Praying for more priests

I am writing to share with you some important information and to seek your assistance. God has blessed this diocese with many wonderful and dedicated priests. I am proud of and deeply grateful for the priests who serve the people of God across the Diocese of Rapid City. They live as true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord, day in and day out. This is good news. Please be grateful for all they do for you and continue to pray for them daily.

But I also want to share with you some not-so-good news about the priests’ situation in the diocese, seeking your daily prayers for this situation as well.

The Diocese of Rapid City currently has seven men in seminary formation for the priesthood. This is good news. However, we had no ordinations this past year and the next ordination to the priesthood for our diocese is not scheduled until the summer of 2019, if the man currently in Theology II discerns this through to completion.

We also have priests who are moving into retirement. Fr. Bill Zandri retired last July, although he is still active in hospital and nursing home ministry. Another priest is due to retire in July 2017. Due to health issues of two of our active priests, we are already short on clergy personnel for this current year. Fr. Ed Vanorny has come out of retirement to cover a cluster of parishes in Harding and Perkins Counties.

In addition, Fr. Godfrey Muwanga and Fr. John Lule, who are on loan from Uganda, have been serving for almost ten years and their status in our diocese is year-to-year. Fr. Andrea Benso, who has been here on loan from Italy, will be returning home to his diocese next June. In addition, the two Jesuit priests serving at the Sioux Spiritual Center will also be taking new assignments, thus leaving a void in the ministry which they have been providing.

Also, Fr. Brian Christensen will complete his assignment in Rome and return to the diocese in July 2017. Taking all of this into consideration, there will be a shortage of at least one priest, and maybe more, if the Ugandan priests are called home.

So as you can see, the priest personnel situation leaves a challenging reality in covering our current places for ministry into the coming years. People may inquire, “Why don’t you get more priests from outside the diocese to come here?” This is much more difficult than one thinks. Obviously, in doing so, it would have to be the right person — one who would fit well into the culture of our local church.

St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Corinthians, “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”

Yes, we are one body of Christ in the Diocese of Rapid City. If one parish is affected, all parishes are affected. A shortage of two priests or even one priest has an impact across the whole diocese. Any adjustment to the number of parishes we can serve will impact more than just one parish. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” We all must become concerned about these challenges in our diocese.

Therefore, while I wanted you to be aware of this situation, I am also asking each of you to take seriously the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. But I am also asking that each of you pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our diocese and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor to find more priests to serve here, so that there will not be a shortage in this coming year and the years to follow.

Be assured of my prayers for all of you and your families. May Christ’s peace and love be the source and meaning of your lives.


West River Catholic — December 2016

Enjoy the December edition of the West River Catholic.

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West River Catholic: November 2016

Enjoy the November edition of the West River Catholic

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‘Fear hardens our hearts and creates binders on our eyes’


The symbols of Christmas speak a language which we all understand. Pope Francis reminds us, “The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized. The cribs set up in churches, in homes and in so many public places are also an invitation to make room in our life and in society for God, hidden in the faces of many persons who are in conditions of hardship, of poverty and of tribulation.”

As we have listened to the readings of Advent and look forward to the readings of Christmas, we can see that they speak of a new era, one of peace and tranquility — a new dawn breaking upon the world. This message is meant to fill the world with hope, with deep longings fulfilled, thereby diminishing the anxiety and fear experienced by many people in this country and throughout the world.

Emmanuel, God Is with Us, brings new promise. The Messiah has come to deliver people from their suffering and affliction. The promise has been realized. This is the gift of Christmas. This is what we celebrate these days.

But perhaps not for everyone. The threat of deportation among the undocumented in this country, and even worse the threat of death for being Christian in the Middle East, brings severe angst among many populations. The mystery of Christmas for them may seem to be a hidden reality.

As I sit to write this column, the sad news has come across the Internet of a bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral killing 25 people and wounding another 49, mostly women and children, during a Sunday Mass. One cannot imagine the pain and suffering felt by Egyptians in the aftermath of such barbarism. But this is not an isolated incident. My heart goes out to the people of Cairo and all across Egypt. We must not forget the people of Iraq and Syria as well, for so many of them have similar experiences.

The fact is that the persecution of religious believers has become an increasingly tragic situation all across the world. People of all religious denominations, including Muslims and Jews, are facing the wrath of persecution. But Evangelical Protestants and Catholics have especially become targets of terrorism initiated by evil authorities who are often motivated by anti-Western, anti-democratic ideologies and who feel threatened by Christian faith and worship.

Pope Francis, in a homily in June 2014, said that “there are more martyrs in the Church today than in the first centuries.” After an additional two years, the evidence bears this out even more. Little has been done by the United States government in terms of speaking out against these terrors of religious persecution. Perhaps as a Christian nation we have failed to do all within our power to alleviate the suffering of those persecuted. This should concern all of us.

We might think, “what can I do?” We can be in solidarity with those who have been displaced from their homelands because of persecution through prayer and support. As I wrote in my Pastoral Letter, “To be in solidarity with others is to see them as God sees them, to love them as God loves them, and to sacrifice for them as Christ has sacrificed for them. United together, we are the Body of Christ. Every time we neglect others in the Body, the whole Body suffers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). When we live in solidarity and charity, the Body of Christ is built up, there is communion, and the Kingdom of God is made manifest.”

We are often are afraid of people who are different from us. Fear hardens our hearts and creates binders on our eyes. But when looking at this situation with our eyes open, not living in fear but in solidarity and love, we will see their plight as an opportunity to be messengers of Christmas peace and hope. Then blindness and indifference will be transformed into solidarity and love.

In gathering with family and friends to celebrate this great feast of Emmanuel, God Is With Us, don’t forget to include the suffering and persecuted of the world in your prayers, in your conversations and in your generosity. These are simple ways in which we can be in solidarity with these brothers and sisters. May your Christmas be filled with very grace and blessing!


West River Catholic: November 2016

Enjoy the November edition of the West River Catholic

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‘How do we get the nation back on the right track?’

By the time most of you will have read this, the Jubilee Year of Mercy will have come to an end and the 2016 Presidential Election will be over. Now what? Where do we go from here? What is next?

What a wonderful Jubilee of Mercy it has been. I recall the words of Pope Francis when he first informed the world of the Year of Mercy: “It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to be ever more effective.” It is my hope and prayer that the Holy Father’s wish has become a reality all across the world. It is the experience of mercy, both received and given away, that will bring true peace and harmony. So where do we go from here as the Jubilee of Mercy ends?

This Jubilee has raised awareness for us of mercy being at the heart of the church’s mission. Proclaiming and living the mercy of God is at the heart of the church’s identity and where she is most credible and authentic. Therefore, though the official Jubilee of Mercy has ended, the clarion call to continue the works of mercy continues because it is at the heart of Catholic identity. This is the reason why both mercy and solidarity were specifically included as core values in the Diocesan Priority Plan. We will always be called to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). As I wrote in Through Him, With Him, and In Him,’ “To be in solidarity with others is to see them as God sees them, to love them as God loves them, and to sacrifice for them as Christ has sacrificed for them. United together, we are the body of Christ. Every time we neglect others in the body, the whole body suffers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26).

When we live in solidarity and charity, (and share mercy) the Body of Christ is built up, there is communion, and the kingdom of God is made manifest.” Continuing to seek ways in which these values are lived out among us allows us to more fully embrace our true identity.

As I write this monthly column the presidential election is pending and I find myself still quite concerned about our country regardless of which candidate wins. The threats to human life and religious liberty remain, here and around the world. The threats to traditional marriage and family values are on the rise. The number of people living in poverty remains. Immigration issues, healthcare issues, the national debt issue all remain. The threat of violence from terrorism remains. The rise of secularism continues. A new face in the White House doesn’t change these realities.

So where do we go from here? Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of the people surveyed believe our nation is on the wrong track. How do we get the nation back on the right track? What is the right track? There are probably as many different answers as the number of people polled. I would propose that the right track is a Catholic world view. What is it?

The world view when this country was founded was from Judeo-Christian values brought from a Christian Europe. A world view is a lens through which we look at everything in life. It informs our laws and policies. It helps determine how we think and act in all situations and circumstances. An individual may not even be aware of having a world view.

The Catholic world view is the view of the world and our response to it that has been given to us by Jesus Christ through his church. It is not something man-made, but given to us by God — revealed to us. The Catholic world view has its foundation in the Biblical world view — the world seen through the lens of divine revelation, the divine and living Word of God.

Many people today have a world view that is informed by things other than our Catholic faith, i.e. by secularism, by a culture that is profoundly un-Christian and becoming even anti-Christian. Intentionally or unintentionally, many Catholics have rejected the world view given to us by God’s revelation.

Catholics make up the largest Christian denomination in the world. Therefore, one would think that Catholics in numbers could have a profound impact in helping to shape and transform our culture. There would be great power to change the world if Catholics wholeheartedly embraced the revelation given us by Christ in his church.

Dr. Ralph Martin in a talk entitled “The Attack on Religious Liberty and the Catholic Church: The Spiritual Dynamics and Our Role” quoted noted scripture scholar Father Francis Martin: “The root sin of the world is the refusal to believe in Jesus and the place he holds next to the Father as the revelation of the Father. The root sin is to reject the truth.” And then he quoted John 3:36, Whoever believes in the son has eternal life. Whoever disobeys the son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath. The wrath of God is not God getting angry at people, but is our experience of God’s holiness when we’re rejecting it. It’s the anguish of soul and the darkness of mind that comes when we say no to the testimony that God is giving to his Son. This is perhaps the situation in our world today.

We need a Catholic world view if we are to live as Jesus’ disciples and become the people whom God created us to be, our true authentic selves. This call leads to seeking our personal vocation and mission in and for the world. We can’t transform the culture if we’ve accepted the secular world’s distorted world view. Unless we receive and accept all that has been given us through the church, we cannot be powerful witnesses in the world. There is no doctrine revealed that is not part of the Gospel message. We have a duty to live it all and share it.

Many Catholics received religious formation in years past but have gone no further in the faith formation process and therefore have an elementary understanding and knowledge of the Catholic faith. This is why Forming Disciples is our second pastoral priority. As written in the Diocesan Pastoral Priority Plan: “We are called to a deep union with Christ — a relationship of love. We will work together for formation in the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral areas. This formation will empower us to grow as faithful stewards of God’s gifts, living a Catholic way of life through hospitality, faith and discipleship.”

According to the Priority Plan, renewed efforts in religious formation for all ages lay a firm foundation for Catholics to grow in their union with Christ, to obtain adequate knowledge of the Catholic world view and to develop the necessary skills to be able to carry on the work of Christ in the world, each in one’s own way.

Pope Francis in the “Joy of the Gospel” wrote: “To believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone means realizing that he seeks to penetrate every human situation and all social bonds: ‘The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, even the most complex and inscrutable.’ Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit.”

Evangelization is the duty and responsibility of all baptized Catholics. Evangelization shares the Catholic world view and will lead others to true faith, living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church rather than under the deceitfulness of the Evil One. So, that’s where we go from here!


As Catholics we focus on what protects human life

In last month’s column, I raised the question: What happens in a race where Christians are faced with two morally problematic choices like we are faced with this year? When both candidates are not good, then who should I vote for?

The question hasn’t changed as we get closer to November 8. In fact, it seems that as each day brings us closer to Election Day, additional negative material on both candidates surfaces in the media. I can’t help but think, “How much worse can it get?” It is hard to believe that our country has reached this point where the two choices we have as presidential candidates are so deeply flawed. Certainly God is the only one who can judge the human heart, and I am sure they both are personally well intentioned, but each in their own way, seriously put forth defective ideas and policies when it comes to Catholic Social teaching.

Written in the USCCB document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” are these words: “As Catholics, our focus is not on party affiliation, ideology, economics, or even competence and capacity to perform duties, as important as such issues are. Rather, we focus on what protects or threatens human life and dignity.”

The month of October is Respect Life Month with the theme “Moved By Mercy.” There are many life issues to consider for reflection which speak clearly of the dignity of human life in its many stages. Some of these issues are written into the platforms of the two major political parties and are major concerns in this election year. Human life issues, religious freedom issues, immigration issues and education issues are some of those which are at the heart of the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms. These platforms are presented in this issue of the West River Catholic, on pages 3-4. Please take the time to view them before you vote.

Even though there are many issues in which to consider in any election, Catholics should view them within the context of the hierarchy of truths in Catholic Social teaching which begins with defending innocent human life. There is a vast difference on life issues between the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms — one of life and one of death.

This year’s Democratic Party platform calls for the overturning of the Hyde Amendment, a provision that both parties have voted to include in the federal budget and on other spending bills for many, many years. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal taxpayer money from being used for abortion. The platform is aggressively pro-abortion, not only in funding matters, but in the appointment of judges who support abortion. It also supports the repealing of the Helms Amendment, which states that “no (U.S.) foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Conversely, the Republican Party platform is supportive of the Hyde Amendment and has strengthened its support for life by calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, banning dismemberment abortion and opposing assisted suicide.

People may say that the life issue isn’t the only issue to consider. That is true. The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. Therefore, I believe the life issue is the first issue to consider. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights. Without life, none of the other rights matter.

Many of the other issues can legitimately be debated by Christians, such as the best and most effective policies in caring for the poor, the immigrants, taxes, etc. In voting, it is not an either/or scenario. All issues need to be considered. But all issues are not equal. The direct killing of innocent human life must be opposed always by every follower of Jesus Christ.

The health and holiness of our country and our world depends on a deep respect for human life at all its stages from the moment of conception until natural death. The future of our society depends on how we protect that right.

In this Year of Mercy, we are called to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful to us. How will we be moved by mercy if we are not first moved by mercy for the unborn?