Archives for December 2014

A Christmas Poem by Fr. Larry Dowling

 Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Chicago, shares his annual Christmas poem. This year’s offering is titled, “Annunciation.” Click here for the poem.

2014 – A Catholic news year in review

Two Catholic media outlets have listed news highlights for 2014.

Catholic News Service (Dec. 12, 2014) compiled a list of 30 events by date that dominated news from the Vatican.

For the CNS list, click here.


Zenit News Agency (Dec. 30, 2014), conducted an interview with Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office on important events of Pope Francis’ pontificate in 2014.

For the Zenit interview, click here.

Priestly ministry on the fracking fields of North Dakota


Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Bismarck, via the New York Times


“When I was in the seminary, this wasn’t on the radar screen,” Father Brian Gross said, referring to the radically reformed economic and social landscape of northwestern North Dakota. That landscape changed very quickly since the energy industry brought the process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as it is commonly known, to the Bakken oil field of that region.

The “On Religion” column of the December 27, 2014 edition of the New York Times focuses on Fr. Gross’ ministry to newcomers to the area who come mostly for new jobs and in some cases to restart lives. Fr. Gross’ parish, Epiphany, in Watford City, ND, which once numbered 90 now has a congregation of 300. Watford City is in the Diocese of Bismarck.

He is the sole priest for 20 miles around and part of his ministry is providing the staples of parish life: Mass seven times a week, confession whenever requested, religious education classes, baptism, first communion. He has begun a discussion group for men, made himself a regular at the town’s nine-hole golf course, and tossed down the occasional shot of tequila with Mexican parents celebrating a child’s baptism.

With the booming economy population changes naturally occur. Once the province of Scandinavians and Germans, “Watford City now attracts roughnecks and roustabouts, geologists and engineers … and with a male-to-female ratio estimated as high as 20 to 1, the vices have followed in step: pornography, prostitution, alcoholism, crystal meth.”

For the entire “On Religion” column, click here.

Professional Development Webinar Series – Chasing the Devil Out of Your Parish: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Parish Life, Feb. 24, 2015

Pro_DevelProfessional Development Webinar Series – Ave Maria Press in partnership with the National Association for Lay Ministry, National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, and National Federation of Priests’ Councils presents:

Chasing the Devil Out of Your Parish: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Parish Life

Presenter – Father Louis J. Cameli, author of the Devil You Don’t Know.

Date: Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Time: 3:00-4:00 PM, EST

FrLou_Cameli (1)

Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago

In this webinar for parish ministers, Father Cameli will draw insights from his book The Devil You Don’t Know: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Life and make applications to the struggles we frequently encounter in our parish life together. Fr. Cameli will expose the four ordinary works of the devil: deception, division, diversion, and discouragement. He will also offer some specific responses that we can make in the context of parish life and parish ministry.

For more information and to sign up, click here.


Crossing Borders

untitled_0In some sense the Christmas story is one of borders. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Holy Family’s journey begins with a population divided, a census of “the whole world…each to his own town” (2:1-3). And, in the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, then flee to Egypt, then settle in Nazareth—crossing border after border so that the Son of God might one day break them down.

The birth of Christ upends our earthly sense of order. He is both a child and a savior; he is visited by shepherds and kings alike. He disperses the arrogant, throws down rulers from their thrones; he lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things. Later, Christ’s Passion blurs the neat borders we so often construct between life and death, between the human and the divine. He is one who gives drink to the thirsty, and who, himself, thirsts.

We know that our lives are meant to mirror Christ’s. Yet we still struggle to live out God’s call to reconsider the lines our world is so eager to draw. Conflicts over political and religious divides result in ongoing suffering and tragic deaths for Israelis and Palestinians. Violence continues between Ukrainians and Russian separatists long after cease-fires have been called. Individuals from West African nations affected by Ebola have been quarantined and separated from their communities, often in a worthy effort to halt the spread of the deadly disease. But stigmas and continued fear of contagions have resulted in the abandonment or isolation of many who have survived.

In the United States, the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers have spurred nationwide anger and protests and drawn renewed attention to the many tensions and injustices that remain around issues of race in our country. Such episodes seed increased mistrust of authority, and Gallup polls show that our confidence in all branches of government is falling, with confidence in Congress at a record low.

Poverty, too, divides the American experience. In the United States alone, an estimated one in seven households are food insecure, even as Americans waste an estimated $165 billion of food each year. Families in the United States continue to seek stability, especially those with members who are undocumented. These families are described by President Obama as “part of American life” and by Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago as people “reaching out in hope”; yet discussions about the best way to assist such families has produced greater divisions between our political parties rather than greater empathy for the families that are struggling.

In the midst of uncertain times, it is all too easy to cry “each to his own town” and then settle into our own ways, to hole up in our own corners of the church or society. But Christ’s birth calls us to more carefully consider our place in this world, where we have come from and where we are headed. What borders are we called to cross or erase in our lives? In what ways are we being asked to move beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves? We must begin to rebuild our trust in one another. We must not allow differences around faith, race, nationality or income to keep us from truly seeing one another as neighbors, as children of God.

Often it is fear—of the “other” or even of our own inadequacies—that keeps us from crossing those lines. And yet we must cross them. Over and over the Gospels remind us—in the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary, of the host of angels to the shepherds and of Jesus to the women who discover the empty tomb—“Do not be afraid.” We must take these words to heart. Christ entered fully into our humanity; he crossed from death into new life on our behalf. He understood what it meant to feel alone, cold, afraid, “other.” He understood the consequences of welcoming people who were considered outcasts. He understood that doing God’s will sometimes means experiencing pain and sorrow. We must let go of our fears and allow ourselves to be as vulnerable as that infant child born into his own uncertain times, and in doing so to become signs of good news.

Christ’s birth sends a message that cannot be contained by a single country or ideology and that must be lived, let out, set free. Through his birth, death and resurrection, and through our own lives—by seeking peace, by welcoming the stranger—we continually break down those obstacles that separate us from each other and from God. In each of us Christ is reborn. The Christmas season reminds us that we are invited to return to God’s love, to that place from which we have come, so that together we might build a reign of God that has no borders, one that has always existed and that remains to be seen, one that even as we help create it is already here.

Indianapolis auxiliary bishop to head Burlington, VT. Diocese

Bishop Christopher Coyne. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Burlington

Bishop Christopher Coyne. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Burlington

Pope Francis named Indianapolis Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Coyne as Bishop of Burlington, Vermont. He succeeds Bishop Salvatore Matano who was appointed Bishop of Rochester, NY in November 2013.

Bishop Coyne, 56, a native of Woburn, Mass. was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1986. He holds a bachelor’s from the University of Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts, a master’s of divinity from St. John Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, and a licentiate and a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute (St. Anselmo) in Rome.

Known as the “blogging priest,” Bishop Coyne is cited as an international leader in the Faith’s “digital revolution,” according to a press release on the Diocese of Burlington web site. The release goes on to note, “Having kept a dedicated daily presence on both Facebook and Twitter to a current 10,000 followers, as well as producing a regular podcast, the bishop’s outreach has been featured on NBC’s Today Show and in the nationally broadcast coverage of the Indianapolis 500, at which he delivered the pre-race Invocation for the last three years.”

In November 2014 he was elected chairman of the USCCB Communications Department. He will take over that post in November 2015.

Bishop Coyne will installed on Jan 29, 2015 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

For the Diocese of Vermont press release, click here.

For the USCCB News Release, go to:

Pope Francis calls Curia to examination of conscience

In his year-end “State of the Union” message to Curia cardinals, Pope Francis outlined a “catalog of illnesses” that plaque the church’s central administration including spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques.

He said he wanted to prepare them all––including himself–– to “a real examination of conscience” before Christmas. “I believe it will help us [to make] a ‘catalog’ of diseases … to help us prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation, which will be a good step for all of us to prepare for Christmas,” Francis said.

Before listing the 15 spiritual illnesses, the pope likened the Roman Curia to the to the Catholic idea of the Mystical Body of Christ — the notion that all Catholics are connected together through Jesus Christ as one body.

He went on to state, “The Curia is called to improve, to always improve and grow in communion, holiness and wisdom to fully realize its mission,” he said. “Yet it, like every body, like every human body, is exposed to disease, malfunction, infirmity.”

“Diseases are more frequent in our life of the Curia,” he said. “They are diseases and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord.”

A list of the spiritual maladies include:

1.The disease: Feeling “immortal” or “immune” or even “indispensible”

  1. The disease: Excessive activity
  2. The disease: Mental and spiritual “petrification”
  3. The disease: Overplanning and functionalism
  4. The disease: Bad coordination
  5. The disease: Spiritual Alzheimer’s
  6. The disease: Rivalry and vainglory
  7. The disease: Existential schizophrenia
  8. The disease: Gossip and chatter
  9. The disease: Deifying leaders
  10. The disease: Indifference
  11. The disease: The funeral face
  12. The disease: Hoarding
  13. The disease: Closed circles
  14. The disease: Worldly profit and exhibitionism

For the Religion News Service (Dc 22, 2014) report, click here.

For the National Catholic Reporter (Dec. 22, 2014) summary, click here.

For a report from John Allen, Jr. of Crux (Dec. 22, 2014), click here.

For an analysis by John Allen, Jr. of Crux (Dec. 22, 2014), click here.

Hotel housekeepers say ‘green’ program eliminates jobs

DECEMBER 14, 2014

Lucila Chavez, a housekeeper at the W Chicago Lakeshore, said the green program at the hotel is costing housekeepers their jobs and the ones left behind are physically exhausted. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

Lucila Chavez, a housekeeper at the W Chicago Lakeshore, said the green program at the hotel is costing housekeepers their jobs and the ones left behind are
physically exhausted. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

A program that encourages hotel guests to decline housekeeping to conserve water and electricity sounds like a noble idea.

But hotel housekeepers say the program is killing their jobs, their legs and their backs as those workers still employed say they have to work harder because the rooms tend to be dirtier.

Fabiola Rivera, 31, said her managers expect her to clean rooms left unkempt for as many as three days at a pace of 16 rooms per day in an eight­-hour shift, the same quota as if the rooms were tidied daily. And she also has to run around delivering fresh towels to guests in the program who cheat a bit.

“We are totally exhausted,” Lucila Chavez, 40, told a manager Friday at the Westin on North Dearborn Street, where she participated in a small protest of the program. The conservation effort is being promoted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, parent to W Hotels, Sheraton and Westin.

Chavez said housekeepers have been reprimanded for not cleaning rooms fast enough and some have resorted to working through breaks to avoid warnings. Still, she said, there are days when she looks at the clock at 2 p.m. and realizes she won’t finish on time. By comparison, before the program started, she could clean up to 20 rooms in a day because some rooms just needed a light touch.

Chavez, who said she’s worked for 12 years at the W Chicago Lakeshore, said she lies awake at night with leg pain.

“I love my job, but this is too much,” she said. “What do (managers) want? Quality or quantity? You can’t do both.”

The hotel chain, in an email, said it stands by its program. “The company will continue to integrate innovative environmental practices into its core business strategy,” it said.

The program, which allows guests to decline housekeeping for up to three days, is part of Starwood’s efforts to reduce energy by 30 percent and water consumption by 20 percent by 2020. As an incentive, guests receive a $5 food and beverage voucher or 250 to 500 reward points each night they decline housekeeping.

More than 5 million guests have voluntarily participated, “saving more than 223 million gallons of water and 961,000 kilowatts of electricity from 2009 to 2013,” the company said.

Eric Ricaurte, founder and CEO of Greenview, a sustainability consulting firm, said hotel environmental programs have been around more than 15 years. Most hotels now offer guests the option of reusing linens and towels, one of the first efforts to conserve energy and water. But even when guests hang up their towels, the sign they don’t want them replaced, housekeepers usually change them, Ricaurte said.

Such programs have misfired with guests, who realized they were helping the hotel cut costs but not getting anything in return, Ricaurte said. In contrast, Starwood’s program offers vouchers and points, he said.

Housekeeper Maria Vergara, 37, said the program has become so popular that there are days when an entire floor’s doorknobs display cards indicating guests don’t want their rooms cleaned.

With not enough desks to dust, sheets to change and bathrooms to scrub, Vergara said she and at least five other housekeepers were laid off Dec. 1. Managers said the layoffs were seasonal, according to the housekeepers.

Noah Dobin­Bernstein, an organizer with Unite Here Local 1, which represents 3,000 housekeepers in Chicago, said hotels nationally have begun to copy Starwood’s program, putting at risk thousands of jobs nationwide. “It’s a big problem,” Dobin­Bernstein said.

More than two dozen women and Unite Here organizers carrying small mops and colorful dusters quietly marched Friday into the lobbies of the Sheraton, W and Westin hotels to deliver a letter calling for the program to eliminated — or at least changed to one that doesn’t result in job losses.

“We are here because Starwood’s ‘Green Choice’ program has caused a crisis for us and our families,” the letter said.

The letter also outlined results of a survey taken by housekeepers at the W Lakeshore and Westin River North that indicated they were experiencing more pain and discomfort in their legs and backs because they were more physically taxed cleaning dirtier rooms.

“With the green program everything fell apart, especially our bodies,” said Rosa Cruz, who’s worked at the Sheraton for 17 years.

A Sheraton manager said he would share the letter with general managers at hotels in the chain. “I’m sure we will have discussions in the future about it,” he told the women.

In downtown Chicago, Starwood housekeepers are paid about $17 per hour. Unite Here Local 1 members pay dues of $35 to $51 per month, according to a filing with the Department of Labor.

Vergara said that her bills have started to pile up and that she worries she won’t be able to cobble enough money to pay her $1,000 rent in January. The mother of four got her job at the Westin about a year ago. She was excited, she said, because the job promised 40 hour per weeks and benefits. Her previous housekeeping job was part time with no benefits. But because she was among the last to be hired, she was among the first to be cut.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said.

She’s hopeful that if managers end the program, she’ll get her job back.

“It’s that green program,” she said.

[email protected]

Twitter @WriterAlejandra

NFPC This Week, #594 – 12/14-12/20/2014

Of Note This Week –

To our NFPC members, subscribers and readers:

Xmas 2014

May the joy, hope and peace of Christ’s birth be with you at this time and throughout the New Year.

Father Tony Cutcher and the NFPC staff.

The next NFPC This Week will be published the weekend of Jan. 3, 2015