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Lent is time to notice God's work, receive God's mercy

Lent is a time for Christians to get their hearts in sync with the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis said.
 
"Let the Lord heal the wounds of sin and fulfill the prophecy made to our fathers: 'A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,'" the pope said Feb. 14, celebrating Mass and distributing ashes at the beginning of Lent.
 
After a brief prayer at the Benedictine's Monastery of St. Anselm, Pope Francis made the traditional Ash Wednesday procession to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill for the Mass.
 
He received ashes on his head from 93-year-old Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to the cardinals present, three Benedictines, three Dominicans, an Italian couple with two children and members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.
 
In his homily, he said the Church gives Christians the 40 days of Lent as a time to reflect on "anything that could dampen or even corrode our believing heart."
 
Everyone experiences temptation, the pope said. Lent is a time to pause and step back from situations that lead to sin, a time to see how God is at work in others and in the world and, especially, a time to return to the Lord, knowing that his mercy is boundless.
 
Lent, he said, is a time "to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus."
 
Hitting the reset button, the pope said, requires taking a pause from "bitter feelings, which never get us anywhere" and from a frantic pace of life that leaves too little time for family, friends, children, grandparents and God.
 
People need to pause from striving to be noticed, from snooty comments and "haughty looks," he said; instead, they need to show tenderness, compassion and even reverence for others.
 
"Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence," the pope said.
 
Use the pauses of Lent "to look and contemplate," he suggested. Christians can learn from seeing the gestures others make that "keep the flame of faith and hope alive."
 
"Look at faces alive with God's tenderness and goodness working in our midst," the pope said, pointing to the faces of families who struggle to survive yet continue to love, the wrinkled faces of the elderly "that reflect God's wisdom at work" and the faces of the sick and their caregivers who "remind us that the value of each person can never be reduced to a question of calculation or utility."
 
"See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering, fight to transform their situations and move forward," Pope Francis said.
 
But most of all, he said, "see and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see His face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.
 
The invitation, he said, is to "return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you."
 
"Return without fear to join in the celebration of those who are forgiven," the pope said. "Return without fear to experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God."
 
  • Published in World

Recognizing the feast of ashes, boredom and dull moments

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
—Pope Francis

 
Many people have morning rituals. Mine include stretching, prayer, a good cup of tea and catching up with on-line news I missed during the night. As might be expected from a person of varied interests — and a grandmother — I am often distracted by other interesting tidbits, like the recent story, ‘The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.”
 
As a grandparent, I just had to read it. It was worth the time and underscored the damage social media and an obsession with mobile devices causes to children’s mental health.
 
The article notes that, among other things, children suffer from an absence of dull moments and are being deprived of the important fundamentals of a healthy childhood, including opportunities for boredom.
 
As most wise grandparents will share, boredom is a nurturer for children, giving them a much-needed absence of stimulation, a blessed silence, moments when they can hear the whirring of their own minds in creative endeavors, an opportunity for them to hear the whisperings of God instead of the noise of everything else.
 
Children, like adults, need time to think.
 
When my husband was a child, before the advent of taking “time out” in some specially designated place in the house after a childish transgression, my mother-in- law, Muriel, wise as she was, doled out the punishment of pulling weeds. No sitting in the corner for my husband or his siblings. They could reflect on their wrong doings and make themselves useful at the same time.
 
I often wondered if Muriel took her cue from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, whom she greatly admired, and who once said, “We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative.”
 
Muriel, who was no shrinking violet, would no doubt have reminded Bishop Sheen that you can’t plant the good seeds until you pull the weeds.
 
For today’s adults, who are continually lulled into a spiritual malaise by the white noise of a world where the absence of anything is considered deprivation, a time of emptiness devoid of worldly distractions is a feast for the spiritual life.
 
And so we come to the wisdom of Ash Wednesday and the days of Lent, time set aside in the liturgical year to focus interiorly on our relationship with God, and subsequently, our relationship with others. It is a time to strengthen both, realizing that our relationship with God is meaningless if some good for the other does not flow from it.
 
Too often, it seems we approach Lent with a serious solemnity, brought about by our sense of suffering through sacrifice. I am guilty of it, as much as at other times I am guilty of having no feelings about Lent whatsoever. I simply go through the motions, wear ashes and purple and convince myself that I am doing Lent because I am making sacrifices.
 
I have actually learned to do Lent better by watching my grandchildren in those rare dull moments when they are not distracted by toys or technology, when they have been sent outside because they are bored and are soon excitedly gathering stones and pine cones, examining bugs or catching toads and crickets, pulling apart fallen seed packets and planting seeds with great expectations that they will return in a few days to find new seedlings growing. And at the end of their unexpected adventure they run to you and say, “Look what I found!”
 
That is how I wish to approach Lent, when making sacrifice is a time of discovery, and when an examination of conscience leading to change is an experience of joy.
I want to keep in mind the thoughts of Thomas Merton who wrote, “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.”
 
— Mary Morrell
 

CRS Rice Bowl

As Pope Francis asks us to “Share the Journey” with migrants and refugees aground the world, Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl offers Catholics in the United States a way to encounter Lent, to encounter the causes of migration and displacement and to learn about the challenges faced by families around the world in their Dioceses, parishes and homes.
 
CRS Rice Bowl, the agency’s flagship Lenten program now in its fifth decade, will begin once again on Ash Wednesday — Feb. 14 — giving Catholics throughout the country an opportunity to encounter the stories of people in need throughout the world.
 
“From CRS’ work in more than 100 countries, we know that people do not want to leave their homes, that they do so because they feel they have no other choice,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of church engagement. “Lenten sacrifices contributed through CRS Rice Bowl help give them that choice by providing sustenance and livelihoods in communities around the world.”
 
Begun as an ecumenical effort in the diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl soon spread across the country as it called on Catholics to perform a simple act of Lenten sacrifice: substitute a low-cost meatless meal for more expensive dining once a week during Lent and put the money saved in a cardboard rice bowl.
 
That concept remains at the heart of the program even as it has expanded to include broader Lenten faith enrichment through a wide variety of resources available for the millions of Catholics who participate. These include prayer resources, a daily Lenten calendar, weekly stories of hope that introduce families from around the world and recipes from various countries for meatless meals that can be enjoyed on Fridays during Lent.
 
Funds collected in the rice bowls, which are turned in at the end of Lent, are distributed both throughout the world and in local communities to combat hunger; 75 percent of every donation goes to CRS programming in targeted countries worldwide while 25 percent remains in the Diocese from which the donation came, supporting initiatives that help alleviate poverty.
 
But the goal is to go beyond collecting money and spur discussions — both in churches and around family dinner tables — about the meaning of Lent and the daily reality that people living in poverty face.
 
“We see CRS Rice Bowl as much more than a fund-raising opportunity,” said Rosenhauer. “It is an opportunity for Catholics in America to encounter what Lent means, what poverty means, what resilience means, what hope means.”
 
“We want families to participate together so they can experience the joyous feeling of solidarity that comes from generosity and sacrifice,” she said. “We know from years of experience that CRS Rice Bowl can be life-changing.”
 
As part of CRS Rice Bowl, speakers from throughout the world will travel across the United States telling their stories of how CRS Rice Bowl-supported programs are changing lives. For Thomas Awiapo, a feeding program in his village in Ghana funded by CRS Rice Bowl brought him as a hungry young orphan to school for food. He stayed for an education, eventually a master’s degree in the United States, returning to Ghana for a career with CRS there. Cassandra Bassainthe, who left Haiti as a young child, will talk about why she returned to her home country to help the poor and vulnerable. Micter Chaola of Malawi and Jacques Kabore of Burkina Faso will share their experiences working in agriculture in their respective countries.
 
“CRS Rice Bowl does far more than feed people,” said Rosenhauer. “It also helps develop agriculture so that families and communities can support themselves. As we heed the request of Pope Francis and ‘Share the Journey,’ we know that the best way you can help a migrant is to make sure that she doesn’t have to leave home in the first place. That’s what CRS Rice Bowl can help accomplish.”
 
To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, go to crsricebowl.org.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

New year, new liturgical seasons

By Josh Perry

As we began Advent, the Church throughout the world ushered in a new liturgical year. We began again the annual observances with which we are very familiar. Advent, a time of hopeful waiting, gives way to the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Soon enough we find ourselves in the Lenten Season, with its disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In the midst of spring, we celebrate the Resurrection of
Jesus at Easter, extending our feasting 50 days until Pentecost where we especially celebrate the Holy Spirit in our Church and in our lives. The long span of Ordinary Time follows; it is this time that points us to the life of Jesus Christ in all its aspects — not just His birth, not just His Passion, not just His Resurrection — but all of His life. And the cycle of the year comes — once again — to winter, and we find ourselves entering another Advent. Another Christmas. Another Lent. Another Easter. The cycle continues.
 
The occasion of the new year encourages us to look back on the year just passed and ahead on the year to come. We recall the past year — the joys and sorrows that we faced, the rights and wrongs that we may have done. Many of us then resolve to do something different in the coming year. A little more exercise. A better diet. Being nicer to siblings or children or parents. Maybe we resolve to go to church more, learn more about the faith or go back to confession. One of the most important reflections we can make is on how God was present in our lives in the past year and how might we respond to God’s presence in the year to come.
 
This process of looking back and looking forward is, I believe, essential to our personal growth and our growth as a Church. Without this reflection, the cycle of the liturgical year remains simply that — a cycle. If you “draw” the liturgical year on a piece of paper, you get a circle. But this process of looking back and looking forward — of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for our future — transforms that
circle. The circle becomes a spiral.
 
You see, a spiral is cyclical, but it doesn’t end up in the same spot. We celebrate Advents and Christmases, Lents and Easters year after year, but we are not the same people. Our past has shaped us, and our future might give us reason to hope (at least for a few weeks before we break our resolutions). I am not the same person I was five years ago, 10 years ago. My experiences have shaped me. Herein lies the beauty of observing the liturgical year. Passages from Scripture are repeated every three years both at Christmas and at Easter. The themes and disciplines of Advent and Lent do not change. But you and I have changed. And perhaps we will experience those same stories and experience those same disciplines in a different way, simply because we are different.
 
The upcoming diocesan synod is an extraordinary time for our Catholic Church in Vermont to reflect on its past and look forward to its future. In order for the synod to be fruitful, however, we need to take seriously the call to reflect on past, present and future. We can’t leave all this work simply for other people to do, just as we can’t delegate our own personal reflections over our lives in the new year (and
God forbid we have someone else make New Years resolutions for us!). As a Church, we reflect together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That reflection may lead to difficult conclusions and challenging resolutions ahead — just as our personal reflections might lead to challenging resolutions in our lives. Without these reflections as a Church, however, we can only hope to remain stuck in the same circle.
 
In this new liturgical year — and beyond — my prayer is that all of us are resolved to be involved in the life of our Church. It’s the time to reflect. As Church, where have we been? Where should we be going? And how shall we get there?
 
--Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

On the Path of Ecological Conversion

In the Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington, Lent is a time to fast for climate justice and perhaps even change personal habits to better care for the Earth.

“Over the past year, as I have learned more about the effects our dietary and behavioral choices have on the environment and those who call it home, I have gradually begun to incorporate more ecologically conscious practices into my life,” said Stephanie Clary, mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

The first step in this ongoing process was removing meat from many meals throughout the week. Next, she became more intentional about managing materials in her home through purchase and disposal choices like buying things in bulk and avoiding plastic when possible and separating food waste from trash for composting. “In this way, I participate in the ongoing fast for climate justice,” she said. 

However, during Lent she will fast specifically as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice.

During each day of Lent, Catholics from all over the world will fast for climate justice, joining the interfaith Fast For The Climate and the Green Anglicans’ Carbon Fast. Global Catholic Climate Movement will highlight the impacts of climate change on various countries through social media and other communications. 

In addition to fasting from food, the organization suggests fasting from activities that produce carbon dioxide like reducing use of fossil fuels, electricity, plastic, paper and toxins. The fast encourages participants to “pray and fast for the renewal of our relationship with creation and with our brothers and sisters in poverty who are already suffering the impacts of climate change.”

“The Lenten Fast for Climate Justice is consistent with the existing meaning of a Lenten fast, and Catholic fasting in general,” Clary said. “Because of the way this particular fast is organized, there is also an emphasis on global solidarity. In addition to the personal experience of reflection and prayer that fasting facilitates, the global movement highlights the tangible effects of such practices as abstaining from meat and/or carbon in today’s world. As is consistent with most religious fasting, the ‘excess’ that is not consumed should encourage ‘almsgiving,’ charitable action toward serving the vulnerable.”

On March 3, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was scheduled to lead the “The Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the Path to Ecological Conversion” at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington. Clary and Josh Perry, director of worship for the diocese, were to present about fasting for justice at a simple soup supper immediately following the Stations of the Cross. Seasonal soup was to be provided by New Moon Café in Burlington.

Throughout his pontificate, in his preaching and teaching, St. John Paul II emphasized the gravity of the environmental crisis and the urgent need for the Church to respond to its moral and spiritual dimensions. 

For him, “the penitential season of Lent offers a profound lesson to respect the environment.”

“Lent, with its three-fold practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is a time of heightened spiritual renewal which can reorient us in caring for our brothers and sisters, and in turn, caring for our common home,” said Perry.

Throughout the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, there will be a focus on prayer, education and action. “This event will encompass all three: prayer with the Stations of the Cross; education with the presentation about fasting for justice; and action with the sustainable meal shared and effective management of materials (compost, recycle, waste),” Clary said.

As this is the first event in the Year of Creation for the Diocese of Burlington, Perry hopes it is a doorway into other events in the Year of Creation: “As this soup supper and Stations of the Cross takes place at the beginning of Lent, I hope that it encourages a particular focus this Lenten season – to focus on prayer, our almsgiving and our fasting with integral ecology in mind.”

For more information on Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Lenten Fast for Climate Justice, go to catholicclimatemovement.global/2017-upcoming-moments.

Live "Laudato Si'" this Lent

Fast. Give. Pray.


Fast
 
…from meat. Learn about connections between meat consumption and ecological justice at Fast for Climate Justice: Global Catholic Climate Movement.
 
…from carbon by making responsible lifestyle choices. Instead of driving alone, join or organize a carpool. Have an energy-efficiency audit done on your home and follow through with suggestions. Explore renewable energy opportunities for your home or workplace. Try to reduce your overall use and consumption of goods.
 
…from plastic. While much plastic is recyclable, producing plastic requires use of crude oils, which depletes the Earth of natural resources. Instead, opt for glass, metal, ceramic, wooden or clay re-useable replacements.
 
…from waste. Even if it’s just for one day or one meal, attempt a zero-waste lifestyle. (Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction hosts two zero-waste events each year!)
 
 
Give
 
…to local farmers and artisans buy purchasing their products instead of purchasing from big businesses, which require excess packaging materials and fossil fuels for shipping and often don’t observe Fairtrade practices.
 
…to a community garden (or organize planting one) to help address local hunger.
 
…to local, state and national parks to help protect God’s creation and provide areas to behold natural beauty.
 
…time to learn about living more ecologically and socially conscious, then put what you learn into practice.
 
…togetherness. Shop for, prepare and eat a family meal together, instead of purchasing fast food or ready-made meals, which require excessive, single-use packaging.
 
 
 Pray
 
…for ecological justice, that we may return to right relationship with all creation.
 
…for the grace to grow in virtue, which helps us to make more ecologically and socially conscious decisions.
 
…for the vulnerable, especially those affected by disease and severe weather due to climate change.
 
…for the Church, that it may use its prophetic voice to encourage action for ecological justice.
 
…in thanksgiving for food; for those who grow, raise, prepare, transport and distribute it; and for healthy and clean soil, water, air and environments required for its growth.
 
…in praise for something beautiful that inspires wonder and awe.


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Looking back over Lents past

“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”
A. W. Tozer
 
By Mary Morrell
Wellspring Communications
 
Looking back over Lents past, I have to admit my most meaningful Lenten experience happened when I spent the week before Easter in the hospital with my youngest son. It was certainly unexpected, but life doesn’t ask you if you’re prepared before it throws the unexpected your way.
 
After rushing a very ill 18-year-old to the emergency room, I spent the next eight hours waiting for a room, with nothing to do except observe what was happening around us.
 
During this time, I discovered that there really is no more fruitful place to spend some time journeying toward Easter than in the emergency room.
 
This is a place to truly experience the suffering of the cross.
 
Being present in an emergency room places a person in close proximity to the vulnerability of others. Here, amid the woundedness, amid the relationship of sufferers and caregivers, are powerful lessons to be learned.
 
Just observing how each person dealt differently with suffering was an education for me. There was the young woman, hysterical and in great pain, who was un-consolable until her husband arrived. His presence calmed her immediately.
 
Then there was a middle-aged man, involved in a car accident, who repeatedly entered into verbal warfare with a person in the room, attempting to place the blame for his injuries on someone else, as if that would make him hurt less. He made caregiving difficult.
 
But the patient who touched me the most was a little old lady, obviously suffering from some form of dementia as well as physical problems, whose repeated outbursts had the tone of a raspy voiced boxer. Time after time, throughout the course of a very long day, she called out to children who were not there, “Carol, I need my puffer!!”
 
“Carol, are you listening to me?”
 
“Carol, you’re killing me here!”
 
Obviously this woman realized she was totally dependent on others and had no choice except to surrender to their care, but she seemed also to know that surrender didn’t mean giving up the fight.
 
In fact, after one especially loud round of outbursts, a very wise nurse was heard to say, “She’s a contendah!”
 
And that she was, but to me she was also an example of the living, flame of faith that surrenders itself to God, and in so doing, gains more strength and more fire.
 
Still, every once in a while this suffering woman with the cartoon-character voice would lose her feistiness and plead with an absent son: “Help me, please, please, please!”
 
It was at those times that her anger would give way to the vulnerability that is manifest when a person acknowledges his or her needs. This is the time when true strength rises in the heart of a person, a time when we are strong enough to be humble.
 
Watching those around us in the emergency room was a reminder to me that pain is inevitable, and that the only way back to peace and joy is to walk through the pain, as Jesus did on the way to Gethsemane.
 
But a lesson was confirmed for me during what would be some very long days and nights in the hospital: The surest way though pain is with love—whether it is the self-giving of family or friends, the compassionate presence of a priest, or the exceptional care of nurses or doctors who make a person feel as if they really do matter.
 
A wise bishop once told me that Easter was the greatest love story ever told. With that in mind, it would be a blessing during this Lenten season to walk with another person through his or her suffering and see our love give rise to the amazing grace of resurrection in another’s life.
 

Lenten confirmation program

Parishes throughout the Diocese of Burlington have been invited to participate in a Lenten program to prepare adults to receive the sacrament of confirmation at Pentecost.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne confirms adults at Pentecost at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington. “Offering this program through Lent and the Easter Season allows those adults [18 and older] who are seeking confirmation to be adequately prepared to receive the graces of the sacrament both intellectually and spiritually,” explained Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the diocese. “Journeying with the community through Lent and Easter is a wonderful opportunity to grow closer to Christ and prepare to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”
 
Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation, the initial sacraments by which persons become members of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Through these sacraments, one is first welcomed into the Catholic community, nourished by the body and blood of the Lord and strengthened through intensification of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
 
Leaders for the confirmation program vary; in some parishes the director of religious education teaches the participants, in others it is a parish priest or volunteer catechist.
 
Deacon Lawson provided a workshop and online training for the parish leaders.
 
Paul Turnley is co-facilitating the program with RoseMaria Doran, for Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church in Fair Haven, St. John the Baptist Church in Castleton, St. Paul Church in Orwell, St. Matthew of Avalon Church at Lake Bomoseen, St. Frances Cabrini Church in West Pawlet, St. Raphael Church in Poultney and St. Anne Church in Middletown Springs.
 
Their program will include seven two-hour sessions: Each will use the framework of prayer, discipleship and mission to present its theme using as resources “The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults,” “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the Bible.
 
Topics include “Desire for God,” “The Holy Spirit,” “Prayer. Challenge of following Christ. Moral Life. Mary and the Communion of Saints” and “Discipleship.”
 
“The Adult Confirmation Program is built around the framework of Encounter, Accompany, and Mission,” Turnley explained. “The first four and a half sessions, which include the three sessions during Lent, are focused on ‘Encountering Christ’ through focusing on our desire for God; the Holy Spirit; the sacraments of confirmation, reconciliation and the Eucharist; and prayer. These are preparation for accompanying the participants as they accept the challenge of following Christ, responding in love and giving their whole selves and lives to Him….”
 
Pope Francis has called for the Church to be “a facilitator of grace,” and providing an opportunity for adults who haven’t been confirmed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in confirmation “certainly fits the bill,” Deacon Lawson said.
 
Evangelization is about going out and sharing the joy of the Gospel, so the Lenten program “is a tremendous opportunity to reach out to those who may have drifted away from their faith,” he said.
 
The foundation of this process is a type of mini-catechumenate. Participants encounter Christ -- especially in the Gospels -- the leaders journey with them, and then the participants are equipped and sent forward on mission to live a life of faith.
 
Edmundite Father David Cray, pastor of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Charlotte, likes the idea of a “uniform…flexible and convenient” process throughout the diocese to prepare adults for confirmation. Offering it during Lent has the benefit of proximity to the Pentecost confirmation by the bishop.
 
However, offering the program during Lent is what is suggested but not required.
 
Turnley said the program combines the elements of re-enkindling love, devotion and commitment to Jesus as the Christ through prayer, the sacraments and a willingness to be Christ in the world “with the opportunity of refreshing our understanding of our faith and our beliefs.”
 
The process in the diocese will be ongoing and offered annually as well as on an as-needed basis.  

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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
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