Christina Khader Ebada, the Assyrian girl kidnapped by ISIS three years ago, reunited with her mother. ( AINA)

The maniacs of ISIS kidnapped thousands of Christian and Yazidi children, often slaughtering their parents and siblings in front of them. This girl was pulled from her mother’s arms by a jihadist as the family tried to escape from Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian city in Iraq (50,000 faithful in 2012).  What kind of men do such things to families in the name of God? Her father and brother both died of starvation in their own house – the jihadists would not feed these two deaf-mute men, nor a 70 year old neighbor who also could not escape. The Quran commands mercy, but also gives conquerors the right to anything or anyone they want. At least a Muslim neighbor took all the bodies and buried them in a burned out church. – Fr Chris  

Christina Khader Ebada, the three year-old Assyrian girl who was kidnapped by ISIS three years ago, has been reunited with her family in North Iraq. The Iraqi Army, currently fighting ISIS for the liberation of Mosul, contacted Allen Kakony, a journalist and photographer, and told him “a six-year-old Christian girl had been liberated” from the hands of ISIS. According to the Huffington Post, her parents where contacted and told to report to a designated location in Mosul where she would be returned to them.

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

According to Fox News, Christina brother said in a statement “With all that we have been through, we are overjoyed that our Christina has been returned to us safely. I thank all those who have prayed for her safe return.”

Christina was abducted from her family by ISIS in August, 2014, as she and her parents were leaving Baghdede (Qaraqosh), the largest Assyrian city in Iraq (AINA 2014-08-25). She was last seen by her mother crying and sobbing as a heavily bearded man carried her away. Her mother was interviewed three days after she was snatched from her arms by ISIS (AINA 2014-08-28) and said at the time “She will die if she does not see me.”

Christian is now six years old and is unable to speak except for a few words in Arabic, as she has apparently forgotten her Assyrian language. According to an Assyrian resident quoted by World Watch Monitor, “She looks OK, quite healthy. I believe she must have been in the house of a family who took good care of her. She was even wearing gold earrings, so it must have been a wealthy family.”

Christina, then and now. ( AINA)
Christina on her way back to Dohuk. ( Steven nabil)

People have a bad habit of saying Happy Memorial Day, with absolutely no awareness that today honors the men and women who died defending our country and its freedoms. In honor of my Marine Corps father and one of my best friends, also a Marine, and my relative Ambrose J. LePrell, USMC, killed in France on 10/24/1918, here is an article on Venerable Vincent Capodanno, a priest who was killed in 1967 while administering the Sacraments in Vietnam. He was dearly loved by his Marines, and his Cause is now going to Rome for his hopeful beatification, next step to sainthood. If you haven’t already today, offer a prayer for the repose of those who died in our defense, and for the consolation of those they left behind. 

From CRUX, 29 May, 2017 – ‘Grunt Padre’ could be patron saint of Memorial Day

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For many Americans, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, a time when pools open and families celebrate backyard barbecues.

But for Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the military archdiocese in the United States, “Memorial Day now has a face. It’s a face that I recognize. You meet the relatives, the spouses and parents of men and women who have died as a result of combat,” he told Crux in an interview. “Also, you meet countless young men and women who are willing to take the risks to serve our country.”

When people lose a loved one in combat, “you always sense the loss,” he said.

Some day, Memorial Day may also have a patron saint, especially for those killed or wounded in action, for their families, and for military chaplains and those they serve.

At the end of the Military Archdiocese’s 23rd annual Memorial Day Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Broglio formally closed the archdiocesan phase of the cause of canonization for Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. Now the cause goes on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. (Credit: Military archdiocese.)

Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. (Credit: Military archdiocese.)

The Mass, pre-taped on May 21, will be televised on EWTN on Memorial Day, Monday May 29, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time and later at midnight, and on Catholic TV at noon and 8 p.m.

The heroic chaplain was born in Staten Island, New York, on Feb. 13, 1929, the youngest of 10 children in an Italian immigrant family. During World War II, he witnessed two of his older brothers going off to serve in the U.S. Army, and another serving in the Marines.

At the age of 20, Capodanno felt called to become a missionary priest and entered the seminary for the Maryknoll order and was ordained to the priesthood in 1958. After the traditional tolling of his seminary’s bells, he learned that he was assigned to be a missionary in Taiwan, where he learned the language, administered the sacraments, trained catechists and distributed food and medicine.

About six years later he was transferred to Hong Kong, where he met U.S. military personnel and felt called to serve as a chaplain.

“When he makes the decision to ask his superiors to become a Navy chaplain, this opens a whole new experience,” said Broglio. “This is where he discovers that vocation within a vocation. That really is his path to sanctity.”

The chaplain was nicknamed the “Grunt Padre,” because of his personal care for and ministry to the “grunts” – the nickname for members of the infantry, like the Marines he served in his battalion after arriving in Vietnam during Holy Week in 1966.

“He responds to the concrete needs of Marines, and he is going to take care of them,” said Broglio. “He’s typical of many chaplains I’ve met in the last 10 years. He knows what’s right. He’s going to take care of his people.”

Capodanno’s biography on the website of the Archdiocese for the Military Services describes his ministry: “He became a constant companion to the Marines: living, eating and sleeping in the same conditions of the men. He established libraries, gathered and distributed gifts and organized outreach programs for the local villagers. He spent hours reassuring the weary and disillusioned, consoling the grieving, hearing Confessions, instructing converts and distributing St. Christopher medals.”

After serving a year-long tour, he signed up to continue serving as a chaplain with the Marines. On Sept. 4, 1967, during Operation Swift, his seventh combat operation, he died heroically ministering to the Marines in his battalion.

“His view is, he’s going to be with his Marines and take care of them. As they’re shot up, he’s there ministering to them and encouraging them. That’s his vocation,” the military archbishop said.

The citation for the chaplain’s Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously in 1969, describes Capodanno’s heroism:

“In response to reports the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon.

“Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded.

When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant Marines.

“Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire.”

The citation concluded, “By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

Capodanno “went from being an ordinary missionary to an exceptional chaplain. In that is clearly the hand of God,” said Broglio, who added that what made him exceptional was “just the conviction that he is going to take care of his Marines… He was their counselor, their friend,” who gave his life serving them.

The story of Capodanno’s faith, sacrifice and heroism was chronicled in the book, The Grunt Padre: The Service and Sacrifice of Father Vincent Robert Capodanno, Vietnam 1966-67, written in 2000 by Father Daniel Mode, who came from a Navy family and was inspired by the chaplain’s life and as a seminarian wrote his thesis on the heroic priest, interviewing 100 people who knew him.

Mode – who later became a U.S. Navy chaplain himself, and has been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan and served on aircraft carriers and in the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon there – has said his ministry has been inspired by the grace and courage of the “Grunt Padre,” who brought Christ to the Marines he served in Vietnam.

The chaplain’s biography includes the story of Marine Cpl. Ray Harton, who as he lay wounded from a gunshot in his left arm, said he opened his eyes during that battle and saw Capodanno, who in a calm voice told him, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be okay. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

In his homily at the Memorial Day Mass, Broglio referred to that story, saying, “How appropriate that the annual Memorial Mass offers the occasion to conclude the archdiocesan phase in the Cause for the Canonization of Father Vincent Capodanno.

“He clearly knew the value of his priesthood, and he willingly laid down his life so that others might have the benefit of the gifts he brought. Ray Harton will never forget Father Capodanno’s encouraging, ‘Stay quiet, Marine. You will be okay,’ but neither will any of us who have known that commitment repeated so often by a priest in the military.”

In his interview with Crux, Broglio said the heroic chaplain’s spirit lives on in the more than 200 priests serving as U.S. military chaplains around the world.

“That notion of caring for others, that’s very evident in the best chaplain’s ability to meet a service person where he or she is, and find ways to talk with them… that willingness to give of yourself and your free time, that tremendous notion of wanting to care for people,” the military archbishop said. “That’s clear in Father Capodanno’s life, and it’s clear in most of the chaplains I know.”

Broglio added, “A priest is unique among chaplains in the sense he brings something only a Catholic priest can bring – the person of Christ in the sacraments. He celebrates the Eucharist, anoints the sick and hears Confession. Those are gifts only he can bring.”

The military archdiocese’s website notes that priest chaplains “go wherever their people are – in a tent in the desert, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, in the barracks on base, on a fire-fighting line, in the VA hospital, in the halls of the Pentagon.”

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Statue of “Fr. Vince” administering Last Rites on battlefield

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, was established by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1985. Its priests serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making it the world’s only global archdiocese. Its priests also serve in 153 VA medical centers throughout the United States.

Its website notes that an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on that archdiocese to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs. That includes 325,000 Catholics on active duty, and their families.

Capodanno was declared a “Servant of God” in 2006 by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the request of then-Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who led the military archdiocese until 2007 and was succeeded the next year by Broglio, who formerly opened the chaplain’s cause of canonization in 2013 and appointed a tribunal to investigate whether he lived a life of heroic virtue.

The diocesan phase included gathering facts on his life, interviewing people who knew him, and investigating his writings.

The chaplain’s earthly honors include the Navy Bronze Star medal and the Purple Heart medal. The USS Capodanno, a Navy frigate in commission from 1973-93 that was deployed during Desert Storm, was named in his honor, as are seven chapels around the world, including one at Navy Chaplains School in Newport, Rhode Island, and one on Hill 51 in Que Son Valley in Vietnam that the chaplain himself helped build out of thatched palms and bamboo.

A naval clinic in Gaeta, Italy, is also named in his honor, as is Capodanno Boulevard in Staten Island, and an annual scholarship given to the children of Marine Corps members bears his name. A room in the chancery of the Archdiocese for the Military Services includes artifacts related to the life and death of the chaplain, including a green field hat that he wore in Vietnam, and an etching of his name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Broglio said that the chaplain’s sainthood cause moving forward this year is especially poignant, because the annual Memorial Mass in his honor, which this year will be celebrated on Sept. 5 at the National Shrine, will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

The military archbishop said Capodanno offers a role model not just for chaplains and those serving in the military, but for other Catholics to emulate. The cause for canonization, he said, means “this figure is worthy of imitation. This is not a Bronze Star. It’s for us (that) we’re doing this.”

“I think Father Capodanno, in terms of virtues, he teaches us fidelity,” Broglio said.  “He teaches us perseverance. He teaches us immense charity, not only on the battlefield, but in the hundreds of little things he did for his Marines.”

OFFICIAL WEBSITE FOR THE CAUSE OF HIS SAINTHOOD – http://www.milarch.org/father-capodanno/

Another biography:   http://www.securenet.net/3rdbn5th/mike35/capodanno1.htm

Marine Corps Association bio: https://www.mca-marines.org/mcaf-blog/2011/05/16/father-vincent-capodanno-and-meaning-sacrifice

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 27, 2017

The Exodus of Christians out of Iraq.

This article from the Financial Times details what has been happening recently in Iraq. I added some photos.

The native Churches – Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian Church, Armenian Catholic and Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Catholic, Latin and Protestant-  have all been devastated, first by the problems caused by our invasion in 2003 and the ensuing chaos, and of course the surge of Islamic fundamentalism. We have created a mess there, and as Mr. Gardner points out, the local Muslims always associate the local Christians with the Western powers, despite the fact that these same powers really don’t care about the Christians’ desperate straits: witness how few are allowed into the USA. The upcoming visit of the Pope tomorrow to both Al-Azhar, the premier Sunni school in the world, and to the Coptic Orthodox Pope, is an exceedingly delicate mission! ‘

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David Gardner, Financial Times, April 25, 2017

Isis has spattered Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt this week with a bloody prelude. On Palm Sunday its suicide bombers exploded outside a Coptic Christian cathedral in Alexandria and at the altar of a church in Tanta, in the Nile Delta, killing 47 people. Last week Isis hit St Catherine’s, the majestic Orthodox monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Police repelled this assault on a jewel of eastern Christendom. It would otherwise probably have met the fate of the also 14 centuries-old Mar Elias Assyrian Christian monastery near Mosul, which Isis blew up after taking the Iraqi city in 2014.

Isis has lost half the territory of its proto-state in Iraq and Syria since then. Facing territorial defeat, it is stepping up what it did in both countries: sowing despair and sectarian discord. Its venomous contempt for any and everyone of different beliefs is motivation enough. But attacks on Christians work as a multiplier for jihadis that divides their enemies. Iraq, cradle of the golden age of Islam under the Abbasid dynasty from the eighth to the 13th century, is also by tradition the land of Abraham. The US-led invasion of 2003 almost emptied it of Christians, tarred as complicit with the west and caught in the crossfire of ethno-sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Their numbers plummeted from about 1.2m to around 300,000. When the Iraqi forerunner of Isis was reincarnated by Syria’s similarly sectarian conflict and captured Mosul in June 2014, the city lost its last Christians as the jihadis daubed the letter ‘N’ for Nazarenes on their homes. The jihadis are savage but they are not stupid. Attacking Christians and other minorities forces them to take refuge with dictators and strongmen, often stirring the antagonism of the Sunni Muslim majority. Europe and the west’s tendency to spring to the defence of Christians stirs more hostility and rancorous memories of western meddling.

That includes alliances between Christian hierarchs and local tyrants; and the Ottoman-era “Capitulations”, a hated regime under which European powers claimed the right to protect their co-religionists. That cast them — the Armenians and Assyrian Christians — as fifth columnists who were then exterminated by Young Turk leaders in Anatolia during the first world war.

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Christians are being targeted; but their leaders, in the near east and in the west, need to make sure they are not helping to pin the targets. The jihadis have long been on to this. Their narrative about western “Crusaders” may sound weirdly archaic to many but it resonates with their target audiences. Against this background of fear in the eastern Mediterranean and populist Islamophobia in the west, Pope Francis is being billed as an almost supernaturally gifted bridge-builder. The Catholic pontiff captures the imagination of people of other faiths and of no faith. But it needs a lot more than bridges to dry up the rivers of sectarian poison that have coursed through the region since Iraq and then Syria. How to staunch the exodus of Arab Christians and protect those who remain is obviously a papal priority. But the Vatican needs to clarify its policy on the Levant — where Christians face a bleak future if their leaders continue to see freedom and religious pluralism in opposition to each other, even siding with the savage dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, as a supposed bulwark against jihadi extremists.

Bechara al-Rai, patriarch of the Rome-allied Maronites, Lebanon’s largest Christian minority, early in the conflict described Syria as “the closest thing to democracy” in the Arab world. This pitted highly relative religious tolerance, enforced by Syria under the Assads, against democracy. It also overlooked the way Damascus used sectarianism as a lethal weapon. Too many local prelates stood with a minority-based despotism against Syria’s Sunni majority, in what started as a civic uprising against tyranny. The spectre of Islamism determines their judgment in much the same way the spectre of Bolshevism pushed some of their 20th century counterparts into alliances with fascism.

The survival of a two-millennia-old tradition of Arab Christianity, in the lands of its birth, is important not just for Christians. Over the past century, Christians’ share of the Arab population has fallen two-thirds to about 5 per cent, often because a missionary-provided education gave them a passport abroad. But still they provide interstitial tissue to society. The beneficiaries of the Christian-inspired schools and universities set up in the 19th century Levant are now, for example, overwhelmingly Muslim. Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese writer, has a phrase about minorities being “the yeast in society”. That is still true of Christians in the near east — for now. david.gardner@ft.com

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 17, 2017

Bright Monday, Dyngus Day, and Emmaus

We continue with both the first chapter of St.  John and the first chapter of the Book of Acts today in the Byzantine Catholic Church. We go back to the beginning of the Gospels, and to the beginning of the Church following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  The Gospel  is the start of it all, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God, the Logos, as Jesus and His ministry on earth. The Book of Acts is the start of the Church’s life as the apostles and disciples prepared for Pentecost.In our Divine Office, the psalms are not read this week, only the paschal hours are sung.  There is no fasting, and we are actually encouraged to enjoy meat, eggs, and dairy – and in North America, especially chocolates! The emphasis is on carrying the joy of Pascha.

In eastern Europe  (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary), today the men throw water on the women, from a legend in which Peter and the apostles thought that the holy women were hysterical when they reported the resurrection, only to have Peter and John return from the empty tomb, saying that the women were right. (And it is also a way that a girl knows if a young man likes her, and vice versa!)

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Tomorrow the opposite happens – the holy women got their revenge on the apostles and the men had to apologize, answering “Indeed He is risen” to the women’s cries of “Christ is risen!”  In Poland – and back home in Buffalo, NY – there is the additional  practice Dyngus Day, with the boys striking girls with the pussy willows blessed on Palm Sunday, followed by feasting and dancing the night away.

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Dyngus Day procession in East Buffalo 

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Dyngus Day fills the Central Terminal in Buffalo 

In the Roman rite, today is the Emmaus gospel, in which Luke and Cleophas encounter

the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, at the breaking of the bread, something we observe tomorrow in the Eastern Churches. In German-speaking countries, today is a national holiday and a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. It’s the custom to take a long walk alone after hearing the Emmaus Gospel in church – usually in Germany, Switzerland and Austria you hike in groups. But not for Emmaus – this is a time when people go off alone in a park or the woods or the mountains to personally  and quietly meditate on the risen Lord and His presence in our daily  lives.

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Rejoice in the risen Christ, by all means. Have fun this  week as much as you can. Eat and be happy. But also take time to meet this same Lord quietly, in the stillness of our hearts, and to meet Him this year in a new way, thanking Him for His life-giving Passion, and for His endless mercy in receiving us back when we repent from our sins, and finally praising Him for coming to us in the breaking of the bread, this magnificent mystery, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, where He presents Himself to us over and over, at altars around the world, because of His enormous love for us.

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Decades of encountering our Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist 

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! 

From Radio Vatican: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church echoes once more the astonishing message of the first disciples: “Jesus is risen!” – “He is truly risen, as he said!”

The ancient feast of Passover, the commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery, here finds fulfilment.  By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death, and has opened before us the way to eternal life.

All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep.  But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us.  To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross. Today we can proclaim: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep, and willingly died for his flock, alleluia” (Roman Missal, IV Sunday of Easter, Communion antiphon).

In every age, the Risen Shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world.  With the marks of the passion – the wounds of his merciful love – he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.  Today too, he places upon his shoulders so many of our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms.

The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization.  He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.

He takes upon himself all those victimized by old and new forms of slavery, inhuman labour, illegal trafficking, exploitation and discrimination, and grave forms of addiction.  He takes upon himself children and adolescents deprived of their carefree innocence and exploited, and those deeply hurt by acts of violence that take place within the walls of their own home.

The Risen Shepherd walks beside all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes.  Everywhere he helps these forced migrants to encounter brothers and sisters, with whom they can share bread and hope on their journey.

In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace.  May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.

Especially in these days, may he sustain the efforts of all those actively engaged in bringing comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria, prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.  May he grant peace to the entire Middle East, beginning with the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Yemen.

May the Good Shepherd remain close to the people of South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who endure continuing hostilities, aggravated by the grave famine affecting certain parts of Africa.

May the Risen Jesus sustain the efforts of all those who, especially in Latin America, are committed to ensuring the common good of societies marked at times by political and social tensions that in some cases have resulted in violence.  May it be possible for bridges of dialogue to be built, by continuing to fight the scourge of corruption and to seek viable and peaceful solutions to disputes, for progress and the strengthening of democratic institutions in complete respect for the rule of law.

May the Good Shepherd come to the aid of Ukraine, still beset by conflict and bloodshed, to regain social harmony.  May he accompany every effort to alleviate the tragic sufferings of those affected by the conflict.

The Risen Lord continues to shed his blessing upon the continent of Europe.  May he grant hope to those experiencing moments of crisis and difficulty, especially due to high unemployment, particularly among young people.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together.  With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message:  “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!”  May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.            Happy Easter!

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Posted by: Fr Chris | April 14, 2017

GOOD FRIDAY 2017

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,  Gal 6:14

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.  Col 1:24

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The King of Glory

The ancient world found the mystery of Jesus’ cross to be confusing, frightening, bewildering. How could Paul, the primary apostle to the Greek and Latin speaking nations, rejoice in suffering? How could he brag about a crucifixion, the most frightening punishment in the Roman world, and to be honest, still today? The ancients feared crucifixion, and most of the pagan religions fled from suffering and instead explored pleasure.

Suffering is redemptive. Suffering has value. Our own individual sufferings – physical, mental, spiritual; from bad weather, hard work, difficult companions, failures, losses, as well as the penances we take on especially during Lent and Holy Week all have great value when united to the passion of Jesus Christ. Through suffering we are associates with Jesus the High Priest in His life-giving Passion.  The world had to be ransomed from sin, purchased from sin, at a great price, of the blood of a Man Who was God and  Human.

The Passion and Death of Jesus that we observe tonight is a treasury of redemptive grace.

In western Europe, Canada, and several of our biggest states, suffering is now the door to being murdered. A 32 year old mother of four children was denied cancer treatment in Oregon but the state agreed to pay $1.50 for each pill that it would take to kill her. In Belgium you can ask to die if you are twelve years old. In the Netherlands, elderly people have been put to death at the request of their own relatives, even though those elderly people literally fought for their lives against the doctors who came to do the deed, but every one of them was killed. In Canada the killing has been expanded from supposedly relieving the pain of those who are terminally ill to those who have emotional problems of any kind. Nazi Germany killed 230,000 Germans in the 1930s and 40s, people whose lives were determined to have no more value because of physical handicaps, Downs Syndrome, chronic illness, or mental and emotional problems, and the western world rightly condemned such so-called mercy killing as a result. The grandchildren of those who did the condemning are now happily slaughtering away anyone whose life is  considered expendable, undesirable, too difficult, too – what? Where will the limit be, if any?? 

Austria to exhume hundreds of bodies in Nazi euthanasia probe

Burial of Nazi victims of euthanasia

The West is losing its soul, its connection to the Holy Trinity and the redemption purchased for our souls on Mount Calvary on that hot Friday in 33 AD. Over one-third of our young adults believe that Christianity stands for scandal, greed, and hatred of those who are different, instead of sacrifice, faith, and charity to all. Two-thirds of Roman Catholics in this country no longer believe that Jesus is physically in Holy Communion. People are abandoning the message of Christ to become Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu instead, and in so doing are missing out on the importance of what the Passion is, and what therefore the Resurrection is. Christianity offers free will, given to us by a loving God, and redemption purchased at a heavy price on this afternoon so long ago.

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People complain about the polarization in Congress, the intense negativity of the political campaigns, and the fact that many people are simply rude and arrogant towards others. Christians cannot be like that. Jesus gave one commandment the night before He died: love one another. Before the Last Supper in which He gave His Sacred Divinity and Humanity in the bread and wine, He knelt in front of each apostle and washed their feet that were caked with dirt and garbage from the filthy streets. The Son of Man came to serve, not be served.

The refrain of one our Lenten hymns goes like this: This You suffered willingly, this You suffered, just for me.  What did He willingly suffer just for me?Jesus willingly endured sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as His human nature recoiled in fear from the horrible passion ahead, finally  reconciling in complete harmony with His divine nature so as to willingly begin the long way of sorrow from the garden to Calvary; He willingly endured being betrayed by one of his closest followers and abandoned by all the others; He willingly endured being slapped, spat upon, and slugged by soldiers sworn to uphold the law but who gladly broke that law so as to abuse Jesus; He willingly endured having a helmet of thorn branches thrust into His scalp, where the most sensitive nerves are, such that He must have screamed in pain;

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He willingly endured having His back and sides torn apart by wicked Roman whips tipped with bone and metal; He willingly endured being wrapped in a robe of imperial purple cloth, to mock His kingship, and having a reed stuck in His hand as a mock scepter of power; He willingly endured carrying the cross bar through crowded streets filled with people who saw Him only as an annoyance as the pilgrims prepared Passover; He willingly endured going without food or drink from the Last Supper until His dying breath, even though His precious blood was pouring out of His wounded head, back and rib cage and later the wounds on the Cross; He willingly endured being struck from behind and knocked down or falling onto the hard stones of the streets of Jerusalem – so much so that according to the image on the Shroud of Turin, His right arm was not only knocked out of joint but paralyzed due to nerve trauma; He willingly endured  going through the crowds in order to console the women and children who were crying over His pain and tortures; He willingly endured the long ascent up the hill of Golgotha, suffering the shame of being stripped naked in front of the crowd including His own grieving mother, the holy women, and the beloved teenager St John and the trauma of the wounds being torn open as His robe was torn from His body; He willingly endured being nailed through the radial nerves of His arms, causing tremendous pain, and through His feet, and being lifted up on high above the crowd, where He looked across the walls of Jerusalem to the shining roof of the Temple, which would soon be totally destroyed; He willingly endured lifting Himself up with tortured breath to give us His Seven Last Words; He willingly endured verbal abuse from the one terrorist crucified on His left, but opened the gates of heaven to the terrorist on His right who believed in Him; He willingly endured the mocking of the Jewish priests and Roman soldiers while still delivering those Seven Last Words, and forgave each and every one of them; and in His last Words He cried out the opening words of the great psalm of the triumph of the messiah, which begins with My God My God why hast Thou forsaken Me? and lists all the signs of the crucifixion

They open their mouths against me, 15 Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. 16As dry as a pot shard is my throat; my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth;.*  I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; 19 they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.

but ends with God vindicating His servant

kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations. 30*All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage. 31And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.32The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.

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Jesus said the opening words of PS. 22 so that those nearby would know that He had not despaired, He had not lost trust in the Father, He knew His destiny; and then in that Last Words, He breathes His last and surrenders His human soul to God, and that deliverance will come to those around His cross, those in the holy city, those yet unborn.

At the end of this Vespers, we walk around the church in the dark, from Calvary to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, following the image of Jesus’ body, and in the dark we come up on our knees to kiss the five sacred wounds of His hands, side, and feet when that shroud is laid in the tomb. We sit throughout the night keeping watch at His tomb. Jesus confronted Sin and Death in the darkness of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night. In the dark of Good Friday, we are able to confront our own sins and call ourselves to conversion because of all that He willingly endured.

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Christians are called to love everyone because we are all made in the image and likeness of God But we are also called to love and serve others because God’s Son paid such a heavy price so as to defeat the forces of death and sin and reopen heaven to us. The Passion is not because God is vengeful or angry or cruel – the Passion is the ultimate statement of total self-giving love. Saint Paul BOASTS of the Cross to people who feared crucifixion with all their being, because on this unique Cross our redemption has been purchased. We have all been paid for, but it is up to each one of us to live a life that reflects that purchase. As Catholics we believe that this Church was founded by Christ on the rock of Peter, that this Church is entrusted with the fullness of divine revelation. If that is so, then we must live as people who have been redeemed by the Lamb of God slain for us on this day. We must be known for faith, for kindness, for service to those in need, as messengers of peace, as messengers who are not afraid to speak the truth while at the same time loving those to whom we are giving that message.

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I began with redemptive suffering. In every generation, Christ’s Passion needs our participation in order to bring the fullness of revelation to every soul on earth. Jesus loves the human race so much that He would willingly endure this Passion over and over again millions of times, for every soul that has lived, is living now, and will live again, if that were necessary. He does not have to – but we who are His brothers and sisters through adoption, who have been baptized into the Holy Trinity, we are invited not to despair when we have something difficult to go through, but to remember to embrace that suffering, that pain, that challenge, that hardship, that illness, that hard boss or co-worker, that bad weather, that missed bus or train, and unite it to the Passion of Jesus for the salvation of the souls who stand in need of God’s grace at that moment in time. The world is still a broken world with problems because God allows humanity free will, and we don’t always exercise it properly, from the president to the four year old who hits their brother or sister in anger. But if we unite ourselves to this willing suffering of Jesus, we help by cooperating with God as the Divine Lover, and become Christ’s apostles to this world that needs His mercy so very much.

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Mary,  who is the first to unite herself to His Passion

We do not walk in darkness – we shine as the apostles of the cross, as servants of those who are not loved or thought of by most other people, as companions to the sick, as lovers of those who are shunned by polite society, as messengers of the reality that God constantly pours out grace and mercy to every single soul on this planet. When we kiss the wounds of Jesus tonight, may we be conscious of His enormous sacrifice, He Who confronted death and conquered it by reopening the gates of paradise to the souls of all the just since Adam and Eve and to the souls of those not yet born, and above all may we be His loving co-workers in uniting ourselves to this passion so as to achieve resurrection not only on Easter Sunday, but every day of our lives ahead of us.

Christ is among us – He is and always shall be.

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Pilgrims at the Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, Easter Vigil 

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 13, 2017

Novena of Grace

This n0vena was so well-attended in Buffalo, NY, that TV stations used to broadcast the first night from St. Michael’s church in downtown Buffalo or my home parish, St. John the Baptist in Kenmore. It was composed by a future martyr, Fr. Marcello Mastrilli, to whom St. Francis Xavier appeared after the young Jesuit prayed for his intercession to restore his health. He was instantly healed, and given the strength to resume his missionary work. Thus this novena that he composed 400 years ago remains enormously popular.

By the way, he is the real priest who went to Japan in search of the apostate Father Ferreira, the story now showing in theaters in the film Silence. Unlike the two priests in the move, Father Mastrilli did not waver in his faith when suspended for three days over the foul pit, and died for Christ at the hands of the shogun of Japan.

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The Martyrdom of Fr. Mastrilli, Oct. 17, 1637. 

The Knights of Columbus ask that this year people use the prayer below implores God’s help through Xavier’s intercession for the suffering Christians of the Middle East. From Egypt to Iran, people are suffering for believing that Jesus is the Son of  God and our Redeemer. May the hearts of jihadists and others be converted!

A NOVENA OF GRACE AND SOLIDARITY

 

God our Father, as St. Francis Xavier and countless of your missionaries traveled to the ends of the earth, impelled by the love of Jesus Christ, give me the grace to rely entirely on you, confident in the knowledge that you raise up the humble and the lowly. May I be united with your saints in offering you my humble tribute of thanksgiving and praise. I implore you to grant me, through your mercy, the blessing of living and dying in a state of grace. I also ask this same blessing for all those throughout the world who suffer persecution because of their faith in you. O God, you were pleased to gather to your Church the peoples of the world by the preaching and miracles of all your saints; mercifully grant that I may imitate their virtues and so bear witness to the Gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 1, 2017

Black Catholic 3: First Priest, Heroic Women

I missed getting these posted due to illness. Here you go:

 

Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton  is the first African American priest. Father Augustus was the son of slaves, brought to freedom by his mother determined to see her children live free, in 1862. Because he had no white ancestry, every seminary that he applied to refused to accept him despite his academic excellence and support from white priests, and he had to go to Rome. Pope Leo XIII ordered both his ordination and that he return home to Illinois to serve as a parish priest, despite the hostility of the American bishops. His success was so great that whites attended his parish to hear his sermons and go to Confession. He was too successful: the jealousy of a white pastor forced him to leave the city, a move that would lead to his death.

He had to transfer to Chicago, where he was again very successful in preaching, confessing, and leading the spiritual lives of black and white Catholics. Unfortunately, he had poor health, and during a severe heat wave, he died at the young age of 43. His Cause was opened in 2011. Read more at http://www.toltoncanonization.org. and his biography, From Slave To Priest, by Sr. Caroline Hemesath, a book I can personally recommend!  https://www.amazon.com/Slave-Priest-Inspirational-Augustine-1854-1897/dp/1586175246

 

Julia Greeley, Apostle of the Sacred Heart. The cause of this former slave was opened in Denver in 2016, after years of collecting memories and data. In her lifetime, Julia was called “saintly” and the Angel of Charity. She was a special friend to the firemen of Denver and to all of the poor, of all races and backgrounds, and would go around the city with a little red wagon which she used to collect items for the poor and to carry leaflets on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was born in slavery in Missouri sometime before 1855. She lost her right eye when her owner was severely whipping her mother: no medical care was given to young Julia.

After she moved to Denver in 1880 to become the housekeeper for the governor (whose wife she knew from Missouri), she  became a Catholic, and attended daily Mass at the Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart. She never married, but cared for many children over the years, and begged for the needs of the poor, even though she was poorer than they, delivering to them at night from her wagon. She died on the feast of the Sacred Heart, and was buried in the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis, the lay group to which she belonged. At her funeral in 1918, the church was jammed with people from all classes,   in thanksgiving for her apostolate to the poor. The Franciscan Capuchin Fathers have long promoted her cause. Read more at http://juliagreeley.org.

Venerable Mary Elizabeth Lange founded the first African-American Community of Sisters, the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The granddaughter of a plantation owner, she was born in Haiti in 1784. The family fled the slave revolts to Cuba, and Elizabeth was given an excellent French education. She emigrated to Baltimore, where she settled among the Haitian French-speaking refugees; at this time there were more free Blacks than slaves in Baltimore, but no schools.  She and a friend ran the first African-American-run school for free children of color in Maryland for ten years, when the Archbishop intervened and asked her to found a community of Sisters for Black women. No white Order would accept “colored” women (a prejudice which endured into the 1950s), and so she established The Sisters of Providence for Black Catholic women with vocations. The new community flourished, caring for Black orphans, opening schools, nursing the sick, teaching trades, conducting religious education for all ages, including adults, and helping the poor. She persevered and was considered a pioneer for her broad range of ministry.  By the time of her death in 1882, she was honored as a living saint by all. Investigation of her Cause began in 1991, and in 2004 she was given the title Venerable. The Sisters of Providence continue to run schools today and  homes for the aged. They have conducted successful evangelization among Black Americans for 187 years, and now serve Hispanic immigrants also. http://adw.org/mother-mary-lange/

 

 

 

Venerable Henriette Marie DeLille  Born free, Mother Henriette is the foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family.  Her father was French-Italian, her mother French, Spanish and one-quarter African. Under the racial laws, she was considered a Colored Creole, and because her parents could not be legally married in Louisiana (or most other states), she was also illegitimate. We can easily forget how strict the racial laws were in this country! Under the segregationist laws, Henriette  received a good education courtesy of her wealthy parents, but was destined to live as a common-law wife of some rich white man who would have a white family separately. She rebelled against this, as a Catholic (though the Church tolerated these things then!) and out of human dignity. She became a teacher for children of color, and in 1842 founded her Sisters with support of the Vatican, but strong local opposition. The Sisters took in orphans, founded schools, and opened a nursing home for elderly people of color, and still flourish today. She died in 1850. Her Cause was opened in New Orleans in 1988. A miracle of healing has been accepted by the Church as valid, and it is expected that she will be declared a Blessed in New Orleans (beatification). http://www.sistersoftheholyfamily.com/CanonizationProcess.html

 

 

 

Bishop James Healy, first bishop with African ancestry

The level of racism that existed among white Americans can be mind-boggling to the  modern mind.  Even whites who are sensitive to the racial situation fail to grasp just how oppressed anybody with Black African ancestry could be treated in this country. All three world powers – England, France and Spain – of our colonial era enslaved Africans who were sold to traders on the western coast of Africa. These unfortunates were packed into the horrible slave ships and sent across the Atlantic, in a bewildering mixture of tribes and nations, to the West Indies or North America. In the English colonies, the Africans eventually became property, listed as assets along with horses and cows. The infamous Three Fifths Compromise counted slaves as being equal to 3/5 of a white person, and it was in our Constitution! In the Dred Scott Decision, our Supreme Court ruled that anyone who had a slave ancestor was denied American citizenship, and therefore protection under the law. This was fiercely opposed by Republicans, and led directly to the Civil War. The Catholic Church’s institutions owned slaves, as did many Catholics. Catholic owners were obliged to provide religious instruction and services for their slaves, although the slaves – and free people of color – had to sit behind whites in church or in the choir loft, and could not receive Holy Communion with white parishioners.

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Slavery in the American South had been declining at the time of the Revolution, with a class of free persons of color arising, until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 resulted in a vast expansion of cotton plantations, and the “peculiar institution” spread. The spread of cotton planting went hand in hand with the destruction of family life, as not even spouses were kept together, let alone children. Our slavery system was much different from the one known to Saint Paul, and much crueler. People were even subjected to breeding, whereby marital relationships were ignored in favor of producing the best candidates for labor, and rape by white owners of black women was common.

A Catholic Irishman, Michael Healy, won 1,300 acres in an 1823 land lottery in Georgia. In 1829, he fell in love with Mary Eliza Smith (or Clark), a mulatto woman who he had purchased from another planter. She was half-white, but could not be freed, even by him, and they could not legally marry. The Georgia Legislature had to approve each act of freeing a slave by an owner, and few people were granted this “privilege”. Mary Eliza and Michael had nine children who survived to adulthood, and who by law were considered slaves because of their “tainted” blood. Those tainted children  would become the first African Americans to be ordained priests (James, Sherwood, Patrick) a bishop (James),  to hold a university doctorate (Patrick, at Louvain) president of a university (Patrick), diocesan chancellor (James),  hold a command military posting over white soldiers and officers (Michael), serve as a Mother Superior over white Sisters (Eliza). They were a remarkable family – just think of all the other unknown talents lost  to our Church and our country due to racial prejudice.  In the North, their three-quarters white ancestry and light coloring enabled most of them to pass as white Irish Catholics, although their African ancestry caused problems for those who pursued religious vocations. Had they stayed in the South, none of their achievements would have taken place.

A chance encounter with Bishop John Fitzpatrick of Boston resulted in four sons going to Holy Cross College, and the Notre Dame Sisters of Montreal accepting the three daughters. Here the first three sons finally became Catholics, along with the sons of the famous convert Orestes Brownson, in 1844. James and Sherwood went to Canada and then Paris  to study because no United States seminary would take in a “colored” student, no matter how white they looked. The parents decided that their children must all live in the North to be safe and thus have careers in the Church or business, and were going to sell the plantation and go north and be legally married, bringing along the three remaining children. In 1850 both Mary Eliza and Michael died before they could fulfill their dream; since planters’ children could be sold, regardless of their white ancestry, the older children intervened to rescue their siblings.

That the parents did not have a state-recognized marriage was an impediment to priesthood and vows in those days, and Bishop Fitzpatrick had to intervene for all the Healys who served the Church. In 1854, James was ordained a priest after finishing his studies in Paris – the first American Catholic priest with African ancestry. Patrick entered the Jesuits – who owned slaves – in Maryland where he took his vows, and Sherwood also studied in Montreal and then Paris. Hugh had graduated from Holy Cross and gone into business, but died at the age of twenty-one due to illness.Father Sherwood was an expert in Gregorian chant, rector of a seminary, at Troy in New York state, and because of his talents was nominated to become the head of the North American College in Rome. His appointment was forbidden by the Americans because “he has African blood and it shows in his exterior”  and there was fear that certain seminarians would refuse to obey him as a result. He died, not knowing this fact, at the age of thirty-nine.  Josephine died early also, in the Canadian Religious of Saint Joseph the Hospitaller: she could not enter an Order in the United States due to her ancestry.

Captain Michael  Augustine Healy 

Daughter Eliza entered the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1874 at Montreal – no United States community would receive her. As Sister Mary Magdalene she flourished, teaching in Quebec. Her greatest challenge was in Vermont, where she took over a school in serious financial trouble. Even the diocese would not back her. She used her talents to not only pay off the debts, but make the school and convent one of the best in the Order, and she was the first African American Mother Superior. In 1918 she had to resign as superior due to new canon laws which limited the time a superior could serve in one post, and she took over a school on Staten Island, where she served as Superior once again until her death. Daughter Martha also entered the convent, but eventually left to join her brothers in Boston and married an Irishman and had children. Son Eugene is listed as never having really been settled in life. All of them passed as white in the North – they were accepted as being Irish Catholics, and did not mingle with African Catholic parishes or laity. Michael rose in the ranks of the US Cutter Service to become a captain, the first African American to hold a command posting in our military, in Alaska. He married a white woman and raised a family. Healy descendants still live in the Lowell area of Massachusetts.

Father Patrick worked himself to exhaustion, especially as the “second founder of Georgetown”. He became  the first person of partial African ancestry to obtain a Catholic doctorate, but he had to do so at Louvain, Belgium, because his African blood was an issue as America headed to the Civil War and passions rose over racial issues. Father Patrick returned as a professor and became the first African American head of a Catholic university at Georgetown in 1874. He worked hard to expand the university, and did a very good job at it, but wealthy donors were known to back out when they realized his partial African ancestry: that he was a good priest, teacher and administrator would by rejected by these worthy souls because of his Black ancestry. His piety and work did not save his legacy entirely – when his African ancestry was publicly acknowledged by the Society of Jesus and the university in the 1950s, a white Georgetown University student vandalized the portrait of him.

Father Patrick Healy, SJ 

Bishop James Augustine Healy was the first-born child, and he continued the “first” status all his life. He had a vigorous ministry in Boston, becoming the first diocesan chancellor, and helping his bishop as he had aged and become ill. He defended the rights of Catholic children in public orphanages where they were deprived of the Sacraments, and convinced the old-line Puritan establishment to finally yield on this in 1875. His preaching was legendary. At the State House he  spoke at public hearings to fight proposed tax laws which would have devastated the Catholic churches, schools, and charitable institutions. In 1875, Pope Pius IX named him Bishop of Portland, Maine, as  the first bishop in the country with African ancestry, which embraced both Maine and New Hampshire. Being part Irish and fluent in French, he could serve the two main Catholic populations in those states well.

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Portrait of Bishop James Healy 

As bishop, he would establish 60 parishes with construction of new churches, 18 schools, new convents and charitable institutions for children and the poor. He was popular with Portland’s children, letting them hook their sleds to the back of his horse-drawn sleigh, letting those without sleds ride with him, and helping the orphans. He paid overdue taxes and doctor bills for the poor, and unlike some bishops, he continued to go on sick calls and hear Confessions.  Hearing Confessions led to some interesting moments. We know from stories passed down by those who were the confessing party, that he heard people confess that they had sinned by calling their bishop derogatory terms for Negro. In one case, a girl confessed that she had said “that the bishop was black as the devil.” To her chagrin, he revealed who he was and said that in the future perhaps she should say “black as coal.”

Bishop James and Father Patrick both had health issues, and Bishop James had to leave Maine for warmer climates during the hard winters. The brothers traveled down to New Orleans and other southern locales, but they never once went back to their home state of Georgia. They never lived to see the racial laws revoked in our country that made their parents criminals. The Catholic Church would not appoint another African American Bishop for nearly 100  years, Bishop Harold Perry, SVD, of Washington DC in 1965.

Next Installment: First African American Catholic Priest

 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 11, 2017

Black Catholic History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States. This month I am running some notices about American Black Catholics whose Causes are opened for sainthoodPeople forget that Catholicism has been a strong part of African-American life, especially in Louisiana, Maryland, and New York City. 

Servant of God, Pierre Toussaint: This former slave from Haiti is the only layman resting in the crypt of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, surrounded by cardinals and archbishops. Born in Haiti, he was brought to New York City by the Bernard family when they feared – rightly- that there were going to be slave revolts. The Berards had baptized their slaves and instructed them in the Faith (though how it was that even priests thought it was all right to own slaves remains a mystery to me).  But like all the planters, they lived in incredible luxury that came from the sweat of thousands of enslaved Africans. Basic evangelization rarely included charity, and even more rarely, freedom. The Berards brought the “house slaves” with them, and the plantation was later destroyed in the great rebellion that swept Haiti.

Apprenticed by his owner as a hairdresser – a profitable trade in the 18th century given the elaborate hair styles of the wealthy and middle class women – Pierre became a confidant to both wealthy New York families and destitute French fleeing the Haitian and French Revolutions. He attended daily Mass for sixty-six years as  New Yorker, both as a slave and free man. Madame Berard became not only a widow when her husband died of pleurisy, but an impoverished one when the New York securities firm holding their savings went bankrupt. She and the other family members were now totally dependent upon Pierre’s earnings. While still contributing to the upkeep of his widowed owner, even after she remarried since the new groom was also impoverished, Pierre carefully set aside his own savings which he used both for charity and to hopefully buy his freedom.

Granted his freedom after his owner’s death in 1811, he bought the freedom of his fiancé and married her. Childless, they adopted his niece and devoted themselves to supporting Haitian refugees, teaching trades to African-American children and sheltering Black orphans, and helping the Catholic Church. Familiar with discrimination, Pierre assisted St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was rejected by New York society after her conversion to Catholicism, and his donations supported the fledgling Sisters of Charity and their work. Pierre was a founder of the first cathedral, but a white usher pushed him out at the dedication Mass, to the shock and embarrassment of his white friends who intervened. While he put in sixteen hour days, even in old age, he, like all Blacks, was forbidden to ride in the horse-drawn public omnibuses and had to either walk across the growing city or rely on a customer’s charity to get a ride in a carriage. He continued to  guide young people, help the poor French, assist the Africans, and support the Church. In this he outlived almost everyone he had known,  including his wife and adopted daughter. Yet he never missed  six o’clock Mass, waiting at the church door in the gray dawn.  A member of an influential family said of him in his last months: “The last time I saw Pierre, he was seated among a group of mourners, beside the coffin of a lady venerated for years in the highest social sphere of the city. She was almost the last tie that bound him to the past. He had visited her daily for thirty years, and brought his offering of flowers; and there he sat, with his white head bowed in grief, and every line of his honest sable face wet with tears. It was a beautiful homage to worth,–a beautiful instance of what may be the disinterested relation between the exalted and the humble,–when the genius of character and the sentiment of religion bring them thus together.

He died on June 30, 1853, and his funeral at Old Saint Patrick’s was attended, as was only fitting, by people of every class and both races. He was laid to rest by his beloved Juliette-Noel.

The “new” Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue has a special crypt for the deceased cardinals of the archdiocese. This is immediately behind the High Altar. When Pierre’s Cause finally began, his remains were exhumed from the graveyard at Old Saint Patrick’s, and they now rest among those cardinals. Quite a difference from how he was once treated by an usher, but unfortunately, our country still has a way to go in racial harmony.

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Pierre and his wife, Juliette-Noel

Pierre was declared Venerable in 1996, five years after his body was re-buried in Saint Patrick’s. The first biography of him, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint (1854) was written just months after his passing, and drew heavily on the recollections of the wealthy and poor New Yorkers who loved him.  In this time of racial divides, perhaps he would be a good heavenly patron for reconciliation of all Americans, just as all New Yorkers loved and revered him, telling stories of his kindness for generations among both the “old families” of New York society and the Haitians’ descendants. 

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