Bishop treads the boards in high school musical

Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, says his cameo role as a gambler, dapperly dressed in a striped suit and fedora, in the final theater production of the season for Santa Margarita Catholic High School brought back memories.

Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, Calif., makes cameo appearance in Catholic high school musical. (Photo/Orange County Catholic)

Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, Calif., center, makes cameo appearance in Catholic high school musical. (Photo/Orange County Catholic)

His brief stint in the school’s performance of  the hit Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” last month reminded him, he said, of when he portrayed the story’s Nicely Nicely Johnson in a community theater version of the  musical when he was a pastor in the Midwest.

“Thanks to all of them, after a couple of more serious months of ministry and decisions, I found that I still could sing, laugh, and yes, even still dance a few steps, even at now nearly 65 years old! I had played the role of Nicely Nicely Johnson in an abridged version of that musical when I was a pastor back in Decatur, Illinois,” Bishop Vann told the diocesan newspaper, the Orange County Catholic. “So my time with the Santa Margarita production of that musical helped me to connect with that important time in my life and ministry!”

The story in the Orange County Catholic about his performance includes a video clip. The Orange County Register, the daily paper, covered it too.

“What was most impressive to me in that month of singing and practicing and performing,” Bishop Vann said, “was the hard work, dedication and the faith of our young people in the cast and crew! I truly enjoyed being with them, and ‘hanging with them,’ perhaps more than they know, and they made me, and all of us proud.”




Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 22, 2016

"Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." -- John 16:13

“Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” — John 16:13


May 22, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Proverbs 8:22-31

      Psalm 8:4-9

      2) Romans 5:1-5

      Gospel: John 16:12-15


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

One of my favorite memories from my years as a youth minister was teaching the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults adapted for youth. There was always such an interesting group of teens who either needed to catch up on their sacraments of initiation or, once in a while, there was a teen who wanted to become Catholic totally on his or her own initiative.

A story that sticks in my memory comes from three sisters from a blended family. They were each around 13 years old. They had never been to church before and they knew nothing about God, the Bible, the Catholic Church or what we believed.

They had heard of God, but they understood God as being only what we would call God the Father. When I was teaching them the sign of the cross, they wanted to know who the Son and the Holy Spirit were. I said the Son is Jesus and together with the Father and the Holy Spirit this is God.

The looks on their faces were priceless. They argued that God was God, so Jesus cannot be God, too. They had no idea what to do with the Holy Spirit. We went round and round, with me using every analogy I could think of to try to get these teens to understand how three separate persons could share one divinity and together be the triune God.

It took the better part of our next four classes for them to just begin to grasp the concept that most Christians learn from an early age. I had the same feelings that Jesus expressed in this Sunday’s Gospel, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

Whether one is a teenager who knows nothing about God or holds a doctorate in theology, there is always more to know about God, and especially the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But as I tried to explain to those three sisters, it is not important that we totally understand every mystery. Faith is the bridge that begins where our knowledge ends and connects us to the heights of the truth.


How would you explain the Trinity to someone who had never heard of it? What is a mystery of the Catholic faith that you would love to know more about?

Nuclear disarmament seems distant as world faces new uncertainties

Demonstrators in Washington gather around an inflatable nuke to protest nuclear weapons while world leaders were in the U.S. capital for the Nuclear Security Summit in April. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Demonstrators in Washington gather around an inflatable nuke to protest nuclear weapons while world leaders were in the U.S. capital for the Nuclear Security Summit in April. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Prospects for a new round of nuclear disarmament worldwide are bleaker than just a few years ago because governments have lost the willingness to shrink their arsenals in the face of rising security threats.

Heightening tensions between the United States and Russia, North Korea’s drive to develop intercontinental missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads, and a growing desire among non-nuclear states to build their own lethal weapons were cited as roadblocks to deeper reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals during a May 17 webinar sponsored by the Pax Christi International Washington Working Group.

Presenters Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, an author and speaker, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, painted a grim picture of the prospects for nuclear disarmament and urged viewers to step up their activism if they want to change the scenario.

Offering a moral vision for disarmament, Sister Joan said that the world has lost sight of the God of peace and the life of a savior in Jesus, who brings the fullness of God to the human spirit.

Sister Joan said the world has turned away from seeking true peace, instead finding its “security” in its dependence on sophisticated and dangerous weaponry. She recalled the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in which civilians became the primary victims, exposing how “the immorality of war was clear for everyone to see.”

Since World War II nuclear politics has threatened all life on earth, she said, “either by mass murder or conscious suicide” and has even “replaced democracy” because “nobody asked us to vote on this because they’d (the country’s leaders) be afraid of what we’d say.”

From there, Kimball offered a pessimistic view of prospects for disarmament despite the course toward that goal set by President Barack Obama in a 2009 speech in Prague, and multiple comments from the Vatican questioning the morality of possessing nuclear weapons.

Although Obama and the Pentagon have said the U.S. could unilaterally reduce its nuclear arsenal by one-third and maintain an effective deterrence from a foreign attack, Kimball explained that the current political environment makes such a reality difficult to achieve.

In addition, the U.S. is pursuing a $348 billion, decade-long upgrade of its nuclear weapons network rather than pursuing a new round of arms negotiations with Russia, Kimball said.

Without the U.S. and Russia — which possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — leading the way, it’s unlikely other countries will commence their own plans to disarm, he said.

U.S. uncertainty over Russia’s intentions, especially because the country has backed insurgents in Ukraine and occupied the Crimean peninsula, makes any near-term arms reduction agreement difficult to achieve, the arms control expert said. The countries remain guided by the New START agreement of 2010 that calls for reductions in their strategic arsenals — weapons deployed on long-range missiles, bombers and submarines — to 1,550 each.

It will take “courageous political and moral leadership,” greater public awareness and meaningful international dialogue to head off another arms race, Kimball said.

“We are currently losing the debate,” he said, “and need public education to turn the tide.”

Father Christiansen outlined how popes and other Vatican officials for decades have questioned “the guise of security” that nuclear weapons provide, and more recently have cited the immorality of such weapons systems because they strip money from human needs.

For 20 years, popes have called for the abolition of such weapons, he said, and in 2013, the Vatican took a new turn in calling for an end to the policy of nuclear deterrence that has guided military planning since the Cold War.

The Vatican remains just as concerned about political stability in some nations that could open the door to extremist groups obtaining nuclear material or even a nuclear weapon.

Evident in all three presentations was a concern that the world is headed toward renewed nuclear proliferation, a dilemma that humanity can ill afford.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 15, 2016

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim." – Acts 2:4

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” – Acts 2:4


May 15, Pentecost Sunday

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 2:1-11

      Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34

      2) 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Romans 8:8-17

      Gospel: John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

My husband and I have enjoyed hosting a small faith-sharing group in our home for the past few years.

Two in this parish-based group are Haitian immigrants. Yves is fluent in English, but his wife Suzanne came to the U.S. more recently and still struggles with the language.

So I was a little surprised that they wanted to participate in the group as it focuses on reading Scripture and involves a lot of discussion. On the other hand, I recognized that taking part in a faith-sharing group simply follows from their commitment to their parish community.

Personally, I love hearing Yves read Scripture because his heavy accent evokes an unusual tone in the text. I also have to listen extra closely. His shared experiences of faith, having grown out of a different culture, greatly enrich the conversation for the rest of us.

At first, I was concerned that Suzanne would feel left out of the discussion that she could barely understand. But as I watched her, I realized that she was fully engaged with us — not in words, but in Christ’s Spirit among our group.

Everyone sensed this, and it came to an almost thundering manifestation — imagine the “noise like a strong driving wind” described in today’s reading from Acts — one evening when we invited Suzanne to offer the closing prayer. The emotion, the confidence of God’s presence and power came pouring out over all of us as she spoke stirringly in her native Creole language.

I heard a few people murmur in reverence as we all, somehow, understood every word.

The passage in Acts describes a moment when Jesus’ disciples experienced a sudden noise as they became filled with his Spirit. They sensed what was happening — it was palpable — as they heard and understood the mighty acts of God spoken in foreign tongues.

In our home, there were no accompanying tongues of fire visible. But it became clear to us, just as it did to those gathered in Jerusalem on that Pentecost when Christ’s church was born, that his Spirit is not limited by language, culture or any human convention.

The diversity of Christ’s Spirit enriches us while the unity of Christ’s Spirit strengthens us as we become one with him and each other.


How have you experienced the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit in your church community? When has the Spirit “spoken” to you in a manner beyond words?

Camp mayor skills: They don’t teach this in the seminary

Rogationist Father Jalal Yako talks to an internally displaced woman in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Rogationist Father Jalal Yako talks to an internally displaced woman in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

By Paul Jeffrey

ANKAWA, Iraq — When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ankawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.

A woman is seen in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A woman is seen in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.

I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.

When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.

Father Yako is an Iraqi who studied and lived in Italy for almost two decades, but came home to begin a mission in Qaraqosh in 2012. Two years later, he fled alongside the people of the town. His bishop said he could return to Italy, but Father Yako refused.

“As religious, it’s our mission to stay, not to leave,” he told us. “Even though we lost our houses and everything else, it’s for the people that we are consecrated. Now is the most significant moment to continue to serve the people, from the smallest to greatest.”

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, participates in opening a youth congress in Ankawa, April 7. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, participates in opening a youth congress in Ankawa, April 7. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

As the camp took formal shape, Syriac Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul asked Father Yako to manage it. He performed a census and got to work organizing the camp.

“The families are trying to live their lives, but it’s not easy. The camp was made in seven days, like the days of creation, without any preparation. Everything was rushed. The consequences of that came later when it rained. There was no drainage for the water outside, and water and humidity caused problems inside. A caravan is basically just a box, and there are no bathrooms. Instead, there are common bathrooms that always need maintenance,” he said.

On top of those infrastructure problems, Father Yako said the stress of formerly middle-class people living so close together exacerbated normal tensions, provoking aggression and at times mandating that he call the police.

“At times we despair. But we have to support each other and have confidence that the Lord will not abandon us. Kind people have helped us continue. At first, everything here was water puddles and filth,” he said. “But the Lord has his ways and he brings us the right people in the right moments.”

Father Yako expressed confidence that the villages they fled will someday be liberated.

“Just as we left, so we will also return,” he said. “Thanks to God our life here has made us feel like an example to other people and other faiths in Europe and beyond who watch the experience of the people here and are inspired. As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”

A boy plays with marbles in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A boy plays with marbles in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 8, 2016

"Wait for 'the promise of the Father … in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" -- Acts 1:4-5

“Wait for ‘the promise of the Father … in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” — Acts 1:4-5


May 8, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

      1) Acts 1:1-11

      Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9

      2) Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23

      Gospel: Luke 24:46-53


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

This week’s Gospel shows the impressive patience and trust of Jesus’ disciples as they watch their beloved master depart from them, ascending into heaven.

From the time they first became his disciples, he had been preparing them to go forth and spread his message to the whole world. In his final words, he again declares this to be their mission. However, in the next breath he tells them not to go yet.

Nevertheless, their excitement and joy are undeterred by the command to wait. While confident in his promise that they will carry out his mission, they respect the fact that their desire and abilities alone will be insufficient for the task.

Jesus’ transformative work is possible only with the power of his Spirit — that is the strength of his loving presence.

It’s the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. For the latter to take place, we must sometimes wait and trust in God’s timing.

For instance, my friend Julie, a devout Catholic, very much wanted her husband Scott to share her faith, but over 20 years of marriage he showed no interest. She prayed for him earnestly but didn’t believe in pushing him to participate in church.

Then, grieving over her father’s death, Julie herself wandered away from the church for a time. She returned after attending a women’s retreat, where she received the emotional and spiritual healing she needed.

Subsequently, she joined a Bible study group who asked her to invite Scott to come along. Although uncertain about the wisdom of such an invitation, Julie assured Scott the group had no intention of converting him to Catholicism but simply wanted to know him and learn from his early experiences of faith in another tradition.

To her surprise, Scott accepted and quickly became an enthusiastic participant. He also began attending church with Julie and was welcomed by more of her friends. Then he signed up for a retreat where other men in the community shared their experiences of God with him. “It changed my life,” he told everyone who would listen.

Julie had waited and the Spirit did not disappoint — it first renewed her and then embraced Scott with the unconditional love and encouragement that can only come through Christ.


When have you felt inadequate in your efforts to evangelize? How have you witnessed the Holy Spirit of Christ providing the necessary power to bring the Gospel message to life in someone?

Bishop meets a U2 rocker


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