Virtual Thanksgiving Celebration brings together all faiths

NORWALK—The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t stop a 40-year-old tradition, as the clergies and choirs of Temple Shalom, United Congregational Church and St. Matthew Parish gathered virtually for an interfaith Thanksgiving celebration of song and worship on the evening of November 24.

“This gathering joins together different faith traditions to both praise God and pray to God. It reminds us that there are good people everywhere, and that we have more that unites us than divides us,” shared Msgr. Orlowski, pastor of St. Matthew Parish.

This tradition in the West Norwalk faith communities began 40 years ago. “It’s a second-to-none gathering that always brings a smile to your face and peace to your heart,” said Monsignor. “It is a marvelous opportunity for people of all faiths to gather to give thanks to our one, true God.”

Rabbi Mark Lipson of Temple Shalom expressed that even though the interfaith community could not all gather in person, they would still be able to create a bridge between faiths through a virtual celebration.

Video footage from past years gatherings featured hits such as, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Reach Out and Touch,” “A Million Dreams “(from the Greatest Showman) and even the combined clergy singing “A Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles.

Mayor of Norwalk Harry Rilling and his wife Lucia brought greetings. “We can never lose sight of the important things in our life—our God, family, friends and the faith that will get us through these difficult times,” said Mayor Rilling.

“We are keeping everyone in mind this time of year,” said Lucia Rilling. “We are wishing the best holiday season to all. Let’s hold on to what this time of year means to all of us.”

“In the midst of fear, uncertainty, suffering pain and even death—the question we ask is how do we cope? What is there that we can hold onto? The answer is faith,” said Father Sunil, parochial vicar of St. Matthew Parish. “The Word of God offers strength and the courage to remain positive. He tells us to not let our hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. We are the children of hope, our God does not abandon us.”

“The vaccines seem promising, we do see a light at the end of the tunnel,” assured Father Sunil. “While we are in the midst of suffering, we should look to him to give us patience, strength and the ability to endure. Through this interfaith service we ask God for the healing of our world and to send peace upon all his children.”

Members of United Congregational Church shared “A Prayer for the World” and the Southworth Family shared a lovely acoustic song.

One of the most memorable moments of the evening came when the Temple Shalom Choir gathered over Zoom to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

“How fortunate we are to live as friends and neighbors and how much we share in common,” said Rabbi Cantor Shirah Sklar from Temple Shalom. “Creativity teamwork and technology helped us to share this service again even in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Giving Tuesday to focus on St. Francis Xavier Fund

BRIDGEPORT—The St. Francis Xavier Fund will be the focus of the Giving Tuesday appeal of the Diocese of Bridgeport on Tuesday, December 1.

The fund was created to provide resources to vibrant urban Parishes experiencing fiscal challenges during the pandemic.

“During this time of unprecedented prolonged hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Francis Xavier Fund has been very effective in helping parishes that have been critically impacted by dislocation, unemployment and illness,” said Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese.

Gallagher said he hopes that Giving Tuesday will be an opportunity for people around the diocese to rally around the work of the St. Francis Xavier Fund.

Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith, the fund has been innovative in reaching out to parishes that are vibrant yet financially challenged during the pandemic. “By targeted giving and engaging parish communities including young people, the fund has worked immediately to help those in need,” she said.

In 2020 The St. Francis Xavier Fund has distributed:

  • COVID 19 ‘Phase One’ Emergency Funding Grants to 11 Parishes totaling $230,000
  • Funding for a new boiler in a cold rectory—Bridgeport
  • Funding for gutter repairs to stop a major leak into a Church and repair associated interior damage—Stratford
  • Funding for a comprehensive parish Technology & Communication Enhancement Project—Bridgeport

Weldon said that as a result of St. Francis Xavier Fund grants many parishes have “stood strong as outstanding disciples of faith; by helping each other with child care, online learning, food sharing and being continually in prayer.”

However, with the resurgence of the coronavirus, the needs are expected to grow, Gallagher said and he believes the Giving Tuesday will help others to focus on the urgent needs of parishes and those they serve.

“Giving Tuesday on December 1 is an opportunity for us all to band together and declare the COVID-19 pandemic will not defeat us! We will help our brother and sister Parishes survive, then thrive, because we are a family in faith. We are being called!”

The St. Francis Xavier Fund is part of Foundations In Faith, a 501c-3 recognized charity, established by the We Stand With Christ capital campaign,  that is committed to supporting and transforming pastoral ministries in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

(To contribute to the St. Francis Xavier Fund please visit:

Helping family farms save water during the drought

There’s a catch-22 happening for thousands of family farms in Honduras who grow coffee as their way to earn a living, and it’s this: growing and processing coffee takes a lot of water, but Honduras has been in a drought for more than five years now. The very thing most needed to earn a living is also the very thing in short supply. Catholic Relief Services has been working with thousands of coffee farmers in Central America to use improved techniques that save them a lot of water. It’s working. Using these techniques, Wilfredo Sanchez, the farmer in this photo, reduced the water he uses to produce coffee by 75 percent. When water is already in short supply, saving that much water really makes a difference.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

Baptism is our Pledge of Allegiance to Christ the King

BRIDGEPORT— Baptism is our pledge of allegiance to Christ, and it requires a life of service and love, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

“We Come here Sunday after Sunday to renew our pledge of allegiance to Christ, the King of all things,” said the Bishop on the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year before the beginning of Advent.

The bishop said the Gospel of Matthew (25: 31-46,) “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” conscripts us to a higher calling “to serve the one true king by serving others, to become his eyes, hands, and feet in the world.”

“We honor and serve the Lord by being his agent of change, hope, peace, forgiveness and love. If we fail to do that, we fail to honor him and our allegiance can become hollow,” he said.

The bishop began his homily by recalling that when he was a boy, he had “the great privilege” of being taught by the Dominican Sisters of Kentucky at St. Simon and Jude Parochial School in Brooklyn.

“The Sisters ran a tight ship and our day started the same way,” he said, noting that first thing every morning the students put their coats away, said morning prayer, and then turned to the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, “Words we know very well and have recited thousands of times.”

However, he said he didn’t begin to understand the full import of the pledge until he was older, and every evening on the TV news there was a report on the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

“I began to recognize the holy catechism that the pledge is, and what it means to those who have sworn their lives to protect the country and pay the ultimate price.”

The bishop said that allegiance is given to an authority that sustains us throughout our lives, and to honor that authority we are called to serve generously.

Likewise, he said that as we gather in prayer and worship, “We recognize that there is someone far more important to whom we must pledge our allegiance–to a king unlike any other who recognizes our poverty and suffering.”

However, It’s not good enough to give God just “the part of our lives that we want to give,” but to give him every aspect of our lives and to hold nothing back in our allegiance to Christ, he said.

“We honor Him through the sacraments, but do we speak about him and allow him to animate all we do in the ordinary moments of our life, so that the name of Christ is on our lips often?”

The bishop said that Jesus, who shared our humanity, invites us to share a place in his kingdom, and that he has led the way through his own death and resurrection.

“Baptism is our pledge of allegiance, the beginning of our road to discipleship as members of the kingdom of love and reconciliation by which we enter into the mystery of life,” he said.

Just as we pledge allegiance at civic and sporting events, we should not be afraid to tell the world we’re Christians and we owe Christ everything, the bishop said. We should be prepared to “serve him like the brave men and women in the armed forces, suffering and sacrificing to the point of giving our lives.”

In his weekly spiritual challenge, the bishop called for an examination of conscience as we approach Advent and urged us to ask ourselves a basic question, “As we end the year together, do we recognize the authority under which we live? How often do we acknowledge the authority of Christ over you and me?”

Before giving the final blessing Bishop Caggiano wished everyone “a blessed, happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving celebration. And as we begin the new liturgical year together next week, we pray for a year of blessing and healing that the pandemic will come to an end for us all.”

Bishop’s Online Mass: 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.

For information on the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit:

Bishop promulgates Funeral Norms

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has issued a decree formally promulgating the new Funeral Norms and the Norms for the Order of Christian Funerals in the Diocese of Bridgeport, which are now available in their entirety online (see links below).

The norms will go into effect as the Liturgical Law of the Diocese of Bridgeport on the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020. They will be subject to future revision five years from the date of publication.

The bishop issued the decree today (November 22, 2020 ) on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Prior to the promulgation the new Norms were presented to the Presbyterate of the Diocese for review and have been duly approved by the Council of Priests.

The 22-page document was created after a two-year process coordinated by the diocesan Leadership Institute and the Liturgical Commission. It offers a comprehensive guide to all norms and considerations in a Catholic funeral including music, the homily, flowers, words of praise, the participation of family members and the responsibility of clergy and funeral directors, and all those involved in the funeral rites.

The introduction to the newly revised norms states, “From the beginning of the Church, Christian funeral rites and burial have been an important spiritual and pastoral practice. Our Catholic faith understands death as the entrance into eternity. It expresses a hope in the resurrection of the dead won for us in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. We also recognize the value of prayer for the deceased and show reverence for the body which remain Since the Christian response to death stands as a witness to Christian belief regarding life here and hereafter, our rites and ceremonies connected with Christian death and burial unite us to the paschal mystery of Christ’s victory over sin and death and must remain consonant with this belief.“

The decree states that with the provision of the new Norms, any and all customs until now practiced, as well as all existing liturgical norms regarding funerals are abrogated.

Click for Bishop’s Decree for the Promulgation of Funeral Norms

Click for Funeral Norms for the Order of Christian Funerals

Click here for resources about Catholic Funerals and pre-planning.

Click here for information on the Norms, educational resources, and more.

Friends and fans turn out for Montelli book-signing

TRUMBULL — It was a day to pay tribute to a beloved icon in the history of St. Joseph High School — Coach Vito Montelli, whose story, “God, Family & Basketball,” written by sports writer Chris Elsberry, was recently published.

Former players, teachers, colleagues, students and friends showed up with their families last Saturday so “Coach” could inscribe their books at a book-signing in the school gym as the line of people snaked out into the parking lot.

During his 50-year career, he won a Connecticut-record 11 state titles, coaching the St. Joseph High School boys basketball team,

“It was terrific. It was great,” Coach Montelli said of the day. “People called if they couldn’t make it. There were dozens of former players from recent years.”

Among the well-wishers was Tom Roach, retired teacher from St. Joe’s who Montelli hired as his first JV basketball coach, along with Jim Olayos, director of athletic advancement at Notre Dame-Fairfield High School and former athletic director at St. Joe’s, whose book, “The Kindness Formula,” was recently released.

“Some of the faces that I saw and some of the calls I got afterward meant a lot,” Coach Montelli said. “You always have those. When you’re friends with them, you know darn well that if you need a favor, certain ones are going to rise to the occasion all the time. That is always true.”

The Montelli story is first and foremost a story about his faith in God and how it inspired his life as husband, father of six children, and coach.

As his youngest son Tommy told Elsberry: “It’s his core. It’s the most important thing to him, followed by his family. And to many people’s surprise, basketball is important, but it’s a very distant third. This was something that was ingrained in us at a very young age, and it’s something that he tried to teach his players as well.”

As Coach Montelli explained it: “I was satisfied that it was me, my family and our faith. My wife Dolores of 62 years and I watch the Mass every morning on EWTN, and we say the rosary right after it, and then I start my day.”

Her nickname, he says, is Magee although he’s not quite sure why he gave it to her. However, he is sure of one thing: “She’s the brains in this outfit.”

Queen of Saints Hall serving as COVID testing site

BRIDGEPORT—To help combat the spread of COVID-19 in the greater Bridgeport area, the Queen of Saints Hall of the Catholic Center is now being used as an on-site location for both COVID-19 and antibody tests.

The Diocese of Bridgeport announced an agreement with Progressive Diagnostics, LLC of Trumbull, a clinical medical laboratory, which has begun providing high-volume, COVID-19 PCR (saliva) testing along with antibody blood tests (beginning next week) that are FDA EUA approved.

“We’re very proud of this initiative, which is offering an essential service to help flatten the curve and safeguard lives in our community,” said Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal vicar for administration of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“Masks, testing and contact tracing are essential until there is a widely available vaccine, and this offers a timely new option for people, particularly as the pandemic is expected to surge over the next few months,” said Deacon Toole.

Curt Kuliga, entrepreneur, CEO and founder of Progressive Diagnostics in Trumbull, said, “Our whole purpose is to expand access to quality affordable care. We are simply blessed to be in partnership with the Diocese of Bridgeport and the forward-thinking leadership of Deacon Pat Toole, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and many of the clergy and staff, who are committed to expanding care in their communities during the pandemic.”

“The collaboration with the Church will not only provide access to FDA EUA authorized PCR saliva testing, but it will also add jobs as we continue to expand patient collection centers throughout the diocese. The Church has an altruistic spirit, which aligns well with our company’s thinking.”

Brian Bellows, chief strategy officer of Progressive Diagnostics, who is a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull and has served for many years on the board of St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, has been instrumental in forging the partnership, which may bring additional test sites to other diocesan locations.

Deacon Toole said the decision to open Queen of Saints Hall for testing is consistent with the considerable health and safety protocols the diocese has introduced in its parishes and schools since the beginning of the pandemic.

He said that Progressive Diagnostics has designed a system that ensures all patients are socially distant and professional specialized cleaning is performed between visits and every evening. As an added measure, the HVAC units that supply the heat/ac to the hall are being equipped with state of the art Air Scrubber ActivePure Technology to purify the air and reduce exposure to bacteria and viruses, FDA EUA approved.

“Their primary concern is the safety and health of their patients, Catholic Center employees and the community. Accordingly, they implemented policies and procedures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Deacon Toole said.

Queen of Saints Hall provides a separate entrance for those who come to the building for testing. The side door to the hall, adjacent to the parking lot, also allows for easy access, while the rest of the 75,000 square foot building remains off-limits.

All testing is by appointment only with times available between 9 am-5 pm Monday through Friday during the week and a separate drive-up testing on Saturdays 9 am–3 pm within the parking lot.

Testing results are generally available within 48 to 72 hours. Progressive Diagnostics accepts all forms of health insurance.

Catholic Center building unites two eras of pandemic

The repurposing of part of the 75,000 square foot Catholic Center campus to respond to a pandemic unites two eras in the Church and in Bridgeport history.  While the facility now houses the Offices of the Bishop and many diocesan ministries and programs, much of the building history is related to its role as a contagious disease hospital.

First opened in 1917 in response to the Spanish flu, it was hailed as a modern hospital, the structure was known to generations of area residents as Englewood Hospital, as it treated successive waves of scarlet fever, mumps, measles and polio.

The original 1917 building is the 25,000 square foot, u-shared, core carved into the hillside of what was then a remote, 10-acre site. The west wing was added in 1929 along with a 25-room nurses residence The east wing was opened in 1937 to meet the rising need for health care in the growing city.

The building was expanded again in 1962 when the Diocese of Bridgeport purchased the site as the home of Notre Dame Girls High School after the city closed the hospital. The project, which included bump-outs in back, interior redesign, creation of 29 classrooms and a new gym, now the Queen of Saints Hall.

According to officials at the University of Connecticut Health Center, the 1918 Spanish flu has been described as the catastrophe against which all modern pandemics are measured. Health experts believe that as many as 100 million people around the globe may have perished in the outbreak—which is believed to have infected up to 40 percent of the earth’s population.

The Spanish flu had a grim efficiency that rivaled the medieval plague. Many of the 1918-19 victims woke up in full health and were dead within 24 hours—dying of suffocation after their lungs filled with fluid. Eight thousand people died in Connecticut during the last four months of 1918.

The Catholic Center is located at 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport.

Christmas Vigil Masses can begin at 2 PM

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has issued a decree permitting the celebration of Christmas Vigil Masses beginning at 2 pm in parishes throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport on December 24, in order to provide more options to the faithful seeking to safely attend Mass on Christmas.

“With this provision, it is my desire and hope that each parish priest or rector ensure that enough Masses are celebrated in order to allow the reasonable accommodation of all the faithful who wish to personally attend a Holy Day Mass for Christmas,” said the bishop in the decree, which was issued on November 16 in response to the worsening coronavirus crisis.

In the decree the bishop references the ongoing pandemic and State health regulations restricting attendance at religious gatherings.

The decree states that “as we are nearing the celebration of the Holy Days of the Nativity of the Lord, the faithful are generally in need of more options to be offered by their pastors to attend the Christmas Holy Day celebrations.”

The earlier vigil time represents a one-time exemption for Christmas 2020 because of the extraordinary situation created by the pandemic, the larger number of people expected to attend Mass at Christmas, and the need to socially distance and follow other procedures to safeguard health.

Diocesan policy requires people to register in advance for Mass in order to help parishes plan and to facilitate the notification of other parishioners if someone tests positive.  The faithful are also asked to wear a mask and practice safe distancing when they are in Church.

Click here to read the Bishop’s New Decree for the Celebration of Christmas Vigil Masses

Priest serves the sick and dying during pandemic 

STAMFORD—During the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

“We are so fortunate to have him during this pandemic,” says Marjorie Simpson, senior executive director at the St. Camillus Center, explaining how Father Mauriello would go room to room to visit residents.

“With this coronavirus situation, families of the residents were not allowed hold their hand as they were dying,” says Father Mauriello, explaining how, after serving at the center for years, he had acquired contact information of resident’s older children and built up relationships with them.

Thomas Kolenberg, a member of St. Augustine Council #41 in Stamford tells a story of how he found out his mother was COVID-positive. “I really thought it was the last time I would see my mother,” he says.

Kolenberg describes arriving at the center at the same time as the ambulance. Father Mauriello ran back to the sacristy, put on his protective gear, and heard Kolenberg’s mother’s confession, gave her holy communion and anointed her.

Kolenberg’s mother was the very first patient at St. Camillus to go from COVID-positive to COVID-negative. “Father Matt was there the whole time to make sure that she continued to receive the sacraments, because of his charism as a priest and as a Knight of Columbus.”

“It has made all the difference that there is such a comforting soul here, who is 100 percent there for us, praying for us” says Simpson.

Watch the full video from the Knights of Columbus here.

St. Mary parishioners find a way to safely celebrate All Saints Day

RIDGEFIELD—On Friday, November 6, parishioners of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield wanted to do something to safely commemorate All Saints Day, even during these uncertain times.

Parishioner John Papa offered to hold a safely distanced and limited in number gathering at his farm in South Salem.

Some of the children and parents even dressed up as saints to celebrate!

About St. Mary’s in Ridgefield

Saint Mary Parish, a vibrant Roman Catholic Family of Faith, Love, and Service, located in beautiful Ridgefield, Connecticut, serves over 3,000 families in upper Fairfield County, Conn,
as well as Westchester County, N.Y.

(To learn more about the parish visit:

CRS has a plan for how Catholics can take a stand

For decades, Catholic Relief Services CRS) has been one of the world’s leading humanitarian aid agencies, serving and supporting vulnerable populations in 114 countries. While engagement with U.S. Catholics has always been a part of CRS programming—with well-known projects such as the annual CRS Rice Bowl Lenten program and other education and fundraising initiatives—a new strategy focused on advocacy and action aims to include U.S. Catholics in an ongoing and sustainable way.

The strategy, which involves creating local CRS chapters across the United States, began in 2019 to bring together “communities of Catholics and other people of goodwill with an interest in supporting the mission of CRS through measurable steps of advocacy and fundraising,” says Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy at CRS. The new methodology of building and supporting chapters in parishes, high schools, and universities allows participants to join CRS’ work while they establish ties within their local communities and with their local, state, and national representatives, which is a key component to the project’s success.

After one year and the formation of more than 40 chapters (with almost another 40 in development), O’Keefe sat down with the U.S. Catholic editors to talk about why it’s important for Catholics to get involved in advocacy efforts and how they can effectively influence policy decisions that are important to people of faith.

What are Catholic Relief Service chapters?

Catholic Relief Service (CRS) chapters are local communities of people who support CRS’ mission through measurable steps of advocacy and fundraising. The formation of the chapters is part of a strategy that CRS has crafted in response to the overwhelming set of problems we see around the world.

We’re not a social movement. We’re part of an institution—the Catholic Church. We asked, “What is an authentic way for us—given the teaching of the church, the structure of the church, and where we fit into it—to begin to do this?”

There’s a four-month cycle for forming new chapters. CRS provides training, materials, fellowship, prayer resources, and action items. Some of the advocacy tools that we provide include how to write an effective letter to the editor that gets printed, how to get and have a successful meeting with your member of Congress, and how to organize a meeting of your chapter in a way that is successful and engaging.

At our current rate of growth, by 2030 we’ll have thousands of chapters with tens of thousands of members who are mobilized to take concrete action. We’re building a movement of people in the United States who are engaged in changing the root causes of poverty and injustice that CRS sees every day in the countries where we operate.

How does the work of CRS chapters fit into the greater Catholic call to work for justice?

We’ve organized our work around campaigns focused on major issues of justice and human dignity. We have two main campaigns right now—Lead the Way on Hunger and Lead the Way on Migration—that address a host of problems related to those two major issues. For example, we’re engaging people in addressing how our government can do more about the root causes of migration, which we have a clear perspective on because of CRS’ work in Latin America. We know what the root causes are and what our government could and should be doing about them. How do we protect people from violence and poverty in their home countries? How do we help them to be able to stay where they are and live with dignity and hope of opportunity for their families? These are significant justice questions.

What are some of CRS chapters’ successes?

One of the pieces of legislation that has been part of our hunger efforts is the Global Child Thrive Act. It’s a bill in Congress that would require the U.S. government to integrate best practices from CRS programming around the world in parenting, family support, nutrition, and school readiness so that children are set up for success for the rest of their lives. It’s been amazing how many members of Congress have agreed to sponsor the bill as a result of a meeting with a local CRS chapter.

The Global Child Thrive Act is still working its way through the legislative process, so we don’t know yet what the ultimate result will be. It has moved to the House of Representatives and has been marked up by the committee. Our chapter members were huge supporters to committee members to pass that bill out of committee. In both the House and Senate among both Democrats and Republicans, chapters have brought many sponsors and cosponsors for the bill. It’s been exciting to see.

How do you decide which issues the chapters will engage?

Everything we do connects to Catholic teaching, but something such as water-smart agriculture—a farming practice that balances the cost of production, increasing yields, and environmental sustainability—doesn’t evoke one’s faith at face value the same way hunger does. We need something at that level.

We look for serious underlying issues that can include a number of different actions. We want something where we can get people to be experts and advocates over time. So we have to pick something that can include several different actions that all connect with the goal, but through which we can sustain commitment and energy.

Everything we do at CRS comes from our experience of our programming around the world so that we have something credible to talk about, people who can represent it, experience from the local church, and partners to bring to bear. That’s important.

All the issues we advocate on, our policy frameworks, everything we’re doing is within the context of what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is advocating.

What happens during a chapter meeting?

We first conduct a four-part formation and training process for each beginning chapter and chapter leader to give them the basic idea and tools. Then we have a monthly national chapter call with a speaker who talks about the issue we’re working on at the time. This could be a well-known expert and academic, a bishop, a CRS partner from around the world, or anyone who can go deeper into the meaning of the particular issue.

Next we discuss what’s working and what’s not working. People share success stories, and CRS provides some content about best practices and recommendations. A meeting then finishes with action steps for the next month.

The chapters meet on their own between national calls. They get a monthly action sheet that has specific actions and tools to take those actions. CRS also provides materials for prayer reflection and chapter building.

We’ve made a lot of progress in measuring and evaluating success in advocacy. By tracking the phone calls and meetings that chapter members have with members of Congress, we can measure the actions people take. Then we can say with some degree of confidence, “We are making a difference. This movement is having an impact.”

People are incredibly busy. We want to make sure that if we ask for their precious time and commitment, we can say that it’s worth it. We want to be able to demonstrate to our board, participants, the people we serve, and our partners around the world that we are making a difference.

What is the goal?

The goal is to tap into people’s desires and calling to be missionary disciples, to take the gospel and put it into action through their faith lives. How we organize, communicate with, and engage our chapters is all consistent with that and with the church’s calling for us to live out our faith in concrete and actionable ways.

In addition to feelings of success, people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This was an interesting lesson of the COVID-19 crisis. When everything first shut down, we had discussions about whether we should pause the program. Everybody was anxious. Everybody was dealing with a plethora of problems. We decided to move forward under the hypothesis that people, particularly at this time, want to step outside of themselves and feel something beyond helplessness, hopelessness, and fear.

Why did CRS decide to do this now?

We developed a new agency strategy and set five goals with indicators of the kind of impact that we want to have: (1) all people live in just and peaceful societies; (2) all people survive and thrive in the face of disasters; (3) all people achieve dignified and resilient livelihoods in flourishing landscapes; (4) all children reach their full health and development potential in safe and nourishing families; and (5) all youth are empowered to thrive. After doing this, it was clear that we cannot do this on our own. We need to get the U.S. government to do more and change some of the ways it operates, because it impacts the kinds of problems
CRS addresses around the world. The only way to get our government to take those kinds of steps is if faithful people are willing to take a stand.

How is this different from the way CRS has engaged U.S. Catholics in the past?

We’ve always had groups of supporters at parishes or schools, but they’ve been pretty independent. Now we’re knitting them together into one strategy that’s pointed in one direction with one set of actions.

For example, there is an amazing group of Catholic activists in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We brought together a number of our groups from different audiences as part of an advocacy committee, and together they’ve made some huge collective changes they could not have made on their own.

In New York we did statewide virtual advocacy with college students, parish men’s clubs, CRS Rice Bowl groups, and CRS chapters. Everyone mobilized the same actions at the same time on the same day. That’s really powerful: It helps to break down silos within the communities of the church and energize parish life. We’ve heard from pastors and parishioners that it’s making a real difference in those communities.

Are other Catholic groups doing similar work?

Many Catholic groups are trying to figure out how to engage more people through social ministry. What’s different about our methodology is we’re designing it to scale. We have a limited number of staff. Dioceses have a limited amount of resources, and lack of resources can restrain growth. We’re designing a system that doesn’t depend on having an expanded number of staff in order to expand.

Folks in dioceses are critical for our strategy. They’re significant partners who are important for building support, connecting the global mission of the church with the local activities of the diocese, and identifying leaders. But if everything depends on them, it
can go only so far. We’re hoping that CRS chapters will enable the capacity that’s already there to have more impact. That’s the big challenge.

Are Catholics called to political advocacy?

The church calls us as members of a society to have a responsibility to the more vulnerable members of that society. We can’t just sit by without taking some sort of action. Everyone has to figure out what the right action is for them in their context and in their conscience. What moves them?

We hope individuals will join chapters, but you don’t have to be a chapter member to advocate for justice. Our campaigns are broader than chapter work. The chapter members are the best trained and most committed. They take the most important actions. But anybody can take action to advocate to our government about issues related to refugees and migration and hunger. CRS provides tools to do that through our campaigns and invites everyone to get involved. Get your non-Catholic friends to help too, because these problems are bigger than we are.

What are some struggles for Catholics who are involved in advocacy, especially those who are living their faith in this way for the first time?

It might seem political at first. We’re not asking people to get involved in politics, and we’re certainly not asking them to get involved in the polarized, partisan debates that are going on in our country. We are asking them as citizens—and the church asks them as citizens—to get involved as members of a democracy in expressing their views so that society can be better aligned with the teaching of the church and the consciences of Catholics.

Another thing people grapple with is anxiety about talking with a member of Congress. They think members of Congress don’t have time or aren’t interested in what they have to say. They’re nervous, but if we prepare them well—and that’s what our methodology is designed to do—every single time after they have their first meeting they say, “That was great!”

I do a lot of lobbying on Capitol Hill, as do others at CRS. Although members of Congress are interested in what we have to say, they’re a lot more interested in what a Catholic in their district has to say.

Congress members recognize that CRS is a great organization with a lot of experience. But it’s much more impactful when actual people who vote show up and say, “I support the Global Child Thrive Act. I have children. I know firsthand what it takes to prepare kids to be ready for school. I want children in Kenya to have the same opportunities as my child. That’s what my faith calls me to do and that’s what I’m asking you to do.” Direct constituent engagement is what makes the difference.

What have you learned in the first year with CRS chapters?

Catholics really do care. They want to be asked to take action. They’re willing to take action. They want to live their faith.

This article originally appeared in US Catholic Magazine and Online.

SHU to assume management of Discovery Museum

FAIRFIELD—Sacred Heart University announced today that, after a series of talks initiated by leaders of the Discovery Museum, it will assume management of the museum at 4450 Park Avenue in Bridgeport. The museum is down the street from the University’s Fairfield campus. The agreement is effective January 1, 2021, and will continue through the existing land lease that has 67 years to go.

The University will completely modernize and enhance the exhibits to offer state-of-the-art and interactive and educational exhibits and programs in science and technology. The planetarium has been completely updated during this past year—a priority for the museum. It offers a realistic simulation of the starry sky. The images completely envelop viewers’ senses for an immersive theater experience.

The museum has been known throughout its 62-year history for providing hands-on STEM learning experiences. These experiences—designed to encourage questions and problem-solving from young learners—will be enhanced by the creativity and expertise of SHU faculty and students.

“With the University’s focus on becoming a regional leader in STEM and computer science education, and the museum’s great track record for exciting and fun STEM learning opportunities, along with our strong shared values, this coming together will benefit both institutions and the community at large,” said Michael Alfano, dean of Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education.

Affiliation with a museum puts Sacred Heart University in the company of other universities that have exciting and dynamic museums that they have integrated with their academic missions to benefit both the university and the surrounding community.

The museum is currently going through a $1.8M upgrade funded by the state. Improvements are being made to the planetarium, exhibits, classrooms and more.

Discovery prides itself on showcasing local artists in gallery space and on encouraging creativity and individual expression through STEM activities, and none of that will change under SHU’s management. The University plans to host various STEM-area (STEAM) student events such as science-based competitions and similar programs, summer internships for SHU undergrads and area high school students and special programs for area school children. For example, it will present opportunities for new activities for students in SHU’s Upward Bound program and the Horizons at SHU program—both during the summer and on weekends. This may include shows in the Henry B. duPont III Planetarium, simulated space missions in the Challenger Center and presentations animated on Science on a Sphere.

The University also plans to use the museum as a hub for professional development opportunities for the region’s STEM and computer science education communities with opportunities for internships for students in education, marketing, media, management, communications, graphic design and more. It will also give faculty an opportunity to develop exhibits for SHU classes and the public.

By leveraging the two organizations and growing the museum’s offerings in science, the arts, media and technology, the University foresees opportunities to increase school district involvement that could align naturally to future collaborative initiatives. These could include producing web-based resources for STEM/STEAM teachers and leveraging museum content with other University assets such as WSHU, the performing arts program, the Community Theatre in Fairfield and its many partners in the community.

The museum will speak to the University’s core mission, providing a space for academic exploration and experiential learning, especially in the areas of education and science. Students will also be involved in other areas such as hospitality and management.

“This project is another example of how a University gives back to the community where it resides,” said SHU President John J. Petillo. “We plan to continue to offer new and exciting programs and displays for families while also offering new opportunities for our students to learn and teach. With ever-changing programs and exhibits, we hope to make it a venue that people will visit again and again.”

“The Discovery Museum and Planetarium staff and trustees are proud to join with Sacred Heart University in this momentous collaboration. Sacred Heart University shares our continuing commitment and mission to providing a strong STEM education experience to our community. Working together we’ll realize a new and vibrant future for all who study and visit with us,” said Robert A. Panza, chairman of the Discovery Museum and Planetarium.

“We are excited about the options for new and creative opportunities for students in our teacher preparation and leadership programs and for College of Arts & Sciences students in STEAM,” Alfano said. “This will give both students and faculty a chance to show their creativity and, especially, to focus on much-needed STEM programs.”

Take Gospel to troubled people during pandemic

CLEVELAND (CNS) — Admitting that people’s faith in God “has been shaken” by the pandemic and related economic turmoil, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez called on his fellow bishops to take the news of the Resurrection and the triumph of life over death directly to people to help them navigate the crises.

“At the heart of their fears are fundamental questions about divine providence and the goodness of God,” said Archbishop Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Nov. 16 during an online address on the first day of bishops’ annual fall general assembly.

“This is far more than a public health emergency,” he said. “Everywhere we see spreading the fear of illness and death.”

The assembly was taking place entirely online for the first time because of the pandemic. Archbishop Gomez’s address was prerecorded.

The archbishop said the pandemic illustrates that the core message of the Gospel — Christ’s love for every person, the power of the cross and the promise of the resurrection — “is fading from our neighbors’ hearts.”

“Brothers, in this time of death, we hold the word of life. We come in the name of the God whose love is stronger than death,” he said.

The times, with their social unrest and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, “call for heroic Christianity,” he explained. “We need to continue to form and empower missionary disciples, as Pope Francis calls us to do.”

Citing the example of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and who was beatified Oct. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, Archbishop Gomez suggested the bishops confront modern-day injustices “by living the Gospel.”

He recalled how for the priest, “love was not an abstraction or cause” because he knew the faces of “the widow and the orphan, the father with no job, the prisoner on death row.”

“Following the courageous example of Blessed Michael McGivney, the church needs to weep now with those who are weeping,” he said. “We need to tell our neighbors the good news that we have a Redeemer. Who died, so that we might live. Who passed through the valley of the shadow of death so that we should fear no evil, not even death.”

He noted how Blessed McGivney died during the 1890 flu pandemic in which over 1 million people lost their lives worldwide. He said the likely future saint can be “a model and intercessor for our own ministries.”

Archbishop Gomez also pointed to the USCCB’s strategic plan the bishops were set to approve during the assembly as a path forward for ministry. Titled “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope,” it sets the mission for the bishops “to continue to bring healing and hope to the people of our time,” he said.

In opening his address, Archbishop Gomez paused a moment to remember the children and adults within the church who are victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

He also expressed “deep sorrow” and offered prayers that the victim-survivors “might find healing and hope” while acknowledging the Vatican’s recently released report on Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who rose through the church’s hierarchical structure despite years of rumors of sexual impropriety.

“Let us renew our commitment today to protecting children and vulnerable adults and to eliminate this scourge of abuse from the church,” he said.

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

‘What it means to be a veteran’ poster and essay contest

NEWTOWN—The Knights of Columbus recently sponsored the “What it means to be a Veteran” essay and poster contest held at St. Rose School.
Seventh-graders participated in the poster contest and eighth-graders participated in the essay contest.  A committee of Knights of Columbus from St. Rose of Lima Parish, Council 185, reviewed the submissions and selected the top 3 in each category.
According to Knight Len Moritz who ran the contest, they were impressed with the quality of all essays and posters which showed the students’ reverence for veterans.  Due to current restrictions, the Knights could not present the awards in person, instead, Miss Patricia Vertucci, middle school language arts teacher, read Mr. Moritz’s comments and presented the awards at school Friday morning, November 13.
The winners are:
Benjamin Haddad, First place essay
Alexis Keane, Second place essay
Lily Fagan, Third place essay
Ethan Kravec, First place poster
Anna Campolettano, Second place poster
Chloe Geloso, Third place poster
As a special tribute, the Knights put together a slideshow of photos submitted by St. Rose School parents of family and friends who are veterans.