Cookies make Christmas sweeter

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Though she has been a parishioner of St. Mary in Iowa City for almost 70 years, Imelda Goss is no longer able to attend Mass at the church. Father John Spiegel, the pastor, celebrates Mass monthly at her place of residence — Windmill Pointe in Coralville — but she doesn’t get regular interaction with her fellow parishioners.

Rachel Santos
First graders Zach Santos and Maggie Sueppel frost and decorate cookies Dec. 13 at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. The cookies are delivered to home-bound and grieving parishioners during Advent each year.

For her, the cookies youths from St. Mary make and deliver to her apartment each year bring a smile to her face. As she recently experienced the death of a child, a reason to smile was especially needed this year for the 88-year-old. “I appreciate any kind of visitation,” she said, noting that the plate of cookies lasts her through the Christmas season.

For the past 20 years, youths at St. Mary have been making and delivering cookies to home-bound parishioners and to those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Parish Youth Coordinator Patti McTaggart said, “This is our way of reaching out to them as a parish community, to let them know we still remember them even though we may not see them as often.”

This year, youths and their families made about 2,000 cookies Dec. 12-13 in the parish hall. Older youths, along with a few college students and parents, helped out by delivering plates of cookies.

Having been a part of the cookie tradition for 20 years, McTaggart said she sees the youths having fun making cookies and they seem to understand the impact they are making. “One first-grader this year said, ‘We’re gonna make a lot of people happy,’ which is true; they did.”

Along with the much-appreciated opportunity to chat and sometimes sing Christmas carols with the parishioners delivering cookies, Goss said the treats themselves “are very good, and there is a nice variety.”

A number of youths who started out decorating cookies move on to delivery after earning a driver’s license in high school. Among them are Nick Dolezal and Riley Hanrahan. Both graduates of Regina High School and now in college, they still help out with delivery when they can.

Dolezal said, “It started out being something our parents made us do, now it is something we look forward to.”

He said they most look forward to their yearly visit to Dottie Ray, the grandmother of their high school football weightlifting coach. “She is always excited to see us, even though we only see her once a year. She always remembers us. It is fun to see her smile.”

McTaggart describes the cookie project as intergenerational. “We can learn so much from our elders … It is important that (youths) know and appreciate the gifts the elderly provide for all of us.”

Parishioner Laura Felderman said her teenage sons Ben and Noah came home smiling after delivering cookies Dec. 13. “They had all kinds of stories to tell.”

Among the stories was an experience the boys had while delivering cookies to parishioners at Legacy Senior Living Community in Iowa City. When they couldn’t find the recipients, a “really nice lady” helped them. The boys ended up offering her a plate of cookies and gave two additional plates of cookies to non-Catholic residents, Felder-man said. “They thoroughly enjoyed going through and meeting people.”

She expressed pride in her sons for taking initiative to help others. “I know they make a difference in the older peoples’ lives when they deliver cookies. It warms my heart.”

Goss said she always appreciates the cookies – so much so that she plans to offer a scholarship that will allow a low-income youth the opportunity to attend a parish ski trip this winter. “The Catholic youths, I’m very proud of them.”

 

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Toe-picking guitarist coming to Davenport Diocese

By Lindsay Steele

The Catholic Messenger

Being born without arms didn’t stop guitarist Tony Melendez from playing for Pope John Paul II and earning his praise. In March, he will share his music and message of hope with the Diocese of Davenport.

CNS/Don Blake, The Dialog
Composer and musician Tony Melendez plays guitar and sings in this file photo. Melendez will perform in Iowa City and Ottumwa in March.

The Nicaragua native will perform the bilingual concert “Song of Hope” at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City March 6 at 7 p.m. and at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa on March 7 at 7 p.m.

Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of multicultural ministry, said the concerts will be inspirational for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking Catholics. “Among our weaknesses and difficulties, we think our life is so hard; but Tony’s presence, life, message and music are helpful in telling us we have a reason to continue living and working. That is the hope we need sometimes.”

Born without arms because his mother was prescribed the now-banned medication Thalidomide during pregnancy, Melendez was fitted with artificial arms as a child. However, he disposed of them because they did not feel comfortable, according to his website biography. “I could use my feet so much more.”

He began playing guitar and harmonica as a teenager, using his feet and toes in place of hands to hit the notes.

At this time, he also became involved in the Catholic Church. He considered a calling to the priesthood, but was told he could not because his lack of hands would be considered an impediment. He decided to channel his desire to serve God into music ministry, using his talents as a guitarist and songwriter for Mass and church-related events. Demand for his playing increased to the point in which he was playing five Masses on any given Sunday.

In 1987, word of his playing reached the Vatican and Melendez was invited to play for the pope. Melendez recalled Pope John Paul II kissing his forehead after the performance and encouraging him to bring hope to people through his music.

Since then, he has played on The Today Show, Good Morning America and performed the National Anthem at the World Series of baseball. Melendez and his wife, Lynn, currently live in Branson, Mo.
Moreno believes Melendez will encourage joy as well as hope in his performance. “He also has a message that we should enjoy life and enjoy everything we have. Everything we have is a miracle.”

Tickets can be purchased by calling the Office of Multicultural Ministry at (563) 888-4217, or the parishes hosting the event. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. Moreno encourages people to purchase tickets in advance, as limited seating is available.

 

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Testimonio de conversión a través de María

Por Benito Herrera
El Mensajero Católico

En el nombre del Señor Jesús y la intersección de nuestra Madre Santísima y con la poderosa inspiración del Espíritu Santo me permito darles mi testimonio, para manifestarles el poder de Dios y de la Virgen.

Lindsay Steele
Benito y Nila Herrera posan en frente de la imagen de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

He nacido en la ciudad de Tonosique, Tabasco, México, fui bautizado y confirmado en la Iglesia Católica, tengo 13 hermanos, mis padres eran católicos de nombre porque nunca iban a misa, ni hablaban de su fe.

Cuando tenía 7 años, por la extrema pobreza de mis padres, nos mudamos a Quintana Roo al sur de México, pues, aquí mi padre tenía un amigo que pertenecía a una iglesia evangélica llamada iglesia del Dios vivo columna y apoyo de la verdad el buen pastor, denominación desprendida de la iglesia de la luz del mundo. Mis padres y mis hermanos se bautizaron aquí, yo no lo pude hacer porque era menor de edad; pero me gustaban las cosas de Dios, los estudios bíblicos, los cultos, los cantos, la humildad, pues, deseaba ser con el tiempo, un buen pastor, pero sobre todo captar a católicos para que se conviertan a esta iglesia, y atacaba a la imagen de la Virgen María.

Mi conversión a esta fe definitivamente, como nos ha pasado a muchos, no la entendemos, no lo podemos explicar y uno piensa unas cosas y Dios, otras. A los 15 años se me olvidó el encantamiento con Dios, conocí al mundo y sus caminos, como la mayoría de los jóvenes bailes, cines; todo menos Dios.

A los 29 tuve mi primer hijo en una primera relación; después, entré a otra relación amorosa de la cual tuve a otro de mis hijos; entonces, decidí probar suerte en Estados Unidos al poco tiempo de llegar aquí llegaron mi pareja y mi hijo de tan solo 6 meses. Ella era de religión católica.

Un día decidí obsequiarle a mi esposa, aunque yo no era católico, una imagen de la Virgen de Guadalupe y un Corazón de Jesús. Ella no les dio mucha importancia y lo puso por un mueble de la casa. Hubo un hecho en nuestra relación que me afectó enormemente, ella se había llevado a mis hijos.

Fui a vivir a otro estado y tiré todo lo que le pertenecía, pero no pude arrojar las imágenes que habían sido para ella, así que decidí llevármelas. Yo seguía con mi dolor de no tener a mis hijos. Eran noches y días en las que después del trabajo me encerraba a llorar y llorar, en medio de mi depresión, mirando hacia una esquina de mi cuarto, un reflejo de la luna, que entró por la ventana, es precisamente donde está la imagen de la Virgen y del Sagrado Corazón Ella medio inclinada como en oración por mí y él con el corazón abierto y con los brazos abiertos como diciendo ven y desde esa madrugada los limpié y dormían a mi alrededor, les contaba todo, les pedí perdón y empezaron a llenar ese vacío de tristeza en mi corazón.

Poco después conocí a una pareja de católicos que me ayudaron y llevaron a un grupo de oración. Recuerdo que por momentos me resistía a entrar por mis convicciones evangélicas y dije : Señor, si es tu voluntad que así sea.” Escuché una alabanza que habla exactamente de mi vida y caí de rodillas llorando, sin comprender por qué, cómo lo supieron, por qué directamente a mí. Es como escuchar decir: “Aquí estoy para ayudarte y para sanar tu corazón”. Bendito seas, Señor Jesús, bendita sea tu Madre Santísima, por el poder de Dios manifestado en mí .

El esposo de la pareja que me acompañó, se convirtió en mi cuñado; cosa que jamás pasó por mi mente, porque a pesar de lo que yo sentía de la experiencia vivida, me case con su hermana. Bendito seas Dios, bendita seas María Madre de Dios. El regalo más grande que Él me ha dado es una Madre Celestial que tiene mucho amor y me ayuda y me conduce desde la obscuridad hasta la luz, intercediendo por mí y por todos ante su Hijo Jesucristo, que no me abandona nunca, me ha regalado su única y verdadera Iglesia, que tiene toda la plenitud del Espíritu Santo.

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A sense of grace at Christmas time

By Barb Arland-Fye

Editor

Ten days before Christmas, my husband Steve decided to attend a reconciliation service at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. It was a Monday night — deadline crunch time for me — but I committed to meeting Steve in the church for the 7 p.m. service. Stress seemed to vanish as I stepped into the peaceful, dimly lit church and saw Steve waiting.

Arland-Fye

The printed program for the service stated it would be “Reconciliation in the Style of Taizé.” I envisioned easy-to-follow, repetitive prayers and music designed to create a sense of unity as we focused on our relationship with God.

Taizé refers to an ecumenical community made up of more than 100 brothers, Catholics and Protestants, coming from around 30 nations. The community is a “parable of community that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples (www.taize.fr).”

We began with a song asking the Lord to fill our hearts with peace. We listened to Psalm 130, which assured us that “with the Lord is kindness, with him is full redemption …”
The Scripture reading from Isaiah (40:1-5) contains this verse — “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” — which called to mind something a colleague said when we both worked at the Quad-City Times daily newspaper. Once in a while, in the rush to make deadline, disagreements occurred and feelings were hurt. This colleague always responded with grace. I asked her, “How do you manage to let it go?” She told me, “I take the King’s highway.”

Our printed program included an examination of conscience for children, teens and adults based on the Lord’s Prayer. I scanned questions for adults and discovered areas I am attentive to and areas that require more attention. What a terrific way to help me surface issues with my confessor!

Father James Vrba, St. John Vianney’s pastor, pointed to priests seated in back pews all around the church waiting to hear our confessions. Each wore a white alb and a purple stole. Even in the dim light their demeanor seemed so prayerful, humble. The image evoked a sense of “we’re all in this together!”

But as editor of a Catholic newspaper, I subconsciously feel held to a higher standard when it comes to confession. Won’t the priest be appalled by my sinfulness? When I shared how I felt with my confessor at St. John Vianney, he reassured me, and reminded me how good it feels to receive absolution. I agreed.

So, holding the printed copy of the examination of conscience, I zeroed in on my shortcomings and couldn’t have been received by a more compassionate confessor.
After confession, each participant had the opportunity to light a candle and place it in a sand-filled container at the front of the sanctuary. The warmth of the flames and the grouping of all those candles enhanced, for me, the sense of unity with the other Catholics gathered.

The choir, led by liturgy and music director Eleanor Kiel, sang a beautiful rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem in the round. We exchanged the sign of peace, a fitting conclusion to the reconciliation service. Both Steve and I felt uplifted. And I experienced a sense of grace, a gift, with which to enter Christmas Time.

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Scripture reading reflection

By Fr. Andrew Kelly

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD — JAN. 1, 2015

St. John of the Cross wrote somewhere: “The Father spoke one Word, which was the Father’s Son, and the Father speaks the Word in an eternal silence; and in silence the Word must be heard by the soul.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew the Word the Father spoke in eternal silence. Mary had the soul silence needed to hear that Word. If Mary is the model for the believing community, then it must come to know the Father’s Word in its soul’s stillness and silence just as Mary did.

The Gospel (Luke 2:16-21) for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, states: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” In Mary’s stillness and silence of pondering and treasuring, the Father’s Word penetrated, illuminated and transformed Mary’s soul forever.

The question arises: “How much community time is solely dedicated and scheduled for stillness, silence, treasuring and pondering? If seldom or none, the Father’s Word will never be heard, let alone penetrate, illumine and transform the community’s soul as Mary’s soul was. Ideally, Mary’s silent still soul should by now be the community’s soul: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

(Father Andrew Kelly is a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport.)

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Bishop’s letter: Helping in the fight against Ebola

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

2014 will be remembered for the Ebola Outbreak that has already infected and taken the lives of many of our brothers and sisters in West Africa.
Compassion knows no borders. Medical and disaster relief workers from the United States and all around the world have risked their lives by responding at the frontline of this battle. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Time Magazine Person of the Year is actually an identified group, The Ebola Fighters.
Catholic Relief Services, the official international aid and development organization of the Catholic Church in the United States, committed $1.5 million of its emergency funds after the outbreak. At the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, parishes are encouraged to consider a special collection on the weekend of Dec. 27-28, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our generous financial support will continue the vital work of education of how the virus spreads, the only real solution to the outbreak in the absence of a vaccine or cure.
Thank you for your support of this special collection and for your continued prayers for the victims of this crisis.

Ayudando en la lucha contra el Ébola

Queridos Hermanos y Hermanas en Cristo,
El 2014 será recordado por el brote de Ébola, que ha infectado y tomado la vida de muchos de nuestros Hermanos y Hermanas en el Oeste de África.
La compasión no conoce de límites. El personal de socorro y de desastre de los Estados Unidos y de todo el mundo, han arriesgado sus vidas por responder en la primera línea de esta batalla. Por eso, no nos sorprende que la revista el Tiempo haya escogido como persona del Año al grupo llamado: Luchadores contra el Ébola.
Los Servicios Católicos de Ayuda, que es la organización de ayuda y desarrollo internacional oficial de la Iglesia Católica en los Estados Unidos, comprometió $1.5 de los fondos de emergencia después que se lanzó el brote. Al pedido de la Conferencia Católica de los Obispos de los Estados Unidos, se les pide a las parroquias considerar una colecta especial el fin de semana del 27 y 28 de diciembre, en la Fiesta de la Sagrada Familia de Jesús, María y José. Nuestro apoyo económico generoso continuará la labor fundamental de educación sobre la forma en que este virus se propaga, pues, es la única solución real para este brote, en ausencia de vacunas o cura.
Gracias por su apoyo a esta colecta especial y por su continua oración a las víctimas de esta crisis.

Sincerely in Christ,
Sinceramente en Cristo,

Most Rev. Martin Amos
Rev. Mons. Rev. Martin Amos
Bishop of Davenport
Obispo de Davenport

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On the hunt for food, necessities

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

WASHINGTON — As a first-year youth director, Mary Sue Marek of St. James Parish says she is constantly looking for opportunities to teach Christian values in new and exciting ways.
On Dec. 7, she sent a group of students from the parish’s Knight Life high school group on a scavenger hunt. She didn’t ask them to scour the neighborhood for four-leaf clovers or feathers, however. She sent the teenagers to parishioners’ homes in search of food and other necessities to donate to families in need.

Contributed
Jessica and Owen, members of St. James Knight Life, decorate a Christmas tree at St. James Parish in Washington using food items collected during a service project. The items were donated to Hawkeye Area Community Action Program’s holiday harvest boxes, which provide food and other essentials to area families in need.

“I thought it was a neat idea,” Marek said. In planning the event, she contacted local nonprofit Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) to get an idea of which items were most needed this time of year. She was familiar with the agency’s food drive program, but was surprised and interested to learn that HACAP also makes harvest baskets to distribute as a boost for families in need. She asked what items were needed for those baskets and was told food, dish soap and diapers topped the list.

On the day of the scavenger hunt, Marek separated the 12 participating teens into groups and let them know which items to ask for. She provided them with a list of addresses to try, so that they wouldn’t be approaching strangers or parishioners who themselves are in need.

The students had an hour to complete the task and returned with about 150 items to donate. “People were so generous! Some people just emptied out their pantries. We even got a huge jug of laundry detergent from one parishioner and a huge (bundle) of toilet paper and paper towels (from another).”

After returning to St. James Parish, the students decorated a Christmas tree using some of the lighter food items as ornaments. Other foods and goods were placed under the tree. A few days later, HACAP picked up the items for distribution.

Knight Life member Kaylee said she had fun gathering food for those in need. “It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she said.

Marek said St. James Parish requests that its ninth- and 10th-graders perform at least 10 hours of community service before receiving the sacrament of confirmation. The service project offered them a chance to check off a few of those hours. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel” when it comes to earning service hours. “They can just join in with the group,” Marek said.

Parish pastor Father Bernie Weir expressed pride in what the students accomplished. “Our kids are doing a wonderful job of living the Christian life!”

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