By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Father Bill Kneemiller prays the rosary with and for people near and far away even as he shelters in place as chaplain at the Kahl Home in Davenport.
On Thursdays, he prays the rosary online with a family in Kansas City, Kansas that he met on a pilgrimage last fall. This past week, he prayed the rosary with a prayer group started by members of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.
Earlier this year, Father Kneemiller created the Marian Family Prayer Association with the blessings of Bishop Thomas Zinkula and guidance from Deacon Frank and Marianne Agnoli of the Diocese of Davenport. The association’s mission is simple: to introduce families who have never prayed the rosary to pray a decade of the rosary after supper. The priest wants to make it even easier for families by providing them with a pocket-size guide and color brochure depicting the mysteries of the rosary.
While he encourages families to pray the rosary, he also inspires dedicated volunteers from Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine to make rosaries for the Holy Land Military Rosary project, which he created about a decade ago. That initiative has grown into a ministry through the Augustine Institute to provide rosaries for military personnel. It has also provided a source of income for artisans in the Holy Land and for people in Grand Bois, Haiti.
The artisans who live near Bethlehem produce the distinctive olive wood crucifixes for the rosaries made by hand in Muscatine, a few other places in the U.S. and in Haiti, Father Kneemiller said.
“Two months ago, my olive-wood crucifix rep called and told me that about three dozen Catholic families who work in the olive-wood industry in Bethlehem are ‘totally destitute’ because the churches in Bethlehem have been closed to pilgrims. He asked if I could help in any way. I said, yes, we can purchase several-thousand crucifixes.”
Last week, Father Kneemiller spoke again with the artisans’ representative, Ghassan Alsahouri, who lives in the U.S. “I asked him how the 35 families are doing. He told me they continue not only to be destitute but that the local government has jailed 22 of the family members from this group because they are behind in rent payments. They also had the restriction by the local government to not leave their homes for 45 days. I told Ghassan that I will purchase ahead as many crucifixes as I can, hopefully about 4,000 to 5,000 ($2 for each one).”
Father Kneemiller is seeking donations, all of which will go to help the Bethlehem families. Checks should be sent in care of Holy Land Military Rosary, Attn: Father Bill Kneemiller, 6701 Jersey Ridge Road, Davenport, IA 52807.
Meanwhile, the work in Haiti is temporarily suspended because of civilian upheaval that began prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Father Kneemiller prays that the initiative will resume when it is safe for volunteers to return to Haiti with supplies to make rosaries.
He also prays that families everywhere will develop an appreciation for the rosary that he has witnessed in the Kansas City family he prays with on Thursday nights. In response to the pandemic, Mitch and Carolyn Mitchell began praying the rosary with dozens of relatives in a Zoom video conference.
“They start each decade with a Scripture reading, which helps this to be more of a ‘scriptural rosary.’ Mitch’s brother Marc mentioned that the Scripture readings help the rosary to be more of a mediation for him to focus more deeply on the life of Christ. They also have their grandkids leading individual decades so it’s really a great way for the entire family to be united in prayer.”
The Mitchell family believes their extended family has grown closer praying together online. “Mitch and Carolyn have been a real inspiration to me,” Father Kneemiller said. “I took their cue, and for the first time, called my brother and sisters and started doing a weekly rosary with them by video conference.”
Quoting St. Bernadette, who experienced Marian apparitions in 1858 in Lourdes, Father Kneemiller said, Our Lady “left heaven in my heart and it has been there ever since.”