Browsing News Entries

'Fifty Shades of Grey' called 'direct assault' on marriage, morality

Catholic News Service -- The new movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" is "a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God's people," Cincinnati's archbishop told pastors in his archdiocese.

"We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God's design for loving relationships between a husband and a wife in the bond of marriage," Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr said in an early February letter.

"The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable," he added.

movie still

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in a scene from the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Universal Pictures and Focus Features)

Archbishop Schnurr's letter echoed the sentiment expressed by several Catholic and other religious leaders and organizations that have criticized the film, hitting theaters Feb. 13.

It is based on the first book in a trilogy by E.L. James that features an erotic and sadomasochistic story line about a young college student who agrees to become a sex slave to a business tycoon.

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth in a letter to his fellow bishops urged them to alert Catholics to such an objectionable film, which he said is being promoted as a romantic story but is a "graphic portrayal of a young woman agreeing to be abused and degraded in a sexual relationship."

"Remind the faithful of the beauty of the church's teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation," wrote Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York.

John Mulderig, Catholic News Service's assistant director for media reviews, said in a Feb. 11 review that "Fifty Shades" -- about Anastasia Steele, a "socially awkward" college student who becomes involved with an "intimidating business tycoon" named Christian Grey -- has "a pornographically narrow focus and a potentially dangerous message."

The couple's "uncommitted pleasure" displaces a spiritual union "for the sake of a disordered exchange of possession and surrender," Mulderig wrote.

The CNS classification is classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

In mid-January when the MPAA announced the film would have an "R" rating, Morality in Media criticized that decision, saying the rating "severely undermines the violent themes in the film and does not adequately inform parents and patrons of the film's content."

The story of "a childlike, mousey, young woman" becoming the "target of a powerful, intimidating, older man ... glamorizes and legitimatizes violence against women," the organization said in a statement.

It warned women "lining up to see this film" that "there is nothing empowering about whips and chains or humiliation and torture. Women as a group will not gain power by collaborating with violent men."

Founded in 1962, Morality in Media describes itself as the leading national organization opposing pornography and indecency by educating the public and urging vigorous enforcement of the law.

"The contrast between the message of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and God's design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy could not be greater," said the Religious Alliance Against Pornography in its statement criticizing the film.

The movie's main message, the alliance said, is that "bondage, dominance and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable."

In the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, Bishop R. Walker Nickless in a Feb. 9 memo to priests and deacons spoke out strongly against the book and movie.

"This book is a vile and vicious piece of pornography of the worst sort, promoting not merely promiscuity and marital infidelity, but also violent and degrading views of and sexual behavior against women," he said.

Bishop Nickless particularly pointed to the immorality of pornography, "its objectification of both men and women."

"When that objectification is combined with masochism and other forms of violence in the sexual act, as in this case of 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' the harm it does to women, and thus also to families and children, is immensely greater," he said.

Bishop Nickless applauded clergy who have already preached about the book and movie "for their pastoral energy, awareness, and initiative."

"I encourage all of you to help me to share, again and again, the truths of God's plan for marriage and family, and the grave harm that pornography does to women and children, and likewise to those who use it," he said. "We must not be silent in the face of such debilitating cultural mores, but bring the saving light and grace and truth of our Lord to those who need it most."

In Virginia, a week before the premiere of "Fifty Shades," the Arlington Catholic Herald diocesan newspaper had a ticket giveaway for a showing of "Old Fashioned," described as a wholesome romance about a former frat boy and a free-spirited woman who embark on an old-fashioned courtship in contemporary America.

The tickets were provided by Carmel Communications.

"Going up against big-budget, blockbuster competition that offers a dark take on love, 'Old Fashioned' puts romance and respect in the heart of relationships," producer Nathan Nazario said in a statement.

He said audiences were responding to the movie's "simple message that chivalry is not dead, and real love is worth waiting for."

Teresa Tomeo, an author and syndicated Catholic talk radio host, noted that the "Fifty Shades of Grey" book trilogy "continues to bring in the big bucks -- breaking book sale records wherever the 'Mommy porn' fictional novels are available."

The film, she said, was also "expected to be a cash cow at the box office."

"Women make up the majority of this particular and very sad market and, unfortunately, also can't seem to get enough reminders of the abusive relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele," Tomeo wrote in a widely circulated commentary.

Women are "snatching up" all manner of accessories tied to the books and film, she noted. "So far the collection features everything from candles, bed sheets, earrings, chokers and bracelets in the form of handcuffs."

The Catholic Church in its teaching "couldn't be clearer when it comes to why pornography, any type of porn, is a grave offense," she said, adding that "secular family study experts are now agreeing that pornography poses great danger to women and to relationships in general. It's unhealthy in a myriad of ways -- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

"It is also highly hypocritical to cry foul when cases of abuse involving actions similar to those exhibited in 'Fifty Shades' ... make headlines," she added. "We can't have it both ways."

Contributing to this story were Joanne Fox in Sioux City and Mary Stachyra Lopez in Arlington.

Annual Together for Life Banquet yields amazing adoption stories, an award and big news

The fourth annual Together for Life Banquet, hosted by Guiding Star Duluth, brought in a national speaker, gave Hibbing's Gail Checco of Blessed Sacrament its annual pro-life award and, for good measure, dropped news on a major new pro-life initiative in the region.

The annual Together for Life event has served as a fundraiser for a variety of pro-life organizations in the region, in keeping with Guiding Star's mission of helping various groups with different focuses to work together in support of a Culture of Life.

Beautiful adoptions
Dan Kulp

Supporters of Guiding Star Duluth listen as speaker Dan Kulp shares his experiences growing up in a family that adopted special-needs children and how he and his wife adopted three special-needs children, two from China and one from Ukraine. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Dan Kulp, lead singer of the rock group The Dig Project and a comedian, writer, actor, radio host and youth pastor, told the story of how he and his wife adopted three special-needs children, two from China and one from Ukraine, and about his own family growing up, where he was the eighth of nine children and four of his brothers and sisters have Down syndrome, three of them adopted.

He said his first child, Simon, was believed to be the first child with Down syndrome adopted from China. He had been abandoned as an infant in the woods in the middle of winter, probably not because of the Down syndrome but because of other problems like a club foot. His life was saved a second time in the first weeks of life when a British doctor told the family that found Simon about an imperforate anus.

When they went to adopt him, they were the subject of stares because of his differences in a place where people with Down syndrome are often sent to an institution to be forgotten. The experience brought back memories.

"I can remember going out with my family to dinner, with my brothers and sisters, and everybody in the restaurant in our own country would be staring at us, because we looked different," Kulp said.

He said his mother would tell them to just ignore it, but she sometimes took a more direct approach. Once she invited a bunch of kids who had been picking on Kulp's brother Matthew to their house.

"She basically told those kids he is such a blessing to us, we want him to be a blessing to you, too," Kulp said.

It worked. When Matthew was hit by a car, the kids organized a fundraiser and sought donations to help.

"That same group of kids that used to pick on my brother, they ended up making money to help with his hospital bills, and it was all because my mom would rather make allies instead of enemies," he said.

His late father had a different personality. He didn't like attention. When Kulp's brother was born with Down syndrome, family and friends advised the parents to put him in an institution and forget him.

"My parents didn't like it that much, so they went out and adopted three more kids with Down sydrome, because he was such a blessing to the family," Kulp said.

The family even became the subject of a two-page National Enquirer spread.

He said adopting Simon allowed him to walk in his father's footsteps. "He endured all that for the love of his family," Kulp said. "The guy who wanted no attention was willing to endure that because he loved his kids, he loved his children."

Kulp and his wife felt called to adopt a second child from China a few months after getting home. Danielle was listed as having Down syndrome, but it turned out to be a false diagnosis. Instead she had the more rare Alif Sydrome, and Kulp said it's a blessing the diagnosis was wrong, because had the authorities known they may not have been able to adopt her at all.

About a year later, Kulp said his wife found another child, from Ukraine, with spina bifida. "Right about now I'm praying our computer would develop a virus," Kulp joked, saying he was concerned by the lack of time, money, energy and space it would take to adopt another child with medical issues.

But they adopted Shea, and shortly after committing to it they learned they were expecting a baby themselves. The two new arrivals came a few weeks apart.

"We gave her up for adoption," Kulp joked of Emily, now 3.

He said his wife got a heart for adoption from her own work in China as a physical therapist, where she had been one of the first Westerners in her province to encounter the "dying rooms," places where abandoned babies were taken if there was no room in the orphanage, where there was minimal care and children who died were taken out in garbage bags.

She made openness to adopting at least one such child a condition of marriage.

Kulp said his wife is his "superhero" for encouraging many people to adopt, and he extended the honor to his audience, too.

"I'm here tonight because you are my superheroes. I honestly mean that with all my heart," he said. "... I look up to you, and I thank you for your fight in the cause of life. I thank you for giving so generously."

An award and a new project

The evening's program also included the annual Father Crossman Culture of Life Award, given in recognition of someone who has done long-term pro-life work. This year, the award went to Gail Checco, of Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing, who was taken completely by surprise at the announcement.

Checco, who after some of her own life decisions got involved in post-abortion ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard, has brought those ministries to northern Minnesota and shown compassion, generosity and love, said emcee Niki Corbin.

After she made her way to the podium through a gauntlet of well-wishers offering hugs, Checco said, "As [Corbin] read, there's been a lot in my past, and I can only hope that God continues to use me in the Culture of Life," she said.

The award is named for a deceased Duluth priest who was a stalwart of the pro-life movement. Past honorees are Rosie Agnew and Jim Tuttle, both of Duluth.

The event closed with tantalizing news announced via video message by founder Leah Jacobson. Guiding Star Duluth's next project is to build a maternity house in Duluth geared to mothers in need and seeking life for an unborn child.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Kyle Eller: On freedom of speech, its limits and its obligations

Pope Francis once encouraged young people at World Youth Day to go out and make a holy mess, and one gets the clear impression he likes to do this himself, too -- especially when he gets onto an airplane with journalists.

His recent trip to Asia created at least two such moments, with comments creating world headlines and a little confusion. The one that occupied my mind most was his remarks about freedom of expression, made in response to a question from a French journalist.

Kyle Eller

Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

"As for freedom of expression: each one not only has the freedom, the right but also the obligation to say what one thinks to help the common good. The obligation!" he said, citing the example of a legislator who would be failing in his duty if he didn't speak out.

Then he qualified it, saying there are "limits": "We have the obligation to say openly, to have this liberty, but without giving offense, because it is true, one cannot react violently. But if Dr. Gasbarri [the papal trip organizer who was standing beside him], a good friend, says a bad word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. But it's normal, it's normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith."

This leaves a lot of questions, especially for Americans who value free speech so highly. Who sets the limits or determines what's offensive: the government, the aggrieved, the individual speaking? Was he speaking practically, politically, morally?

I understand the angst. I'm what we used to call an "ink-stained wretch": a writer, a newspaperman. Some of the million-plus words I've put in print over my career have caused offense, usually unintentionally but often in a way that was foreseeable.

Among my biggest heroes are people I admire in part for boldly speaking unpopular and even "illegal" truths.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest and martyr, was sent to Auschwitz in part for his anti-Nazi writing. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great dissident, was ostracized, persecuted and exiled for speaking out in Soviet Russia against the gulag and communism and for God.

It is sobering to think that in our country and in much of the Western world expressing certain Catholic beliefs is often seen as offensive or even "hate speech" by those in power. In some countries people have been hauled before tribunals over it.

Yet in practice we all agree there are limits. People can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, libel someone in the newspaper, post your medical records online, incite people to riot. These are basically moral limits on free speech imposed by civil law, and we're glad for them. That's to say nothing of the limits placed by social pressures.

Yet I think all of this kind of misses Pope Francis' point. I think he's pointing to something deeper in how we think about freedom.

As with many subjects, the Catholic view of freedom proposes something deeper than the popular view. Popular culture sees freedom as lack of outside constraints. Freedom is the ability to do as I please. The church's vision roots freedom in the duty to do the good. In other words, freedom is a means to an end; it's for something. For instance I have religious freedom so that I can seek the truth about God and follow it. I have economic freedom so that I can support my family and contribute to society.

I think we cannot fully understand a particular freedom until we understand what it's for. To what duties is it connected? What good does it enable me to pursue? Understanding this also helps us see what, if any, limits there might be on this freedom.

So what is freedom of expression for? The pope pointed to the answer at the beginning of his response. He said we have an obligation to say what we think -- or, to put it another way, to bear witness to the true, the good and the beautiful -- as a way of serving the common good, of society.

I think this makes the matter a lot clearer.

Hundreds of thousands of people gather for the March for Life every year to propose to society a deep conviction that a good society protects the innocent and respects the dignity of the human person. We could not remain silent about such a thing without failing in a duty we have to our fellow citizens.

Much the same applies to the people who disagree with us. Their views contradict the common good profoundly, but they nevertheless have the duty to speak their genuine convictions, and they serve the good by doing so, at least opening a path for dialogue and pursuit of truth.

When we think about it this way, the limits become clearer too. Things like libeling people or inciting riots or yelling "fire" in a crowded room contradict what freedom of expression is for in a way that even being sincerely and profoundly wrong doesn't. I would say the kind of deliberate insult and mockery the pope was talking about often falls in a similar category.

That doesn't directly answer all of the thorny questions people have raised on the level of policies. But it does help us think about how we exercise our own freedom of expression, and what kinds of expression by others we want to support and consume -- or don't.

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

Cuban cardinal: ‘Thaw’ in U.S.-Cuba relations due to prayer, dialogue

The move to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States has inaugurated “a new time ... for encounter and dialogue” between the two countries and is cause for great hope, said the cardinal of Havana.

“The wall of distrust between the United States and Cuba seemed indestructible,” said Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, referring to the 52-year-long U.S. embargo against Cuba.

“Nothing, however, is impossible with God, if we do not resign ourselves,” he continued. “Throughout the years, we did not lose hope.”

Cardinal Ortega was speaking at Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran Feb. 9 during a Mass to mark the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Sant’Egidio Community. The Italian lay movement, whose mission is largely among the poor, operates in more than 70 countries, including Cuba.

After 18 months of secret talks, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in mid-December their decision to normalize diplomatic and trade relations. Both leaders credited Pope Francis with helping to secure the deal. The pope had been following and supporting the talks. He had also written personal letters to both leaders, and the Vatican hosted a secret meeting last fall.

In his homily, Cardinal Ortega said the pope’s “extraordinary initiative” brought about “the miracle of a thaw” in relations between the two countries and “the end of a time that seemed never-ending.”

“My heart is full of great hope for the future of the Cuban people and I am happy to share this joy with you this evening,” he told those assembled.

The cardinal also attributed this new period in U.S.-Cuba relations to “patience in weaving dialogue and perseverance in prayer.”

“Dialogue is the bearer of good for everyone,” he said.

He noted the ongoing conflicts worldwide, calling for prayers for the situations in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. He said he hoped the sea change in relations between Cuba and the U.S. could “be contagious to the entire world” so that dialogue may be taken up where there is fighting.

— Laura Ieraci/Catholic News Service

Minnesota Catholic Conference expects church-backed bills to draw support from both sides of the aisle

With the state House of Representatives switching to Republican control after last fall’s elections and the Senate and governor’s office still in DFL hands, one might expect a fair amount of gridlock during the 2015 legislative session.

But the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops, sees possibilities where others may see only potential polarization.

Get involved
  • Stay in touch with the work of the Minnesota Catholic Conference through the Catholic Advocacy Network. Sign up at to receive monthly e-updates and legislative advocacy action alerts.
  • You can also “like” the
    MCC’s Facebook page and
    follow the organization on Twitter

“It’s an opportunity to be a bridge-builder,” Jason Adkins said. “I think that’s one of the church’s vital responsibilities in the public arena: to help legislators and the public to transcend that partisan divide and look for opportunities where we can work together to advance the common good.”

The MCC started the session, which began Jan. 6, with a focus on several issues that aren’t receiving much media attention, he said, but they are issues on which the church can provide leadership as well as demonstrate the wide range of its social teaching.

The following are among the MCC’s legislative priorities this year:

Giving parents more choice in education

“A lot of our schools are failing. A lot of kids are trapped in failing schools, and they need an opportunity to find a school that best serves their needs,” said Adkins. “We also need to help close the achievement gap.”

The MCC will advocate in favor of two education initiatives:

— A tax credit bill: This would allow individuals, organizations and corporations to contribute to a scholarship-granting organization and receive a tax credit for the contribution. The SGO would then award scholarships to students that would offset tuition expenses at the schools of their choice. To qualify for a scholarship, the income of the student’s family would need to be at or below 300 percent of what qualifies for participation in the federal school lunch program. Eighty percent of the donation would qualify for the tax credit. The entire program is capped at $80 million.

— Educational savings accounts for children with disabilities: “Children with special needs especially need opportunities to find the resources and institutions that best serve them,” Adkins said. This proposal would essentially give parents a “debit card” to use state dollars designated for their child for educational opportunities that best serve him or her. “Some might think that both of these educational programs would cost the state money, but they’re actually going to save the state money,” Adkins said. “So this is a win-win for everybody.”

Creating a Legislative Surrogacy Commission

In the last few years, the MCC has opposed attempts to legalize surrogate birth contracts in the state. Commercial surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman carries to term a child, who is not hers biologically, for the intended parents. Such contracts often take advantage of women in financial need, Adkins said.

Efforts to legalize commercial surrogacy continue. As a result, the MCC is supporting the creation of a legislative commission that would take more time than the normal committee process to study the issue of surrogacy and its impact on children, women and society.

“We need to get beyond a People magazine approach to this issue that is dominated by feel-good propaganda and instead really explore the issue in sufficient detail before we make Minnesota an epicenter of the surrogacy business,” Adkins said. “We think there are significant challenges and problems with surrogacy arrangements, particularly when they are done for money.”

Places that have convened such commissions, including New York and Canada, have ended up banning commercial surrogacy and the sale of reproductive material, he said.

Providing information and resources to women who receive adverse diagnoses in prenatal testing

The MCC is working with major disability advocacy groups in favor of a bill requiring doctors to provide pregnant women whose babies are diagnosed with certain chromosomal conditions with accurate information from a state Department of Health website, including resources such as support networks.

The bill would cover diagnoses for Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), Trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) and Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome).

“Oftentimes, people are told information, even by doctors, about short life expectancies and low quality of life in these cases,” Adkins said. “But, in fact, these lives can be beautiful lives that are a great gift to families and others. We want to make sure that people who receive these diagnoses aren’t overly discouraged, that they have the accurate information they need to deal with these difficult situations.

“It also combats what Pope Francis calls a ‘throwaway culture,’ in which people are deemed ‘inconvenient’ if they have high health-care costs or disabilities, whether it’s at the beginning of life or end of life,” he said. “We really want to push back on that. We believe it’s important to uphold the sanctity of life at all stages, even in difficult situations, and to protect people with disabilities.”

Restoring voting rights to ex-offenders

The MCC supported efforts during last year’s legislative session to restore voting rights to Minnesotans with past felony convictions who are no longer incarcerated. Those efforts will continue during this year’s session.

This effort “is about restoring people to the community and giving them opportunities for responsible citizenship,” Adkins said. “You and I might take voting for granted. But for people who have committed crimes and who have been denied the opportunity to vote because of that, having that opportunity to vote again is a powerful way in which they feel restored to the community.”

The MCC also is concerned about related issues such as education, housing and employment opportunities for ex-offenders, which is why it supported “ban-the-box” legislation a few years ago, prohibiting employers from asking a prospective employee about his or her criminal history until the applicant is selected for a job interview.

“Those who have been disenfranchised have told us that if we don’t give people opportunities to become stakeholders and participate in society as responsible citizens, we shouldn’t be surprised if they offend again,” Adkins said.

Supporting provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

The MCC supports efforts to provide provisional driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria as a way to strengthen families and communities and create a safer driving environment for everyone in the state. Similar legislation has been passed in other states.

“This is a challenging conversation right now, but we need to give immigrants, including working families, the opportunity to attend church, take their kids to school and go to their jobs without the fear of being stopped and deported,” Adkins said. “It makes sense from a public safety standpoint but also from an insurance and justice standpoint. It’s about giving people the transportation access they need to do the basic things in life.”

Ongoing education efforts needed

In addition to the work it does at the State Capitol, the Minnesota Catholic Conference also is involved in educational efforts to help Catholics and others gain a better understanding of important issues with public policy ramifications.

Jason Adkins, MCC executive director, identified three topics that need further attention from Catholics around the state:

Gender-related issues

“We have to have a proper understanding of the human person,” Adkins said. “There is a gender ideology that is getting more and more aggressive in trying to assert in public policy that gender is essentially malleable, an identity a person can choose to put on and take off at will. . . . It adds an incredible amount of confusion to who we are as persons.”

Adkins said, “The rational defense of our positions on the human person is vitally important for preserving religious liberty.”

The ‘throwaway culture’

Adkins points to what he calls the “inevitable push” in Minnesota to allow for assisted suicide legislation. “We really need to talk about the dignity of life, even in difficult circumstances,” he said. The MCC is currently developing an end-of-life care guide as a practical resource for Catholics.

Environmental stewardship

Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology, due out sometime in the spring, will give Catholics an opportunity to talk about a wide range of environmental issues, including how they impact the world’s poor. The MCC is organizing a Catholic event on climate change and environmental stewardship this fall in light of the encyclical.

“Being pro-life means we also need to be concerned about the air children breathe, the food they eat and the world they play in,” he said. “This is part of developing a consistent ethic of life.”

— Joe Towalski

Water, water, from everywhere: Youths collect holy water from every parish in the diocese for new baptismal font

When St. Michael Church in Duluth completed a major construction project, the parish wanted a way to get one particular group in the mix. “We wanted to find a way for the teens and the younger people in our youth group to be involved in some way,” said Jake Nelson, youth minister and pastoral associate of the parish.

Jake Nelson stands next to new St. Michael baptismal font

Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross
Jake Nelson, youth minister and pastoral associate at St. Michael in Duluth, joined members of the parish youth group to obtain holy water from all 83 parishes of the Diocese of Duluth for the new St. Michael’s baptismal font.

The beautiful idea proposed by the parish’s pastor, Father William Graham, was to have them go out to all the parishes in the Diocese of Duluth and collect holy water which would then be put into the new baptismal font. The idea was to symbolize the unity of the church in every part of the world.

It all came together at a Mass in the parish with Bishop Paul Sirba celebrating the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 11.

“We had all 83 parishes,” Nelson said — and more. As people started hearing about the project, there were gifts of water from other places, One person gave water from Ireland. Father Richard Kunst of St. John in Duluth gave water from the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptized.

A big undertaking

“When Jake first sent out the email, I was like, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” said Sam Likar, a high school junior and one of the students who ended up collecting several bottles of holy water. She said people were very apprehensive and didn’t know how it would all get done, but Nelson encouraged them, and Likar also got support closer to home.

“My mom was my main motivator,” she said.

She not only encouraged, she assisted. “She drove me and two of my good girlfriends, because we’re terrible with directions,” Likar said.

The longest trip for her was to Tower and Ely, and along the way they encountered dense fog and were on the road until past dark. Every parish they tried was a little different, sometimes with Mass or something going on but more often with no one at the church, and the students looking to find the right door.

“It was fun,” she said. “It was an adventure.”

She said her friends were laughing the whole way, and they kept things fun with a couple of classic rock CDs and a CD of motivational music her mom played when they struck out at a couple of parishes.

Likar said she also got a few bottles around Duluth.

Nelson said about a dozen students participated to varying degrees, and he agreed that at first the students were a bit overwhelmed at the task, but once they got going and the work got divided up, it seemed less daunting.

Although it was a semester-long project, “most of it probably got done in about the last month,” he said.

In fact, Nelson went to eight parishes himself, including some of the really difficult ones people were having trouble getting. He estimates he logged about 1,000 miles himself. Among everyone involved he guessed there were “probably several thousand miles of driving.”

The blessing

At the Mass, the students processed to the new baptismal font and brought all the water they collected with them, pouring them in one bottle at a time.

Likar said it was a little beyond what she expected, but it ended up being “really nice.” She said each bottle brought back a memory of what it took to get it. Each student was noted in the parish bulletin, along with the parishes from which they had collected holy water.

“It seems like a simple thing, but they all said they enjoyed that experience,” Nelson said. “... It was a fitting way to kind of sum up the project, I think.”

Nelson and Likar said parishioners were happy about the project and happy to see young people involved in parish life.

The font itself was made of marble in Morgan Park and designed so that a catechumen can step into it to be baptized.

Nelson said the project is only one part of a larger renovation project just completed that was initiated by the late Father Tom Radaich and carried through with energy and vision by Father Graham. It included an elevator, a redone roof and other improvements.

“The parish really came together to make it happen,” Nelson said.

He said that while the physical project is complete, the spiritual project to which it is connected, of growing parish life, is ongoing.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Archbishop Schwietz celebrates anniversary with Mass and memories

By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross — Oblate Archbishop Roger Schwietz, the seventh bishop of Duluth and now archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, said it was a “strange feeling to be back here in this pulpit.”

“It’s so good to be with you,” he added, as he began his homily at a Mass celebrating the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth Feb. 2.

Archbishop Schwietz

Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross
Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz presides at Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in Duluth, where he was ordained a bishop 25 years ago. Joining him at the anniversary Mass were Bishop Paul Sirba and priests of the Duluth Diocese and Alaska.

He was joined by Bishop Paul Sirba, by a priest and seminarians who traveled with him from Anchorage and by a small group of diocesan clergy. (Many priests from the Duluth Diocese were on retreat.)

Archbishop Schwietz, who served as bishop in Duluth from 1990 to 2001 and has served Anchorage for the past 15 years, said the day’s reading from the prophet Malachi, which promised that the Lord would come to his own Temple, must have seemed difficult to understand.

“So God in his own marvelous way creatively fulfills the prophecy,” he said, with the Lord becoming “one of us, taking on our human nature.”

This was for a purpose: to suffer and die for us and thus to conquer death. But the mystery continues, the archbishop said, in that he chose the Twelve Apostles — weak, ordinary men — to continue his work, and even more mysteriously that he continues to carry on that mission of shepherding and guiding the church in ordinary people today.

“The magnitude of that trust of the Lord, that mystery of God continuing to work the work of the Good Shepherd through ordinary human beings, really hit me when I received the call from the apostolic nuncio on the 12th of December in 1989 informing me that I had been chosen by Pope John Paul II to shepherd these people in this local church, the Diocese of Duluth,” he said.

“Of course at first I didn’t believe him,” he added. “I thought it was one of my brother Oblates pulling my leg.”

He said the magnitude of that trust hit him in an even more profound way in the Cathedral in Duluth when he was ordained, and in the days leading up to it as he reflected on how his service as a priest at St. Thomas in International Falls and at the West End parishes that became Holy Family in Duluth had been God’s preparation, along with his work alongside previous bishops Paul Anderson and Robert Brom.

“And I’ll never forget when Archbishop Roach poured the Chrism over my head and down my neck and all over me that indeed was a great act of God, that God was here,” he said.

He said that something similar is working out in each of our lives.

“As we look back at our lives, we realize more and more that there are no surprises for God, there are just different ways that he works in us and through us, in a very careful and loving way,” Archbishop Schwietz said.

He said his heart was filled with gratitude and asked for prayers that he will continue in his ministry of “fidelity to the truth and compassion toward God’s beloved people.”

“And I pledge my prayers to you always,” he said.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Jan. 22 events are evidence our march for life continues

On the outside, the Red Bull Crashed Ice course enveloped the Cathedral of St. Paul. On the inside, thousands of prolifers thanked God for the gift of life and pleaded for his mercy and forgiveness at the annual Prayer Service for Life.

The day was Jan. 22. The March for Life continues.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

For me, the day of the march and the days leading up to it are days of reflection, prayer and action for life.

I hosted dinner at my house earlier in the week to support the tremendous work of our Women’s Care Center. After the March, I had the privilege of attending the fourth annual Together for Life Banquet supporting the work of Guiding Star.

Lee Stuart, the executive director of CHUM, invited me to tour the new Steve O’Neill apartments and witness your generosity for the homeless firsthand. The MCCL March for Life at the State Capitol has been a mainstay for me pretty much since 1973, missed only in favor of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., or factors beyond my control.

Why do I and why do you, as Catholics, support all efforts on behalf of life? Because “life is good!”

Bishop Lee Piché of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis led us in prayer and told the story of a fifth-grader who had recently sent him a letter. The theme and title of a book, “If I Had Not Come,” was the topic of the fifth-grader’s letter and Bishop Piché’s meditation.

He asked us to imagine a world in which Jesus Christ had not come. The thought is terrifying: “Where would we be if Christ had not come? And yet, the Gospel tells us that when he did come, when he was about to be born in Bethlehem, ‘there was no room for them in the inn’ ” (Luke 2:7).

How we answer that question should cause us to reflect on how we answer the question with respect to every human life. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. What would our world be like if this one or that one of us had not come?

Our society has changed

We see the immense consequences of the answer to that question and why legalized abortion has inflicted such a great wound on our society, because it has turned us “from a people who make room for others into a people who say to a brother or sister, ‘It is better for us if you do not come,’” to quote Bishop Piché.

In the examination of conscience, I was moved to repent of the times I have ever looked at a brother or sister and, for whatever reason, considered them to be a burden instead of a precious gift. I begged forgiveness for thinking negatively about a brother or sister instead of imagining their tremendous value and worth and potential for good as an image of God.

However we choose to remain active in the witness to and work on behalf of life, we pray that God might use us as a voice for the voiceless unborn. From there we move to defend and uphold our brothers and sisters enslaved by human trafficking, racism, the immigrant, the elderly, the homeless and the poorest of the poor.

Our pro-life family

For me, the March for Life is like a family reunion.

I had the opportunity to thank Leo LaLonde, MCCL’s president and a parishioner of St. Joseph’s in Grand Rapids, for his longtime work on behalf of life.

I greeted Peter Kostecka and Kaleb Quast, two of our seminarians who attend Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona and were attending the March with their fellow seminarians.

I also had a short visit with Sister Amata Marie, a Duluth native and a member of the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, on the plaza in front of the State Capitol building. To all of you who marked the day with prayer, reparation and witness, I thank you!

In the afternoon, my family celebrated my mother’s 91st birthday. I delighted as my siblings, their children and grandchildren, and an ever-growing family celebrated her life. If she had not come, none of us would be here.

Bishop Paul D. Sirba is the ninth Bishop of Duluth.

125th anniversary celebration to include Eucharistic Procession through Duluth Sept. 12

Entire diocese invited to witness to and celebrate Catholic faith

The Northern Cross

Celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Diocese of Duluth, which kicked off last October, will end in a big way, with all the faithful of the diocese invited to join together in a public Eucharistic Procession through the City of Duluth on Sept. 12.

The event, which will end with Mass and a celebration at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, is meant to be both a public witness to the faith and a celebration of it. Diocesan officials have also revealed a theme for the anniversary: “Celebrating 125 Years: Our Story, Our Faith.”

This large closing celebration for the whole church is still in the planning stages, but in the meantime there are still anniversary events taking place in other parts of the diocese, by deanery.

The Virginia Deanery gets things rolling first, on March 1 at 3 p.m. The event will take place at St. Martin in Tower and include Mass and a history presentation.

On its heels is the Hibbing Deanery. There will be a holy hour and history presentation at St. Joseph Church in Grand Rapids March 8, beginning at 5 p.m.

The Cloquet Deanery is next, with prayer, a meal and a history presentation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 27, at Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet.

The Brainerd Deanery’s event will inclue a holy hour, a blessing of volunteers, a meal and more at St. Francis Church in Brainerd Sunday, Aug. 16, in the afternoon.

Pope Leo XIII established the Duluth Diocese in 1889 and named its first bishop, James McGolrick, a few months later. Celebration of the anniversary began last October with Bishop Paul Sirba, the diocese’s ninth bishop, transferring the diocesan patronal feast, Our Lady of the Rosary, to Oct. 5 and celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth.

Reminder: Registration open for men's, women's conferences

By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The diocesan men’s conference is on its fourth year and the women’s conference on its third, and both are moving to Marshall School in Duluth this year.

The Duluth Catholic Men’s Conference is set for Feb. 21 and will feature two speakers, Deacon Ralph Poyo and, for a session in the afternoon, youth minster Nic Davidson.

Deacon Poyo, a national speaker who founded New Evangelization Ministries and is sought for Steubenville Youth Conferences, will give sessions on Jesus, discipleship and pornography. He is coming from North Carolina.

“He is passionate about helping others to make Catholicism more a way of life, rather than just a religious identity,” said Deacon John Weiske, one of the conference organizers.

Davidson, a Duluthian now living in New York, will give a talk on Theology of the Body, a subject on which he speaks nationally.

Deacon Weiske said there will be one change in format.

“Having enough time for confessions has been a challenge,” he said. So in the morning Deacon Poyo will be repeating one of his sessions, allowing organizers to invite half of the men to go confession the first time and the other half the second.

“We’re hoping this will allow all the men who want to go to confession to go to confession,” he said.

He said the facilities at Marshall seem excellent for the expected 400 to 450 attendees, including more accessibility, with no stairs needed to get to the auditorium.

As usual, the conference will include lunch and Mass with Bishop Paul Sirba.

Women’s turn in March

The women’s conference on March 7 will be focused on the “Joy of the Gospel,” a major theme of Pope Francis, and the first 400 guests registered will receive of copy of Pope Francis’ document on the subject, said Betsy Kneepkens, director of marriage and family life for the Duluth Diocese.

This year the conference features two speakers: Hallie Lord, author, editor and founder of the Edel Gathering, speaking on the beauty of the church’s teaching on the vocations of marriage and authentic womanhood, and Kelly Wahlquist, assistant director of the Catechetical Institute for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Lord is from South Carolina. “Hallie is a wife, mother of six children, and she’s a convert to Cathlicism,” Kneepkens said.

Wahlquist, she said, weaves personal stories and gives practical advice to live the joy of the Gospel with missionary zeal. She is also founder of WINE: Women In the New Evangelization, and a contributing writer for and The Integrated Catholic Life.

As in years past, there will be Mass, confession, adoration and the opportunity to pray the rosary, with a welcome by Bishop Sirba. Benedictine Sister Lisa Maurer of St. Scholastica Monastery will be the emcee. Kneepkens said the conference has also expanded the vendors to include items like jewelry.

“We anticipate well over 400 participants,” she said.

Both conferences have early registration dates coming up. For the men’s conference, priority registration ends Feb. 9. After that date, the fee rises from $25 to $35.

For the women’s conference, the cost is $30, and registration closes Feb. 20. Lunch and materials are not guaranteed after that date.

More registration information about both conference is available at the diocesan website,

For the men’s conference, registration forms are also available from parish offices.