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Fallen heroes in Wilmington

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Dialog reporter

 

Lt. Christopher Leach and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes killed, five others injured answering a call

 

The tragic deaths of two city of Wilmington firefighters and injuries to five others on Sept. 24 touched the Catholic community in a profound way. Two of the firefighters, including one of the deceased, Lt. Christopher Leach, were graduates of Catholic schools, and Leach and a colleague have children in schools in the city.

Leach, 41, and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes, 51, perished while responding to a fire near Canby Park. After rushing into a burning row house, the floor gave way, sending Leach and others into the basement, where they were trapped. Fickes died while trying to rescue Leach. Three firefighters were treated and released, while two others were transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in critical condition. One of those was Ardythe Hope, whose two daughters attend St. Elizabeth High School. Read more »

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At Mass and memorials, Dallas says goodbye to fallen police officers

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Catholic News Service

DALLAS — At a Mass and at memorials in megachurches, family, friends and police officers from around the country thanked and said goodbye to five Dallas police officers killed by a gunman targeting police officers after a rally protesting police-related shootings in other parts of the country.

Sgt. Rocio Munoz of the Dallas Police Department inspects a memorial to slain officers outside department headquarters in Dallas July 11. (CNS photo/Kevin Bartram)

Sgt. Rocio Munoz of the Dallas Police Department inspects a memorial to slain officers outside department headquarters in Dallas July 11. (CNS photo/Kevin Bartram)

Killed July 7 in downtown Dallas were Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; and Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, all from the Dallas Police Department; and Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Nine other officers and two civilians were injured.

The gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, described by police as angry and deranged, held police at a standoff for several hours, admitting that he was targeting white police officers and that explosives were planted in the area. The heavily armed gunman was killed by police using an explosive device attached to a bomb squad robot.

In the week since the tragedy, the worst for Dallas law enforcement and the worst for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11, city and interfaith leaders have asked for peace and prayer and solutions to violence plaguing the country. The police chief has asked that the community thank and support police.

President Barack Obama, who came to Dallas for a memorial, held up the city’s leadership as an example to others across the country and asked that Americans look at the root cause of violence.

Hundreds of police officers from across the country joined families in mourning their brother officers.

At Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas, more than 1,000 people stood in line July 12 for more than an hour, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief David O. Brown, waiting to pay their final respects to Smith.

Smith’s wife, Heidi, is a fourth-grade teacher at the parish school. His oldest daughter Victoria recently graduated from the school’s eighth grade and youngest daughter Caroline will be entering fourth grade at the school next fall.

At the visitation, two police officers stood guard as mourners filed by. As police officers from across the country approached, they each saluted Smith before moving on. Many Dallas police officers consoled each other in the alcoves of the church.

As the crowds thinned after 10 p.m., members of other honor guards from across the country joined in the ceremony of paying last respects.

In his homily, Father Michael Forge, the pastor at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, described the early morning hours at Parkland Hospital after the shooting, as he waited with the family to see their loved one’s body. He said there were countless police officers streaming through the room, offering words of encouragement and condolences.

“Now at one moment in that small and segregated waiting room, when there was a lull in the activity of people coming and going, Heidi asked little Caroline if she wanted to ask me her question,” Father Forge said. “She paused a bit, and seemed a little embarrassed, but then Caroline asked me: ‘Why did God do this?’

“I immediately answered and said: ‘Oh Caroline, God didn’t do this. The anti-God did this, the evil one did this,’” he said.

“Then a little while later Heidi shared with us that before Mike left for his shift that evening, he told Caroline to kiss him goodbye like it was his last time!” Father Forge said. “I immediately looked at Caroline and said, ‘Caroline, now God did that! That was God!’”

In her eulogy, Smith’s sister, Yea-Mei Sauer, talked about a brother who even in his youth was a role model to her and to her other brother, William, well into middle age. She said he loved his family and his family of police officers and he always wanted the best for them. And for his country.

“He believed in the service to his country and his community,” she said. “All this would make him uncomfortable, angry with me, all of us, bringing the attention to him.

“Michael was my role model, my first mentor,” she added. “Michael was a man of action. My brother’s murder will not be in vain. His legacy will live on.”

At a candlelight service for all the officers and at individual memorials ceremonies for each, the other fallen officers were remembered as strong, humble, quiet, funny men who were like many other men and who loved their families at home and those on the police force.

Ahrens, who stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds, was remembered not only as “intimidating,” but as “a gentle giant.”

Motorcycle police from across the country escorted the funeral processions from churches to cemeteries.

With the exception of Krol, who will be buried in Michigan, all of the other officers were laid to rest in the Dallas area.

A few hours after the shootings, a few people lighted several candles in front of the Dallas Police Department headquarters while hundreds gathered for a memorial at Thanks-Giving Square in downtown Dallas, not far from the site of the ambush. The water garden and memorial park was opened in 1964, a year after the assassination of President John Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963, not far from the spot where the lone gunman had killed the officers a few hours earlier

In the week after the police shootings, several other memorials sprang up across the city, alongside blue ribbons tied to trees and downtown skyscrapers awash in blue.

As the city said goodbye to the officers, the memorial that had started out in the plaza in front of Dallas Police headquarters with a few candles evolved into two police cars — one representing the Dallas Police Department and the other, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit — with a few flowers on top of them. Within a few days, more flowers, cards, letters, posters, balloons, and candles buried the cars.

The news networks had set up their tents and cameras on the site. Hundreds of people traveled from across the country to the plaza. Some went to take photos and a few went to try to get on television. Many of them went to hug police officers and to pray with them. Many went there just to cry.

Still, others went there to see the goodness that had come from evil.

“I came here because I was shocked with what happened,” said Jack Arias of Dallas, “and what I feel in my heart is love.”

 

 

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Gordie Howe, ‘Mr. Hockey,’ recalled at funeral as tough on the ice, generous off it

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DETROIT— Family, friends and fans crowded into the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament June 15 to pay tribute to the life of “Mr. Hockey,” Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe.

Howe, a hockey Hall of Famer and one of the most celebrated athletes of his generation, died June 10 at the age of 88.

Former Detroit Red Wings hockey player Gordie Howe is pictured in a 2008 photo in Nashville, Tenn. Howe, the man forever known as "Mr. Hockey," died June 10 at age 88. A memorial Mass for the hockey legend was celebrated June 15 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (CNS photo/Jeff Kowalsky, EPA)

Former Detroit Red Wings hockey player Gordie Howe is pictured in a 2008 photo in Nashville, Tenn. Howe, the man forever known as “Mr. Hockey,” died June 10 at age 88. A memorial Mass for the hockey legend was celebrated June 15 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (CNS photo/Jeff Kowalsky, EPA)

The memorial Mass at Detroit’s cathedral drew dozens of NHL dignitaries from across North America, including NHL greats Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Ted Lindsay, Guy LaFleur, Steve Yzerman and Chris Chelios, along with many current Detroit Red Wings and alumni. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daley, and former Red Wings coaches Mike Babcock and Scotty Bowman were among the attendees, as well as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Howe’s casket, decorated with red and white flowers, the Red Wings’ colors, was placed in front of the altar during the Mass next to a picture of the late Hall of Famer, as the cathedral choir sang traditional hymns.

While Howe’s prowess and toughness on the ice was well-documented, it was his generosity and selflessness off it that touched mourners.

“He was a role model as a hockey player, a role model as a father, and a role model as an ambassador,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Everyone knew him as a superstar on the ice, but he was humble off the ice.”

Dr. Murray Howe, who gave a eulogy for his father before the Mass, recalled that “Mr. Hockey” always had time for everyone, no matter where he was.

“Dad was upright. He believed in being compassionate, respectful and using good manners, but also standing up for what is right. He tried to instill those traits in all those who were around, especially kids,” Murray Howe said.

“If a fan told him a story, he would not interrupt, no matter how long they spoke. He would not correct them, even if they insisted they watched him play in the summer Olympics in 1906,” he said to laughter.

Although Gordie Howe “did not lead the league in church attendance,” his son said, “his life was the epitome of the faithful servant.”

“Jesus tells us, ‘Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did to me.’ ‘Mr. Hockey’ loved God, but he loved everyone,” Murray Howe said.

Though Gordie Howe was not Catholic, he would always respond generously whenever asked to help, and sometimes even when he wasn’t, said cathedral rector Father J.J. Mech, a longtime friend of the Howe family who celebrated the memorial Mass at the family’s request.

“Gordie loved to help,” Father Mech said in his homily. “He loved to be busy. In recent years, he was taking turns living with all the kids, rotating around, and they’d wake up and he wasn’t there. He was raking the neighbor’s lawn. You couldn’t stop him.”

Mike “Doc” Emrick, NHL play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports, described Howe as “a wonderful human being who could also play hockey really well.”

“He really lived what Jesus taught. He may not have been someone who talked about the Scriptures and all of that, but he lived it,” said Emrick, a southeast Michigan native.

Emrick painted a picture of Howe’s graciousness, saying if there were a map of the United States with a red dot for every fan whose hand he shook, “you would see lights in every state and enormous concentrations of them,” Emrick said. “He met so many people in his lifetime and he was good to all of them.”

Howe was known throughout the Detroit area as being generous with his time and talents, said Deacon Bill Jamieson of St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms. Deacon Jamieson, who from 1982 to 1996 worked as public relations director for the Red Wings, said Gordie needed no instruction when it came to being charitable.

“He was always available when we’d do a charity event, and he didn’t need much guidance,” said Deacon Jamieson, who in 2009 assisted at the funeral of Gordie’s wife, Colleen. “I’d just try to step back and watch, and I was allegedly the coordinator.”

 

— By Mike Stechschulte, managing editor of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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Biden recalled as devoted husband, father, patriotic public servant during funeral at St. Anthony’s

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The Dialog

WILMINGTON, Del. — Jesuit Father Leo J. O’Donovan recalled former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden as a devoted husband and father, splendid son, true brother and patriotic public servant at a June 6 funeral Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington.

Father O’Donovan, retired president of Georgetown University, was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass. Other Catholic Church leaders in attendance included Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly; Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States; and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington.

The casket with the body of Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is carried into St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del., for his June 6 funeral Mass. Beau Biden, 46, died May 30 after a battle with brain cancer. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, pool via Reuters)

The casket with the body of Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is carried into St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del., for his June 6 funeral Mass. Beau Biden, 46, died May 30 after a battle with brain cancer. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, pool via Reuters)

In his homily, Father O’Donovan spoke to the family and friends of the Biden family in the packed church of more than 1,000 people, as well as to the national audience watching the final rites for Vice President Joe Biden’s oldest son.

“As surely as Beau Biden knelt at night to pray with his wife and children,” Father O’Donovan said, he knew he “was given life and a world to fulfill it in by a loving Lord.”

After the gift of what Father O’Donovan called Beau Biden’s “dazzling” life, his death “calls us to hear the promise” of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though the person dies, yet shall that person live.”

In heartbreaking eulogies before the end of Mass, Beau Biden was recalled by his sister, Ashley, and his brother, Hunter.

President Barack Obama also spoke at St. Anthony’s in tribute to his vice president’s son.

He called Beau Biden a consummate public servant who “did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146. He left nothing in the tank. He was a man who led a life where the means were as important as the ends. And the example he set made you want to be a better dad, or a better son, or a better brother or sister, better at your job, the better soldier. He made you want to be a better person.

“Isn’t that finally the measure of a man,” Obama asked, “the way he lives, how he treats others, no matter what life may throw at him?”

Representatives of other faith groups at the June 6 funeral included: Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Episcopal Bishop Wayne Wright of Delaware; Rabbi Michael Beals, Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington; the Rev. Silvester Beaman, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington; and the Rev. Gregory Jones, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington.

The funeral came after two days of public mourning in the state.

On June 4, mourners filed past Beau Biden’s casket in Legislative Hall in Dover. On June 5, thousands in Wilmington stood in line at St. Anthony for hours to pay their respects to Biden’s widow, Hallie, and the members of the Biden family, who received people in church for 10 hours.

Beau Biden died May 30 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, of brain cancer. He was 46.

In a statement posted on the Bidens’ website, the family said: “It is with broken hearts that (we) announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.”

“The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us — especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.”

“I pray that Our Lord will give (the Bidens) strength during this time of sadness and that they find consolation and hope in the knowledge that Beau is in the presence of a merciful God,” Bishop Malooly said in a June 1 statement. “Beau Biden was an outstanding husband and father and a hard-working public servant who left his mark on Delaware and our nation. … He was truly a real gentleman in every way possible. May the Lord now provide him eternal life.”

Biden was a parishioner of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church in Greenville.

Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III was born Feb. 3, 1969, in Wilmington to Joe Biden and Neilia Hunter Biden. In 1972, his mother and infant sister, Naomi, were killed in a car accident, and he and his brother, Hunter, were seriously injured.

While he was a U.S. senator, Joe Biden would commute from Wilmington to Washington and back by train each day so he could serve in Congress and be home as much as he could to spend time with his children. Joe Biden married Jill, an educator, in 1977.

In May 2010, Beau Biden suffered a mild stroke. In August 2013, he was admitted to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and diagnosed with brain cancer. A lesion was removed at that time; Biden had radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and the cancer was in remission.

On May 20 of this year, he was admitted to Walter Reed when doctors found his brain cancer had returned; he died there 10 days later.

A graduate of Archmere Academy in Claymont, the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse University College of Law, he worked at the U.S. Justice Department in Philadelphia from 1995 to 2004. He was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office when in 2004 he became a partner in a Wilmington law firm. He worked there for two years before being elected Delaware attorney general.

He won on a campaign that outlined his plans to deal with sex offenders, Internet predators, senior abuse and domestic abuse.

Biden had joined the military in 2003 as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and was a major in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps. His unit was activated to deploy to Iraq in October 2008, and he spent a year on active duty there. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

The family said that more than his professional accomplishments, “Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother. His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. … Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service in Washington.

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Viewpoint: Catholic funeral rites are corporal and spiritual works of mercy

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In recent years, the church leaders have wisely expressed deep concern over the growing lack of respect surrounding funerals and the proper care for the earthly remains of the faithful departed.

Our religion has always been countercultural and will remain so. At the core of Roman Catholic practices surrounding the departed is the reality that prayer for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy and burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy.

It’s good to remember that the glory of Christ’s resurrection was first revealed to those on a mission of mercy to the tomb to wash and anoint Jesus’ body in accordance with Jewish burial customs. Read more »

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Cardinal George’s funeral: Consolation is hope of the Resurrection, says archbishop

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CHICAGO — Hundreds of priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered in Holy Name Cathedral April 21 for evening prayer during the visitation for the Cardinal Francis E. George.

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich (right) looks on as Father Louis Lougen, superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, blesses the body of Cardinal Francis E. George following the April 23 prayer vigil before his funeral Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Cardinal George, who retired as archbishop of Chicago in 2014, died April 17 after a long battle with cancer. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich (right) looks on as Father Louis Lougen, superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, blesses the body of Cardinal Francis E. George following the April 23 prayer vigil before his funeral Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Cardinal George, who retired as archbishop of Chicago in 2014, died April 17 after a long battle with cancer. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The service included sung psalms and canticles, with the men’s voices filling the cathedral, as well as Scripture readings and a homily from Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich.

Cardinal George, who retired as archbishop of Chicago in 2014, died April 17. Two days of public visitation and prayer vigils led up to his April 23 funeral Mass at the cathedral.

At the evening prayer service, Archbishop Cupich centered his homily on a phrase that is included throughout the Easter season in the Liturgy of the Hours evening prayer: “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

Those words, spoken by the disciples when they were downcast and grieving, offer a reminder that the greatest works of God — creation, the cross and Christ’s resurrection — were accomplished in darkness, and that Cardinal George is now beginning to comprehend the meaning of God’s works, Archbishop Cupich said.

That is the focus of the rites surrounding Catholic funerals, the archbishop said.

While there have been many laudatory words offered about Cardinal George, about his scholarship and razor-sharp intellect, his leadership, his tenacity and courage, that is not what Catholics focus on when someone dies.

“Catholic tradition hesitates to let the past dominate these days of funeral liturgies,” he said. “It considers such an approach shortsighted, unequal to the totally other reality taking place. Our funerals are not celebrations of one’s life, a nostalgic return to past glories. Rather, they focus on the risen Christ presently active in our midst, whose power at work in us is able to accomplish far more than we ask and far more that we can imagine.”

It is the hope of the Resurrection that consoles those who grieve and mourn, he said.

“The consolation offered to us in these days is not limited to the warm support and friendship we offer each other, as important and meaningful as that is,” Archbishop Cupich said. “Rather, our consolation comes in knowing that we participate and contribute to Christ’s redeeming work, which we pray is taking place for the cardinal.”

The archbishop offered special condolences Cardinal George’s sister, Margaret, and the rest of his family, and also to Father Dan Flens, the cardinal’s longtime priest-secretary who remained with him through his final illness.

“Dan, your steady, devoted and unconditional care for the cardinal not only in these last days, but throughout the years of service as his secretary, inspire us now to follow your good example by offering our prayerful support for Cardinal George,” Archbishop Cupich said. “Repeatedly in his final days, the cardinal told me and others that you made possible his ministry during his years of service here.”

Those words drew an extended standing ovation from the congregation.

At the end of his homily, the archbishop also offered condolence to those who gathered to pray.

“I want you, my brother priests and our seminarians, to know that I grieve his loss with you,” he said. “Your experience with him was much deeper and longer than mine, but I can tell you that during the last months of his life and my first months as archbishop, he was unfailingly supportive to me, impressing upon me at this moment how he must have been the same for you over these past 17 years. So together in our grieving, we pray, ‘Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.’”

After the service, several priests said they were touched by the recognition of Father Flens and of retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond E. Goedert, who lived in the cardinal’s residence for Cardinal George’s entire episcopacy and offered the closing prayer at the service. Bishop Goedert was vicar general when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin died in November 1996. Bishop Goedert told news media he was one of those present at the cardinal’s bedside when he died. He administered last rites to the cardinal.

“I remember Ray Goedert giving the closing prayer for Cardinal Bernardin and tearing up, and here he is almost 18 years later doing the same thing for Cardinal George,” said Father Greg Sakowicz. “It went fast.”

— By Michelle Martin

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