Archive for December, 2011

Initiative Helps Keep School Open in El Salvador

The first thing one notices when entering Santa Luisa School is the massive, solid metal fencing and doors that shield it from one of the roughest neighborhoods of San Salvador, El Salvador. Once those doors close, the chatter of the marketplace and the blaring car horns and police sirens are replaced by the voices of children playing during gym class or shoes shuffling from class to class.

For the more than 500 boys and girls — mostly from poor or destitute families — who get a K-9 education at Santa Luisa, the school is an oasis from a city suffocating from drugs, gangs and violence. For many students, Santa Luisa represents their best chance to break out of the cycle of poverty that surrounds them daily.

Santa Luisa is beginning its 76th year and would not have reached its milestone 75th year without the aid of a group of alumni from the University of Scranton (Pa.). Led by Jesuit Father Brendan Lally, who now serves as a spiritual director at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, the non-profit Salvadoran Children of the Poor Education Foundation (SCOPE) has helped Santa Luisa meet its annual budget and supply basic needs for the past decade.

SCOPE is the product of two immersion programs Fr. Lally steered over two decades at the University of Scranton. The first, International Service Program, began in 1987 and takes students and alumni to two homes for street children in Mexico City for six weeks of the summer. Its success spawned a second program, Bridges to El Salvador, formed after Fr. Lally’s heart was moved by the Catholic witness of the people there.

A visit to Santa Luisa School has always been part of the Bridges itinerary. Lally has taken groups of students, professors, university staff, fellow priests, seminarians and alumni through the streets of San Salvador, including to the martyrdom sites of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980), the six Jesuits gunned down at the University of Central America (1989) and the three American nuns and church worker who were kidnapped, raped and shot in December 1980.

“I wanted (pilgrims) to meet the people and to discover the reality of their lives, to experience their faith, to listen to their stories and to let them know that their sisters and brothers in faith from the U.S. cared about them and were united with them,” he said. “We were also seeking our own conversion, so that we could discover the Gospel alive amid the materially poor — the gospel that Archbishop Romero died for, the gospel that could change our own lives and attitudes.”

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Alice Springs: Remembering John Paul II’s Visit 25 Years Later

25 years ago, a Polish Pope stepped off a plane and kissed the tarmac in Australia for the first time. Jesuit Father Frank Brennan remembers Pope John Paul II’s first visit Australia, and reflected on the Alice Springs portion of his trip for the Australian Jesuit blog, Eureka Street

As the Pope completed the lengthy speech, he took a large gum branch, reached into a clay coolamon which later would be used in the Alice Springs church for baptisms, and blessed the people with water.

It was at that moment that the lightning sounded and the heavens opened. All of us in the crowd were convinced that grace and nature were one and indivisible at that moment in the red centre. The Centralian Advocate reported that ‘as an electrical storm was threatening the gathering of about 4000 people, most of the thunder was coming from the podium’.

The Pope later confided to Bishop Ted Collins, ‘I think the people prefer meeting me rather than listening to me. But I had to say it all because otherwise it could not be published.’ The mainstream media picked up the Pope’s remarks about land rights, self-determination and reconciliation.

But he put even more demanding challenges to the Australian Church when he enunciated the place of Indigenous Australians in the life of the Church, and when he outlined the relationship between Christian faith and Aboriginal culture and religious tradition.

Fr. Brennan is an adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. To read his full reflections, please click here.

Jesuit Reflects on Keeping Christ in Christmas

The lighting of the first Advent candle marks the beginning of the penitential season, a holy time to focus on repentance and on our need  for Jesus in our World.  Yet, often in the preparations for Christmas, we can lose sight of the reason for the season. Jesuit Father Thomas Madden, retreat director at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, offered the following reflection to help us refocus our sights…

Now that Thanksgiving is past, we may turn our full attention and energy to preparing for Christmas.

The merchants already for some weeks now have been trying to capture our attention and get us to start the shopping frenzy that makes the coming month the most important time of the year for them. And there are reminders here and there to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but it is an annual campaign that seems to lose more ground every year to take hold of the popular, maybe even the Christian, imagination.

What does it mean to “put Christ back in Christmas” besides going to church on Dec. 25? How might Jesus himself answer that question about how to celebrate his birthday?

I asked myself the question and heard the answer in something that he himself once said.

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Longing for the Lord: An Advent Examen

The Ignatian Examen is a spiritual treasure that has helped countless people become more aware of God’s presence in their daily lives. The Missouri Province of Jesuits has produced podcast reflections for you to prepare during the season of Advent for Christ’s birth.

Longing for the Lord: an Advent Examen links the Ignatian Examen with another treasure of Church tradition, the O Antiphons from the Liturgy of the Hours for the week before Christmas. The O Antiphons give us a way of looking at Jesus and finding the events in his life that speak to us. On these pages you will find some simple aids to prayer that will help you sustain a mood of eager expectation as the Advent season builds towards Christmas.

Ready to start? Listen to Jesuit Father Joseph Tetlow as he explains in a simple fashion how to do the basic Examen and then offers a deeper explanation of how to keep using the Examen and apply it to Advent.

Beginning on Dec. 17, there will be special prayers each day, based on the O Antiphons. Links will appear at the top of this page that you can use individually or as a family to join the Church worldwide in its Advent prayer.

Please visit the Missouri Province of Jesuits website for the full podcast reflections and transcripts.

U.S. House Chaplain: Partisanship Growing Despite the Holidays

As Christmas approaches, Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, U.S. House of Representatives chaplain, said there is a sharp contrast between the charitable, peaceful and hopeful nature of the season and the often painfully partisan atmosphere in Congress.

“The political combat that is going on right now, I understand from just about everybody, is as contentious as it’s been in decades,” said Conroy.

Conroy sympathizes with the representatives. The former university chaplain said that much like the students he counseled at Seattle and Georgetown Universities, Congress often has hard tasks to accomplish in the weeks and days leading up to the holidays.

“It is, I think, a tough time for men and women of Congress who are men and women just like the rest of us who have their own hopes, fears, insecurities and brokenness and are trying to do heroic things in service to their country,” he said.

Conroy’s job as the 60th chaplain of the U.S. House of the Representative is, as he described it, to pray for the House as an institution and also for individuals.

Since he became chaplain in May, Conroy navigates the halls of the House, sitting in on floor votes, attending committee meetings (mainly those of the House Rules Committee) and working out in the congressional gym. He maintains a visible profile in the hopes that Congressional members on both sides will visit him for spiritual guidance, help and advice.

Read more about Conroy’s experiences as the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain in this article at the Christian Post.