call, and spoke well of Catholic schools, Murray said, especially as an alternative to public schools.

According to the White House, Catholic leaders also “expressed their appreciation for President Trump’s strong pro-life stance and many bold actions to protect religious liberty, for appointing conservative judges.”

The issue of immigration did not come up on the call, Murray said, even after Trump on April 22 signed an executive order barring many immigrants from entry to the U.S. by suspending access to green cards, during the pandemic.

On Thursday, days before the call, Archbishop Gomez and immigration leaders at the USCCB—Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. — had warned that the order “threatens instead to fuel polarization and animosity” and would prevent immigrant family reunification and religious workers from entering the U.S.

Trump also made note during the call that the November general elections are only months away. Some participants noted that at the end of the call Trump cited the election date and warned that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office.

But Moo told CNA that the importance of being on the call was not about politics.

“Regardless of one’s political affiliation or preference, it is important for the Church to engage with public officials to discuss the issues that are central to our Catholic faith and mission. In this case, it was the importance and value of Catholic schools as a critical part of the educational fabric of our nation,” Moo said.

Shortly after the call, Trump tweeted that he would be “online” for the livestream of Sunday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “Join me,” he said, tweeting out the link to the livestream.

On Sunday, Trump again tweeted to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, “Thank you for a great call yesterday with Catholic Leaders, and a great Service today from @StPatsNYC!”

It was the second consecutive weekend that Trump held a call with religious leaders. Last weekend, Trump hosted an April 17 call with faith leaders including Cardinal Dolan, as well as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference—and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

A White House briefing on that call said that Trump “expressed his eagerness to get churches, synagogues, mosques and all houses of worship back open as soon possible.”

In accord with federal and state guidelines issued in response to the pandemic, public Masses were curtailed in all U.S. dioceses for several weeks including over Easter. The diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, became the first diocese to announce the resumption of public Masses during the Easter octave, and several U.S. dioceses have followed suit.

Analysis: Did NY Democrats just tank Biden's nomination?

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 16:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- On Monday, officials in New York announced the cancellation of the state’s Democratic presidential primary, calling the event “essentially a beauty contest,” and an unnecessary risk to public health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York especially hard.  

While New York Democrats cited the inevitability of a Joe Biden’s nomination for the party's candidacy as justification for calling off the primary, it could actually make the former VP's spot on the ticket anything but a forgone conclusion.

Biden is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination to face Donald Trump in November, but New York could become the first domino to fall in an unlikely set up for a contested Democratic convention between two Catholic politicians with national profiles.

Although Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race, Biden does not yet have an overall majority of convention delegates. As of April 27, the former vice president has 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch a first-round coronation at the party’s convention. New York offered 320 delegates up for grabs, 274 pledged to the primary winner; a prize that would have brought Biden closer to the nomination.

If New York’s decision triggers other states to cancel their own primaries, it is entirely possible that Biden could arrive at the Democratic convention without a guarantee of the nomination.  

Assuming the convention begins without a majority of delegates pledged to Biden, the nomination process, during which delegates conduct floor votes, would become a live-fire exercise, rather than a pro forma step in Biden’s coronation as nominee. 

If Biden does not secure a majority on the first ballot, delegates could offer another candidate from the floor.

Official Democratic operatives would likely dismiss talk of a contested convention as fanciful, but it will not stop some of them from quietly acknowledging the benefits of the possibility.

While Biden performs well in head-to-head polling with Trump, especially in key states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania, his recent media appearances have been inconsistent. In live interviews from his family home, the presumptive nominee has appeared flustered, even under friendly questioning, and during early state primaries Biden appeared to bristle on the stump at even modest criticism from voters. 

Questions have been asked about how the former vice president would fare in a live head-to-head debate with Trump, an aggressively provocative debater.

More recently, media coverage has begun to re-examine accusations of sexual harassment against Biden by former Hill staffer Tara Reade.

Even as Trump’s own approval numbers are dropping after his initial pandemic bump, Democratic party leaders might quietly welcome the reserve option to field another candidate against the president.

In that event, New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks the most likely to benefit from a potentially contested nominating convention. Cuomo has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York, so far the state hardest hit by the virus.

As the governor of the state at the pandemic’s frontline, Cuomo also has the campaigning advantage of a daily press platform, perhaps second only to the president’s, at a time when Biden has struggled to remain part of the news cycle.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Cuomo was a regular face on the cable news circuit and an aggressive debater in his own right. Many would see him as a more obvious match for Donald Trump in a televised head-to-head.

Cuomo is having a moment, as they say, but unless he gets the nomination in a convention surprise, he will likely be of little help to Democrats in the presidential election. Biden has pledged to nominate a woman to the ticket’s v.p. slot; Cuomo is not a woman. And if Cuomo has ambition to run in a future election cycle, he might decide there’s little benefit in campaigning for Biden this time around, especially if a Biden win would set up his vice presidential pick for a future election.

From the Catholic perspective, Cuomo represents another pro-choice Catholic politician who has tangled with bishops, not unlike Biden. If New York’s governor ends up with the nomination, it would put a spotlight back on the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has faced calls in the past to formally sanction Cuomo for his aggressively pro-abortion action in the governor’s mansion. But whether Biden secures the nomination, or Cuomo becomes a convention spoiler, bishops this autumn will face the challenge of a candidate who flaunts his Catholicism while flouting Catholic teaching on abortion.

Of course, the New York Democrats’ decision to cancel may prove to be a lone outlier, and motivated mostly by the battle against coronavirus. 

But in whatever cost-benefit analysis was used to make the decision to cancel, it is worth asking if the chance, even a remote one, of leaving open the door for a contested convention was regarded as a potential cost, or as a benefit.

Boston archdiocese assembles teams of priests to anoint coronavirus patients

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 16:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 26, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Boston has assembled groups of priests — living together in strategic locations close to hospitals— to administer the anointing of the sick to COVID-19 patients. 

Father Tom Macdonald, vice-rector of St. John's Seminary in Boston, is one of the priests to have volunteered for the assignment.

"It's a wonderful experience of priestly fraternity to live in the house. It's sort of like— I would imagine— living as a firefighter in a firehouse. We're here, we get calls, we rush out, we come back," he told CNA.

The volunteers live in dedicated houses with other priests whose sole assignment is to be available to administer anointing of the sick, the archdiocese said. The ministry began the weekend of April 18.

"This is what priests do...it's an enormous privilege," Macdonald said.

Suffolk County, where Boston is located, had about 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 24.

“We are grateful that our priests are able to visit with the seriously ill in hospitals who are suffering from the coronavirus and to be able to provide the Sacrament of the Sick,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said in a statement to CNA.

“This is especially comforting to families who are not currently permitted to visit loved ones in the hospital and who are being treated for coronavirus. Our priests consider this to be a blessing in their ministry. In addition we have received feedback that these visits have had a positive impact on hospital staff.”

The archdiocese trained some 80 priests in total to carry out the ministry, with 30 priests actively doing the anointings and the rest serving as backup. 

The backup volunteers have been providing living space for the priests— such as empty rectories— as well as providing food and errands for the participating clergy.

Father Macdonald has been called to anoint several COVID-19 patients already, and each time the hospital staff has assisted him in donning and removing the necessary protective gear according to hospital's protocols.

He said all the priests have been trained to minimize time spent in the patient's room. The priest prays most of the ritual on the doorstep, he said.

The priest then enters the room to perform the actual anointing, which is done with a cotton swab, dipped in the holy oil, and administered on the patient's foot.

Macdonald said he and his fellow priests are constantly "sharing notes" on their experiences at the hospitals, since each institution has slightly different protocols and equipment.

"It's very hard being a priest and not being able to celebrate the sacraments for the people, so this opportunity is a great relief in a sense— to do what we were ordained to do," he said.

"We teach the men at St. John's [Seminary] that priests run into the burning building, not away from it."

Father Michael Zimmerman, assistant vocation director for the seminary and another priest volunteer, told CNA that he hopes the word will spread throughout Boston about the availability of anointing for coronavirus patients.

Father Zimmerman started on the team last weekend, covering the Cambridge, Everett, and Mount Auburn hospitals in Boston. So far he has responded to one anointing call, and his fellow priest in the house where they are now living has responded to two.

"Once we're there, the nurses and the medical staff are very appreciative to have us there," he said.

He said he and his fellow priest— a religious— have developed a routine of prayer in their house, as well as eating meals together and celebrating Mass.

Father Zimmerman asked for prayers for the patients and the priests and medical staff ministering to them.

"We can't save everyone— medicine can only do so much. To some degree we have to recognize that we're not the masters of our own fate, and we have to put it in God's hands," he said.

"The medical staff is doing great work, but we also have to recognize that they can't do everything, and that hopefully takes some pressure off of them, recognizing that this is in God's hands."

'This is exactly what we want to be doing': A friar's life in Brooklyn during coronavirus

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Fr. Brendan Buckley, OFM. Cap., had never heard of the Zoom before this past March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. After his home in the Diocese of Brooklyn became a center of COVID-19 illness in the United States, he learned. 

With the help of two parish employees, he has now shifted much of his parish ministry online, caring for his flock at the parish of St. Michael-St. Malachy despite the outbreak. 

"They've got something [streaming] every day of the week," he said. This includes fitness programming for children, meetings of the parish’s young adult group, First Communion classes, all in addition to live-streams of Masses.

The vast majority of Buckley’s parishioners are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and other Central American countries, he told CNA on Friday, April 24. Many of them “don’t have jobs that necessarily have unemployment insurance attached,” he said, or medical benefits. They have been especially hard-hit by the economic effects of the virus, and are his chief concern when trying to deliver practical help. 

“People like that are what our main concern is here, because they don't have anything to back them up,” he said.

On April 24, his parish staged a pop-up food distribution with Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens. Opened in addition to the existing 34 food pantries operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, the parish event saw a total of 9,360 meals distributed to 1,040 families in need, with an additional $2,500 in grocery vouchers given to 100 families. 

Buckley told CNA that as a Capuchin Franciscan friar, his work ministering in Brooklyn during the COVID-19 pandemic is following in the tradition of his religious order. The boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens contain about 60% of the COVID-19 cases in New York City, which has more cases than anywhere else in the country.

Several priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn have fallen ill, and died, from the coronavirus. 

"From my perspective as a Capuchin Franciscan, this is exactly what we want to be doing: directly helping people in need," he said. "Throughout the difficult times in Europe, the Capuchins were right there on the front lines. When leadership in different cities fled to the hills during plagues, the Capuchins stayed, and ministered, and died.”

Buckley heaped praise on the work of Catholic Charities, which he said have been meeting ever tougher challenges during this crisis, enabling him to more fully live out his vocation as a Capuchin. 

“Catholic Charities has been such a help in allowing us to have the resources to be able to do this kind of outreach," he said.  

Buckley explained to CNA that he had two main areas of concern when it came to his parish: providing food to his parishioners, and ensuring their psychological health. Hence the pop-up event at the parish on Friday. 

"Catholic Charities has been just amazing in terms of their outreach. They have provided over 1,000 families with food today," he said. The pop-up pantry was organized with other Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Ancient Order of Hibernians. 

"They have been exceptional in their care for those in need," he said. "I'm just so proud of them." 

Buckley has not neglected the spiritual needs of his flock, even while he is still not able to celebrate Mass publicly. He is hard-of-hearing--and without one of his hearing aids that he sent for repairs pre-pandemic--he had to work with the diocese to figure out a way for him to continue safely, and literally, hearing confessions. 

While the diocese recommended a space of at least six feet between penitent and confessor, that would not work for Buckley’s situation. He is now hearing confessions twice a week, for two hours at a time, in his office with the door closed. A penitent must make an appointment for confession in order to ensure that the church would not become crowded. 

Buckley said he’s “very excited” to resume hearing confessions. 

"The need for the Sacraments is so important,” he said. "Especially confession and the reception of the Eucharist." 

Once Buckley is permitted to have public Masses again, he will have a backlog of at least 15 memorial Masses he promised to celebrate for parishioners who have died from COVID-19. 

“We’ve had one after another of parishioners, or family members of parishioners[...] that have died. It’s been a lot,” he said. He has regularly posted prayer requests on social media, to the point where “I worried that people are going to get sick of me asking for prayers for somebody else.” 

In dealing with the pandemic, Buckley said that the most challenging spiritual aspect for his parish is the inability to mourn in the standard manner. 

“They can't go to wakes and funerals. So, it's very hard on them. They can't say goodbye," he said. He told CNA that he has been dealing with much of the grieving process on the phone with parishioners.  

Despite everything, Buckley insists that his parish has been blessed; blessed with a small, yet smart and capable staff who moved programming online, and blessed with the outpouring of assistance from others. 

"I'm very grateful that there's so many incredible people out there that are willing to help, volunteer, sacrifice themselves to help others,” he said. 

"We’re so blessed and so touched. God is good." 

Tornado devastates new Oklahoma Catholic Church, but Rother window unharmed 

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- On May 4, the parish community of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Madill, Oklahoma would have celebrated the first anniversary of their new church building.

But on April 22, an EF2 tornado pummeled the small-town church, blowing out most of the stained glass windows and tearing off half the roof. It completely destroyed the parish rectory.

One thing spared though, was a stained-glass window of an Oklahoma native son, Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest of Oklahoma City who was beatified in 2017.

 

Fr. Oby, Fr. Don Wolf and Archbishop Coakley stand with the stained glass piece of Blessed Stanley Rother, which was undamaged.

Posted by Archdiocese of Oklahoma City on Thursday, April 23, 2020  

Holy Cross Pastor Fr. Oby Zunmas told CNA that around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday he returned to his rectory after delivering a rosary to an elderly patient at the hospital. As he arrived, he heard the tornado sirens and started getting weather alerts on his phone.

Zunmas went to turn on his T.V. to get a better idea of the path of the storm, but it wasn’t working.

“As I was going towards the kitchen to see if I have a spare battery or something, then I looked up from my back door and windows in the back and saw how the trees were moving violently. So I knew that that was not normal,” he said.

Zunmas said he immediately ran to the safest room of his house - an interior laundry room. Once inside, he heard a loud bang and the sound of the glass of his windows shattering. When everything was quiet, he came out.

“The first thing I noticed - there was no roof,” he said. The house’s back wall had collapsed on his breakfast table; his three-car garage was compressed, and leaning on his bedroom closet.

The church, he said, looked like someone “took something and scratched it all off.” Most of the windows were blown out; part of the roof was gone. The priest said he’s still not sure if the $4 million new building sustained any structural damage.

“And then the house is almost a $400,000 home, and it's a total write-off,” he added.

But that wasn’t what went through his mind as he first emerged from his laundry room.

“My first prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving. I thanked God that I was alive,” he said. Since hearing of the two deaths from the storm, Zunmas added, he has also been praying for their souls.

After the storm, Zunmas said, he received calls and texts from concerned parishioners who saw the tornado heading for the church.

Among them were Paul and Kathie Westerman, parishioners of Holy Cross for about eight years. The Westermans live about 15 miles south of town, and they worried as they saw the tornado form and head toward the church. They called Father Zunmas immediately after it stopped.

“We called to see how he was, and his first words were, ‘I'm alive,’” Paul told CNA.

The Westermans said they could not drive to the church that night - all surrounding roads were blocked due to downed power lines. But they came two days in a row to help out and to support their pastor.

“We just ran over and gave him a big hug and said, ‘Thank God, he's alive,’” Kathie said.

A hug “in the time of coronavirus!” Fr. Zumnas added.

“I don’t care, he’s alive,” Kathie said.

On Friday, the Westermans and other clean-up crews were helping to clean out the debris, salvage furniture from the rectory, and cover the part of the church where the roof was torn off to prevent it from getting wet in the next storm.

The Westermans said they were “very heartbroken” when they saw the damage to their church, but there was one thing that gave them hope.

“The best thing that ever happened was (a stained glass window of) Stanley Rother was still there. He was undamaged,” Kathie said. “Something went through the window right beside him, but his stained glass is still there.”

 

Posted by Holy Cross Madill on Friday, April 24, 2020  

Blessed Fr. Stanley Rother, a native Oklahoma farm boy turned priest and missionary to Guatemala, was beatified in Oklahoma City in 2017.

Zunmas said he has felt supported by the parish and by the Catholic community, including Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who drove to the parish the day after the tornado.

“People have been very, very supportive,” Zunmas said. “My bishop came down yesterday and then my mentor, my first pastor, Father Tom Wolf. And so many people from the community, our parishioners and members and pastors, everybody came by to help out.”

“I toured the tornado destruction in Madill today with Fr. Oby Zunmas whose rectory was destroyed while he took shelter in a safe room. Holy Cross Catholic Church sustained damage, but is repairable. Please keep them in your prayers,” Coakley said Thursday on Twitter.

Zunmas said he is grateful to God he is alive and the damage wasn’t worse, and that he has been encouraged by the goodness of people at this time.

“We do have generous people who are willing to help. Maybe sometimes they don't think about it, but when something happens, they want to come together. They want to make sure you're okay,” Zunmas said.

“And as a pastor, I see that more often maybe than regular people, but I wish that people would know that there's a lot of good people in this world. I think we know that, but sometimes we just don't act like we do because we're so suspicious of everybody. But I think there's a lot of nice people in this world, and I want people to know that.”

On a more practical note, the priest added, if anyone is building a home in tornado alley, “they need to consider having a safe place. It might be your closet. It might be your bathroom. It might be your safe room, which my safe room is my laundry room…I recommend that people think about not just a pretty home, but a home that is safe.”

 

 

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