MADISON -- The Diocese of Madison and the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga, Ghana, have been in partnership for several years and many parishes in the diocese have connections with other "sister parishes" around the world.
Many parishes and youth groups participate in mission trips around the country and even to other countries to provide service to those in need.
But how can we, especially during Global Solidarity Week, February 10 to 18, continue to respond to the call to global solidarity?
There are many ways to learn about global solidarity and Catholic social teaching. Several Web sites are good resources:
And don't underestimate the power of prayer in building global solidarity. One way to understand other cultures is to learn a prayer or song from that culture or another language. Also, learn what affects other people in other countries so that you know what to pray for.
Other things to do may include praying the Partnership Prayer of the Dioceses of Madison and Navrongo-Bolgatanga or reading Pope Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of Peace.
Respond by action
One simple way to respond in action is to purchase fair trade goods. Many parishes participate in selling Divine Chocolate, a fair trade chocolate using cocoa grown in Ghana. The chocolates are an easy way to fundraise and build global solidarity at the same time.
Another common fair trade item is coffee. Some parishes sell fair trade coffee, and Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach Director Susanna Herro said that many stores already stock fair trade coffee, and if not, it can't hurt to ask.
Another option is contributing to the Donkey Project, which is trying to introduce soybeans (which are very high in protein) not only into the agriculture in Ghana, but also into the diet. The dioceses will soon meet to look at how the project is working and to look at the next step in helping families become more self-sufficient.
"It's about building relationships," said Herro. "It's not about doing for them - it's about creating international relations."
Another way to build global solidarity is to participate in Operation Rice Bowl, a project of CRS, Herro said. Through the program, Catholics reach out to assist their brothers and sisters around the world through traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and giving alms while learning about global issues affecting people.
Seventy-five percent of the money collected by Operation Rice Bowl goes to CRS development projects overseas and education activities in the U.S. Twenty-five percent remains in the local dioceses to fund local hunger and poverty alleviation programs.
Last year, the local Operation Rice Bowl funds were used in the Diocese of Madison by the Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry to purchase and distribute food to churches around the diocese, including Sacred Heart Parish, Reedsburg; St. Joseph Parish, Fort Atkinson; St. Mary Parish, Palmyra; and St. John Parish, Patch Grove, as well as St. Vincent de Paul in Portage.
Because sometimes building global solidarity starts at home.
Rachel's Vineyard retreats: A chance to find healing
Note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
MADISON -- More than 30 million women in the United States have had one or more abortions in the years since its legalization.
But what happens to these women beyond the statistics?
Many women - and many of the men affected as well - have found that abortion is not as cut-and-dry a solution as it might seem at the time. Many are affected by what some call "post-abortion trauma," battling depression, anger, and feelings of regret and worthlessness.
For more than a decade, Rachel's Vineyard (RV) has offered a chance for these women and men who have been hurt by abortion to find healing.
In weekend retreats, participants use living Scripture, combining meditation, Scripture readings, facilitated exercises, and group discussions to find compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Trudy, a nurse and volunteer for RV, said that the most effective part of the weekend is that it's centered on the Scriptures.
"It's all based on the mercy of God," she said. "It truly shows women who are in deep regret that God's forgiveness is there for them, and his mercy.
"It's a beautiful thing to see the Holy Spirit transform their lives," Trudy said. "Watching women who can't even make eye contact with you on that Friday night when they walk through the door . . . and on Sunday having them hold their heads up . . . they feel the overwhelming forgiveness. You can see it in their whole persons and hear it in their voices."
As Catholics, we need to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies, she said. "We need to help them make good decisions and not compound one bad decision on another."
About 10 years ago, while in college, Melissa got pregnant. At the time, the father of her baby lived in another state and was not willing to support her and a baby.
Not wanting to drop out of college - or even tell her parents - she had an abortion.
Immediately after the abortion, she recalled, "I felt relieved that the pregnancy crisis was over."
But over the next eight years, Melissa said, she became a very angry and impatient person. She also became very promiscuous - "After the abortion, I didn't feel like I deserved better," she said.
Two years ago, though, Melissa saw an advertisement for RV in her church bulletin (she had just started to go back to church since her abortion) and decided to attend.
"My first thought was that it was exactly what I need to do," she said. "After so long of being away from the church, and stumbling through life - at least, spiritually - I needed to get my life under control, my anger under control."
She was nervous at first, she said, worried that she would see people who knew her. But, she said, she was definitely ready for the next step.
Several things stick out in her memory about the retreat: the living Scriptures, which helped to emphasize the message of sin and Christ's forgiveness, and the bereavement dolls, a physical symbol of the child that she had lost.
"For me, that was really important," she said. "It made me realize that my child was a person and he was a part of me. And by having something to hold on to, it really helped me to begin to grieve.
"The loss of my child - it had never really gotten through to me that I had aborted a child," she said. "I needed to forgive myself and accept God's forgiveness."
The RV retreat was the first step on her road to recovery - and it was a huge one, she said.
"I realized I wasn't alone," she said. "Every woman's story was a little or a lot different than your own, but there are common threads that every woman can identify with. . . . It was good to know I wasn't alone."
She said that having the other women there meant they were able to help each other to heal.
"The legacy of my abortion for me is the regret that I feel every day, knowing that I killed my child," she said. "I view my healing process as ongoing. It will continue until the day I die.
"But the hope for healing for me and for a lot of other women is through Jesus Christ," she said. "God's the ultimate healer."
Jane and Frederic
When Jane was 15 years old, she had her first abortion. She was given very little counseling - 10 minutes, she recalls - and had the choice, for the most part, made for her by the counselor and the father of the baby.
Even during the abortion, Jane already regretted the decision. Afterward, she went on a path of self-destruction, she said. She turned to drugs, alcohol, and other dangerous behavior. And at 19 she was pregnant again. She - and the man who would later become her husband - chose another abortion.
"The abortions have affected every aspect of my life," she said. "You can bury the memories deep down in the most hidden places and at times look functional, but the pain and shame surface in many ways."
Frederic, who was 21 at the time, said that he had been naïve, in shock and denial, and looking for an easy way out. "What I didn't realize was that by my silence and refusal to discuss any other options, I had instead chosen something I would think about and regret for each day of the rest of my life. There is nothing easy about that."
The event that spurred Jane and Frederic to find healing was Jane's miscarriage. The couple had several children already but wanted more, and when she lost her baby, all of the grief Jane had kept bottled inside came out. Her depression deepened, she said, to the point that she couldn't take care of her children or leave the house, despite medication and counseling.
Frederic contacted the Diocesan Office of Family Ministry, who referred him to a priest who had been part of the RV team. His guidance for both of them gave them the courage to attend the retreat.
"Initially I went to the weekend purely to make sure she stayed through the weekend and to provide support," Frederic said. "What I didn't realize was how much I had been in denial, how affected I had been by the abortions and the healing I would receive from the weekend for myself."
"Attending an RV retreat was my chance to heal, and it gave me my life back," Jane said. "Really, it gave me a much better life back because now I know forgiveness and love.
"It's hard to seek help because you feel so ashamed of having had an abortion; you don't want anyone to know," she said. "Plus, the pain becomes so much a part of you it feels like it is impossible to be healed and you just try to live with it. But God can heal you. He is loving and forgiving. You have to reach out for help."
"For the guys, stop and be honest with yourselves," Frederic said. "Realize that you do need healing as well. Stop punishing yourself. Seek help. Realize that you are not alone. Talk to your parish priest, if you feel comfortable with that."
There are many resources to help heal, he said. "The RV weekend is a must. Go as a couple if you can; if not, go alone."
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, he said.
Guided by the Spirit:
February 8, 2007 edition:
We continue our Guided by the Spirit Q & A column with answers to some common questions, each of which have a cultural bent to them.
These are those types of questions that refer to the mindset or concerns of the people of the parish community. These same questions have been posed by many regardless of the actual cultural background of the questioner. Again, to completely answer any one of these would be difficult, but it is hoped that the answers will spur some reflection about the reasons for any anxiety that is felt about this planning process.
We already do everything really well, why change anything?
The simplest response to this is: "to whom much is given, much will be expected" (Lk 12:48). All of us, both individually and as a community, are accountable for the knowledge, resources, and abilities that God has blessed us with. If your parish has been so blessed to have perfect worship, perfect catechesis, perfect education, and perfect administration, then doesn't it seem reasonable that those blessings should be shared with others, those less fortunate, say, a cluster partner?
Also, sharing is really only part of the story, as the Lord also asks us to multiply what he gives us. The Lord's response should be enough for us to work diligently and give our best thoughts to the planning process: "And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" (Matt 25:14-30).
Of course, being a faithful steward because of our love for God is better, but either one will lead each of us to give our best solutions to this planning.
How can we maintain our distinct ethnic identity by going to the same church?
This is a difficult question to give a specific answer, because every parish community and every cluster community is unique, with their own unique set of issues and concerns.
What this does speak to is communication within the cluster of the cultural identity of the member parishes. Everyone must recognize and affirm those points of identity that set people apart.
This implies that someone brings these points of identity to light, in the open, so that they can become known. This kind of discussion gives dignity and honor to every group within the community and should facilitate the kind of thought that brings forth workable solutions.
A wonderful example of this is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where among the nationalities represented in the Shrine's chapels are African, Austrian, Chinese, Croatian, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, Indian, Irish, Latin American, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak, and Slovenian.
Remember the marks of our Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Reading the Catechism on these points (CCC 811-870) gives some ideas as well.
What about the legacy of the people who built our church, what happens to that?
This is probably the most sensitive issue facing parishes today, but the answer is not much different than the one given for the previous question. People must be allowed to remain in touch with their past, their history, but this should not be used as a justification to avoid change.
The Guided by the Spirit planning process is set up to give everyone the opportunity to state their wishes and concerns. When people are made aware of the concerns and honestly discuss all of the possibilities, reasonable solutions come forth which will honor that legacy.
When people don't speak up, don't listen, or try to railroad their ideas through committee, people are going to be hurt and dismayed. This occurs to everybody's detriment, not just in the local community but throughout the diocese, as part of our common history may be lost forever.
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail us at Guided by the Spirit, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison, WI 53719.
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