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Priest singer-songwriter sizzles in Rock Fest’s third year

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

“It’s definitely autobiographic,” Father Kevin McGoldrick, the headliner at this year’s Built Upon a Rock Fest Sept. 14, said about his opening song, “Square Peg,” which talks about being the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

Built Upon a Rock concert
After an evening of overcast skies and a rainbow over Lake Superior, the sun burst out during Father Kevin McGoldrick’s performance Sept. 14 at the 2019 Built Upon a Rock Fest. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Among other things, the priest of the Nashville Diocese noted, there aren’t many singer-songwriter priests running around.

It wasn’t the only song with hints of his life in it. Having grown in up Philadelphia and moved to Tennessee, where he serves as chaplain at Aquinas College, he had another song about an unexpected cold spell in his new location. Another crowd favorite was about his love of coffee. He closed with a song about his parents, after his mother died two years ago.

Father McGoldrick’s eclectic set also had a mix of musical references and cover songs.

For instance, in a quirky song about a ladybug, which provided a clever way of talking about the complementarity of women and men, there is a musical callback to the 1981 hit “Just the Two of Us,” by Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers.

Later on he did a cover of the Peter Gabriel hit “In Your Eyes,” which he used as an example of how one of the first steps in evangelization is to “bless what’s already good in the culture.”

He did other covers too. He performed a cover of the early Robert Johnson blues song “Crossroads.” In response to some excited kids near the stage with whom he had been bantering, Father McGoldrick played a bluesy rendition of the “Sesame Street” theme song – rather than the requested Metallica, which he said he didn’t know.

Toward the end of the evening, Father McGoldrick returned to the theme of evangelization introducing his version of “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.” He spoke at some length of the “evangelical genius” of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom he said brought in 10 million converts among the Aztec, at an astonishing rate of about 3,000 a day for 10 years straight.

He described how the miraculous tilma give by Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego had had such a profound success in a part of the world where evangelization had previously made scant progress by speaking in the pictographic language of the Aztecs and giving them the Gospel as “good news.”

The evening’s opening act was Dana Catherine, a singer-songwriter, speaker, and former youth minister from Raleigh, North Carolina with an often upbeat pop style.

She began her set with a new single just coming out called “Surrender Song.”

“If we surrender more to God, our lives will be a lot better,” she said. “A whole lot better.”

dancing fans
Two dancing fans at Built Upon a Rock Fest get ready for a twirl. The annual event took place Sept. 14 on the grounds of the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

She said surrender was a theme in a lot of her music and quoted St. Therese of Lisieux with the notion that you “can’t be half a saint.”

“Let’s be all in with God,” she said.

Catherine took a few moments describing her own journey, too, how she had planned to be a doctor before discerning another call. She related these kinds of experiences to another song, a version of “Lead, Kindly Light,” by Blessed John Henry Newman.

The event, held as in past years on the grounds of the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, drew people from around the diocese and from as far away as North Dakota.

It also gave a broad taste of Minnesota’s September weather, beginning with overcast skies and a couple of raindrops, then following with a rainbow over Lake Superior between sets, a golden sun appearing midway through Father McGoldrick’s performance, and a distinct autumn chill in the air by the time the sun began setting.

While the concert was going on, free food was being handed out by a host of volunteers, confessions were being heard both in a portable confessional on-site and across the street in the church, where Eucharistic Adoration took place throughout. The event closed with Benediction.

There was a cheer when emcee Father Ryan Moravitz asked if everyone wanted to do it again next year, and it sounds like that’s the plan. St. Alice Church in Pequot Lakes, one of the 26 sponsoring parishes, won a VIP party for next year.

Betsy Kneepkens: How long will we tolerate these mass killings?

Thirty-one dead in 24 hours. Again and again, since the Columbine High School massacre, we have had to endure the mass killing of our citizens by fellow citizens, the latest tragedies being those in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

How much more are we willing to suffer? Sadly, as a country, both individually and collectively, I sense our toleration for this sort of devastation is exceptionally high, because nothing much has changed.

There is no simple solution to this disturbing societal suffering. However, I do not believe we are asking the right questions to expose the root of what motivates such evil acts.

I know there is a group that feels this killing is a mental health crisis. And I say, “how can it not be partly that?” Someone mentally well does not fantasize, plan out, and execute such wickedness. But scientists don’t understand the brain well enough to be sure this is the cause. Merely saying this problem is mental illness does not get at solving these heinous actions.

I know there is another group that feels that this is a gun issue. If we eliminate or reduce access to assault weapons, this problem will go away. Reducing someone’s ability to obtain guns will likely change the dynamics of this problem, but I am not entirely sure that we would remove these sorts of catastrophes. I know little about firearms. I know the historical importance of the right citizens have to own guns. I am, nonetheless, ignorant as to why certain weapons like assault-style are necessary when other less powerful but effective protective guns exist.

I am confident that the solution to mass killings will not be solved by identifying those who struggle with mental health issues or increasing the number of gun laws.

The question we are not spending time on is: Why do we have males in our society that have so little compassion they are willing to kill those who have not harmed them or others? How does this kind of evil take root in the soul of a human person? What sort of cultural inclinations perpetuate such hollowness that the dignity of the human person is ignored?

I need to reflect on these matters, because I am the mother of five young adult males. All my boys fall in the age category of the shooters that are responsible for these awful situations. The mere reflection is a painful examination.

All persons of faith know that humans were not created to be mindless destructive, aggressive killers. I can’t help but believe this killing enigma is a result of deficient and wounded hearts. I believe God bestowed onto our soul everything necessary to love rightly. Culturally, however, we have veiled the work of the Creator, so that lesser inclinations and pleasures have been elevated above the intentions God instilled correctly within us. This redirection of the heart, in particular, needs to be explored in young males, since they are the ones mainly committing these grave incidents.

First, we must get back to believing males and females are created differently, think differently, and react differently to almost every situation. Second, we must acknowledge males and females are mostly motivated to live and fulfill their purpose on earth in ways which align with thetendencies relevant to their gender. Neither gender is superior to the other; rather they are complementary and interdependent. Lastly, when we try to minimize, silence, or redirect those tendencies written on our hearts, we cause confusion, dissatisfaction, and potential numbness.

After mothering five boys to men, I feel strongly that males’ innate urges are to protect others, serve generously, act bravely, and lead sacrificially. These attributes are where males generally feel most comfortable, most satisfied. This provides the drive to cooperate within the human family.

For the past 50 years, I feel we have systematically minimized, distorted, redirected, and reproved these deeply held urges in males. In other words, we have told boys these sorts of desires are not necessary. Furthermore, society has labeled these preferences as insulting to women, because it makes women feel powerless or subservient. We have, in many ways, made our young males think they were lousy people for feeling these kinds of urges.

I know our society has had problems respecting both genders, but the way we have tried to correct the problem has created more difficulties.

For instance, when males do not learn to sacrifice for others, they do not learn compassion. When males are told their inclination to protect is not valued, they redirect that energy into causing harm. When males are told that the tendency to act bravely is an act of having power over another, they become cowards. When men have no one to lead sacrificially because we have robbed them of there desire to serve, they lose sight of the need to show dignity toward others.

This devastating problem of mass killings is a complicated mess. I am confident that our society is not willing to find a solution to this evil. If we wanted to get to the root of the problem, our culture would look at what progressive beliefs are pervasive. A thorough examination would find why we are producing young males who are capable of such malice.

It seems to me we are still willing to tolerate these mass killings. Not until we are ready to look at the truth of who we are created to be as male and female and live accordingly will we find an end to this devastation.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Learning to praise God is a source of joy

One of the blessings of praying the Liturgy of the Hours consistently is that every day it puts the language of praise on our lips.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Of all the elements of prayer, I find praise the most difficult. For me, it comes naturally to ask forgiveness, which I have to do all too often. Thanksgiving is a joy and often arises spontaneously to heart. Asking God for assistance is, likewise, natural. Even adoration arises naturally when I’m recollected and praying in faith.

But the language of praise is hard.

I have come to think that part of the reason for this difficulty is cultural. I’m American, which means that I have spent my whole life in a culture that (at least in principle, if not always in practice) prizes democracy and egalitarianism, in specific rejection of things like monarchy and aristocracy and the titles and claims that go with them.

In theory, we don’t worship the great because they’re great, and in fact we’re often immediately suspicious of anyone presented as great.

What’s more, I am a northern Minnesotan, having lived almost all my life here, so I have imbibed a strong dose of stereotypical Scandinavian stoicism and reserve, of the kind that can pay a compliment but recoils at any hint of flattery.

Last but definitely not least, as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles memorably put it many years ago, in America practical atheism has become “the de facto state religion.” “Practical atheism” means living as though God does not really exist. Acting this way, he said, is the “price of participation in our economic, political, and social life.”

If the rest of our lives are infused with this mentality, is it any wonder that it seeps into even our liturgies and our moments of personal prayer? Of all the aspects of prayer, praise is the one that most seems to contradict the practical atheist mentality. It would be silly to offer words of praise to God if you’re acting as though he is not there.

Praising and worshiping God is good first of all because it’s just. The virtue of justice means giving another his due, and one “sub-virtue” that falls under its umbrella is the virtue of religion, which gives God his due through worship.

But also for all those cultural reasons that make it hard, and for our own spiritual lives, it’s good and necessary for us to praise God.

One of the beautiful aspects of this is precisely pondering on God’s greatness and sovereign majesty.

It makes some sense for us to be skeptical about the great and powerful, the rich and famous. In this fallen world, damaged by sin, power is often abused, becoming something more akin to domination and tyranny. We have all been hurt by it at some point. In our weak human hands, power offers terrible temptations. Even those whom we believe to be good and decent people often disappoint.

But there is no sin in God. There is no darkness, only light. We have no cause to fear his power and majesty. Rather, we can fully embrace it and rejoice in it and humble ourselves before it and entrust ourselves completely to it, to him, because his power is in his hands, the one who is perfect goodness, perfect love, perfect humility.

Another beautiful aspect is God’s closeness. Often the great and powerful are distant and aloof. They may gate themselves off, shielded from any unhappy interaction with anyone they don’t wish to see.

But the great mystery of God is just the opposite. Infinitely greater than any human being, he is also infinitely closer to us than any human being, close even than we are to ourselves. He is particularly close to the lowly, the forgotten, the brokenhearted, the weak, the fallen. In his profound humility, he has lowered himself and suffered and died on a cross for our healing and salvation.

And his greatness is not diminished by this stooping down into our lowliness but magnified! Indeed, as much in our personal history as in the larger story of salvation history, part of the language of praise is simply recalling with gratitude all the great things God has done for us.

Pope Francis, in line with the whole Christian tradition, has spoken of the joy of being a disciple of Jesus. One of the ways we can experience this joy is praise of the living God, rejoicing in his greatness and goodness, his transcendent power and tender closeness, his mighty deeds for the whole world and for me.

If you’re like me, and that’s not always easy for you, consider asking him in prayer for the grace to praise him as he deserves.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]

Bishop Paul Sirba: Take some inspiration from St. Padre Pio

Of the many feast days we will celebrate in the month of September, one stands out for me: Sept. 23, the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, priest. “Padre Pio” was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 in the small town of Pietrelcina, Italy. He died on Sept. 23, 1968, at the age of 81. At the time, I remember reading about his death. He was alive in my lifetime, not always the case with canonized saints.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

People recall his humble beginnings, but probably are more aware of the extraordinary gifts God bestowed upon him. He was a Capuchin priest who had received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his body. He spent 50 years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he was much sought after as a spiritual director, confessor, and intercessor. He could read souls and foretell events in the prophetic sense.

Padre Pio loved Jesus in the Eucharist. He was devoted to prayer, the poor, the sick, and Our Blessed Mother. He lived the charisms associated with St. Francis of Assisi.

In addition to remembering stories of Padre Pio when I was young, I have had a connection to him ever since I came to serve in the Diocese of Duluth as your bishop. I received my call from the nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, on Sept. 23, 2009, his feast day, to become the ninth bishop of Duluth.

All of the feast days leading up to my ordination were associated with Carmelite saints. I was appointed on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila on Oct. 15. I was ordained on the feast of St. John of the Cross on Dec. 14. Though not known to many, I wrote my letter of acceptance of the Holy Father’s request on Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux, after verbally accepting the Pope’s appointment the day after I was asked.

Because of the string of Carmelite feast days, when I was visiting the Carmelite Sisters in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, I said they were praying “too hard” for me. Look at what God is doing to me. All the dates are Carmelite except Sept. 23. “Ah, Father,” Mother Rose said, “I can explain that for you. When this monastery was established, our foundress asked Padre Pio what we should name it.” He said, “Name it Our Lady of Divine Providence.” That explains the Sept. 23 connection.

Though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, the mug sitting on my desk has an often quoted line from Padre Pio. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” I offer his wisdom to all of the readers of The Northern Cross this September. As school begins, fall is in the air, and challenges face us, always remember our hope is fresh in Jesus Christ.

Padre Pio’s assurance: “Always have a firm and general proposition to serve God with all your heart and for the whole of your life. Don’t worry about tomorrow; think only of doing good today, and when tomorrow comes, it will be today and then it is time enough to think of it.

“We must imitate the people of God when they were in the desert. These people were severely forbidden to gather more manna than they needed for one day. Do not doubt that God will provide for the next day, and all the days of our pilgrimage.”

St. Padre Pio, pray for us!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Jesus is truly present: Do most Catholics need to go back to second grade?

By Tom Dermody
Guest columnist

As schools reopen and parishes gear up for religious education and RCIA classes, a new survey shockingly shows that many Catholics need to return to second grade, the year most of us received our first holy Communion. Before that most special day, we were taught repeatedly that we were about to receive not bread and wine, but Jesus -- really, truly present in the sacrament.

A recent survey of self-identified Catholics, however, found that a majority in all age groups believe the bread and wine used at Mass are only symbols of Jesus' body and blood.

Discussion was lively on our Facebook site after we posted the survey story and asked what can be done to restore belief in this central teaching of our faith. Some longed for a return to altar rails or the Latin Mass. Others called for more reverence demonstrated by priests and their flocks. One asked, "What part of 'This is My Body' is hard to get?"

Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the study "a wake-up call" for the church, and we agree. We also echo his assertion that "we're all guilty." Those of us who embrace this profound mystery have grown casual. And actions teach every bit as much as words.

Let's go back to second grade. School is starting, and here is a homework assignment. Read the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ponder it. Believe it.

"In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.'"

The catechism says much more. Keep going deeper. We'll never mine, nor comprehend, all of the Eucharist's treasure. But let us, like a first communicant, reverently acknowledge Jesus' real presence at our next Mass and every Mass and receive him with a heartfelt "Amen."

Tom Dermody is the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

Institute offers free online video series on thought of St. Thomas Aquinas

The Thomistic Institute in Washington has launched "Aquinas 101," a free online video course that instructs interested viewers in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This is the poster for the upcoming video series "Aquinas 101" being launched by the Washington-based Thomistic Institute. The free online course will made up of about 90 videos on St. Thomas Aquinas and will instruct viewers in the thought of the saint. (CNS photo/courtesy Thomistic Institute)

"Aquinas 101" will consist of 85 to 90 videos released over the course of the year. The series will introduce the basics of the Catholic intellectual tradition with St. Thomas Aquinas as a guide. The first three videos can now be viewed on or on

The videos in the course each feature a Dominican friar/professor and are animated to illustrate the doctrines described. The priests featured include Fathers Dominic Legge, Thomas Joseph White, Thomas Petri, James Brent and Gregory Pine.

The course proceeds through an introduction to St. Thomas, a basic description of his philosophy and an in-depth study of his masterwork: "Summa Theologiae."

"At the end of the course, the viewer can expect to have gained a basic mastery of the essentials of Aquinas and to have acquired the tools to engage many difficult issues of faith and science, reason and revelation, and beyond," said a news release from the Thomistic Institute announcing the course.

By enrolling in the free video course, subscribers also will have access to selected readings, recommended podcasts and further resources.

This series is funded in part by a grant titled "Growing the Conversation on Science and Faith" from the John Templeton Foundation.

The Thomistic Institute was founded 10 years ago and seeks to promote Catholic truth in the contemporary world by strengthening the intellectual formation of Christians especially at top-tier universities.

Using Thomas Aquinas as its touchstone, the institute has over 50 student chapters at schools such as Harvard, Yale, New York and Duke universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also sponsors chapters internationally in Dublin, London and Rome.

These student chapters organize lectures by Catholic academics who speak on everything from law and bioethics to art and philosophy. The lecture recordings are then added to the Thomistic Institute's SoundCloud account where more than 550 lectures from its ever-expanding library can be accessed for free.

- By Catholic News Service

Editor's Note: More Information about the Thomistic Institute and its resources can be found online at

Latin American bishops urge action to save burning Amazon rainforest

"Crying out to the world for solidarity," leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action to save the Amazon rainforest as massive fires continued to burn.

Fires burning in the Amazon rainforest are pictured from space by the geostationary weather satellite GOES-16 Aug. 21. Leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action Aug. 22 to save the rainforest as massive fires continued to burn. (CNS photo/NASA, NOAA handout via Reuters) 

"We urge the governments of the Amazonian countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world," said the statement Aug. 22 by the top officers of the council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

"What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but is of global reach," the bishops said. "If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers."

The Amazon produces 20% of the world's oxygen, according to scientific measurements.

Brazil's space research institute, which is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon, had reported that the number of wildfires, common in July and August, had reached a record number already in 2019, with 72,843 fires spotted.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, Aug. 21 and 22 released satellite imagery showing how smoke from the fires had created "a shroud that is clearly visible across much of the center of South America."

French President Emmanuel Macron called on world leaders to place the fires at the top of their agenda as they meet in France for the Group of Seven summit starting Aug. 24. Attendees will include President Donald Trump, Macron and the leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said publicly that he believes nongovernmental agencies -- including Catholic-backed agencies such as the Land Pastoral and the Indigenous Missionary Council -- are behind the illegal burnings because they have opposed his call for development of the rainforest. The organizations have strongly denied the allegations.

In its edition released Aug. 23, the front page of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, led with two articles about the Amazon fires. The first, titled "The Amazon must be protected," included general coverage of the fires' scope and the alarm launched by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. A second article reported on the CELAM statement under the headline, "Save the forest to save the world."

In their statement, the bishops noted that the upcoming October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will discuss the plight of the indigenous living in the area as well as the deforestation of the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

"Hope for the proximity of the Amazon synod, convened by Pope Francis, is stained by the pain of this natural tragedy," the bishops said. "To the brethren indigenous peoples who inhabit this beloved territory, we express all our closeness and join your voices with yours to shout to the world for solidarity and pay attention to end this devastation."

And while the deforestation of the world's largest tropical forest and the violence against the indigenous population there have been a great concern to the Catholic Church, the upcoming synod also has caused apprehension for the Bolsonaro government.

In February, the Brazilian government was forced to deny that it was spying, through its intelligence agency, ABIN, on more "progressive" bishops and priests working on the synod.

The government's Institutional Security Cabinet, known as ISC, however, admitted it was worried that the meeting would be used to criticize the Bolsonaro administration's stance on environment and indigenous rights.

"There are no general criticism of the Catholic Church. There is the functional concern of the Minister of State Chief of the Institutional Security Office for some points of the synod's Amazon agenda that will take place at the Vatican in October this year," said an ISC statement at the time.

The CELAM bishops, quoting Pope Francis from his homily at his papal inauguration in March 2013, requested to "please ask all those who hold positions of responsibility in the economic, political and social fields, all men and women of goodwill: (to) be guardians of creation, of the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of the other, of the environment; let's not let the signs of destruction and death follow the path of our world."

The declaration was signed by Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, of Trujillo, Peru, CELAM president, as well as the officers of the organization.

 - By Lise Alves / Catholic News Service
Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

"So many funerals," says El Paso priest who comforted grieving kin

Father Fabian Marquez was the right priest at a very wrong time.

Father Fabian Marquez encourages a woman during a vigil service for Andre Pablo Anchondo at Perches Funeral Home in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 15. Anchondo died along with his wife Aug. 3 as they protected their 2-month-old baby from the mass gunman at Walmart. Achondo was buried the next day following his funeral Mass celebrated by Father Marquez. (CNS photo/Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

He was among several priests in El Paso, Texas, summoned to help out where they could in the hours following the brazen Aug. 3 assault at a Walmart store in the Texas border town that left 22 dead and dozens of others wounded.

Father Marquez's role was to go to an elementary school in the city that had been set up as a "reunification center" for the loved ones of those who might have been in harm's way during the massacre.

And as for how many "hours following" the rampage? Father Marquez, by his own count, was there for 48 hours.

It fell upon him to console family after family when police told them that a spouse, child or parent was among the dead.

As a result, Father Marquez has celebrated many funeral Masses, even of Catholics who were not members of his church, El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) just outside El Paso in Sparks, Texas, where he has served as pastor for the past four years.

When reached by Catholic News Service Aug. 16, he was hours away from presiding at the funeral Mass of Andre Anchondo. He and his wife, Jordan, were killed -- allegedly by Patrick Crucius, according to police -- as they were shielding their infant son, Paul, just 2 months of age, from the hail of gunfire.

Asked what was going to make Andre Anchondo's funeral different, Father Marquez replied: "The difference with this one is, after having so many already -- I've been to so many funerals -- we get to experience and share with the family the loss of a young man, a young man who showed us the greatest sacrifice, the greatest love. The message I sent yesterday (is) there is no greater love than to give your life for one's friend -- and that's basically what he did. He protected his wife and his young child."

Yet there was one thing that links Anchondo's funeral to those of the other victims. "The tragedy," Father Marquez said. "It's very tragic because anybody who died in this massacre in El Paso had to go this way."

Beyond the circumstances of the married couple's murder, the Anchondos received even more glare in the national spotlight when President Donald Trump, visiting El Paso the week following the massacre, smiled in photos with the baby and flashed an incongruous thumbs-up.

Anchondo's family is "a family that's grieving, that's hurting. A loving family, a caring family," the priest said. "When we're with them and we see not only their pain and suffering for their son, but the family is so focusing on forgiveness, focusing on being better people, that the death of their son helps us to come together as a community, as a faith community, as a city and a nation, instead of promoting hate, but promoting more love."

Father Marquez said he has been bearing up fairly well in the two weeks since the mass shooting.

"It's been hard for all of us. Hard for all of us to see this tragedy come to our society. It really shook us. The shooter came to our city to divide. But we're stronger than ever. We've united in prayer, united in faith. We are stronger. El Paso strong," he told CNS.

"With Christ, everything has been stronger. It's been long days. Ministering to people, journeying with people, praying with people, but very rewarding to see that in the midst of our tragedy, God is with us. It is truly a blessing to see that God is with us as we journey together in this tragedy."

At Father Marquez's parish, where he says it is "standing-room only" in the 325-capacity church for all four weekend Masses, "we were very vulnerable. We were not ready for something like this. We never felt it would happen in a community that is so welcoming, so loving, so caring, so willing to give their best to anyone who comes to our city, who lives in our city. We are always a community that welcomes the stranger," he said.

Parishioners at the overwhelmingly Hispanic parish had grown more wary of stricter immigration policy and enforcement over the past two years.

"My community, we're all concerned. Everybody's concerned about what's been happening. It couldn't have happened at a worse time -- Mexican people being targeted by a shooter in our community to take the lives of our loved ones," Father Marquez said. "It creates more fear, it creates more anxiety, and (those are) the feelings my parish community is experiencing."

Regardless of the fears and anxieties affecting its members, he loves his parish.

"My parish is a beautiful, vibrant community that is willing to sacrifice its own needs for others. We do live the Gospel to serve God, to serve others, to give the best that we can for our community, not just for us but the entire city of El Paso," Father Marquez said.

"We go out in search of that wounded sheep and they care for them, they nurture it and they celebrate. They also believe than when we help the poor and help the sick, we help Jesus," he added. "We try to be a good example of that to others."

Father Marquez said he received many supportive messages from parishioners for his role in counseling grieving kin, but said he thought to himself, "I'm only doing my job. I'm only doing what a priest needs to do."

That job has not ended. Before the day would turn to night, Father Marquez was headed to the wake service of another massacre victim, 63-year-old Marge Reckard, before a funeral the following day.

"That one is also very special, because this is a couple. The husband, Tony, has no family. They both have no family in El Paso. Our family is going to be with him. The funeral has been opened to the community to join them, to share with them," Father Marquez said.

"We're going to go as a church, we're going to be there with him and pray with him, and for his wife. The venue has changed. It was going to be at a very small funeral home, it's been moved to a much bigger funeral home so the people of El Paso can be with him."

 - By Mark Pattison / Catholic News Service

Planned Parenthood decides to withdraw from Title X program

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced Aug. 19 it is withdrawing from the federal Title X program over the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" barring these funds from being used for promoting or providing abortion as family planning.

Planned Parenthood employees stand outside the facility during protests in St. Louis May 31. (CNS photo/Lawrence Bryant, Reuters) 

Planned Parenthood called the rule a "gag order" on its operations that needed to be lifted. It said Aug. 14 it would withdraw from the program if it did not get "emergency judicial relief" in the form of an injunction from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the new policy from taking effect. The San Francisco-based court did not do that.

The administration "is trying to force us to keep information from our patients. The gag rule is unethical, dangerous, and we will not subject our patients to it," Planned Parenthood said in its Aug. 19 statement. It will no longer receive $60 million of the $286 million allocated annually through Title X.

Pro-life groups' reaction to the Planned Parenthood decision was swift.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national Susan B. Anthony List pro-life organization said: "Today, Planned Parenthood showed its true colors by prioritizing abortion over family planning, refusing to comply with the Protect Life Rule and dropping out of the Title X program."

President Donald Trump's policy "is a huge victory for the majority of taxpayers who reject taxpayer funding of abortion," she said. "The Protect Life Rule does not reduce family planning funding by a single dollar, it simply directs taxpayer funding to family planning providers who stay out of the abortion business."

March for Life echoed Dannenfelser's statement, saying: "Planned Parenthood, our nation's largest abortion provider, today made a choice not to separate its abortion operation from Title X services, and in doing so declined Title X funding."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs, the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" is based on the most accurate interpretation of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, which enacted Title X. Section 1008 of this act states that "none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning."

HHS said the rule requires "clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning. This separation will ensure adherence to statutory restrictions, and provide needed clarity for the public and for Title X clinics about permissible and impermissible activities for Title X projects."

After Trump's May 2 announcement on the new Title X rule -- which included an expanded "conscience rule" to protect health care workers who oppose abortion and sterilization -- 20 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and several advocates of legal abortion, including Planned Parenthood, filed suit. They sought an emergency stay on the rule.

On July 11, the 9th Circuit in a 7-4 decision said that even as court cases challenging it proceed, the rule could take effect. The ruling let stand the court's June 20 decision lifting injunctions blocking enforcement of the rule.

On July 15, HHS announced it would begin implementing the Trump administration's rule.

"Women have the most to gain from this news" about Planned Parenthood is withdrawing from Title X, said Dannenfelser.

"With community health alternatives vastly outnumbering Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide, on average, these health centers would see an additional two clients per week. This is a huge win for women's health," she added.

- By Catholic News Service

Father Nick Nelson: Should the Catholic Church allow married priests?

One Saturday in Hibbing, I was having a cup of coffee and getting ready for the vigil Mass when I heard a knock on the rectory door. When I opened the door, standing there was my former homiletics professor, Father Michael. He was at the church for a wedding of one of his students.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

I invited him in for a cup of coffee, and while we were talking, he reminded me of something he wanted to apologize for. This is something he remembered, but something I had forgotten. I must have repressed it deep in my memory because it was so traumatic for me!

This is what happened. During his preaching seminar, we seminarians were required to give a number of practice homilies. After one of my practice homilies, he said, “Nick, good thing you are going to be a priest and not married. I could just hear you saying to your wife (in a robotic, stiff voice) ‘Hey, ba-by, How-are you-today? I-real-ly-love-you.’” Apparently, I had been very monotone and expressionless during the homily.

I was so offended when he said that to me. It probably was the most offended I have ever been. You see, I had always thought that I would have been a great husband and father. I just realized that God wasn’t calling me to marriage, but to the priesthood.

So, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the celibate priesthood. First, celibacy is not absolutely essential to the priesthood. In fact, there have been and currently are married men who are priests. In many of the Eastern Rite Churches, married men are able to be ordained. However, where there are married priests, you must be married before ordination. You cannot get married following ordination.

But the Roman Catholic Church, while allowing exceptions, has always valued celibacy as an important part of the priesthood. It has been the general norm throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because the priest is meant to be alter Christus, another Christ in the world, and in persona Christi, acting in the person of Christ, especially administering the sacraments.

Jesus was celibate. In his human nature, he was totally given over and consecrated to God, and being celibate was the constant sign of that consecration. The priest is best an image of Christ in the world when he lives chaste celibacy as Christ did.

Celibacy and marriage mutually affirm each other — two sides of the same coin. They are both necessary. With some married and some celibate, the Body of Christ gives the full witness of Christ in the world. Marriage is a sacrament, a sign, an image, a symbol not only of Christ’s love for the church but of the ultimate marriage in heaven. The intimate communion, the comprehensive union, that husband and wife experience on the best of days, is a snapshot of the communion we hope to have with the Blessed Trinity in the life to come.

It’s important to note that the real marriage is in heaven. Marriage on earth is the image of the real thing in heaven. So we need that sign of what is to come. Therefore, marriage on earth is so good.

Celibacy, on the other hand, reminds us that marriage is only a sign or symbol of the real thing. It isn’t the end in itself. The celibate priest or sister reminds us that the real thing is still to come. The celibate says, “Marriage is great, but I’m going to hold out in anticipation for the real deal in heaven.”

It saddens me when people flippantly say “priests should get married,” because they don’t see the great gift of celibacy, the great witness that it is to the world. It means they are looking at reality in a very earthly, worldly way, and not in a supernatural, faithful way. Because celibacy only makes sense if there is a God and heaven to come.

Often, they think they are advocating on my behalf — that I’m at home every night alone, petting my cat (I don’t actually have a cat), wishing I could get married. Even in the seminary, while discerning the priesthood, I never desired to be a married priest. I had a desire for marriage, but I either wanted to be a celibate priest or to be married and do something else, such as own my own business. I already saw the wisdom in the church having her priests remained celibate.

There is something extremely fulfilling about being celibate. St. Paul says, “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).

Our sexuality is very integral to our persons, and to say I am willing to sacrifice a wife and children for God and his people is a very significant thing. A celibate priest truly consecrates himself to God, and knowing you are given over to God in such a radical way is a blessing. Because when a man says yes to God in this radical way, when he is willing to make this sacrifice out of love for God, God rushes in with grace upon grace allowing the man not only to persevere, but to thrive in this vocation!

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]