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Beatification will see 'Jesus planting His cross' in heart of Detroit

On Nov. 18, more than a few Hail Marys will be thrown around inside Ford Field. And unlike a football game, every single prayer will be answered.
 
That day jerseys and helmets will be replaced by chasubles and miters as thousands of bishops, clergy and faithful from across the country prepare to celebrate the beatification of Capuchin Franciscan Father Solanus Casey at the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, the largest venue Detroit could find.
 
There won't be pyrotechnics or huge inflatable lions when the opening procession begins through the stadium's giant tunnel, but it should be a surreal sight nonetheless.
 
"The image for me, when we think about what the Mass is, becomes Jesus planting his cross -- his massive cross -- in the center of Ford Field," said Father Robert Spezia, one of several priests helping coordinate the massive liturgy. "Picture this massive crucifix that he died on coming down and being planted on the 50-yard line; that's what's going to happen on Nov. 18."
 
Besides the challenge of organizing Communion for 66,000 people, the liturgy of beatification will be new for almost everyone, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Larry Webber, vice postulator for Father Solanus' sainthood cause and a lead coordinator for the Mass.
 
"We're coordinating with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and with our postulator in Rome for all of the readings," Father Webber told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese. "The first model of the booklet we're using is from a blessed in Switzerland, which was a multilingual celebration. But we have been in touch with all of the celebrations that have happened here in the United States, including Newark and Washington, D.C."
 
The beatification rite itself is only a small portion of the Mass, inserted between the penitential rite and the first reading -- but an important one.
 
After Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and the Capuchins' minister general offer words of thanks, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican congregation, will read the decree from Pope Francis officially declaring Father Solanus "Blessed Solanus."
 
"In a kind of medieval gesture, after he reads it, the cardinal will stand and hold the decree up so everyone can see it," Father Webber said. "This is to show and prove that this is from the Holy Father. Then there's the unveiling of the image of Father Solanus, applause and music and a procession with the relics."
 
The relics of Father Solanus, which were collected from his tomb in July, will be carried by those who have received favors through the holy Capuchin's intercession, including the Panamanian woman whose healing from a skin disease in 2012 was the official miracle recognized to move Father Solanus' cause forward.
 
They will present the relics to Cardinal Amato and Archbishop Vigneron to be placed near a simple, wooden shrine.
 
Father Spezia said the altar, processional cross and some of the Communion vessels will be the same ones used during the 1987 Pontiac Silverdome Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II.
 
Father Spezia said it's a "great honor" to be asked to help coordinate such a special liturgy -- even if he isn't quite sure how to tackle the monumental task of getting Communion distributed to so many people in a timely manner. Still, considering the subject, he's confident things will work out.
 
"I've always found with these kinds of things that heaven really helps us. We're not doing this alone," said Father Spezia, director for clergy and consecrated life for the Archdiocese of Detroit and one of dozens of clergy and laity helping organize the massive Mass.
 
Between the time the doors open at 2 p.m. and the start of Mass at 4, it's possible there will be testimonials played on the stadium's "big screen," but the fanfare will be understated -- befitting a humble Capuchin's spirituality.
 
The readings and musical selections will be proclaimed in a variety of languages -- including English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Aramaic and Tagalog (the language of the Filipino people) -- a reflection of the diversity of the church and those Father Solanus served.
 
Capuchin Franciscan Father Ed Foley, professor of liturgy, music and spirituality for the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, who will direct the nearly 300 singers and 25 orchestra members for the Mass, said coordinators want the liturgy to mirror the simple, accessible spirit of Father Solanus.
 
"There's going to be 66,000 people and the pope's representative, so you can't be too low-key, but on the other hand we wanted it to be accessible to the ordinary folks who have showed up year after year to be with Solanus," Father Foley said.
 
For Father Spezia and other coordinators, the beatification is a reminder that, as Archbishop Vigneron has said, "God loves Detroit," and everyone is called to a higher purpose.
 
"We're celebrating the fact that God has told us by means of working a miracle through the intercession of Father Solanus that Father Solanus is in heaven with him. That's what we're celebrating," Father Spezia said. "I think it's important that we realize that this is the call for all of us."
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Blessed Stanley Rother

Wearing a red and black traditional Guatemalan shirt that had belonged to martyred U.S. priest Father Stanley Rother, Ronald Arteaga traveled from his village of Santiago Atitlan to witness the Sept. 23 beatification of the pastor he knew as "Padre Aplas."
 
Even though Arteaga was only 10 when now-Blessed Rother was martyred in 1981, he remembers "he was always with the people of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, and more than that, he identified with our indigenous population."
 
The sleeves on Arteaga's shirt had to be rolled up because, as he recalled, Blessed Rother was a tall man. "He learned to speak Tz'utujil, the language of my people, and he always served the people most in need," Arteaga said.
 
When Blessed Rother was killed, Arteaga recalled, it "broke the hearts of the entire village," but "we had hope that he would receive this honor and thanks be to God that this day has arrived!"
 
An estimated 20,000 packed the Cox Convention Center from across the country and throughout the world to witness the beatification of the native Oklahoman who would become the first U.S.-born martyr. Ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963, Blessed Rother went to the archdiocesan mission in Santiago Atitlan. He was gunned down in his rectory by three masked men in 1981.
 
Pope Francis recognized the priest's martyrdom last December, making him the first martyr born in the United States and clearing the way for his beatification.
 
"We're amazed at the size of the crowd and delighted so many people are interested in celebrating his life," said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City during a media availability. "He's a local hero whose reputation goes far beyond Oklahoma."
 
Father Don Wolf, a cousin of Blessed Rother, made an appeal for continued support of the missions the martyr served in Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro.
 
"For the people of his parish in Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro and all of us here in Oklahoma, he has led our eyes unwaveringly to the kingdom of God," Father Wolf said.
 
It was for Father Wolf's ordination in May 1981 that Blessed Rother made his last visit to the United States, which Father Wolf said is a distinction that links his priesthood to his cousin's.
 
"At ordination they invoke the saints ... at my ordination we had one," Father Wolf said. "It's an enormous inspiration and an enormous challenge -- the kind of service his priesthood embodied is the kind of service that I strive to."
 
Francisco "Chico" Chavajay, program coordinator for Unbound Project in Guatemala, was only 1 when Blessed Rother was killed, but grew up in San Pedro, which is near Santiago Atitlan, knowing who "Padre Alpas" was and the impact he had on the community.
 
"My family benefited from the hospital he founded because one of my sisters went to the hospital when I was eight years old, and we didn't have access to a closer hospital," Chavajay recalled. "If it wasn't for his work, it would probably have been a different story for my sister."
 
Chavajay now works for Unbound, an U.S.-based organization founded in 1981 by five lay Catholics, including one who had worked with Blessed Rother in Guatemala. Unbound works with children and the elderly in poor and marginalized communities throughout the world. In Guatemala, Chavajay is responsible for serving more than 60,000 families.
 
"For us, he's like an angel we have in heaven to support this cause," Chavajay said. "We feel that Padre Aplas' hand and prayers in heaven are helping guide us in this life to continue bringing the Gospel and salvation to our brothers and sisters in need."
 
Father Guillermo Trevino traveled from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, for the beatification. Serving in an area that relies heavily on agriculture, Father Trevino was impressed at Blessed Rother's "ordinariness." The future martyr was raised on his family's farm about three miles from Okarche.
 
"The thing is he was so ordinary, but he had great gifts. In Guatemala he'd be working the farm," said Father Trevino, finding inspiration in his example. In particular, he pointed to a line the late priest uttered that illustrates the devotion he had to his flock: "The shepherd cannot run." "Can I do this?" Father Trevino has asked himself.
 
Dolores Mendoza Cervantes knew Padre Aplas in Santiago Atitlan. Her father, Juan Mendoza Lacan, helped him to translate the Bible into Tz'utujil, and was himself killed less than a year later on June 22, 1982. Dolores came to the U.S. at 16 because she had threats on her own life, but pointed out as a result of their efforts, "all the newer generations can read the language."
 
She now lives in Danube, Calif., with her husband, Robert Cervantes. They said the government at the time considered teaching the Tz'utujil to read a threat.
 
"Father Stanley and my father-in-law were brave enough to stand up to them," Robert said. "They knew they were going to be killed someday, but that didn't stop them from translating the Bible into Tz'utujil."
 
 
  • Published in World
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