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'Every day is Thanksgiving,' says Cherokee chief

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com

By Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Thanksgiving should be a daily attitude rather than an annual observance, according to an American Indian leader in Pennsylvania.

Chief Buffy Red Feather Brown, leader of the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy of Pennsylvania Earth Band, says that a true appreciation for God's many gifts makes "every day a day of Thanksgiving."

"I thank God when I wake up that I can see, that I can walk," said Red Feather. "I look at the bottom of my foot for an expiration date, and when I don't see one, I thank God I've got another day."

A devout Catholic who fully embraces both her faith and her Cherokee heritage, Red Feather noted that many Native Americans do not observe Thanksgiving for several reasons.

Gratitude, continuously expressed, is already integral to American Indian cultures, so a single -- and often highly commercialized -- commemoration is regarded as a "false celebration," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

In addition, the U.S. holiday's origins recall the deeply conflicted history of relations between American Indians and immigrant settlers.

In 1621, European colonists at Plymouth -- located in what is now the state of Massachusetts -- gathered with several Wampanoag Indians for a harvest feast that later inspired days of thanksgiving in various states. A national holiday was established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Despite the celebration at Plymouth village, whose settlers relied on extensive assistance from the Wampanoag for survival, interactions between colonists and various indigenous nations were largely tragic. According to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, "European contact resulted in devastating loss of life, disruption of tradition and enormous loss of lands for American Indians."

Red Feather's own family was almost wiped out during the Trail of Tears, the federal government's forced relocation during the 1830s of Indians in the southeastern U.S. to territory west of the Mississippi River. An estimated 100,000 indigenous residents were driven from their homes, with approximately 15,000 perishing en route.

"My people were in North Carolina 1838," said Red Feather, who regularly represents her tribe at the Philadelphia Archdiocese's annual cultural heritage Mass. "When the soldiers came to force them onto the trail, my ancestors went into the mountains and stayed there until the soldiers left. When they came back down, they had to start rebuilding their lives."

The Trail of Tears is one of many key historical events highlighted during Native American Heritage Month, designated as November by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. The National Museum of the American Indian stresses that indigenous nations should be viewed as complex, dynamic societies, rather than one-dimensional stereotypes, since "there is no single American Indian culture or language."

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, whose mother's ancestry is mostly Potawatomi Indian, said in an email to CatholicPhilly.com that "it is important not to forget the original peoples of this land."

In contrast to European explorers' perceptions, "we weren't 'discovered,'" noted Red Feather. "We were already here for centuries, and mostly living at peace."

The effects of earlier European contact continue to impact American Indians, who currently experience disproportionately high levels of poverty, disease, suicide, violence, addiction and marginalization. Despite such daunting challenges, indigenous cultures remain vibrant, demonstrating their "persistence, creative adaptation ' and resilience," according to the National Museum of the American Indian.

"The history of the relationship of our country with native people is a mixture of sadness, misunderstanding and even hope," Archbishop Chaput said.

The recent midterm elections provided two examples of such optimism, as Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.

Facing the future while holding onto one's heritage is essential, Red Feather pointed out.

"We are trying to always remember the past, but not live in the past," she said.

These days, Red Feather particularly focuses on protecting the unborn and the environment, noting that "God made all things, and we are the caretakers of the earth."

She also emphasizes the need to pass on faith -- and a deep sense of gratitude -- to the next generation, especially as the Christmas season begins.

"So many things are pushed onto young people through the media, and they don't know the real significance of these holidays," she said. "We need to remind them that every day is a day of thanksgiving, and that they need to remember the true meaning of Christmas."

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Christian is senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

US: Cardinal DiNardo Asks Prayers for Victims of Chicago Hospital Shooting

Three Killed at Mercy Hospital

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Lumen Christi Award winner has spent life as a religious serving poor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rich Kalonick courtesy Catholic Extension

By

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Sister Marie-Paule Willem, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, who has been serving the poor in the U.S. and around the world for more than 60 years, will receive the 2018-2019 Lumen Christi Award from Catholic Extension.

"Working across many countries, Sister Willem believes strong families are the foundation of the church and society," said the news release announcing the award Nov. 19.

The Lumen Christi Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Chicago-based national organization, which raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources.

The recipient is chosen for best demonstrating how the power of faith can transform lives and communities.

Sister Willem, who is 85 and speaks five languages, is currently in ministry in the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she serves women in detention and leads a growing parish along the U.S.-Mexico border as pastoral administrator.

Nominated by her bishop, Sister Willem was one of 47 nominees this year and one of eight finalists.As the Lumen Christi recipient, Sister Willem and her diocese will share in a $50,000 grant.

Born into a large, Catholic family in the city of Bruges, Belgium, Sister Willem has early memories of World War II and the Nazi invasion, fleeing with her family as the bombs fell around them. They were eventually liberated by Allied forces. At age 23, she joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, "who serve where the need is greatest and where no one else wants to go, among the poorest and most forgotten," Catholic Extension said.

She ministered in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s during times of military dictatorships and political upheaval.

"She was part of the church's advocacy and social justice efforts to help the condemned, who were put in outdoor 'corrals' and left to starve. For her mission, she risked her life, received death threats and was ousted from the region," the news release said.

Still wanting to work with the poor but knowing she could not return to Latin America, she found an opportunity in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

In 1980 Sister Willem joined her community in Roma, Texas, a border town, and became director of religious education for a parish. She led bilingual programs in catechesis for children and worked with incarcerated women at a detention center

She then moved to the Diocese of Las Cruces to serve migrant farmworkers and immigrants. At age 80, she became pastoral administrator at San Jose Mission Church in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, a mission church in a working-class neighborhood. It had only a handful of parishioners and no full-time pastor.

"When I arrived, it was so sad here," Sister Willem recalled. "The buildings were falling apart, and no one seemed to care."

She started walking around the neighborhood, telling people about the parish and asking what they needed.

She started building up the community and the church itself -- the liturgy, the buildings, the ministries and the grounds, which are now full of gardens. The parish hall was recently remodeled, and the church received updating.

Today the parish has more than 200 active families; about 35 people attend Mass on Saturdays and nearly 100 on Sundays.

"Sister Marie-Paule has turned the parish around," said parishioner Irma Chavez May. "The church was in bad shape, and few people came. It is beautiful now and so many attend Mass, it's hard to find parking on Sunday."

Added Irma's husband, Robert: "She came with a vision, enthusiasm and a passion for the church. She has gotten everyone involved and keeps us connected. If she wasn't here, this parish would likely have closed."

At the Dona Ana Detention Center, she about 60 women. She gathers weekly with them, "using poetry and heartfelt meditation, helps them find hope, dignity and self-confidence," Catholic Extension said. She also works with immigrants, tutoring them, teaching them English and helping them prepare for citizenship.

"Sister Marie-Paule teaches us that war, persecution and suffering cannot extinguish the light of Christ," said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. "Most importantly, she shows by her example how ordinary people can become the light of Christ that brilliantly shines for others."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Simple Christians: Ordinary Trappist martyrs gave extraordinary witness

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Vatican Dicastery for Communication

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After Islamic terrorists stormed the Algerian monastery he called home, Trappist Father Christian de Cherge felt compelled to put pen to paper and write down his testament.

Father de Cherge, prior of the Monastery of Notre Dame de l'Atlas, said he held no ill will to those who would eventually kill him. In his letter, written between Dec. 1, 1993, and Jan. 1, 1994, he said he knew extremists in the country followed a "caricature of Islam" and urged his loved ones to not confuse Muslim "religious tradition with the all-or-nothingness of the extremists."

"I do not see how I could rejoice that this people that I love should be globally blamed for my murder," the Trappist monk wrote.

The sense of impending doom felt by Father de Cherge would prove correct when he and six of his fellow Trappists -- Fathers Christophe, Bruno and Celestin as well as Brothers Luc, Michel and Paul -- were murdered in 1996 by members of the Armed Islamic Group in Tibhirine, Algeria.

More than 20 years after their martyrdom, the seven Trappist monks will be beatified along with 12 of their fellow martyrs who were killed between 1993 and 1996, while Algeria was locked in a 10-year armed conflict between government forces and extremist Islamic rebel groups.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, will preside over the Dec. 8 Mass and beatification for the six women and 13 men in Oran, Algeria.

In anticipation of their long-awaited canonization, the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, presented a new book on the lives of the Trappist martyrs: "Simply Christians: The Life and Message of the Blessed Martyrs of Tibhirine."

The book, written by Trappist Father Thomas Georgeon, postulator of the monks' canonization cause, and Francois Vayne, communications director for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, details the lives of the monks before their martyrdom.

In a video message shown during presentation of the new book Nov. 19, Father Georgeon said that while the church will formally recognize the sanctity of the seven Trappist martyrs, St. John Paul II recognized their holiness soon after their death.

Father Georgeon said the book's cover features a picture of a mosaic located in the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater Chapel: it pictures Father de Cherge, flanked by two martyrs of the church. He said he asked Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, who designed the mosaic, how the Trappist monk was included in the final design.

Father Georgeon recalled Father Rupnik "told me that he met the Holy Father (St. John Paul) to present the project, but there were doubts of including Father Christian only three years after his death. The canonical process of his beatification had not begun."

"The Holy Father gave him a big pat on the back and told him, 'This monk must absolutely be included in the mosaic. You will see that he will obtain great graces for us.' It was a prophetic word from St. John Paul II, who was the first to spread the monks' reputation of holiness," the postulator said.

Vayne, who was born and raised in Algeria until his teens, told journalists the memory of his martyred friends continues to move him. He recalled often visiting the Tibhirine monastery, which "was the lung of the diocese."

Through their work in helping others and their witness in staying with their people despite the risks, the monks are a testament to the brotherhood that exists between Christians and Muslims, Vayne said.

Just as Pope Francis said that martyred Christians of different denominations share "an ecumenism of blood, we can also speak of a Muslim-Christian interreligious brotherhood of blood," Vayne said.

Cardinal Becciu, who wrote the book's preface, told Catholic News Service that the example of the Trappist martyrs teaches Christians today to be "strong, courageous, faithful and coherent" in the face of persecution and to give "themselves to the cross, even though going to the cross brings extreme consequences."

Recalling Father de Cherge's final testament, Cardinal Becciu said the martyred prior knew until the day he died how to distinguish between "the Islam that he knew and he experienced" and the beliefs of extremists who "betrayed Islam in its essence."

"He knew an Islam that was tolerant and, in being in contact with (Muslims), he saw them as respectful, friendly people who needed help. They were ready to help and receive (the monks) in their homes. So, he couldn't react by saying, 'All Muslims are that way' and give a global judgement," Cardinal Becciu told CNS.

Franciscan Father Giulio Cesareo, editorial director of the Vatican publishing house, said the lives of the Trappist martyrs detailed in the book also dispel the myth that the path to holiness is lived only by "people who do extraordinary things, who do a lot of penance, work so many miracles or who are out of the ordinary."

Although the monastic experience is something that not all Christians live, the Trappist martyrs "gave of themselves in what did" through their daily activities, which ranged from blacksmithing to providing medical care for their Algerian neighbors," Father Cesareo told CNS.

"This is a great message for all of us because, in the end, we think that saints are far away," he said. "Instead, we are all saints in the measure in which we live within this logic of giving ourselves (to others)."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Albania: Peaceful Coexistence Between Religions Frees the Best Strengths

Pope Francis’ Address (Unabridged Translation)

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New Date Announced for World Day of Migrants and Refugees

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Cardinal Parolin: Fundamental Rights and the Conflicts Between Rights

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Red Campaign Draws Attention to Persecuted Christians

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Archbishop Auza: Keynote Address at Manhattan College

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Kazakhstan: Caritas Launches Program to Combat Addictions

Details of Program Still Being Determined

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