Persons, places and things: carrying Christmas in our hearts

By Barb Arland-Fye

Their Christmas memories moved me deeply: a dying mom’s gift to her daughter, a memorable “Silent Night” sung by troops 10,000 miles away from home, an orphan’s introduction to baby Jesus. The Catholic Mess­en­ger’s request for readers to share Christmas memories generated poignant stories of the incarnation of love, hope and peace (see Pages 6-8).


Pop singer Faith Hill sings longingly, “Where are you Christmas?” The answer can be found in stories like these, that readers shared and that reaffirm the meaning of Christmas, a love generous in self-giving and ultimately focused on our relationship with God.

A lump forms in my throat when I read Lou Ann Montgomery’s description of walking into her mother’s home and finding the nativity set that the dying woman had managed to get for her daughter. It is the first decoration that goes up every year at Christmas in the Montgomery household, a wonderful reminder of a mother’s sacrificial love.

Dale Banowetz writes of singing “Silent Night” with thousands of troops far from home, knowing that they would not be home for Christmas and would more likely sleep in heavenly peace only in their dreams. “I am still moved every time I sing Silent Night,” the veteran says.

He asks us to remember all of the troops who are away from home this Christmas. I would like to add that we also remember the millions of children, women and men around the world who will not sleep in heavenly peace because of war, animosity and intolerance.

Teresa Mottet recalls her first Christmas as a widow missing Francis, her husband of 61 years. He died in August 2009 and that December she had a crazy dream in which she could hear “our song” being played. Francis purchased the recording of “Have I told you lately that I love you?” the Christmas before they were married. What a wonderful moment of experiencing God’s love and reassurance!

Bonnie Goedken recalled a long ago Christmas when she got to sneak up to her mother’s hospital room in the obstetrics ward. Her mother had given birth after midnight on Christmas and 4-year-old Bonnie was delighted to be able to see her mom on that doubly special day.

Interspersed with the Christmas memories are winning entries from our annual Christmas Card Contest. My staff leaves me out of the selection process until the very end because I think every entry is a winner.

Unfortunately, we can’t squeeze 700-plus entries into the newspaper or reproduce each one for the website. I would like to express my gratitude to each and every artist who submitted an entry, including the one who wrote “CHRISTmas” on his drawing. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to place the emphasis on Christ when we say or write the word “Christmas.”

The artwork that the students created and the memories that adults shared with The Catholic Messenger provide inspiration for me in celebrating anew the gift of God’s son, entering into our humanity. Jesus’ arrival as a fragile infant reminds us that all gifts of love require nurturing relationships on which to grow and build. We continue to unwrap this gift, the promise of our salvation, only when we share love with one another.

(Contact Editor Barb

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A welcoming spirit and an open heart

All through Advent we sing longingly, “O Come, O Come Emanuel and ransom captive Israel.” The theme of exile is woven into the Christmas story — in the Gospels proclaimed in the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord and in the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. Jesus and his family are exiles, fleeing murderous persecution. Hundreds of families in the Diocese of Davenport are living this experience of exile afresh as refugees, many of them finding refuge in Iowa City, Coralville and Columbus Junction. It is not an easy life. The United Nations confers refugee status when an individual can establish a well-founded fear of persecution if he or she were to return home. It is a years-long process.

Christmas Time should heighten our awareness of the 65 million refugees worldwide, and inspire us to be a welcoming presence in our parishes, homes, schools, businesses and greater community. This past fiscal year (2016), 995 refugees arrived in Iowa, some of them in our diocese. They come from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and other countries where conflict is roiling.

Nyota, her husband Bugoma and their son Clovis are among a growing population of 2,000 Congolese refugees in the Iowa City area. Like many newcomers, they must grasp an entirely different culture, climate and lifestyle while working to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. One of Nyota’s observations about living in Iowa should cause us to pause. People close their doors; they go home and keep to themselves. We have to work just that much harder in our faith communities to not fall through comfortable patterns of interpersonal indifference.

Refugees desire to flourish in their new homeland, but they need a hand up to achieve self-sufficiency. Research shows that over time, refugees who have been resettled have a positive or neutral impact on the economy of their host country, according to Community West Blog of Westlake, Ohio. A 2012 study of refugees in Cleveland, for example, showed a positive economic impact, the blog noted. Refugees contribute to the U.S. economy and we’re better off because of it.
In Iowa, the Bureau of Refugee Services coordinates refugee programming and collaborates with two voluntary agencies in Iowa: The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Most of the resettlement is occurring in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, said Loren Bawn, the bureau’s operations manger. But pockets exist in other parts of the state such as Iowa City, Coralville and Columbus Junction.
A Dec. 14 meeting of state and local groups on refugee resettlement in Johnson County concluded that more resources are needed to assist the county’s refugee population. Iowans are willing to assist, but want to know what they can do.

Here are some suggestions, culled from a variety of sources:

• Learn about refugees and refugee resettlement in Iowa ( For a national perspective (, and for a church perspective (
• If you are an employer, hire refugees. They’ve been strengthened by adversity and are capable, resilient and loyal employees. Diversity can enrich the workforce.
• If you are a landlord, be flexible in renting to refugees, some of whom have large families.
• Donate money, household goods, personal hygiene products, furniture, winter clothing.
• Volunteer to teach English, provide rides to appointments, jobs, church and the grocery store.
• Establish an awareness campaign at your parish or school and receive materials, literature and other resources by contacting Migration and Refugee Services Education and Outreach Coordinator at or call (202) 541-3208.
• Contact your legislators and members of Congress to provide funding for programs that help refugees with the resettlement process, such as AmeriCorps in Iowa City.
• Practice civility and tolerance with the cashier at the store or the housekeeper at your hotel.
• Many refugees are too polite to acknowledge miscommunication. Make sure you are being understood by asking more questions.

The small, vulnerable refugee whose birth we celebrate this Christmas spent his short adulthood teaching us how to live with one another. “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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Christmas Card Contest winners grades 3&4

First place in the grades 3-4 category was Kate Flannery, 9, a fourth-grader at St. James Catholic School and Parish in Washington.
Second place in the grades 3-4 category was Clara LeConte, 9, a third-grader at St. Joseph Catholic School and Parish in DeWitt.
Third place in the grades 3-4 category was Isabella Wheatley-Behne, 9, a third-grader at Holy Trinity Catholic School in West Point.
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Keota native to volunteer in Bolivia

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

KEOTA — In a few weeks, new college graduate Maggie VanRoekel will head to Bolivia to help provide educational opportunities to marginalized citizens. As a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Services, she will spend two years living in solidarity with students at Unidad Academica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, teaching English and participating in ministerial work.

Maggie VanRoekel, front center, is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota. In January, she will head to Bolivia to work with Franciscan Mission Services.

Through her missionary work, she hopes to help students learn skills they can take back to their rural communities to help those communities flourish. “The biggest thing is that there is an (emphasis) on living simply in solidarity with people living on the margins,” said VanRoekel, 22.

A member of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota, she said she felt the mission bug early on in life. She saw family members, including her grandfather, Deacon David Reha, serve the church. VanRoekel took advantage of opportunities to do short-term mission work, which further solidified her desire to serve in a missionary role.

Faith, however, was the biggest inspiration. “Christ provided us with the ultimate example of what it means to live among those experiencing poverty, homelessness, sickness and with those who are marginalized for any reason.”

Feeling a call to serve internationally, she began looking into different programs as an undergrad at the University of Iowa, and spent time in prayer. She realized she wanted to serve in a faith-based program and decided that Franciscan Mission Services (FMS) would be a great fit.

“It’s a smaller program, meaning that I have more of a sense of connection with the people here and will have a lot of support in the U.S. when I am overseas,” she said.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health science in May and began her training in Washington, D.C., at the end of August. Formation class topics include Franciscan tradition, cross-cultural living, spiritual development and community living. “So far, we have learned about different forms of prayer, Franciscan spirituality, liturgy, Catholic social teaching and much more.”

In mid-January, VanRoekel will leave for Bolivia, a South American country which has struggled with political and economic instability and a high incidence of disease and lower life expectancy, according to the Library of Congress. At Carmen Pampa, she will join another FMS missioner and live in community with a few volunteers from other programs. She doesn’t know what her specific ministries will entail, but she will be able to practice “a ministry of presence. I will be able to listen to the struggles and joys of the students and embrace them as they work toward their futures.”

VanRoekel said the Unidad Academica Campesina students are mostly first-generation college students from rural communities with limited economic resources. Students can study areas such as agriculture, education or nursing.

To pay for her training and expenses, VanRoekel is in the process of raising $16,000. She’s received about half of the donations she needs; the Diocese of Davenport’s Volunteer Program helped by offering a grant. Persons interested in donating or becoming prayer partners can visit

VanRoekel feels fortunate to have the opportunity to head to Bolivia. “The Catholic Church teaches the dignity and value of the human life; the opportunity to work for social justice on mission is a blessing.”

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Upcoming CEWs

LONG GROVE — St. Ann Parish is hosting a women’s Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) Jan. 20-22 and a men’s CEW Jan. 27-29. CEW is a renewal weekend for adults, designed to enable them to more deeply “experience” themselves and their relationship to God and the Christian community.
The weekends begin at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday and end at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday. All activities are held at the parish, including sleeping accomodations. Special arrangements can be made for persons with moderate physical conditions.
Suggested deadline to register is Dec. 23. Fee is $30 before that date and $35 after. Meals are included. No applicants will be refused for financial reasons. Applicants will be notified once all available spaces have been filled. For more info contact Mindy Leahy at (563) 505-7633 or Bryan Arensdorff at (563) 370-9370.

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Casting light into the darkness

By Lisa Powell

An Advent reflection can go a number of ways: the awaited apocalyptic second coming of Christ and his anticipated return with the blow of trumpets and resurrections all around; or Jesus’ parables charging us to be prepared and John the Baptist’s call for repentance. But there is also the waiting for a Messiah to come to a small and dominated people, oppressed by the Roman Empire. One points to the second advent, or second coming, and the other recalls the first advent and the arrival of God to the world in human flesh.


Advent is the season of waiting, anticipating these arrivals. It is perhaps most often associated with hope, a hope bound up with the promised one to come who will spread peace, embody love, and in overcoming the darkness, increase joy. Hope itself suggests an element of discontent with the current state of things, as we hope for this anticipated change and a different way in the world. Hope by its nature isn’t fully realized. Advent and the day we anticipate as we recollect that holy night is a humble and quiet waiting for a miraculous, but fragile beginning. It is not a victorious hope in these days; come back for that at Easter. This is a quiet hope, the flicker of a flame, and not the blinding flash of a resurrected Christ.

At Mass a few weeks ago the service concluded with the celebratory Gospel song by Andre Crouch “Soon and Very Soon,” which declares that we are “going to see the King”. My 3-year old daughter was very excited about this prospect, as preschool culture is saturated in princesses and royalty. In her mind she surely had regal images of castles and crowns. “We are going to see the KING?!! Who IS the King, mama?!” We explained to her, of course, that the king is Jesus, and now when prompted with: “Who is our king?” she will say: “Baby Jesus!” Even the hope realized on the anticipated day of Christmas is still so tenuous, so tiny, and so at risk. The picture isn’t of the gilded and glorious entry my daughter might imagine. Yes, from the stump of Jesse, Jesus came, but not to reestablish the throne of David and renew a monarchy, but as the descendant of the artistic misfit, deemed unfit for the crown by the prophet Samuel. The anticipated coming might involve angels and stars, but it’s also the bloody agony of a first birth on a dirty straw floor, of a wailing newborn in a barn. God comes as the most vulnerable of humanity, born into an insecure situation, to a despised people and poor parents, who quickly become refugees.

The church begins its calendar year with this period of waiting in the darkness for the light to come, and what it anticipates is miraculous, incredible and astonishingly beautiful, but is simultaneously something small and vulnerable and ordinary. It declares, however absurdly, that this is how God arrives in our world: in a fragile little life, utterly dependent on the care and love of others, vulnerable to illness and disease. The conditions of human life are risky enough for a baby born into poverty in the first century, but this advent also includes Herod seeking to extinguish his life and light before Jesus even learned how to talk or take his first steps. I thank the writers of Matthew and Luke for this. All Gospels declare the scandal of a crucified Lord, but only these two smack you in the face with his humble beginnings: how sketchy it all was (if angelically announced); see a God who becomes embryo, infant, child.

Advent is the perfect time for the prayer “maranatha”: “O, Lord, come!” The world in the Northern Hemisphere grows darker by the day as we approach the solstice and the deep freeze of winter. It also feels cold and dark with fear, uncertainty, and tragedy abounding here and in Aleppo and Cairo, and in too many corners of our world. We are ready for the ultimate victory, for light to vanquish the darkness, but that hope is yet to be realized.

Emmanuel, God with us. And God is with us still in the small, the simple, the poor, and the refugee. This is how God chose to come the first time. It is how God comes to us still. Not in power and force. Not with wealth and common strength. Not among the elite, the prestigious, or the sophisticated. God doesn’t come with swords drawn or guns blazing but in a weak, vulnerable baby born to nobodies. And this is still how God comes and breaks through the dark and the cold; this is still how God spreads salvation. God comes through our feeble and fragile humanity, through earnest human efforts to make peace, create change, establish justice and expand love and light in the name of this newborn king. We wait with our lamps lit, trying to cast light into the shadows. Maranatha.

(Lisa Powell is associate professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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Deacon Cosgrove, 92, dies

Deacon William “Bill” Cosgrove, 92, of Keokuk, passed away on Dec. 17, 2016, at his home in Keokuk.

Deacon Cosgrove

Deacon Cosgrove was born in Hannibal, Mo., on Oct. 29, 1924, the son of William and Edith Willard Cosgrove. On April 30, 1949, he was united in marriage to Rosina Bordenkircher in Mt. Sterling, Ill. She preceded him in death on Feb. 7, 2006.

A resident of Keokuk for many years, Deacon Cosgrove was a graduate of Quincy College and an insurance agent for Prudential in Keokuk. Ordained a deacon in 1984, Deacon Cosgrove was an actively involved member of All Saints Parish and the Knights of Columbus, where he served faithfully. Deacon Cosgrove served his country in the U.S. Air Corps during World War II, where he was assigned to the 14th USAF in the CBI Theatre.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. on Dec. 22 at All Saints Catholic Church in Keokuk, with burial to follow in the Catholic Cemetery in Keokuk. Visitation was held Dec. 21.

Memorials may be directed to All Saints Parish, Keokuk Catholic Schools and Lee County Hospice.

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