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PHOTOS: Los Angeles, San Diego pay tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe with processions, Masses after year hiatus

This year's procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles was well attended after a limited, cars-only procession in 2020 during the pandemic. / Víctor Aleman/Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2021 / 14:36 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles held its 90th annual procession and outdoor Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration, which is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles, was established by Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero War in 1931.

“It’s a joy to be reunited this year to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez in a release.

This year’s event is part of the archdiocese’s Jubilee Year, “Forward in Mission,” which celebrates 250 years of Catholic faith in the region.

“We are gathered here with the desire to go ‘always forward and united in mission and hope,’ which is  the theme of our procession this year, and as you know, it’s a historic year,” Gomez said. 

Five East L.A. students from Bishop Mora Salesian High School kicked off the procession with a 6-mile relay run and the carrying of the Guadalupano torch from Mission San Gabriel to East Los Angeles College Stadium, where the Mass was held. 

The procession included musicians, Aztec dancers, and many colorful floats honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has been a symbol of “hope, compassion, unity, and love” during a difficult year, Gomez said.

“Her image has been a symbol of unity, peace, compassion, and hope for people  around the world,” said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a statement.  

The procession and Mass commemorated the 490th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and marked the culmination of a months-long pilgrimage of the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego throughout Los Angeles. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an exact digital reproduction of the original image in Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and was blessed by Pope St. John Paul II. 

“Whenever I am in the presence of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I feel like a child who is loved,” said Archbishop José Gomez on Twitter in preparation for the event. “When you are in her presence, you can feel the warmth of her tender eyes gazing down upon you. It is a powerful feeling—a beautiful sense of being protected.”

Last year, a limited number of participants were able to participate in the procession by car only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez offered his prayers for the end of the pandemic during this year’s event. 

“Today, especially, we elevate our prayers for the end of the pandemic,” said Gomez in Spanish during the bilingual celebration. “We dedicate special prayers for the eternal rest of those who have died and also for those who are sick and for those who assist them.”

During the homily, Gomez called the faithful to keep following Jesus. 

“We need to increase more and more in  our love for Jesus, in our understanding of what God wants in our lives, in our desire to do his will,” he  said. 

 

The Diocese of San Diego also celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession and Mass on Sunday. Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano participated in the procession and celebrated the bilingual Mass, which was held in the gym at St. Augustine High School. 

“We estimate that around 1,000 faithful participated in our procession, and nearly 2,000 attended the Mass, one of the largest turnouts in recent years,” said Aida Bustos, director of the Office of Media for the Diocese of San Diego.

Last year, the San Diego Mass was held outside with limited attendance due to the pandemic, and no procession took place. According to one report, this year, the San Diego celebration had floats from 32 Catholic organizations and parishes in the area, along with mariachi bands and dancers. 

Following the Mass, the diocese held a tribute to former Auxiliary Bishop Gilbert Chavez, who died in March of 2020. Chavez was the second Mexican-American to be appointed auxiliary bishop in the United States, and advocated for Latinos in his ministry.  

WATCH: Students at Catholic college target pro-life talk with obscenity-laced protest

Pro-choice protesters at the University of San Diego on Nov. 11, 2021. / Screenshot of Students for Life in America video

Boston, Mass., Dec 7, 2021 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

The University of San Diego will not say if any students who shouted obscenities and displayed vulgar signs during a recent pro-choice demonstration on the Catholic college’s campus will be disciplined.

The students were protesting a talk by a pro-life speaker hosted by a student College Republicans club. 

“The protest got absolutely out of control, and it was an embarrassment for the university,” senior Jack Uribe, the club’s secretary, told CNA. 

Prior to the Nov. 11 event, an administrator informed the club that the pro-choice demonstration was supposed to be a “silent event” held at the Plaza de San Diego, a screenshot of an email shows. 

Instead, dozens of students assembled outside Maher Hall, adjacent to the plaza, where pro-life speaker Kristen Hawkins was giving a talk. Demonstrators held signs that said, “Thank God for abortion,” “Hoes before embryos,” and “Public Cervix announcement, F--- You,” and shouted obscenities.

A video clip Uribe shot during the demonstration captured one female protester using a bull horn shouting, “You can't dictate what we do with our “f------- bodies.”  

Uribe said the demonstrators also chanted a sexually explicit insult at an 84-year-old deacon and his wife as they were leaving the event.

“It was the loudest silence I ever heard,” Uribe said. “It was so silent that it could be heard from the apartment complex a 10th of a mile away.” 

The protest was organized by the Gender Equity and Sex Positive Collective. The group is not affiliated with the University of San Diego but is run by students at the school. The group did not respond to CNA’s email requesting comment on Dec. 6.

The university issued a statement to CNA on Nov. 24 about the incident.

“The event was focused on an issue of significant import that continues to be discussed and debated in our country and within our campus community,” the statement said. 

“A university is exactly the kind of place where such discussion and debate should occur. As a Catholic institution, the University of San Diego supports Pro-Life tenets. As an academic institution, we also support the rights of students of all viewpoints to peacefully assemble for the purpose of exercising free speech or dissension,” the statement said.

The statement said the university does not support hate speech, intolerance, or targeting “of members of our community or any other group.” 

“The actions of a few protesters at the event were antithetical to our values of inclusion, respect and acceptance of all,” the statement said.

“We in no way condone actions that denigrate others, and we have a student code of conduct by which we address policy violations. We do not share with the media details of policy violations by members of our campus community.”

Hostility prior to event

In the weeks leading up to the event, posters advertising the event were torn down and A-Frame structures holding the posters were damaged. 

Mary-Logan Miske, president of the College Republicans club, and Alyssa Jackson, the club's human dignity chair, took turns monitoring advertisements for the event. In one incident, they say they caught a student on camera tearing down their posters.

“I'm sitting down on the ground in the hallway waiting with my video camera in a kind of awkward, low key, hidden spot, and there's this girl who goes by the posters and she tears it down right in front of me,” Miske told CNA.

Miske asked the woman if she knew ripping down the posters was vandalism of USD property. The woman responded, “‘Yeah, I did actually know that,’ and then she tears down another one, rips them up and throws them at me,” Miske said.

An anonymous student told a student news program that she tore down some of the signs because she was upset that the speech was happening on campus.

“I was using my own voice in retaliation to something that I thought was disturbing on my campus,” said the student, whose appearance on camera was distorted to protect her identity. “I just wanted them down.” You can watch the segment in the video below, beginning at the 2:26 mark.

In the interview, the student accused the university’s administration of only paying lip service to promoting free discourse on campus.

“I think USD likes to do a really good job of pretending like they air both sides of things,” she said. “Like they pretend that we’re allowed to have this all this discourse and woke conversations, if you will, about things like sex ed, or healthy sex, or healthy relationships, and they really don’t.”

But the pro-life students who spoke to CNA say they feel that views in support of Catholic teaching on abortion and other issues are the ones being marginalized on campus.

Miske believes the university is more focused on promoting diversity than Catholic teaching.

“I think a big problem is shown in what we've seen this past week that there are people who truly believe you can be pro-choice and Catholic,” Miske said. “I don't know how you can think that way, I truly don’t.”

Pro-life speaker responds

The invited speaker, Kristan Hawkins, president of the national pro-life organization Students for Life of America, went ahead with her speech. She also attempted to engage protesters in discussion outside the auditorium.

Hawkins told CNA that the USD opposition is not the first time she has experienced hostility at one of her events.

“We've had staff who have been struck, items stolen, signs defaced and even set on fire inside of school buildings, and even a bomb scare,” Hawkins said. “While we always hope for a real conversation, we often meet harsh opposition. But we believe in using our free speech rights and will not be stopped from passionately advocating for the preborn, whose humanity is being ignored in abortion.”

Hawkins, a Catholic, said that she believes it is important “to remind our Catholic schools, institutions, and leaders that we need a strong defense of Church teaching so that we can pass on our values to future generations who must be taught that we need to care for the least of these.”

Hawkins said the event in San Diego was a success and fostered “real conversations,” noting that more than 8,000 people watched the conversation online.

“Even though some events are harder than others, it's worth it to share the truth that we can love them both, women and preborn children, and that many of us stand ready to help,” she said.

1 million Afghan children could starve this winter. This humanitarian group desperately needs your help

Afghan refugees in Kabul, Afghanistan, after the collapse of the country in August 2021. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2021 / 09:38 am (CNA).

A new initiative is asking Americans for donations this Christmas to help save Christians who risk death in Afghanistan during the brutal winter. Its goal is to provide a “safe winter” for the men, women, and children located there.

“Without our help these Christian families are going to die,” Jason Jones, founder of the Safe Winter initiative by The Vulnerable People Project, said in a Dec. 6 press release. “They are starving and freezing to death.”

The Vulnerable People Project, run by the Human Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.) and led by Jones, began the new initiative after the United States withdrew its military from Afghanistan in August. 

Jones, a U.S. Army veteran, Catholic filmmaker, and humanitarian, called on Americans to help Afghans who rely on his organization for shelter, food, wood, coal and propane. His project estimates that it costs $2,000 per month for each safe house and $250 per month to provide a family of five with food and heat through the winter.

“We know that the American people want to be involved and we want to show them how to support this urgent humanitarian initiative,” he said. “We have already helped to support safe houses in the region and because of our work, these vulnerable families are coming to us for shelter, food and heat.”

The United Nations warned in September that 1 million Afghan children could die as winter begins. Jones hoped to change that number.

“We will not stand by and let these people die,” he said. “During this Christmas season, there is nothing more admirable or noble than to reach out and provide a home and safety to those in peril of death — a little of our treasured resources will go a long way and will give the gift of life.”

He added, “Please stand with us as we stand with our friends, brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.”

Mustasfa Assady, project manager for the Safe Winter initiative, emphasized the stress placed on families.

“People are desperate for food and when they have multiple kids they want to make sure to feed at least some of them, and they think by selling them they will guarantee food for that child as well as the remaining family members,” Assady said.

Jones’ organization has been helping those in Afghanistan since August, and they plan to continue their work — with Americans’ help.

“Since August we have been helping evacuate people, provide visas and we have brought much needed basic services to these people whose lives hang in the balance,” he said. “This is urgent. We need to help these people now.”

The Vulnerable People Project’s website highlights Catholic social teaching on the dignity of the human person and quotes Pope St. John Paul II.

“What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life,” the former pontiff said. “All together, we must build a new culture of life.”

We Are an Advent People

“They have landed. It’s official. The Germans have confirmed it.” Twenty-one-year-old Jacques Moalic stared blankly at the grinning prisoner who met him at the iron gate of Buchenwald concentration camp. Exhausted from another day of slave labor, Moalic had to process this news and follow up with other prisoners. “Keep calm, cool, careful,” they whispered, “The S.S. will become nervous.” The day? June 6, 1944—a date better known as D-Day. With the Allied forces landing on the beaches of France and forming yet another front in the grueling war against the Nazis, a glimmer of hope pierced the blackest hell of the camp. “We’ll be home by Christmas,” many exulted.  Five weeks later, writing in her diary from the secret annex in Amsterdam, fifteen-year-old Anne Frank confessed,  It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because…

Workers in NYC face COVID vaccine mandate, causing 'worry' at some Catholic schools

null / oasisamuel/Shutterstock

New York City, N.Y., Dec 6, 2021 / 17:18 pm (CNA).

Catholic and other private school employees in New York City are speaking out against a city mandate that says they have to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mitch Schwartz, First Deputy Press Secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that staff at private businesses and private schools need one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 27

The Dec. 6 announcement was anticipated, as de Blasio had said Dec. 2 that private school employees were going to need to be vaccinated in the near future, the AP reported.

On Dec. 2, Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said that while they have “placed great emphasis on getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” they respect each individual's choice to make their own decision, adding that “we have and continue to remain opposed to any such mandate.”

Chadzutko wrote that on Dec. 2, Catholic schools and academies throughout Brooklyn and Queens joined a “coalition of religious and independent schools throughout New York City asking the Mayor and Health Commissioner to reconsider plans to implement a vaccine mandate.”

That coalition, the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious schools, sent a letter to de Blasio and to Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi asking them to reconsider the mandate.

“While we support and generally encourage Covid vaccination in our schools, and while in fact most of our schools’ employees are so vaccinated, none of our schools insist upon such vaccination as a condition of employment,” the letter, authored by Rabbi David Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, said.

Vaccination is a choice “most appropriately” left to the individual, the letter said, adding that vaccination “is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce.”

The letter said that imposing a mandate could be “devastating” to schools and children. Only a small percentage of staff at these schools, for individual circumstances or personal values, have chosen to forgo vaccination, the letter said. 

Many of those who have chosen to forgo vaccination will be sure to resist vaccination, even if a mandate comes, which will cause them to be terminated from their jobs, the letter said.

“As a result,” the letter said, schools will be put in a difficult position of filling vacancies with high quality teachers and staff, which could be “impossible” in the middle of the school year.

Recognizing the danger of the Omicron variant, the letter acknowledged the mandate’s goal of hampering the spread of COVID-19.

“However, there are ways to try to move toward that goal short of a mandate, ways that will not interfere with the value of personal choice and will not risk the wholesale loss of teachers and other school employees,” the letter concluded. “The religious and independent school community respectfully urges you to reconsider.”

As of Dec. 6, the Archdiocese of New York has not responded to CNA’s request for a comment on the mandate. However, the New York State Catholic Conference is a coalition member listed on the NYSCIRS website.

The New York Times reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to de Blasio on the phone before the mayor’s announcement of the mandate.

John Quaglione, the Deputy Press Secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, told CNA on Monday that the diocese received no official notification from the mayor prior to his announcement and has yet to be sent the Executive Order directly from the health department or the mayor's office.

“We were able to download the Executive Order from the mayor's website, otherwise, we still would not know what it says or entails,” Quaglione added.

De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, said that he is “confident” the mandate will withstand any legal challenges that might come its way. 

Alexandra Sullivan, a parent with children in New York archdiocesan schools, told CNA on Monday that de Blasio’s mandate is “alarming.”

“Catholic teaching holds that vaccination must be voluntary and that no one should be coerced into a decision against their informed conscience,” Sullivan said. “Teachers employed by the Catholic Church should be afforded the freedom to exercise their conscience.”

Sullivan said that the mandate causes “worry” for parents who are concerned that there will be a future mandate for children to be vaccinated to attend school.

“That would be a grave and dangerous overstepping of government authority,” she added. “It is imperative that our bishops fight against such government overreach to protect their employees and to protect the children under their care in Catholic schools.”

The AP reported that there are about 56,000 employees at 938 schools in New York City to whom the mandate applies.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops' conference have said that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible when recipients have no other ethical option due to the gravity of the pandemic. Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love." In December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note stating that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible but "must be voluntary"; the note recognized "reasons of conscience" for refusing vaccines.

Cincinnati archdiocese announces parish 'family' groups amid massive consolidation effort

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in Cincinnati, Ohio. / Mitchell Chabot/Shutterstock

Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec 6, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati this week announced plans for groupings of parishes, called “families,” which will greatly reduce the number of parishes in the archdiocese during a multi-year consolidation process.

The announcement follows a period of public comment on the plan, during which the archdiocese says it fielded some 8,000 comments.

In a Dec. 5 letter, ​​Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said the consolidation process, dubbed “Beacons of Light”, is an effort to “ensure that all our resources – human, physical and financial –are properly ordered to missionary discipleship.”

“I am convinced that Beacons of Light, born of great hope, will enable us to form stronger parishes, centered on the Eucharist, that radiate the love of Christ and joy of the Gospel in a world that is frequently indifferent or even hostile,” Shnurr wrote.

Under the plan, existing parishes in the Cincinnati archdiocese— of which there are currently more than 200— have been grouped together into 53 “families”, of between 5 to 7 on average. The archdiocese serves some 440,000 Catholics in 19 counties.

The next stage in the process will be the implementation of the new Families of Parishes, set to be completed by July 1, 2022. The consolidation process could eliminate more than 70% of active parishes.

“Our life in Christ is always a response to God’s initiative. As we continue this challenging but exciting endeavor, may we stay attentive to all that the Lord is doing in our midst,” Schnurr concluded.

“God has abundantly blessed our first two centuries and will certainly bless the next. He has promised to never leave us. May God bless and keep all of us as we journey together toward the celebration of the birth of our Lord with certainty in our hearts that Christ remains with us always.”

In explaining the reasons for the initiative, the archdiocesan website cites problems the diocese and Church at large is facing. The website says that “religious practice is declining nationwide,” also citing “the average Sunday Mass in our archdiocese is only one-third full,” as well as an estimation that by 2026 the archdiocese will have at least 20% fewer priests than it currently does.

The number of Catholics as a percentage of the population has also decreased. The site says that the number of registered Catholic households in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has declined at a rate of 2.72 per day for the past decade.

“[M]ost of our church buildings are grossly underutilized, our resources are spread too thin, and many of our parishes are not the vibrant communities of faith Catholics need them to be,” the site reads.

Pius VII established the Diocese of Cincinnati in June 1821. The ninth diocese in the United States, it originally encompassed the entirety of Ohio and the present-day state of Michigan, as well as parts of present-day Wisconsin. It was elevated to an archdiocese in 1850.

Religious leaders warn Build Back Better threatens faith-based child care, education

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Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2021 / 13:47 pm (CNA).

Two U.S. Catholic bishops signed a letter with other religious leaders expressing concern that the child care and universal pre-kindergarten provisions in the Build Back Better Act could exclude faith-based providers.

“The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program,” the Dec. 1 letter, signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education, read.

Organizations representing Christians, Muslims, and Jews also signed the letter as the U.S. Senate considers the bill pushed by the Biden administration. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in November, approving nearly $2 trillion for social programs including universal pre-kindergarten, increased child-care subsidies, and initiatives intended to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

Faith leaders addressed the letter to two Senate leaders on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

“While language in the BBBA does not preclude parents from selecting sectarian providers, the subsequent provisions in the bill text make it virtually impossible for many religious providers to participate,” the letter read, referring to providers of child care and pre-kindergarten.

A statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cautioned that the legislation deviates from current federal child-care policy.

The bill’s provisions attach “new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs (such as separate boys or girls schools or classes), and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs,” the USCCB stated.

In their letter, the religious leaders said they have no intention of preventing anyone from receiving early learning rooted in faith.

“Faith-based providers strive to serve everyone, especially the less fortunate, whom the BBBA’s child care and UPK [universal pre-kindergarten] programs are specifically intended to benefit,” the letter read. “We simply ask to be allowed to continue our good work in caring for our nation’s children in a manner consistent with our beliefs.”

The following day, Dec. 2, the White House Press Office announced that President Joe Biden spoke with Murray on the phone about the Build Back Better Act in the Senate.

Murray and the president discussed the “unprecedented steps this legislation would take to help middle class families afford child care and to create the first-ever universal pre-k program across the United States,” the press office said.

“Trash to Treasure”: The Work of Christ

Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all. ―Emily Dickinson Today, in the first reading from Mass, the verb “will” is repeated seventeen times. I recommend you take a few moments now and read it with new awareness. In this sacred Advent season, God continues to invite us to cast ourselves into his absolute future and set anchor there. In God’s future, nothing handed over by us to him is ever wasted. I find that thought profoundly hopeful. When I lived in Maryland in the late 1980s, I went with some friends to Baltimore to sightsee. While we were walking in what I think was the central business district, I…

5 small Catholic businesses to help you finish your Christmas shopping

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Denver Newsroom, Dec 5, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With Christmas quickly approaching, you may still need that perfect gift for that special someone on your list. We’ve compiled a list of small Catholic companies that offer wonderful and thoughtful gifts for anyone in your life. 

Every Sacred Sunday

Founded in 2017, Every Sacred Sunday Mass journals are a great gift for those who love to take notes and reflect during Mass each Sunday. The Mass journals have the full Mass readings for each Sunday and Solemnity throughout the year. It also offers a 4-part journaling template that helps you study scripture and grow in your prayer life. These sections include a place to write a Bible verse that stood out to you, a section for a prayer request and prayer of thanksgiving, a notes section for the homily or how God spoke to you during the Mass, and a section to write down something you’ll do that week to help you grow in your faith. 

West Coast Catholic 

A rosary from West Coast Catholic would be the perfect gift for someone looking to grow in their prayer life and grow closer to our Blessed Mother. These beautiful handmade rosaries are inspired by the natural colors and landscapes of the West Coast and by a person, place, or story from the Bible. If you’re shopping for a married couple, the Eden set includes a pair of decade rosaries resembling the relationship between Adam and Eve with the hope to inspire couples to pray together.

House of Joppa

A family-run business, House of Joppa offers modern, Catholic home decor and gifts that are beautiful, timeless, and intentional. Their gift sets make the perfect gift for anyone on your Christmas list. Each set is faith-inspired, and are bound to be one-of-a-kind treasures that will make a great addition to any home. The San Damiano Cross and Refuge Candle gift set is just one of the many options you can find for your loved ones this Christmas. 

The Little Catholic

Do you know someone looking for a beautiful piece of Catholic jewelry? Perhaps a Sacred Heart pendant, a Miraculous Medal, or a stunning crucifix? The Little Catholic offers fine crafted, elegant Catholic jewelry in gold and sterling silver. All of their pieces are handmade by local artisans in Los Angeles, California. Catholic jewelry is a wonderful gift that inspires faith and encourages evangelization through these outward signs we wear. 

OréMoose Catholic Leather

If you’re shopping for a man in your life, then we’ve got you covered. OréMoose Catholic Leatherwork creates handmade, custom leather bible and portfolio covers, wallets, coffee sleeves, koozies, satchels and so much more. These pieces are durable and stylish. Most pieces are engraved with a cross; however, you can also customize your piece with your own design or engraving. 

This Christmas, give the gift of God, of faith, of true beauty. After all, that is the reason for the season.

A Voice Cries Out

A few years ago I sat with a group of young Catholics to reimagine the parish’s young-adult ministry. I invited each person to talk about their own needs and experiences in the Church. A college student spoke frankly about how she’d been made to feel that she didn’t belong in young Catholic communities because of her feminist values. She explained that young Church leaders tended to equate traditional gender roles with holiness, and she couldn’t imagine herself continuing to participate in young-adult meetings that, among other things, focused heavily on the expected roles of men and women in marriage. She wanted a young-adult ministry that would help her grow spiritually and that would focus on community, charity, and social justice. She felt isolated from her friends who didn’t understand how she could be a part of a misogynist, patriarchal institution, but also isolated from the young Catholics in her parish whose culture had become so rigid and clique-y that there was no room for different experiences and ideas.

It was evident that this young woman was speaking from a place of woundedness, and that this was the first time she had exposed those wounds publicly. The sharing of her experience was a grace that invited the group to think critically about how past ministerial practices marginalized young adults in their community and that offered an opportunity to find new ways of being. This woman was the voice crying out in the desert, inviting the group to prepare a new way, to make straight their paths so that all flesh may see the salvation of God (Luke 3:4, 6).

The second Sunday of Advent’s readings remind us of the power of the prophetic word. By now, communities around the nation have started to, or are preparing to, participate in the Synod on Synodality. The success of the synodal conversations will depend on the Church’s ability to listen to the word of God found in the deserts of our communities. Local communities are likely to face many challenges in the process, but I’d like to highlight two in particular.

If all flesh is to see the salvation of God, it starts with Christians being authentically merciful outside the walls of the parish.

The first will be our ability to prepare spaces where people feel safe enough to speak honestly. To speak from our personal deserts is an act of vulnerability, and the perceived danger of speaking honestly is dependent on how one perceives the receptivity of the people in power. Luke’s listing of the names of Romans in political power, and of the religious authorities of the time as the context in which John the Baptist begins his ministry, highlights the dangers and the oppression that the people were desperate to escape. Luke reminds those in power of their role in perpetuating the hardships, sorrows, and inequalities of the day. Although we can expect an eloquent final document from the Holy See at the conclusion of the Synod on Synodality, what’s likely to make a greater impact on our communities is whether prophetic conversations in the desert were heard and heeded by those who have the local power and authority to make changes in the Church.

The second challenge will be going out to the deserts where the institutional Church has failed to listen. The day’s Gospel concludes with the exclamation that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Ministerial practices have become increasingly centered on those who regularly walk through parish doors and seem designed exclusively to catechize, with no concern for individual spiritual development. If all flesh is to see the salvation of God, it starts with Christians being authentically merciful outside the walls of the parish. Listening is the first step.

It’s important to consider that on the same day the Advent wreath candle representing peace is lit that we hear a call to transformation. Peace demands an authentic transformation of the individual and of society. The voice in the desert cries out because it knows the wounds that need healing and the actions that perpetuate the pain. The voice in the desert points out what needs to be transformed, with the belief that the transformation will lead to peace. As a Church, we cannot expect our divisions to be healed if we miss the opportunities to authentically listen and to allow the listening to lead us to a new way of being.

The celebration of the birth of Jesus makes sense under these conditions. The word comes to John in the desert. It comes to him in vulnerability. The word becomes flesh in vulnerability. Advent prepares us to co-create a world in which peace abounds—not by avoiding difficult conversations, but by being grateful for them.

This is the second in a series of 2021 Advent reflections. A new reflection will be posted every Sunday in Advent. You can read the first one here.