Tagged: Guest Column

Three Things the Formerly Incarcerated Can Teach Us About Mercy

By Laurie Power
Director of Lifelong Faith Formation
Holy Child Parish, Runnemede, NJ

As part of the Matthew 25 Project, Holy Child Parish hosted a speaker who volunteers in Camden’s recently launched Welcome Centers, an outreach to the formerly incarcerated to help them secure healthcare, find employment and stay on the right path. As James Rodriguez, a parishioner of St. Josephine Bakhita and volunteer with Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), told his story and described his experiences serving returning citizens, the conversation became a lesson in mercy — the mercy described in Matthew 25, the mercy we, as Christians, are all called to share. What did we learn?

James Rodriguez leading a Matthew 25 Project event

James Rodriguez leading a Matthew 25 Project event

  1. God’s mercy is for all. It can reach anyone, anywhere. James recounted the night he sat drinking outside his house and, from a place of profound sadness, started a conversation with God. He knew something had to change. God answered his prayer, but not in the way he had expected.  That night he was arrested and spent six months in jail. God continued the conversation and James took advantage of all the programs offered there. The time he spent incarcerated changed his life. God is now using him to reach out to those who are where he once was.
  1. Mercy has to be shared. It means meeting people where they are. When individuals come to the Welcome Centers, an immediate physical need is met by getting them enrolled for health insurance. Because of this, James related, they can begin to believe that they are part of society again and not written off as non-entities or “mess-ups.” They are then given an opportunity to speak. At listening sessions, they share the barriers that keep them from thriving in their communities. They are not simply offered advice, but a place to be heard.
  1. Communities are built on mercy. James felt strongly that it is only through real concern for each other that communities can survive: “It’s when we stop caring about one another that things of a bad nature start happening.” Welcome Centers not only offer practical resources, but introduce returning citizens to people who care about them.

The take-home message was one of hope. Welcome Centers are a small step, but one with remarkable potential, for whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me (Matt. 25:40).

To learn more about Welcome Centers and how you can serve returning citizens, contact Frank Stiefel from CCOP at 856-966-8869 or stiefelccop@verizon.net.

Guest Post: Grace Before Full Plates

By Fr. Kevin Mohan

DiPaul & Shea

Last month, one of my go-to Catholic bloggers, Mark Shea, quipped, “Instead of Cafeteria Catholicism, I prefer All You Can Eat Catholicism.” I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite catchphrases of the late Larry DiPaul.  Shea’s phrase reminded me of how Larry would point out the common excuse that “there’s a lot on my plate” and in response would wonder, “How big is your plate? Is it a salad plate? A coffee saucer?”

Asked to offer grace before meals at this year’s Justice for All Dinner, the two quotes came together in classic Ampersand fashion. Here in the Diocese of Camden, we have a lot on our plates. Two of the poorest cities in our nation are members of our Diocese. But, we also have many gifts for use in the face of those full plates. “All-You-Can-Eat Catholicism” is a great image for the work of Catholic Charities.

Grace Before Full Plates

Almighty God, thank you for putting a lot on our plates. Thank you for making it harder and harder these days to avoid the people we encounter on the street and in the mirror – the poor and the sick, the distressed and depressed – and for nourishing us with your presence there in distressing disguises. Thank you for giving us big plates, great big appetites to serve, to engage, and to love. Thank you for the gifts you give us in your Spirit to serve your church and your world; increase your gifts in us.

As we consider these plates before us, soon to be obscured by food, help us to appreciate what you ask us to do, to see how you bless us in the fullness of our plates, and to increase our generosity toward the people you place in our way. We offer you our lives as readily as we accept our portion of food. As we sate our appetites, reveal to us our hunger for you, and remind us that our lives and our plates are made for your glory: to be filled and cleaned so as to be filled again. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fr. Kevin Mohan is parochial vicar at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Williamstown.

Guest Post: Christ Our Light Is Building Relationships in Guatemala

By Glenna Harkins

In June of this year, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Guatemala with the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill. Guatemala is a country of about 16 million people located in Central America, just to the South of Mexico. It is a place of great beauty, with a horrifically violent recent past and a less than stable present.

glenna photo 2Over the past eight years, Christ Our Light has established a relationship with the indigenous Maya community in a remote mountain village called La Puerta, located about five hours northwest of the capital of Guatemala City. The village was a target of both the government and the guerrillas during Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war, and lost close to thirty of its catechists and community leaders during the bloodiest few days of fighting.

Unlike many mission trips from the United States, the Christ our Light mission is not about building projects and physical labor. Instead the groups of about 15-20 adults each year offer a “ministry of presence” and catechesis to the people of the village.

For those readers who aren’t quite sure what a ministry of presence seeks to do, its main purpose is to build relationships and greater understanding between groups of people. Over the course of the week spent in La Puerta, we shared meals and stories together, read and studied the story of creation, celebrated Mass together, and visited community members’ homes together.  Even with the language barrier (conversations had to be translated from English to Spanish to their native Quiché and back again); by the end of the week the two groups had bonded.

I think about La Puerta and the people that I met there every day. There was Marcela, an older woman with a warm smile and crooked second-hand glasses, who welcomed us with hugs when we arrived. Lorenzo and Domingo, hardworking church leaders who served as tour guides and translators each day that we were there.

It was a young mother named Manuela and her children Maria, Maricruz, Jose, and Gregoria, who especially made their way into my heart and my prayers. Manuela had recently moved to La Puerta with her parents and brother and her own small children, while her husband moved to the coast of Guatemala to work on a coffee plantation. He had been sick, racking up medical bills that they couldn’t pay, which forced them off of their land and into a situation where they no longer live together. The father is able to come to visit the family only once per year, and that is only if he’s willing to forgo being paid. Their home in La Puerta was a three room log cabin where eight people lived. There was no electricity, no running water, no latrine, no stove. I’m about 5’10 and I couldn’t stand up straight inside. Yet the whole family radiated love. For God, for each other, for what they had, for their new community, and for us.glenna column photo

This trip to Guatemala was my third mission, and my seventh trip to Latin America. For me, one of the most difficult parts of any trip outside of the United States is trying to explain the depth of the experience that I had to folks back home. It’s like the feeling I get when people ask me about my work in Camden, NJ.

These places and their people are special, and you just kind of have to go there to get why. So, if you have it in your heart and your means to serve God and others by going on a mission, I encourage you to do just that. You will be enriched beyond anything you can explain.

Glenna Harkins is the Director of Programs at Catholic Partnership Schools in Camden, NJ.  

Fr. Rob Sinatra: All War Is an Offense Against Human Dignity

rob sinatraThis guest column is by Fr. Rob Sinatra, a priest of the Diocese of Camden who serves in the diocesan tribunal and as the chaplain for Rowan University’s Catholic Campus Ministry.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK to be conflicted about the situation in the Middle East. I know I am. For in reality it is a very complicated, confusing and complex region.

Take the situation in Israel for example. On the one hand there is Hamas, a terrorist organization draped in the clothes of respectability due to their status as a government, firing rockets into the nation of Israel, a long-time ally of the United States, which does have the right to defend itself and its people. On the other hand there is Israel launching precise missile strikes in the midst of a civilian/non-combatant population in an attempt to stop the same Hamas. Israel justifies this action by saying that they warn civilians by dropping pamphlets alerting them of the attack.

While I don’t often agree with Jon Stewart, noted comedian and political satirist, I do believe that he has it right when he questioned “the effectiveness and humanity of Israel’s policies” on the Monday, July 21, 2014 edition of the Daily Show. And while Stewart’s reference may be dated, it only proves the point that this conflict between Palestine and Israel which is currently under a tenuous cease fire is far from over.

The word “Peace” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

To make matters worse, militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (known as ISIS) have mounted an offensive against the Kurdish people in Northern Iraq, a region that has an increasing Christian population that has caused the United States to respond with airstrikes upon ISIS forces using warplanes and unmanned drones. Iraq has been a source of division and debate in our nation. While the United States has an obligation and a long standing history of aiding and protecting other countries in need, the American presence in the war in Iraq has had a high cost in lives for both the American and the Iraqi people. An added presence in a conflict once thought over, only fuels such fears of a long and protracted conflict with additional loss of human life.

The inherent problem is that, unlike books, movies and TV, there are no “good guys vs. bad guys”. While people and nations operate from an air of moral superiority, all war (even those conflicts seen as just) is an offense against the dignity of human life. And it is not just an issue that involves Jews and Muslims or Muslims against other Muslims. It deals with people, souls, and it is our duty as Catholic Christians to not only support our Christian brothers and sisters in need but to be witnesses to the world of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of peace.

Pope Pius XII was faced with a similar situation during his pontificate. While it was right to fight against the atrocities of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, Pius XII understood that he was the shepherd of the whole world, not just of the Allies. And while he is criticized and accused of being “Hitler’s Pope”, Pius XII worked tirelessly for peace and walked a precarious line that preserved the Catholic Church’s ability to act and intervene in Christ’s name and to work for the protection of Jewish people wherever and whenever the Church could (for an unbiased account read Pierre Blet’s collection of papal correspondence in Pius XII and the Second World War).

Our current Holy Father has taken a similar tack. Pope Francis has spoken tirelessly for peace and has shown the world, by his example, his care for the poor and refuges, the needless victims of war. Pope Francis decried the human rights atrocities in Syria and asked the whole Church to pray for peace for a region that was on the verge of war.

This past Sunday, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, was no exception as Pope Francis implored the Church to pray for peace in Iraq and for the plight of Christians there. Our Holy Father “tweets” about peace constantly, but these are far from just 140 characters on a screen. It is a symbol of the Gospel that Pope Francis lives out every single day — a Gospel in which all life is sacred, whether it be the life of one’s greatest ally or one’s greatest enemy.

In closing, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast day is this Wednesday, August 20th says this:

“Blessed,” he says, “are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt 5:9). Consider carefully that it is not the people who call for peace but those who make peace who are commended. For there are those who talk but do nothing (Mt 23:3). For just as it is not the hearers of the law but the doers who are righteous (Rom 2:13), so it is not those who preach peace but the authors of peace who are blessed.”

May we continue to pray and work for peace in our complicated world and to pray for our brothers and sisters afflicted by the ravages of war.

Five Tips for Building Global Solidarity at Your Parish

This is the fifth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, Cheryl Mrazik and Katie Kernich of Catholic Relief Services’ Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, Penn., offer five tips for building global solidarity in your parish. 

As Catholics, we are blessed to be part of a truly universal Church that connects us to others around the world. The Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity beautifully expresses the universal nature of our Church: “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). But how can we live out this profound challenge in our parish communities? Here are some practical tips to consider:

1. Include the 6 o’clock news in your prayers at Mass. Often, we can feel very overwhelmed by the various conflicts, natural disasters, and other “bad news” around the world. It is easy to feel helpless and removed from these situations. But as Catholics, we are called to pray for and take action to assist those in need both in our own local communities and in our global community. Consider relating one intercession during the prayers of the faithful each week to a global issue that has been in the news lately. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) often has intercessions available on their website. Here is a recent example from CRS:

For communities around the world living in fear of war and violence, especially those in the Central African Republic, that the God of peace and justice will comfort and protect them in these dark hours, we pray to the Lord.

2. Create a visible reminder of your parish’s commitment to our brothers and sisters around the world. Your parish could start a chalice program, through which individuals or families in the parish can sign up to take a chalice home for a week and spend that week praying for people in another part of the world. Your parish might also display a “world prayer map” on which parishioners can place pins to indicate people or parts of our country and the world for which they are praying, inviting the rest of the parish community to join with them in prayer.

3. Invite speakers to your parish who address global issues. Many parishes have missions during Advent or Lent that include speakers. This would be an opportune time to invite a speaker who can share with the parish community about a particular global issue, or about the Church around the world. Many Catholic religious orders with missions overseas have speakers available for parishes. You may also invite a parishioner or someone else from the local community who has immigrated to the U.S. to share stories from his or her home country. CRS Global Fellows are priests and deacons available throughout the year, at no cost to the parish, to speak at parish masses about the global work of the Church and CRS’ projects overseas.

4. Celebrate members of your parish community who are living out our call to global solidarity. In your parish bulletin once a month, spotlight a parishioner or group of parishioners who has volunteered, advocated, or shown other types of support for global solidarity. At Mass, have the parish community bless parishioners who are traveling on mission trips overseas.  When members return from trips, invite them to share their experiences in some way with the rest of the parish.

5. Commit as a community to a particular global issue. Many Catholic parishes “twin” with other parishes overseas. Consider “twinning” as a parish for a certain period of time with a specific global issue. Select an issue theme and then try to consistently include that theme in the life of the parish through liturgy, faith formation, community activities and events, and so forth. Create a parish prayer related to the issue, place prayer cards in the pews, and pray the prayer together at every mass. Hunger is one issue example that has both local and global implications. Your parish could also take action to address hunger locally by serving food monthly at an anti-hunger organization in your community, and could address global hunger by participating in CRS Rice Bowl during Lent.

There are countless ways to demonstrate your parish community’s care and concern for our brothers and sisters around the world. Get creative, and remember to integrate global solidarity into the activities and events already going on at the parish!  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” May we all continue to be inspired as we together live out our Gospel call to global solidarity.

kernichKatie Kernich works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in its Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, PA. In that role, she works closely with the Diocese of Camden and seven other Catholic dioceses in the region to engage Catholics in the global mission of the Church through CRS. Katie has a bachelor’s degree in theology from The Catholic University of America, and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to starting with CRS, Katie worked in a parish in Fort Worth, TX, and as a campus minister at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC.

CM headshotCheryl Mrazik also works for CRS in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office, liaising with nine dioceses in the region, including the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before coming to CRS, Cheryl worked at Romero Center Ministries in Camden, and in the campus ministry office of St. Augustine High School in San Diego, CA. Cheryl has bachelor’s degrees in English and Philosophy from the University of Scranton and a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Guest Column: What Sarah Whitman Learned from the Materially Poor

Until recently, Haddon Heights native and St. Rose of Lima parishioner Sarah Whitman worked for an international volunteer program provider called ProWorld Service Corps. ProWorld has sites in several countries throughout the world, and at each of their locations, a group of local staffers coordinate volunteer experiences for high school and college students hailing from the United States. The work that ProWorld does is chosen based on community input, sustainable outcomes, and the cultivation of global citizens.

Sarah’s work with ProWorld was mostly in sales, but during the past two summers, she served as a support staff member. Sarah spent the summer of 2011 in Cusco, Peru and the summer of 2012 in Punta Gorda, Belize. Typically, her tasks involved serving as an unofficial counselor for students volunteering onsite and serving as a liaison between ProWorld and the greater communities of Cusco and Punta Gorda. “My experiences helped me to better (not fully, but better) understand the many types of poverty (physical, mental, spiritual, financial…) that exist in the world, and the meaning of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves,” she writes. Sarah was kind enough to share a blog entry that she wrote while in Belize last summer.

To read more, visit her blogs at www.sarahperuana.blogspot.com and www.belizeyoume.wordpress.org. You can contact her at whitmanse [at] gmail [dot] com.


Be Yourself!

June 13, 2012

In my reading today, I came across a quote by Catherine of Siena. She said, “If you are what you should be you will set the whole world on fire.” What an incredible idea…that, simply by being our most authentic selves, we can start a revolution! So many of us wonder whether our lives have purpose (and if they do, what that purpose is), but Catherine reminds us of our capacity to be extraordinary simply be being the best version of ourselves! Could it really be that simple?

I find that in my travels with ProWorld, I am given the opportunity to meet and befriend many extraordinary people, who often possess beautiful gifts and specialized knowledge. Sometimes, I find myself envying someone else’s passion for keeping our planet green, or someone’s ability to stay energetic for seemingly endless hours in tropical heat, or perhaps someone’s knowledge of healthcare and healing. It’s very easy to focus on what we lack, or where we’ve failed, but imagine the good that could come from using that time spent moping to instead hone and practice the gifts that we do possess.

Sometimes, I find it really hard to be the best version of myself. On a long, hot bus ride, for example, I might not be inclined to respond enthusiastically to a conversation started by the person sitting beside me. Yet for the small price of my enthusiastic response, I can fulfill Mother Teresa’s command to “let no one come to me without leaving happier.” What’s worth more? Being exhausted and crabby, or spreading love and joy?

Choosing to be my best self every moment of every day is obviously easier said than done, but if Catherine of Siena’s words are right, then I’m pretty sure it’s well worth the effort!


Therefore, dearest readers, I challenge y’all today to think about what your best version of yourself would look like. What would “Super You” do?  Which of your talents are underutilized?  I often think about how funny it is that some people aspire to be dentists. In my mind, being a dentist would be the worst! Spending all day looking into peoples’ mouths and prodding their gums and smelling their breath? No gracias. And yet there are people who find dentistry fascinating and are excited to help make beautiful smiles, and I’m glad that they exist for the sake of the world’s teeth! What a riot, that both the aspiring dentist and I come from the same beginnings and yet offer such different takes on the world. We exist in beautiful, beautiful diversity, and I think that it is our uniqueness that really makes Catherine of Sienna’s words sing to me. If we all become “what we should be,” nothing will stop us from rocking the world!

Mass of Welcome for Haitian Farm Workers: June 24 in Hammonton

By Corlis Sellers, Associate Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Black Catholics, Diocese of Camden

In search of their piece of the American Dream, more than one thousand Haitian migrant workers travel from Florida to Hammonton, NJ, each summer to harvest blueberries.  The work is backbreaking and arduous and the journey can be prove deadly.

Although this migration has taken place for over 20 years, their presence was virtually unknown by the Diocese until recently.  I learned of these workers during the course of my previous position with the U.S. Department of Labor, as Regional Administrator for the northeastern U.S.   The U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforces labor standards (e.g. minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and migrant housing and transportation safety) for some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

As a result of migrant camp investigations during the June and July blueberry harvests in South Jersey in the early to mid 2000s , wage and hour investigators came across hundreds of Haitian workers and their families often housed in overcrowded conditions. As these workers are transported from Florida up to NJ and elsewhere in the migrant stream by crew leaders in vans and buses, vehicle safety inspections are also conducted by Department of Labor investigators.  In fact, last summer, a tragic van accident in Florida claimed the lives of  three  Haitian workers on their way to NJ.  Two of these workers sustained critical injuries.

Even though many of these farm workers are Catholic, they are unable to worship in local parishes because they do not have their own transportation.  Further, as Haitian Creole (a Haitian French dialect), is their language, many are unable to follow masses celebrated in English.

Two years ago, with the support of a local blueberry farmer, the Haitian Farm Workers Ministry was established by the Black Catholic Ministry Commission and St. Monica’s Parish led by Father Yvans Jazon, a Haitian-born priest.  During the last two summer harvests, a Haitian priest from outside of the Diocese was assigned to minister to these migrant workers in the labor camps by celebrating weekly masses and administering the sacraments in their Creole dialect.


To mark the return of the workers, the Black Catholic Ministry Commission and the parish of St. Monica’s (which has a large Haitian community) welcome them by joining in the mass celebration on the farm and by serving dinner to the workers and their families.  The farm workers assist the priest in the preparation of these liturgies.

After working all day in the field, the workers return to camp in the evenings.  The children also return to the farm after spending time in the migrant education summer camp.  Many teens work in the fields with their parents earning piece wages for harvesting the blueberries.  Most of the teens speak English and like other young people in America, they express their desires to attend college and voice their career aspirations beyond the migratory life of farm work.

Upon returning to camp, the women go to their residences, freshen up, and come to the veranda proudly donning their Sunday best.  The workers who attend the mass after a hard day’s work in the fields are fully engaged in the celebration.  Workers of other denominations who do not participate in the Mass quietly and respectfully observe the celebration around the perimeter of the veranda.


After the mass, the community lines up for a dinner of Haitian chicken and rice prepared and served by the parishioners of St. Monica.  The lines are orderly and workers wait patiently to be served. The parish estimates that over 1,000 farm workers were served after the most recent mass last June.


Each year during this dinner, a farm worker and self-appointed broadcaster known as  “Radio”  announces over the camp’s microphone in Creole how blessed the community is to have the Catholic Church of South Jersey once again welcome and minister to them.  Although not Catholic, “Radio’s” broadcasts serve to amplify our efforts to evangelize.


This community acknowledges the efforts of the Church and humbly expresses its gratitude. The most moving testament to this ministry was provided by a farm worker who coordinate the farm worker’s preparation for and participation in the liturgy.  He said, “For years we return to these fields searching for God.  Now we know that God has searched and found us.”

The 2013 Mass of Welcome for the Haitian Farm Workers will be held on Monday, June 24 at 6:00 pm at Columbia Fruit Farms in Hammonton.

Information on needed items:

Thanks to all of the parishes, youth groups, organizations and individuals who contributed to the success of last year’s summer program for migrant and homeless children.  Last summer we requested swim suits, towels and flip flops for these children and youth.  As a result of your overwhelming support, program needs were met for these nearly 300 children for last year and this year.  All of the children in this program were able to swim last year!

I reached out to Program Director Kathy Alves this week and asked about this year’s program needs.  She indicated that the following items would be very helpful:

–arts and crafts for children of all ages (e.g. paint-by-number sets, bead sets, and model car and plane kits)

–pool toys (e.g. noodles, balls, etc.)

–red t-shirts in all sizes (children, youth, and adult) to identify the children when they go on field trips

In addition, their families can use toiletries and nonperishable food items.

If you are able to donate any of these items, please donate them directly to:

Migrant Education
Gloucester County Special Services School District
1340 Tanyard Road, GCIT Building, 600 Wing
Sewell, NJ

The contact person is Kathleen (Kathy) Alves, kalves@gcecnj.org and 856-468-6530 ext.1057. The building that houses this program is at the back of the campus.

If you have any questions, you may contact Corlis at 583-6184 or email corlis.sellers@camdendiocese.org.  Thank you.

Directions to the Mass:

From Camden, take Route 30 East (White Horse Pike) towards the shore.  When you get to Hammonton, follow the signs to Route 206 North (Trenton Road).  In order to make a left turn onto Rte 206, you will have to bear right onto the jug handle.

Follow Rte 206 for a little over a mile (past St. Anthony of Padua Parish) and turn right onto Columbia Road (693 East).  Columbia Road will take you to the labor camp on the right side of the road, where the Mass will be held.  The mass will be held outside under a veranda in the labor camp.