Young pilgrims witness for life

Persistence pays. For the last two years our diocese has tried to organize a pilgrimage for the March for Life in Washington, D.C. However, we could never quite pull it together. Instead of giving up, we decided to team up with the Diocese of Sioux Falls and march together for life. It was great to see our dioceses collaborating, bringing our youth and young adults together to speak and act on behalf of the unborn and to call forth a culture of life.

As part of our stewardship initiative, we have been sending lay witness speakers to give their testimony about how they are living a Catholic way of life through generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship. As part of this month’s column, I want to share the testimony of six high school students and two young adults from our diocese who were part of the March for Life pilgrimage, taking the words of St. John Paul II to heart:

“Young pilgrims, Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the ‘path to life’ (Ps 16:11). Do not be afraid to go out onto streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. ‘This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel’ (Cfr. Rom 1:16) … Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: ‘Woe to me if I do not evangelize’ (1 Cor 9:16).  Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life’ (World Youth Day, Denver, 1993).

Mary Kinyon, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
This was the first time I had ever been on the March for Life, and my experience was amazing. I did not know exactly what to expect, but I did know that I was going to be truly touched by my experiences, and this expectation did not disappoint.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended the march. Everywhere I looked I saw hundreds of thousands of people just like me who wanted to make a difference. Everybody was filled with joy.

Isaac Rangel, Immaculate Conception, Rapid City 
The March for Life pilgrimage was by far one of my most memorable experiences. The night we arrived we went to a youth rally to get us fired up and ready for the march and it was great! There was good music, some speakers and Eucharistic adoration, which was my favorite part of the rally.
The following day was the march; it was amazing! Thousands of people attended, including some nuns and priests! After the march we were able to go see the monuments on the Washington Mall and to visit the Holocaust Museum.
This was my first pilgrimage and afterward I felt as if God wants me to continue going on these sort of trips; it has helped me to grow closer to him and it encouraged me to keep on fighting for life. Altogether, the pilgrimage was a life changing experience. I made many friends, received a lot of graces and I look forward to next year’s march!

Paige and Isaac Gehlson, Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont
The March for Life was a pilgrimage filled to the brim with inspirational messages and experiences; my brother Isaac and I were lucky enough to witness them firsthand. The most powerful of these experiences was seeing that we are not alone in the pro-life movement, but rather, a part of a fast-growing generation of pro-life supporters. Alongside this realization was the massive gift of patience granted to us during the trip. Specifically in the following movements: a 36-hour bus trip, standing at the rally prior to the march (stood in the D.C. chill from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the march finished), and especially when nine of us were crammed into a minivan and were driven to a restaurant called “China Town,” which was half an hour away from the downtown China Town we were trying to reach.
The most important message taken from this event was that we are one body, one voice (“One Voice” was this year’s theme), whether there are thousands of us joined together in a street, or one of us standing up in a classroom.
We must use our one voice for the child who has none. We all have key roles in this movement, but if we fail to be participants in those roles, the change we so dearly desire will never occur and our voices and the children on whose behalf we raise them will be forgotten.
So we ask: join a march, promote life everywhere you go, reach out to not just our future children, but to guard their future.

Emma Raposa, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
Going to the March for Life was an amazing experience. It was so empowering to see hundreds of thousands of young people just like me marching to protect life. It was definitely not what I was expecting; it was better.
It was so peaceful. At times when we were marching, it was almost silent. That is because we were marching out of love. I hope to attend this event in the years to come, and I encourage you to do the same because it truly is life changing.

Liam Yantes, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
This year I was blessed with an opportunity to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. This was something I could have only dreamed about, but thanks to the hard work of my fellow students attending and all the support from family and friends, I was able to go.
One of the things that I was thankful for was the chance to meet so many people fighting for the just cause of ending abortion. We were also blessed to travel with the Diocese of Sioux Falls and make new friends. Thanks again to all that made this possible.

Jordan Miller, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City
The March for Life was such a positive experience for me. Even though we began with some delays and bad weather, it was comforting to be able to get to Sioux Falls and join the other pilgrims as we boarded our bus and headed for D.C.
The bus ride, although crowded and long, was a time for us Rapid City kids to get to know those from Sioux Falls, play games, watch movies, and spend time in prayer and reflection as we prepared to go on the march.
During our times of prayer, I began to reflect on the question, “Why did I even want to come?” I answered, “I have always wanted to go, and this year I was able to get the chance,” and that answer seemed to be sufficient.
These questions left my thoughts until I returned to Rapid. I now think that my desire for the pilgrimage was just to “be there.” I wanted the experience, and to be able to witness to the pro-life movement. What a gift it was for me to be able to “be there” in those moments of the trip where God showed me just how universal the Catholic Church really is.
I was able to “be there” when I ran into two of my friends from college. I was able to “be there” when I got to spend some time talking to my friends from the University of Mary. I was able to “be there” when our group ran into Sr. Audree Blankartz, who is a good friend of mine from our diocese, and I was able to “be there,” in Washington, D.C., as an advocate for the unborn.
I later realized that I have to be aware and attentive to God’s grace at work so that, in opportunities like the March for Life, I am able to “be there” and not miss out on what God wants me to receive.

Bridget Decker, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
Having attended the March for Life in college, my desire for this pilgrimage was to share in the joy of my students. My hopes were realized as they experienced the larger church and the rallying support of thousands united in the cause to support life.
Particularly moving for me was visiting the National Holocaust Museum. Reflecting on the cruel death of so many during that historic event, I considered the roles of those who attempted to defend the defenseless and those who stood by silently. I then considered what I am doing during the genocide of our age to stand against evil and subsequently what future generations will remember about the people of my time — did we speak for truth and dignity or were we silent?
The witness by these youth and young adults on behalf of the unborn should fill us with pride in how well they represented the Catholic Church of western South Dakota. Their words and actions should serve as a reminder and an inspiration for each of us that we are to be fearless and intentional in being witnesses of the Gospel, whether it is among thousands of people on the Washington Mall, amid our coworkers in the office, or within our parishes.
As St. Paul reminds us, and St. John Paul II reiterates: This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel.

 

No one will be denied the opportunity to share love with a child

By the time you will read this, the South Dakota Legislative Session has drawn to an end. One of the bills which has drawn most of my attention from an input level has been Senate Bill 149 — the Faith-Based Adoption Agency Protection Bill. This was a very important piece of legislation because it ensures faith-based adoption agencies in South Dakota the freedom to continue placing children and making decisions within their agencies that are consistent with their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions, which should be protected by our First Amendment rights.

The bill has passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. There has been great pushback from opponents citing it as a “hate” bill or misrepresenting it as “state funded discrimination.” Our opponents either fail to understand or do not want to understand how important a role religious beliefs and values play in the lives of Americans across this country. It seems to matter little to them that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and appears that they will go to great lengths to rid the culture of our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion.

With this particular situation, opponents allege that because there are religious criteria in the policy of Catholic Social Services for making placements of children into homes of loving parents, CSS is discriminating against the LGBTQ community. This is far from the truth. The opposition is agenda driven, partisan and assisted by news media who unfortunately do not seek all the facts.

CSS has been providing adoption services in western South Dakota for over forty years and has always served the best interests of the children in accord with our Catholic faith and traditions. It and other faith-based organizations receive no government funding for their adoption programs — one reason why this bill is important for the sake of our Catholic ministry.

The very mission of CSS is “To share in Christ’s ministry of offering hope, promoting individual human dignity and strengthening families and communities, by providing professional social services to people of all faiths in western South Dakota.” Encouraging families to consider becoming foster or adoptive families is part of their mission. Contrary to the false statement from the ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director, that “this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families,” when a potential adoptive family cannot be served because they fall outside of CSS’s policy, they are referred to other organizations who can provide for their needs. The State of South Dakota has more than enough agencies and attorneys available to provide adoption and foster care services. Every family who wants to adopt a child can find an organization to assist them if CSS is unable to do so.

In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of CSS, if they are forced to make decisions which force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, they will close down their adoption services before violating those beliefs. Closures of adoption agencies would affect the number of families and birth parents being served. The bottom line is that the government should not be dictating how religious organizations carry out the mission of Jesus Christ in service of the Gospel. Faith-based organizations do far more than any other agencies in serving the poor and vulnerable. If those opposed to Judeo-Christian religious values and traditions are determined that the government should control the ministry of faith-based organizations, the less fortunate and vulnerable will have many fewer places to turn for services and care.

I would like to personally and publicly thank the sponsors of SB 149, Senator Alan Solano and Representative Steven G.

Haugaard, for their work in getting this bill passed. They and those who voted for it have my admiration and gratitude for speaking out for religious freedom in the State of South Dakota. In today’s culture it takes courage to risk stepping out publicly on faith-based issues. Doing so, as Jesus warned us, has made these brave legislators the subject of persecution (Jn 15:20). Thank you for being courageous in spite of the persecution and derision you received from the opposition. It shows your true character.

I am also deeply grateful that Governor Dennis Daugaard had the same courage and signed this bill into law for the sake of religious freedom and religious beliefs held by the

individuals who serve others through CSS and all faith-based organizations across our state. Thank you so much!

The statement on religious liberty from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, begins, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.”

Religious freedom is not only about Catholics being able to attend Mass on Sundays or enter into private prayer, but it involves whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. It is about the ability to continue to do the good works the Gospel of Jesus calls us to do without having to compromise our Catholic faith.

State funded adoption agencies and faith-based adoptive agencies have worked together for many years helping thousands of children find loving homes in South Dakota with an admirable tolerance of each other’s beliefs. Little by little, those opposed to Christianity have become intolerant and are trying to impose their beliefs on society. They believe that, because our ministry is guided by Gospel and traditional family values, there should be no place for it because they don’t like it.

We will continue to fight for our First Amendment rights.

Senate Bill 149 is an important way in which we can carry out the mission of Jesus without others telling us how we must do it. This fact remains, even with the passage of this legislation: no one will be denied the opportunity to share their love for a child through adoption.

 

The Diocesan Priority Plan — February 2017

Foundational Ministry: Social Services & Outreach

GOAL: Establish a task force to assess the needs of the Hispanic community and make recommendations to the Bishop by January 1, 2017.
While the predominant non-European ethnic group in our diocese is Lakota, the Diocese of Rapid City also includes a Hispanic/Latino Community that comprises about 5-10 percent of our Catholics. Many of these Spanish speaking parishioners have some English language capability but do not speak or read English well enough to fully participate in programs such as Veritatis Splendor Institute, Pastoral Ministry Days or other diocesan programs. In addition, very few others in western South Dakota speak enough Spanish to help facilitate better communications with Spanish-speaking Catholics.

The diocese has no office for Hispanic ministry. Father Janusz Korban serves as a chaplain for the Spanish Masses in Hill City and at Blessed Sacrament in Rapid City. Father Korban is originally from Poland. He received four months of Spanish language training in Mexico prior to taking on this ministry.

As a first step in establishing a Hispanic Ministry Task Force, Bishop Robert Gruss met with a group of interested individuals on December, 13, 2016. The group included Fr. Janusz Korban, Barbara Linares, Maria Munoz, Mary Ireland, Dr. Romeo Vivit and Jaime Munoz. They discussed the goal for Hispanic Ministry in the diocese and the possibility of bringing in a team to help start a program called V Encuentro*, which would provide education and support for local Catholics in Hispanic ministry. Bishop Gruss tasked the group with assessing the needs of the Hispanic Catholics in our diocese and creating a plan to implement V Encuentro in the Diocese of Rapid City.

Father Korban had already put together a group to look at ways to form and strengthen Hispanic leaders in our diocese through V Encuentro. The V Encuentro Committee met on January 29 to begin work on the needs assessment. M. Delores Munoz, Mary Ireland, Chava Correa and Cristina Cruz have joined several committee members working on this project. In addition to the experiences and familiarity that each member brings to this discussion, they decided to survey the Hispanics/ Latinos about the needs to make sure that everyone has a chance to be part of the process.

The survey is available in both Spanish and English, in paper form and online. The survey will be available through March 5. Online surveys can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HispanaFeb2017 (Spanish language) or https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Hispanic2017 (English language) The committee will review the survey data and use it to prepare a prioritized list of needs along with suggestions and comments about how those needs might best be served. They will then present these findings and recommendations to Bishop Gruss by April 1.

* V Encuentro is an organization dedicated to supporting and educating leaders for Hispanic/Latino Catholics. It began under the USCCB to help bishops and communities work together in this ministry. In the context of this dialogue among the bishops and the community, we live a spirit of pastoral ministry illuminated by an ecclesiological communion and missionary vocation that seeks to reach out to those who find themselves estranged from the life and vision of the church. The main objective of the process of the Encuentro is to discern the way in which Hispanics/Latinos respond as church. Web address: http://vencuentro.org/.

Diocesan Pastoral Priorities: Funding the Mission

GOAL: Develop a Diocesan Facility Master Plan by March 1, 2017 to include:
• Plans for a new chancery building
• Plans for the Terra Sancta campus

The Priority Plan continues to unfold. Bishop Robert Gruss is moving forward to re-envision and if necessary realign the diocesan structure. He has contracted with the Catholic Leadership Institute of Wayne, Pennsylvania, to assist him with an assessment of chancery ministries.

Bishop Gruss said, “It is important that the diocese is able to do ministry as we want it done, as well as asking, ‘Do we have the staff to do it?’’

The assessment will begin by examining information on the roles, budgets and processes of diocesan ministries. A consultant from the Catholic Leadership Institute has already begun interviewing department heads via phone regarding strengths and needs of each ministry and office.

Once this is completed, Bishop Gruss will work with diocesan leadership to review the assessment along with the Priority Plan vision, mission and goals for the diocese to develop a plan for the chancery. This is similar to the Envisioning process that the diocese and many of the parishes have been working on since the Catholic Leadership Institute first began consultation with the diocese for the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds Program in 2013.

“By the end of May we should have a clearer vision of who we are, what we want to become and how to make any necessary changes,” said Bishop Gruss.

 

Assisted suicide — are we headed there too?

In 1994 Oregon passed a law allowing physicians to prescribe deadly drugs for some patients in order for them to take their own lives. Since then, Montana (1995), Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016) and Washington, DC (2016) have all passed laws or court rulings allowing doctor-prescribed suicide.

This movement continues across our land. Much of the momentum began from the story of a 29-year-old cancer patient from California named Brittany Maynard. She announced in the fall of 2014 that she did not want to face the expected suffering associated with her brain cancer and therefore would move to Oregon so she could take her life using its assisted suicide law. Her story became a media sensation and she then became a spokesperson for the group called Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, is the primary organization leading the drive for cultural acceptance and legalization of assisted suicide. This organization is well funded through the efforts of a large fundraising staff, raising money and awareness through wealthy and committed donors like George Soros.

Are we headed there too? Last December an article in the Rapid City Journal revealed that in November 2018 the people of the State of South Dakota could find a ballot measure on doctor-prescribed suicide under the misleading title, “Death with Dignity.” This ballot measure will give voters the opportunity to vote into law doctor-assisted suicide.

Though this campaign to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide has been rejected by most policymakers in our society, there is still great cause for concern as the throwaway attitude in our culture deepens. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, know that suicide is a terrible tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent. They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the doctor’s call to assist in healing.

Proponents know these facts and thus avoid terms such as “assisting suicide” and instead use code words such as “aid in dying.” These proponents cite that it should be a person’s right to choose to end his or her life so as to alleviate their suffering on his or her own terms, enabling them to die with “dignity.” They see this as a form of compassion and choice.

“The idea that assisting a suicide shows compassion and eliminates suffering is equally misguided. It eliminates the person, and results in suffering for those left behind — grieving families and friends, and other vulnerable people who may be influenced by this event to see death as an escape. The sufferings caused by chronic or terminal illness are often severe. They cry out for our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to “suffer with” another person. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem. Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions” (USCCB, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide).

In the case of doctor-assisted suicide, the “dignity” of the terminally ill is ultimately stripped away because the dignity of the sick person is placed purely on a subjective level. This can easily lead down a slippery slope when subjectivity determines the value of a human life.

Doctor-assisted suicide is not free choice because it’s often driven by depression and hopelessness. The assisted suicide agenda can actually increase the suffering of isolation and hopelessness often experienced by seriously ill people. Seeing their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems only magnifies this kind of suffering. For example, people dying under Oregon’s law more often cite as a reason for their choice the feeling of being a burden rather than any concern about pain. There is also proof that in Oregon general suicides have risen dramatically since assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”

Documentation suggests where there is legalized assisted suicide there is less commitment to palliative care. Government programs and private insurers have even limited support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor-prescribed death. This was reality for Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma. Her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment. When asked if her insurance company would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”

A society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms. The government, by rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, implicitly communicates the message that some may be better off dead. Assisted suicide is also a recipe for abuse of elderly and disabled persons because it can put lethal drugs within reach of abusers. No oversight and no witnesses are required once the lethal drugs leave the pharmacy. There is also no requirement to notify a family member or emergency contact for a person taking their own life. Imagine the trauma the family would face in such a situation.

There are many other reasons why doctor-prescribed suicide is not good for this country, the State of South Dakota and for families — too many to lay out in this article. But it is important that in supporting a culture of life, we begin to speak out against this serious challenge and deadly issue now, in our parishes, in our families and in our communities. We do not want our state to be the next one to support a culture of death in allowing suicide for its citizens. Resources can be found at www.usccb.org/ToLiveEachDay.

In conclusion, from an article which appeared in Crisis Magazine by Maria Cintorino:

“Genuine death with dignity, dying naturally, is courageous for it dares to live despite suffering. It affirms the dignity of the human person as grounded in the image and likeness of God and recognizes that the beauty of life entails both the moments of joy and health as well as the sorrows and sufferings which are part of life. Dying with true dignity means accepting and embracing the suffering of a terminal illness and the death which ensues, no matter how prolonged the process may be. True death with dignity does not “opt” out of life — it fearlessly charges on as it recognizes the immense power of redemptive suffering and affirms the value of each human being who suffers.”

Pray for vocations with your children in mind

Last month Bishop Robert Gruss shared with the people of God in the Diocese of Rapid City some good news and some not-so-good news about the priest situation in our diocese. The bishop affirmed how grateful he was for the many wonderful and dedicated priests he has and the work they are doing. They are clearly striving to be true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord.

Bishop Gruss also mentioned the challenging reality of covering our current places for ministry in the coming years. Priest retirements coupled with not having another ordination until the summer of 2019, this news can leave us in a spirit of desolation.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his work with “discernment of spirits,” says in the sixth rule: “It is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance.”

This is exactly what Bishop Gruss is asking of each of us — as individuals, families, parishioners and parishes. He is “insisting more upon prayer” and pleading with us to seriously take to heart the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. He is also asking that we pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our diocese and for his guidance so that there will not be a priest shortage this year and in the coming years.

Wow, what a challenge! I hope you are up for it. It will require you to be more intentional and more sacrificial in your prayer life, to fervently beg the Lord as we hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Lk 10:2).

Every time we go to prayer our Heavenly Father, through his Son, Jesus, invites us and asks us, as he asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” In the Gospel, the blind man replied, “Master, I want to see” (Mk 10:51). Our response, too, is clear and simple: “Jesus, send us more seminarians and priests for our diocese — we beg you Lord!”

This past month, Bishop Gruss also introduced a new prayer for vocations, which was written collaboratively with the help of several clergy and laity. The bishop has invited our entire diocese to pray this new prayer with its new words with a lively faith. His invitation reminds of the scripture passage “that new wine is put into fresh wineskins” (Mt 9:17).

As a diocese we have been praying the old vocation prayer in our parishes for more than 40 years, and we know it by heart. We know it so well that perhaps it has become too rote for us. Have we lost our fervor to pray the vocation prayer with a beggar’s heart?

Begin to pray the new vocation prayer using the method of Lectio Divina, a Latin term for divine reading. We can do this individually, and in families and small group settings. Lectio Divina helps us let go of our own agenda and to open ourselves to what God wants to say to us.

When praying through the new vocations prayer using this method, pay attention to which word, words, or phrases tug at your heart or get your attention. How do these words or phrases connect to your life, to your family, to your parish, and to our diocese?

Talk to God about these words and phrases that tugged at your heart and share everything with him — share your thoughts, feelings and desires. Then simply listen and God will speak to you. At that point, think about what you can do to act upon what God has revealed to you. In the end, thank the Lord and let your heart be filled with gratitude for what he is doing in your life and in the life of your family, parish and diocese.

Parents, as you begin to pray this new vocational prayer with your children, think of them as possible recipients of a vocational call to priesthood and/or religious life. It is so easy to think of Jesus calling other parents’ children, but your own children? This can be more challenging.

It is my hope that as families start praying this new vocation prayer together, parents will begin to share with their children — in very intentional ways — the possibility that they, whether in elementary school, middle school, high school or young adulthood, may be receiving a call to priesthood or religious life.

I thought a lot about Bishop Gruss’ invitation to pray seriously for vocations to priesthood and for a fresh, daily outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our diocese. In light of St. Ignatius’ advice “extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance,” I am going to fast every Thursday as a reminder of the Last Supper.

In a letter to priests on Holy Thursday in 2004, Saint John Paul II said “We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist … we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit ‘de Eucharistia.’ There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.”

If you are interested in joining me in fasting on Thursdays as we fervently beg the Lord to send us more seminarians and priests, please send me your name, address, email and phone number. Together we will pray that more priests are fostered and nurtured in families as married couples live their vocation in the Spirit of Christ.