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California school lunch service shifts focus to stay afloat, help others

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Choicelunch

By Sydney Clark

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic led schools to close, the day-to-day operations at Choicelunch, a healthy school lunch delivery service, paused.

Choicelunch, established in 2003 by three University of Notre Dame alums, provided lunches for 25,000 children at 300 schools statewide before schools closed.

"Instead of 25,000 lunches a day, we were making zero lunches a day," said Keith Cosbey, chief operating officer.

The company's five kitchens and the majority of its 200 employees were impacted.

"I was distraught," said Justin Gagnon, Choicelunch co-founder and CEO. "We ended up having to lay off all of our hourly employees, our kitchen staff and our drivers."

Out of the 300 schools that Choicelunch serves, 120 are Catholic schools, according to Cosbey.

He said the Archdiocese of San Francisco was the first client to announce that it would be closing schools for three weeks.

"Of our 300 schools, that was 22 immediately that closed," Cosbey told Catholic News Service.

Within three days, there was a chain reaction of calls from other diocesan clients, including the San Jose and Oakland dioceses and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Gagnon said shutting down and laying off employees were difficult, but the reality was without lunches and revenue coming in, Choicelunch wasn't going to sustain itself long term.

Although schools announced three-week closures at the time, Choicelunch was looking at trends, data and the virus' impact overseas. The company expected the school year was going to be cut short.

"We had to figure something out to get some money coming through the door so we could keep some of our people paid and employed and hopefully begin to even bring back a lot of our hourly employees," Gagnon said.

Around that time, Gagnon received several voicemails one day from the Office of Emergency Management of Orange County, California, asking if he was the emergency contact for a particular business. He, however, hadn't heard of the business mentioned.

He googled the business and found that it was located at one of the former Choicelunch kitchens in Huntington Beach, California.

Gagnon called the county representatives back to learn more about what they were seeking. They said they had a homeless shelter and needed to find a way to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Gagnon informed them that Choicelunch kitchen was no longer at that location, but there was one in Santa Ana, California.

"The first thing that came in was the contract with Orange County in doing our homeless meal preparation, and that eventually expanded to three sites," he said.

Choicelunch provides daily meals at two sites in Santa Ana and one site in Fullerton, California, serving about 600 people.

The company sent letters to other Bay Area counties to see if they needed similar services, but there was no response.

Gagnon said in the midst of that, family members were contacting him to see if the company's suppliers had staple foods, like meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Grocery store shelves were bare, and grocery services such as Instacart didn't have any available deliveries.

"We were watching very closely what was happening in retail," Gagnon said.

He, Cosbey and Ryan Mariotti, the company's chief technology officer, exchanged ideas and decided to use the company's kitchen in Danville, California, as a food pantry and drive-through pick-up center. Gagnon said the pantry saved 45 jobs.

Choicelunch partners with about seven or eight food distributors, including Sysco, its mainline distributor. Cosbey said getting food from their suppliers has helped Choicelunch and its distributors.

"The food service world is a completely different supply chain," Cosbey said. "We worked with suppliers that had all of this food being unused with restaurants, hotels, caterers, convention centers and school lunch companies like us all closed."

In addition to the homeless communities in Orange County that receive meals from Choicelunch, other vulnerable populations use the pantry. Gagnon said those with compromised immune systems often come. Cosbey said he has elderly neighbors that also use the pantry.

"They can get their groceries without going into the store and navigating the aisles, and in some cases, navigating the aisles to come away empty," Cosbey said. "With the pantry, people can rely on getting what they need."

Gagnon said despite the recent successes for Choicelunch, the past few months have been an "incredibly emotional time" for him.

The day before the company released 160 of its employees, he wept while watching a movie with his children at home. And then after the pantry was up and running, he had a "near-nervous breakdown" from not having clarity on how things would turn out.

Gagnon called his aunt, who he said is "probably the most faithful woman he's ever known." He vented to her about all of his anxiety, fears and frustrations.

She told Gagnon, "The things that are happening now that you think are working against you will somehow end up being favorable. Not only will God get you through this, but he will also bless you abundantly."

He said looking back on the various trials and setbacks Choicelunch has faced during the pandemic has ultimately allowed him to see other doors open and to celebrate the small wins.

"I'm already seeing those blessings come to fruition," Gagnon said.

He said there's still a great amount of uncertainty moving forward, but he will continue to remain faithful and trust in God.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

California school lunch service shifts focus to stay afloat, help others

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Choicelunch

By Sydney Clark

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic led schools to close, the day-to-day operations at Choicelunch, a healthy school lunch delivery service, paused.

Choicelunch, established in 2003 by three University of Notre Dame alums, provided lunches for 25,000 children at 300 schools statewide before schools closed.

"Instead of 25,000 lunches a day, we were making zero lunches a day," said Keith Cosbey, chief operating officer.

The company's five kitchens and the majority of its 200 employees were impacted.

"I was distraught," said Justin Gagnon, Choicelunch co-founder and CEO. "We ended up having to lay off all of our hourly employees, our kitchen staff and our drivers."

Out of the 300 schools that Choicelunch serves, 120 are Catholic schools, according to Cosbey.

He said the Archdiocese of San Francisco was the first client to announce that it would be closing schools for three weeks.

"Of our 300 schools, that was 22 immediately that closed," Cosbey told Catholic News Service.

Within three days, there was a chain reaction of calls from other diocesan clients, including the San Jose and Oakland dioceses and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Gagnon said shutting down and laying off employees were difficult, but the reality was without lunches and revenue coming in, Choicelunch wasn't going to sustain itself long term.

Although schools announced three-week closures at the time, Choicelunch was looking at trends, data and the virus' impact overseas. The company expected the school year was going to be cut short.

"We had to figure something out to get some money coming through the door so we could keep some of our people paid and employed and hopefully begin to even bring back a lot of our hourly employees," Gagnon said.

Around that time, Gagnon received several voicemails one day from the Office of Emergency Management of Orange County, California, asking if he was the emergency contact for a particular business. He, however, hadn't heard of the business mentioned.

He googled the business and found that it was located at one of the former Choicelunch kitchens in Huntington Beach, California.

Gagnon called the county representatives back to learn more about what they were seeking. They said they had a homeless shelter and needed to find a way to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Gagnon informed them that Choicelunch kitchen was no longer at that location, but there was one in Santa Ana, California.

"The first thing that came in was the contract with Orange County in doing our homeless meal preparation, and that eventually expanded to three sites," he said.

Choicelunch provides daily meals at two sites in Santa Ana and one site in Fullerton, California, serving about 600 people.

The company sent letters to other Bay Area counties to see if they needed similar services, but there was no response.

Gagnon said in the midst of that, family members were contacting him to see if the company's suppliers had staple foods, like meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Grocery store shelves were bare, and grocery services such as Instacart didn't have any available deliveries.

"We were watching very closely what was happening in retail," Gagnon said.

He, Cosbey and Ryan Mariotti, the company's chief technology officer, exchanged ideas and decided to use the company's kitchen in Danville, California, as a food pantry and drive-through pick-up center. Gagnon said the pantry saved 45 jobs.

Choicelunch partners with about seven or eight food distributors, including Sysco, its mainline distributor. Cosbey said getting food from their suppliers has helped Choicelunch and its distributors.

"The food service world is a completely different supply chain," Cosbey said. "We worked with suppliers that had all of this food being unused with restaurants, hotels, caterers, convention centers and school lunch companies like us all closed."

In addition to the homeless communities in Orange County that receive meals from Choicelunch, other vulnerable populations use the pantry. Gagnon said those with compromised immune systems often come. Cosbey said he has elderly neighbors that also use the pantry.

"They can get their groceries without going into the store and navigating the aisles, and in some cases, navigating the aisles to come away empty," Cosbey said. "With the pantry, people can rely on getting what they need."

Gagnon said despite the recent successes for Choicelunch, the past few months have been an "incredibly emotional time" for him.

The day before the company released 160 of its employees, he wept while watching a movie with his children at home. And then after the pantry was up and running, he had a "near-nervous breakdown" from not having clarity on how things would turn out.

Gagnon called his aunt, who he said is "probably the most faithful woman he's ever known." He vented to her about all of his anxiety, fears and frustrations.

She told Gagnon, "The things that are happening now that you think are working against you will somehow end up being favorable. Not only will God get you through this, but he will also bless you abundantly."

He said looking back on the various trials and setbacks Choicelunch has faced during the pandemic has ultimately allowed him to see other doors open and to celebrate the small wins.

"I'm already seeing those blessings come to fruition," Gagnon said.

He said there's still a great amount of uncertainty moving forward, but he will continue to remain faithful and trust in God.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Faith leaders: Protecting human life is priority in reopening churches

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishops of the state of Washington said suspension of the public celebration of Mass because of the coronavirus pandemic was undertaken "not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health."

"As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be instruments of God's protection for the vulnerable and the common good," the five bishops said in a May 22 statement released by the Washington State Catholic Conference. "Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan.

"While we share the desire to bring people back to Mass as quickly as possible, we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so," the statement said.

Washington state was the site of the first widespread outbreak of the COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and public health officials quickly enacted a massive shutdown of the state, including churches, to stem the outbreak.

The bishops' statement came in response to President Donald Trump's May 22 declaration that houses of worship are "essential." He directed the country's governors "to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend."

The president's appeal to the governors came as segments of the U.S. economy began to reopen after weeks of mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders governing the general population.

Trump said he would "override the governors" to ensure that churches would open for worship. He also noted that several governors "have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right."

While some religious freedom advocates praise Trump's declaration, critics said he could not constitutionally "override" governors' authority on a matter in their own states.

Washington's bishops said they hoped "that our right to responsibly and safely gather for worship will soon be honored so we can collaborate in a manner that respects both our Catholic tradition as well as our civic responsibilities."

"We eagerly await the governor's response to our suggestions on this so we can proceed together with our reopening plans," the statement concluded.

The archdioceses of Baltimore and Los Angeles also issued statements May 22 that explained why churches remained closed for public worship.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in video message that while church buildings remained closed, parishes were open. He stressed that the safety of people was his top concern.

He expressed solidarity with the faithful of the archdiocese, acknowledging the difficulty for people in not being able to celebrate Mass and the sacraments as a community.

"But I think we all have to understand that the reason that we have to do that is because we care for one another," the archbishop said. "The reality of this coronavirus pandemic is that it is a very dangerous illness and the virus is easy to be passed to one another. We didn't know exactly what was the reality and we started seeing the consequences of so many people dying and so many people getting sick, so that's why we had to be extremely careful in taking care of one another."

He said the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb in Los Angeles County, but that the number of illnesses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which also are part of the archdiocese, were not as high. "But it is still a very contagious illness," he said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore reiterated that it has undertaken plans to reopen parishes for public Mass for the weekend of May 30-31 in jurisdictions that are allowing religious gatherings of more than 10 people and parishes are able to implement the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

"The guidance is informed by church doctrine, expert medical advice and federal, state and local recommendations for maintaining public safety and prevention community contagion of the COVID-19 virus," the statement said.

The archdiocese also expressed gratitude to government leaders "who have consulted the advice of the religious community" to respect religious freedoms while ensuring the safety of worshippers and the wider community.

Making decisions amid "these unchartered challenges," the statement continued, requires that religious and personal freedom must be balanced with the need for economic stability and the pandemic's impact on the physical, mental and social health of local communities.

The archdiocese said it would "continue to give first priority to the protection of the sacredness of life as we strive to minister to the spiritual needs of the faithful."

Trump's May 22 announcement came less than a week after the Department of Justice challenged the "unequal treatment of faith communities" in California's coronavirus reopening plan, warning that continued restrictions on worship services threaten believers' civil rights to practice their religion.

"Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in a three-page letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom May 19. Dreiband is in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Elsewhere, Minnesota's Catholic bishops and Lutheran officials said they were moving ahead with plans to resume liturgies at 30% capacity May 26, despite the Gov. Tim Walz's executive order capping faith-based gatherings at 10 people due to the pandemic.

But after two days of meetings with Catholic and Lutheran leaders, Walz May 23 announced a new executive order permitting faith-based gatherings at 25% church capacity, with a total limit of 250 people, beginning May 27. The Minnesota governor announced the new order May 23.

In response, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the state's other Catholic bishops said they find the new guidance reasonable and so have modified their plans to align with the 25% of capacity now allowed. In addition to slightly lowering capacity limits, they also were waiting to resume public worship May 27 instead of May 26, as they initially planned.

The faith leaders had pushed Walz to allow bigger crowd capacity for worship services as an "urgent need." In past weeks, Minnesota restaurants, bars, malls, retail stores, salons and tattoo parlors had been green-lighted to reopen with certain restrictions.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Faith leaders: Protecting human life is priority in reopening churches

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishops of the state of Washington said suspension of the public celebration of Mass because of the coronavirus pandemic was undertaken "not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health."

"As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be instruments of God's protection for the vulnerable and the common good," the five bishops said in a May 22 statement released by the Washington State Catholic Conference. "Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan.

"While we share the desire to bring people back to Mass as quickly as possible, we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so," the statement said.

Washington state was the site of the first widespread outbreak of the COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and public health officials quickly enacted a massive shutdown of the state, including churches, to stem the outbreak.

The bishops' statement came in response to President Donald Trump's May 22 declaration that houses of worship are "essential." He directed the country's governors "to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend."

The president's appeal to the governors came as segments of the U.S. economy began to reopen after weeks of mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders governing the general population.

Trump said he would "override the governors" to ensure that churches would open for worship. He also noted that several governors "have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right."

While some religious freedom advocates praise Trump's declaration, critics said he could not constitutionally "override" governors' authority on a matter in their own states.

Washington's bishops said they hoped "that our right to responsibly and safely gather for worship will soon be honored so we can collaborate in a manner that respects both our Catholic tradition as well as our civic responsibilities."

"We eagerly await the governor's response to our suggestions on this so we can proceed together with our reopening plans," the statement concluded.

The archdioceses of Baltimore and Los Angeles also issued statements May 22 that explained why churches remained closed for public worship.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in video message that while church buildings remained closed, parishes were open. He stressed that the safety of people was his top concern.

He expressed solidarity with the faithful of the archdiocese, acknowledging the difficulty for people in not being able to celebrate Mass and the sacraments as a community.

"But I think we all have to understand that the reason that we have to do that is because we care for one another," the archbishop said. "The reality of this coronavirus pandemic is that it is a very dangerous illness and the virus is easy to be passed to one another. We didn't know exactly what was the reality and we started seeing the consequences of so many people dying and so many people getting sick, so that's why we had to be extremely careful in taking care of one another."

He said the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb in Los Angeles County, but that the number of illnesses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which also are part of the archdiocese, were not as high. "But it is still a very contagious illness," he said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore reiterated that it has undertaken plans to reopen parishes for public Mass for the weekend of May 30-31 in jurisdictions that are allowing religious gatherings of more than 10 people and parishes are able to implement the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

"The guidance is informed by church doctrine, expert medical advice and federal, state and local recommendations for maintaining public safety and prevention community contagion of the COVID-19 virus," the statement said.

The archdiocese also expressed gratitude to government leaders "who have consulted the advice of the religious community" to respect religious freedoms while ensuring the safety of worshippers and the wider community.

Making decisions amid "these unchartered challenges," the statement continued, requires that religious and personal freedom must be balanced with the need for economic stability and the pandemic's impact on the physical, mental and social health of local communities.

The archdiocese said it would "continue to give first priority to the protection of the sacredness of life as we strive to minister to the spiritual needs of the faithful."

Trump's May 22 announcement came less than a week after the Department of Justice challenged the "unequal treatment of faith communities" in California's coronavirus reopening plan, warning that continued restrictions on worship services threaten believers' civil rights to practice their religion.

"Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in a three-page letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom May 19. Dreiband is in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Elsewhere, Minnesota's Catholic bishops and Lutheran officials said they were moving ahead with plans to resume liturgies at 30% capacity May 26, despite the Gov. Tim Walz's executive order capping faith-based gatherings at 10 people due to the pandemic.

But after two days of meetings with Catholic and Lutheran leaders, Walz May 23 announced a new executive order permitting faith-based gatherings at 25% church capacity, with a total limit of 250 people, beginning May 27. The Minnesota governor announced the new order May 23.

In response, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the state's other Catholic bishops said they find the new guidance reasonable and so have modified their plans to align with the 25% of capacity now allowed. In addition to slightly lowering capacity limits, they also were waiting to resume public worship May 27 instead of May 26, as they initially planned.

The faith leaders had pushed Walz to allow bigger crowd capacity for worship services as an "urgent need." In past weeks, Minnesota restaurants, bars, malls, retail stores, salons and tattoo parlors had been green-lighted to reopen with certain restrictions.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Pope to lead world shrines in rosary prayer for pandemic May 30

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will lead the major shrines around the world in praying the rosary to implore Mary's intercession and protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope will pray at the replica of the Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens May 30, the eve of Pentecost, and will also be joined by several "men and women representing various categories of people particularly affected by the virus," the Vatican said May 26. The service will be at 5:30 p.m. in Rome (11:30 a.m. EDT).

"At the feet of Mary, the Holy Father will place the many troubles and sorrows of humanity, further worsened by the spread of COVID-19," said a statement released by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

According to the statement, the prayer, which coincides with the end of the Marian month of May, "is another sign of closeness and consolation for those who, in different ways, have been struck by the coronavirus, in the certainty that the Heavenly Mother will not disregard the requests for protection."

Among those who will accompany the pope in praying the rosary will be a doctor and a nurse, a recovered patient as well as a person who lost a family member to COVID-19. Also taking part in the rosary will be a hospital chaplain, a pharmacist, a journalist, a Civil Defense volunteer and his family and a family that welcomed a new baby, "a sign of hope and the victory of life over death," the pontifical council said.

Shrines around the world will connect to the event and take part in the prayer, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Pope to lead world shrines in rosary prayer for pandemic May 30

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will lead the major shrines around the world in praying the rosary to implore Mary's intercession and protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope will pray at the replica of the Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens May 30, the eve of Pentecost, and will also be joined by several "men and women representing various categories of people particularly affected by the virus," the Vatican said May 26. The service will be at 5:30 p.m. in Rome (11:30 a.m. EDT).

"At the feet of Mary, the Holy Father will place the many troubles and sorrows of humanity, further worsened by the spread of COVID-19," said a statement released by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

According to the statement, the prayer, which coincides with the end of the Marian month of May, "is another sign of closeness and consolation for those who, in different ways, have been struck by the coronavirus, in the certainty that the Heavenly Mother will not disregard the requests for protection."

Among those who will accompany the pope in praying the rosary will be a doctor and a nurse, a recovered patient as well as a person who lost a family member to COVID-19. Also taking part in the rosary will be a hospital chaplain, a pharmacist, a journalist, a Civil Defense volunteer and his family and a family that welcomed a new baby, "a sign of hope and the victory of life over death," the pontifical council said.

Shrines around the world will connect to the event and take part in the prayer, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Pope marks anniversary of 'Laudato Si'' with call to prayer, action

IMAGE: CNS photo/Phil Noble, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Commemorating the fifth anniversary of his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis called on Christians to join in prayer and acts of care for the Earth and for the poor.

After reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer May 24, the pope encouraged Catholics to participate in the celebration of the "Special Laudato Si' Anniversary Year," a yearlong series of initiatives dedicated to putting the encyclical's teaching into action.

"I invite all people of goodwill to join, to take care of our common home and of our most fragile brothers and sisters," he said.

According to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the yearlong celebration from May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021, will emphasize "ecological conversion in action" through a series of events dedicated to environmental care, education and the economy.

The pope also said that "it would be beautiful" for Catholics to recite the prayer dedicated to the anniversary celebration of the encyclical.

The prayer, which is available on the dicastery's "Laudato Si' Week" website, asks God to "be present to those in need in these trying times, especially the poorest and those most at risk of being left behind."

"Help us to show creative solidarity in addressing the consequences of this global pandemic. Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed in search of the common good," the prayer states.

In a statement released by the Vatican press office May 16, the dicastery also detailed the rollout of a "seven-year journey toward integral ecology" for families, dioceses, schools, universities, hospitals, businesses, farms and religious orders.

Among the events is the ecumenical "Season of Creation" initiative, which runs from the Sept. 1 Day of Prayer for Creation through the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4.

The initiative, explained at www.seasonofcreation.org is "an annual celebration of prayer and action to protect creation" that will include an online prayer service, a webinar and conferences.

In a May 25 statement announcing the initiative, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, "the Season of Creation is especially relevant this year."

The dicastery, it said, "is currently engaged in work to develop a comprehensive response to the pandemic, addressing both the immediate needs of those who suffer today and the long-term need to create more just societies."

Throughout the anniversary year, Catholic dioceses, schools and institutions also will be encouraged to implement the use of clean renewable energy, as well as the sober use of resources and energy and updating educational curriculum "to create ecological awareness and action, promoting the ecological vocation of young people, teachers and leaders of education."

The dicastery also instituted the "Laudato Si' Awards," which will recognize individuals, educational institutions, dioceses and parishes for their efforts in encouraging and promoting the care of the environment.

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Pope marks anniversary of 'Laudato Si'' with call to prayer, action

IMAGE: CNS photo/Phil Noble, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Commemorating the fifth anniversary of his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis called on Christians to join in prayer and acts of care for the Earth and for the poor.

After reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer May 24, the pope encouraged Catholics to participate in the celebration of the "Special Laudato Si' Anniversary Year," a yearlong series of initiatives dedicated to putting the encyclical's teaching into action.

"I invite all people of goodwill to join, to take care of our common home and of our most fragile brothers and sisters," he said.

According to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the yearlong celebration from May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021, will emphasize "ecological conversion in action" through a series of events dedicated to environmental care, education and the economy.

The pope also said that "it would be beautiful" for Catholics to recite the prayer dedicated to the anniversary celebration of the encyclical.

The prayer, which is available on the dicastery's "Laudato Si' Week" website, asks God to "be present to those in need in these trying times, especially the poorest and those most at risk of being left behind."

"Help us to show creative solidarity in addressing the consequences of this global pandemic. Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed in search of the common good," the prayer states.

In a statement released by the Vatican press office May 16, the dicastery also detailed the rollout of a "seven-year journey toward integral ecology" for families, dioceses, schools, universities, hospitals, businesses, farms and religious orders.

Among the events is the ecumenical "Season of Creation" initiative, which runs from the Sept. 1 Day of Prayer for Creation through the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4.

The initiative, explained at www.seasonofcreation.org is "an annual celebration of prayer and action to protect creation" that will include an online prayer service, a webinar and conferences.

In a May 25 statement announcing the initiative, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, "the Season of Creation is especially relevant this year."

The dicastery, it said, "is currently engaged in work to develop a comprehensive response to the pandemic, addressing both the immediate needs of those who suffer today and the long-term need to create more just societies."

Throughout the anniversary year, Catholic dioceses, schools and institutions also will be encouraged to implement the use of clean renewable energy, as well as the sober use of resources and energy and updating educational curriculum "to create ecological awareness and action, promoting the ecological vocation of young people, teachers and leaders of education."

The dicastery also instituted the "Laudato Si' Awards," which will recognize individuals, educational institutions, dioceses and parishes for their efforts in encouraging and promoting the care of the environment.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Catechist has special message for children waiting for first Communion

IMAGE: CNS composite; photo courtesy the Canavan and Murawski families via The Catholic Spirit

By Joanne Ward

METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- May is the month many eagerly await because it is the time many children receive first holy Communion. Sadly, this year the coronavirus has made pastors postpone this momentous milestone in the spiritual lives of waiting first communicants.

Not wanting her young students to think they have been forgotten, Coleen D'Amato, who has been preparing her 78 boys and girls to receive Jesus into their hearts sacramentally, decided to talk to them via social media.

In a heartwarming message to the children, D'Amato, who has served for the past three years as parish catechetical leader at Immaculate Conception Parish in Annandale, New Jersey, told her class: "I know that you have waited and longed to receive our Lord's Most Precious Body and Most Precious Blood in the holy Eucharist and you will."

She acknowledged they had done a lot of preparation for the sacrament and many parents had planned parties and family get-togethers for their special day, but now everything was put on hold because of the coronavirus.

Continuing, D'Amato said, "Sometimes it's hard to wait for something we really want, but you are going to have to be patient." She then posed a question, "Being patient can be hard, can't it?"

"I struggle with that, too," she added.

Having gotten the attention of her boys and girls, D'Amato then told them, "The good news is as much as you're waiting to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus can't wait to meet you there either." She said that while they are waiting they should pray to Jesus and ask him to help them be patient.

The catechist then went on to give the children some challenges. She had sent their parents links to pictures of chalices and hosts.

"Pick the one you like best and color it as best as you can, cut it out and hang it on your bedroom window," she instructed. "When you wake up each morning and see your picture, I want you to say a special prayer to Jesus, and each night before you go to bed, I want you to say that prayer again," she added. D'Amato had sent the prayer to the parents.

"Jesus, I trust you and I will be patient while I wait to receive you in first holy Communion. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I adore you. Jesus, I trust you. Amen," was the prayer D'Amato wrote for the children to keep by their bedside and say daily.

She said she had colored a picture of a host and chalice and showed them where it was on a window in her home office. "Every time I come in here, it reminds me to pray for you," she said.

Speaking again about her challenges to them, D'Amato asked the children to send her a picture of their artwork, telling them if they wanted, they could be in the picture. She said she planned on doing something special with the artwork and would share it with them the next time they were together. She ended her special message saying, "Be patient, know that Jesus loves you, know that we all miss you at church, and we'll see you soon to celebrate. God bless."

Asked how she decided to send her special message, D'Amato said once parishes were closed and public Masses and events canceled, she began thinking about her students who were to receive sacraments this year.

"One of the blessings of parish catechetical leaders is that we are always happy to share our ideas with each other," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

She explained that her message for her Facebook post and prayer "was a compilation of ideas" gleaned from other parish catechetical leaders, and email discussions with Carol Mascola, director of the Metuchen diocesan Office of Discipleship Foundation for Children, "as well as through various national and international faith formation and youth ministry groups on Facebook."

"I put all of the ideas together," she added, "and shaped them into what I wanted to get across to my own first communicants, through my own personality and my own personal relationship with Christ."

A catechist for more than 20 years, D'Amato noted that in addition to talking to her first Communion class, she hoped to evangelize their families as well as others who might see her message, which she shared on her personal Facebook page and was posted on her parish's and even the diocesan Facebook pages. She wanted people to know they were loved. The response was unexpected.

"I was surprised by how much I touched people that were not getting ready to receive communion for the first time," she said. "Many told me 'I really miss Jesus. I really miss receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.'"

"I, too, really miss receiving Jesus, and I think that's true for all of us that are Catholic," stated D'Amato.

From the reaction she has received to her heartfelt message viewed by far more than just her first Communicants, it seems that once parishes are opened and the faithful return to Mass, many may receive Jesus as if it were their first time, too.

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Ward writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Catechist has special message for children waiting for first Communion

IMAGE: CNS composite; photo courtesy the Canavan and Murawski families via The Catholic Spirit

By Joanne Ward

METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- May is the month many eagerly await because it is the time many children receive first holy Communion. Sadly, this year the coronavirus has made pastors postpone this momentous milestone in the spiritual lives of waiting first communicants.

Not wanting her young students to think they have been forgotten, Coleen D'Amato, who has been preparing her 78 boys and girls to receive Jesus into their hearts sacramentally, decided to talk to them via social media.

In a heartwarming message to the children, D'Amato, who has served for the past three years as parish catechetical leader at Immaculate Conception Parish in Annandale, New Jersey, told her class: "I know that you have waited and longed to receive our Lord's Most Precious Body and Most Precious Blood in the holy Eucharist and you will."

She acknowledged they had done a lot of preparation for the sacrament and many parents had planned parties and family get-togethers for their special day, but now everything was put on hold because of the coronavirus.

Continuing, D'Amato said, "Sometimes it's hard to wait for something we really want, but you are going to have to be patient." She then posed a question, "Being patient can be hard, can't it?"

"I struggle with that, too," she added.

Having gotten the attention of her boys and girls, D'Amato then told them, "The good news is as much as you're waiting to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus can't wait to meet you there either." She said that while they are waiting they should pray to Jesus and ask him to help them be patient.

The catechist then went on to give the children some challenges. She had sent their parents links to pictures of chalices and hosts.

"Pick the one you like best and color it as best as you can, cut it out and hang it on your bedroom window," she instructed. "When you wake up each morning and see your picture, I want you to say a special prayer to Jesus, and each night before you go to bed, I want you to say that prayer again," she added. D'Amato had sent the prayer to the parents.

"Jesus, I trust you and I will be patient while I wait to receive you in first holy Communion. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I adore you. Jesus, I trust you. Amen," was the prayer D'Amato wrote for the children to keep by their bedside and say daily.

She said she had colored a picture of a host and chalice and showed them where it was on a window in her home office. "Every time I come in here, it reminds me to pray for you," she said.

Speaking again about her challenges to them, D'Amato asked the children to send her a picture of their artwork, telling them if they wanted, they could be in the picture. She said she planned on doing something special with the artwork and would share it with them the next time they were together. She ended her special message saying, "Be patient, know that Jesus loves you, know that we all miss you at church, and we'll see you soon to celebrate. God bless."

Asked how she decided to send her special message, D'Amato said once parishes were closed and public Masses and events canceled, she began thinking about her students who were to receive sacraments this year.

"One of the blessings of parish catechetical leaders is that we are always happy to share our ideas with each other," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

She explained that her message for her Facebook post and prayer "was a compilation of ideas" gleaned from other parish catechetical leaders, and email discussions with Carol Mascola, director of the Metuchen diocesan Office of Discipleship Foundation for Children, "as well as through various national and international faith formation and youth ministry groups on Facebook."

"I put all of the ideas together," she added, "and shaped them into what I wanted to get across to my own first communicants, through my own personality and my own personal relationship with Christ."

A catechist for more than 20 years, D'Amato noted that in addition to talking to her first Communion class, she hoped to evangelize their families as well as others who might see her message, which she shared on her personal Facebook page and was posted on her parish's and even the diocesan Facebook pages. She wanted people to know they were loved. The response was unexpected.

"I was surprised by how much I touched people that were not getting ready to receive communion for the first time," she said. "Many told me 'I really miss Jesus. I really miss receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.'"

"I, too, really miss receiving Jesus, and I think that's true for all of us that are Catholic," stated D'Amato.

From the reaction she has received to her heartfelt message viewed by far more than just her first Communicants, it seems that once parishes are opened and the faithful return to Mass, many may receive Jesus as if it were their first time, too.

- - -

Ward writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]