Social Justice at Forefront of Lenten Activities

Johann Cuervo Around the Province

Juan Turcios preaches to a packed room during a Latino retreat at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Juan)

For Catholics, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert. To help people focus on this liturgical season, Holy Name Province ministries have offered an assortment of programs including the traditional Lenten Vespers as well as presentations on a variety of topics – spirituality, immigration and reconciliation.

Vespers, Music and Discussions
In Silver Spring, Md., the Care for Creation committee of St. Camillus Parish invited its partners-in-ministry to use a Lenten “Caring for Creation” calendar that suggests finding ways to grow “in the commitment to be a wise steward of God’s creation.” The calendar includes 40 ways to save energy that can be incorporated into one’s daily routine.

In New York City, Lenten Vespers began on Feb. 20 at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Parish on West 96th Street. Bill Beaudin, OFM, gave the opening reflection, speaking about “poverty and its connection with humility.” On March 13, Gene Pistacchio, OFM, led a discussion on the “Third Order Franciscans: Spirituality for the Laity” and John Heffernan, OFM, presented a talk on March 20 called “Why Did Pope Francis Take the Name Francis?”

Bill, director of adult education at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown Manhattan, will also be leading an afternoon of prayer on March 24 at San Damiano Hall on West 31st Street. According to the parish’s website, the afternoon will comprise two presentations, communal prayer and personal quiet time. Guided reflection and light refreshments are included.

In Pompton Lakes, N.J., St. Mary’s Parish offered a three-week Lenten series focusing on solidarity, with a special emphasis on migration. The series, sponsored by the Advocates for Justice Ministry, “has been enlightening,” said Gonzalo Torres, OFM, pastor.

“We understand the topic of migration is complicated and one that generates heated discussions,” said Jackie Schramm, St. Mary’s director of social justice ministry. “We chose speakers whom we believed would provide first-hand knowledge of the complex issues associated with migration, as well as clarify concerns and answer any questions our attendees might have.”

“These conversations helped us to learn about the issues immigrants and refugees face as they try to reach the American dream,” added Gonzalo. “We also had the incredible opportunity to hear from two parishioners of their recent experience as immigrants to the country.”

On the Jersey Shore, St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island hosted its “Lenten Soup and Stations” evenings on Fridays in the Brant Beach church hall. According to the parish’s website, the event included a meal consisting of a delicious variety of meatless homemade soups served with bread and butter. Each week, guests listened to readings, sang hymns, and reflected on three of the Stations of the Cross on Jesus’ way to Calvary.

At St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., Frank McHugh, OFM, offered a four-week multi-media presentation titled “Spirituality: How Can I Grow in My Spiritual Life?” on the Wednesdays of Lent.

“During week one, I introduced the topic of spirituality by asking this question: ‘What does it mean when a person says ‘I’m not religious, but I am spiritual,'” said Frank. “After a brief dialogue, I showed a video from Michael Himes, brother of Kenneth Himes, OFM, titled ‘What is Spirituality?’ Week two explored the unique insights of Augustinian, Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, and Jesuit spirituality with a special emphasis on Franciscan Spirituality. On the last week, we will view a different video from Himes titled ‘What is Prayer?’ with a closing conversation and evaluation of the program.”

St. Anthony Church in Butler, N.J., where Joseph Juracek, OFM, is pastor, focused on the theme of “paying it forward.”

“As a parish, we’re focusing on not simply giving things up for Lent, but what we can do for others in our community,” said Joe. “Through our parish website and Facebook page, we’re sharing videos as well as simple things we can do for others.”

“The best thing we can pass forward is our faith,” Joe added. “We need to evangelize, not just for the sake of those others who need to hear the Gospel, but so that our own faith may grow and flourish. I have found that this is especially true when I have had to deal with doubting, questioning audiences – usually the group where I least want to share my thoughts, ideas and faith. I discover that I am the one who is probably most changed by the encounter. It forces me to better understand what I believe and how I might more clearly communicate it with others.”

Psalms and Retreats
In Boston, St. Anthony Shrine offered a Latino Retreat on March 18. “From the Grave to the Glory of the Resurrection,” the theme of the event’s retreat comes from the biblical passage from the Gospel of St. John 11:1-45, “The Raising of Lazarus” – the Gospel for the first and last weekend of Lent previous to Palm Sunday, said Juan Turcios, OFM. The daylong retreat included several sections: a welcome by Ana Connolly, coordinator of the Latino Ministry, a presentation by Juan that included games, songs and sharing, and an afternoon session focused on the resurrection of the Lord. A noon Mass was celebrated by Michael Johnson, OFM, who also heard confessions throughout the day.

“The main point of the retreat was to elaborate a spiritual bridge between the Good Friday Catholic people, to enable them to walk forward to celebrate and to become active Easter Catholic people,” said Juan, who lives in Chicago. “We took into consideration the Raising of Lazarus as a mirror of Christ’s own death and resurrection, and we analyzed our own call to move forward from death to sin and to be part of the resurrection within in our spiritual life. In addition, we explored ways in which we can continue our prayer, devotion, and aid giving in active ways during Easter and apply them in our daily lives.”

In Connecticut, St. Patrick-Saint Anthony Parish offered several programs to the downtown Hartford community including a series of presentations by A. Francis Soucy, OFM, focusing on “praying the Psalms during Lent” every Thursday.

“The psalms usually get short shrift in the Eucharistic liturgy, functioning only to separate one reading from another,” said Francis. “Hence, they fail to attract attention to themselves. Their humble – and usually partial – appearance prevents the worshipper from benefiting from the panache of their electrifying elegance. This program will attempt to give these deeply emotional and fiery verses their just due. After all, some say that poetry and music are one – God’s language”

On March 22, Frank Sevola, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine, will lead the congregation in a Lenten Twilight Retreat.

“Holy Week – beginning with Palm Sunday and leading into the Sacred Triduum – is all about reconciliation – reconciliation with God, reconciliation with the world, and reconciliation with ourselves,” said Frank. “Let’s take some time on this twilight retreat to explore the many ways Holy Week is a time of reconciliation and joy.”

Johann Cuervo is the communications assistant for Holy Name Province.

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