St. Gaspar, a Child of the Magi

By Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S.

As we celebrate the feast day of our founder, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, the Missionaries in this country do so, for the first time, as the United States Province. That should give us a jolt of energy, since this is our invitation to rebirth, our time of renewal. And our founder was all about renewal, revival and reveling in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

Ever since our founding Assembly in June 2022, I keep returning to the image of St. Gaspar as a “child of the Epiphany,” born on that feast day, and continue to contemplate what implications this could possibly have for us as we live out our commitments and covenants to the Congregation and the mission of St. Gaspar for our times.

What a glorious feast of the Church on which to be born, even if it did mean he had to bear the heavy burden of the strange names his parents bestowed upon him, Gaspar Melchior Balthazar del Bufalo Gaspar carried not only the traditional names of the Magi, but he inherited their questing spirit, their vivid imagination, their fearlessness in the face of a grueling journey, and the wonder that they displayed upon finding the incarnate Son of God.

But as much as St. Gaspar embodied the qualities of the Magi, he was not only a “child of the Magi,” but also a “child of the Shepherds.” While the Magi brought their exotic element to the wonder of the Incarnation, they were not the first witnesses to the Word Made Flesh. It was to the working, poor, unwelcome mundane shepherds that the invitation to come and worship was first proclaimed—not by a star, but rather by an angelic chorus.

And yet, these two sets of people, and what they represent in the Gospels, hold one thing in common—something important to our founder. Both the Magi and shepherds lived on the fringes of the society and culture into which the divine was incarnated. And this reality also finds its way into the heart, soul and zeal of St. Gaspar.

St. Gaspar leaves us the task of also embodying a life on the fringes, a life reaching out beyond the rigid boundaries so many want to create in our day—a mission that not only looks to the stars for big and bold dreams, but also a mission that has its feet firmly planted on the ground where the less than exotic needs of our brothers and sisters still cry out for the Word Made Flesh.

As a child of the Magi, St. Gaspar truly lived the meaning of the great feast of the Epiphany—recognizing the divine presence, especially in the Blood of Christ, dwelling within our world and us. And he not merely recognized it but responded to that revelation by offering his unique gifts for the renewal of God’s people.

May we honor our founder today and each day going forward by doing the same!

Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S., is a provincial councilor with the United States Province. An author, preacher and pastor, he is in ministry in Melbourne Beach, Fla.

Answering Immigration’s Clarion Call

By Fr. David Matz, C.PP.S.

Having celebrated the formation of the United States Province last June at the electoral assembly last June, several of us on the Justice and Peace committee heard a clarion call from Assembly attendees asking why we were not down on the border working with migrants and helping to reform immigration law. 

Gabino Zavala, Nancy Clisbee, and I sat down during one of our breaks to create a plan for following through with that call. Part of the plan called for us to visit the border several times during the fall. 

In August, I took my first journey: I attended the Encuentro (Encounter) Immersion Experience supported by the Maryknoll priests, brothers, and lay volunteers, in collaboration with the Marist brothers in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. I gathered with nine people from around the United States for this encounter. We lived together and visited refugee centers, community organizing centers, and parishes. We heard many reflections about the diverse and creative ways people are accompanying migrants, refugees, and immigrants locally. Stories from pastors, organizers, Border Patrol officers, historians, religious sisters, and lay volunteers offered us a rounded and complete perspective of the challenges of life on the border.  

During our first encounter, a young religious sister, Sr. Krista Fara, who is a third-generation American of Mexican descent, invited us to open our ears and hearts to the stories of the many people who would be entering our lives over the next few days. 

She focused our reflection by asking three questions: 

  • Where are your feet? 
  • Whose feet are around you? 
  • How do your feet interact with others
    around you? 

She spoke of working in a refugee center in Juarez. To get there every day, she crosses a bridge and goes through customs. As she takes each step, she meditates and notices the art on the border of Juarez. This protest art, like graffiti, depicts the “Femicide”—pictures along the path that remember the disappeared women who continue to stand up for unjust practices of U.S. factories in Juarez and the violence inflicted by the drug cartels. 

She is frightened with every step. But then she remembers Carlos, a Honduran refugee and a father of a newborn son, who said to her: “¡No se teme, hermana. Recuerdes que Dios es tu compañero! (Don’t be afraid, sister! Remember, God is your companion!) Carlos and his family walked through Guatemala and Mexico, but his faith in God—his companion—was firm. Like Carlos, Sr. Krista is aware of where her feet are and in whose feet she walks. Her feet walk guided daily my feet throughout this week of immersion.

We see so much vilification of migrants, immigrants, and refugees today in politics and in our media. As I write this, Governor Greg Abbott continues to bus large numbers of immigrants out of Texas and into other U.S. cities. Like the 30-foot border wall in El Paso, these busing activities are a political statement he is making with little regard for the human lives affected. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I was moved with compassion upon seeing pictures of the mayors of New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., welcoming the strangers in their midst. What one state rejects, others welcome. This is our reality in the United States, but it still gives me hope! 

One evening during my time in Texas, one of our speakers, a former Border Patrol officer, told us, “You can tell the strength of a country by the way it treats its immigrants!” Pope Francis challenges us to open our hearts to the world. We believe all human beings are our brothers and sisters. 

Pope Francis writes we should concretely embody in our responses to our migrating brothers and sisters these four actions: 

  • Welcome
  • Protect
  • Promote 
  • Integrate 

We need to journey together to build cities and countries that, while preserving their respective cultural and religious identity, are open to differences and know how to promote them in the spirit of human fraternity (Fratelli Tutti, #129). In Texas, immigrants are vilified by many. During my time in Texas, I learned many Texans choose to journey with the migrants and refugees and to build up communities—not to put these people on buses to make them someone else’s problem. They are our brothers and sisters!

In a typical Precious Blood hospitality moment, one evening our 20 feet found their way to a refugee center. We were asked to plan and prepare a meal for 50 refugees. Thanks to two of us who knew how to cook and delegate kitchen duties, we managed it. We welcomed the refugees, served them, and ate with them. 

I sat with a 40-year-old man from Honduras who had just completed an eight-month journey with his wife and family of four. Abandoning his home and his construction business in Honduras, they left to seek a new life for themselves. He was convinced that the existence they knew, disfigured as it is with violence, corruption, or lethal poverty, did not measure up to the promise that is every person’s birthright. 

Fernando showed me pictures of his journey to the border, and I began to understand why it took him so long to arrive at Juarez/El Paso. At the road stops along the way, he worked for contractors in the various communities, making money and also helping to create communities of desperately hopeful migrants, each nurturing solidarity as a skill in order to survive as authentic human beings. 

I asked Fernando where his wife and children were. He said they were visiting another refugee center where his wife cooks and feeds other refugees. Fernando said: “Through all of this, Padre David, God has never left our sides and will continue to walk with us!” Firmly fixed in faith, he reminded me of the lesson to be aware of my feet, the feet around me, and how my feet interact with others! God walks with us all and never abandons us! Experiencing the strength of Fernando’s faith caused me to confront that my faith pales in comparison to his.

There is so much more that I gained from my immersion at the border. 

There is more to come from me as well as the other members of our committee. My feet have not finished walking. Join us on the journey!

Father Alan Hartway, C.PP.S.: December 16, 1948 – July 1, 2022

by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.image of Alan Hartway

Minister of the Word

On the morning of July 1, 2022, the Feast of the Precious Blood, Alan Hartway wrote, “Today the Missionaries of the Precious Blood rejoice in the mystical wine from the garden of En-Gedi that becomes for us the Blood of Jesus, which animates our community to understand deeply the value of human blood and life in the view of the Father Creator.” 

Sometime that evening, Alan died of a heart attack. It is significant that Alan died on our feast day because he was passionate and committed to our charism of proclaiming reconciliation and renewal in the blood of Christ through the ministry of the Word.

Alan had a deep love for scripture and for language. He brought these gifts together in his blog “Vineyards of En-Gedi: Homiletic Explorations into Communion, Community, and Evangelization.” Alan was a brilliant linguist. He knew Greek and could give a detailed explanation to the meaning and context of the scriptures, which enhanced his ministry of the Word. He also had a facility for languages, and for several years, he celebrated Mass in Spanish while also preaching for Unbound. Tim Deveney, director of Precious Blood Volunteers who once worked for Unbound scheduling preachers around the country, told me the staff at Unbound would always look forward to hearing Alan’s recap of his weekend assignment. His review often included colorful highlights of people he met, rectories where he stayed, or incidents that left Tim and the staff in stitches. 

No doubt some of his stories were embellished to some degree. Alan took liberal license in his storytelling, believing facts should never get in the way of a good tale! Not that the stories weren’t true. Alan just made a distinction between true stories and truth stories! He enjoyed holding an audience, whether it was the congregation at Mass or students in a classroom, captivated and engaged with details only Alan could deliver.

A Creative Pastor

Alan’s sense of humor, his bible study groups, and his preaching made him popular with his parishioners. On the 40th anniversary of his ordination, Alan penned a letter to the people of Guardian Angels Parish in Mead, Colorado, where he was pastor at the time. 

“I largely see the pastoral role as one of being an animator who nudges, pushes, pulls, coddles, enables, encourages, promotes collaboration at every level,” he wrote. “Part of this work is to be the mediator, to bring otherwise distant people together in new ways.”

When he was pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Garden City, Kansas, there was a woman in the parish whose faith and truth-telling he admired. Alan considered her prophetic—not in the sense of seeing visions but rather in speaking truth to power. She was not afraid to tell him the truth, so he invited her to serve on the parish council as the prophetic voice to keep the leadership of the parish grounded in the vision of Vatican II. Alan was deeply committed to the renewal of the church initiated by Saint Pope John XXIII. This, too, is embedded in the charism of our congregation and explicit in the vision of our becoming a new creation as one province of Missionaries and Companions in the United States.

Because of his intellect and his size, Alan was an imposing figure. He could be intimidating. But he welcomed and appreciated those who would stand up to him. He relished a good conversation on important issues confronting the church, community, and society. Of course, his linguistic skills were not only capable of building up but also of tearing down. If you dared to enter a verbal squabble with Alan, you had better wear full body armor because as Cher once famously sang, “Words are like weapons; they wound sometimes.”

He was not afraid to preach about social issues from the perspective of scriptures and Catholic Social Teaching. In the description of his blog, Alan quoted philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous advice that a preacher should preach “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” One of the more memorable examples of this is when he was pastor at Garden City. An epidemic of gun violence was plaguing the city, so one weekend at all the Sunday Masses, he invited parishioners to bring their guns the following weekend and hand them in to be destroyed. During an altar call that next weekend, several people came forward to relinquish their weapons.

Love for Community

In the last reflection for his blog, Alan wrote: “Life has value for us because it is not about the money, but about relationship.”

Alan loved the community. He was a member of the faculty at Naropa University in Boulder and later was pastor at Guardian Angels in Mead. As a member of the first graduating class at Precious Blood Seminary in Liberty, he wore that distinction proudly. 

In February 2020, at one of the last gatherings of the members of the Kansas City Province at our Renewal Center in Liberty, Alan reminded us that he entered Precious Blood Seminary as a freshman in 1963, two years before the American Province was divided into three in 1965 and the Kansas City Province was born. So, when he entered the high school seminary, he was a student for the American Province. Now he will also be remembered as the first member of the newly formed United States Province to die.

In his first assignment, Alan served the community as a teacher and director of seminarians at Precious Blood Seminary. He later was director of formation and director of publications for the former Kansas City Province. For several years, he also coordinated our Provincial Assemblies. He was the coordinator of the Assembly celebrating the 25th anniversary of the province in 1990, and he asked me to write the words of a song to celebrate it. On the day he died, in the closing paragraph of the final reflection of his blog, he referenced the “Song of Liberation”: “In our community hymns we sing of being marked and called by the blood of Christ.”

An Excellent Teacher and Chef

Whether he was instructing high school students at his alma mater, graduate students at Naropa, or adult faith formation classes in parishes where he served, Alan was passionate about education, about expanding hearts and minds. He was especially proud of his time at Naropa, when he was the only Catholic priest teaching at the Buddhist-sponsored university. The study of and the search for common ground among world religious was a ministry of reconciliation for Alan. What can we learn from one another? He had a great reverence for other religious traditions, especially Buddhism, even as he was committed to Catholicism. He understood and practiced the true meaning of “catholic” as universal. 

Alan not only feasted on God’s Word but also enjoyed preparing a feast for his friends. The table became a symbol of Alan’s view of how to live in the world. Hospitality, another important quality of the charism of our community, was important to him. There was always room at the table for honest dialogue and the exchange of ideas. He believed placing good food and fine wine in front of people begins to break down barriers.

As a gourmet cook, he loved trying new recipes. Most, like the “tur-duc-ken” (turkey, duck, and chicken stuffed together) he made for Thanksgiving or his beef Wellington, became legendary. But every now and then, his use of spices would cause diners to consume ample glasses of water to put out the fire. One such meal he made with curry when four of us gathered at Estes Park. While Alan was getting something from the kitchen, one of our friends quietly passed grape jelly under the table to cut the curry and calm the fire in our mouths and stomachs. 

For several years when Alan was pastor at Garden City, we would vacation in Estes Park. Good friends of his at the parish had a cabin on the Big Thompson River. As I wrote or read on the porch, Alan would be in the kitchen, listening to NPR and preparing a memorable meal. Now Alan finds a place at the table on God’s holy mountain that one of his favorite prophets, Isaiah, envisioned—a table where the Lord of the Feast has prepared a delicious banquet of rich food and fine wines. Oh, the stories that will be told around that table!

So, rest in peace and enjoy the feast, Alan. May the joy of the kingdom you preached and wrote about often be even better than you imagined.

Eileen Givens Named Companions Director

from Lisa Athas, Chair, Companions Council

The Companion Council is happy to announce that Eileen Givens has been named the director of Companions, effective October 3. 

Eileen has been a Companion with the group in Orlando for nearly 10 years. She is a longtime member of St. Andrew Church in Orlando, where Missionaries of the Blood formerly ministered, and she got to know the Community there.

Currently, she is a supervisor for a large insurance agency, where a staff of 25 reports to her. She loves her work and co-workers, and “God has been there through this entire journey,” she said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity and humbled that I have been chosen. I pray that I can be what everybody wants me to be—and I know that God will lead me and direct me.”

The Companions Council, working with representatives from the provincial council, interviewed several qualified candidates for the position. We are grateful to all who stepped forward and asked to be considered.

Eileen, a native of New Jersey who moved to Florida over 30 years ago, has an adult son, John. Her daughter, Maggie, died of a chronic illness at the age of 18.  Eileen plans to remain in Orlando and work remotely for Companions when she is not traveling to visit groups and to C.PP.S. events.

On behalf of the Companion Council, we are very excited to start on this new journey with Eileen. She brings a wealth of Precious Blood spirituality with her, along with being a certified spiritual director. Eileen is also enrolled in a two-year program at the Living School for Action and Contemplation (cac.org/living-school).

We look forward to working with her and getting to know Eileen as we continue to build the Companion Movement. Personally, I have had the privilege of knowing Eileen for many years and am honored to work with her on behalf of Companions.

Anniversary Celebration 2022: Our Witness is Important

woman speaking at podium

By Central Missouri Companion Ruth Mather

Incorporated Members and Companions are called by God to live a life of faith through the spirituality of the Precious Blood and St. Gaspar. We live the bond of charity with each other, carrying that charity with us to the world, according to our vocation and gifts. As missionaries, we share and proclaim the spirit of the Community: reconciliation, justice, prayer, and hospitality.

statues on a shelf

Over the last few years, I have heard comments in our Community like: “Most of us are too old to start something new,” or “I am old and tired, let the younger ones take the lead.”

Being older, and having lived longer does not make us obsolete or irrelevant. It does not mean we are too tired to be involved, productive, or enthusiastic.

In 1827, writing to a priest wishing to excuse himself from a specific mission because he did not think he was ready for such a responsibility, Gaspar said, “It is God who makes us fit for the ministry.”

And Psalm 92:12-14 states, “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age, they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!’”

There is no magic age, no specific number of years that tells us we are done. Retirement from a particular job or lifestyle does not imply retiring from purpose, retiring from Community, or retiring from life.

I remember hearing Fr. Paul Sanders’ homily as a jubilarian in Kearney a few years ago when he declared, “….and I am looking forward to the next 50 years!” How great that would be?

Just a couple of months ago, St. Joseph Companion Nancy Clisbee shared in a moving reflection at our assembly in Indianapolis that after retiring from “a well-loved career as an art teacher,” she has been working with immigrants for over 13 years now. She gives heartfelt testimony to the rewarding work of making a difference in the lives of so many on the margins, and how it has brought her closer to fully living the charism of our Precious Blood Community.

The majority of our community being over 60 years of age, does mean we have been witness to great changes in our world. It does give us different perspectives based on our individual life experiences.

Job 32:7 states, “Those who are older should speak, for wisdom comes with age.”

And Acts 22:15, “…for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard.”

man at podium                                

I have lived during the Cold War and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification of East and West Germany. I lived in Germany from 1974 to 1976 as a young soldier and stood on the west side of the Berlin Wall, climbing the scaffolding at Checkpoint Charlie and peering across at the desolate “no man’s land” on the east side, with only East German military guards and guard dogs in sight. To get to and from West Berlin, I had to take the overnight military duty train through what was then East Germany. At every stop, East German soldiers and guard dogs boarded the train, checking our personal documents. We were warned not to extend our heads or arms out the train windows as such an act would provoke the soldiers to shoot.

And while I was born after World War II, I visited the concentration camps that have since been opened as museums lest we forget those atrocities to the human race.

I lived and worked again in Germany from 2002 to 2007. I heard first-hand stories from German and French citizens whom I worked and developed wonderful friendships with. Stories about how their history has affected them and their parents, their countries, and views of the world today. I traveled back to Berlin to experience one unified Berlin with no walls, no duty trains, and no soldiers with guard dogs.

I was living in Germany when the United States went to war with Iraq. I saw injured US soldiers hours after they were airlifted out of the fighting in Iraq. My office provided financial assistance to these soldiers as they arrived at Landstuhl US Army Hospital in Germany. One young Marine had an emergency appendectomy in the Iraq desert, he was put on a helicopter and then on a transport plane to Germany. I was there when they moved him from the stretcher to the hospital bed, he had been lying in blood and sand on that stretcher all the way from the desert.

These are just a few examples of my individual experiences. We all have many stories of witness. I alone have many more right here in this country, in neighborhoods, towns, and states I have lived in and visited over the years.

It is our experiences in life that form us and our faith. They have brought each of us to the spirituality and bond of charity of our Precious Blood Community.

Our witness is important. We can and should share our experiences, our insight, or if nothing else, our questions as to why.

Use your voice, be that witness, and share the story!

anniversary cake