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Recalling St John Paul II’s seven visits to the United States

CNA Staff, Apr 2, 2020 / 10:02 am (CNA).- St. John Paul II was the most traveled pope in history, logging some 700,000 miles and visiting nearly 130 countries.

One of the first countries the pope visited after his election was the United States. As Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, he had visited the US in 1976, two years before his election, stopping at places such as Michigan, Ohio, and Montana, and was eager to return.

Over the course of his nearly 27-year pontificate, St. John Paul II would make seven visits to the US— five of significant length, and two brief stopovers during which he nevertheless left a lasting impression on the memories of the locals.

St. John Paul II died April 2, 2005. On the anniversary of the saint’s death, we take a look back at his seven visits to the United States.

Visit 1, October 1-9, 1979

Where: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Chicago, Washington, D.C.

St. John Paul II's first visit to the United States as pope was a whirlwind six-city tour that began with a gathering of 100,000 at Boston Common. He then went to New York where he held a youth rally at Madison Square Garden, gave a speech at the United Nations and celebrated Mass before a congregation of 80,000 at Yankee Stadium. He also received a ticker-tape parade in Philadelphia.

After a warm welcome in Chicago, St. John Paul II made his way to Des Moines, ostensibly after a Catholic Iowa farmer wrote to the pope to invite him to see life in “rural America, the heartland and breadbasket of our nation.” A crowd of 350,000 greeted him at a farm just outside the city.

The visit also marked the first time a pope had entered the White House, as he met with President Jimmy Carter in Washington. The two leaders discussed situations in the Philippines, China, Europe, South Korea, and the Middle East, and the pope emphasized to Carter the need for the United States to keep ties open to the largely Catholic people of Eastern Europe, then under the throes of Communism.

Finally, St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on the National Mall.

What the pope said:

“Dear young people: do not be afraid of honest effort and honest work; do not be afraid of the truth. With Christ's help, and through prayer, you can answer his call, resisting temptations and fads, and every form of mass manipulation. Open your hearts to the Christ of the Gospels—to his love and his truth and his joy. Do not go away sad!” -Mass at Boston Common

“Fourteen years ago my great predecessor Pope Paul VI spoke from this podium. He spoke memorable words, which I desire to repeat today: ‘No more war, war never again! Never one against the other,’ or even ‘one above the other,’ but always, on every occasion, ‘with each other.’” -Address to the United Nations

“We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of ‘the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pt 1 :19).’” -Mass at Yankee Stadium

“To all of you who are farmers and all who are associated with agricultural production I want to say this: the Church highly esteems your work. Christ himself showed his esteem for agricultural life when he described God his Father as the "vinedresser" (Jn 15 :1). You cooperate with the Creator, the "vinedresser", in sustaining and nurturing life. You fulfill the command of God given at the very beginning: "Fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1 :28). Here in the heartland of America, the valleys and hills have been blanketed with grain, the herds and the flocks have multiplied many times over. By hard work you have become masters of the earth and you have subdued it.” -Mass in Des Moines

“All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ by reason of the Incarnation and the universal Redemption. For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it, as well as our endeavors to make every life more human in all its aspects. And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened.” -Mass on the National Mall

Visit 2, February 26, 1981

Where: Stopover in Anchorage

The pope’s first visit to Alaska was brief— a stopover lasting just over four hours on his way back to Rome after a pastoral visit to the Philippines, Guam, and Japan— but left a lasting impression.

An estimated 100,000 people came to downtown Anchorage to see the pope, which remains the largest gathering of people in the history of the state.

Then-Archbishop Francis Hurley of Anchorage recalled that as he was escorting the pope downtown, he made a special point of greeting the elderly who waved at him out of the windows of a senior living facility.

When he arrived at Holy Name Cathedral, he took the time to greet the diabled and elderly who had come to see him. One disabled child— who died shortly after the encounter— handed him a bouquet of forget-me-nots; St. John Paul II made a point of mentioning the child and the flowers the next time he visited Alaska, saying that “her loving gesture is not forgotten.”

The visit "pulled a lot of Catholics out of the woodwork we didn't know were Catholic" and inspired them back to the practice of their faith, Archbishop Hurley told the archdiocesan newspaper.

What the pope said:

“My brothers and sisters in Christ: Never doubt the vital importance of your presence in the Church, the vital importance of religious life and of the ministerial priesthood in the mission of proclaiming the mercy of God. Through your daily life, which is often accompanied by the sign of the cross, and through faithful service and persevering hope, you show your deep faith in the merciful love of God, and bear witness to that love, which is more powerful than evil and stronger than death.” -Address to priests and religious in the Anchorage cathedral

Visit 3, May 2, 1984

Where: Stopover in Fairbanks

Once again, Alaska served as a midpoint for the pope between Rome and the Pacific, as he embarked on his pastoral journey to Korea, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Thailand.

This time, St. John Paul II appeared with President Ronald Reagan, who was himself returning from a trip to China, at the Fairbanks airport. During the pope’s brief, three-hour refuelling stop, Reagan praised him as a defender of human freedom, and as a source of "solace, inspiration, and hope."

What the pope said:

“In some ways, Alaska can be considered today as a crossroads of the world...Here in this vast State sixty-five languages are spoken and peoples of many diverse backgrounds find a common home with the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians. This wonderful diversity provides the context in which each person, each family, each ethnic group is challenged to live in harmony and concord, one with the other. To achieve this aim requires a constant openness to each other on the part of each individual and group. An openness of heart, a readiness to accept differences, and an ability to listen to each other’s viewpoint without prejudice. Openness to others, by its very nature, excludes selfishness in any form. It is expressed in a dialogue that is honest and frank-one that is based on mutual respect. Openness to others begins in the heart.” -Address to authorities and people of Alaska

Visit 4, September 10-19, 1987

Where: Miami, Columbia, SC, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, Detroit

This trip was the longest of St. John Paul II's visits to the US, and his first to the contiguous West Coast. Reagan greeted him once again, this time in Miami.

Notable episodes from the visit included the pope’s Mass in Miami being cut short because of a storm; addressing representatives of black Catholics at the Superdome in New Orleans; attending an ecumenical conference on the University of South Carolina campus; Mass in San Antonio with about 275,000 in attendance; touring a Catholic hospital and attending the Tekakwitha Conference— a national gathering of Native American Catholics— at the Arizona State Fair Grounds Coliseum in Phoenix; and addressing representatives from the communications industry in Los Angeles.

Though the pope encountered some protests in San Francisco, and crowds were not as large as some had expected, his visit still drew at least 300,000 in California.

What the pope said:

“God loves you! God loves you all, without distinction, without limit. He loves those of you who are elderly, who feel the burden of the years. He loves those of you who are sick, those who are suffering from AIDS and from AIDS-Related Complex. He loves the relatives and friends of the sick and those who care for them. He loves us all with an unconditional and everlasting love.” -Address at Mission Dolores Basilica, San Francisco

“The obligation to truth and its completeness applies not only to the coverage of news, but to all your work. Truth and completeness should characterize the content of artistic expression and entertainment. You find a real meaning in your work when you exercise your role as collaborators of truth – collaborators of truth in the service of justice, fairness and love.” -Address to people of the communications industry, Los Angeles

“From the very beginning, the Creator bestowed his gifts on each people. It is clear that stereotyping. prejudice, bigotry and racism demean the human dignity which comes from the hand of the Creator and which is seen in variety and diversity. I encourage you, as native people belonging to the different tribes and nations in the East, South, West and North, to preserve and keep alive your cultures, your languages, the values and customs which have served you well in the past and which provide a solid foundation for the future. Your customs that mark the various stages of life, your love for the extended family, your respect for the dignity and worth of every human being, from the unborn to the aged, and your stewardship and care of the earth: these things benefit not only yourselves but the entire human family. Your gifts can also be expressed even more fully in the Christian way of life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at home in every people. It enriches, uplifts and purifies every culture. All of us together make up the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church. We should all be grateful for the growing unity, presence, voice and leadership of Catholic Native Americans in the Church today.” -Address to Native American Catholics

“I express my deep love and esteem for the black Catholic community in the United States. Its vitality is a sign of hope for society. Composed as you are of many lifelong Catholics, and many who have more recently embraced the faith, together with a growing immigrant community, you reflect the Church’s ability to bring together a diversity of people united in faith, hope and love, sharing a communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit. I urge you to keep alive and active your rich cultural gifts. Always profess proudly before the whole Church and the whole world your love for God’s word; it is a special blessing which you must forever treasure as a part of your heritage. Help us all to remember that authentic freedom comes from accepting the truth and from living one’s life in accordance with it – and the full truth is found only in Christ Jesus. Continue to inspire us by your desire to forgive – as Jesus forgave – and by your desire to be reconciled with all the people of this nation, even those who would unjustly deny you the full exercise of your human rights.” -Address to black Catholics

“America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.” -Farewell Address

Visit 5: World Youth Day, August 12-15, 1993

Where: Denver

At the time it was chosen, Denver seemed to many to be an odd choice for a host for World Youth Day— the international gathering of young people that he himself had instituted in 1985. The city was experiencing a surge in crime, and many feared that the septuagenarian pope would not be successful in attracting young people to the event.

Nevertheless, World Youth Day in Denver was a huge success, with an estimated 750,000 people attending the final Mass at Cherry Creek State Park. Young people from all over the world showed their willingness to sacrifice and experience pilgrimage by lodging in parish halls en route to Denver, trudging through the heat to Cherry Creek State Park, sleeping on the ground there, and enduring other discomforts.

Upon St. John Paul II death in 20115, then-Archbishop Charles Chaput said that the Pope’s visit to Denver was “a Transfiguration for the Church in Northern Colorado - a moment when Jesus smiled on us in a special, joyful, vivid way and invited us into his mission to the world.”

What the pope said:

“Pilgrims set out for a destination. In our case it is not so much a place or a shrine that we seek to honor. Ours is a pilgrimage to a modern city, a symbolic destination: the "metropolis" is the place which determines the life–style and the history of a large part of the human family at the end of the twentieth century. This modern city of Denver is set in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Rocky Mountains, as if to put the work of human hands in relationship with the work of the Creator. We are therefore searching for the reflection of God not only in the beauty of nature but also in humanity’s achievements and in each individual person. On this pilgrimage our steps are guided by the words of Jesus Christ: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’” -Welcome ceremony at Mile High Stadium

“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Cfr. Rom 1,16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cfr. Matt 10,27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern ‘metropolis.’ It is you who must ‘go out into the byroads’ (Matt 22,9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.” -Mass at Cherry Creek State Park

Visit 6, October 4-9, 1995

Where: Newark, East Rutherford, NJ, New York City, Yonkers,  NY, Baltimore

This marked the pope’s second visit to New York City, and he visited several other cities on the Eastern seaboard. It was his first visit to New Jersey, where he made stops in Newark— celebrating Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral— and East Rutherford.

Upon returning to New York, the pope celebrated Mass at Giants Stadium, and also addressed the United Nations for a second time.

What the pope said:

“Freedom is not simply the absence of tyranny or oppression. Nor is freedom a licence to do whatever we like. Freedom has an inner ‘logic’ which distinguishes it and ennobles it: freedom is ordered to the truth, and is fulfilled in man's quest for truth and in man's living in the truth. Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals, and, in political life, it becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power. Far from being a limitation upon freedom or a threat to it, reference to the truth about the human person — a truth universally knowable through the moral law written on the hearts of all — is, in fact, the guarantor of freedom's future.” -Address to the United Nations

“As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on Jesus Christ, the two thousandth anniversary of whose birth will be celebrated at the coming of the new millennium. We Christians believe that in his Death and Resurrection were fully revealed God's love and his care for all creation. Jesus Christ is for us God made man, and made a part of the history of humanity. Precisely for this reason, Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every human person. Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinely human fails to touch the hearts of Christians. Faith in Christ does not impel us to intolerance. On the contrary, it obliges us to engage others in a respectful dialogue. Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one and indeed, if anything, with a special concern for the weakest and the suffering. Thus, as we approach the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Christ, the Church asks only to be able to propose respectfully this message of salvation, and to be able to promote, in charity and service, the solidarity of the entire human family.” -Address to the United Nations

“At the end of your National Anthem, one finds these words: "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust!’” America: may your trust always be in God and in none other. And then, "The star–spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Thank you, and God bless you all!” -Farewell address at the Baltimore airport

Visit 7, January 26-27, 1999

Where: St. Louis

The pope’s final visit to the United States took him to St. Louis, sometimes called “The Rome of the West” for its many Catholic churches. His visit included a youth rally at an arena, Mass at the city’s stadium, and vespers at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Along the way, he met with President Bill Clinton, civil rights leader Rosa Parks, and baseball players Mark McGuire and Stan Musial.

He asked then-governor Mel Carnahan to spare the life of triple-murderer Darrell Mease, whose original execution date had been set for that day— which the governor did, commuting his sentence to life without parole.

Though the pope’s age— 78— showed during his 31-hour visit, his enthusiasm and joy attracted thousands of people and left a lasting impression on the city. The Mass he celebrated at the then-Trans World Dome is said to be the largest indoor gathering ever held in the U.S.

What the pope said:

“I am told that there was much excitement in St. Louis during the recent baseball season, when two great players (Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) were competing to break the home-run record. You can feel the same great enthusiasm as you train for a different goal: the goal of following Christ, the goal of bringing his message to the world. Each one of you belongs to Christ, and Christ belongs to you.

At Baptism you were claimed for Christ with the Sign of the Cross; you received the Catholic faith as a treasure to be shared with others. In Confirmation, you were sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and strengthened for your Christian mission and vocation. In the Eucharist, you receive the food that nourishes you for the spiritual challenges of each day.

I am especially pleased that so many of you had the opportunity today to receive the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament you experience the Savior’s tender mercy and love in a most personal way, when you are freed from sin and from its ugly companion which is shame. Your burdens are lifted and you experience the joy of new life in Christ.

Your belonging to the Church can find no greater expression or support than by sharing in the Eucharist every Sunday in your parishes. Christ gives us the gift of his body and blood to make us one body, one spirit in him, to bring us more deeply into communion with him and with all the members of his Body, the Church. Make the Sunday celebration in your parishes a real encounter with Jesus in the community of his followers: this is an essential part of your ‘training in devotion” to the Lord!’ -Address to young people

“I will always remember St. Louis. I will remember all of you.” -Final words at the cathedral of St. Louis

Timing your 20 Second Hand Wash

Image source
Hat tip to my sister for suggesting that instead of singing Happy Birthday when washing our hands for sanitizing purposes - we might, instead, say the Lord's Prayer.

When prayed mindfully, this takes just a little more than the recommended 20 seconds and gives us an opportunity to pray for all who are suffering with Covid-19 and for all our courageous health care workers.

My sister also adds that there's a spiritual bonus for our Protestant brothers and sisters who add a doxology at the end of the Lord's Prayer: For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.


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‘We’re in unknown territory’: Uncertainty follows parish and diocesan employee layoffs 

Denver, Colo., Apr 2, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Dawne Mechlinski was a parish music minister for 41 years.

When she was 12 years old, when she was asked to be the organist at her parish in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. She agreed, and added organ lessons onto her piano lessons. After attending Westminster Choir College, she’s been a full-time director of music since 1988 in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

Mechlinski, now 53, is the kind of parish music minister who sticks around - she’s only ever served at three different parishes, including her childhood parish. She’s been at her current parish, St. Mark's in Sea Girt, since 2006.

That is, until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

At first, Mechlinski said employees of the parish took their own social distancing and health precautions, but for the most part, “everything was normal. Then on the weekend of the 14th and 15th (of March), I had questions from parents of choir members.”

The parents were wondering if choir practice was continuing, and if so, what it would look like. Mechlinski, who directs four choirs, decided to cancel choir for the weekend. Instead she played the organ while one person sang for all four Masses.

Attendance was low, Mechlinski noted, as social distancing was already catching on throughout the United States, but the collection basket wasn’t hit too hard, as many parishioners have moved to online donations.

Later that week, on Thursday, March 19, Mechlinski played the organ again for a funeral Mass. That evening, she got the call.

"We've decided you're furloughed,” the parish business administrator told Mechlinski.

“I even had to question really what that meant,” she said. “I thought that was a military term, to be honest. I wasn't prepared. I actually thought she was calling to give me protocol, how we would be handling things, what would be going on down the road.”

“And the business administrator just said, ‘This is what everyone (in the diocese) is doing, this is how we'll handle it.’ She was reading me this letter. And that was it. She said, ‘You will be paid until tomorrow,’ which was Friday. I'm off on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that was it.”

Bishops across the United States have suspended public liturgies and closed church buildings in the past few weeks in response to state-issued public safety policies, and Catholic leaders have warned of an immediate revenue shortfall. Consequences of that shortfall include staff reductions, furloughs, and decreased hours.

The furlough came as a shock to Mechlinski, who noted that her parish is located in a “very affluent” area. Music ministry has been her life-long passion, it’s also her career: the primary source of income for a widowed mother to four children, two of whom still live at home and have significant medical needs.

Mechlinski said she tried to ask some clarifying questions, but as of now, things are “not real clear.” She’s unsure what will happen to her health insurance or her life insurance. She was told that her parish had not been paying into unemployment insurance, so she’s not sure what she qualifies for as far as any kind of aid right now.

“I am...a little alarmed that they don't have something in place for their employees as a protection,” she said. “I've asked for a letter of furlough explaining (the details) and I have yet to receive it. I've asked for it a couple of times just to have something permanent rather than a phone conversation.”

Linda Rosa, the business manager at St. Mark’s, told CNA that the parish had been in a deficit even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We weren't in the best shape to begin with. We were just trying to get out of it and all of a sudden, there's something that happens,” Rosa said. She said she has been in touch with employees and with the diocese as the parish has had to make difficult financial decisions to furlough or lay off employees.

Rosa added that as of April 1, no full-time employee of the parish had yet gone without pay. Rosa said Mechlinski was still receiving pay for any personal or sick time off that she had not yet used in the year, as were the other employees. She said Mechlinski and all other employees’ benefits will be covered by the parish for the duration of the pandemic.

“We're just continuing to pray for all those that have been affected,” Rosa said.

Rayanne Bennett, director of communications in the Diocese of Trenton, told CNA that furloughs were an “unfortunate necessity” due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the drop in donations at the parish level also affects the financial stability of the diocese.

Bennett said that the diocese will pay for the health insurance of all furloughed employees for three months “at minimum,” and has advised all furloughed staff to apply for unemployment benefits through new federal coronavirus benefits.  

“We are doing all that we can and will continue to give this our best effort. While there is great uncertainty at this time, it is our hope that we can restore our parishes, schools and diocesan operations to full staffing once the current emergency has passed,” Bennett said.

Mechlinski said she’s unsure of what comes next. She’s hoping that the terms of her furlough become more clear, and she plans to look into what federal aid she may qualify for. A friend of hers, who was recovering from coronavirus with his wife, set up a GoFundMe page to support her.

“He really stepped out and said, ‘Listen, I need to do something for you.’ So he put together a GoFundMe, which I thought was really sweet,” she said. “It's going to be the angels among us that are all going to help us to get through. The community that continues to lift everyone up, and whatever means of support that people find in their hearts is a blessing.”

Ministry is also a passion for Emily Davenport, 23, who served as a full-time missionary with LifeTeen last year in Georgia before moving to Sandusky, Ohio in September for a job as a youth minister.

The position had been vacant for about a year and a half, Davenport said, and she’s spent most of this year building a youth program back up from scratch.

But now, she’s back home in St. Louis, living with her parents and her 19 year-old seminarian brother, after she was laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we have been told is that we're laid off until Sunday Masses resume, so as far as we know, the plan and the hope is that we're all rehired,” Davenport said.

“But I also know that shortly before we got laid off, we were told nobody was going to get laid off. And so it's like everything feels very unpredictable,” she added.

Davenport said she doesn’t have hard feelings about being laid off, and that her pastor handled the situation well.

“Our pastor is fantastic, for the record,” she said. “He's a really wonderful man. He's really... trying very, very hard to be prudent for the future of the parish. And so almost as soon as public Masses were canceled, most of our parish staff was either laid off or (had) hours cut. He was an accountant before he was a priest, so he has a lot more managerial foresight than I think...a lot of pastors do.”

Davenport said when her pastor called to tell her the news, he explained to her how she could apply for unemployment benefits.

The parish is also covering Davenport’s health insurance for the pandemic at no cost to her, and because Davenport had been living in parish-provided housing, and has now moved back home with her parents, she doesn’t owe rent anywhere.

“I see them trying to do everything they can. It's just a sucky situation,” she said.

Fr. Monte Hoyles, the pastor of the Catholic Parishes of Sandusky, the tri-parish conglomerate where Davenport had worked, told CNA he hoped that he could bring his staff back as soon as possible.

“I mean, (laying off staff) is not something you want to do. Who would want to do that?” he said.

“But with very little money coming in and salaries to pay...until we can get back (to public Masses) this was the only way to ensure that we're able to continue what things we can do for right now,” Hoyles said, adding that the parishes are covering health insurance for all laid-off employees who qualified for it.

“I told my employees from the three parishes and also our cemeteries...I want to bring you back as absolutely soon as I possibly can,” Hoyles said.

Davenport said she feels blessed because she has her family as a safety net, and her dad’s job is pretty secure. But she still has bills to pay, and she doesn’t want to rely on her family for long.

“I was on ‘operation trying to be an independent adult’, but at least for now, I'm trying to take care of my cable bill, and the other things insurance and my car payment,” she said.

“Maybe the bank will be able to let me wait a month or two before paying car payments, in the hope that my job would be back and I'd be able to just pick up where I left off,” she added.

She said she hopes to return to ministry, but that all depends on how things go in the near future with the Church and the pandemic.

“I know I'll be okay for a few months, but after those few months, I'd have to start finding other ways to take care of those bills.”

Cassandra Tkaczow is another Church employee facing a layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tkaczow was in her second year as an assistant campus minister at Alfred State and Alfred University in New York until March 18, when she was laid off.

“The students were on spring break when everything really started to explode here in New York state,” Tkaczow said. One of her students called her to explain that she wouldn’t be coming back for the semester, but the school’s official policy had not yet been decided.

A few days later, Alfred State College and Alfred University announced that the students would be allowed to come back to campus to collect their belongings, but that all classes would be taking place online.

At first, Tkaczow said, it seemed like she would be getting paid through the end of the semester, and she would just be moving her ministry online. Just days after that plan was discussed, she was laid off.

“Both of us (Tkaczow and her boss) had a suspicion, with the bankruptcy of the diocese in Buffalo that we would not be coming back for the next semester, but we didn't expect it to be this soon,” she said. The Diocese of Buffalo filed for bankruptcy last year due to sexual abuse lawsuits.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Buffalo provided to CNA, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated diocesan plans of financial reorganization.

“While we deeply regret the very personal impact that this process of realignment will have on dedicated employees of the Catholic Center, we must assess how best to deploy the resources of the Diocese in ways that reflect responsible stewardship and which offer the greatest benefit for our parishes,” Fr. Peter Kalaus, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, said in a statement.

“We anticipate that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have a severe impact on parishes and exacerbate the financial challenges that the Diocese is already confronting. It is why we are accelerating our plans to better align the functions of the Catholic Center with the needs of our parishes,” he added.

According to the statement, 21 employees have been laid off or furloughed and 3 people moved from full-time to part-time. Health insurance will be covered by the diocese through April, after which time employees will either need to find different insurance or pay premiums directly to the diocese.

Tkaczow has since moved back home with her parents, who also live in New York. Like Davenport, her housing had been provided, and so rent is not a worry right now.

Tkaczow said while she understands from a financial standpoint why her position was eliminated, she feels bad for her students.
“I also couldn't help but think, how could they do this to the students? Because they just completely got rid of the campus ministry program, because of the bankruptcy. And with it being this early, how could they do that to them? How are they going to go forward in the coming semesters and years?”

For now, she’s been continuing to minister remotely to her students even without pay. She’s leading a rosary and social hour on Thursdays, and on Mondays she’s leading a Bible study.

While Tkaczow has a degree in computer science, she said her passion is for ministry, and while she may have to find another job to pay the bills for a time, “if God calls me to be in campus ministry or youth minister again, I would not hesitate in saying yes.”

The small parishes of St. Mary in Bloomfield, New Mexico and St Rose of Lima in Blanco New Mexico, in the Diocese of Gallup, have fared slightly better in the coronavirus fallout.

Fr. Josh Mayer, pastor of both parishes, told CNA that he expects to be able to pay his employees for the next six months or so, even if extreme social distancing measures for the pandemic continue.

“Our parishes are in a very blessed position to be able to take care of our staff for a while,” Mayer told CNA.

Mayer said due to canceled Masses, regular tithes to the parish are down to about a third of what they normally are. That could pick up slightly as more parishioners adjust to online donations, but for the most part, a lot of his parishioners haven’t taken to that in recent years, he said.

But the parish is still in a position to pay its staff for a while, and Mayer said he has plenty for them to do.

“I’ve got lots of projects I can give our people to do. Our maintenance guy has to come in and work on stuff here...even when buildings aren't being used, they need upkeep,” he said.

“And we're figuring our parish kind of shifts some of our activities to different categories I guess. I mean a lot of stuff that we do with parishioners, we can still do. It just has to look really different,” he said.

Mayer said he was touched by the generosity of his financial manager, Sally Bales, who took a look at the books and the decreased donations and offered to donate her salary back to the parish for the time being so that other staff could remain on payroll.

“We’re just hoping that we can keep everybody employed in the meantime, so something like what Sally did is a huge boon for that,” he said.

“It definitely helps take care of the other parishioners or the other staff and helps ensure that we can keep them employed.”

Bales told CNA that because she and her husband are retired, she decided to donate her salary back for a while, to help younger staff members who are raising families and are relying on their jobs as their main source of income.

“The other staff members are younger, of course, than I am, and that's their sole income, so it's a lot harder picture for them than it is for me,” she said.

Bales, who manages the finances of both parishes, said that one of the parishes has a significantly higher percentage of online donations than the other.

“The parish that had more involvement online has not been as adversely affected as the one that people typically give cash at Sunday Mass,” she said.

“That's one thing I shared with Father, so that he can maybe encourage people to do more online giving. Our expenses don't change much whether we have Mass or not, and yet our donations are definitely volatile whether we have a physical gathering or not,” she added.

Some parishioners have been mailing in donations, Bales added, and staff have been calling people to encourage them to move to online giving, since “we don't really see an end when this is going to wrap up.”

Bales said she’s grateful that the parishes had some money set aside, so that they are not relying on the current week’s donations to pay staff salaries.

“As it happens, the parishes that I support have been very conservative and have some money set aside. It's not like we have to have the money this week to pay the next week salary, so that's wonderful,” she said.

Bales added that while she and her husband will miss her income from the parish for the time, they realize it isn’t something they need as much as other people on staff do.

“It's money. It would delay things we would want, but not things that we need. I think that's the difference,” she said.

“I think that actually, people that are retired or are in a better position to support the parish than the young employed people that are losing their jobs or having their time cut back,” she said. 

“And so I think it's a time for people that do have a regular income coming in to step up their donations. Usually, you think of someone on a fixed income is on the short end of the stick, but in this situation, we're really in a better position than someone who's currently earning their keep.”

When day is done...

I've been writing this blog for over 12 years.  Prayers I've written have always been part of my work here and since Lent of 2012 I've offered a prayer post seven days a week.  These prayers are published in the morning and often focus on the day ahead.  One faithful reader has often encouraged me to write a Night Prayer for later in the day.  I've always liked that idea but was unsure if I could find the extra time that would require.

Well, my position as a senior vicar generally affords me more time and our current "stay at home" lifestyle gives me even more time.  And it just might be that in our present circumstances we might all need a little prayerful help at the end of day.  So, beginning this evening (April 2) I'm going to give this a try, publishing a daily Night Prayer post.  These posts will vary, night to night, but will also hold to what will become, I hope, a familiar form, one that readers will appreciate like a favorite pair of slippers one puts on at the end of day.  I'll try, each evening, to add a song as well.  This won't be quite a lullaby but I'll be choosing songs I hope might help us pray as we bid the day goodbye and hope for some peaceful rest.

This will be a trial period.  I pledge to provide a daily Night Prayer at least until the "stay at home" regulations are relaxed.  At that point, and with an eye to your response, I'll take stock and decide whether or not to continue.

Watch for the first Night Prayer to post sometime after 6:00 tonight.


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Pause for Prayer: THURSDAY 4/2

One thing I'm sure of, Lord -
today's news will continue to supply
plenty of distressing news and statistics:
   it's going to get worse before it gets better...

But I know that no matter how bad the news:
   the word of your truth will come to console us,
   the gift of your peace will anoint our hearts,
   your merciful hand will reach out to heal us,
   the strength of your arm will shield and defend us,
   and the promise of grace will bring us hope,
   your Holy Spirit will settle within us...

So, I pray you open my mind and my heart,
my eyes and my ears, my thoughts and my dreams,
my intuition and imagination
   to the word, the gift,
   the mercy, the strength,
   the promise and Spirit
   of all that is healing and hopeful
   in whatever way your good news
   comes to me today...



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Pause for Prayer: WEDNESDAY 4/1


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Pause for Prayer: TUESDAY 3/31

If only I'd trust your promises, Lord,
with the hope I have that spring will come...

If only I'd serve my neighbors' needs
as well as I generously tend to my own...

If only I'd think as kindly of all
as I do of my best, my closest friends...

If only I'd do what you ask of me
as surely as I follow my own desires...

If only I'd be as fair and as just
as I want others to be with me...

If only I'd speak when others won't,
that my lips might give the truth a voice...

If only I'd hold the weak and the frail
as your arms hold me with gentle strength...

If only my words and deeds were as pure
as the love you speak and offer to me...

If only I'd pardon my neighbor's faults
with the mercy that's mine when you pardon me...

If only I'd make the time for prayer
that you make for me when I come to you...

If only I'd open my heart to your wisdom
as wide as I do for nonsense and folly...

If only I'd think of my time as pure gold
to be treasured and spent with prudence and care...

If only I'd put all my trust in you, Lord:
not in my worries, my doubts and my fears...

If only I'd love you, my Lord, my God,
as simply, as dearly, as you love me...



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Monday Morning Offering: 3/30

Coffee in the Morning by George Mendoza

Good morning, good God!

Sometimes I forget, Lord...

Sometimes I forget that people along my path
are just as fragile as I can sometimes be -
just as fragile and just as vulnerable...

When I look honestly at my past
I remember those who've been saddened and hurt by
my haste, my selfishness, my carelessness,
my pride, my anger, my resentment, my sins...

Yes, there were many times when I intended no harm
but my neglect and my self-interest
bruised and burdened others nonetheless...

So, I offer you this Lenten morning, Lord,
the names and hearts
of those whom I have hurt and offended...

(Take some time to remember and name those people,
perhaps writing out their names,

lifting them up to the Lord in prayer...)

If there are ways for me to make amends, Lord,
show me how and give me the courage
to do what I need to do…

If the opportunity for amends has passed me by,
hear my prayer for those I've hurt and find a way, Lord:
- a way for me to make up for what I've done or failed to do
- and a way for you to bring them healing
     now beyond my reach...

Give me a sensitive and forgiving heart, Lord
especially when my heart has hardened
with resentment, hurt and anger...

Help me remember how much and how often,
how fully and freely you've always forgiven me...

Open my eyes and ears, my mind and heart
to the people around me now:
make me more aware of their presence
and how my life touches theirs...

Give me courage, Lord, and nudge me
to take the first step toward making peace
in my family, my neighborhood, at work and at school...

And give me the grace I need, Lord,
to make peace between you and me...

Make me mindful, Lord,
of those whose paths cross mine today
and make me as gentle with them
as I'd want them to be with me...

I offer you today, Lord,
my need for your mercy
and for the grace to be merciful to others:
such is my prayer this Monday morning
and all through the week ahead...


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Pause for Prayer: SUNDAY 3/29

Image source

When we lose our way and search for your light,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

When worry and fear cloud our hope and our trust,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

When confusion eclipses our view of the truth,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us... 

When we turn from the light and hide in our pain,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

When sickness and pain shadow our path,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

When we walk the valley of the shadow of death,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

When a river of grief  overflows in our tears,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us... 

When night holds us captive to fear of the dark,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us... 

And when dawn breaks upon us with promise and hope,
   Lord, let your face shine upon us...

Lord, let your face shine upon us,
shine upon us, shine upon us.
1) Listen to my song
hear me when I call, oh Lord my God:
be gracious, hear my prayer.

2) You have called my name,
set your seal upon my heart:
you hear me when I call.

3) Fill me with your joy
grant to me a peaceful rest
to dwell in safety with my Lord.


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Live Stream: Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

This was our first effort at live streaming, a good trial run for Holy Week!


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