Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Articles By: erik shanabrough

We’re offered the same choice as the Apostles

BRIDGEPORT— When we take the journey of discipleship, we are offered the same choice as the apostles– to climb the mountain of faith through self-sacrifice and love, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass for Second Sunday of Lent.

“At the heart of Christian discipleship is in fact, a dying to the self,” said the bishop, who added that climbing the mountain of faith challenges us to shed our comforts and to strip away all that we take for granted in order to seek Christ’ glory.

The journey calls us to strive toward selflessness in the way “we value others, treat others, serve others and care for others by willing their good first,” he said.
After reading Mark’s account of the Transfiguration (9:2-10), the bishop said the parable gives us a glimpse into the glory of God, but also the suffering and self-sacrifice required of us.

Bishop Caggiano began his homily from the Catholic Center chapel by describing a pilgrimage he took to the Holy Land in which his group traveled by air-conditioned coach to the Mountain of the Transfiguration.

When they arrived at the base, they were surprised as the bus driver turned into a plaza and they transferred to a smaller, uncomfortable bus necessary to navigate the narrow roads and steep hills to the basilica.

As they neared the top of the mountain, the bus stopped once again so that the pilgrims could complete the journey on foot, still a considerable walk. The bishop said he remembers his fellow travelers being “hot, tired and a bit annoyed” until they encountered the dazzling light and colorful beauty of the basilica.

At that point, he realized that his own ascent of the mountain and entry into the basilica offered a glimpse of what the apostles themselves had experienced.

“That arduous task up the mountain was almost for them a parable of their life following the Lord– He who walked every step with them.”

“It demands losing our comfort, it demands being singular in mission to reach the pinnacle where on this day on that mountain the Lord allowed them to glimpse their destiny in His power, in His glory and His majesty, and they were terrified in the true sense. They were overwhelmed with what was there, having had the perseverance to suffer up the mountain.”

The bishop said that in the early church when they looked at the miracle or the Transfiguration, the Fathers often talked about the journey up a second mountain.

“The second walk up was to Calvary, where they would not glimpse the glory, only the suffering.”

He said that climbing the first mountain and beholding God’s glory gave the apostles the courage to continue on the road to Jerusalem and to walk the second.

“Those who do that will discover two great truths. It’s not easy but the Lord is with us every step of the way. And at the end of the journey we will have glory. That which Christ has, He will give to us.”

He said that there may be many times in our lives when we fail to walk up the mountain because of sinful behavior, or we think we can’t afford the cost, the demands put on us, and the suffering it may entail.

The bishop said that if we do walk the mountain that leads to Calvary this Good Friday, we will discover what he and the other pilgrims discovered the day he visited the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Calvary.

“From its vantage point in the distance, one can see the empty tomb from which the glory of Christ will shine for all eternity. So we have a mountain to climb, are we willing to take the next step?” he asked.

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop invited all the faithful to prepare for the March 19 Mass of Consecration of the Diocese to St. Joseph by joining in the eight-night Novena to St. Joseph beginning March 10, 7 pm.

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 am and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist. You are invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 pm visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/

Texting prayers to help unite faithful during Lent

BRIDGEPORT— Bishop Frank J. Caggiano is putting the power of social media to work during the Lenten season by asking area Catholics to pray together each day at 4 pm.

Those who participate will receive a daily text message, offering a specific intention and asking that they pray one Hail Mary, in communion with everyone else who is receiving the same text.

The daily text is part of the Bishop’s “Upper Room” initiative, a call to renewal of the diocese that began with the issuing of his pastoral exhortation, “Let Us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord,” on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

The plan for renewal begins with a preparatory period of prayer and will move into a more active, public phase in the Fall. One of the major focuses of the initiative is to welcome people back as the pandemic subsides and also invites other who no longer practice the faith to come back to Church.

In a letter to priests, the bishop said a text message will be sent to all participants, inviting them to stop whatever they are doing and pray for a specific intention, followed by the recitation of one Hail Mary.

“This simple gesture unites thousands of people in prayer, while reminding us of the place that prayer should play in our ordinary lives.,” said Bishop Caggiano, who will issue spiritual challenges on a regular basis through the “Notes from the Upper Room” web page.

On Divine Mercy Sunday 2017, the Diocese first announced The Face of Prayer, an online prayer experience that brings together social media, text alerts, and the power of prayer. To date, over eight million prayer texts that have been shared by subscribers.

To join the “Face of Prayer” movement, simply text the word pray from your smartphone to 55778. You will automatically receive a response to confirm your subscription. Standard texting rates apply

Lent creates the space apart to tame our heart’s desires

BRIDGPEORT—“The mystery of sin is very much involved with the mystery of the heart,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in Mass for the First Sunday in Lent, which was live-streamed from the Catholic Center chapel.
After reading the Gospel of Mark (1:12-15) in which Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert for 40 days, the bishop reflected on the nature of desire, sin and temptation.

He said that Jesus teaches us that we must walk into the desert “to tame our heart’s desires” and to free ourselves from attachments that ultimately enslave us, hurt others, and “continue to be the stumbling blocks to the freedom that is our destiny as the children of God.”

“It’s not easy to walk in the desert, but it brings freedom and life and gives us strength to overcome temptations in in your life and mine,” he said.

Bishop Caggiano began his homily by noting that the ancient view of wrong, which was discussed in the writings of St. Augustine, held that many people do things that are unethical because they don’t always know what is right and they choose “a mistaken good.”

“In the ancient world, sin was a failure of right thinking, a failure of the mind,” the bishop said, but the actions of a young boy helped Augustine to understand that sin was giving into the desires of the heart.

In his “Confessions,” Augustine relates the story of observing a young boy who was sitting on a wall and staring at a nearby apple tree with ripe and delicious fruit. As St. Augustine watches the boy sway back and forth on the wall, it become clear that the boy is deciding whether or not to take an apple from someone else’s yard. At some point, the boy leaps off, climbs the tree and eats the apple with a giant smile on his face.

The bishop said that Augustine understood then that sin was giving in to the heart’s desires and other temptations.

But “the Lord Jesus teaches us the way out by going to the desert,” where we can extricate ourselves from our passions and desires.

“The desert is a place we can take the desires that haunt us, enslave us, addict us and create a space that we can see them for what they really are,” he said. “When you go into the desert, possessions, privileges and pleasures are not there to be found.”

Jesus triumphed over Satan in the desert because he “did not have a divided heart. In his singular love for the Father he knew the false promises of things that attract my heart and yours,” the bishop said.

The bishop said we can all be tempted by our desire for privilege, power, pleasure or possessions because “we believe it will give us what we want , and make us whole and that we will find our heart’s peace in that.”

We sin when we allow the “desires of our heart” to determine the choice between good and evil, and that often leads us to choose poorly, the bishop said.

The Lenten season is an invitation to practice mortification, prayer and almsgiving to “tame the heart” and ask God’s guidance about what we should or shouldn’t do, he said.

“Mortification is to enter into the desert by denial of our desires, one choice at a time,” while almsgiving is not simply about giving to the poor but also “developing a grateful heart for the small, ordinary, beautiful blessings in our lives,“ he said, noting that we are all restless for things that cause us harm.

The bishop said that at the end of his life St. Augustine wrote a line in his “Confessions” that has been repeated innumerable times in the life of the Church, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O God.”

As we begin Lent, we are asked to go to the “boot camp of the heart and to train it to desire one thing above all others, to give ourselves totally and completely to the one who forgives us, loves us, set us free and brings us eternal life,” he said.

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop prayed that as we begin the journey of Lent that “it may lead us to true freedom of heart, and freedom from the temptations that afflict us, that we may come to Easter renewed and ready for new life.”

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 am and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist. You are invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 pm visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/

Two ways to give this Lent

BRIDGEPORT—This year, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County will be running two faith in action campaigns concurrently during Lent—Catholic Charities annual Loaves and Fishes Campaign together with Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program.

The Catholic Charities feeding programs provide food for the needy and most vulnerable members of the local community while the CRS Rice Bowl program supports members of the global family who are impoverished and endangered in the developing world.

“Due to COVID-19 we are doing things a bit differently this year,” said Mike Donoghue, director of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County.

“Since the pandemic began, food insecurity is the biggest need amongst some of our most vulnerable families,” Donoghue said, explaining that their main programs, pre-pandemic were doing 4-500 meals a day; now they do 1,000-1,2000 meals a day. “Demand has definitely increased,” said Donoghue.

Donoghue explained that this year’s Loaves and Fishes Campaign will be foregoing the use of envelopes, to cut down on paper waste and make giving more stream-lined.

Instead, flyers will be available in parishes with information on how to give including online and a mailing address.

Catholic Charities Feeding Programs supported by Loaves and Fishes

New Covenant Center, Stamford

  • Open 365 days per year serving 3 meals each day
  • Soup Kitchen serves 600,000 meals per year to 3600+ men, women, and children
  • Food pantry serves 1000 families per month
  • 800+ volunteers help cook, stock shelves and serve clients
  • Also provides clients with Day Shelter, Job Skills and Life Coaching, Immigration Counseling, Showers, Barber Services, and a Computer Lab

Thomas Merton Center, Bridgeport

  • Provides breakfast, lunch, and day shelter 6 days per week
  • Soup Kitchen serves 100,000+ meals a year to 4000 individuals
  • Eat Smart Food Pantry provides 600 families with 10 days of groceries per month
  • 600+ volunteers help cook, stock shelves and serve clients
  • Other Services provided – Thrift store, Shower program, Cosmetic day, Computer resources, medical services and referrals, homeless outreach team, life skills

Morning Glory Breakfast Program, Bridgeport

  • Serves hot breakfast 365 days per year to 100+ individuals daily
  • Served 45,000 hot and nutritious meals in 2019
  • 400+ volunteers help cook and serve clients
  • Non-food pantry provides household staples to over 1000 families

Parish Leaders may order CRS Rice Bowl materials free of charge at www.crsricebowl.org. Please contact Father Michael Boccaccio at: frboccaccio@diobpt.org for further information or questions on the Rice Bowl program.

Receiving ashes “a wonderful moment”

DANBURY – Marking the beginning of Lent, hundreds of Catholics flocked to area churches on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes in an unusual way.

At St. Peter Church on Main Street, a steady stream of people entered the neo-Gothic church in the late afternoon to participate in the tradition of personal acknowledgement of sin and a desire to seek forgiveness from God.

“I think it was fantastic to be able to come to church to receive ashes today,” said parishioner Karen Scalzo.

Scalzo said she was a little concerned when she heard that ashes were being sprinkled on the head, due to COVID-related contact restrictions.

“When I saw people coming out of church with actual crosses on their forehead, even if they had to use a cotton swab, I was relieved. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Scalzo said.

Parishes were given the option of distributing ashes either by sprinkling them on top of a person’s head or by making the traditional sign of the cross on the forehead with a cotton swab.

Pastor Gregg Mecca said he was grateful to be given the option by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and decided to use the cotton swab method since a cross on the forehead is more akin to what parishioners are accustomed.

Fr. Mecca said it was important to keep some normalcy to the tradition during a time when people are enduring so many changes and uncertainty because of the pandemic. Sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking foreheads with ashes is the customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy.

In addition to the change in how ashes were distributed, parishes also had the option to offer a time when the faithful could come to church to receive ashes outside of Mass or the Liturgy of the Word. Fr. Mecca said that option was crucial in addressing the needs of the congregation especially since morning masses were at or near COVID-restricted capacity.

“I’ve been watching mass on TV but to be able to come into the church is wonderful,” said parishioner Laura Halas. “I feel more connected.”

That was the sentiment shared by many parishioners who were very grateful to be able to participate in a tradition, albeit in a non-traditional way.

“Every Sunday morning, we watch mass online,” said parishioner Ron Kreho. “We’ve been doing that for a year now but it’s so good to be here,” he said adding that he has medical concerns and is awaiting his second vaccine shot before he will feel more comfortable being in public places.

The walk-in period allowed Fr. Mecca to briefly chat and reconnect with parishioners he hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s good to see familiar faces,” he said. A sentiment echoed by many including parishioner Danielle Ford. “I miss being here and seeing everyone and the priests.”

Jesus teaches us not to “write people off”

BRIDGEPORT– “Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are at the heart of Lenten practice, but it should also be a season of opening our hearts to those we have given up on, avoided or cast aside as unworthy, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his homily for Mass on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

After reading Mark’s account of Jesus healing the leper (1:40-45), the bishop said the people of the ancient world ostracized those with leprosy–a disease they did not understand– but that we in our technological society are still making lepers of people whom we find difficult to deal with or wish to separate from our lives.

In his weekly online Mass from the Catholic Center chapel, the bishop said that during the time of Jesus, leprosy was a curse that isolated those who suffered from it and forced them to live apart from society. Lepers were required to call out in warning if they saw people approaching, so others could avoid them.

“How is it possible that the leper would get so close to Jesus that he could speak with him?” the bishop asked, noting that the leper would have been prevented from getting near to Jesus.

“The leper didn’t go to Jesus– Jesus sought out the leper, Jesus went to him,” said the bishop who added that Jesus did something considered dangerous because he touched the leper when he healed him.

The bishop said the gospel message is clear, and it’s a challenge to us. “The leper stands for those who are ostracized, for those with whom we will have no relationship—for those we fear.”

“God has no lepers, the Lord Jesus will seek them out. He will find us in the condition in which we are, and he offers healing, forgiveness and peace.”

The bishop said the truth is that in contemporary life we have in one way or another “all declared other people to be lepers.”

He said there are people we have cut off, segregated and chosen not to relate to. “We won’t answer their texts, emails or phone calls—we have written them off and out of our lives.”

Still others, he said, we tolerate but we will not touch “or engage them heart to heart, hand to hand. We will keep the peace and do what’s required to remain civil, but nothing more, and once again we have made them lepers.”

“Jesus is challenging us to walk in his footsteps and stop creating lepers,” the bishop said, but that does not mean our relationship will be easy.

“At times it can even be tumultuous, if we speak truth or if truth is spoken to us. The truth may not be easy to hear or welcome but it is not an excuse to walk away or ostracize them as unclean.”

The bishop said that as we stand on the threshold of Lent and gather for ashes on our forehead next Wednesday, “whether rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, the destiny is the same; the difference is only the Lord can bring ashes to life and lepers to you.”

Bishop Caggiano concluded his homily by saying that as Christians we devote ourselves to prayer, almsgiving and fasting “in order to create a hunger in our life for the Lord and His Holy Spirit.”

“Wouldn’t it also be healing, liberating and a sign that we want our ashes to bring us new life if we also decided this Lent to visit the lepers.”

Before giving the final blessing the bishop told those who gathered with him for the online Mass that he would be issuing first Pastoral Exhortation on Ash Wednesday, which will launch a few months of intense spiritual preparation as we begin to plan for missionary outreach in the Fall and beyond as the pandemic recedes. He asked for prayer that the new year “will become a time of renewal, conversion, and new life for us all.”

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist. You are invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/

Happy Valentine’s Day

BRIDGEPORT—Foundations in Education, which supports Catholic education throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport, has issued a Valentine’s Day card that is winning the hearts of all those who see it.

The heart-shaped card features the happy and hopeful faces of students who have been sponsored by Foundations in Education “Leaders of Tomorrow” program.

This year, FIE donors sponsored 73 Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) scholars within diocesan elementary schools—a record high!

On Friday morning, Foundations in Education sent each sponsor a personalized valentine with the following message from their LOT students, “With grateful hearts, Foundations in Education joins our 73 Leaders of Tomorrow in wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“We are especially grateful to our donors who support our students and do so much to transform their lives,” said Holly Doherty-Lemoine, Foundations Director. “In the words of Mother Teresa, we thank you for the love you put in the doing—a lifelong sharing of love with others!”

Foundations in Education is a non-profit initiative created to assist the Diocese of Bridgeport’s ongoing mission to support Catholic education in Fairfield County. The primary purpose of Foundations is to raise money to support Catholic education through student scholarships, innovation and leadership grants for the professional development of elementary school teachers, and other education-based initiatives. To learn more visit: https://www.foundationsineducation.org

Prayer should be praise as well as petition

BRIDGEPORT— When the Lord goes off to pray by himself after healing the sick, his example challenges us to deepen our own prayer life, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in the homily for his online Mass for Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time.

The bishop said that in addition to petitioning God’s help for ourselves and asking his intercession for those we love, our prayer must also be rooted in adoration and gratitude.

In his homily from the Catholic Center chapel, the bishop said we should pray “with hearts and minds open to what he will tell us and reveal to us. Prayer is all about deepening the relationship we have with him, a relationship he has offered and established first.”

He began his homily by noting that the passage in the Gospel of Mark, 1:29-39, (“He cured many who were sick with various diseases) depicts “a familiar episode repeated over in over in the Lord’s earthly ministry,” when Jesus heals people and then retreats to personal prayer.
The bishop said our Lord’s pattern of withdrawing to personal prayer teaches us that “prayer is responding to the presence God has in our life—He is already present to you and me and we have a need to respond personally and as a community.”
The people of Galilee came forward and asked for healing because they responded to the great power and authority within him, and Jesus responded graciously to them, the bishop said.

“All of us in our relationship with the Lord have been like the people of the village,” he said, “but the Church reminds us that to establish and deepen our relationship with God, there are more things, postures and dispositions to our prayer than just asking for ourselves and those we love.”

“As we enter into the presence of God , our hearts should be moved to simply adore him, worship him, acknowledge his presence as a gift, and praise him as the source of all of our blessings.”

Describing the psalms as prayers of thanksgiving, adoration and worship, the bishop said they are the perfect prayer if we want to form a relationship of praise and wonder with Our Father in heaven.

With Lent just a week and a half away, we should “open our hearts and broaden our prayer,” the bishop said.

“Gratitude is the movement of the heart of every disciple,” he said, adding that a true prayer life should always move our hearts toward thanksgiving.

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop announced that he will release a pastoral letter to the diocese on Ash Wednesday, which will offer a vision of how the diocese can move forward in renewal “as we begin to dare hope that the pandemic will be behind us by the end of the year.”

The bishop said his pastoral letter and other measures in the coming months will be a call to welcome the faithful back to full and active participation in the life of the Church as the pandemic subsides, and also ask those who left the church “to take a second look and come home with you and me, and come home with the Lord.”

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist. You are invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/

St. Ann Academy Students thank Bishop Caggiano

BRIDGEPORT—If you’re looking for an uplifting moment during a difficult time, watch this video that St. Ann Academy in Bridgeport sent Bishop Frank J. Caggiano after his recent visit to the school located in the Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport.

Bishop Caggiano was very touched by the video and the thoughtfulness of the students, faculty and staff who wanted to show their appreciation.

“St. Ann’s is like family.” This is a phrase we hear over and over from alumni and newcomers alike, and it’s the characteristic that makes us most proud,” said Principal Patricia A. Griffin, who said the children were very excited by the Bishop’s visit.

St. Ann Academy is located at 521 Brewster Street, Bridgeport CT, 06605
Phone: 203-334-5856. Online: https://www.catholicacademybridgeport.org/our-schools/st-ann/

Authority of Jesus’s teaching is antidote to our anxiety

BRIDGEPORT— At a time of growing anxiety in the face of the pandemic and social change, we can find strength and peace in the teachings of Jesus, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In his homily the bishop reflected on readings from First Corinthians (7:32-25), “I should like you to be free of anxieties,” and the impact of Jesus’s teachings in Capernaum ( Mark 1:21-28, ), “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.”

“I should like you to be free of anxieties– How often have those words come to our lips” said the bishop, noting that we often seek to console friends and family members during times of stress and uncertainty.

He urged the faithful to accompany others during the pandemic, so they do not face their sufferings and fears alone.

Our anxieties can divert our attention from that which can bring us greater peace each day when we understand that “all manner of things will be well when we find the one who teaches with authority,” he said.

The bishop began his homily by noting that he and his nephew recently watched a Netflix docudrama called “The Social Dilemma,” which focused on the way social media is manipulating human life, particularly among the young who are dependent and even addicted to it, leading to anxiety in their lives.

The bishop said we all seem to struggle with anxiety at one time or another. However, in this time of Covid-19, many people are experiencing a crippling anxiety that is affecting their daily life and “becoming a burden too heavy to carry.”

“The Christian obligation is to care for those who are struggling with any form of mental illness, even compulsive, burdening anxiety,” he said, adding that people should seek professional help if necessary and not be held back by the stigma of mental illness.

The Gospel of Mark offers a clue to help us deal with the normal anxieties of life along with our deeper and abiding worries, he said. “The clue comes from St. Mark’s depiction of Jesus as one who taught with authority,”

‘What does that mean?. Knowledge can come from reason, experience or intuition—the deep and abiding awareness one has that what is before them is more than meets the eye,” he said.

The bishop said that the people of Capernaum had that intuition when they heard Jesus speak. They understood and believed that Jesus taught with authority, and that when he spoke, they heard the fullness of truth.

“That intuition in the rough and tumble of our lives struggling with normal anxieties is the need to go back and do what the people of Capernaum did—sit before the Lord and listen to that intuition in our hearts that he speaks with authority.”

The bishop said there are no questions that Jesus can’t t answer or wounds he cannot heal “because he walks with us in lightness and in darkness, and he has shed his blood so that our mistakes might be forgiven,… and we might not be enchained by sin but find new life.”

The bishop said our mission is to be messengers who can lead others to the one who speaks with authority and can heal them.

“Let us find the strength to sit at his feet and allow him to lead us ever more, step by step, day by day, into the peace he promises to all who follow him.”

Following Mass the bishop said he continued to pray for the people of the diocese and he invited all to join him in the weekly family Rosary, saying that “there is no better way to sit at the feet of the Lord and allow the Lord’s peace to take root in our heart.”

You are also invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/
The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

Blessed are those who bless others

On the wall of Andy Knuth’s office is the finger-painting of a cross surrounded by the signatures of seven young students with the words, “Blessed are those who bless others.” Nearby is an eighth grade graduation photo of the same students, who were given a shot at a Catholic education… because of Andy.

Pictured: ANDY KNUTH, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Weston and retired founder and chairman of Westport Asset Management, believes in the mission of Catholic education.

Years later, those same students are in Catholic high school and preparing to go to college because of Andy, a man who believes in the mission of Catholic education and will do what has to be done to give a chance to students who might not otherwise get a chance.

Some are setting their hopes on University of North Carolina, Boston University and Boston College, others on University of Connecticut, Villanova and Quinnipiac.

“I like to think they progressed in their education because they knew I was supporting them and they didn’t have to worry,” says Knuth, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Weston and retired founder and chairman of Westport Asset Management. “I had a firsthand opportunity to see how these kids developed. I buy into Catholic education. If we weren’t supplying scholarships to kids, they couldn’t go to Catholic schools, and that’s very sad. They need it the most…and they appreciate it the most.”

And just as he is committed to providing them an education, they are equally committed to their education because of him.

Maureen Nelson recalls getting up at 5 am to take a bus to downtown Stamford and then transferring to another one that would bring her to St. Cecilia’s School. Coming home, she took a bus to her cousin’s house and then would go to her grandmother’s and wait until her mother’s coworker could pick her up and drive her home.

Today, Maureen, who is a senior at St. Joseph High School, hopes to pursue a career in medicine and has applied to Boston College and of Boston University.

“It would have been easier to go to public school, but my dad wanted my sister and me to go to Catholic school because they went to Catholic school in Haiti, and it meant so much to them,” she says. Knuth’s initiative began in 2007 at the invitation of a friend who is on the bishop’s scholarship committee and believes the best way to save Catholic education is one student at a time.

Knuth agreed to help reopen Sacred Heart School in Stamford, but when that plan faltered, his seven students, who were then first-graders, were transferred to St. Cecilia’s. From that time, he continued to support them every year right into Trinity Catholic High School. After it closed, they went to high school at St. Joseph’s in Trumbull and Notre Dame in Fairfield.

His commitment to Catholic education extends beyond what he has done for these seven students. Knuth also has provided other students with 4-year college scholarships, and others with scholarships to St. Joseph and Notre Dame students, in addition to giving assistance to 20 students at Assumption Catholic School in Fairfield.

“Andy’s continued commitment is a powerful endorsement of the vital work of our Catholic schools and a life-changing gift to their families,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. “These students strive for excellence; however, they face very real financial hardships. His generous support allows them to stay on the path of transformational Catholic learning, where they can live out Christ’s call to discipleship.”

When he looks back on his involvement with the students, from childhood to their teenage years, Knuth says, “This has been an extraordinary experience for me and for them. If I had to pick out seven great kids, I couldn’t pick out any seven kids who would be better. I’ve worked with them for 13 years, and now to see them as seniors in high school is just remarkable. It has been a great experience for me and a great experience for them. If I was looking for a project to do, I couldn’t have found anything better.”

But his involvement goes beyond the financial because he has a special empathy for the challenges they face, and he sees similarities in his own life.

“My parents were great. We had no money, we had nothing. My mother told me, ‘If you want to get ahead in life you have to go to college,’” he recalls. “And I have been very fortunate in my life.”

Knuth grew up in West Caldwell, New Jersey, and later went to Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania, and like his students, he was the first person in his extended family to go to college.

His father Andrew dropped out of school after the eighth grade and grew up on a farm with six other kids.

“My father learned how to do mechanical things on the farm, and he became a really great mechanic,” Knuth says.

During the Great Depression, when his father needed a job, his brother came up with a solution: “My uncle Jake was panning for gold in the Snake River in Idaho, and he contacted my father and said, ‘You gotta come out here; there’s gold all over the place.’ So my father drove a rickety old Ford out to Idaho, and the two of them were so successful they bought a front-end loader to help pan for more gold.”

That venture ended, however, after a historic devastating flood hit the river.

Andy says his parents were “the best parents I could ever have.”

“We always had the support of our family, and they did everything they could to save money so I could go to college,” he recalls. “My mother was a telephone operator in those days, and it cost $1,200 to go to college.”

After Dickinson, he went to New York University for his MBA and got started in finance.

“I have been very fortunate in my life, very fortunate,” he says. “I don’t know why God picked me out to be so fortunate, but he did. And the key to my success was an education. The only way I can see to help kids who are in a difficult situation is through education. I see no other way.”

In addition to the scholarships that Andy provides, he and his daughter Jennifer Loya started a program at the Boys and Girls Club of Bridgeport to encourage young people to go to college, and through that initiative, they have sponsored the college educations of seven additional students.

Over the years, the seven Stamford students have met regularly with him, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they held Zoom sessions.

“There was great emotion from the kids when I told them I would pay for college or trade school,” he recalls. “For all of them, it would be the first time anyone in their families went to college. It was emotional for them, and it was emotional for me. At one meeting, a mother came up to me crying and put her arms around me and said, ‘If it wasn’t for you, my daughter wouldn’t be able to go to such a good school.’ That almost got me crying.”

Going to Catholic school was so important for Emilio Montero that to get to St. Cecilia’s he would take several buses across town. Now, a senior at St. Joseph High School, he has applied to colleges in the Boston area, in addition to Columbia and Villanova.

“I want to major in English because I love to write. I love reading and I like magazines like the New Yorker, which give me ideas to write about,” he says.

“I can’t say how grateful I am to Mr. Knuth. He is a really good person who cares about us,” Emilio said. “When my parents first told me about him and the financial aid, I didn’t know what it meant, but later I understood, and I have been praying for him every day since then.”

Ivan Martinez, a senior at St. Joseph’s, wants to be a math teacher and has applied to Boston College and Villanova.

“Because of Mr. Knuth, I have been able to go to Catholic schools. Without his help, I would probably not have the opportunity to go to college,” Ivan said. “Because of him I have been able to stay close to my Catholic faith, and that is very important to me and my family.”

Ivan says that he enjoys the meetings with Andy because it gives him a chance to learn more about his sponsor, and he feels a family bond with him and the other students.

Every time, the students would meet with Andy, Maureen Nelson, now a senior at St. Joseph’s, would sing a song to express how she felt.

“To me, there are no words to describe how amazing it feels that he took the time to care about us and our education,” she says. “The best way I could express it was to sing a religious song that my parents and I picked…and even that wasn’t enough to express the deep and profound gratitude I have for everything he has done. We are always filled with happiness to see him, and it warms our hearts that he is happy to see us. And we always pray for him.”

The first time she sang for Andy was when she was a third-grader. She sang a hymn that she performs in Creole at the Haitian-American Community Center in Stamford. She translated the song into English for Andy and said the words express what she feels:

“I’m only human, I am just a human, make me believe in what I can be and all that I am. Show me the stairway that I have to climb. Lord, for my sake teach me to take one day at a time.”

by Joe Pisani

Bishop: Find unity by ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus’

BRIDGEPORT— At a time of division in society and within the Church, “true unity is not making peace with ourselves, but making peace with Him,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass from the Catholic Center chapel on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Reflecting on the Gospel of Mark (1:14-20 ) when Jesus invites the apostles Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” the bishop said that Jesus extends the same call to us “in the singular moment we are living as Americans and believers in Him.”

“The Lord invites us to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to help us get beyond what divides us,” he said, emphasizing that our shared faith in Jesus “gives us a greater purpose so our differences don’t matter anymore.”

The bishop said that the faithful can overcome its divisions and work toward unity and a common mission not simply by thinking that we can solve all of our own problems, but “by fixing our eyes on Him who is the truth, the way and the life.”

He began his homily by recalling that a few years ago when he led the diocesan pilgrimage to Washington D.C. for the dedication of a prayer garden alongside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he found time to visit the Vietnam War Memorial.

Noting that the wall of black granite adorned with names of those who died serving the country was “beautiful to behold in itself,” the bishop said it was important to look behind the names to the lives that were lost.

“Each time I gaze on the names, I remind myself that behind every name is a person’s face, life, and history that needs to be remembered and honored. The name is a pathway to glimpse the beauty of each individual who is memorialized there.”

Likewise, as Jesus begins his ministry, we are introduced to the apostles by name, but we are also invited to be drawn into the story of their faith.

Describing the apostles as an unlikely group that was beset by differences, bickering, and lack of understanding of what Jesus was saying, the bishop said we may wonder why Jesus selected them.

“He loved them for who they were and who they could become,” said the bishop, adding that we should be encouraged by “the inexplicable fact that the bickering, envy, jealousy, and disunity ended in the Upper Room when the ragtime group of men accepted the Holy Spirit in their heart.”

He said that by “fixing their eyes on Jesus after first recognizing their own sinfulness, they allowed the Spirit to touch them with power and grace… They found true unity and began to imagine what men that they could become.”

Noting that there is presently much division in the Church between liberal and conservative voices, the bishop said that we are in need of reconciliation much like the apostles.

“Enough is enough, the Pentecost has come,” he said, adding that we often end up fighting over things that divide us superficially rather than deepen our lives in Christ’s as His modern day disciples.

He said the Lord loves us for who we are, but like the apostles, we can’t move forward without the admission of our own sinfulness and acceptance of His forgiveness in our lives.

“This is our singular moment, the time the Lord in the upper room is whispering to us, ‘I will lead you to what you desire. Will you come after me, follow me, become fishers of women and men?’”

The bishop said that when we have gone from this life, many may remember our names, but the lives we live behind the names are what matters, particularly if we unite in His love.

“Let us use this moment to go beyond the names of the Apostles to discover them for the true men and saints they became, and let us have the courage to follow their example, so we might heal divisions in our own Church, the division in our world and the divisions in our hearts—yours and mine.”

Before final blessing the bishop said he prayed for all families of the diocese that they remain safe and healthy, and he also asked for prayers for him and diocesan leaders during this difficult time. “Without the grace of the Holy Spirit we can’t find our way forward. With him there is no challenge we cannot meet.”

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

You are also invited to join Bishop Caggiano for the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit: https://formationreimagined.org/sundayfamilyrosary/

Standing with Christ during the pandemic

BRIDGEPORT– When Bishop Caggiano first challenged the people of the diocese to “Stand with Christ” by serving others, he could not have foreseen the pandemic that would lead to unprecedented hardship and suffering for many in Fairfield County.

Yet, almost a year into the pandemic, the Foundations the diocese created to bring additional resources to education, charitable works, and faith formation have played a major role in funding the response to the crisis.

The bishop said that serving others during the pandemic is an historic and heroic form of Christian witness. He has also praised those who have given generously in support of diocesan ministries, programs and services that have been able to reach out to the most vulnerable.

“For many months, we reflected together on those with whom we stand with Christ — our neighbors, the poor, our students, our elderly and our youth,” he said recently. “And now in the midst of this terrible global crisis that has hit our diocese particularly hard, we can truly understand the importance of our commitment to Christ.”

He points to the initiatives that have made a difference during a year of turmoil, many of them made possible through the We Stand With Christ campaign that supports three foundations in education, faith and charity:

  • Catholic schools have continued to teach students through faith-filled education online.
  • Parishes struggling to pay their bills have received financial assistance.
  • Chaplains and religious continue to minister to the sick and dying.
  • Catholic Charities’ soup kitchens and food pantries are open and serving more people than ever at a time when others have been forced to close.

In response to parish needs, the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church Fund was established to support parishes with strained finances. This fund supported capital repairs and expanded pastoral resources that were beyond the financial capacity of the parishes.

Foundations in Faith launched the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to make available limited emergency assistance to churches with financial problems because of the pandemic.

In the past year, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County confronted a rising demand for services.

“The working poor, the homeless, and the elderly are the ones being hurt the most by this COVID-19 crisis, and our mission has always been to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors in Fairfield County,” said Michael Donoghue, executive director.

The demand for food resources increased 50 percent and virtually doubled because of the pandemic. The three soup kitchens that serve the county — New Covenant Center in Stamford, Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury — saw a significant increase in demand as more people turned to them at a time when other food pantries and cafes closed.

“This was a once-in-a-century pandemic, and if there is any time the services of Catholic Charities are needed, it is now,” Donoghue said.

An enduring legacy of service

Father William Platt, pastor of The Parish of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Agnes in Greenwich and Director of Hospital Chaplains for the Diocese, says, “Our chaplains continued to serve with courage through this pandemic. They have had to navigate a wide range of hospital and nursing home protocols in regard to visitation and the last rites. They have done so with skill and compassion. The Catholic Church is the only faith group that provides chaplains to public institutions free of charge.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, they were restricted from visiting patients in their rooms and had to rely on phone calls and Zoom sessions to pray with patients who were isolated from their families. The Catholic nurses would often put them in touch with patients who needed prayer and encouragement.

Father Matthew Mauriello, chaplain of the Knights of Columbus Orinoco Assembly #126, has been serving the sick and dying at St. Camillus Center in Stamford for five years.

When asked about his ministry as chaplain on the pastoral care team at the 124-bed nursing facility, he says, “I am just doing my job. This is my job, and I’m not looking for recognition. I just hope the Lord helps us out, so we can go back to some normalcy soon.”

During the pandemic, which hampered pastoral ministries, Father embraced the message of St. Paul who said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

“We have to be there, rejoicing with those who rejoice,” he said, “and weeping with those who weep. With this coronavirus situation, families of the residents were not even allowed to hold their hand as they were dying.”

In his work, he is assisted by Sister Elizabeth Rani Antony Samy and Sister Annarani Annapandi, two Franciscans of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who live at Star of the Sea in Stamford.

“We are so fortunate to have him during this pandemic,” says Marjorie Simpson, senior executive director at St. Camillus.

On a daily basis, Father Paul Sankar and Father Marcel Saint Jean, both chaplains at Norwalk Hospital, bring Christ to the infirm and dying.

“We hospital chaplains visit these patients, and they are very happy to see us,” Fr. Paul says. Being a hospital chaplain is a special calling, which requires a priest to be available whenever a call comes in. He says it is a wonderful ministry to care for the sick and to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy.

“There isn’t a greater way to serve the Lord than when I am helping a vulnerable person,” said Father Marcel. “This is evident when I am present in a room with a patient. What makes it so authentic is knowing I am seeing the Lord in that patient. As a chaplain, there isn’t a time when I am with a patient and not hearing the voice of Jesus resounding in my heart and ears saying, ‘I was sick and you came to visit me.’”

They are only a few of the priests and religious who have ministered to the sick during the coronavirus crisis.

An enduring lesson for Catholics

When Msgr. Fairbanks talks to seminarians about the Catholic tradition of service, the example of their patron saint comes to mind.

“I always talk about the Plague of St. Charles,” he says. “I point out that when there is a difficulty or a crisis, there is the flight-or-fight response, and the temptation is to run and keep yourself safe.” That, however, is not what St. Charles did, and that is not what Catholics are called to do.

He tells the seminarians that people remember when you show concern and compassion. People remember that you went to a funeral. People remember that you came when they were sick. People remember that you offered help when they were in need. People remember that you stepped up when you were needed the most.

“The Plague of St. Charles drives home the message that St. Charles was trying to convey,” he says. “That message is the Church cares about people, God cares about people and as people of God, we care about each other.”

The instinct to run away out of concern for yourself is not what being a Christian or priest is about. He tells the young men, “You have to have the courage to respond to people in need.”

He also reminds them of their heroic legacy. He reminds them of the seminarians, religious and priests who went out into a terrified city during the deadly Spanish flu pandemic and did what Christ would expect them to do, despite the danger.

“This was an opportunity that people remember — when priests went out and cared for the sick, when priests went out and anointed the sick, when seminarians went out to do a corporal work of mercy and bury the dead,” he said. “They were opportunities….And now we have an opportunity.”

The above report is the final in a three-part series by Joe Pisani on “The Church during plagues and pandemics.” Part 1 offered a look at how the Church of today’s pandemic and the Church that coped with the plague are united in their faith and attempts to safeguard life. Part II explored the Church’s response to the 1918 flu epidemic.)

Prayer Vigil Planned to Honor the Unborn

A Prayerful Rosary March will take place on Friday, January 22 from 4:00-5:00 pm at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Trumbull. This event, occurring on the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is an opportunity for those unable to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. to come together and pray for the unborn.

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