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Bishop at forefront of initiative says racism demands church's attention

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- By creating a committee to deal with racism, the country's Catholic bishops are standing up for the American value of equality and for a Gospel that refutes the hatred and violence the country witnessed Aug. 11 and 12 during white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, said the bishop who will lead the effort.

"When I watched it, I was just appalled. I couldn't believe that that was going on in the United States and that there was so much disregard for people," said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, a Jesuit and the chair of the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, during an Aug. 23 interview with Catholic News Service. "I was happy that the bishops responded so quickly, and that many people across our country responded so quickly to say: 'This is not who we are. This is not America.'"

When something such as Charlottesville occurs, a response is needed, said Bishop Murry. He made the comments shortly after a news conference announcing the formation of the ad hoc group, which is moving quickly to put together a national summit of religious leaders and others to participate in the effort.

"Unfortunately, it's not only Charlottesville," said Bishop Murry. "There have been other instances of discrimination and lack of caring, of outright hate for people who are African-American or other people of color, immigrants, newcomers. What the bishops are saying is we need to look at this in a concerted organized way because this is having a negative effect on the life of our country."

By forming the committee, the bishops have placed racism as a priority they must address and quickly. The last two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' ad hoc committees dealt with religious liberty and marriage, established in 2011 and 2008, respectively.

Bishop Murry said that with this particular effort, the bishops are saying: "Whether you're Catholic, Muslim, or Jewish, or Protestant, we are Americans and we have American values and one of those values is equality. And when people are denied their opportunity to be equal and are not treated as equal, we need to speak out and stand together as Americans and call for American values, one of the most important being equality."

During the news conference, Bishop Murry said the church in the U.S. will get the message out through its network of parishes, schools, Catholic charities and all Catholic organizations "that this is an urgent issue that demands our attention and it is a very serious issue because of the fact that racism is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

When a reporter from the EWTN network asked during the news conference about Confederate statues being taken down, the reason that the rally and subsequent violence started in Charlottesville, he said: "I am much more interested in the underlying issues. ... What I want to focus on is our responsibility as men and women of faith to respect each other."

That's what the Gospel calls Christians to do: to love and respect one another, he said.

"We're here today because of our confidence that Christ wishes to break down these walls created by the evils of racism, be they on display for the world to see or buried deep within the recesses of our hearts," he said during the news conference. "For too long the sin of racism has lived and thrived in our communities and even in some of our churches."

As a pastor, he has met many who have experienced racism and prejudice, he said, and as an African-American, he, too, walks that path. He recalled an instance when he was a seminarian and someone thought he was the gardener because he is black.

"He didn't think that an African-American could be a seminarian, so he just assumed that I was a gardener. And there have been others instances that have happened over the years," he told CNS.

Faith helps during those moments. The experiences have helped him comfort others, he said.

"There is no way that a person can be disregarded and disrespected and not feel it," he said. "You do feel it. It has a deep ... it's a deep wound but it is faith in Jesus Christ that helps us overcome that."

Faith helps people forgive, he said, or at least deal with the situation better.

"I and others have had experiences where you can't talk it out with someone and you simply have to realize that Jesus died in expiation for our sins," he said. "All of us are sinners and God is willing to forgive us. We need to forgive each other."

The work of the committee will address some of those issues, he said, adding that he is aware that it's not a quick fix, nor will it end racism. But the Catholic Church has spoken against racism for a long time and will continue to be part of efforts to eradicate it, he said.

"I do not have any sort of unrealistic expectations that America is going to become dramatically different in two weeks, but I think that it is the role of the church to be a moral voice and that's what the church is doing right now," he said to CNS. "It is speaking out and saying that all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God."

Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tennessee, said he was encouraged by the announcement of the ad hoc committee in light of the recent "appalling" incidents of violence and hatred throughout the country.

"We must end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that continue to create division between us," he said in a statement.

Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA, said inserting the word "racism" in the name of the committee is a good and positive step forward and recognizes the problem.

She said she hoped the bishops would involve Catholic groups that have long worked at the grass-roots level with communities of color in addressing the issue, including the National Black Catholic Congress; Latino organizers for the fifth national Encuentro in 2018, for which preparations are well underway; as well as Catholic American Indians and Asian and Pacific Islanders. She said she also wished to see it become a standing committee with the USCCB, which would make it more of a permanent nature since racism will not go away soon.

But she said people need to be willing to engage in painful conversations, including talking about white privilege and the racial oppression people of color.

"If not, we will never be able to move and dismantle institutional racism," she said. "As Catholics, we have to be willing to have the hard conversations and be honest with each other, and through prayer, mutual dialogue, reflection and action, we certainly can build the beloved community."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Bishops form new body to address 'sin of racism' that 'afflicts' nation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Saying there is an "urgent need" to address "the sin of racism" in the country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country's African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 "to focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions."

He appointed Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education, to chair the new ad hoc committee.

"Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation," Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. "The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters."

The naming of members to serve on the new body will be finalized in coming days, the USCCB said in an announcement. It added that the committee's mandate "will be confirmed at the first meeting, expected very shortly."

"I look forward to working with my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long," Bishop Murry said in a statement.

"Through Jesus' example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I'm hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society."

The new ad hoc committee also will "welcome and support" implementation of the U.S. bishops' new pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the bishops issued a pastoral on racism titled "Brothers and Sisters to Us," in which they addressed many themes, but the overall message then as today was "racism is a sin."

Creation of a new formal body that is part of the USCCB -- formed on the USCCB Executive Committee's "unanimous recommendation" -- speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take the problem of racism in America today.

It is the first ad hoc committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. The federal government's mandate that all employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that prompted formation of the committee.

Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during the bishops' spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.

In addition to the Executive Committee's recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with members of the USCCB's Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The formation of the ad hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was then USCCB president. He initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.

To head it he named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation's African-American prelates who was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).

The task force's mandate was to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country. Archbishop Kurtz also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.

On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB's fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism.

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time," said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.

He said the president of the bishops' conference and relevant committees need to "identify opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection."

He also urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.

The bishops' 1979 pastoral, now in its 19th printing, declared: "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."

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Detroit Archbishop Issues Statement in Support of US Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron has responded to news that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has established an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism with the following statement:
 

Just last month in Detroit, we remembered the 50th anniversary of the 1967 civil disturbance and their ongoing effects. A year ago, at our Mass for Pardon, we acknowledged and prayed for forgiveness for any "institutional racism" ever perpetrated in and by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Beyond southeast Michigan, recent events have demonstrated that the sin of racism still persists in our nation. I strongly support the creation of a committee by my brother bishops to address this sin — racism — and to work toward bringing the light of the Gospel to dispel this scourge from our society. I encourage my fellow Catholics, and all persons of good will, to join in efforts that uphold the dignity of each person in our society, no matter their race.


In a letter announcing the committee, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the committee will coordinate USCCB efforts to combat the sin of racism in a "thorough and ongoing manner."

Archbishop Vigneron has been vocal in his support of efforts to overcome the sin of racism in southeast Michigan. During the October 7, 2016 Mass for Pardon, he apologized for past sins of the Archdiocese of Detroit, including "institutionalized racism reflected by generations of neglect toward a people most victimized by violent crimes, infiltration of drugs in communities, redlining, and failed school systems."

In a pastoral letter issued earlier this year, Archbishop Vigneron called for a "radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit" to focus on better sharing the message of Jesus Christ. Included in this letter is a call to "build cultural competency among individuals, parishes and archdiocesan leadership to acknowledge and break down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status."

The full statement from the USCCB is available here

Pope: God gives hope for the future despite present-day suffering

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the world reels from terrorism, natural disasters and division, God weeps with those who suffer and offers the hope of a future full of joy and consolation, Pope Francis said.

Recalling the victims of a terror attack in Barcelona Aug. 17, a devastating landslide Aug. 16 in Congo, and "many other" tragic global events, the pope urged Christians to meditate on God's tenderness when "they report sad news, which we are all at risk of becoming accustomed to."

"Think of the faces of children frightened by war, the cry of mothers, the broken dreams of many young people, the refugees who face terrible journeys and are exploited so many times," the pope said Aug. 23 during his weekly general audience.

Continuing his series of audience talks on Christian hope, Pope Francis said that in moments of suffering, Christians can find comfort in knowing they have a heavenly father, who "weeps tears of infinite pity for his children" and "has prepared for us a different future."

Reflecting on a reading from the Book of Revelation in which God proclaims that he "makes all things new," the pope explained that Christian hope is based on "faith that God always creates new things" in history, in the cosmos and in everyday life.

Christians must not look downward "like pigs" as if "we were forced into an eternal wandering without any reason for our many labors," he said. Rather, they must trust in God's promise of a "heavenly Jerusalem," a place "where there is no more death nor mourning nor weeping or pain."

God did not create human beings "by mistake, sentencing himself and us to hard nights of anguish," the pope said. "He created us because he wants us to be happy. He is our father and, if right now we are experiencing a life that isn't what he wanted for us, Jesus assures us that God himself is working on our salvation. He works to save us."

Christians, he added, are called to be "people of spring rather than fall" and must always hold on to the hope that "our most beautiful days are yet to come."

"Don't forget to ask yourselves this question: Am I a person of the spring or the fall?" the pope told the pilgrims. "Am I of the spring, which awaits the flowers, awaits the fruit, awaits the sun that is Jesus? Or fall, which always has a face cast down, bitter and, as I have said at times, a sourpuss?"

Like the wheat that grows even when surrounded by darnels, the kingdom of God continues to grow even amid "problems, gossip, war, and sickness," Pope Francis said.

"Creation did not end on the sixth day of Genesis, but continued tirelessly because God always worries about us," he said. "Yes, our father is a God of newness and surprises. And on that day, we will be truly happy and we will weep, but we will be weeping with joy."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Venerable church a natural place to view heavens during solar eclipse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ed Langlois, Catholic Sentinel

By Ed Langlois

ST. PAUL, Ore. (CNS) -- Hundreds of solar eclipse viewers Aug. 21 watched the sky grow dim and then witnessed the spectacular dancing white corona of the sun's edge from alongside Oregon's oldest Catholic church.

Built in 1846, St. Paul Church in the small town of St. Paul was already venerable the last time it was in an eclipse path of totality in 1918. The brick building, restored after a 1993 earthquake, stood silent and strong Aug. 21 as the crowd around it cheered and cried out during the eerie minute that the moon blotted out the sun's light.

"God puts on the best shows!" one woman called out.

While the heavens were creating awe, Msgr. Gregory Moys was providing for creature comforts of visitors. Some towns in the eclipse zone provided portable bathrooms, but that was a bit much for the city of St. Paul to afford. Msgr. Moys, pastor of St. Paul Parish, opened up the back door of the 171-year house of worship so viewers could find relief in a set of rooms once used by Oregon's pioneer priests.

One Vancouver, Washington, family made the trip and sat happily in front of St. Paul Church.

"It's a memory they'll have for a long time," James Longfellow said of his wife and children. Longfellow's 8-year-old daughter, Analise, feared she might forget. Her parents assured her she'd remember.

Pete Hamlin, a member of St. Matthew Church in Hillsboro, recalled trying to watch a 1979 eclipse as a child, but the Oregon skies were cloudy.

"This is a good opportunity," Hamlin told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland. He came to St. Paul with friends Greg Clemmons and John Hedlund.

While the solar event was stunning, the trio spent much of their time before looking over the old brick church and discovering its history.

The edifice replaced a log church that had been built in 1836 by settlers who had written Catholic officials in the East repeatedly before two missionaries were sent from Quebec -- Fathers Francis Blanchet and Modeste Demers. Native American workers helped make the bricks that are still in good shape.

On April 25, 1846, a month before the cornerstone was laid, a partial solar eclipse was visible in St. Paul.

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Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

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Polish archbishop thinks Vatican will recognize Medjugorje apparitions

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A Polish archbishop who inspected Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine for the pope predicted the Vatican will soon recognize its Marian apparitions.

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has passed all documentation to the Secretariat of State -- everything suggests the apparitions will be accepted before the year ends," said Archbishop Henryk Hoser.

"It's difficult to believe the six visionaries have been lying for 36 years," the archbishop said. "What they say is coherent, and none is mentally disturbed, while the apparitions' faithfulness to church doctrine is also a powerful argument for their authenticity."

The archbishop spoke as he completed a report from his spring mission to the hilltop shrine, which has not been officially recognized by the church despite 2.5 million pilgrims annually.

He told Poland's Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he had found an "exceptional atmosphere" of "spiritual creativeness" at Medjugorje, characterized by "prayer, silence, meditation, Eucharist, adoration, fasting and reconciliation."

He added that the shrine was seeing "huge dynamic growth," in contrast to older sanctuaries in Portugal, France and Poland and had succeeded in remaining "a true place for pilgrims" while "eliminating tourist elements."

"Everything is moving in a good direction. My mission wasn't aimed at closing Medjugorje down, but at evaluating whether pastoral work is being properly organized there in line with church teaching," Archbishop Hoser said.

"My conclusions are that it is, and my impression is highly positive," he told KAI.

Six teenagers claim to have seen the Virgin Mary June 24, 1981, near Medjugorje. Since then, they have reported more than 42,000 apparitions at the site, which was largely untouched by the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In April, the then-prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, told KAI ageny it still could "take a long time" for the Vatican to rule on the apparitions, despite Archbishop Hoser's pastoral visitation.

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, the local ordinary, has consistently dismissed the Medjugorje apparitions as false, like his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, and appealed to bishops abroad not to support pilgrimages there.

However, in March, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, defended the shrine as "Europe's largest confessional," and said he counted on the Vatican to appreciate its evangelical potential in generating "conversions and acts of grace."

Pope Francis told reporters traveling with him from Fatima, Portugal, in May that the most important fact about Medjugorje is "the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact" that thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje and are converted. "For this there is no magic wand; this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied."

The spiritual fruits of the pilgrimages, he said, are the reason why in February he appointed Archbishop Hoser to study the best ways to provide pastoral care to townspeople and the pilgrims.

Speaking to reporters May 13, Pope Francis gave no indication of when a final pronouncement about the alleged apparitions would be made. However, the said that a commission set up by then-Pope Benedict XVI had spent years investigating the phenomenon and tended to believe the apparitions in that first week of the summer of 1981 may have been real, but the continued reports of apparitions are questionable.

Furthermore, Pope Francis told the press, "personally, I am more 'mischievous.' I prefer Our Lady to be a mother, our mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time -- this is not the mother of Jesus."


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Two die in earthquake on Italian island

By

ROME (CNS) -- One of the two women who died when an earthquake struck the Italian island of Ischia was killed by falling debris from a 19th-century church. The other died in her home, which was destroyed by the quake Aug. 21.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, which struck at 8:57 p.m. local time, measured a magnitude of 4.3. Ischia is located off the coast of Naples.

As of late Aug. 22, Italian authorities had not released the names of the two women who died. The Italian bishops' television station, TV2000, said the destroyed church was Santa Maria dei Suffragio, more commonly known as the "Purgatory Church." The church in the village of Casamicciola was built in the 19th century after a quake in 1883 destroyed the previous church on the site.

Much of the international news coverage of the quake focused on the rescue of three children, brothers, who were buried under the rubble. The first of the brothers to be rescued, seven hours after the quake, was 7-month-old Pasquale. The next morning, rescuers were able to free 7-year-old Mattias. Ciro, 11, was freed 16 hours after the quake. All of the brothers are expected to make a full recovery.

The local hospital originally treated 39 other people for quake-related injuries. One person remained in serious condition, although most of the others were treated and released.

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Cardinal Parolin visits Russia, focuses on ecumenism and peace

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although he said planning a papal trip to Russia was not on the agenda, the Vatican secretary of state said his visit to Moscow was designed to build on the meeting Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had in Cuba in 2016.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, was visiting Moscow Aug. 21-24 and was scheduled to meet with the patriarch and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with leaders of Russia's Catholic community.

The list of topics for the meetings ranged from ecumenical dialogue and interreligious cooperation to current world affairs and climate change, he said in a series of interviews before leaving Rome.

After a long morning meeting Aug. 22, the cardinal and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a brief news conference, telling reporters they had discussed ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, the Holy Land and Venezuela.

Cardinal Parolin said his meetings with government officials were designed to share "Pope Francis' interest in bilateral relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation as well as his concerns in the sphere of international affairs."

"Obviously," the cardinal said, "the meeting offered an occasion to discuss some concrete questions regarding the life of the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation, including the difficulties that remain in obtaining work permits for non-Russian religious personnel and the restitution of some churches, which are needed for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country." Many church buildings were confiscated by the former Soviet government and never returned.

Regarding international affairs, Cardinal Parolin said he and Lavrov discussed several ongoing conflicts, including the war in Eastern Ukraine and the war in Syria.

In situations of war, he said, the Catholic Church often is directly involved in promoting humanitarian aid for the victims, but it also works on a diplomatic level to promote a negotiated peace with guarantees of "justice, legality, truth" and the safety of civilians.

The Russian foreign ministry posted online the first minutes of the working meeting between Cardinal Parolin and Lavrov.

The foreign minister told the cardinal, "We see that our positions are close on a number of current issues, including the peaceful settlement of crises, fighting terrorism and extremism, promoting the dialogue among religions and civilizations and strengthening social justice and the role of the family."

And, he said, it is important that the strengthening of Vatican-Russian relations is "complemented by the dialogue between religions, which was launched during the historical meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Cuba."

Cardinal Parolin began his visit to Russia with a meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.

After the meeting, he told reporters their time together was very constructive, and that even though there are "thorny issues," there also is a great desire to overcome them. As an example of an ongoing difficulty, Cardinal Parolin said the existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church "remains for the Russian Orthodox Church an obstacle."

In the evening Aug. 21, Cardinal Parolin presided over a Mass for Moscow's Catholics in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Before Mass, he had met with the country's Catholic bishops.

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Charlottesville and America’s Original Sin

I vividly remember my first visit to the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia. The splendid Monticello estate with its sordid slave-quarters underground. One could literally see at this great American house the divide, the original sin, that has bedeviled our nation from its inception to the present day.

Eclipse thrills, inspires viewers to admire the precision of creation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski

By Dennis Sadowski

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Science teacher Jane Irwin isn't often left without words, but the total solar eclipse left her in a quiet reflective mood.

"Awesome. God's amazing" was the best she could muster after the sun reappeared from behind the moon after totality Aug. 21.

"I've got to synthesize this myself," she said minutes after the sun reappeared as the moon moved away from obscuring Earth's closest stellar neighbor. "How can people deny the existence of God after seeing this? I'm not a terribly emotional person, but I got choked up seeing it."

Irwin was among about 50 people gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville, the town near the point of maximum eclipse. She planned to have her students write about the eclipse when classes resumed Aug. 23. Her inspiration for the assignment was Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, who spoke at the parish Aug. 20 during a pre-eclipse program.

"Brother Guy said if you didn't write about it, it didn't happened. Hopefully, in 10 years when they pull that out, they'll remember and be inspired by what they saw," Irwin said.

Joining her was one of her students, Tim Sunderhaus, 8, a third-grader at the parish school.

Tim was accompanied by brothers Luke, 12, in seventh grade, and Peter, 10, in fifth grade, and father Todd. Luke called the eclipse an amazing sight.

He found the sun's corona -- the intensely hot outer atmosphere visible from Earth only during a total eclipse -- most interesting to observe. "I was thinking it finally happened because people have been talking about it for such a long time," he told Catholic News Service.

Cheers and whistles erupted in the parish parking lot where viewers had gathered as darkness approached and the corona appeared around a black hole. Three bright red prominences appeared along the right edge of the sun during totality.

People called out the planets as they appeared. First there was bright Venus to the west of the sun and then Mercury very close to eastern limb of the star. Crickets began chirping, thinking night was approaching. The air cooled several degrees as the moon's shadow deepened.

The entire event was impressive for Franciscan Father Richard Goodin, vocation director for his order's St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati. The Kentucky native drove from Cincinnati overnight to see the eclipse after a redeye flight from Las Vegas where he preached at Masses Aug. 19 and 20 making a mission appeal.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I like to brag I'm all things Kentucky," he told CNS as a blue University of Kentucky cap shielded his bearded face from the hot sun. "What better and more fitting place for this to be than in Kentucky?"

Hopkinsville officials and business owners had worked for nearly two years to capitalize on the eclipse. They billed their town as "Eclipseville." Located near the point of maximum eclipse, the city of 33,000 wanted to showcase its friendliness and the quality of life it offers in largely agricultural Christian County.

Eclipse chasers started arriving Aug. 18 and by the morning of the event traffic crawled along city streets.

Some of those travelers made their way to a field the parish owns across the street from the church. Spots were going for $10. Some stayed overnight, camping in tents or in the back of their vehicle. Others, arrived in the pre-dawn hours eager to catch the spectacle.

Ron Howell and Cheri Ricketts, members of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Toledo, Ohio, were sitting in chairs next to their Chevrolet Equinox enjoying coffee in the warm early morning sun. They said they wanted to see something they had never seen before and that Hopkinsville was a reasonable distance to travel.

"We're basic, but we're prepared," said Howell, 72.

"I'm sure it's going to be spiritually moving, just to see the wonder of it all and the precision," Ricketts, 66, added.

Across the lot Hendrik Schultz, professor of nuclear astrophysics at Michigan State University, sat with his daughter, Lilley, 16, enjoying a slight breeze in the shade of tall trees. He said he brought his daughter and her boyfriend along so they could see something rare and beautiful.

But he was leaving the physics of the eclipse out of any discussion as he showed off the pinhole tube he made to observe the event.

"I don't want to spoil it with too much science. It's like a waterfall. You wouldn't want a lecture on hydrology. You just want to enjoy it," he said.

In another corner, Jayden Braga, 5, patiently waited for the eclipse as his parents, Derrick and Alissa Braga of Rochester Hills, Michigan, tended to housekeeping chores in their tent. The family traveled all night to arrive in time for the celestial wonder.

The youngster explained how important it was to view the eclipse with special glasses until the moment of totality. Then he became more animated.

"I'm so excited," he said, "I could fly off the chair."

In his presentation the evening before, Brother Consolmagno urged people to let the eclipse be an example of God's design for the universe and to appreciate the beauty of ongoing creation.

"This is more than just an emotional sense," Brother Consolmagno told the audience. "It's a sense that speaks to your soul. It's a sense I get when I'm doing science ... the sense I feel in these rare unforgettable moments of prayer and God finds the time to find me to speak."

The presentation before a full house in the church was one of several special events leading to the eclipse. The city also planned a downtown festival over the weekend before the skies darkened. Vendors hawked T-shirts, Christmas tree ornaments, plaques, jewelry, posters and anything else they could creatively tie to the event.

Sts. Peter and Paul parishioner Maureen Leamy took time Aug. 19 to visit the vendors during the downtown festival. An assistant county attorney for Christian County, Leamy was looking forward to seeing the eclipse, even though it meant that Tuesday will be a busy day for hearing criminal cases from the long weekend the court was closed.

"This is time for Hopkinsville to shine," she said. "We never had an event like this."

Andra V. Gold, owner of Accessories Plus in Hopkinsville, made several dozen T-shirts with a snappy message: "Keep calm. It's only the eclipse." He said he sold a few shirts, but more importantly the eclipse and the celebration surrounding it was a way to meet people, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to southwest Kentucky, and impart a few words of wisdom.

"If they can travel that distance, why can't we walk out our back door and be hospitable?" he said. "We can be hospitable and understand each other."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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