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Suspect sought in murders of nuns who worked at Mississippi clinic

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Catholic News Service

Police continued to search for the killer of two women religious who spent years caring for poor people as nurse practitioners in central Mississippi.

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, are pictured in undated photos. The two women religious were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said. (CNS photo/School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth)

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, are pictured in undated photos. The two women religious were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said. (CNS photo/School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth)

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said.

The sisters had worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic in Lexington, about 10 miles from the house they shared.

Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said police discovered a car missing from the nuns’ home the evening of Aug. 25 on a secluded street late about a mile from where the women were found dead.

Police officers discovered the women’s bodies after co-workers called asking to check on them after they failed to report for work at the clinic.

“These were just two wonderful faith-filled women who just brought so much life to this poor little section of Mississippi. They and so many of the sisters who have come down here throughout the years are the unsung heroes,” said Franciscan Father Greg Plata, sacramental administrator of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington, where the sisters participated in parish life.

“They just bring the light of Christ to this area here. Both were extremely loved by the people in the area,” Father Plata told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Aug. 26.

“These two sisters wouldn’t hurt a flea. It’s almost incomprehensible that someone could perpetrate such a violence against them,” the priest added.

Dr. Elias Abboud, the clinic’s owner, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, the deaths are “a loss to the community. They were loved by everybody.”

Authorities have released few details about the crime, but police suspect robbery was a motive.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson commended the sisters for their years of dedicated service.

“They absolutely loved the people in their community,” he said. “We mourn with the people of Lexington and Durant and we pray for the Sisters of Charity, the Schools Sisters of St. Francis and the families left behind.”

Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, asked for prayers of gratitude “for the precious lives of Sisters Paula and Margaret” in a statement on the community’s website. “They served the poor so well. Because we are Gospel women, please also pray for the perpetrators,” the statement said.

Sister Susan also asked for prayers for the women’s families, their religious communities, those who work at the medical clinic, the clinic’s clients and the community of Durant.

The leadership team of the U.S. province of the Schools Sisters of St. Francis in a statement announced its shock and grief over hearing the news of the deaths.

“Sister Margaret has been a member of our community for 49 years and lived her ministry caring for and healing the poor,” the leadership team said. “Please keep Sister Margaret, Sister Paul and their families and loved ones in your prayers.”

Sister Paula, a native of Massachusetts, moved to rural Mississippi in 1981, serving in health care ministry for more than 30 years. She joined the Lexington clinic in 2010.

A video about Sister Paula’s ministry recently posted on her community’s website described her ministry in rural Holmes County, where 62 percent of the children live in poverty.

“I have been so edified by the faith of the people I have cared for,” Sister Paul said in the video. “They challenge me, they inspire me.”

Sister Margaret first ministered in Mississippi as a social worker at a health center in Holly Springs in 1975. She relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, from 1981 to 1983 as a community health nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association before returning to Mississippi that year. She became a nurse practitioner in 1994, serving in Tupelo, Marks and Lexington. She began her service with her religious order as a teacher at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said Aug. 25 in a statement that the sisters “leave a legacy of dedication to their consecrated life and deep compassion for those they served.”

He asked the faithful to “join me in praying for the repose of the souls of Sister Paula and Sister Margaret and for their families and religious communities. May they rest in peace.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee held up the example of the sisters for their service.

“Any act of violence is always a tragedy for the entire community,” he said Aug. 25. “A random act of violence makes no sense. When an act of violence is perpetrated on a sister who has dedicated her life to performing good works and serving the community in the name of Jesus, that act of violence is magnified in a multitude of ways.”

Contributing to this story were Marnie McAllister, editor of The Record in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, and Maureen Smith, editor of the Mississippi Catholic in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi.

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Bishop will host ecumenical service for peace at Cathedral in response to violence, racial tension

August 26th, 2016 Posted in Featured, Our Diocese

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Bishop Malooly will host an ecumenical prayer service to mark the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities on Sept. 9, at 1 p.m. in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invited all dioceses in the country to observe the Day of Prayer in response to recent violence and racial tension that has arisen in some urban areas of the United States. Read more »

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Pope asks Jesuits to help diocesan clergy in pastoral discernment — ‘The shades of gray prevail in life’

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Catholic News Service

ROME — When it comes to the Christian life, too many seminaries teach students a rigid list of rules that make it difficult or impossible for them as priests to respond to the real-life situation of those who come to them seeking guidance, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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‘I strive to continue’ — Retired Pope Benedict says he felt a ‘duty’ to resign

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Retired Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview that he felt a “duty” to resign from the papacy because of his declining health and the rigorous demands of papal travel. Read more »

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Pope leads 11,000 pilgrims praying rosary for Italy’s earthquake victims

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hearing the mayor of Amatrice in central Italy say his town no longer exists and knowing there were children who died Aug. 24 in the earthquakes that struck the region, Pope Francis turned his weekly general audience into a prayer service.

A man walks amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

A man walks amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Beginning the audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he had prepared a normal audience talk on how the merciful Jesus is close to people, but given the devastation in central Italy, he decided to lead the recitation of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.

Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology reported the first quake, which registered a magnitude 6.0, struck at 3:36 a.m. with an epicenter about 100 miles northeast of Rome between the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude was 6.2 and the epicenter was closer to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.

Smaller quakes — at least two of which registered more than 5.0 — continued for several hours after the main quake. By early afternoon, the death toll had reached 38 but was expected to rise.

As emergency workers began digging people out from under the rubble of collapsed buildings and the number of verified deaths climbed, Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience.

“Hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and devastated entire areas, leaving many dead and wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and my closeness” to everyone in the earthquake zone, especially those who lost loved ones and “those who are still shaken by fear and terror,” the pope said.

“Having heard the mayor of Amatrice say, ‘The town no longer exists,’ and knowing that there are children among the dead, I am deeply saddened,” Pope Francis said.

The pope thanked all the volunteers and emergency workers who were trying to rescue victims people trapped under the rubble.

Assuring the people in the region of the prayers and “the embrace of the whole church,” the pope asked the estimated 11,000 pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that “the Lord Jesus, who is always moved by human suffering, would console the brokenhearted and give them peace.”

At the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a community growing in fame because of its prayer life and brewery, the 15 monks and five guests were already awake when the first quake hit, Benedictine Father Benedict Nivakoff told Catholic News Service. Aug. 24 is the feast of St. Bartholomew and “on feast days we get up earlier” to pray, he said.

“All of the monks and the monks’ guests are safe,” he said. But the Basilica of St. Benedict suffered “considerable structural damage,” and the monastery will need repairs as well.

Within a half hour of the first quake, Father Nivakoff said, the square outside the monastery was filled with people “because it is the safest place in town, around the statue of St. Benedict.”

While no buildings collapsed, it is obvious that many homes are no longer habitable, he said. The monks have set up a reception desk to help meet their neighbors’ needs.

The basilica, he said, is closed pending an inspection by civil engineers, who were to arrive the afternoon of Aug. 24. However, Father Nivakoff said, “the facade seems to have detached” from the rest of the building and major repairs are likely.

Assisi is just 45 miles from Norcia and, according to Franciscan Father Enzo Fortunato, the quake was felt strongly at the convent and basilica that suffered major damage from an earthquake in 1997.

Father Fortunato told the Italian news agency ANSA that the quake woke all the friars, many of whom ran to the Basilica of St. Francis. No damage was visible, he said.

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Louisiana floods called worst U.S. natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy — Updated

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BATON ROUGE, La. — The line of destruction caused by historic flooding in southern Louisiana stretches for 25 miles, and according to Red Cross officials, it is the worst natural disaster in the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

A statue of Mary is seen partially submerged in flood water in Sorrento, La., Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

A statue of Mary is seen partially submerged in flood water in Sorrento, La., Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

“As we all know the severe flooding in many areas of our diocese has dramatically affected the well-being and livelihood of countless people,” said Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench in a videotaped message posted to the diocese’s website, www.diobr.org.

“To those so impacted I express genuine empathy, heartfelt solidarity and commitment to help as best as we can,” he said, adding his thanks “to those who have so impressively and sacrificially reached out to serve.” He called the “outpouring of concern” extraordinary in “our area and beyond.” On Aug. 14, Bishop Muench visited three evacuation shelters to comfort evacuees.

In his video message, the bishop directed those who want to donate money or goods to go to the diocesan website.

In a statement released Aug. 24, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Catholic parishes across the U.S. to take a second collection on or around Sept. 18. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, encouraged U. S. Catholics “to respond generously. Our prayer and material support is urgently needed to help rebuild lives.”

Donations, he said, will go to support the humanitarian efforts of Catholic Charities USA, the church’s domestic relief agency.

News reports said the civil entity of East Baton Rouge Parish was the hardest hit of parishes in the region by the heavy rains that fell Aug. 11-14.

In some areas, as much as 2 feet of rain fell in 48 hours; in another, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours.

Civil authorities reported that at least 13 people died in the floods and that about 60,000 homes were damaged, although a Baton Rouge economic development group put the number of damaged houses at 110,000. The Red Cross put the overall cost of recovery at $30 million.

“Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now,” Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross’ vice president of disaster services operations and logistics, told CNN.

Four feet of water inundated the new Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which had just opened Aug. 5.

In such a short time, “we’d experienced growth as a family, with the students, with the faculty,” said Jim Llorens, the school’s president, who called the flooding “heartbreaking.” The brand-new school building is closed while school officials assess the damage and find another location to hold classes.

“It was really beginning to come together as a true Cristo Rey family, so we have to regroup … and make sure we don’t lose that,” Llorens said in an interview with the diocese’s CatholicLife Television apostolate and The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper.

The newspaper and the TV outlet have produced a series of six videos on the flood and its aftermath. Titled “When the Waters Rose,” the series can be viewed at www.catholiclifetv.org in the site’s Programming section.

In another of the videos a mom and her children, all members of St. Margaret Parish, were helping flood victims, even though the family had their own losses, including their house and three vehicles.

“We are fortunate we have each other and that’s a blessing. We have a lot of friends in the same situation,” the mom told a reporter. “We’re just very thankful we’re able to give back … and people have blessed us very much in clothes and water and such. We’re just doing a little bitty bit of what we can do (for others).”

In his statement, Archbishop Kurtz urged all Catholics to join the church “in being a visible witness to the healing presence of Jesus alive in the world” by helping flood victims. He acknowledged that not all U.S. parishes may be able to have a second collection and encouraged individuals to donate directly to Catholic Charities USA at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org.

Whether your donation is large or small, let us also be sure those suffering feel the power of our prayer to sustain them in the difficult days ahead.

The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, said in an Aug. 23 new release statement its members have volunteered to help flood victims by preparing and distributing pallets of food and water, and providing bleach and other cleaning materials. Local Knights’ councils are running soup kitchens to feed thousands of people each day.

The Knights as an organization has given a $200,000 donation to the Baton Rouge Diocese and sent $30,000 to the Knights’ Louisiana State Council.

In a week’s time the Knights of Columbus also raised more than $250,000 for flood relief, the release said.

“We have seen incredible generosity from our members,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a statement. “The funds we raise will go directly to help those affected by this tragedy, and working closely with the Catholic Church and our Knights in Louisiana, we will continue to make a real difference in the lives of the people of the Baton Rouge area.”

In Gonzales, members of St. Theresa of Avila Parish were little affected by the flooding so they have found creative ways to help those who have been, said Father Eric Gyan, pastor, because many of them were not as affected by the flooding.

In an Aug. 19 video interview for the diocese’s “When the Waters Rose” series, he outlined four ways they were reaching out. First, there’s the Laundry Brigade, which offers to pick up clothes, bed linens and other items muddied by the rising waters, launder them and “get them back the next day,” Father Gyan said.

Next parishioners are running St. Theresa’s Taxi service to provide transportation for those without any way now to get to the store, doctors’ appointments and the like. Cooks for Christ is made up of parishioners preparing and taking meals to residences where families have absorbed other family members and friends left homeless, the priest explained.

Finally the God’s Gutters demolition crew that will go into damaged houses to clear out water-soaked carpet, drywall and furniture and anything else that is damaged.

Father Gyan added that the parish intends to have second collection to raise funds to buy gift cards to Lowe’s, Home Depot and other stores to help people repair their homes and replace what they have lost.

Note: Donations to help flood victims can be made directly to:

  • Diocese of Baton Rouge Disaster Assistance Fund at www.diobr.org.
  • Catholic Charities USA at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org. (Donations can be sent by mail with a check payable to Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 17066 Baltimore, MD, 21297-1066; or by phone with a credit card, (800) 919-9338.
  • Knights of Columbus at www.kofc.org/flood. (Donations via check or money order can be sent to: K of C Louisiana Flood, Knights of Columbus Charities, P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT, 06509-1966.)

 

 

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Vatican newspaper calls pope’s document on family life ‘authoritative church teaching’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the “ordinary magisterium,” papal teaching, to which Catholics are obliged to give “religious submission of will and intellect,” said an article in the Vatican newspaper.

A newly married couple hold rosaries in their hands as they leave Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The Vatican newspaper is calling Pope Francis's  apostolic exhortation,  "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), an authoritative church teaching. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See stories to come.

A newly married couple hold rosaries in their hands as they leave Pope Francis’ audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The Vatican newspaper is calling Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), an authoritative church teaching. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a definitive way in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the “ordinary magisterium” to which all members of the church should respond with “the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation.”

The Spanish priest’s article in L’Osservatore Romano Aug. 23 came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope’s document, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

For instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke has said on several occasions that the document is “a mixture of opinion and doctrine.”

Father Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the vocation of the theologian.

The instruction, issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of assent they require.

The top levels are: “Infallible pronouncements,” which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching proposed “in a definitive way,” which is “strictly and intimately connected with revelation” and “must be firmly accepted and held.”

A teaching is an example of “ordinary magisterium,” according to the instruction, “when the magisterium, not intending to act ‘definitively,’ teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.”

“Amoris Laetitia” falls into the third category, Father Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction’s statement that examples of ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes “in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements.”

The instruction notes that “it often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent,” although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction insists that even then one must assume that “divine assistance” was given to the pope.

Accepting “Amoris Laetitia” as authoritative church teaching, Father Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document’s “most significant words” about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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New Mexico bishops oppose plan to reinstate death penalty there

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Catholic bishops of New Mexico in an Aug. 18 statement said they oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s plan to reinstate the death penalty and called on the Legislature to reject it.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is seen in Los Alamos, N.M., in this 2011 file photo. New Mexico's Catholic bishops renounce her call to reinstate the death penalty. (CNS photo/Larry W. Smith, EPA)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is seen in Los Alamos, N.M., in this 2011 file photo. New Mexico’s Catholic bishops renounce her call to reinstate the death penalty. (CNS photo/Larry W. Smith, EPA)

The bishops recalled that when the Legislature in March 2009 repealed “the morally untenable practice of the death penalty,” they applauded the move, calling it a milestone that was “moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice and love.”

“The state created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society,” they said.

“In one voice, (we) once again echo the teaching of the church that life is sacred,” the New Mexico bishops said. “There is one seamless teaching on God’s gift of life that must be protected from conception in the womb to natural death. It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered.

“These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital,” they said.

On Aug. 17, Martinez said she will push for reinstating the death penalty during the 2017 legislative session. She was prompted to call for resuming capital punishment after the recent shooting of a Hatch police officer. She said she supports the death penalty at least for convicted child killers and those convicted of murdering law enforcement officers.

She supported a measure to reinstate the death penalty shortly after she was elected governor in 2011, but the bill died in Democratic-majority Legislature.

The New Mexico bishops quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. John Paul II in saying that cases where it is “an absolute necessity” for the state to employ the death penalty to ensure the safety of the community “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

We join Pope Francis in his continued call to end the practice of the death penalty,” the bishops said. “Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II both worked diligently to end the death penalty throughout the world. The trend in the United States has now been to abandon the use of the death penalty. In the last five years, five states have passed legislation to repeal their death penalty law.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester and retired Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup.

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Nation’s first laywoman chancellor retires after 27 years

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Mary Jo Tully, the first laywoman to become chancellor of a U.S. Catholic diocese, has stepped down from the post she held for 27 years at the Archdiocese of Portland.

Mary Jo Tully laughs with Archbishop John G. Vlazny, the head of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in 2008. Tully won a papal award and was the first laywoman to serve as chancellor of a U.S. diocese. After 27 years in the role at the Archdiocese of Portland, she has stepped down from the role. (CNS photo/Gerry Lewin, Catholic Sentinel)

Mary Jo Tully laughs with Archbishop John G. Vlazny, the head of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in 2008. Tully won a papal award and was the first laywoman to serve as chancellor of a U.S. diocese. After 27 years in the role at the Archdiocese of Portland, she has stepped down from the role. (CNS photo/Gerry Lewin, Catholic Sentinel)

Tully — known for wit, candor and a pebbly Midwestern voice— taught, wrote and administered her way to unsought renown in Oregon. Daughter of a Chicago policeman, she charmed thousands of listeners and readers, but often accepted the role of tough cop on behalf of the four Portland archbishops she served.

“What I have done, I have always done out of love for the church,” Tully told friends at a farewell dinner in Portland July 29.

She has moved to be near family north of Austin, Texas, and said she hopes to be of service to the church there.

“The church is my family,” Tully said during an Aug. 2 retirement luncheon. “People always ask me why I didn’t become a nun. Well, it’s because they wouldn’t let me be superior,” she joked, getting a big laugh from colleagues.

She was not looking to become a chancellor. Invited and hired by then-Archbishop William J. Levada to take the job in Portland, Tully had previously served as director of religious education in the Archdiocese of Chicago. In the 1960s, she had gone to march with civil rights activists in the South, over the spirited objections of her father.

She wrote books on catechesis, Scripture and the Stations of the Cross and wrote a pithy regular column on Sunday Scriptures in the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper, and donated her journalism pay to other causes.

At Portland’s pastoral center, Tully for decades took the toughest crank calls. Colleagues say she was firm, but always loving and clear.

“As one of the four archbishops who have had the privilege of working with Mary Jo, I can only express my extreme gratitude for her service to the church here in western Oregon,” said Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, who has headed the archdiocese since 2013. “She has been a good and faithful servant of the Lord.”

Retired Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny, who headed the archdiocese from 1997 to 2013, said she was like a godmother for international religious communities who sent members from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Vietnamese Catholics treated her almost like royalty. Archbishop Vlazny once referred to Tully as “the ombudsperson, to be sure, in the life of the archdiocese.”

— By Ed Langlois and Kristen Hannum Langlois is managing editor and Hannum is a staff writer at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

 

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Narrow gate of mercy difficult to enter with bloated pride, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The “narrow gate” to salvation described by Jesus isn’t narrow because God is oppressive, but because pride bloats Christians and prevents them from entering God’s merciful embrace, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Aug. 21. (CNS photo/Giorgio Onorati, EPA)

Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Aug. 21. (CNS photo/Giorgio Onorati, EPA)

Christians “must seize the opportunities of salvation” and not waste time on trivial things before the gate is closed, the pope said before reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 22.

“If God is good and loves us, why does he close the gate at some point?” the pope asked visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The reason, he said, is because “our life is not a video game or a soap opera; our life is serious and the goal to achieve is important: eternal salvation.”

In the day’s Gospel reading, Jesus calls on his followers to “strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

By using the imagery of the narrow gate, Jesus tells his listeners that the question of how many will be saved is not as important as knowing “which path leads to salvation,” the pope said.

Having a humble and faithful heart in need of God’s forgiveness, he added, allows Christians to enter the gate that, while wide open, remains too small for those swollen by pride and fear.

“It is a narrow gate to restrict our pride and our fear; it is a wide open gate because God welcomes us without distinction. And the salvation he gives us is a never-ending stream of mercy that breaks down every barrier and opens up surprising perspectives of light and peace,” he said.

Jesus, he continued, offers an invitation to cross this threshold and is “waiting for each one of us, no matter what sin we have committed, to embrace us, to offer us his forgiveness.”

Upon passing the gate, Christians can experience an “authentic change” that allows them to shed “worldly behaviors, selfishness and closures.”

Pope Francis led pilgrims in a moment of silence to reflect on those things that “we have inside and that prevent us from passing through the gate.” He also asked them to reflect on the “wide open door of God’s mercy” that leads to a path of salvation for those who wish to experience his love.

“It is the love which saves, the love that already here on earth is a source of blessing for those who, in meekness, patience and justice, forget themselves and give of themselves to others, especially to the weakest,” the pope said.

After reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis led the crowd in the square in praying the Hail Mary for the victims of a suicide bombing in Turkey the night before. At least 50 people were killed and dozens wounded when a suspected suicide bomber, who was reported to be between 12 and 14 years old, detonated his explosives at a wedding party in Gaziantep.

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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