• Bishop Rhoades preaches a homily on Easter morning at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Huntington.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    Sadly, Holy Week began this year with another attack on innocent Christians. Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, like so many Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians here in our diocese, gathered for the sacred liturgy on Palm Sunday. At least 44 of these brothers and sisters in Christ were killed in terrorist bombings at the Church of St. George in Tanta and at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria. Over 125 people were wounded in the attacks.

    The Coptic Church in Egypt, like many other ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, faces persecution from violent extremists. The persecution of Christians also extends well beyond the Middle East. At present, Christians are the religious group that suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Eighty percent of all acts of religious persecution in the world today are directed at Christians. Last year, about 90,000 Christians were killed because of their faith. In the words of Pope Francis: “The Church today is a Church of martyrs.”

    In some countries, like North Korea, violent persecution is carried out by the state. More often, it is carried out by terrorist groups and non-state actors. They perpetrate violence and subjugation against Christians and other religious groups, including murder, rape, false detention and forced exile, as well as damage to, and expropriation of, property. ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban, Al Shabaab and other extremist groups conduct suicide bomb attacks like happened in Egypt on Palm Sunday. Some also engage in other horrific forms of torture and execution and will often glory in the brutality inflicted on their victims and parade it on social media.

    In November 2014, while waiting for an audience with Pope Francis, I was seated next to another bishop. We introduced ourselves and I learned that he was the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq. For an hour before the Pope arrived, we spoke about his archdiocese. His predecessor as archbishop was killed in 2008. ISIS occupied Mosul in the summer of 2014. They gave the Christians in the city the choice to convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant tax most could not afford, or be killed. Most were able to escape, but some were killed. The archbishop was not aware of any who had renounced their Christian faith. With great sadness, he told me that the Sunday after the occupation by ISIS was the first Sunday in almost 2,000 years that the Eucharist was not celebrated in Mosul. The Archbishop explained to me that he did not expect many Christians to return to Mosul after the defeat of ISIS. He shared that, even before ISIS occupied Mosul, his people experienced the hardships of discrimination.

    There were many Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain near Mosul that were destroyed or occupied by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Over 150,000 Christians, mostly Chaldean and Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox, fled from their homes to Erbil and remain there in poverty. Some have moved on to Jordan and Lebanon. Some live in refugee camps. Since the liberation of the Nineveh Plain villages, some Christians have returned only to find their homes and churches severely damaged or destroyed. Some would like to rebuild, but it is an enormous challenge. They also are concerned for their safety and security if they return.

    The plight of persecuted Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria is sometimes in the news. But we should also be aware of religious persecution, mostly against Christians, that is rampant in other countries like North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria. We also see worsening persecution in places like Bangladesh, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Niger, Pakistan, Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen.

    Sometimes I am asked by people what they can do to help these brothers and sisters who are suffering because of their faith. There are three things I suggest: prayer, advocacy and material aid.

    When I have spoken to bishops and priests from these areas of persecution, the first thing they ask for is prayer. They ask for the support of our prayers that they may have the fortitude of the Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering. These believers trust in the power of prayer. They ask us first and foremost to remember them in our prayers.

    Persecuted Christians also ask us to take up their cause through advocacy with our government. They need help to rebuild their lives. They need security if they are going to return to their homes. And, if not, they need help as refugees, to find a place to live and raise their families, to build a livelihood and to practice their faith without fear. I encourage the support of the “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act,” legislation presently advancing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Our persecuted brothers and sisters also need material help. Catholic Relief Services has projects in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries to help suffering and persecuted Christians and other religious minorities who have been driven from their homes. For example, in Iraq, CRS works with Caritas Iraq in providing food, clean water, living supplies, shelters and education.

    It was clear to me in my visit to Gaza and the West Bank this past January that the Christian and Muslim Palestinians cared for each other. They rejected violence. This gives me hope, not only for the people of Gaza, but throughout the Middle East. Peace and friendship between believers of different faiths is possible. But I am not a naïve optimist. The oppressive situation in Palestine and Gaza may lead to another eruption of violence. We must continue to support efforts in peacebuilding, one of the projects of CRS, and encourage our government to pursue justice in that region.

    The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our hope. We believe that love conquers hate, that goodness can prevail over evil, and that life is victorious over death. That is the message of Easter. It is a message that resonates with the deepest aspirations of the human heart. It is the hope that inspired so many Christians from the earliest times and also in recent years to endure suffering and martyrdom, rather than renounce their faith in Christ or forsake His Gospel of love and peace.

    Let us remember in our prayers during this holy season of Easter all our persecuted brothers and sisters. And let us entrust all who have died for their fidelity to Christ and His Gospel into the loving arms of our Redeemer.

    Posted on April 18, 2017, to:

  • The risen Christ is depicted in the painting “Resurrection” by 15th-century Italian master Andrea Mantegna. Easter, the chief feast in the liturgical calendars of all Christian churches, commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It is the day when we celebrate the crowning truth of our faith, the Resurrection of the Lord. We rejoice that God, through His Son, has conquered death and, as the Collect prayer of Easter Sunday Mass says, has “unlocked for us the path to eternity.”  This is indeed good news, great news. It is the source of our hope as Christians.

    On Easter Sunday, we hear in the first reading of Mass, from the Acts of the Apostles, the testimony of St. Peter, who preaches to the people: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.”

    On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. She ran to tell Peter and John. They both ran to the tomb and found it empty. The Gospel tells us that John, the beloved disciple, “saw and believed.”

    The Resurrection of Jesus was a real historical event. There was an empty tomb, yet there was also more. As St. Peter said: God “granted that he be visible.” Peter testifies that he and the other chosen witnesses ate and drank with Jesus after He rose from the dead. The appearances of the Risen Jesus convinced Mary Magdalen and the other apostles and disciples that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. The Resurrection confirmed for them that all that Jesus had said and done while He was with them was true.

    What happened next is key for the Church of all ages, including today. The apostles and disciples who saw the Risen Lord went out to all the world to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus. They went out, as Jesus commanded them, to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    If the Resurrection had not happened, there would be no Christianity and no Catholic Church. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

    In our journey of life, we face many challenges and sufferings. In the midst of the greatest trials, including death, we live in hope because of the Resurrection. Following Christ means that we take up our cross each day. Sometimes it can be heavy. But, with His grace, we carry it because Jesus, who is alive, is with us. He holds us firmly in His hands. Because of the Resurrection, we know by faith that the cross of Jesus that we embrace is a triumphant and victorious cross.

    I wish all of you, your families, and your loved ones a blessed and happy Easter. As you go to Mass on Easter you will encounter, as we do at every Mass, the crucified and risen Lord. The Holy Eucharist is a great Easter sacrament. Every time we receive Holy Communion, we receive the Body of Christ, risen from the dead. We receive the medicine of immortality. We remember the promise of Jesus: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

    As Catholics, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus with great solemnity not only on Easter Sunday, but throughout the Octave of Easter, the eight days from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday. I invite you to consider attending Mass, even if only once during the Easter Octave, to savor the joy of the feast of Easter. I will be celebrating Confirmations in parishes throughout the diocese during the Easter Octave and throughout the Easter season. Confirmation, like Baptism and the Eucharist, is an Easter sacrament. Please pray for all our young people who will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the Risen Christ.

    May the Risen Lord bless you with joy and peace! May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stood by the cross in sorrow and was filled with joy at the Resurrection, intercede for us with her love!

     

     

     

    Posted on April 11, 2017, to:

  • By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    Click here for photos from both Masses.

    The Chrism Mass is one of the most joyful and intense liturgies of the year, in my experience as a bishop. It evokes the joy I feel when celebrating Masses of priestly ordination. I also feel the faith and vitality of the diocesan Church as so many laity and religious fill the cathedral to pray for our priests as they renew their priestly promises at the Chrism Mass. Their love for our priests is evident as they spontaneously erupt in applause for our priests at some point during the liturgy.

    The readings and prayers at the Chrism Mass offer rich material for prayer and reflection, centered on the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the consecration that anointing brings about. The Anointed One, Christ Himself, was consecrated our great High Priest. At the Chrism Mass, we recall that His priesthood, by God’s design, continues in the Church. The consecration of the chrism which will be used at Baptisms and Confirmations reminds us that “Christ… adorns with a royal priesthood the people he has made his own.” The chrism will also be used to anoint the hands of the newly ordained priests and reminds us that “with a brother’s kindness Christ also chooses men to become sharers in His sacred ministry through the laying on of hands” (Preface of Chrism Mass).

    The Roman Missal says that the Chrism Mass “should be, as it were, a manifestation of the Priests’ communion with their Bishop.” Though I experience that “communion” with my priests at other concelebrated liturgies during the year, the experience is particularly intense at the Chrism Mass. I am reminded of my own priestly ordination and thereby feel united “as a brother” to all the priests who renew their priestly promises. We share a special unity in consecration and mission, a shared love for Christ and His Church that flows from the grace of our priestly ordination.

    When I look out at the priests during the Chrism Mass, I see younger men whom I was privileged to ordain. For me, they are “spiritual sons” in a unique way. I see priests my age, with whom I share a similar priestly and cultural formation and experiences. I see priests who are older, many who have served in the ministry many more years than I. They are men whose fidelity inspires me since they have truly born borne “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:12). All these brothers in the one priesthood of Christ have given themselves to the service of the Church and witness to the Lord who is our Teacher, Priest and Shepherd.

    The actual renewal of priestly promises at the Chrism Mass reminds us of the integrity to which we are called as priests of Jesus Christ. The Church, through the Bishop, asks the priests if they are resolved “to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him,… and to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God…”. The questions refer to self-denial, not seeking gain and zeal for souls. These questions humble us since we know our failures and weaknesses. It is good that we publicly express our desire and resolve, trusting in God’s grace, to be converted anew as disciples and witnesses of the Good Shepherd. We who are confessors are also penitents who need to seek again and again the pardon and strength of God in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

    The Prayer over the Offerings at the Chrism Mass expresses in a succinct way the powerful petition we offer especially for our priests: “May the power of this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray, mercifully wipe away what is old in us and increase in us grace of salvation and newness of life.”  This is a prayer filled with hope in the power of the Eucharistic sacrifice to renew us in our priestly life and ministry. The Eucharist, which Pope St. John Paul II called “the principal and central raison d’etre of the sacrament of the Priesthood,” which we offer every day for our people, also purifies us in the mystery of the Redemption. In His great mercy, the Lord truly wipes away what is old in us and bestows upon us an increase of His grace.

    The renewal of priestly promises, the blessing of new oils and the consecration of new chrism remind us of the perennial “newness” of the Gospel, of our faith, and of the ministerial priesthood. Of course, we remember the past; we remember our ordination; and we remember the Paschal mystery. We remember with thanksgiving, yet in remembering, we experience new joy and hope which brings new fruitfulness to our ministry. For me, this is the beauty and the power of the Chrism Mass each year.

    Reprinted with permission from Our Sunday Visitor’s The Priest magazine.

    Chrism Mass schedule

    Monday, April 10: 7:30 p.m.,
    St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend

    Tuesday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.,
    Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception,
    Fort Wayne

    All are welcome and encouraged to attend these Masses.

     

     

    Posted on April 5, 2017, to:

  • Cardinal William Keeler congratulates Father Kevin Rhoades after ordaining him to the priesthood on July 9, 1983, at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Lebanon, Pa.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    While in Baltimore last Thursday for a meeting of the Catholic Relief Services Board of Directors, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore called to inform me of the death of his predecessor, Cardinal William Keeler. In his kindness, Archbishop Lori reached out to tell me before I heard it in the news. He knew that Cardinal Keeler was a kind of “spiritual father” to me, going back to my years as a seminarian and young priest. The Cardinal was the same age as my parents, to whom he showed much kindness through the years, especially when I was away for several years of study in Rome.

    Cardinal Keeler and I grew up in the same hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and the same parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we went to the same schools: St. Mary’s School and Lebanon Catholic High School. Cardinal Keeler was always fondly remembered by the people of Lebanon as an incredibly bright student, an Eagle Scout and a devout “son of Saint Mary’s.” He came to be considered “a hometown hero” when he became a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal and as he became renowned in the Church both nationally and internationally.

    I have many fond memories of Cardinal Keeler, going back to when I was interviewed by him and the seminary review board in 1977 when I applied to study for the priesthood in the Diocese of Harrisburg. I recall his concern when he learned that my maternal grandfather was Greek Orthodox, an immigrant from Greece. As a skilled canon lawyer, he wanted to make sure that I was indeed a Latin Catholic and not properly a member of the Greek Catholic Church. Thankfully, things checked out canonically! In the years that followed, the future Cardinal always remembered my Greek ancestry and was insistent that I learn Biblical Greek well, considering my roots!!

    I was ordained a priest by then-Auxiliary Bishop Keeler in 1983 in our home parish church in Lebanon. I remember his pastoral sensitivity to my “ecumenical family” since my father’s side was Lutheran. Already back then, he was a leader in ecumenical relations and dialogue in the United States. He would also become a renowned international Catholic leader in ecumenical and inter-religious relations. His passion for ecumenism began when he was a young priest at the Second Vatican Council. He accompanied Harrisburg Bishop George Leech as a “peritus” (an expert advisor). At the Council, Monsignor Keeler would translate and explain the speeches and documents to English-language journalists covering the Council.

    In my second year as a priest, happily serving at St. Patrick Parish in York, Bishop Keeler, who had become the diocesan bishop in 1984, decided to send me back to Rome for graduate studies in canon law. Since I loved parish work, I wasn’t very thrilled to leave. I was also more interested in theology than canon law. I must confess that I bargained with the bishop, asking him to allow me to finish my licentiate in theology before studying canon law. With his typical compassion and understanding, he agreed!

    When I returned to Harrisburg in 1988 after completing the three years of graduate studies, Bishop Keeler assigned me to work as an assistant in his office (as a “priest secretary) and also to serve as Vicar for the Spanish-speaking communities in three counties in and around Harrisburg. For a year, I worked in the chancery during the day and served the Hispanic community in the evenings and on weekends.

    During that year, I saw up-close Bishop Keeler’s incredible work ethic and his amazing leadership of the diocese. I assisted him mostly with theological and canonical research and writing related to his growing national and international responsibilities. I often drove him to Confirmations and other events around the diocese. In the car, he always prayed the Liturgy of the Hours aloud so that I could pray along with him. Frequently, he had me make detours to hospitals or rectories so he could visit sick priests. In the car, he would often make phone calls to offer words of comfort to people who were sick or were mourning the death of a loved one. He was particularly devoted to cancer patients and continued the ministry he had done as a priest as a spiritual director of cancer survivors.

    At the end of that year, Bishop Keeler was transferred to Baltimore. He became Archbishop of the oldest and premier diocese of the United States. There was a lot of sadness, but also a lot of pride, in Harrisburg at his becoming Archbishop of Baltimore in 1989 and also later in 1994, when he was created a Cardinal. Many of the faithful of the Diocese of Harrisburg attended both his installation in Baltimore and also went to Rome for the consistory at which he was created a cardinal.

    Surprisingly, a few years later, I again came under Cardinal Keeler’s tutelage when I was assigned to teach, and later became Rector, at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Mount is located in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archbishop served ex officio as Chancellor of the Seminary. During the 9-½ years that I served at Mount Saint Mary’s, I had frequent contacts and meetings with Cardinal Keeler. As Rector, I learned a great deal from Cardinal Keeler’s wise counsel and benefitted again from his teaching and example. He was always very supportive of the Mount and always willing to help in our fund-raising and other needs. The seminarians always looked forward to his visits and also greatly appreciated his including us at events in Baltimore, including the visits of Pope John Paul II in 1995 and of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1997.

    One of my most poignant memories of Cardinal Keeler took place on October 30, 1994. I was at home with my family in Lebanon as my mother lay dying. That was the same day that it was announced that Archbishop Keeler was named a cardinal and it was all over the news. Late that day, with my family, after praying the rosary at my Mom’s bedside and blessing her, she passed away. About an hour later, I received a phone call from Cardinal Keeler who expressed his deep sympathy and his prayers. My mother loved Cardinal Keeler, so his call meant a lot to me and my family. I was surprised that, on such a busy day of media interviews and activities, the Cardinal had heard of my Mom’s death and called us so quickly. When I mentioned this and congratulated him, he said to me that what my family and I were going through was much more important than his becoming a cardinal: the passing of my beloved mother into the arms of the Lord. I will always remember Cardinal Keeler’s compassion and kindness on that difficult day in my life.

    I am very grateful that Cardinal Keeler, who ordained me a priest, was a co-consecrator at my episcopal ordination on December 9, 2004, at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg, the same place he was ordained a bishop 25 years earlier. He was the 7th and I was the 9th Bishop of Harrisburg. As Bishop of Harrisburg, I was blessed to see Cardinal Keeler fairly often. He came to my installation here in Fort Wayne on January 13, 2010. By that time, he was retired and in somewhat declining health, but he made the effort to support me in my new assignment.

    During this past week, Cardinal Keeler has been remembered in the news for his many achievements as an archbishop and cardinal: as an ecumenical and inter-faith leader and pioneer; as a leader among the U.S. Bishops, including his service as Chair of many committees and eventually President of the USCCB; as restorer of the first cathedral of the United States, the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore; as host of Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Baltimore; as advocate for the poor to attend Catholic schools; and for many other accomplishments. I would add to these accolades my personal remembrance of Cardinal Keeler as a man of prayer, a true pastor who was always showing kindness to people, especially to those who were hurting or suffering in any way; a gentleman in the best sense, considerate and thoughtful; and a shepherd who always strove to serve the Good Shepherd and to build up His flock in unity. He was always building bridges among people of different faiths. He himself was a bridge, an instrument of God’s love and grace in the lives of the many people he cared about, including me.

    Please join me in praying for this humble priest and bishop, Cardinal William Keeler. May he enter into the joy of his eternal Master and receive the rich reward of his labors!

     

    Posted on March 28, 2017, to:

  • An etching by Jan Luyken from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations housed at Belgrave Hall, Leicester, England.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    Do you believe in the Son of Man? That question of Jesus to the blind man whom He had cured is the climax of the Gospel we will hear this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Jesus had cured him of his physical blindness, but that was only the beginning of the story. Jesus was intent on doing infinitely more for him — to bring him to a greater light, the vision of faith in Him as the Light of the world. Jesus gave the man born blind physical sight so that he would come to see with the new eyes of faith the truth about Him, about life and about its destiny.

    I invite you to meditate on the journey of faith of the man born blind. At first, he didn’t know who Jesus was. Gradually, he came to recognize Jesus as a man of God, a prophet, then he came to believe that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of God. Jesus asked him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Very honestly, the blind man asked in reply: Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him? Jesus told him that it was He. The man then said: I do believe, Lord. And then he worshipped Jesus.

    We’re all on this journey of faith. We can call it “a baptismal journey.” That’s how Lent began — a journey of catechumens, a journey to baptism, to illumination by the light of Christ. Through Baptism, we received the light of Christ. We will remember this in a dramatic way in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. But after Baptism, we can fall back into darkness because of our sins. That’s why we have this season of Lent, a time of conversion and spiritual renewal, to live our true identity as those St. Paul calls “children of light.”

    During Lent, we remember in prayer all the people who will receive the sacraments at Easter. We pray for all those who will be baptized as well as those already baptized who will be received into full communion in the Catholic Church. They have all been on a journey of faith. In the sacrament of Confirmation, they will receive an increase and deepening of the grace of their Baptism, thus becoming more firmly united to Christ and His Church. Confirmation will give them the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread the light of Christ to others.

    In the first reading this Sunday, we read about Samuel anointing David as king. Notice what happened:  Scripture says that the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. The young shepherd David was chosen by God and filled with the Spirit to serve as king. The Spirit of the Lord also rushes upon us in Baptism and Confirmation, equipping us for service in God’s Kingdom.

    A whole new world opened up for the blind man when he professed his faith in Jesus and worshipped Him. He entered into a new relationship with God by following Christ. The same happens to us. We learn to adapt our life to the will of God and to bring Christ’s light to our neighbors. When we receive the light of Christ, when we follow Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our lives are changed. The Lord teaches us wisdom and He fills our hearts with love, if we but open ourselves to Him. We learn to live as children of light, the light which St. Paul says “produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

    May the Lord bless our brothers and sisters who in just three weeks will receive the Easter sacraments!  May these sacraments help them to live each day as children of light!  May the Lord cure all of us from the darkness of confusion and sin present in this world and give us His light during this Lenten season to purify our hearts and to renew our Christian love!

    Posted on March 22, 2017, to: