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‘Interstellar’ travel makes theoretical paradoxes feel confing

November 5th, 2014 Posted in Movies


Catholic News Service

As befits a sprawling space epic, “Interstellar” aims high.

While its ambitions are admirable, and its visuals dazzling, the film’s roughly three-hour running time tries patience. Other aesthetic miscalculations, combined with morally problematic elements, ultimately make for something of a flawed liftoff.

From left, Timothee Chalamet, Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy star in a scene from the movie "Interstellar." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/Paramount)

From left, Timothee Chalamet, Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy star in a scene from the movie “Interstellar.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Paramount)

Director and co-writer (with his brother Jonathan) Christopher Nolan charts the exploits of a crew of astronauts who use a wormhole to speed their travel to distant planets. Their critical goal is to find a habitable refuge for the entire human race, which is facing worldwide starvation back on a dystopian, dustbowl-plagued version of Earth.

Leading the mission is former test pilot and engineer-turned-unwilling-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). With society’s need to cultivate crops having displaced interest in advancing technology, Cooper, a widower, has been forced to pursue an agricultural lifestyle on the farmstead he shares with his cranky father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his placid teen son. Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and his precocious, adoring daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

So when an unusual turn of events results in the opportunity for Cooper to command a space expedition, he essentially jumps at the chance, despite the fact that the prospect of his prolonged absence is nothing short of crushing to Murph.

Cooper is joined on the journey by astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and science officer Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway). The latter’s father (Michael Caine), a renowned professor who was once Cooper’s mentor, conceived the rescue program and is its overall supervisor.

Just as protracted separation tests Cooper’s bond with Murph (played in adulthood by Jessica Chastain), so Amelia’s relationship with her idolized dad is eventually subjected to other strains.

“Interstellar” has most of its values in good order as it weighs familial ties against the sacrifices necessary to advance the common welfare and ponders the place of love within a worldview shaped by quantum mechanics and Darwinian evolution. But both the film’s implicit message about the dire consequences of overpopulation and a subplot involving frozen embryos call for moral discernment.

Cinematically, unnatural situations resulting from the relativity of time and other environmental factors create a distance from ordinary reality that blunts the impact of the movie’s human element. In this respect, “Interstellar” stands in contrast to Nolan’s masterful 2010 mind-bender “Inception.”

In that earlier picture, different strands of events simultaneously unfolding within varied chronologies made for suspense and excitement. Here the playful feel of “Inception” is absent, as too is the driving sense of urgency. Instead, like the character central to the climax of “Interstellar,” moviegoers are likely to feel trapped by the theoretical paradoxes of boldly going where no man — or woman or movie director, for that matter — has gone before.

The film contains ethical issues, some bloodless violence, a handful of profanities and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.


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Ban of gender-based abortion passes first vote in British Parliament


Catholic News Service

British parliamentarians overwhelmingly approved a bill to criminalize the abortions of baby girls simply because of their gender.

The Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill was approved 181-1 on first reading in a Nov. 4 vote in the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced by Fiona Bruce, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament, after abortion providers and the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, both insisted that sex-selective abortions were permitted under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Because the government has argued that such abortions are illegal, the bill has the purpose of ending the ambiguity by stating explicitly that such abortions are illegal.

The huge level of support for the bill was welcomed by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England, within whose diocese Bruce’s Congleton district is located.

“It takes courage for a politician to oppose the culture of death in its many forms,” Bishop Davies said in a Nov. 4 email to Catholic News Service.

He added: “Congleton’s MP, Fiona Bruce, deserves the support of all who uphold the sanctity of human life in her efforts to protect the lives of the unborn in gender-based abortions.”

In a Nov. 4 statement, Bruce said the 1967 law was being interpreted too liberally and that “today Parliament agreed that more legislation is needed to silence those claiming that sex-selective abortion can be legal.”

“Never would Parliamentarians in 1967 have imagined that 47 years on, there would be dispute about whether their act permitted abortion where the baby was the a boy or a girl,” she said.

“If the social clause of the act permits sex-selective abortion, the time to revisit it is long overdue,” she continued. “Until then, today’s vote has given a clear signal that MPs are united in working toward a time when the words ‘it’s a girl’ are met with celebration rather than despair.”

The bill’s second reading is set for Jan. 23, though politicians believe it is unlikely to be given time for further debate in the present parliamentary session.

The outcry in Britain over gender-based abortions follows investigations by national newspapers, which found that women who did not want to have baby girls were offered abortions.


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St. Mark’s music man performs in Music City with national group


Dialog reporter


WILMINGTON — Nicolo Bautista is a man of few words. He prefers to let his music do the talking.

Bautista, a junior at St. Mark’s High School, and his considerable talent traveled to Nashville, Tenn., the last week of October to perform at Opryland as part of the All-National Honors Ensemble at a National Association for Music Education (NAfME) conference. The St. Mark’s High School junior joined “the best of the best,” according to NAfME. Read more »

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Immigrants in diocese improving lives of families at home in Guatemala


Dialog reporter


PRICES CORNER – More than 12 years in, the partnership between the dioceses of Wilmington and San Marcos, Guatemala, still produce dividends for Catholics in both countries, two priests said earlier this week.

Father Silverio Chum, pastor of San José in El Rodeo, Guatemala, is back in Wilmington through Nov. 3. One of the parishes he visited was St. Catherine of Siena, whose pastor, Father John Hynes, has been to San Marcos several times. Father Hynes served as the translator for Father Chum. Read more »

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St. Thomas More founders celebrate 16 years, see bright future in Magnolia


Dialog reporter


MAGNOLIA — The seeds for St. Thomas More Academy were planted more than 25 years ago, shortly after Holy Cross High School closed in 1987. That was a decade or more before almost all of the current students were born.

The present was connected with the past on Oct. 23 as several of those responsible for STMA’s existence returned for a Founders Day Mass with Bishop Malooly and to share the story of how St. Thomas More came to be. The only Catholic high school south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal has made great strides since opening in 1998, when 17 sophomores and 34 freshmen composed the student body. Read more »

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N.Y. archdiocese merging 112 of its 368 parishes into 55


Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — In a long-awaited but nonetheless stunning announcement, the Archdiocese of New York said Nov. 2 it would merge 112 of its 368 parishes into 55, effectively shuttering at least 31 churches by Aug. 1, 2015.

Twenty-four of the merged parishes will continue to celebrate scheduled Masses and sacraments at two sites.

St. Mary of the Assumption Church in the Staten Island borough of New York is seen Nov. 2. Founded in 1877, St. Mary is one of more than 30 churches the New York Archdiocese will close by August 2015 as part of a reorganization initiative that will merge 116 parishes into 56. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

St. Mary of the Assumption Church in the Staten Island borough of New York is seen Nov. 2. Founded in 1877, St. Mary is one of more than 30 churches the New York Archdiocese will close by August 2015 as part of a reorganization initiative that will merge 116 parishes into 56. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said the painful reorganization is a necessary adjustment to historic parish infrastructure that will strengthen the Catholic Church in the archdiocese. “The parish is the people and the people have to be cared for. What’s most important is the faith continues, the Eucharist continues and the sacraments continue,” he said.

The cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service and Catholic New York together after the mergers were announced. He said All Souls’ Day was a fitting time to break the news because the feast and the decisions are not about dying, but rising.

“It’s about what Pope Benedict said, ‘The vine has to be pruned once in a while if it’s going to grow,’” the cardinal said, “and it’s about what Pope St. John Paul II said, ‘We’re into mission and not maintenance’ and it’s about what Pope Francis said, ‘The church is not about building structures. It’s about welcome, love, mercy, service, embracing and inviting. It’s about going ahead and not getting bogged down in the past.’”

The cardinal said the math shows an awkward, lopsided distribution of parishes that is inconsistent with Catholic population, especially in Manhattan. He said 25 percent of the parishes of the archdiocese are located in that borough, yet only 12 percent of the Catholic population is there. In Manhattan, 28 parishes will merge to form 13 and nine sites will no longer hold weekly Mass, although they may be used on special occasions.

Cardinal Dolan said the process was not an easy one and the announcement caused understandable anger and hurt. “We know there’s going to be a lot of tears, a lot of shouts, a lot of cussing and we need to be patient with people and listen to them, but there’s a lot of trust and growth and strength that come out of this.”

The mergers are the culmination of a five-year pastoral planning process known as Making All Things New, which sought input from 368 parishes clustered into 75 groups, as well as a 40-person advisory committee, the archdiocesan priests’ council and archdiocesan staff.

Cardinal Dolan said the restructuring is not the result of a shortage of priests, but from a shortage of the faithful. “They’re not coming anymore and we have to get them back.”

He said a Catholics Come Home program planned several years ago was canceled because some pastors “are so oppressed by bills and maintenance that we can’t do mission. We’ve got to be talking about how to fill the buildings and not how to keep them up, insure them and tuck-point them.”

“We have to turn from being shepherds to being fishermen and (the mergers) will free us up to do that. We will have better utilization of priests, trained lay ministers, religious women and men who are involved in leadership who aren’t going to have to spend all their time propping up places and are going to be better used at, granted, fewer, but much more vigorous and solid parishes,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan said people at the parishes that will receive new parishioners are “probably breathing a sigh of relief,” because they’re “still at home.” But in the 31 parishes that will no longer have regular Masses, he said, “that’s where the sting is and that’s where the tears are because those 31 sites will be more or less shuttered after Aug. 1. On rare, extraordinary occasions … those parishes could every once in a while, have a Mass. But in general, literally, the people have to move.”

The changes will be completed by Aug. 1, 2015. The cardinal likened the merger process to a family whose grown children convince their parents to sell a home that is too large for them. “You don’t say, ‘You don’t need this house anymore and it’s costing a bundle to keep it going’ and then have the movers pull up. You want to give people time.”

Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara, director of the Making All Things New process, said the archdiocese would provide guidance, direction and support to pastors to help them shepherd their people in the mergers. He said the transition to the new parishes will likely be marked by prayer services, liturgical expressions and the procession of items from the old church to the shared site.

Cardinal Dolan said the process is not new and it’’s not over. “If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you see the church has been in pastoral planning mode since day one, on Pentecost Sunday.”

While he did not anticipate another wave of mergers, he said there are parishes whose input is still being considered.

Addressing the larger picture, he said, “Everybody with an ounce of common sense in the United States is in strategic pastoral planning mode,” which involves mergers in some areas and building new churches and schools in others.


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Woman’s suicide called tragedy, symbol of ‘culture of death’


PORTLAND, Ore. — Brittany Maynard, a young California woman who was suffering from terminal brain cancer and gained national attention for her plan to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law, ended her life Nov. 1. She was 29 years old.

“We are saddened by the fact that this young woman gave up hope, and now our concern is for other people with terminal illnesses who may contemplate following her example,” said Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life, in a Nov. 2 statement.

“Our prayer is that these people will find the courage to live every day to the fullest until God calls them home,” she said. “Brittany’s death was not a victory for a political cause. It was a tragedy, hastened by despair and aided by the culture of death invading our country.”

Several days before Maynard’s suicide, Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample urged Maynard and others in similar situations: “Don’t give up hope!”

“We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion until the sacred moment when God calls you home,” he said in a statement issued just before the feasts of All Saints on Nov. 1 and All Souls on Nov. 2.

He said assisted suicide offers the illusion that humans can control death.

“It suggests that there is freedom in being able to choose death, but it fails to recognize the contradiction,” the archbishop said. “Killing oneself eliminates the freedom enjoyed in earthly life. True autonomy and true freedom come only when we accept death as a force beyond our control.”

Oregon became the first U.S. state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal overdoses. Voters approved the Death With Dignity Act in 1994 and then reaffirmed it three years later. Since then four other states have since passed similar laws — Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

The Oregon law says a patient must be of sound mind and must prove to a doctor he or she is a legal resident of the state. The patient must swallow the lethal drug without anyone’s help.

At the start of 2014, Maynard, a newlywed, learned she had brain cancer. A few months after she underwent two surgeries, doctors delivered the news that the cancer had returned and that most patients die from such tumors in about a year. She decided against further treatment.

Maynard and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Oregon, to become legal residents of the state and thus able to take advantage of its assisted-suicide law.

On Nov. 1, as she had planned, she took a legal overdose. AP reported she died at home peacefully in “in the arms of her loved ones,” quoting Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

At one point Maynard, who would have turned 30 Nov. 19, said she might postpone taking her life to see how the disease progressed, but she stuck with her original plan. In interviews she said her husband and other family members accepted her decision to end her life.

Archbishop Sample in his statement said: “Cutting life short is not the answer to death.”

“Instead of hastening death, we encourage all to embrace the sometimes difficult but precious moments at the end of life, for it is often in these moments that we come to understand what is most important about life,” he said. “Our final days help us to prepare for our eternal destiny.”

Across the country in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, a 30-year-old Catholic seminarian facing the same disease as Maynard wrote a poignant essay in mid-October responding to Maynard’s announced decision to end her life.

Philip Johnson called her story heartbreaking and one “that really hit home,” because he was 24 when doctors told him he had inoperable brain cancer. The news came when he was “beginning an exciting career as a naval officer with my entire life ahead of me. I had so many hopes and dreams, and in an instant they all seemed to be crushed.”

“I have lived through six years of constant turmoil, seizures, and headaches. I often changed hospitals and doctors every few months, seeking some morsel of hope for survival. Like Brittany, I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer the likely outcome of this disease,” he wrote. “I do not think anyone wants to die in this way.”

His doctors have told him that as the disease progresses he likely will gradually lose control of his bodily functions as a result of paralysis and incontinence. “It is very likely that my mental faculties will also disappear and lead to confusion and hallucinations before my death,” Johnson said.

“This terrifies me, but it does not make me any less of a person,” he continued.

“My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed,” he said. “My family and friends love me for who I am, not just for the personality traits that will slowly slip away if this tumor progresses and takes my life.”

He noted that he has lived longer than expected, which is its own miracle.

Johnson added: “I know exactly what she is going through. I still get sad. I still cry. I still beg God to show me his will through all of this suffering and to allow me to be his priest if it be his will, but I know that I am not alone in my suffering. I have my family, my friends, and the support of the entire universal church. I have walked in Brittany’s shoes, but I have never had to walk alone. Such is the beauty of the church, our families, and the prayerful support that we give to one another.”


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A statement from the Catholic Bishops of Maryland: End of Life Decision Making for the Faithful




The month of November, which begins with the celebration of the companion feasts of the Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls Day, offers a time for our community of faith to pray in a special way for those who have passed to eternal life. As we remember the saints in heaven, and the souls of all those who have gone before us, this time of year also offers us an opportunity to consider important questions we might face at the hour of our own or a loved one’s death.

On a spiritual level, we pray that our journey of faith each day will lead us to a deeper awareness that this life on earth is transitory, and that our true selves will not be fully revealed until we have passed through death into eternity with God. As we more fully grasp this essential reality, we see more clearly the truth of Pope Francis’ words: “Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” Read more »

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Pope Francis to open Vatican interfaith conference on traditional marriage Nov. 17


Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY — A month after closing a Synod of Bishops on the family stirred by controversy over divorce, same-sex unions and other nonmarital relationships, Pope Francis will open an interreligious conference dedicated to traditional marriage.

A month after closing a Synod of Bishops on the family stirred by controversy over divorce, same-sex unions and other nonmarital relationships, Pope Francis will open an interreligious conference dedicated to traditional marriage. (CNS/Jon L. Hendricks)

A month after closing a Synod of Bishops on the family stirred by controversy over divorce, same-sex unions and other nonmarital relationships, Pope Francis will open an interreligious conference dedicated to traditional marriage. (CNS/Jon L. Hendricks)

The Vatican-sponsored gathering, on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will take place Nov. 17-19 and feature more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism. The conference will aim to “examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society,” according to organizers. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and the Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, will be among the participants. Other Americans at the conference will include Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Henry B. Eyring,f irst counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Mercy Sister Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September. Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali. Pope Francis will address the conference and preside over its first morning session Nov. 17, following remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The conference was an initiative of Cardinal Muller, who proposed it to Pope Francis in November 2013, according to Helen Alvare, a professor at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, who is handling press relations for the event. The conference is officially sponsored by the doctrinal congregation, and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, for Interreligious Dialogue and for the Family. The heads of all four curia offices are scheduled to address the assembly. Topics of lectures and videos will include “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children” and “The Sacramentality of Human Love According to St. John Paul II.” Given its timing and subject matter, the conference is likely to invite comparisons with the Oct. 5-19 synod on the family. Several conference participants have already commented publicly on the earlier event. One of the synod’s most discussed topics was a proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Cardinal Muller was a leading opponent of that proposal. Archbishop Chaput told an audience in New York Oct. 20 that he had been “very disturbed” by press reports of last month’s synod, saying, “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion,” though he added: “I don’t think that was the real thing there.” The archbishop will be host to the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis is widely expected to attend. Rev. Warren was one of 48 Christian ministers and scholars who signed an open letter to Pope Francis and the synod fathers in September, urging the assembly to defend traditional marriage, among other ways, by supporting efforts to “restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman.” Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a blog post in response to the synod’s controversial midterm report, which used remarkably conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships. Moore praised the document for suggesting that “we should not drive sinners away, but that we should receive them and nurture them toward Christ,” but said that the “church is not itself, though, to be made up of unrepentant people.”

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Praying for the dead, pope asks prayers for victims of war


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The early November feasts of All Saints and All Souls call Catholics to contemplate their ultimate destiny, hope in the eternal happiness of their beloved dead and remember the thousands of innocent people dying each day because of human evil and selfishness.

Pope Francis touches a statue of Mary as he leaves after celebrating Mass at the Verano cemetery in Rome Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints. Relics of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II are seen near the statue. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis touches a statue of Mary as he leaves after celebrating Mass at the Verano cemetery in Rome Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints. Relics of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II are seen near the statue. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Because human beings believe they are gods and the lords of creation, they discard the poor, the old and the young, they wage wars and persecute those who do not believe the way they do, Pope Francis said Nov. 1 as he celebrated an evening Mass at Rome’s Verano cemetery.

The pope told thousands of people gathered amid the tombs that before Mass he noticed a plaque commemorating the 1943 Allied bombing of the cemetery and thought, “That’s nothing compared to what is happening today.”

“Man has made himself lord of all, he thinks he’s god, he thinks he’s king,” the pope said. There is a whole “industry of destruction” with wars, pollution, “throwing away babies, throwing away the aged.”

As winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere, he said he was thinking of the thousands of people forced to leave their homes and flee to the desert, living “in tents, feeling the cold, without medicine, hungry” because of those who believe they are god. The pope presumably was talking about the situation in Syria and Iraq where Islamic State fighters continue to drive people from their homes.

God has given his children a blessing, the pope said: “hope. The hope that he will have pity on his people, that he would have pity on those who are in the midst of the ‘great tribulation’” described in Revelation 7:14.

The Beatitudes — Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers — is the only path “that will lead us to an encounter with God,” he said. “Only that path will save us from destruction, from the devastation of the earth, of creation, of morals, of history, of the family.”

Earlier Nov. 1, reciting the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said the November feasts are reminders that all the baptized, those living and those dead, are united in Christ forever.

“It is beautiful to have so many brothers and sisters in the faith who walk at our side, support us with their help and travel the same path toward heaven,” he said. “And it is consoling to know that there are other brothers and sisters who have already reached heaven, who await us and pray for us so that together we can contemplate for eternity the glorious and merciful face of the Father.”

Leading visitors in St. Peter’s Square in the recitation of the Angelus prayer again Nov. 2, Pope Francis spoke about All Souls’ Day and the importance of praying for the dead, both loved ones who have passed away, but also unknown people who have no one to mourn for or remember them.

“Today we are called to remember all of them, even those whom no one remembers,” he said. “Let us remember the victims of wars and violence, the many little ones of the world who have been crushed by hunger and poverty; let us remember the anonymous ones who now rest in collective graves.”

Offering a Mass for the deceased, the pope said, “is the best spiritual help we can give to their souls.”

After praying privately at the tombs of previous popes in the Vatican grottos the evening of Nov. 2, he celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 3 for the 10 cardinals and 111 bishops who died over the last year.

The deceased included Cardinal Edmund Szoka, former archbishop of Detroit and former head of the commission governing Vatican City State. He died in August at age 86.

“Our prayer,” the pope said, is enriched by the feelings, memories and gratitude for the witness of these people we have known and with whom we shared service in the church. “Many of their faces are before our mind’s eye, but all of them, each one of them is seen by the Father with his merciful love.”


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