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Immaculate High School Students: A Shining Light

DANBURY—Local residents in the Danbury area have been deeply touched by the student-initiated efforts made for those living in the community who have been facing economic and personal challenges that have been magnified by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing that many within their own high school community were experiencing difficulties as a result of the pandemic, Immaculate students began working together to help each other bring dignity and comfort through acts of kindness. “This year, the season of giving thanks and preparing for Christmas has ignited a special spiritual and personal energy among our students. They have been reflecting on their own blessings and have been a shining light by actively reaching out to others during a time when so many feel a sense of darkness,” says school President Mary Maloney.

Students decorated over 400 pumpkins donated by Hollandia Nursery in Bethel and Halas Farms in Danbury. Some of the pumpkins were distributed to local homes located on streets that were closed for children to trick or treat. The remaining pumpkins were distributed with a Thanksgiving blessing note to neighbors living close to the school’s campus, including the residents at the St. John Paul II Center. Principal Wendy Neil shares that “The simple gesture of students being present for others by providing an inspirational note and a pumpkin brought immeasurable joy to those who received one. What a wonderful way for students to show an appreciation to God for all that He has done for them.”

Two students, Micheala Martin, Abbe Radigan and their Campus Ministry team, collected and delivered coats, snow pants and pairs of snow boots to the Family and Children’s Aid Center in Danbury. “​I am beyond happy with the outcome of the drive, collecting over 500 coats! None of that could have been done without the help of Immaculate, friends and family coming together to help the community,” Says Abbe.​ “​It made me so happy that all the donations were going to those in need and that our efforts would help Family and Children’s Aid in Danbury make a difference in many people’s lives this winter,” says Michaela. ​To further support the Mayor of Danbury’s efforts to house and Catholic Charities to feed the 75 known homeless, the Campus Ministry and Key Club members joined together and collected over 1,000 breakfast-to-go items including boxed cereal, cereal bars and oatmeal. In addition, students Kate Mitchell, Matthew Butera, Niocole Radliff, Melanie Seaman and Jennifer Hanley combined their efforts earlier in the year and made over 150 sandwiches for the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury.

“​Due to the pandemic, the Immaculate High School Campus Ministry and Key Club had to modify their annual cereal drive for Dorothy Day. Each year these two clubs collect and donate over 1000 boxes of cereal to serve the Morning Glory Breakfast Program at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House for an entire year. This year Immaculate was asked to donate the small, individual-sized cereal boxes and oatmeal packets to the facility so that the Morning Glory program could then package individual bagged breakfasts for their clients. With the help of many students, faculty, staff, alumni and families we were able to provide over 1000 individual cereals to this great program. The students enjoy putting this event together and get great fulfillment in knowing that they are able to help people start their day by providing breakfast for them and in serving the greater Danbury area.”

The shortage of food in the Danbury food pantries has been ongoing since the beginning of the pandemic. Focusing on supporting the issues related to the at-risk Danbury community students, staff and families joined together with Jericho Partnership to assist them with transforming lives through monetary donations as well as sponsoring two drive-by “Stuff the Vans” food drives to collect dry goods.

At the end of their very inconsistent yet successful fall sports season, student-athletes from all teams came together to help support Ann’s Place in Danbury. In place of their traditional Play for the Cure games to raise funds, teams created themed raffle baskets for a virtual raffle drawing which raised $2,380. Athletic Director and 1989 alumnus of Immaculate, Nelson Mingachos, expresses that he is very proud of the athletic teams for coming together to continue the tradition of Play For the Cure games and putting together a successful virtual version of the event.

There are many things that we cannot change in our world but during this penitential season, Immaculate students know that spreading joy, almsgiving and prayer brightens our world. In the last week of Advent, students will be collecting toys for approximately 50 children who live at the Food First Family Project Shelter and​ will be hosting their annual Christmas Concert which will be held virtually for all those who wish to celebrate the season on December 20 from 4 pm to 5:30 pm.

St. Mary’s coat drive reaches out to sister parish

RIDGEFIELD—In early November, St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield hosted a coat drive to benefit the First Communion and Confirmation programs of their sister parish, St. Peter’s in Bridgeport.

Over 85 coats were collected and distributed. In addition, St. Mary’s was able to donate $1,000 for Thanksgiving turkeys and food baskets for needy families from the proceeds of their turkey drive last year.

(St. 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. For more information visit:

Advent has begun!

FAIRFIELD COUNTY—Parishes and schools throughout the diocese have been embracing the Season of Advent in joyful waiting.

The students at All Saints in Norwalk have begun preparing for Christmas by learning about Advent, the season of spiritual preparation before Christmas.

At St. Mary School in Bethel, Father Corey lit the Advent wreath and shared a blessing with all the students and faculty.

At Assumption Catholic School in Fairfield, an Advent wreath adorns the hall in front of a statue of Our Blessed Mother.

For more Advent updates be sure to follow all our social media accounts, which you can find here.

St. Mary School, Ridgefield Giving Tuesday Success

RIDGEFIELD—This past Tuesday was Giving Tuesday and many diocesan schools and foundations took part!

One notable campaign was that of St. Mary School in Ridgefield, whose theme was “Blessings in Disguise.”

They created a video to highlight that included updates and how the school has had to make shifts due to the coronavirus pandemic. “What if we shift our thinking?” the video asks. “What if we change the way we look at things? What if we embrace the blessings in disguise? Let’s be thankful for the opportunity to unleash our creativity, for the reminder to cherish our connections, for the chance to test our strength, for the ability to lean into our faith.”

“What matters most? Our children, our community, our blessings in disguise.”

The video thanks donors for their support so that they can continue to best serve their “blessings in disguise.”

Take a look!

St. Mary’s Giving Tuesday results grew from 2016 when we had 98 donors raise $28,921 to this year’s 225 donors who raised $52,610!

(St. Mary School is committed to academic excellence, a strong faith-based education, and a nurturing community environment where students thrive intellectually, spiritually, and socially. For more information visit:


Simple acts of kindness can revive the spirit and rekindle hope

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A few days ago, Debbie, my assistant, and I were puzzled with the arrival of a package to my office that listed no sender. Within it was an Advent wreath that had electrically powered candles- something that I had never seen before. After some thought, Debbie suggested that perhaps someone in the Catholic Center ordered it and it was sent to my office by mistake. The explanation seemed logical so I moved on to my other work.

Later that evening, I began preparations for the recording of my next podcast. Suddenly I understood the mystery of the wreath. For in my last podcast, I made mention of an incident a few years ago when I accidentally left the candles of my Advent wreath lit and only be sheer grace, having forgotten my keys, returned to my room to discover the danger. Since then, I keep my Advent wreath unlit- until the arrival of the electric wreath that was sitting in my office! A kind and generous person who listened to my podcast sent me the electric wreath, so that I could once again pray with the light of its candles in safety!

I cannot describe how moved I was when I realized this beautiful act of generosity and kindness given to me. In the face of all the challenges that have become a daily part of leadership, to know that there are persons who care enough to reach out in simple and anonymous ways, to provide support and encouragement, was one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have received in a long time. It powerfully reminded me that simple acts of kindness can revive the spirit and rekindle hope.

To whomever sent me the Advent wreath, I am praying for you, your family and your intentions each day that I light . Thank you for your kindness, generosity and support.

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

Immaculate High School Student Athletes Sign Letters of Intent

DANBURY—Immaculate seniors Celia Preveza, Devin McGovern and Aleksandra Box signed National Letters of Intent as part of National Signing Day to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level.

Celia Preveza of Danbury will play field hockey for Providence College, a Division I program. While at Immaculate, she was on the 2018 State Champion team, as well as winning the SWC Championship three times. She has achieved First Team All-State three times, All-SWC Team three times, and has been named SWC Player of the Tournament. In the off season, Celia is a member of the HTC Field Hockey Club in Madison.

Devin McGovern of Brookfield will be swimming for Merrimack College, a Division I program. During her high school swimming career, she achieved the Connecticut Scholar Athlete award two consecutive years, swimming for both Immaculate and the Regional YMCA on Brookfield’s Mako Swim Team. She participated in the Peer Leadership and Bridging the Gap clubs as well as tutored other students in Spanish. Devin is intending to major in General Mathematics at Merrimack.

Aleksandra Box of Redding will be playing volleyball at the University of Dallas, a Division III program. She was named Class S Second Team All-State as well as the All-SWC First Team and All-Tournament honors in 2019. Aleksandra has been playing volleyball for seven years, both at Immaculate for her entire high school career and for club teams at the national level. She is also involved with the Student Ambassadors and the International Club at Immaculate.

Niche has ranked Immaculate an impressive #10 out of 284 schools in CT as “best for athletes.” “We believe that we will win” is not just the chant of our fans, it is the relentless pursuit of excellence on and off the field that is in the heart of our athletes and coaches. Check out recent noteworthy athletic recognitions:

● Top 10 Most Dominant Boys Basketball Programs in the Last 10 Years in Connecticut -IHS #8 (MaxPreps)

● Best CT Girls Cross Country Teams of the Decade – IHS #4 (MSR)

● Top Dynasty in CT High School Sports in First 100 Years of CIAC – IHS Girls Soccer #2 (CIAC)

(For more information about Immaculate and our athletic programs, please visit​. If you are interested in becoming an Immaculate Mustang, please contact Denise Suarez, Director of Admissions at 203.744.1510 x148 or​. Freshman and transfer applications are now open at

Social justice must be founded on care for others

VATICAN CITY—Guaranteeing justice for all men and women is not possible while a few people control most of the world’s wealth and everyone else’s right to a dignified life is disregarded, Pope Francis said.

In a November 30 video message, the pope encouraged judges from North and South America and Africa not to lose sight of “the distressing situation in which a small part of humanity lives in opulence, while an increasing number of people are denied dignity and their most elementary rights are ignored or violated.”

“We cannot be disconnected from reality,” he said. “This is a reality you must keep in mind.”

The judges were taking part in a virtual meeting November 30-December 1 on “Building the New Social Justice.” The meeting was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Committee of Pan-American Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine.

At “such a critical time for all of humanity,” the pope said, the virtual meeting to discuss the work of building “a new social justice is, without doubt, excellent news.”

Offering a reflection for their discussions, the pope said that building social justice is a “collective work” that must be achieved on a daily basis “because imbalance is a temptation at every minute.”

Working toward true social justice must also be done with an “attitude of commitment” that follows “along the path of the good Samaritan” and that is mindful of not falling “into a culture of indifference,” he said.

People “must recognize the all-too-frequent temptation to disregard others, especially the weakest,” the pope explained. “We have to assume that we have become accustomed to turning a blind eye, to ignoring situations until they hit us directly.”

And, he continued, one must not ignore history with all its “struggles, triumphs and defeats.”

“Therein lies the blood of those who gave their lives for a full and integrated humanity,” he said, as well as the roots of what people are experiencing today.

Pope Francis insisted that true social justice is impossible if the human person is not the center of concern.

“God asks us believers to be God’s people, not ‘God’s elite.’ Because those who go the way of ‘God’s elite’ end up in the so-called elitist clericalisms that work for the people, but do nothing with the people, do not feel like a people,” the pope said.

Lastly, Pope Francis said that solidarity is essential in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Solidarity means “fighting against that culture that can lead to using others, to enslaving others and ends up taking away the dignity of others,” the pope said. “Do not forget that solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves   I   Catholic News Services

St. Matthew Knights give thanks by ‘leaving no neighbor behind’

NORWALK—Assisting those most in need is one of the many goals of the Knights of Columbus St. Matthew Council 14360. As part of tradition, the council recently joined forces with six local councils from Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Westport and Weston on Saturday, October 24, at the Family & Children’s Agency Community Connections Center in South Norwalk.

More than 300 brand new coats were distributed during the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids event. This event helps keep kids warm over the winter months by providing this necessity. The local event is part of the Knights of Columbus national Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative and, since the program launched in 2009, more than 600,000 coats have been distributed in 49 states and all 10 Canadian provinces.

“While our society is pushing us to purchase items for the Christmas season, we don’t want to forget those that need basic necessities for the upcoming cold winter season,” said Project Chairman and District Deputy George Ribellino, Jr. “It’s great to see brother Knights come together from different councils to combine resources to help more people in need. I started this collaboration within my district back in 2015.”

FCA’s president & CEO, Rob Cashel adds, “Personally, and on behalf of Family & Children’s Agency, I cannot thank the Knights of Columbus enough for their generous efforts to secure 300 new coats for our clients through their Coats for Kids Initiative. During these challenging times, I am truly grateful that there are groups like the Knights of Columbus that dedicate their time and efforts to meeting critical needs in our community.”

On the weekend on November 21 and 22, Council 14360 held a Food for Families Food Drive with students from The Society of St. Theresa at Cardinal Kung Academy. The food drive was held at St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk and the response was incredible. More than 3,000 pounds of food and $400 in donations/gift cards was collected for Catholic Charities’ Room to Grow preschool and their families. The food collected will help feed 35-40 families over the holiday season.

“While food insecurity has become an ever-increasing issue in the area due to the impact of the pandemic, it is our responsibility to help lessen that burden. This is what Knights do—where there is a need, there are Knights close-by ready to jump in and do what we can,” said Council 14360 Grand Knight Anthony Armentano.

On Thanksgiving Day, after Council 14360 members helped usher, read and clean after Thanksgiving Masses, they teamed up with Bishop Fenwick Assembly 100 and the Catholic Daughters of the America’s St. Matthew Court 2640 to provide and deliver individually packaged Thanksgiving meals for the residents of Homes for the Brave for the eighth consecutive year.   

“Our men and women both loved the food and we could not be more appreciative. What a blessing St. Matthew Council #14360, Bishop Fenwick Assembly 100 and Catholic Daughters Court 2640 have been to us. All of us at Homes for the Brave are extremely grateful as you made the day very special for our residents” said Homes for the Brave CEO/Executive Director, Vince Santilli.

In addition, District Deputy Ribellino’s daughter Mia made cards for the veterans and asked students at Notre Dame Fairfield High School to write notes thanking them for their service.

The Council wrapped up the long weekend by delivering several bins of non-perishable food to Blessed Sacrament in Bridgeport. The food was collected at the St. Matthew Annual Thanksgiving Masses. Four carloads were organized by the council and given to Blessed Sacrament Pastor Father Skip Karcsinski “Giving back to those in need during the Thanksgiving season is a blessing for our council. One of the most profound ways we can truly give thanksgiving to God is through serving others,” said Grand Knight Anthony Armentano.

The Council has hosted and assisted with many food drives since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do this indefinitely. In addition, the council has assisted with providing food for those on the frontlines, getting masks to Notre Health and Rehab Center, donating funds and supplies for our veterans at Homes for the Brave and distributing brand new coats for children in need. The Knights of Columbus are called to step into the breach and leave no neighbor behind—especially in this time of crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it is our duty and responsibility to lead our families, protect our parishes and serve our communities, remembering always that where there’s a need, there’s a Knight. Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson has challenged Knights to take this moment as an opportunity to deepen the commitment to the very principles which define the Order: charity, unity and fraternity.

The goal of the Knights of Columbus Council at Saint Matthew Church in Norwalk are to perform acts of charity. Providing those in need with a range of support from financial to tactical help in dealing with a wide variety of challenges. Council members work together to foster the founding principles of our order: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. Our goal as a council is to continue to identify specific needs in our community and muster support and help to alleviate these challenges and hardships to the best of our abilities and resources. 

(For more information, please go to If you are Catholic man interested in putting your faith in action, join the Knights of Columbus online for free at and use promo code MCGIVNEY2020.)

Advent calls for watching and active waiting

BRIDGEPORT— Advent is a season that call for watching and active waiting to prepare for the gift of God in our lives, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano during his online Mass from the Catholic Center chapel on the First Sunday of Advent.

In his homily based on the Gospel of Mark (13:33-37) “33 “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come,” the bishop reflected on the practice of spiritual waiting that opens us to God’s presence at Christmas and throughout the year.

“You and I can put that waiting to good purpose if we intentionally choose in the next four weeks to spend significant time in prayer and reflection… In formal prayer or when we’re in the car or on a walk, we can reflect on the blessing and beauty God has given us and how he is meant to be center of our lives,” he said.

Advent begins a new spiritual year by reminding us that we must wait “for the coming of Christmas with joyful praise for the in-breaching of the son of God into human history,” he said.

The spiritual work of Advent is “to become empty intentionally so our longing for God can grow deeper,” he said, adding that Church tradition teaches us to do that through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The bishop began his homily by commenting that his friends would be the first to say that patience is not a virtue that he has ever been able to cultivate in life.

“Waiting for something or someone is very hard for me to do,” he said, observing that drive, determination and perseverance can also be good things helping us to address challenges we can control in our lives.

However, many things in life are not under our control, and needless worry and energy is misspent when often the only thing we can do is wait, he said.

“Chief among them is blessing what God wishes to give us, and it’s always given in God’s time– not mine or yours. This is the Important spiritual stance of being a disciple—we must watch and wait upon the Lord and his great goodness.”

The bishop said that in the spiritual life there are two kinds of waiting, passive and a more active, alert kind of waiting.

“Passive waiting is a surrender to a circumstance we can’t change,” he said, observing that it can also be a “difficult waiting” such as when someone is ill or dying and you can only remain present to them during their sufferings.

However, “waiting for Advent, for the blessing of Kingdom is an active waiting,” he said, adding that we can’t sit around because Jesus has urged us through his teachings to work toward the kingdom’s fulfillment in the world.

“There is also work to be done inside in your spiritual house and mine in this act of waiting– to take stock and turn our attention and our prayer and our imaging to make sure there is a place that will welcome not simply the Christ Child but welcome the King whenever he comes.”

The waiting of Advent is not simply preparing ourselves for Christmas but also for the second coming when Jesus returns triumphantly “at a time, and place and hour of God’s, not ours.”

Reminding the faithful that Advent is a penitential season, the bishop said that prayer and fasting hold the key to preparation.

“Fasting is not simply denial of food, but it is used to re-orient all things around us to their proper place , so that our possessions don’t possess us,” he said.

Likewise prayer should interrupt our routine so that we can put God at the center of our lives.

“It’s easy for you and me to put aside our prayer for a mistaken good whatever it may be. Active waiting calls us to actively engage in a relationship with God that at times we can take for granted,” he said.

Advent is the time for “putting ourselves in the presence of the Lord and allowing him to inform, form, transform us like as piece of clay as Isiah reminds us, “ he said.

“There’s an old saying that ‘Good things are worth waiting for,’” said the bishop, noting that Advent asks us to prepare for “the best of things–the Kingdom… Let us be watching, let us be alert, let us be active and let us wait as he asks us to,” he said.

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop said that one good way to deepen our prayer and engage in active waiting as we begin Advent is to join in the weekly Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 pm. For information on the Sunday Family Rosary visit:

Court lifts restrictions on congregation sizes

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 5-4 decision issued just before midnight Nov. 25, the Supreme Court lifted the pandemic restrictions on congregation sizes at houses of worship imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues in separate filings appealed to the nation’s high court, claiming the governor’s executive order violated their free exercise of religion and was particularly unwarranted during a time when area businesses were open.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

This summer, the court, in another 5-4 decision with a different bench, one that included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upheld Nevada’s limits on congregation sizes, denying a request by a Nevada church for permission to have larger gatherings, like those permitted in the state’s casinos, restaurants and other businesses.

“I am gratified by the decision of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case. I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a Nov. 26 statement.

The bishop noted the governor’s restrictions “were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe. Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens have adhered to all COVID-19 safety protocols to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks.”

He stressed that the diocese took its plea to the nation’s highest court “because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”

“Now, with the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” he said, “we look forward to continuing the fight in the lower courts to ensure that these unconstitutional restrictions are permanently enjoined once and for all.”

The New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, tweeted Nov. 26 that the court’s decision was “an important one for religious liberty.”

“While we believe, and the court agreed, that the ‘hot zone’ restrictions on religious gatherings were unduly harsh our churches have been otherwise eager partners with the state in protecting the health of our parishioners, clergy, staff, and surrounding communities during this devastating pandemic.,” the tweet said. “That will continue, as protecting the vulnerable is a pro-life principle.”

“We are proud of the success we have had in keeping our people safe,” it added.

New York Catholic bishops also separately praised the ruling.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger who heads the Diocese of Albany and also is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, similarly welcomed the ruling and the view that worship is essential.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to protect one another from the threat that the coronavirus poses. At the same time, we welcome this decision that upholds the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Food and drink for the soul are as essential as food and drink for the stomach,” he said in a statement.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Nov. 26 tweeted his congratulations to Bishop DiMarzio and the Brooklyn Diocese “on their victory for religious freedom in the U. S. Supreme Court. Our churches are essential.”

“While we have been and will continue to adhere to all safety protocols to protect our communities, it is also important to protect that fundamental constitutional right, religious liberty,” he added.

The Diocese of Brooklyn filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 12 for an injunction against the governor’s executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship to 10 or 25 people but allowing “numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions.”

The Brooklyn Diocese first went to federal District Court in October to seek emergency relief from Cuomo’s new restrictions, announced Oct. 6, on houses of worship in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in densely populated ZIP codes he identified as “hot zones.” He said the state was creating three zones — red, orange and yellow — each with different restrictions, including on the size of congregations.

Some Catholic parishes in the Brooklyn Diocese were in the red zone, meaning their churches were forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people inside at one time, and some were in the orange zone, where only 25 people at one time can attend Mass. A yellow zone designation meant a 50% capacity.

The Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York took their appeal to the Supreme Court Nov. 16, stressing they had complied with previous restrictions, but the newer limits would not allow them to conduct services for all of their members.

On Nov. 20, Cuomo urged the Supreme Court not to get involved in the state’s battle with two synagogues, saying that because of “continued progress in containing COVID-19 spread,” the restrictions no longer applied.

He also said his order was not focused on gatherings because they were religious but because they could potentially be “superspreader” events. He also stressed the order could even be seen as treating religious gatherings more favorably than plays and concerts which have similar risks.

The court’s unsigned opinion blocks the state from enforcing these limts on attendance while the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues continue their battle with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The case could potentially return to the Supreme Court for a final decision on its merits.

The justices in the majority said the governor’s order did not appear neutral and seemed to single out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Because of this, they said the order was subject to strict scrutiny, which it failed, because there was no evidence that synagogues and churches contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks and less restrictive rules could have been used.

In a separate opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch said: “It may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike,” referring to the lack of restrictions on businesses in the same areas as the churches and synagogues.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed his own opinion noting the court’s ruling was only a temporary fix until the 2nd Circuit can rule on it. The appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case in December.

He also said if the houses of worship challenging the restrictions do not return to red or orange zones, then the high court’s action “will impose no harm on the state and have no effect on the state’s response to COVID-19.”

A dissent filed by Sotomayor, joined by Kagan, said these cases were “easier” than challenges in the summer by churches in California and Nevada opposing church attendance size because, they said, the New York order treated houses of worship more favorably than comparable secular gatherings.

In the meantime, Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry in California are seeking intervention by the Supreme Court in a new challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The church in its early Nov. 25 filing with the court argued Newsom’s limits on houses of worship are “draconian” and, like the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues, say they threaten religious liberty.

By Carol Zimmermann @
Photo by CNS photo/Will Dunham, Reuters

Draw Closer to Jesus During Advent

CLEVELAND (CNS) — The pandemic and new limits on daily activities present a special time for a renewal of faith and the opportunity to deepen appreciation for Jesus in daily life, bishops across the country said in messages for the Advent season.

This year as families are separated, several bishops said, Advent also can be a much-needed quiet time to recognize how the birth of an infant, Jesus, changed the world and his followers are invited to follow his example to help bring peace in a tumultuous era.

Likewise, bishops encouraged prayers for essential workers including those in health care, education and often overlooked service sectors as well as for those who died or became ill because of COVID-19 and the family members and friends caring for them.

In a bit of a twist, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, wondered if God was using the effects of the pandemic to achieve good.

“What if we were able to take advantage of this shuttering of our busy lives to observe Advent as our church has always encouraged us to do: a time of reflection, a time of quieting, a time of stillness, to make room for Christ in our daily lives?” he asked in a message posted on the diocesan website.

He invited families to celebrate traditions such as lighting the candles of an Advent wreath at daily dinner, blessing the Christmas tree with prayer, and gathering to reflect in front of a Nativity scene to nurture their faith “as we look forward to the great feast of the Incarnation, the Son of God becoming one of us.”

Advent is a time to “experience the loving presence of God in a fresh and profound way,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix said in a recorded message on “The Bishop’s Hour” radio program that aired Nov. 21 on Relevant Radio.

The four-week period leading to Christmas Day can be a time during which God prepares “our heart to receive the beloved Son again,” Bishop Olmsted said. “He may do so in little ways that we may hardly notice at the time.”

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, echoed that message in a column in the December issue of Cross Roads, the diocesan magazine, saying that “while Christmas celebrations this year will be different, the event we celebrate remains the same.”

“Perhaps it is more meaningful than ever to remember, Emmanuel, God is with us — he never has and never will abandon us,” Bishop Stowe said.

Each Advent is an invitation to “ponder what it is that we still await,” he explained. Jesus, he said, “has come and shown us the way.”

Despite Jesus’ example of unity, the bishop said, “We have not always followed the ways indicated by the Messiah, especially as he demonstrates that we are one family with one Father in heaven.”

Bishop Stowe expressed regret that as the “terrible year” of 2020 ends, the times have been “made worse by ever-growing division over so many matters, even as a pandemic should have brought us in to the greater unity needed to survive.”

Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” offers inspiration to overcome divisiveness and “provides a particularly appropriate meditation for this time of watching and waiting,” he said.

“The pope knows that this darkness is passing and, as Christ’s representative, he is and must be a messenger of hope. Despite the bleakness around, God continues to sow seeds of goodness,” he said, crediting the work of those responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bishop also invited the faithful to practice charity during Advent which can open hearts to “greater awareness of the great worth of each human being” on the way to helping light the darkness.

A brief video message from Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Florida, on the diocesan website focused on preparing for celebrating the birth of Jesus. He encouraged the faithful to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Bishop Parkes invited people to register on the site to receive a series of daily reflections, “Courageously Living the Gospel,” being offered by the diocese at Bishop Parkes, the Benedictine Sisters of Florida and the Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey will be among those offering the reflections.

Meanwhile, a special Year of the Parish and the Eucharist will open in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, as Advent begins.

Bishop Steven J. Raica said in announcing the observance that chancery offices will publish resources for parishes and other ministries for observing the year. The time is being designated so that the Catholic community is “united in the worship of God,’ he said.

“Amid the disorientation, distress and uncertainty, we need to rediscover the value of being together with the Lord, our sure hope,” he said in a Nov. 17 statement. “Like the early Christians, we say: ‘Sine dominico non possumus’ (cf. Martyrs of Abitinae) — ‘We cannot live without the Lord’s day.’

“In a time when so many Catholics no longer appreciate the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, as evidenced by recent well-publicized polls and studies, we endeavor to encounter Christ anew in this great gift that he left us, which is celebrated in the Christian assembly,” he said.

In Australia, Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney in an Advent message to children said the birth of an infant, Jesus, changed the world and that everyone is called to celebrate such a special event.

“God is love and he showed us this great love through giving us his son at Christmas,” Bishop Umbers wrote. “Jesus is the greatest gift we could ever receive and we get to celebrate this every year when we gather with family and friends in small and big ways at Christmas.”

He asked children to recall the best gift they ever received and how the person who gave that gift gave it serious thought, “preparing for it, buying it or making it, wrapping it and delighting, also in seeing you open the gift.”

“That is exactly what we are called to do every Advent so that on Christmas Day we can give something special to Jesus, God’s son,” the bishop said.

“My prayer is that this Christmas we can bring the love of God into our lives,” he concluded, “and learn more about this little baby who became our King, our Savior and is the Greatest Love of all.”

By Dennis Sadowski @
Photo by CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review

Offering thanks during a pandemic

A Thanksgiving reflection by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Thanksgiving Day was always my father’s favorite holiday. He loved it for many reasons, not the least of which was for the incredible meal my mother used to cook. I remember those days fondly; we began with a big breakfast, watched the same movie later that morning, and then we would sit at the table for hours. I delighted in that time with my family, in the traditions, and of course, in the food.

I’m sure many of us share very happy memories of Thanksgiving, which makes this year of the pandemic so much more troubling, knowing that we cannot safely gather in large numbers–even in our own homes with those who are dearest to us. In a year of much loss and anxiety, this is yet another heavy burden.

It may seem inappropriate to speak of giving thanks during a pandemic when so many have died, and so many others have become ill. However, I believe that only with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude in our hearts we can hope for better days and persevere before any challenge.

Perhaps we should let this most difficult year be an occasion to reflect on the full meaning of Thanksgiving in our lives. In my view, Thanksgiving is a holiday that draws upon deep Judeo-Christian religious roots. As Christians, ours is a faith of thanksgiving for the many gifts and blessings that God has given us. Everything we have, we owe to God’s love and providence. For Christians, a spirit of thanksgiving should be the foundation of every day of our lives.

In fact, the Eucharist, which we receive during the celebration of Holy Mass and we believe to be the source and summit of our Catholic faith, is derived from the Greek word, eucharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” This means that every time we attend Mass, we are invited to thank God the Father, through Jesus His son, for the gifts in our life, and the priceless gift of eternal life to come.

On a personal level the pandemic has disrupted our lives and caused us to feel anxiety. Yet we must not lose sight of the growing number of those who have felt the economic consequences of job loss that has led to growing homelessness, hunger, and even despair. As we experience this unexpected vulnerability, let us pray that it deepens our bonds with our sisters and brothers across the globe who have long faced daily uncertainty, including chronic unemployment, food instability and a lack of medical care.

It has also been a year in which many Catholics remain afraid or unable to attend Sunday Mass and those who do attend abide by significant restrictions designed to keep all safe. These precautions are necessary, but they are not easy, and I am very grateful to see such universal cooperation with the protocols that we have put in place to safeguard life.

We are also encouraged by the response of so many who have come forward to help those in need. In our diocese Catholic Charities has performed extraordinary works of service, parish volunteers have reached out to those who are most vulnerable, and our dedicated teachers and staff have kept diocesan schools open to safeguard our children. Likewise, every day, we witness the courageous and inspiring response of other faith traditions and all people of good will to help those in need.

As people of faith we believe God has remained present to us since the pandemic began. How can we look upon the faces of our brothers and sisters on the front lines of health care who each day run into the breach and not be overwhelmed with gratitude for their goodness and their courage? How can we look upon those who comfort the sick and their families and do everything possible to save lives without profound thankfulness for their very witness? How can we not see the face of God in them and all those who have acted with courage and compassion?

We must not forget that even in our moments of profound suffering and grief, the love of God, made manifest in the Eucharist and in the love of our brothers and sisters, will triumph over every challenge. We know that God does not desire for us to suffer. However, when we do, he is present with us, holding us in the palm of his hands and promising us that he will never let go. Knowing that God will always keep his promises, even in the face of all that I have just described, I remain overwhelmed with a deep sense of deep gratitude that God will bring us renewal and new life.

My friends, I know that there are many challenges ahead during the coming weeks. Yet I invite you to join me in pausing today not only to look forward in patient hope for the vaccines that will save millions of lives, but to remember that our God has not and never will abandon us.

As we sit down with loved ones this Thanksgiving—or perhaps gather together virtually—let us find reasons for gratitude, for therein lies our hope. Let us also pray for our own families and for those struggling with the hardship of separation this year, and most of all for those who are afflicted with Covid-19, and for the many in our midst who have suffered the loss of loved ones.

In this spirit of remembrance and gratitude, I wish you and your family a very healthy, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.

Seminarians serve others amid pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — A century ago, seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood helped bury Philadelphia’s dead in the global Spanish influenza pandemic.

This year, the young men of St. Charles are helping to keep hungry people alive during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Apostolic work in addition to classroom studies has long been a regular part of the seminarians’ formation in which they fan out two-by-two to schools, senior facilities and other settings to serve people in the community.

But because of the social restrictions of COVID-19, those opportunities for service are gone this year. In their place arose a partnership between the seminary’s apostolic formation program, led by Father George Szparagowski, and Caring for Friends, a private multiservice organization feeding hungry people throughout the area for 46 years.

Sixteen seminarians of St. Charles’ College Division traveled to Northeast Philadelphia Nov. 5 for a four-hour shift at Caring for Friends, assembling meals and boxing them for distribution to people in the five-county region of southeastern Pennsylvania.

The young men split into groups, with some assembling nutritionally balanced meals in single-serving trays in the spacious kitchen. Others worked an assembly line placing seven meals in a box, stacking the boxes on pallets in collaboration with the group Muslims Serve and some young men from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and storing the meals in walk-in freezers for later distribution to homebound seniors.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia’s center city, another group of about a half-dozen seminarians handed out food to homeless visitors at Hub of Hope, a shelter run by Project HOME out of Suburban Station.

Directly feeding the neediest in the community “is eye-opening and pretty awesome,” said Adam Johnson, a fourth-year college seminarian studying for the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

“In helping other people, we’re putting faith in action,” he told, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

His classmate Rob Bollinger, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and a Philadelphia seminarian, put his experience in a broader perspective.

“There’s something really beautiful about serving,” Bollinger said. “It feeds my daily life in the sense that it’s not something temporary (but) more meaningful because it’s not self-serving, but it’s serving others.”

All 24 men in the seminary’s College Division work every other week at Caring for Friends and food centers such as Hub of Hope “to grow in the virtue of charity,” said Father Szparagowski.

He praised the service partnership and said the seminarians enjoy their experience “because it builds up fraternity. We all work together (and) we look forward to it.”

“They see the purpose of their work — feeding people — especially people who come in to pick up food (at parishes). They didn’t realize how many people in Philadelphia need help. A lot of times it’s working-class people that just need food assistance, and that really surprised them. They love helping people, and they love the interaction,” he said.

Especially grateful to provide seminarians with a way to serve the community and to add to the ranks of volunteers he greatly needs is Vince Schiavone, CEO of Caring for Friends.

Formerly called Aid for Friends, it was begun by his mother, Rita, in her Northeast Philadelphia home. Her vision was to set aside some of the family’s dinner each night and bring it to lonely, homebound seniors and deliver them a home-cooked meal and companionship. That work continues under a new name and a greatly expanded mission.

Today, Caring for Friends’ threefold mission continues to include serving seniors. Individuals still provide single-serve meals in aluminum trays, and along with the meals prepared at Caring for Friends’ kitchen, they are frozen and distributed to seniors from its warehouse.

But the operation has ramped up significantly this year. Schiavone said before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his organization was supporting 2,000 seniors through meals and boxes of food delivered each month in the region. That number has swelled to 33,000 seniors currently.

Caring for Friends also is a food bank that, according to Schiavone, supports shelters, recovery houses and some 250 community food cupboards at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all houses of worship.

It also supplies food to Muslims Serve, which serves at Hub of Hope, plus St. John’s Hospice, Bethesda Project, Ronald McDonald House and local politicians’ offices where people seek food assistance.

Schiavone said last January, “we were giving out about 100,000 pounds of food a month and during COVID it’s been over a million pounds of food a month.”

His organization also operates a “caring kitchen” where a great deal of food is prepared to be handed out wherever the needs for food exist. That includes making 850 sandwiches each week for one organization alone — the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul — and distributing snack bags made by schoolchildren and community groups throughout the region.

This is the mission of service in which the St. Charles seminarians are immersed.

“Seminarians are helping in a time of great need,” Schiavone said.

By Matthew Gambino | Catholic News Service

Editor’s note: Earlier this month Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced that college-seminarians and pre-theologians from the Diocese of Bridgeport will undertake their formation and studies at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia beginning in January 2021.  (see the November issue of Fairfield County Catholic for the full story).

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.”

Use of COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While confusion has arisen in recent days in the media over “the moral permissibility” of using the COVID-19 vaccines just announced by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna, it is not “immoral to be vaccinated with them,” the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees said Nov. 23.

Bishop Kevin J. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, addressed the issue in a memo to their brother bishops.

A copy of the memo was obtained by Catholic News Service Nov. 24.

“Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development or production,” the two prelates said. “They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products.

“There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote,” they continued. “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann cited three Vatican documents that “treat the question of tainted vaccines”: the 2005 study by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses”; paragraphs nos. 34-35 in the 2008 “Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions” (“Dignitatis Personae”) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and the 2017 “Note on Italian Vaccine Issue,” by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“These documents all point to the immorality of using tissue taken from an aborted child for creating cell lines,” they explained. “They also make distinctions in terms of the moral responsibility of the various actors involved, from those involved in designing and producing a vaccine to those receiving the vaccine.

“Most importantly,” they added, “they all make it clear that, at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”

In a Nov. 21 statement, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Mercy Sister Mary Haddad said CHA ethicists, “in collaboration with other Catholic bioethicists,” used the guidelines released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005 and 2017 on the origin of vaccines and “find nothing morally prohibitive with the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech (Pfizer’s German partner) and Moderna.”

She also said CHA “believes it is essential that any approved COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in a coordinated and equitable manner,” because COVID-19 “has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income communities, persons with preexisting health conditions, and racial and ethnic minorities.”

CHA encouraged Catholic health organizations “to distribute the vaccines developed by these companies.”

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann did not point to any specific media outlets claiming the moral unsuitability of the vaccines. However, after Pfizer and Moderna announced their vaccines, at least two Catholic bishops warned against using them, saying they are morally tainted.

On Nov. 11, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that results of a large ongoing study show its vaccine is 95% effective; the vaccine is already being manufactured and has been since October. Five days later, Moderna said preliminary data from its phase three trial shows its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Pfizer and Moderna are applying to the U.S. Food and Drug administration for emergency approval of the vaccines, which would quickly pave the way for distribution of the vaccines. The FDA is to meet Dec. 10.

On Nov. 16, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted the Moderna vaccine “is not morally produced. Unborn children died in abortions and their bodies were used as ‘laboratory specimens.’ I urge all who believe in the sanctity of life to reject a vaccine which has been produced immorally.”

In a Nov. 18 video posted on his diocesan website and subsequent interviews with local media, Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of Fresno, California, weighed in on the vaccines, saying: “We all want health for ourselves and for others. We want to promote that also … but never at the expense of the life of another.”

In May, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, the moniker of its initiative to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Americans as quickly as possible. The program has funded the manufacturing of six promising vaccine candidates, two of which are the ones announced by Moderna and Pfizer.

As soon as the FDA approves their vaccines for distribution, Operation Warp Speed hopes to distribute 300 million doses around the country by January. Because Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines involve two shots per person, this would be enough to immunize 150 million Americans.

Other COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon include one being developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University.

Like Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann, John Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, said a recent interview on the “Current News” show on NET TV, the cable channel of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were not themselves produced using cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue.

He expressed “great respect for Bishop Strickland,” calling him “a bold courageous witness to the faith,” who is saying “some true things about issues that go back decades in pharmaceutical research and development,” in the production of vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and other diseases.

But in the case of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Brehany emphasized, any connection to aborted fetus cell lines is extremely remote.

For Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist in Chicago and a member of the Catholic Medical Association, this indirect use raises an ethical issue for Catholics.

“The fetal cell lines were not directly used in the Moderna vaccine, but they were indirectly used several steps away from the actual development of the vaccine,” he told “Currents News” in a separate interview.

Any such cell lines were derived from tissue samples taken from fetuses aborted in the 1960s and 1970s and have been grown in laboratories all over the world since then.

In its 2005 study, the Pontifical Academy for Life said Catholics have a responsibility to push for the creation of morally just, alternative vaccines, but it also said they should not sacrifice the common good of public health because there is no substitute.

“Catholics can have confidence if there is a great need and there are no alternatives, they are not forbidden from using these new vaccines,” Brehany told “Current News,” but he added: “There is much the church calls us to do in seeking out alternatives and advocating for alternatives.”

Catholics “need to provide the urgency and advocacy” to get pharmaceutical companies to understand there are alternatives to using fetal cell lines to develop vaccines, “so they can see the need for this,” he added, echoing the Pontifical Academy for Life.

A case in point is the decision by Sanofi Pasteur to no longer use an aborted fetal cell line in producing its polio vaccines, a move recently approved by the FDA.

Sanofi is one of the companies currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine by utilizing “cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.” Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute are other such companies.

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service