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MADISON -- Sound the trumpet! Rouse the warriors!
As C. S. Lewis said, the world is "enemy-occupied territory" and God is calling on men to be "conquering warriors" in a spiritual battle.
That is why Fr. Rick Heilman has established the Knights of Divine Mercy, a new movement that is sponsoring the first Madison-area conference for Catholic men.
The Knights are "calling all Catholic men to explore the meaning of masculine spirituality, heroic virtues, and how to become spiritual warriors," said Father Heilman. He is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Pine Bluff, and St. Ignatius Parish, Mt. Horeb.
The inaugural event on Friday, Sept. 29 (the feast of St. Michael the Archangel), will be held at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison. It will feature Fr. Thomas Loya, often heard on Relevant Radio. It will begin with a Mass at 7 p.m. followed by a tailgate-style dinner and Father Loya's talk.
Father Loya is currently the pastor of Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church in Chicago, Ill., and an advisor to the Theology of the Body International Alliance. He has directed many retreats and has been a guest speaker at conventions and at World Youth Day.
In explaining this new movement, Father Heilman emphasized something that Fr. John Coropi once said, that men and women are "equal in dignity" but they are not the same. He said men must accept responsibility for such evils as abortion, sexually transmitted disease, contraception, and pornography.
"The enemy (the devil) has taken so much ground, a little here, a little there. A foothold becomes a stronghold," said the priest. "God said, 'I want warriors to take it back, to take back the surrendered ground.'"
Father Heilman knows first-hand the power of spiritual warfare.
In the community of Pine Bluff, Father Heilman and other citizens were shocked when a "gentleman's club" was opened in 2005. "We had a strip club in our wholesome town," he said. "So we prayed. We planted 14 crosses and called it a Prayer Mile. We called on people to walk that mile and pray. We invoked God's power."
At the end of the Prayer Mile, Father Heilman invited people to tie white ribbons on a kneeler in front of the cross in the parish cemetery. Almost 700 ribbons were tied.
"Six months later, that strip club was gone," he said. "We reclaimed this surrendered ground for God."
He encourages men to take that "warrior spirit" into other battles in society. He compares it to Joshua's battle against the Malachites as recorded in Scripture. In that battle, Moses held up a staff on the hill over the battle with the help of others. As long as he held up the staff, the Israelites won.
That battle ironically occurred at the foothills of Mt. Horeb, the place for which the city of Mt. Horeb is named.
Like the Israelites, noted Father Heilman, "We can do nothing on our own. We need the power of God. We must invoke the power of God."
In this battle, we do not need a sword, he said. "We can use such things as the Rosary and the miraculous medal. I invite all men to consecrate themselves to Our Lord through Our Lady and to be empowered. Step up as spiritual leaders. Draw upon the great power of the Eucharist through Mass and Eucharistic Adoration."
Father Heilman said if men become strong spiritual leaders, they will bring family and friends back to the faith.
The cost of the men's conference is $10. Registration deadline is September 22. For more information or to register, visit www.knightsofdivinemercy.com
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Some wanted to go to help people in need. Some wanted a different spring break experience than that of their peers. Others just wanted to see it for themselves.
The reasons were many, and the impact just as varied.
The devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on the Gulf Coast last August was in a word, overwhelming, for the Marquette University students participating in the Marquette Action Program (M.A.P.) from March 11 to 18.
The Marquette Action Program (M.A.P.) has offered Marquette students the opportunity to work in cooperation with various service organizations across the country since 1977. These trips are facilitated by students and they travel to their host sites by van to live and work in these communities.
These M.A.P. trips allow students to work in teams and contribute to various communities; expose them to different social, cultural, and economic situations; learn the goals and operations of service organizations; and enjoy getting to know peers on a different level in reflection.
Approximately 200 students participated in M.A.P. this spring, with teams going down to New Orleans, La.; Ocean Springs, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; and Detroit, Mich. among other sites.
Students utilized every minute of the 16-hour drive to get to know fellow team members and to nap when not driving.
A Catholic parish was kind enough to put up our two groups for our first night in New Orleans before we moved on to our lodging for the week.
Camp Premiere, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-run camp, was a fenced-in and guarded community with rows of green barrack tents, a white mess-hall tent, a line-up of trailers with showers, and Port-a-Potties galore.
It resembled a scene straight out of the TV show MASH.
Marquette students were not the only ones staying at the camp. Students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Duke University, Howard University, and numerous other colleges and universities had also come to work.
It was there that we met our group coordinators, Ike and Mary-Jo Pankhurst, volunteers with Catholic Charities from St. Louis, Mich.
The Pankhursts volunteered a total of 10 weeks of their time as work coordinators for five weeks in January and five weeks in March. Fresh off retirement, the Pankhursts had always wanted to go somewhere warm for winter and also do humanitarian work. New Orleans fit the bill.
Early Monday morning, the Pankhursts led our groups to the homes we would be working in St. Bernard Parish (counties are commonly referred to as parishes in the South), one of Louisiana's most severely damaged areas by the storm.
The storm damage to St. Bernard Parish is believed to have come from not only direct effects of the storm, but also a massive storm surge funneled in by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). The storm affected virtually every structure in the area. Only two homes may have gone untouched by flood waters.
The eye of Katrina pushed a 25-foot storm surge into Lake Borgne and the MRGO, destroying the parish levees that were 14 to 17 feet high. The water rose at a sudden pace in a period of no more than 15 minutes. Nearly the entire parish was flooded, most areas getting between five and 12 feet of standing water.
The home of Roy and Marie, a couple whose home we gutted, was on a street where the storm surge broke the parish levees. The first four homes on their block had been completely flattened to no more than piles of rubble and debris.
It is difficult to put into words what it is like to see streets lined by garbage, only to find out it had not been picked up in over a month.
To see a child's Fisher Price wagon on a roof, only to find out it had been set there by the flood water.
To see a date, an X, and a number on nearly every home, only to find out it was the day the home was inspected, and the number was the body count in the home.
There were messages of anger, humor, gratitude, and farewell spray painted on homes, in hopes that maybe a neighbor or family member would see it when they returned.
As we rode through the St. Bernard neighborhoods, silence and disbelief filled the van as we took in our surroundings. We were all aware of the damage Katrina had wrought on the Gulf Coast, but none of us were prepared to see the sights and smells of the devastation first hand.
Gutting a home is no easy task. Many of the houses we entered had been practically untouched since the August storm.
The pantries were still full of food, the refrigerators hadn't been opened in six months, clothes were still in the closet. Walking through, one tried to piece together the debris to imagine what the home might have looked like at one time.
Our first step was to empty the homes. That meant taking out every single thing in the house, more challenging when you remember everything had been in standing water for over a month. The kitchen sinks and bathtubs still contained flood water.
Once the house was getting cleared, we would begin tearing down the dry wall and insulation, sometimes exposing cockroaches or other rodents. Our final step was to remove the nails from the studs of the home, leaving the home empty and clean for residents to rebuild.
We were not allowed to enter the homes without ventilated gas masks to protect us from airborne pollutants and eye goggles, long sleeve shirts, and pants to protect us from exposure to black mold and other bacteria. Luckily everyone returned to Milwaukee healthy.
The two Marquette groups gutted four and half homes. Despite the hard work, it meant a great deal to the families and was just a small step in helping them rebuild their lives.
Our trip to New Orleans was overwhelming, eye opening, humbling, and challenging, but most of all, meaningful.
I know that I personally will never forget the sights, smells, and attitude of the city and people that only want to rebuild and continue living their lives. They don't concern themselves with politics, or point fingers of blame.
The things they want back are the things you and I also treasure: family, neighbors, community, and normalcy.
Since our return I have been asked the same question: "Would you do it again?" The answer is invariably the same, "Absolutely."
Sophia Minnaert will be a sophomore at Marquette University this fall. She is a graduate of Edgewood High School in Madison.
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