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Pope sends aid to those hit by disasters in Haiti, Bangladesh, Vietnam

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will be sending nearly a quarter of a million dollars to help people in Haiti, who are struggling in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake during a global pandemic.

The Vatican's Dicastery for Integral Human Development said in a communique released Aug. 24 that the pope had decided to send "an initial contribution" of $235,000 (200,000 euros) to assist the earthquake victims during this "emergency phase," following the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Haiti Aug. 14.

At least 2,200 people died, more than 12,000 others were  injured and nearly 53,000 houses destroyed, according to local authorities.

The donation is meant to be "an immediate expression” of Pope Francis' "feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement" for the people there.

The money will be distributed -- in collaboration with the Vatican's nunciature in Haiti -- to those dioceses most affected by the disaster, the dicastery said. It will add to the aid being sent throughout the Catholic Church thanks to efforts led by bishops' conferences and numerous charitable organizations.

The dicastery said the pope had also decided to send an initial emergency contribution of about $69,000 to the people of Bangladesh, who were hit by Cyclone Yaas in May. Tidal waves flooded coastal settlements and damaged homes, dikes and crops. The saline sea water contaminated ponds and drinking water sources.

The pope was also sending about $120,000 to the people of Vietnam, who are facing serious difficulties because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diabetic priest who had COVID-19 sets up center to help Malawians

MZUZU, Malawi (CNS) -- After recovering from COVID-19, a 64-year-old diabetic priest in a town in northern Malawi set up a center to help others avoid his own plight.

"I would never have survived (COVID-19) if my cousin hadn't been a doctor and able to help me," Father John Benjamin Moyo, parish priest of St. Peter's Cathedral in Mzuzu, told Catholic News Service.

In late December, Father Moyo felt unusually weak while tending crops in his backyard.

"I thought I must have malaria," he said, noting that he has had the life-threatening disease many times.

"We've learned to live with it here," he said. Malaria spreads to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

When he tested negative for malaria at St. John of God hospital, next to the cathedral parish house where he lives, Father Moyo was treated for an infection.

"But I felt strange and so weak," he said. "And, while I didn't have a fever, everything was so painful -- even my eyes hurt." He realized he must have COVID-19, and a test confirmed this.

While his oxygen and blood-sugar levels showed that he needed hospitalization, he had nowhere to go. St. John's had no isolation section, and the town's government hospital, which was set up to treat COVID-19 patients, was full.

In bed at home for seven days, "I would sleep as though I was dying," Father Moyo said. "I was so helpless and I knew that, with diabetes, this was very dangerous for me. I also knew many people had died -- so I felt this might be the end for me, too.”

Father Moyo called his cousin, who is a doctor and runs a busy clinic about three miles from the priest's house. "He heard me gasping for breath and said, 'Come here and stay with me.'”

After receiving oxygen for a few days in a room that his cousin prepared for him in the clinic, Father Moyo began to feel better and returned home. His place with his cousin was quickly taken by others in a similar position.

"I realized the enormous need and was very aware of my privilege through my cousin," Father Moyo said.

With this in mind and with Mzuzu Bishop John A. Ryan's backing, he raised funds through friends in Germany to start a COVID-19 center within St John's hospital.

The center opened in January and by mid-August had treated 66 critically ill people, Father Moyo said, noting that, of these, 54 have recovered. Six people died and another six are still receiving treatment.

"It's small, but it's made a huge difference," he said, noting that funds are still needed for more oxygen supplies and medicine.

As of Aug. 24, Malawi, which has a population of 19 million people, has had more than 59,600 cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,000 deaths.

Catholic Relief Services and Malawi's Catholic health commission are working with the southeast African country's health ministry to get vaccines to people in remote areas, said Molly Kumwenda, who works for CRS in the capital, Lilongwe.

Kumwenda said that at least 728,700 vaccines have been administered in Malawi since rollout began in late March.

"We go into communities so that people can be vaccinated close to where they live," rather than travel 10 miles to the nearest clinic, she told CNS.

"It's much easier to persuade people to be vaccinated when they can walk to get it done," said Colyta Muwowo, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Mzuzu and a community volunteer.

Court ruling upholding Texas abortion law called ‘long-awaited victory’

HOUSTON (CNS) -- A spokeswoman with Texas Right to Life said a federal appeals court ruling upholding the Texas Dismemberment Abortion Ban is a "long-awaited victory" Texans are celebrating.

"Anyone can see the cruelty of dismemberment abortions, ripping a child's body apart while her heart is still beating," said Kimberlyn Schwartz, the organization's Director of Media and Communication. "We're grateful the judges recognized this horror.”

The Aug. 18 ruling from the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans, upheld the state's 2017 law, reversing previous court rulings that blocked it. It also reversed an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit upholding a block on it.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the panel's ruling and the full court agreed to hear the case.

A majority of the 14 judges who heard the case ruled in favor of Texas; three judges on the 5th Circuit recused themselves. The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The law was first passed and signed into law in 2017 but has never gone into effect because of court challenges.

Except in cases of medical need for the mother, the law effectively bans a common second-trimester abortion procedure called a D&E for "dilation and evacuation" by physicians. Texas uses the terminology "dismemberment abortion.”

"Dismemberment is not a medical term (but) it is often used to describe the process by which the abortion is committed on the unborn child," according to an "Issues Analysis" paper by the Family Research Council.

The National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook says D&E "remains the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA.”

The Texas law requires doctors to stop the heart of the fetus with intrafetal digoxin, or cause what they called "fetal demise," before the commonly used dilation and evacuation abortion procedure.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and other opponents of the law object to this, claiming use of digoxin puts an "undue burden" on the woman because it "causes demise slowly over a 24-hour period," resulting in additional trips for the woman.

According to a story in The Texan, a statewide political news organization, the majority ruling disagreed with that assessment, pointing to the fact "consent forms at a number of abortion clinics -- including some that sued -- call digoxin safe.”

The majority said, therefore, the 2017 law did not violate the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 ruling in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which stressed that a state regulation on abortion could not impose an "undue burden" on a woman "seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

The 5th Circuit's ruling used the description "dismemberment" for this abortion procedure, saying these abortions "are self-evidently gruesome" and said alternative second-trimester abortion methods are just as safe.

"It has long been illegal to kill capital prisoners by dismemberment. ... It is also illegal to dismember living animals," the ruling said. The state urges that (the law) would simply extend the same protection to fetuses.”

"Texas is a national leader in protecting and fostering respect for human life, including unborn life. I will defend the state's lawful authority to protect the dignity of unborn children by prohibiting these barbaric dismemberment abortions," Paxton said in a statement.

"During the trial, we demonstrated that this law is constitutional and consistent with acceptable medical ethics." he said.

Another of the state's pro-life laws, the Texas Heartbeat Act, is scheduled to take effect Sept. 1. It bans most abortions in the state as early as six weeks, "when the baby's heartbeat is detectable by the most common methods," said Texas Right to Life.

The law allows any citizen to hold an abortion accountable for violating the law through private lawsuits.

On Aug. 23, Dallas attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel filed suit in a Texas court against the law and requested a temporary restraining order to block its enforcement.

Pope encourages people to rediscover importance of Sunday liturgy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –– Pope Francis encouraged new courses of action for parishes to help people understand the importance of Sunday Mass and parish ministries, a top Vatican official wrote in a message.

The message was sent on behalf of the pope Aug. 23 to the 71st National Liturgical Week, by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. The meeting, held Aug. 23-26 in the Italian city of Cremona, brought together pastoral workers, religious and priests to discuss ways to encourage the faithful to attend the Sunday liturgy and participate in other liturgical celebrations, rites and the sacraments.

In the written message, the cardinal said the pandemic and its restrictions, which had prevented the faithful from gathering like before, underlined the importance of the liturgy in Christian life.

But, what happened during the pandemic and the difficulty in resuming liturgical activities, he wrote, "confirmed what was already observed at Sunday assemblies on the Italian peninsula, an alarming indication of the advanced stage of an epochal change."

It had been noticed, even long before the pandemic, there has been a shift in how people perceive "time" and "space," which has had repercussions on the meaning of Sunday for most people and how most people experience community and the family, he said.

For this reason, he wrote, the Sunday liturgy, which should be "the true summit" of all parish activities and the source of energy for missionary life, is "off-balanced," in terms of which age groups normally attend, and in terms of the "difficulty in finding a harmonious integration in parish life.”

Cardinal Parolin wrote, "the Holy Father hopes that the National Liturgical Week, with its proposals for reflection and moments of celebration ... may identify and suggest some liturgical pastoral care guidelines to offer parishes, so that Sunday, the eucharistic assembly, ministries and the rites may emerge from the margins, from which they seem inexorably to be falling, and regain their centrality in the faith and spirituality of believers.

Cardinal Burke remains hospitalized, but he’s off ventilator, out of ICU

LA CROSSE, Wis. (CNS) -- Cardinal Raymond L. Burke remained hospitalized for COVID-19 but as of Aug. 21 he was taken off a ventilator that he had been on for some days and taken out of the ICU to be returned to a regular hospital room, according to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse.

Father Paul N. Check, executive director of the shrine in Cardinal Burke's home diocese, relayed an announcement about the cardinal from his family on the cardinal's official Twitter account @cardinalrlburke and on the shrine website.

"Praised be Jesus Christ!" the priest said. "His sister spoke with him on the phone this morning, and His Eminence expressed his deep gratitude for the many prayers offered on his behalf.”

"His family asks that we continue those prayers for his full and speedy recovery," the priest said, "and they are grateful to God for the exceptional medical care the cardinal has received from the dedicated doctors and nurses who continue to assist him.”

Father Check did not give the cardinal's location. In an earlier statement, he said the cardinal's family "does not plan to disclose his location" but thanked the faithful for prayers and rosaries being said for him.

"The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the cardinal's media will provide further updates as directed by his family," Father Check’s Aug. 21 statement said.

In an Aug. 14 tweet, Cardinal Burke's official Twitter account said the 73-year-old prelate had been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 and was "being assisted by a ventilator. Doctors are encouraged by his progress.”

The cardinal had first tweeted Aug. 10: "Praised be Jesus Christ! I wish to inform you that I have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Thanks be to God, I am resting comfortably and receiving excellent medical care. Please pray for me as I begin my recovery. Let us trust in Divine Providence. God bless you.”

The cardinal has not made it public knowledge on whether he was vaccinated for the 2019 coronavirus.

The Vatican had started offering all Vatican residents, retirees and employees the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech mid-January 2021. The cardinal was eligible for the vaccine as a member of the College of Cardinals and a member of the Apostolic Signatura, which he led as prefect from 2008 until his resignation in 2014.

Cardinal Burke has expressed concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, including that it is "never morally justified to develop a vaccine through the use of the cell lines of aborted fetuses. The thought of the introduction of such a vaccine into one's body is rightly abhorrent.”

He also said, "Vaccination itself cannot be imposed, in a totalitarian manner, on citizens.”

In December, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, citing church teaching, said that when alternative vaccines are not available, it is morally acceptable to receive vaccines developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses, in this case, including COVID-19 vaccines.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines did not use abortion-derived cell lines in developing or producing their vaccines, but they did in lab testing.

Cardinal Burke is a native of Richland Center, Wisconsin, in the La Crosse Diocese, and served as bishop of that diocese from 1995 to 2004, as archbishop of St. Louis from 2004 to 2008, and as prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Signature from 2008 to 2014.

While he was La Crosse's bishop, Cardinal Burke founded the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

While the cardinal often resides in Italy, he travels extensively and was in the United States at the time of sharing the news about contracting the virus.

U.S. missionary nuns fly home after quake to organize shipment to Haiti

LODI, New Jersey (CNS) –– Getting emergency supplies and aid into the Haiti region most impacted by the Aug. 14 earthquake will prove a major logistical challenge, said two missionary nuns who work in Haiti.

"There were some scary situations before (the earthquake), however, nothing like the last two years and especially the last two months in Haiti," Felician Sister Mary Inga Borko, who works in Jacmel, Haiti, told CNS by phone from Lodi, New Jersey.

Her congregation is organizing a container shipment of supplies to Haiti, both for her congregation's mission projects near Jacmel but to the earthquake-affected Les Cayes region.

"Life has changed and people easily cannot go to Port-au-Prince –– you have to pass through the gang neighborhoods; if people have to go, they go at night," said Polish-born Sr. Borko.

Members of the New Jersey community of Felician Sisters first arrived in Haiti shortly after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Four Felician Sisters were at their mission home in Jacmel Aug. 14 when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit. The nuns ran quickly outside, and they continued to do so as aftershocks occurred throughout the day and into the night, said Sr. Borko and Felician Sister Marilyn Marie Minter, who was also in New Jersey assisting with the shipment preparations.

Though the Felician mission was spared from severe damage, 80 miles away the city of Les Cayes was devastated.

Before leaving for the U.S., the sisters emptied their shelves of medications, surgical gloves, clothes, shoes, sheets and bandages and sent them to Les Cayes and to help the medical centers there meet the growing need for supplies. Roads have been destroyed, making it difficult to get help to those who need it.

In Jacmel, Haiti, Felician Sisters Mary Inga Borko and Sister Mary Julitta Kurek pack boxes of clothing and medical supplies to send to Les Cayes Aug. 14, 2021, following the earthquake in southern Haiti. The Felician Sisters of New Jersey, who have a community in Jacmel, are organizing further relief shipments to the Les Cayes region. (CNS photo/courtesy The Felician Sisters)

Families are living in makeshift tents on dirt floors, dreading the mudslides and flooding that often accompany seasonal storms, said Sr. Minter. She said she is living in quarantine since recently arriving in the U.S. but that plans are underway to send supplies from the port at Newark, New Jersey, through Port-au-Prince, which is often a slow and arduous process but necessary.

"This is the fourth container we have sent down over the years: mattresses, clothing, school supplies, household items, plastic tarps for when we have these hurricanes, cleaning items, statues and religious items, stations of the cross and some foodstuffs," Sr. Minter told CNS by phone.

"The hospital in Les Cayes will need to get replenished, but there will be a time when the big aid agencies stop –– for example, how much are you hearing about Haiti with the Afghanistan situation?”

By Aug. 23, the quake's death toll was more than 2,200, with more than 6,000 reported injured. An estimated 53,000 homes were completely destroyed in the quake, with about 77,000 more damaged, according to the BBC.

The U.S. Army is preparing to set up a field hospital in Les Cayes. The USS Arlington arrived in Haiti carrying helicopters, a surgical team and a landing craft to assist in the relief effort. Several countries, including the United States, have already dispatched aid and rescue teams.

Sr. Borko said it is ironic that her community came to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and that now, after so many years, the country is probably in a worse condition today than at that time, due to its ongoing political and economic crisis and the July assassination of Haiti's president.

"Once we had a meeting at which people shared who was kidnapped from their families, and four of the eight people had someone kidnapped in their families –– including one kidnapping that was for a pair of shoes," Sr. Borko said.

In traveling to the U.S. and in order to avoid the dangerous roads connecting Haiti's capital to the southern part of the country, the nuns said they managed to charter a small plane from Jacmel directly to Port-au-Prince before flying to New Jersey Aug. 18.

The Felician Sisters based in Jacmel organize reading and computer literacy and other job training and religious educational programs, as well as a mobile health clinic serving the region.

When the country's political situation settles down, they plan to open a bakery in Jacmel to provide jobs and income for local residents, said Marcia Wallander, chief of mission for the Felician Sisters in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, the sisters will use their time in the U.S. to fundraise and gather supplies for their activities in Haiti.

"It is so complicated to ship to Port-au-Prince," Wallander told CNS.

"The sisters go to the port to pick up the barrels," and sometimes they have to negotiate to get the shipment, she said. "They know how to work within the community and have a ministry of presence, living and working like the people.”

Founded in Poland in 1855, the first Felician Sisters arrived in North America in 1874 to minister to the immigrant and indigenous families of Polonia, Wisconsin. They established eight provinces across the United States and Canada.

Catholics assess Canada's snap election, hope for more turnout

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) –– Although three in five Canadians felt having a federal election this fall was not important to them, the country is headed to its second general election in less than two years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the snap election Aug. 15, with the Liberals pinning their hopes of electoral victory Sept. 20 on their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Opposition parties are calling the announcement an opportunistic bid for a majority government at a time when the country should be focusing on other priorities. The Liberals have led a minority government since the last election in October 2019.

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller urged Catholics to exercise their civic responsibilities thoughtfully and prayerfully by closely following the issues and voting on election day.

"Voting is a serious responsibility that allows us as Christians to bring our values to the ballot box with the intention of positively influencing Canadian society," he said Aug. 19.

He noted that in past elections, the number of practicing Catholics who voted has been lower than the number of voters who do not attend church.

Boosting Catholic election participation is one of the priorities of the nonpartisan civic and political engagement group Catholic Conscience, which is ramping up a Catholic Action campaign to offer voter education resources and increase Catholic voter turnout.

The lay organization hopes to have a national all-parties forum and has already issued invitations for candidates to participate.

In the 2019 federal election, Catholic Conscience worked with the Archdiocese of Toronto on a federal election debate from a Catholic perspective, and in the 2020 Saskatchewan provincial election, it organized online interviews with representatives from each of the parties to ask them questions from a Catholic perspective.

The organization's Catholic Action page for the federal election is live at catholicconscience.org/canada and will be updated to include resources from get-out-the-vote materials for parishes to information on Catholic social teaching, including a comparison of party platforms.

As with past elections, Catholic leaders –– including the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops –– are expected to issue voter guides.

An Angus Reid survey found concerns about climate change and Indigenous issues have risen this summer, while the country's economic situation is also on many minds: 42% of survey respondents said they were "more anxious than hopeful" about Canada's economy, and 16% said they were "very anxious.”

For Catholics, issues of importance are expected to include Indigenous relations, COVID-19 response and expansion of assisted suicide.

With growing support for vaccination passports and coordination between federal and provincial governments, there is concern about the impact on many Canadians. A Conservative candidate who recently spoke out against vaccine passports was barred from running from the party because of his views.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia health officer, has said the province is "looking at all options" regarding passports and has said businesses can make vaccination a condition of employment. She's also asking faith leaders to encourage "only immunized people" to attend services, although she has not yet said the government has enforcement in mind.

The recent expansion of assisted suicide through Bill C-7 has left Canada without any "clear line in the sand" when it comes to euthanasia, said Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

He told The B.C. Catholic that the recent case of a Quebec mother who wants her 4-year-old son to die by euthanasia shows the need to vote for a party "that (minimally) will not continue to expand the killing.”

"Canada is now having an election. Clearly, change is necessary," Schadenberg said.

The pro-life organization Right Now is gearing up to make the election an opportunity for conversation about abortion in Canada.

Earlier this year, Parliament debated the Sex Selective Abortion Act, the first abortion bill before Parliament in more than a decade.

Just weeks before the election was called, Trudeau went to New Brunswick to offer his support for a private abortion clinic seeking provincial government funding. Conservative leader Erin O'Toole also visited New Brunswick and said he would allow the province to decide how abortion is funded in the province.

"Even though Parliament does not have jurisdiction over health care spending, we saw the leaders of the parties taking the opportunity to comment on the situation in New Brunswick even before the election was called," said Tabitha Ewert, legal counsel for We Need a Law.

"Politicians know that abortion is an election issue, and they are ready to engage.”

Archdiocese of Detroit clergy appointments: Aug. 23, 2021

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announces the following appointment:

Fr. Joseph Fox, OP, with the concurrence of his prior provincial, Fr. Kenneth Letoile, OP, appointed Episcopal Vicar for Specialized Canonical Services, effective March 1, 2021. Fr. Fox was previously serving as Vicar for Canonical Services in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Catholic Charities’ La Casa Amiga provides 250 backpacks to students in need

Back to school giveaway eases burden on Hispanic families, connecting donors to recipients through Pontiac-based ministry

PONTIAC  To the outsider, it’s just a backpack. 

But to the child receiving the backpack, it’s a gateway to a better future and a sign of a community that cares. 

Cars pulled in and out of the parking lot of La Casa Amiga, a ministry in Pontiac sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, on Aug. 19 as volunteers waiting with backpacks for kids in need lined the sidewalks. 

The back-to-school drive was possible thanks to donations from generous parishioners, churches, schools and nonprofits throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, said Isabella Agby, director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities

“We’ve been doing this program for a few years, and it’s something families look forward to,” Agby told Detroit Catholic. “The kids actually give a list of supplies we need, so it’s like ‘back to school Christmas,’ for these kids because it’s that big of a deal. It’s not just the basics; each backpack is catered to each child’s need.” 

Alba Carlos of La Casa Amiga, a Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan ministry in Pontiac that serves Hispanic families in need, hands out a backpack to a young student during its annual back to school backpack drive. La Casa Amiga gave away an estimated 250 backpacks on Aug. 19. 

La Casa Amiga — translated as “Friend’s House” — is Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Pontiac-based ministry serving Hispanic families, many of them migrants, in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The ministry includes a legal clinic, social service assistance, English as a second language (ESL) classes, a GED program, financial literacy and job training programs, among others. 

Many of the families La Casa Amiga serves are low income, and with the steep cost of back-to-school shopping, the 200 to 250 backpacks stocked with pens, pencils, notebooks, calculators and other supplies are a huge help to the community. 

“Families in our community have been hit super hard by COVID, and a lot of support services that normally supply backpacks took a huge hit,” said Rebecca Olszewski, director of La Casa Amiga’s legal clinic and community programs. “School supplies are expensive — I have five children, I can tell you how expensive they can be — but we’re super blessed to help our families get what they need.” 

Imelda Hernandez holds four backpacks she picked up for her children at La Casa Amiga’s backpack giveaway. The annual event provides a benefit to families in a financial pinch when it comes to purchasing school supplies. 

The backpack giveaway was organized with the help of volunteers, who spent Wednesday and Thursday packing the individual bags, Agby said. Beyond being specifically catered to each child’s needs, the backpacks also come with a note of encouragement from the packer. 

“The team here at La Casa Amiga helps these families from the moment they come into Michigan,” Agby said, adding families can qualify for assistance based on their income or number of children. “Our team goes through a process of paperwork and registers them in our system, all part of making sure we are helping those most in need.” 

On distribution day, backpacks were neatly ordered on a table, and families came in staggered sessions to La Casa Amiga’s location at 76 Williams Street to pick up the supplies and share words of gratitude. 

Maggie Pano, a staff member at La Casa Amiga, organizes backpacks for distribution Aug. 19 at La Casa Amiga’s Pontiac location. La Casa Amiga donated backpacks at intervals throughout the day to limit congestion and mass gatherings.

“My kids are in the mentoring program at Catholic Charities,” Imelda Hernandez of Rochester, who picked up four backpacks for her children, told Detroit Catholic through a translator. “I have one in high school, two in middle school and one in third grade, and they are excited to come back to school. It’s so stressful to find supplies for each child; it’s so expensive. La Casa Amiga is fantastic.” 

Beyond the financial help for parents, Olszewski said the backpacks and school supplies are a big help for families after a year when many social services were shut down because of COVID concerns. 

“A lot of families have had a really difficult time with COVID and a lack of technological devices for kids to work from home — they were using their parents’ phones,” Olszewski said. “Some school districts are less well off, and couldn’t get tablets and computers until later. By giving these families supplies to participate and learn in school, we’re supporting them in a way they need it most.” 

In addition to pens, pencils, notebooks, calculators and other supplies, each backpack contained a message of support from the volunteer who packed it. 

La Casa Amiga’s backpack drive is just one way Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan reaches out to the community, Agby said. By building relationships with parishes in the community, partner agencies and volunteers, the nonprofit charitable service arm of the Archdiocese of Detroit is able to reach thousands in need each year. 

“This is one of many program that Catholic Charities has put together to help specific communities,” Agby said. “As a whole, we are one big organization, but we have different offices serving the whole six counties of the archdiocese. Each community has a need that is a little different. 

“It’s always nice to have programs like this, bringing neighbors together to provide something that people need,” Agby added, “matching people’s desire to give with people’s needs.” 

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration

In-person registration for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration on Sept. 11 at the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit is sold out, but registration for the virtual livestream is still available for $25. 

This event will include a performance by Catholic singer, storyteller, and inspirational speaker ValLimar Jansen. Proceeds from the event support Catholic Charities’ offices and ministries throughout Metro Detroit, which serve an estimated 20,000 individuals each year. 

Little Sisters mark 150 years of loving care of elderly poor in Washington

WASHINGTON (CNS) ─ Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory celebrated a Mass Aug. 14 to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Washington of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order whose service to the elderly poor in the nation's capital began just after the Civil War and continues in the digital age.

"Arriving here in the United States 150 years ago from France, most had to learn English and American customs and ways," Cardinal Gregory said in his homily during the Mass celebrated in the chapel of the Little Sisters' Jeanne Jugan Residence in Northeast Washington.

When they arrived in Washington, they "found hundreds if not thousands of neglected poor people," he said. "They went right to work and quite successfully to become sisters of these forgotten individuals. They continue to do so 150 years later."

The cardinal noted the religious order chose Little Sisters as its name.

"They are and choose to be servant relatives to the countless people in our community -- and other such communities throughout the globe -- who are needy, neglected, poor, elderly and often alone," he said, adding that as Little Sisters, they become "younger sisters and relatives of those that they care for with such dedication."

"They care for the elderly laity and clergy with a little sister's compassionate heart," he said, and "they have won the hearts of people" not only in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia "but also throughout our nation and beyond."

Washington's archbishop praised the Little Sisters as examples of Jesus's teaching in that day's Gospel reading from Luke, that "those who listen to God's word and try to live by that word are dear to the heart of Christ."

The congregation at the Mass included Little Sisters wearing their white habits, and elderly residents who used wheelchairs or walkers to get to the chapel, and who sat and prayed in alternating pews.

Following COVID-19 safety guidelines for public gatherings in the District of Columbia, the sisters and residents wore face masks at the Mass.

According to the Little Sisters' website, the order traces its beginning to a winter night in 1839, when their French foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, carried an elderly, blind and infirm woman home on a winter night, climbing the stairs to her small apartment and giving up her own bed to the woman who had no one to care for her.

Soon other women joined her work in caring for the elderly poor, and by 1850, the congregation had 100 sisters providing that ministry.

St. Jeanne Jugan, who died in 1879, was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1982 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Just 29 years after their order began with that simple, loving act of charity, the Little Sisters established their first home for the elderly in the United States, in 1868 in Brooklyn, New York. Three years later in 1871, the Little Sisters arrived in Washington.

"I marvel at that courage and their trust in providence. They basically arrived with nothing," said Sister Constance Veit, a Little Sister of the Poor who does communications work for the order and lives at the Jeanne Jugan Residence.

The Little Sisters of the Poor -- who take a vow of hospitality, consecrating themselves to the service of the elderly poor -- themselves experienced hospitality upon arriving in Washington.

In an interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington's archdiocesan newspaper, before Mass, Sister Constance told how the first Little Sisters in Washington were invited by the pastor of St. Patrick's Church, Father Jacob Walter, to begin their home for the aged in his parish.

Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and women from that parish furnished a house for the sisters to use near the church, and had a fire burning, the kitchen full of provisions and served the sisters their first meal.

"Washington stood out for how graciously we were welcomed," Sister Constance said.

In 1873, Father Walter blessed a new home built for the Little Sisters, and "by 1885, we could accommodate 150 residents," Sister Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, provincial of the Little Sisters' Baltimore Province.

"Stables were built and horses, a cow, some pigs and chickens along with a vegetable garden helped provide for the needs of our growing family," she said in a talk after Communion at the anniversary Mass.

Today "we surely don't have these same kinds of commodities today, but we certainly have very generous and loyal benefactors who have continued to support the mission of the Little Sisters in caring for the elderly into 2021," Sister Loraine said.

In 1982, the Little Sisters moved to their present facility near The Catholic University of America and named it for their foundress.

Currently, it serves 64 residents, including at its St. Joseph Villa, a wing of 22 low-income apartments for seniors who are still independent in meeting their daily needs. Twelve Little Sisters live and serve at the residence.

About 1,900 Little Sisters of the Poor serve in 31 countries around the world, including at 22 homes in the United States.

At the anniversary Mass, a pilgrim banner depicting St. Jeanne Jugan was displayed near the altar. A small statue and a relic of the saint were placed near the chapel's lectern.

In her interview before the Mass, Sister Constance noted the challenges the pandemic has presented for the Little Sisters and their elderly residents in Washington.

Strict safety protocols adopted at the Jeanne Jugan Residence included the initial period of lockdown, when the residents had to stay in their rooms, and for many months, they couldn't see their families directly.

Now family members can visit, after having their temperatures checked at the entrance and answering questions to ensure they are not exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.

"We did have deaths from COVID in the beginning," Sister Constance said, noting residents "do miss some friends who they've lost" from that disease and other causes. "The past year and one-half has been really tough on everyone."

The residents, some of whom lived through the Great Depression and World War II, offered an inspiring example amid the restrictions, she said.

"They're quite resilient. They didn't complain. They take things as they come ... and make the best of it," she said. "It's really edifying. ... They've been really good sports."

Sister Constance added, "What has always made our ministry so special is as Little Sisters of the Poor, we have always welcomed the elderly into our hearts and homes. ... They really become family to us."

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington.