“Roamin’ Catholics”

by Phillis Fuller-Clipps, Cleveland Western Reserve, Ohio Companion

image of Cleveland Western Reserve Companions of the Missionaries of the Precious BloodPrecious Blood spirituality is the welcoming feeling you receive when you enter a parish or a room for the first time and you feel at home. It is feeling appreciated as a person; it is being welcomed to share your gifts and talents with your church community. It is being missed when you do not attend Mass. It is the overwhelming feeling of “Hey, where have you been?!” when you return to Mass after missing a few Sundays for whatever reason, with no questions or judgement. It is the love and support you receive through the struggles of life just by attending Mass.

Our nurturing and spiritual stories as African American Catholics in Cleveland are intertwined with the history of St. Adalbert/Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (sa/olbs) and St. Edward parishes. Both were staffed by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Precious Blood priests, brothers, and sisters. We learned life lessons about faith, family, perseverance, and challenging work. Some of us attended Catholic schools and were taught the value of daily prayer and discipline. Some of us are converts as a result of our children becoming interested in the Catholic faith while attending St. Adalbert school.

Our introduction to Precious Blood Companions was a courtship. Our pastor invited a group of us to dinner, where he prepared the meal, we had light conversation and discussions about spirituality and Precious Blood Companions. In retrospect, he served us and taught us about Precious Blood spirituality the same way Jesus served and taught his disciples. There were about fourteen of us; nine completed the process to become Companions and have enjoyed our relationship with the Precious Blood community since 2005.

These are the lessons and charisms we learned from our Precious Blood priests and brothers for over seventy-two years, but when our parish was suppressed in 2010, we were forced to see how unloving, unwelcoming, and unappreciated we really were as African Americans in the larger Catholic Church. We visited approximately fifty churches within the Cleveland diocese. Sadly, the ethnically-centered churches (Hungarian, Sloven, Slovak, Polish etc.) tended to be the most indifferent as well as intolerant.

Because we understand that Catholicism is really “universal,” we continued undaunted and revisited places that were unwelcoming, not to intimidate or agitate, but to show that we are the Church, not our nationality or the color of our skin. Some treated us the same as the first visit, while others were more welcoming. The coldest comment we heard was, “We hope you find a parish.” The most insensitive gesture we experienced was when no one would join the line we were in for Communion but joined a separate line. During the same Mass, the priest refused to distribute the Blood of Christ, leaving it on the altar. It should be noted that though this occurred in a Hungarian parish, it is located in the heart of the African American Community. The church had the appearance of being closed, but we found the Mass schedule on the Diocesan website. Thank God for technology.

We were not looking for a church home; we were being challenged to continue the life lessons we had learned through our relationships with the Precious Blood community while appealing the decision to close our parish. We had become “Roamin’ Catholics.”

The visits had a range of eye-opening experiences, both positive and negative, and gave us opportunities to form and continue relationships. Along our journey, we met people from other churches that had been closed who appealed their parishes’ closings. Like us, some of those parishioners had begun visiting other parishes or just stopped attending Mass. The Mass was and continues to be important to us because we are one with Jesus each Sunday that we gather at the table of God and share in the Eucharist. The body and blood of Jesus sustains us always, gives us the encouragement, energy, and hope to continue. 

During the appeal process, we gathered with former sa/olbs parishioners in January to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.; early summer for Black Catholic Sunday at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue, Ohio; and in the late summer for a healing Mass with Fr. Gene Wilson. We also continued to gather monthly as Companions, visit with fellow Ohio Companions for an annual gathering that rotates between Cleveland and Columbus, as well as attend retreats at Maria Stein and St. Charles.

Finally, exactly two years after our parish was closed, it was allowed to reopen. Although we were delighted, we were also heartbroken because the Precious Blood community had taken its leave from Cleveland and would not be returning. We worked through our adjustment with a diocesan priest using the circle process with the assistance of the Precious Blood community to help us express our fears, expectations, strengths, and weaknesses. 

We Companions met with our new pastor and a Precious Blood priest at the main altar of our church. It was a very difficult and rewarding process. We were able to openly and honestly express how each felt about the two years without our parish, the loss of Precious Blood community, and the acceptance of a diocesan priest. We were able to acknowledge our differences and were reminded it was new situation for each of us. We shared stories of our spiritual growth and traditions. Most importantly, we learned of our similarities. We agreed to disagree and work together to glorify God and carry his message in our community.

Our new journey has been challenging. Over sixty percent of our parish members had joined a new parish, stopped attending church, changed churches, or had passed away. All of the “Roamin’ Catholics” returned to sa/olbs and have served as church leaders and organizers. Developing a relationship with our new pastor was difficult for us because we longed for the spirituality we had experienced with the Precious Blood community that wasn’t there with our new pastor. He is a wonderful person, and we have grown to know, love, and trust each other. We were blessed to learn that he had volunteered to be our pastor when he learned we would be allowed to reopen. And so we let go of the past, treasure our memories, and forge ahead with new relationships, a new beginning, and the opportunity to continue to share our lessons learned. 

We continue to share our Precious Blood spirituality with everyone who attends our parish. We continued the practices and lessons learned from the Precious Blood community.

REMEMBRANCE OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI

from Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima became the first city to suffer an attack by a nuclear weapon. Many were immediately incinerated. Thousands more died in the next four months because of the effects of nuclear weapons.

Three days later, on August 9 Nagasaki was also attacked by a nuclear bomb. Historically, Nagasaki was the center of Japanese Catholicism since 1549 when the Jesuit Missionary Francis Xavier began his missionary work in Japan. That day 8,500 of the 12,000 Catholics were killed.

The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorate the bombings every year. They have made a commitment to ensure that the memory of these horrific attacks is not forgotten and to continue to pass on  information about the bombings so that we might work for nuclear disarmament and world peace.

Nuclear weapons continue to be a serious threat to human life and to all of God’s creation. Justice and Peace are intimately linked with the issue.  Where there is armed conflict, injustice thrives, and injustice provides fertile ground for violence. This time of commemoration of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can help us to focus on prayer, reflection, and action on behalf of peace and nuclear disarmament.

PRAYER IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI

May the God of Peace, the God of healing be with you,
may the love of Christ dwell deep within your hearts,
may the spirit enlighten your way.

We remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We stand in the presence of all those who perished.
We pray for the victims of these unspeakable atrocities.

We elevate the voices of those who have witnessed the destructive power of nuclear weapons.: the Hibakusha, the Pacific Islanders, the downwinders.

We pray for those who awoke on a beautiful morning and saw the sky suddenly rain down fire. Thousands were instantly incinerated, many others severely burned.

In the homes, streets, gardens of those cities the agony and suffering began with flames smoke and destruction.

We ask for forgiveness again, seventy-six years later. And we will continue to ask for forgiveness.

We ask you in the midst of this broken world where nations raise weapons against other nations, where innocent women, men, children and the elderly are the victims of violence, that we learn to act as peacemakers.

May you inspire us to create a peaceful world.  May we call our leaders to accountability and to remind them  that more weapons of war do not bring peace. Make us a peaceful people in a peaceful world. Amen.

The Bond of Charity Must Extend to All

by Fr. David Matz, C.PP.S., Sonnino Mission House, Berkeley, California

As vaccinations allow the re-opening of all that was closed during the pandemic, it is a delight to see children in the school playground in Berkeley again. A coach was out with the children when I heard him say to a smaller group, “Positivity! I want to hear positivity in your words! You don’t like it when others talk bad about you. I want you to talk positive about your teammates because it makes you feel good!”

As a member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the bond of charity has always been a value that we strive to show to all. The coach’s words reminded me of this bond. Like we learned in kindergarten and grade school, we must affirm and encourage the use of positive words and actions in the realm of religion, politics, and power rather than words and actions that demonize, divide, and label other people.

Unfortunately, since January of this year, hundreds of bills that target LGBTQ people have been filed in state legislatures, which is creating a “state of crisis,” advocates say. The bills “attempt to erase transgender people and attempt to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens,” says Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Until now, 2015 held that record, with 15 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted into law; so far this year 8 bills have been signed into law, and another 10 are sitting on governor’s desks awaiting signatures.”

In Arkansas, state lawmakers voted overwhelmingly, by a 3-1 ratio, to override a veto from the Republican governor, Asa Hutchison, and effectively banned gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for trans youth under the age of 18. Many people gave testimonies both for and against the bill. While families and experts who work with transgender youth spoke against the bill because of its damage to the wellbeing of those who would benefit from medical treatment, what is disturbing is that those who sought to block these treatments, had little or no experience with these youth.

The Arkansas bill takes effect in June 2021 and makes it illegal to give gender-affirming care to those who need it. One clinician told the legislature that she received hundreds of calls from her clients concerned about where and how they will continue their therapy. She cited the rates of suicide among transgender youth and warned that if they passed the bill, each time one of her clients die each of them will be receiving a call from her letting them know of their deaths.

Twenty other states are considering banning gender-affirming medical care for youth with “gender dysphoria.” Transgender persons make of 2% of the population but transgender youth have a 30%-50% higher suicide rate than other groups of young people. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that gender-affirming care from multi-disciplinary teams, parents, and extended families significantly reduce the suicide rate. It is astonishing that America, which supposedly values a culture of life, is brutally disregarding a vulnerable youth population and devaluing their dignity.

Recently, a father from Kansas City testified in front of the Missouri House of Representatives, “For years I didn’t get it! I forced my daughter to wear boy clothes to protect my child and protect myself. My child was miserable! I had a child who did not smile.” The epiphany moment for him was when he saw his daughter in a dress. He told her she could not go across the street to play at a friend’s house dressed like that. His daughter then asked if she could go if she put on boy clothes. “It was then that it hit me, that my daughter was equating being good with being someone else. I was teaching her to deny who she is. As a parent, the one thing we cannot do, the one thing, is silence our child’s spirit.” He stopped silencing his child and allowed her to grow her hair long and wear “girl” clothes. “It was a total transformation,” he said. “I now have a confident, smiling, happy daughter. She plays on girls’ volleyball teams. She has friendships. She’s a kid.” He urged the legislature not to pass a bill banning transgender students from playing on sports’ teams. The bill “will have real effects on real people,” he said.

In a recent New York Times piece, columnist Frank Bruni writes, “It doesn’t matter if those youth are pleading for this kind of help or have already begun receiving it and found it to be lifesaving. It doesn’t matter if their parents, having wrestled hard with the situation and done extensive research, believe that therapy is crucial. It doesn’t matter if physicians, clinicians, and psychotherapists have concluded throughout the world that it’s in the youths’ best interest. ‘Politicians know best.’” Bruni concludes that in the interest of political gain politicians heartlessly identify vulnerable, marginalized populations and demonize them while making themselves think they are the experts. There are scores of active legislations across the nation that promote this heartless agenda.

We are Precious Blood people! We know that all life is precious and that the blood of Jesus doesn’t discriminate and that as the blood flows, the boundaries of God’s love increase to include all people. We have a special call to look for the most vulnerable people and advocate for them. Giving them the space to speak their truth. Breaking down our own boundaries and celebrating that we are all in relationship with each other—one in Christ.

This is personal for me as a missionary. Many straight people have asked me what I, a gay priest, have in common with someone who is transgender. Like you, I can think back to the culture wars that have polarized our communities. Gay people know what’s it’s like to have their identity, dignity, and happiness pressed into a cultural and political weapon. Two examples: in our Church in the 1990s there was a debate about whether a gay man could be ordained a priest and most recently, a decree saying the Church cannot bless same-sex unions. A legislative example was in 2015, when North Carolina declared that transgender people could only use public restrooms of their birth gender, which was repealed in 2016. The legislative bans related to transgender youth aren’t unfamiliar territory for us in the latest of the culture wars. Can we even comprehend what it is like to be born into a body that does not match our gender identity? Why are we creating laws to reject transgender people and deny their medical care? It’s exploitation and cruelty.

As Precious Blood people we know that sharing our story and our truth is vital for life. It is when transgender people share their story that we begin to learn like the coach with the children to live them in positivity. Benjamin, a transgender friend and coach of mine, has shared how in his transition he finally feels at home in his body and is able to live his truth. He coached me and together we moved from relating to him as a woman to now referring to him as a man—she/her pronouns became he/him pronouns. I am so grateful that he expanded my world with his truth, and I continue to honor him to this day!

As Precious Blood, we have a call to stand up for the vulnerable. While we may not feel like these laws affect us, we have an obligation to stand in solidarity with our transgender brothers and sisters and their families. In solidarity we create the playground of positivity and that is the Kingdom of God!

Take Action For Common Sense Laws

from Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director
This week we entered Holy Week, the days leading to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. As we reflect on the Paschal Mystery, especially the Cross of Jesus, we should recognize that in our midst there are many of our sisters and brothers who live their own stories of the passion. The immigrant mother who was inconsolable at the death of her 9-year-old daughter who drowned on March 20th while they were attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. The Asian woman in New York, who was beaten, kicked and stomped while onlookers watched and did nothing and eventually closed their doors while she lay on the sidewalk. Families who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19. And in recent weeks, families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
Without a doubt we know that there is a proliferation of guns in the United States. We have more guns in the hands of private citizens in this country and we have more violence due to guns as well. Anxiety and anger enflamed because of the pandemic, reactions to last summer’s racial justice protests, and the recent presidential election are suggested as reasons why 8.5 million previously unarmed people purchased a weapon in 2020.
The statistics show that 393 million guns are in the hands of private citizens in our country. As has been said, it is easier to buy a gun than to vote! And if you don’t know anyone personally who owns a gun, the average gun owner owns five weapons. Fourteen percent of gun owners have an arsenal of eight or more guns.
Many proponents of unfettered gun ownership don’t see this as problem. The Second Amendment, they say, gives them the right to own guns. It is also their right to protect themselves and defend their families. The reality is that the use of weapons for self-defense is exceedingly rare while, unfortunately, it is much more common that these weapons be used for homicide and suicide.
I believe it is time to look at common sense gun law reform, which does not mean doing away with the Second Amendment. The Boulder shooter used an AR-15, semi-automatic military style rifle that he was able to purchase legally. Why can anyone purchase such a weapon? Anger, bigotry, hate, mental illness, and depression, plus guns are not a good combination.
In their latest newsletter, the Franciscan Action Network provided links to the Newtown Action Alliance petition to President Bident and Congress saying, “We know a federal ban on assault weapons is possible because we’ve done it before, in 1994. However, political pressure and hefty campaign contributions from the NRA caused the ban to expire in 2004 at which point mass shooting deaths increased by 347%. We must renew the national ban on weapons of war.
Thoughts and prayers are useless without good works and we must urge President Biden and the 117th Congress to ban weapons of war. With a President and a Congress that support gun reform, now is the time to build bipartisan support for legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Take action today and urge your member of Congress to pass legislation banning assault weapons.”
As Members of the Precious Blood family let us continue to advocate for the dignity of each human being. Let us continue to promote life in every way including the promotion of common-sense reform of our gun laws.

Provincial Statement on Responsum Document

March 24, 2021
Dear Members and Companions,
In light of recent statements from a Vatican office regarding LGBTQ Catholics and their relationships, the Kansas City Province of the Society of the Precious Blood continues to uphold the dignity and equality of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. We affirm our respect for the LGBTQ community and rejoice in the gifts and light they bring to the world and specifically, the Precious Blood Community.
We recognize the deep faith LGBTQ Catholics have in belonging to a Church that is flawed and in need of reconciliation. We urge our missionaries to continue to be creative and resilient in creating safe spaces of welcome in our parishes and mission sites for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To our LGBTQ community members, we say, “We love you and walk with you as companions on the journey. May God continue to bless you!”
Peace in the blood of Christ,
V. Rev. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.
Provincial Director

Provincial Statement On Recent Gun Violence and Hate Crimes

March 24, 2021
Dear Members and Companions,
We pray for the victims of gun violence in the United States, most recently, those in Boulder, Colorado and in Atlanta, Georgia. Our corporate stance against gun violence affirms our belief in the sacredness of life and calls us to demand that local, state, and national legislators to pass reasonable laws that will curb the culture of violence within our nation.
Equally concerning to our community is the continued violence against minority communities in the United States. The recent uptick in violence against people of Asian descent is unacceptable and is of special concern to the Kansas City Province because of our close relationship with the Vietnam Mission and our members from Vietnam.
The Kansas City Province stands in solidarity with victims of acts of hate. We embrace and support our Incorporated Members, Companions, and Precious Blood Volunteers of Asian descent. We will continue to educate ourselves about issues of violence and hate, and speak out against actions that lessen the sacredness of life.
Peace in the blood of Christ,
V. Rev. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.
Provincial Director