Mercy in Uganda: First-person narrative

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Dave and Kathy Wayman of Erie, center, are shown presenting a bicycle to David Kisekka and his mother, Benedicta, at a celebration at St. Philomena School in Lwabikere, Uganda. Kathy and Dave sponsor David and his little brother, Augustine, so that they are able to attend the school. Roads in this remote area of Uganda are just dirt tracks, so bicycles are a useful means of transportation. (Contributed photo)

BY DAVE WAYMAN | SPECIAL TO FAITHLIFE

Editor’s Note: Dave Wayman of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Erie shares his experience of a recent mission trip to Uganda.

Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick. Ransom the captive. Bury the dead.

These are the traditional corporal works of mercy that we are all called to do as Catholic Christians. Most of us reach out in mercy in our own communities, but sometimes, God calls us out of our comfort zone to help those in need in places we never dreamed of going.

For me, it was Africa.

Traveling to Africa was never on my bucket list, but two Lents ago, the Holy Spirit showed me that while giving up sweets is nice, helping someone is actually much better. I decided to sponsor a child through Mary Mission, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit headquartered in Bismark, N.D. The mission had just built St. Philomena Primary and Nursery School, which is located in a rural area of East Africa where an estimated 800 children have lost one or more parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

These children need to learn English and obtain a Catholic education if they ever hope to avoid making the same potential mistakes as some of their parents. They need to be given the chance to advance economically in the wider world outside of their tribal area.

I sponsored a boy, David Kisekka, and my wife, Kathy, sponsored his little brother, Augustine. We were able to help them attend St. Philomena, which currently has 285 students and a waiting list of 400.

I was invited to go along on Mary Mission’s July 2016 trip to the school. Although reluctant at first, the Holy Spirit got the better of that argument, so I went.

I mostly wanted to make sure the charity was legitimate and the work they were doing was worthwhile. I also wanted to be certain that it was safe before Kathy would join me in the future.

To my delight, it was both legitimate and safe. What joy I felt in being part of the mission! I traveled with four others, called “mission partners,” who took clothes, dental supplies and worm medicine, in addition to financial assistance provided by Mary Mission.

What love we were given in return! The people and the children are very poor and deeply appreciative of anything done for them. On the Sunday I was there, we celebrated the first-ever Mass at the school and afterward the children entertained us with dancing and singing and plays for about five straight hours. I was moved to tears several times as I watched them. I remember thinking, “I’ve done virtually nothing to deserve this gift of love I am being given as part of the team.”

God is so good. You really can’t out-do him.

Because it was relatively safe to travel there, Kathy accompanied me on a return trip last July. This time, we had a total of 13 mission partners, including a doctor, two nurses, and Erie resident Nicole Maxson, a student at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

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Nicole Maxson of Erie teaches the finer points of basketball outside St. Philomena School in Lwabikere, Uganda. (Contributed photo)

Donors previously built a basketball court at the school, but the children are not familiar with how basketball is played. There is no electricity, so they are not exposed to the game via television.

A former varsity standout on the Villa Maria Academy basketball team and on the Clarion University women’s basketball team, Nicole didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to be part of our mission team and teach basic basketball skills to the children.

She says: “I learned so many life lessons about who I am as a person, about what I can give to others. The people of Uganda and the children taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: you don’t need much in life to be happy. As long as you have Jesus and those you love around you, all will be well.”

Kathy loved her experience as well, and is eager to return.

“I was most moved by the children—especially the 32 children who made their first Communion in a half-built church that is already full of love—and the faith exuded by the people of the villages,” Kathy says.

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Thirty-two children made their first Communion at St. Philomena School this past summer. (Contributed photo)

St. Philomena School opened in February 2016 and already is bearing much fruit for the faith. The sacraments and the gifts and graces they offer are preparing the children for a better future.

Much has been accomplished by the grace of God, but there is much more to do.

Among the most rewarding experiences of my life has been going to Uganda and seeing so much good accomplished in such a short time—and seeing children and families hopeful about their future. I pray that others listen to their hearts and reach out in mercy, too.

My advice to anyone is, “If the Holy Spirit prompts you to go on a mission, just go, no matter where it leads.”

   Dave Wayman is a retired publisher. He can be reached at dave@americanimages.org. He is willing to speak at parishes and schools about his mission experiences.

 ==================INFORMATION ON MARY MISSION========================

Visit https://marymission.com and/or go to the website of the Ugandan non-governmental organization Green Village Children Center at www.greenvillagechildrencenter.org.

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myParish App to launch soon

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The myParish App is free to all parishes in the Diocese of Erie.

Parishioners of all ages in the Diocese of Erie are ready for their parish to go mobile soon.

Beginning Nov. 18-19, all 97 parishes in the diocese will be in a position to launch myParish App, an easy-to-use parish-based resource through which people may access important information, including Mass and confession times, as well as daily Mass readings from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic news, and an array of common prayers ranging from the Act of Contrition to the Stations of the Cross.

Thirty parishes in the diocese already have customized the app, taking advantage of features such as parish-specific photos, a link to their bulletin and the option to post homilies.

These parishes will invite people to put the app on their phone on Download Sunday (Nov. 19), but any parishioner can download it from the App Store or Google Play.

“Then they can search for their parish and have access to at least the basic features, as well as messages that will come from Bishop [Lawrence] Persico or the diocese,” says Anne-Marie Welsh, director of communications for the Diocese of Erie. “I’ve had the app on my phone for a while, and am a big fan. It’s very easy to navigate, and I especially like having the daily readings on my phone each morning.”

More than 1,800 parishes across the nation are already using myParish App.

“One of the biggest selling points for me was how easy it is for parish staff to upload information,” Welsh says. “If they’re comfortable with word processing, they’ll find this to be a straightforward tool.”

The $787 start-up fee and $49 monthly charge for each parish has been waived, thanks to the diocesan relationship with Faith magazine, Lansing, Mich. A basic app has been created for every parish in the diocese, and a launch kit was to arrive in each parish this week.

Parishes that still need to customize their app or to train staff will find information in their kit about how to do so.

In addition, the Communications Office is available to help parishes make the necessary connections.

St. Marys native takes global lead in child internet safety

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Pope Francis shakes hands with Tom Shields of Queen of the World Parish, St. Marys, and greets his wife, Kaye, and their daughter Baroness Joanna Shields at the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Oct. 6. (Contributed photo)

 

BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE

Baroness Joanna Shields—a native of the small Elk County community of St. Marys in the Diocese of Erie—credits her tight-knit Irish Catholic family for providing “the moral compass” that helped catapult her to be a global leader in child internet safety.

A graduate of Queen of the World School and Elk County Catholic in St. Marys, the 55-year-old Shields went on to become the only American woman who earned, because of her work, a life peerage in the House of Lords of the United Kingdom.

In her current position as Prime Minister Theresa May’s special representative on internet safety, she brings simple values and a lot of smarts she put to use at such mega tech firms as Google, Facebook, Aol and Bebo.

“I always wanted to be a good person and do something more than just business,” Shields told FaithLife in a telephone interview from her home in London. “I’ve been in all these great companies, but the impact of what I’m doing now has been incredible and satisfying and the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.”

On Oct. 3, Shields was a keynote speaker at the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The event was organized by the university’s Centre for Child Protection in partnership with WeProtect Global Alliance (www.weprotect.org), an organization Shields founded with former Prime Minister David Cameron.

Her parents, Tom and Kaye Shields of Queen of the World Parish in St. Marys, attended their daughter’s talk and met Pope Francis at the conclusion of the four-day congress. Also in attendance was Shields’ 18-year-old son, Ben, who is a student at University College London.

“She never ceases to amaze me,” Tom Shields, 80, says of his second-oldest daughter. “It was quite a speech she gave. She really got everyone thinking about what is happening with this [internet safety].”

Meeting the pope and hearing her daughter speak about protecting the safety, security and dignity of children was “really tip-top,” Kaye Shields, 77, says. She and her husband have followed Baroness Shields around the world as she pursued her career in the tech industry working for Silicon Valley companies for more than 25 years. Most recently, from 2009-12, Baroness Shields ran Facebook in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Some people don’t believe all the things she’s done,” Kaye Shields says.

Baroness Shields’ sister, Diann Buttery, a parishioner of Queen of the World, was glued to the live stream of her sister’s talk at the Vatican in early October. Baroness Shields is one of five Shields siblings.

“She has worked all her life in technology, but I think she knows in her heart that this is her life’s mission,” Buttery says.

graphic_internetWith 3 billion internet users worldwide, it’s going to take a lot of faith, skill and commitment to rein in the ever-increasing online prevalence of pornography, human trafficking, bullying, prostitution and “sexting,” to name a few of the worst problems. An estimated 800 million children around the globe regularly browse the internet, prompting Pope Francis, in his speech at the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress, to assure the “availability and commitment” of the Catholic Church.

On Oct. 6, the congress released a “Declaration of Rome,” which stated that the global internet safety problem “cannot be solved by one nation or one company or one faith acting alone.”

The declaration, Baroness Shields says, is a “call to action” to world leaders in government and religion, technology companies, ministries of public health, law enforcement and medical institutions. She encourages the average person anywhere to contribute to change by being aware of online dangers.

In her speech in Rome, Baroness Shields challenged her listeners, asking: “Years from now, when history writes the chapter entitled ‘the digital age,’ will it celebrate the immense benefits that technology has delivered and the great human progress that followed? Or, will it be a requiem of regret for childhood lost?”

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Baroness Joanna Shields and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner of the Center for Child Protection at Rome’s Gregorian University present a declaration for global internet safety to Pope Francis Oct. 6. (Contributed photo)

WORLD MISSION SUNDAY OCT. 22: Q & A with Indira Suarez

 

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Indira Suarez

Editor’s Note: Indira Suarez, director of Diocesan and International Missions for the Diocese of Erie, spoke to FaithLife about the Oct. 22 World Mission Sunday and the collection taken up in parishes that day.

 Q: Could you explain the purpose of World Mission Sunday?

Suarez: About 30 percent of the world’s population has never even heard of Jesus. World Mission Sunday is a special day set aside for all Catholics to reflect on this fact. It encourages us to pray for and support missionaries who take the Gospel to these people.

Q: Why is this day and this collection so important to the Catholic Church?

Suarez: At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to take the Good News to every nation.  As members of the church today, we have the responsibility to continue this missionary work.

Q: Is mission only for people who serve overseas, or in some capacity as a missionary?

Suarez: Not at all. Only a few people are called to do missionary work in far-away lands. But every single one of us is called to support missionary work with our constant prayer, and when we can, with our financial help.

Q: How can the average person make World Mission Sunday come alive in their lives/communities?

Suarez: First, we can be grateful that we are Christians and that someone—our parents, grandparents, etc.—shared the faith with us and that we live in a nation where we can freely live out our faith.

Secondly, we can pray personally and with our families for those who are doing missionary work throughout the world. Finally, we can make some small personal sacrifices in order to contribute financially to the church’s missionary work.

Q: How is the money used that is given to this collection?

Suarez: This money goes to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which is an international organization that coordinates World Mission Sunday in order to support the priests, sisters and lay people who bring the message of God’s love to people in the more than 1,100 mission dioceses around the world. The society is the oldest of four Pontifical Mission Societies of the Roman Catholic Church.  I encourage everyone to participate in World Mission Sunday 2017, as well as ask that we follow Jesus’ call by doing missionary work in our community. Generosity is a reflection of our heart.

 

 

Diocese prevails in religious liberty lawsuit

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Bishop Lawrence Persico stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in 2016. (Photo by Mary Solberg)

By Mary Solberg |FaithLife

After more than five years of legal maneuverings that took the Diocese of Erie all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government on Oct. 13 signed an agreement that ensured the First Amendment rights of religious organizations.

The action was followed on Oct. 16 by another legal step that finally brought a close to the contentious 2012 lawsuits involving the so-called “contraceptive mandate” of the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuits claimed the government did not have the right to tell religious entities to provide health insurance for items they deemed morally objectionable, even if the government offered a third-party accommodation. The signed agreement this month expands exemptions to previous regulations.

“This agreement allows faith-based organizations to uphold our religious mission in a diverse society. For that, we are deeply grateful,” Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico said in a prepared statement. “We have maintained from the beginning that the government cannot force anyone—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or other—to do something that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The government has finally acknowledged that there is a reasonable path to accomplish its goals while also respecting the core beliefs of our faith.”

In 2012, the Diocese of Erie was among 70 religious organizations to file federal lawsuits. Complainants included dioceses, Catholic Charities agencies, schools, universities, health care systems and others across the country. Erie was among the suits combined under the case Zubik v. Burwell and argued, pro bono, by the law firm of Jones Day.

The suits claimed that the government’s accommodation to religious organizations that objected to providing health insurance coverage for items it found morally objectionable was inadequate.

While churches and their employees would have been exempt, a large percentage of church-affiliated organizations—from hospitals and universities to Catholic agencies, were not.

The Diocese of Erie and others argued that freedom of religion is much broader than the freedom to worship. Under the Affordable Care Act, if the diocese had refused to provide health coverage for contraceptives or other abortion-inducing drugs, for example, it would have had to pay as much as $100,000 a day in fines.

According to the bishop: “It has been difficult for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives. The real issue was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers. Churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools and universities were not.”

Jones Day attorney Noel Francisco argued before the Supreme Court in March 2016 that the government was incorrect in saying that some of these organizations were not sufficiently religious to be exempt from regulations.

The diocese, Bishop Persico explained, believes “that all of the ministries of the Catholic Church are inextricably tied to the practice of our faith.” He added, “The Church serves all God’s people—whether they are Catholic or not—because it is our mission to help anyone in need. Bringing this litigation to a close frees the Catholic Church to continue to do just that.”

The settlement agreement on Oct. 13 followed news from a week earlier that President Donald Trump issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers. But the federal lawsuits were not brought to an official close until Oct. 16, when Jones Day attorneys filed official dismissals of the appeals that were pending in the federal courts.

Paul “Mickey” Pohl, a partner with Jones Day, praised the steadfast commitment of the Diocese of Erie and Bishop Persico and Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman, as well as Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“As an Erie native, I am very proud that Bishops Trautman and Persico, along with Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Zubik, were among the very first to join the legal challenges to federal regulations that substantially burdened the exercise of the Catholic faith,” Pohl said. “They never wavered in their courage to be plaintiffs in our cases, to preserve the good works of religious organizations such as Catholic Charities.  This is an important victory for religious freedom, and Bishop Persico’s testimony before the district court played an important role in securing the extremely favorable outcome for the diocese.”

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Erie woman teaches rosary to kids for 33 years

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Margie Walsh of Erie holds colorful rosaries distributed to Catholic school students throughout the diocese. (Photo by Mary Solberg)

BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE

A mother of seven adult children and grandmother of 18, Margie Walsh enjoyed a nursing career with renowned Erie cardiologist Dr. George D’Angelo.

Somehow, during the past 33 years, she also found time for a third vocation: a self-described “missionary” for the Blessed Mother.

In 1984, Walsh—a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima, Erie Division—started teaching the rosary to students in Catholic schools in the city of Erie.

With the financial and spiritual support of the Knights of Columbus, and the blessing of the Diocese of Erie, the Erie Diocesan Rosaries for Kids Project expanded eight years later to include every Catholic school in the 13 counties of the diocese.

Walsh—at age 74—shows no signs of quitting. This month, she is visiting Catholic schools in the farthest reaches of the diocese.

Her husband, John Walsh, who humbly calls himself “a porter for the Blessed Mother,” drives and helps load and unload what his wife terms her “bag of tricks.”

She carries boxes filled with colorful rosaries that are handmade by women of the World Apostolate of Fatima. She also uses puppets, statues, a crucifix, coloring books, and lots of hand-written materials to make her hour-long talks come alive.

“Why does Mary pick somebody who has a big family? The busier you are—with seven kids and 18 grandbabies? Yet somehow she put something in me to go and do this,” Margie Walsh says.

Last week, Bishop Lawrence Persico met Walsh and blessed about 1,000 rosaries for distribution. He calls her work “very important” to the diocese.

“It shows Margie’s dedication and her devotion to the Blessed Mother to be willing to go out to all these parts of the diocese and bring the message of the rosary and to help people understand how important praying the rosary is,” the bishop says.

A member of St. George Parish, Erie, Walsh first started teaching the rosary to students in fourth and 10th grades. Eventually, she added grades 2, 6 and 8.

Marla Dalessandro, a fourth-grade teacher at Notre Dame School in Hermitage, has invited Walsh to teach the rosary every year.

One of Dalessandro’s former students, a 33-year-old man with children of his own, revealed that he still says the rosary, thanks to Walsh’s visits.

“Mrs. Walsh really gives an interesting lesson. She is so passionate about spreading the ability to say the rosary,” Dalessandro says.

A mother recently contacted Dalessandro to say that she found her young son praying the rosary in his bedroom. He was worried about his sick grandfather.

“Mrs. Walsh has touched so many kids throughout the years,” Dalessandro says.

Diocese, others review latest development in religious liberty case

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Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico, far left, is pictured walking from the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2016 with Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, center, and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., following oral arguments regarding religious liberty and the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.   (Photo by Mary Solberg|FaithLife)

BY CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE  and FAITHLIFE STAFF

WASHINGTON (CNS)—The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Diocese of Erie, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations and dioceses, including Erie and Pittsburgh, as well as the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. In 2016, the case (Zubik v. Burwell) went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new rules provide a full exemption to the contraception mandate for employers who have sincerely held moral convictions, or sincerely held religious beliefs. In other words, those employers do not have to comply with the coverage requirements, and do not have to do anything more.

The new HHS rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West.

Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico has conferred with Jones Day, lead counsel, about the latest developments.

“This is a good first step in restoring religious liberty and protecting the rights of religious organizations to provide health coverage consistent with their beliefs and faith,” the bishop said. “My understanding from our legal counsel is that the new rules do not resolve the litigation we have been pursuing for over five years, but we are hopeful a permanent resolution will be coming soon.”

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers.

The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The Supreme Court unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Jones Day has been engaging in talks with the government for many months to resolve this issue, but the government has maintained that there are ways to provide the coverage without burdening the beliefs of religious employers.

According to an Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty: “We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.”