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Archbishop asks prayers for 16 killed in Marine plane crash

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WASHINGTON — Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services asked for prayers for the 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman who died July 10 when a Marine refueling and cargo plane crashed in a soybean field in rural Mississippi near the town of Itta Bena.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services speaks Nov. 16 during the opening of the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services . (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“I express my heartfelt condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this terrible accident. My heart also goes out to their colleagues and others who worked with them. They also suffer the loss and ask questions,” Archbishop Broglio said in a July 11 statement. “I ask the faithful to join me in prayer for the repose of those who died and the consolation of their families.”

He added, “Tragically, this is the second multi-fatal accident involving the Armed Forces in less than a month, coming so soon after the USS Fitzgerald collision with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan on June 17. Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to defend our great nation and the freedoms we cherish. We should keep them in our prayers always, and never take their sacrifice for granted.”

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant used Twitter July 11 to warn people not to remove debris from the area where the Marine Corps KC-130 crashed. Law enforcement authorities had received reports that items were being taken from the site, with debris scattered for miles.

The Marines said July 11 the air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and headed to California. Seven of the dead were special operations forces based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where the plane had stopped en route to California.

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Murdered nuns recalled for their generosity, service in Mississippi

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Catholic News Service

JACKSON, Miss. — The deaths of Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill demand justice, but not revenge, Franciscan Father Greg Plata said during a memorial Mass for the women religious in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.

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)

“I truly believe with all my heart that Margaret and Paula would tell us that we need to keep loving,” said the priest during the Aug. 29 Mass.

Father Plata is sacramental administrator of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington, Mississippi, the parish in which the sisters were active.

Sister Margaret, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, were recalled by family and friends in prayer services and Masses in the days after they were found dead Aug. 25 in the Durant, Mississippi, home they shared.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, Mississippi, has been charged with two counts of capital murder, larceny and burglary in connection with the incident.

The day before the Mass, representatives of the sisters’ religious communities and families issued a statement opposing the death penalty for the suspect charged in their deaths.

“Many people will be dismayed, even angered at the joint statement the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of Charity made stating that they are opposed to the death penalty that could be imposed on the person who committed this terrible crime,” Father Plata said at the Mass. “But think of the powerful statement that makes. At the heart of Christianity is forgiveness. ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’

“Forgiveness isn’t something we do on our own. It is something we choose to do with God’s grace,” the Franciscan said.

During a brief vigil at the sisters’ home Aug. 27, representatives of the religious orders called for a period of reflection and remembrance.

Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and Sister Rosemarie Rombalski, of the School Sisters of St. Francis, went into the women’s home prior to the ceremony for prayer, closure and reflection. In the kitchen, they discovered a loaf of bread in a bread maker. The simple act, typical of the sisters who were known for being generous with their good food, turned into a life-giving symbol for the communities.

“Marge and Paula really had that sense of offering bread to each other. The bread of life, the bread of energy, the bread of hope,” Sister Rosemarie said.

Sisters broke the loaf in half to share with their respective communities in Milwaukee and Nazareth, Kentucky.

About 300 people gathered at St. Thomas Church the evening of Aug. 27 for another vigil. In addition to the more than 100 people packed inside the tiny sanctuary, another 200 watched a video feed from a tent on the lawn.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson presided over the service, but Father Plata offered a homily. He remembered the sisters as great cooks, gardeners, generous souls and hopeful women of the Gospel.

“As Christians, we only have one choice, to move on in hope,” he said.

As the families cope with the loss of their loved ones, they also worry about the people of Durant and Lexington.

“A big hole in the universe and in our hearts,” is how Annette Held described losing her older sister. “Sister Margaret was a wonderful and gracious person, always a concerned about others and certainly the spiritual leader of the family. This tragedy is leaving a big hole for us. We are also worried because there is no one to carry their ministry now and that has been very important for so long for the community they lived in and for our family too. We keep wishing we knew what will happen next at the clinic.”

Rosemarie Merrill, Sister Paula’s sister and who made the trip to Mississippi from her home in Stoneham, Massachusetts, expressed a similar concern.

Sister Paula’s “faith was very strong. And she was a wonderful nurse,” she said. “I feel so bad for the people of Holmes County because they’ve lost so much. The care they provided leaves a huge void. They would do anything for their patients.”

Smith is editor of the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Jackson. Contributing to this report were Elsa Baughman of Mississippi Catholic and Marnie McAllister, editor of The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

 

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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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Mississippi becomes fourth state to ban dismemberment abortions

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JACKSON, Miss. — A new law in Mississippi will prohibit dismemberment abortions, effective July 1.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, pictured in a 2015 photo, signed a bill April 5 passed by the Senate March 30 known as the Religious Accommodations Act. A host of groups had called on Bryant to veto the bill, arguing that the legislation allows for state-sanctioned discrimination. (CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, pictured in a 2015 photo, signed a bill April 5 passed by the Senate March 30 known as the Religious Accommodations Act. A host of groups had called on Bryant to veto the bill, arguing that the legislation allows for state-sanctioned discrimination. (CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters)

“This law has the power to change how the public views the gruesome reality of abortion in the United States,” Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a statement.

On April 15, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, passed by the state Senate in a 40-6 vote in March and by the state House 83-33 in February.

“We applaud any effort to end abortion in our communities and will continue to support women in crisis through our efforts with Catholic Charities, adoption services, parish-based ministries and supporting organizations such as Birthright,” said Father Kevin Slattery, vicar general of the Diocese of Jackson.

“There are many faithful people out there working to give women the choice of life,” he said in a statement. “We hope we can continue to build and strengthen those ministries for people in need.”

Mississippi is the fourth state to enact the measure, after West Virginia, Kansas and Oklahoma. According to National Right to Life, the legislation, based on the pro-life organization’s model bill, also has been introduced in Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri and Nebraska and may be taken up in several other states.

The procedure is a form of second-trimester abortion that “dismembers a living unborn child and extracts him or her one piece at a time from the uterus.” It is called a D&E for “dilation and evacuation.”

According to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook, “D&E remains the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions.”

It is different from the partial-birth abortion method used in late-term abortions, which is now illegal in the United States.

“When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, National Right to Life’s director of state legislation. “Banning dismemberment abortion in Mississippi has the potential to transform the debate when people realize that living unborn children are being killed by being torn limb from limb.”

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Memories of civil rights struggles still fresh in Mississippi town

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Catholic News Service

GREENWOOD, Miss. — A pane of cracked blue glass above the front doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Greenwood helps ensure that nobody forgets how their parish, its founding pastor and the religious who staffed it stood up for them during a polarizing, often brutal time.

As this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, parishioners at St. Francis have a vivid reminder of the related events in their town. They can look up and see where a bullet went through the window, one of many acts of violence and serious threats to a faith community that was active in promoting civil rights, both behind the scenes and in the streets.

Members of Pax Christi are pictured in this 1952 photo outside of the St. Francis Information Center in Greenwood, Miss., with youths who came to the center. The Catholic organization was a key player in the civil rights movement. The only person identified is Kate Foote Jordan, second from left, a Pax Christi founder. (CNS photo/Bishop Oliver Gerow, courtesy Diocese of Jackson Archives)

For people who lived in Greenwood at that time, however, the broken window pane doesn’t seem necessary to remind them what their town has been through. In interviews with Catholic News Service in June, parishioners at St. Francis and the town’s other Catholic church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, spoke vividly of incidents from those years.

They lived with the blatantly racist way of life epitomized by the White Citizens’ Council, a Greenwood-founded segregationist group that actively championed the Jim Crow system. Greenwood, now with a population of just 15,000 and then around 20,000, found itself divided even more in the mid-1960s by a months-long merchant boycott in protest of how blacks were treated. A few years earlier and 10 miles up the road, Emmett Till, the black Chicago 14-year-old who was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, was found, tortured and killed, reportedly for flirting with a white young woman.

Greenwood’s residents lived through the two criminal trials of local white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith for murdering civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. (Though those 1960s trials failed to reach verdicts, he was convicted in 1994.)

Greenwood witnessed further upheaval when organizers from outside Mississippi zeroed in on their town to promote voter education and voter registration, leading to a fire being set at the offices of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the gunshot wounding of a community organizer, even drawing such high profile activists as singers Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to town.

Through all this, what was then known as St. Francis Mission, its elementary school and church-sponsored community center in the heart of a poor, black neighborhood, were essential pieces of efforts by the Catholic Church in Mississippi to provide a wide range of services to Mississippi’s poorest residents, regardless of religious affiliation. In Greenwood, the Franciscans strove to provide African-Americans with a welcoming place to worship and a school where they could get a decent education in the deeply segregated society.

Mississippi’s Catholic population has never been large, it’s currently about 9 percent, and the percentage of black Catholics is an even smaller fragment. When St. Francis Mission was founded in 1950, there were just two black Catholics in Greenwood, according to an article on the role of Catholics in the town by Siena College professor Paul T. Murray in the Journal of Mississippi History.

Franciscan Father Nathaniel Machesky, a Detroit native who joined the friars out of a desire to do missionary work, was initially assigned in Greenwood at Immaculate Heart of Mary. But as Murray put it, “ministering to a respectable all-white congregation was not Father Nathaniel’s idea of true missionary work.”

When the friars received permission to open a mission for African Americans, he found a 12-acre parcel of land on the outskirts of town and transformed the “juke joint” on the property into a chapel.

Father Nathaniel saw offering a good education as the key to evangelization and quickly opened a school at the mission.

Talking over coffee in the rectory in early June, several African-American women who’d grown up at St. Francis, and who became Catholic because their parents put them in school there, told CNS about how far their community has come when it comes to racial divisions.

They told long-ago stories: of being warned to leave a CYO gathering at Immaculate Heart before something bad happened; and of being told during a prayer service there, “This church is ours. You have your own.”

But another woman had a story from just last year: of watching a white man in line at the grocery store demand and get a white cashier to ring up his order instead of the black cashier who was already in the position.

More than one of the women voiced a fear that “Jim Crow is coming back,” because of the increase in apparently race-based conflicts around the country.

They agreed that the role of St. Francis of Assisi Parish was important to their own success in life, and in helping improve the chances for Greenwood’s poor black families, as well as helping turn the tide against the era’s racist ways.

Another piece of the Catholic Church’s role in Greenwood began with Kate Foote Jordan, who founded a secular institute of religious women they called Pax Christi. By the mid-1960s, the group of about 20 women, including two African-Americans, operated the St. Francis Information Center to offer instruction in Catholicism and recreational activities for children, according to Murray.

It eventually hosted a clinic, a grocery store, scout troops, music lessons, a skating rink, tutoring and adult education, and published a weekly newspaper for African-Americans.

Father Nathaniel also created a credit union and several small businesses for the community. He was active in the interracial ministerial association and successfully worked with both blacks and whites in building the parish of St. Francis.

His involvement in the boycott of Greenwood merchants that followed the 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King changed that somewhat.

As one of the priest’s friends and a lifelong Immaculate Heart parishioner, Alex Malouf, tells it, Father Nathaniel had carefully straddled the cultural chasm between his black parishioners and the dominant white business community, where he had friends and supporters.

But the support the parish had enjoyed from some of the white-owned businesses was strained when Father Nathaniel, the sisters who staffed the school and others affiliated with the church joined the boycott of their stores.

One of the African-American women at St. Francis and a white parishioner at Immaculate Heart each told about the nuns getting new tennis shoes courtesy of a Greenwood merchant one week and wearing them in a protest march against the merchants a few days later. Decades later, the story still gets a little different spin when told by a woman who supported the protests and the son of a ’60s merchant.

A bitter legal battle over how protests were conducted and the months-long “unbelievably effective” boycott were finally settled, Malouf said, when he worked with the merchants and Father Nathaniel worked with the African-American community through the ministerial association to negotiate a settlement.

“You could get killed over that,” Malouf said, adding that in those days in Greenwood, such conversations across color lines just didn’t take place. “I was threatened. The Klan threw stuff at my house.”

Father Nathaniel had been threatened quite seriously, a man who said he’d been hired by the Ku Klux Klan to kill the priest came to the rectory one day. The two talked at length and eventually the hired killer said he decided the priest was too good a man to kill and gave back the money.

For a time the priest’s brother, a fellow friar, served as a sort of bodyguard, various Greenwood residents said.

As for the boycott, Malouf said the negotiations he and Father Nathaniel helped arrange bore fruit, surprisingly quickly.

The merchants agreed to hire a few African-American employees and to work on getting the city to hire blacks for the police and fire departments. And they agreed to start referring to African-Americans with courtesy titles, Mr. and Mrs., as they did white customers, instead of by their first names.

In return, the boycott ended and Greenwood’s majority black population began patronizing their local businesses again.

A related video has been posted at http://youtu.be/C_X8kAkT_B8.

 

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Voters decide ‘personhood,’ labor rights as bishops stay neutral

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Voters in Mississippi and Ohio confronted such traditional Catholic issues as abortion and labor rights on Election Day, but the Catholic bishops in those states remained neutral on the specific ballot questions raised.

In Mississippi, Proposition 26, known as the Personhood Amendment, was defeated, with 42 percent of voters supporting the measure and 58 percent opposed. It would have defined life as beginning at the moment of conception.

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