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Bishop of St. Cloud, Minn., retires; pope names Oregon pastor as successor

By Catholic News Service 

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud and named as his successor Holy Cross Father Patrick M. Neary, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland, Oregon.

Bishop-designate Patrick M. Neary speaks at a news conference Dec. 15 at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Pope Francis appointed him to succeed Bishop Donald J. Kettler, in background, whose resignation the pope accepted the same day. A Holy Cross priest, the newly named bishop has been pastor of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Portland, Ore., since 2018. (CNS photo/Dianne Towalski, The Central Minnesota Catholic) 

Bishop Kettler, who has headed the Diocese of St. Cloud since 2013, turned 78 Nov. 26. Canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope at age 75. 

Bishop-designate Neary, 59, has been Holy Redeemer’s pastor since 2018. He was district supervisor of East Africa for his religious order, Congregation of Holy Cross, from 2011 to 2018 and before that was director of the McCauley Formation house in Nairobi for a year. 

The changes were announced Dec. 15 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States. 

Bishop-designate Neary’s episcopal ordination and installation as bishop of St. Cloud has been set for Feb. 14. Vespers will take place Feb. 13. 

“No one is more surprised than I am to be asked to serve as bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud,” Bishop-designate Neary said in a statement. “Yet I have always trusted that Christ has guided me through every stage of my life as a priest. I so look forward to meeting everyone who is a part of this diocese, my new family.” 

“I especially ask God to help me build on the legacy of Bishop Kettler and all the clergy and personnel who serve in the diocese with zeal and devotion,” he added. “Please pray for me that I can be a faithful and loving servant to all of you.” 

Bishop Kettler said his newly named successor “is tremendously qualified with his experiences as a pastor, seminary rector, formation director, and missioner. I am very appreciative that he said yes to the call to serve the people of this diocese as their bishop, and I welcome him warmly to central Minnesota.” 

The retiring bishop, a native of Minneapolis, had headed the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, for 11 years when Pope Francis named him to succeed Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud, who retired at age 76. 

At a news conference at St. Cloud’s Pastoral Center attended by Bishop Donald Kettler and diocesan staff, Bishop-designate Neary said: “I was moved by reading the motto of the Diocese of St. Cloud: ‘Heart of Mercy, Voice of Hope, Hands of Justice.’” 

“We priests of Holy Cross were placed under the patronage of the Sacred Heart by our Blessed founder Basil Moreau, and so that idea of the heart of mercy really resonates with me,” he said. 

He thanked Bishop Kettler for his welcome. He also expressed his sorrow at leaving his parish in Portland, but his joy at being appointed to serve as St. Cloud’s 10th bishop. 

He raised several key issues, including the Diocese of St. Cloud’s clergy abuse response, stating he would follow in Bishop Kettler’s footsteps to “remain committed to assist in the healing of all those who have been hurt [by the church].” 

Bishop-designated Neary was born March 6, 1963, in La Porte, Indiana, to Jacob and Marybelle Neary. He is the first-born of six children and has five sisters. His family belongs to St. Joseph Parish in La Porte, where the Neary siblings attended St. Joseph’s Grade School. 

He graduated from La Porte High School in 1981 and entered the undergraduate seminary with the Congregation of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame, he spent a semester at Anahuac University in Mexico City, where he learned Spanish. 

He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in history. 

After completing his novitiate year in Cascade, Colorado, Bishop-designate Neary began his studies for a master of divinity 1986 at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. In 1988, he spent the entire year at the congregation’s seminary in Santiago, Chile, where he practiced his Spanish. 

He professed perpetual vows with Congregation of Holy Cross Sept. 1, 1990, and was ordained a priest at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame April 1, 1991, by the late Auxiliary Bishop Paul E. Waldschmidt of Portland, himself a Holy Cross priest. 

In 1994, Bishop-designate Neary was assigned to the University of Notre Dame and worked in the Office of Campus Ministry, primarily ministering to Latino students at Notre Dame and serving as ROTC chaplain. 

In 2000, he was appointed assistant rector at Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame and in 2004 was named rector of Moreau Seminary for a six-year term. 

He served on the Provincial Council of his religious congregation’s U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers from 2003 to 2010, and served on the Vocation and Formation Commission of the General Administration for the Congregation of Holy Cross in Rome from 2002 to 2010. 

When he finished his term as rector, Bishop-designate Neary was asked to run the congregation’s seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, for two years to train a new team of formation personnel and build up the seminary program. 

He began his service in Nairobi in June 2010. The following year, he was elected district superior of Holy Cross in East Africa and moved to the district headquarters in Uganda. There he served two three-year terms as district superior and finished his time of service in East Africa in January 2018. 

Since July 2018, Bishop-designate Neary has served as pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland. 

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland said in a statement that Bishop-designate Neary “has served extremely well as pastor” in the Oregon archdiocese “and he will be sorely missed. … He goes forth from us with our gratitude, support, and prayers.” 

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said he looked forward collaborating with Bishop-designate Neary “he joins the bishops of our state in providing pastoral leadership after the heart of Jesus.” 

In a statement the archbishop cited the newly named bishop’s experience in consecrated life, seminary formation, missionary outreach, and parish leadership, saying it made him “a fitting successor to Bishop Donald Kettler, who will long be remembered as a humble and generous shepherd.” 

Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, congratulated Bishop-designate Neary on his appointment to head the St. Cloud Diocese and assured him of his prayers. 

“Soon after being assigned in 2010 to the Holy Cross formation house in Nairobi, Kenya, Father Neary wrote that, though he arrived with little understanding of the culture or language of the country, he felt called to ‘go anywhere that I am needed,’” Father Jenkins said in a statement. 

“Now,” he added, “the Holy Father has determined that Father Neary is needed in St. Cloud,” where he “will serve well the people of God.” 

The Diocese of St. Cloud encompasses 16 counties in central Minnesota. It includes 131 parishes grouped into 29 area Catholic communities and a Catholic population of approximately 125,000 people. 

Editorial: ‘Lord, I love you’

As 2022 came to an end, word came that the retired Pope Benedict XVI’s health had taken a turn, and there seemed to be a collective preparation in the church, awaiting the reality that soon followed, on the eve of the New Year, that his earthly life was coming to an end. 

All popes leave an important mark in the history of the world. That’s the nature of the office. Prior to his service as pope he had spent many years serving the church in other ways: as a theologian, as a pastor, as a Vatican cardinal entrusted with important responsibilities. 

Still, through all his rich knowledge and penetrating insight, his central theme was always the same: faith as an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and life in his friendship. 

In his “Spiritual Testament,” dated Aug. 29, 2006, and released after his death, Pope Benedict gave thanks to God for the many gifts in his life, for life itself, for guidance, for family and friends, for teachers and students, for his homeland, for the beauty of the Bavarian foothills of the Alps where he could “see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through.” 

Then he exhorted everyone entrusted to his care: “Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused!” Citing numerous currents of modern thought he had engaged over his lifetime that opposed the faith, he noted that “out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life — and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.” 

It’s fitting then that his last intelligible words, in the early hours of the morning, are reported to have been, “Lord, I love you.” 

There are no more fit words for any of us to live by, every day of our lives, first to last. 

Father Richard Kunst: John the Baptist was the greatest, but you are greater

Everybody likes to receive a compliment. It is nice to be affirmed in how we look, how we are doing at work or in school, or any other activity that might take a level of talent. 

Father Richard Kunst

Unfortunately, that is not how God works. Admittedly it would be pretty cool to get the occasional message from God telling us we are doing a good job at life, but that simply does not happen. 

Actually, though, God has given compliments in the past, because Jesus is God, right? There is a passage in the Gospel where Jesus gives perhaps the greatest compliment imaginable. Speaking of John the Baptist, he says, “I solemnly assure you, history has not known a man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer” (Matthew 11:11a). That is a doozy of a compliment, and it is even greater considering it is coming from God. 

Imagine if God said you were the greatest cook in human history or the greatest baseball player in human history. That would be pretty impressive, but to have God call you the greatest person in history is mind blowing. Jesus is stating that John the Baptist is greater than all the amazing people of the Old Testament, greater than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. 

You might remember this passage fairly clearly, since just last month we had the season of Advent, and in Advent John the Baptist looms large. This compliment passage showed up a couple of times between the weekday and Sunday readings. If you remember, you know that Jesus does not stop there. He actually continues by saying something that might very well be one of the more confusing and cryptic passages in the Gospels. In the second half of the same verse, immediately after giving John the Baptist the mother of all compliments, he says, “… yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Mathew 11:11b). 

In order to understand what Jesus is saying, we should know that the No. 1 message of Christ’s teaching and preaching in each of the four Gospels was the coming of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In all four Gospels it is what Jesus spends the most time talking about. “The Kingdom of God is upon you.” “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?” “The Kingdom of God is like ….” And over and over again. 

So what exactly is the Kingdom of God? It is the church. Christ came to establish his church. This is why we are not Jewish like he was; we are Christians because we are members of the church he established. 

So think about the import of what Jesus is saying here, that John the Baptist is the greatest ever, but the least member of the church is greater than he. How can this be? How can the least among us be greater than John? What does the Christian have that John the Baptist was lacking? Knowledge of the cross, who exactly is on it, and what happened next. 

John the Baptist died before Jesus was crucified, but even more important than that, John did not have clear knowledge as to who Jesus really was. He had a strong suspicion that he was the Christ, but while John was in prison he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to make sure. Yet even beyond that, even if John knew as a fact that Jesus was the Christ, there was no clear knowledge that the Christ would actually be God the Son, so John the Baptist could never know the infinite depth and breadth of God’s love for us, that God would send his very Son and that his Son would be crucified on our behalf, only to rise again so that we would have the chance to be with him in heaven forever. 

That reality, which we all take for granted, is something that was never revealed to John. As great as he was, he was lacking in something we all unfortunately take for granted. 

It is amazing to think that we know more about the nature of God than even John the Baptist knew, and that is why Jesus added the cryptic line that as great as John was, “the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” 

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].

Father Nicholas Nelson: Why are there two different ways of numbering the Ten Commandments?

We are all familiar with the Ten Commandments. During the Exodus from their slavery in Egypt, the Israelites are journeying to the Promised Land. And at one point, Moses goes up Mt. Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God. What we may not realize is that while Scripture (Exodus 34:28) tells us there are ten of them, Scripture doesn’t say which of the commandments given to Moses actually constitute the Ten Commandments. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

All of our Bibles today have chapter numbers and verse numbers in addition to the names of the books of the Bible. We tend to think that the biblical writers themselves determined the chapters and verses as they wrote the sacred text. That is not the case. 

It wasn’t until the 13th century that Cardinal Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, divided up the Latin Vulgate into chapters, upon which all other modern Bibles have based their own numbering system. It was later on in the 16th century that Robert Estienne or Robert Stephanus, a Protestant layman, separated the Bible further into verses. 

So we can’t just look at the book of Exodus and see the Ten Commandments nicely distinguished by their verses and easily know which are the Ten Commandments. 

Our first record of the Ten Commandments being distinguished as the Ten Commandments comes from Origen in the third century. Origen’s numbering is used today by the Orthodox Churches and Reformed Protestant communities including Evangelical Christians. Later on, St. Augustine in the fifth century came up with a different numbering. St. Augustine’s numbering is the numbering Catholics and Lutherans use to this day. 

The difference in the two lists can be narrowed down to the question, “How do you put eleven commandments into ten?” 

These are the eleven: 

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
  11. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Origen, the Greek Fathers, the Orthodox Churches, and the Reformed Protestant communities keep all of them separate except for ten and eleven. Catholics and Lutherans put the first two together and keep the rest separate. 

I want to defend the Catholic numbering of the Ten Commandments. 

First, why would we want to separate ten and 11 and keep them as two distinct commandments? Well, a good priest once said, “There is a big difference between coveting your neighbor’s lawn mower, and coveting your neighbor’s wife!” We even see this in Jesus’ teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus doesn’t make the same point with coveting another’s goods. 

On the other hand, why would we want to put one and two together? Catholics have seen “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything” not as an absolute prohibition, but rather as an extension of the First Commandment and that we shouldn’t create things and then worship them as gods instead of the one true God. 

Some Protestants, especially those who number one and two separately, have no statues or images in their churches, and they disparage Catholics for having statues and images in their churches and homes. They point to this commandment and say, “See, you’re doing it wrong. You’re disobeying the Second Commandment. You can’t make any statues or images at all.” But are they right? Is fabrication of anything prohibited by God? 

No, that can’t be the case. It can’t be the case because just five chapters later in the book of Exodus, God actually commands Moses and the Israelites to build the Ark of the Covenant, and specifically he commands them to “make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end” (Exodus 25:18-19). 

Then later on in their journey through the desert, the snakes bite the Israelites who were complaining, so God gives them this remedy: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole” (Numbers 21:8-9). 

The Ten Commandments are central to our Faith and the moral life we lead. I hope this short explainer gives you more confidence in why we number the Ten Commandments the way we do and allows you to impress others at your next ecclesiastical cocktail party. But most importantly, may we faithfully live by each and every one of the Ten Commandments. 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet and vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]

Betsy Kneepkens: Why did God give us the Catholic Church?

I am an admitted failure when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes it takes me weeks to come up with some ideas, and if I do start the year with resolutions, best case scenario, I follow through for about two weeks. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Fortunately, when it comes to Lenten promises, I am much more successful, and in some cases I have changed some not-so-good habits. The motivation to do things for my sake, as New Year’s resolutions tend to be, produces little sustaining success. I need to offer my actions for something or to someone to remain committed. 

Recently, I had a discussion with a new acquaintance where we went from introducing ourselves to discussing serious theological matters within minutes. I will talk about faith with whoever is interested — just ask my children. I do try to get to know the person first. For whatever reason, this gentleman was eager to engage me on this first meeting. 

Immediately, I noticed that this man was a faithful individual who took his relationship with Christ seriously. He did not immediately disclose his religion, but by some of his expressions, I surmised he leaned toward being an evangelical Christian. I was confident he was not Catholic. He was polite and even said “maybe we should stop here; I don’t want to offend you.” 

Well, I certainly was not worried about being offended. I encourage these sorts of conversations. I seek to know my Catholic faith better daily and have been tested enough that I was pretty sure that I would still be Catholic when the conversation was over. Better yet, I knew I would be a better Catholic when we were all done. 

My new acquaintance started with the easy challenges, like why do you pray to Mary, and why can’t you confess your sins right to God? He wondered if I knew that Matthew 23:9 says never to call anyone Father, and I mentioned that he might be taking that Scripture verse out of context. Furthermore, I said it appeared he was leaving out the more powerful message, which is better understood when one includes the verses before and after. 

He questioned Catholics’ need to baptize infants and thought the Catholic Church did this to keep people in the Catholic Church. My new friend misunderstood papal infallibility and claimed nothing was written about authority in Scripture. I asked him what he thought of Matthew 16:18-19: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

Sadly, he had so much misinformation about the Catholic Church that it was frustrating, although I tried not to show my feelings. 

Most of what my new friend challenged me on were concepts commonly pointed out by other faith groups that intentionally work to reject the Catholic Church. Toward the end of our conversation, there was an objection I hadn’t heard before. My new acquaintance said Jesus never started the Catholic Church, and “all people” are just one church. He believed popes were a modern concept invented by the Catholic Church. He said since Christians all become priests at our baptism, the Catholic hierarchy was created to keep the Catholic lay faithful subdued. 

Furthermore, I was intrigued when he explained how he started his own faith group to live out the concepts he described. His faith group has a church and members, and he is an elder who does much of the teaching. He shared that all his church members are called Christians because Christianity is the term that should be used to describe all followers of Christ. He followed that up with saying the word Catholic was never mentioned in the Bible. 

With that said, I thought my acquaintance unapologetically described the features he rejected in the Catholic Church yet didn’t realize everything he rejected was actually found in his faith community. I tried, without success, to explain that the Scripture and books he quoted from the Bible were collected and disseminated by the Catholic Church. 

Fortunately, with the Catholic knowledge from attending sessions at my parish, reading The Northern Cross and Catholic books, online media, and listening to Catholic radio, I felt confident enough to invite my Christian friend to look at Catholic issues differently. He was very adamant that Christ did not start the Catholic Church. At that time, I assertively, yet with charity, said: “God did not need the Catholic Church. We, his children, need the Catholic Church, and that is why God gave the world the Catholic Church.” 

In a very roundabout way, this is how I get to my New Year’s resolutions versus the Lenten promises point. I confidently accept the Catholic Church, and, in our humanness, I think all people of God need the church. 

What I mean is I don’t do all things well. I desire to live better or, as Christians would say, “live a more holy life.” Alone, without the support of the church, I can attempt to live life more fully, but that is extremely difficult. Without the church, I find it hard to absolutely know what a holy life would look like, or should look like. I ask myself: Where is a fuller life supposed to bring me? How do I get there? The church has the answers to those significant questions I ask myself. 

Christ set up the church to support our pathway in every way or twist. For instance, when I am acting self-absorbed, praying intentions for others takes me out of myself. When I have parented poorly, reflecting during Mass, available daily, allows me time to reflect on my encounter and return to my children with clarity or an apology. When I am stressed or feel anxious, I pray the rosary. When I have been unkind to my spouse or loved ones, and that happens enough, I have the sacrament of reconciliation, where I can identify a moment where I know I am made new, which is a gift of certainty that helps me transition from my sinful ways to hopefulness. When I feel lonely, I have the Eucharist to carry Christ within me. When I need to confront behaviors that have put my life out of balance, our church provides Advent and Lent to offer the correction of my imbalance as an offering to Christ. The list goes on and on. 

The Catholic Church, designed by Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and shepherded by God our Father, responds to all areas where I don’t do something well. What I wanted my new friend to know is that in its complexity and when understood, the Catholic Church makes what is invisible visible for us to live well and into our hopeful eternity. 

I need the Catholic Church, and God knew we would need the Catholic Church, and so in his goodness, he gave us the Catholic Church. Once we understand this and use this gift as prescribed directly by Christ, we all will live better. We don’t need to create our own church to do this. 

So, New Year’s resolutions are fine, but the Catholic Church is there for us at all times, as long as we accept all the help she has to offer us. My hope is that I have more discussions with my new acquaintance. 

Happy New Year, and Lent will be here soon. 

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: The Holy Family can help us heal family brokenness

On the Feast of the Holy Family, I was pondering, in preparation for a homily, how marriage and family are at the center of God’s plan for the human race and salvation history. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of creation to the culmination of history and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, it’s no coincidence that marriage forms the bookends of the Bible. From Old Testament to New Testament, the Scriptures inspired by God turn frequently to the image of husband and wife to illustrate God’s relationship to his people. Among those passages, none are more dear than the frequent references Jesus makes in the Gospel to himself as the bridegroom and the church his bride. 

In Catholic social doctrine, we find the family as the basic cell of society, its protection and support something we hold as essential to the common good. The pro-life teaching of the church holds the family to be the “cradle of life,” where every child should be welcomed and embraced and where those who are suffering or near death should find love and care. 

If we go to Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, rooted in Scripture, there again we find marriage, as an icon of the Trinity and of a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. 

Much more could be said, but let’s rest on that Feast of the Holy Family. In the midst of the Octave of Christmas, it proclaims that God, when in the fullness of time he chose to take on our humanity for the sake of our salvation, chose to be a baby, conceived in his mother’s womb, and born into a family, where Scripture tells us that the incarnate Son of God was obedient to his mother and his foster father and grew up in love and obedience, advancing in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52). 

As the Second Vatican Council taught, Jesus, true God and true man, not only fully reveals God to the human race, he “fully reveals man to man himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Holy Family is a revelation to us of what our families ought to be. 

It’s nearly impossible to think of these things in 21st century America without thinking of the unprecedented catastrophe that has befallen marriage and family over the past several decades — the attempted Great Unmaking of this fundamental reality, fundamental in the fullest sense of the word, a primary foundation of human existence. We have, in countless ways, flung wrecking balls into the base that supports civilization and human life and then wondered why the walls around us are crumbling. I can’t think of it without mourning the profound harm that has been caused by all this, harms I believe we won’t be able to fully apprehend until all is revealed in the Last Judgment. 

Those are hard truths. The more deeply they confront us, the more we may feel harsh judgment, condemnation, and shame. But I think to really heal and make genuine progress and follow God’s will, we need to hear them in the opposite way, as an invitation to mercy for ourselves and for others. 

It’s really hard to swim upstream of culture, to conclude that what most of our society takes for granted and blesses as good and right and a source of human happiness is instead a mistake, even if it is often well-intended, and contributes immensely to human misery. 

No one among us can claim to have been unscathed by all this. All of us have suffered wounds, and hurt people often hurt people. Practically all of us, definitely including me, have at some point, to some degree, bought into some lie of the culture destructive to marriage and the family, compromised with it, spread it, acted on it, been complicit in it, been lured by its false promises, convinced we meant well. 

None of us, in other words, has clean hands and can look at the shipwreck and stormy sea around us saying, “Hey, that wasn’t me! I had nothing to do with it.” We all have a share in it. And there is a grace in that, which is that we can’t justly approach these things from a sense of superiority or self-righteousness. We can only take the hand of Jesus, who reaches down to rescue us from drowning, and offer the same helping hand to others. 

That’s why I think the Feast of the Holy Family offers such great hope of healing. In that “icon” of the Holy Family we see simple virtues lived: faith, hope, self-sacrificing love, mercy, gentleness, humility, fidelity, peace, respect, service, docility to God’s will. 

This isn’t some breathtaking novelty in the spiritual life or some heroic summons to go and slay dragons, unless they be the dragons in our own souls, which are fierce enough. This is a path we can all see clearly, and a path which, with the help of God’s grace, is within everyone’s capability. This is doing the dishes, graciously pardoning wrongs, choosing mercy instead of anger, loving someone faithfully when it’s difficult. 

The love of the family is meant to be something like a ray of the love of God. When we truly live out the simple virtues of family life, we become a ray of that love in this hurting world, radiating out to others. Family life well lived becomes a kind of witness to the Gospel, a form of evangelization. 

In a world that is ever more divided and angry, isolated and radicalized, simply living in an ever deeper way the call of St. John Paul II — “family, become what you are” — becomes a way of helping to heal ourselves and the world. 

Sts. Mary and Joseph, pray for us! 

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]

Duluth diocese responds to death of Pope Benedict XVI 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

The Diocese of Duluth joined the universal church in mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Dec. 31.

Photo courtesy of Father Richard Kunst

As the news was announced, Bishop Daniel Felton sent out a message to the faithful of the diocese announcing the death of the retired pope. “The retired pope was not only one of the preeminent theologians of our time and a Successor of St. Peter but also a shepherd who proclaimed the Christian life to be rooted in an encounter with a person — Jesus — and His love for us, and our way of life one of ongoing friendship with Him.” 

The bishop called to mind the late pope’s many writings, especially the “Jesus of Nazareth” series of three books on the person of Jesus Christ. “I invite you to encounter once again the writings of this gifted theologian and teacher,” the message said. “And I ask you to join with the whole Church in praying for the repose of his soul.” 

Parishes across the diocese prayed for the pope at the beginning of that weekend’s Masses, during the Eucharistic prayer, and during the prayers of the faithful. The bishop also announced he would be celebrating a requiem Mass for the late pope at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Duluth Jan. 5, inviting the clergy and faithful of the diocese to join him or celebrate requiem Masses at their own parishes. 

Father Richard Kunst, pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth, and the curator of the largest collection of papal memorabilia outside of the Vatican, happened to be leading a pilgrimage in Rome and was able to view the body of Pope Benedict XVI and was interviewed by both the BBC and Catholic News Service. Bishop Felton said Father Kunst was able to officially represent himself and the diocese “in this historic moment.” 

Father Kunst told the BBC he was praying for the pope but also for a miracle for a friend at home who is dying of cancer.

Photo courtesy of Father Richard Kunst

As ‘Catechism in a Year’ podcast launches, listeners seek clarity amid chaos 

By Maria Wiering 
OSV News 

“Oh ya baby!” read Jane Hernandez’s Facebook post, adorned with a heart-eyed, smiley face emoji. The Nov. 22 message was paired with an image from a package tracker, showing an item as being just four days away.

The anticipated purchase: a new copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — and just in time for “The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)” podcast’s 2023 debut. 

Hernandez, a lifelong Catholic who lives in central Nebraska’s Sandhills, is among more than 112,000 members of an official Facebook group for “The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz).” 

“I’m hoping that it shows me the way to be a better Catholic, to be a better person, better able to follow God’s word,” Hernandez, 60, said of the podcast. 

The Jan. 1 launch of “The Catechism in a Year” podcast has generated notable excitement — especially among listeners of “The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)” podcast, which jumped to the No. 1 spot on Apple podcasts overall within 48 hours of its 2021 New Year’s Day launch. 

“The Catechism in a Year” followed suit, topping Apple podcasts’ all categories chart Jan. 1. 

Even before its launch, “The Catechism in a Year” hit No. 1 on Apple’s “Religion and Spirituality” chart, with “The Bible in a Year” at No. 2, as of Dec. 27. Both are products of Ascension, a Catholic publisher based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. 

Part of the appeal of both podcasts is the host, Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, who had a robust social media presence prior to the podcast, and the podcast’s occasional commentary from Jeff Cavins, a Scripture scholar and former host of EWTN’s “Life on the Rock,” now living in a Minneapolis suburb. 

Father Schmitz told OSV News he initially pitched the idea of a podcast exploring the Bible and the catechism simultaneously, but Ascension leaders “wisely” advised him to focus on one at a time. 

“After reading through the whole Bible, I think people want to connect the dots,” he said. “They now understand the story of salvation in Scripture, they’re seeing the world through the ‘lens of Scripture.’ But how does that connect to the seven sacraments, to Catholic traditions, to the 2,000 years of history in our Catholic Church? I think people are curious and spiritually hungry and want to see how we got from the Acts of the Apostles to where the church is today.” 

Cavins suspects there’s something more to the widespread interest in “The Catechism in a Year” beyond the success of “The Bible in a Year.” He credits the Holy Spirit, but he also thinks anticipation is sparked, in part, by the national and international turmoil of recent years, from U.S. politics to the pandemic, and people’s hunger for real truth. 

“People are confused. They are hungry, they are scared, and we are offering them a sure foundation,” said Cavins, who developed the popular “The Great Adventure Bible Timeline,” the organizational basis for “The Bible in a Year” podcast. 

Searching for answers 

Other Catholic catechetical leaders agree that cultural confusion and division are driving Catholics’ desire to better understand the faith. 

“I think people have seen a lot of chaos and a lot of things that just aren’t right, and that they have this desire to know the truth, and to understand why we do what we do,” said Kelly Wahlquist, executive director of the Archbishop Flynn Catechetical Institute, which Cavins helped to found in 2008 at The St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. 

This year, the Catechetical Institute’s two-year foundational course “Pillars” is at its highest enrollment yet: 697 students between its first-year and second-year classes. 

Polarization not only within broader society but also in the church has prompted people to wonder what the church actually teaches, said Donna Grimes, assistant director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. In recent years, Catholic thought leaders have shared conflicting information about the church’s stance on controversial issues, including same-sex attraction, the liturgy, and women’s role in the church — some of the same issues that received attention on diocesan and national levels in preparation for the worldwide Synod on Synodality. 

“We have a duty and an obligation to really share the faith, to accompany people as they are exploring and growing in the faith, and to continue to encourage that growth. And it just can’t be done without a focus on adult faith formation,” said Grimes, a longtime catechist and author of “All God’s People: Effective Catechesis in a Diverse Church” published in 2017 by Loyola Press in Chicago. 

Grimes said anticipation for “The Catechism in a Year” podcast is not the only indicator that many Catholics want to better understand their faith, including Catholics from diverse ethnic communities, who may come from parishes without resources for paid faith formation staff, she said. She pointed to the success of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and the Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership in San Antonio, Texas. 

Other initiatives underway include the OSV project Real+True, which includes videos and other content “to unlock the beauty and wisdom of the Catechism” and help people discover Jesus. 

“The Catechism is not a textbook, a collection of ideas, or a set of rules. It is the faithful echo of a God who wishes to reveal himself to us and desires us to respond,” its website states. 

Catechism’s history 

Religious instruction in the Catholic Church has long included “catechisms,” or written summaries of core Catholic beliefs. 

According to the USCCB’s website, a catechism is a book that “contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding,” and can be either “major” or “minor.” 

“A major catechism is a resource or a point of reference for the development of minor catechisms,” it states, pointing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an example of a major catechism, and the U.S. bishops’ 1885 Baltimore Catechism as an example of a minor catechism. 

In 1992, Pope St. John Paul II issued the Catechism of the Catholic Church for universal use, with an English edition published in the United States in 1994. The project was overseen by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later became Pope Benedict XVI. The effort has been among his celebrated contributions in the wake of his Dec. 31 death. 

It was updated in 1997 and then revised in 2018 by Pope Francis. 

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a synthesis of the catechism in Q&A format. 

Catechism and Bible connections 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is organized in four parts based on the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and Christian prayer. 

Jane Hernandez, author of the Facebook post celebrating her enroute catechism, became interested in “The Catechism in a Year” podcast after following “The Bible in a Year” in 2021. As with the Bible, she had tried several times to read the catechism — and even tried to listen to it on Audible — but it didn’t “stick,” she said. 

“After ‘Bible in a Year,’ I was able to really hear God’s Word, and I want to follow him the best way that I can,” said Hernandez, who works as a project manager for a medical software development company. “I think the catechism is part of that. It’s giving you … the structure to follow him — what should you do in order to be a good Catholic? That’s what I’m looking for.” 

Like Cavins and others, Hernandez thinks people are eager to sift through confusion about church teaching and how they should live. “People are just thirsty. They’re hungry for this information, so that’s what I think is driving a lot of [interest],” she said. 

Cavins acknowledged that “The Catechism in a Year” may not attract as many listeners as “The Bible in a Year,” which again topped Apple podcast’s charts at the beginning of 2022 and hovered at No. 25 in the United States at the end of the year. However, “CIY” listeners familiar with Scripture — including “BIY” devotees — will be rewarded by the connections they see between the Bible and the catechism, he said. 

The Bible tells the story of salvation history, and the catechism shows a person how to join that story, he said. Cavins said approaching the catechism through that lens elevates it beyond the reference-book status it currently enjoys in many Catholics’ homes. 

“You can present the message of the catechism two ways: One, it’s information and data about Catholicism. … It’s not going to be successful, and no one’s going to be that interested in it. And unfortunately, that’s sort of where it’s stuck right now,” he said. “The second is, it accompanies the [salvation history] story, and you’re in the story. And this is what’s going to help you live that story in a practical way.” 

Faith must be shared 

Petroc Willey and William Keimig, leaders of the Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University of Steubenville, which partners with 111 dioceses and has 1,000 new people a month connecting to their offerings, said that initiatives like “The Catechism in a Year” tap into “immense amounts of hidden strength in the church” and people’s “zeal … to be fed,” but that for faith formation to truly take root, it must be shared with others. 

Even the best content can not replace the role of relationships in conveying the faith, said Keimig, the institute’s assistant director. 

“However good the topics are … a desire to access it does not become consistent or sustained in an adult’s life unless it is accompanied by some structure or relationship,” he added. 

Willey, the institute’s director and a professor of catechetics, suggested that the podcast’s listeners “make a decision to share one thing that struck them, either because of its truth, its beauty, its ‘hitting home,’ and share that with one other person every week.” That could be done with a friend or in a small group, he said. 

In recent decades, Cavins has observed a rise in popularity for apologetics and Scripture study, and he thinks the church may be ripe for the catechism to have its own moment. Diocesan and parish faith formation leaders can leverage that, but the key, he said, is approaching the catechism as “an activated disciple who’s on mission with Christ” and who needs a guide, rooted in Scripture, to how to live as a Christian. 

“I think we’re going to see an era where people are going to understand their faith better than they ever have in any other generation in American history,” Cavins said. “They’re going to understand their faith and … the proof will be in the pudding when people start sharing Christ with others.” 

Maria Wiering is senior writer for OSV News. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Daniel Felton

The dawn from on high shall break upon us! (Luke 1:78) HEALING, HOPE AND JOY IN JESUS! My dear brothers and sisters, let us proclaim from the height of International Falls, to the width of Walker and Grand Portage to the depth of Pine City, the dawn from on high is breaking upon us in the Diocese of Duluth! This dawning is an awakening to the vision and mission that God entrusts to us at this time in our history, a dawning and awakening that is the result of the Pentecost stirrings of the Holy Spirit moving boldly in our midst, calling us to proclaim the healing, hope, and joy that we can only find in Jesus Christ to everyone who dwells in the 25,000 square miles of our diocese. 

The Holy Spirit has revealed to us in our over 50 Let’s Listen gatherings that the deepest longing we have amongst the people of our diocese is a desperate cry for healing instead of hurt, for hope instead of despair, and for an abundant joy rising from the drudgery of everyday life as we know it. Our mission banner is simple: Abundant Healing, Hope, and Joy in Jesus! 

As believers, how can we be anything but disciples blazing a trail to Jesus, disciples who want to help one another grow closer to Jesus wherever we may be in life, and disciples on mission leading all people to Jesus and the Kingdom of God? What is set before us is not only the change of time but also a change of culture that seeks to stand us on our heads so that we might see Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, and our mission and vision from a totally different perspective. 

This change of culture includes moving from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance; from organizing ourselves for decline to preparing ourselves for growth; from beginning with our diocesan pastoral offices for mission initiatives to beginning with the mission field for pastoral and mission strategy; from understanding the mission of accompanying others closer to Jesus as the work of clergy and religious to being the mission of all those who are baptized; from maintaining all of the programs and apostolates we presently have to sustaining only those programs and apostolates in alignment with enhancing our mission and vision; from pastors as administrators to pastors as shepherds of their mission field; from seeing our parish as the be-all and end-all of our missionary activity to seeing the communities where we live as being the primary mission field. 

I have written a Pastoral Letter to address how we move to mission in the Holy Spirit. I invite you to read or listen to my Pastoral Letter by going to www.dioceseduluth.org. 

May the blessings of Jesus be upon all who live and dwell in the Diocese of Duluth, 


Bishop Daniel J. Felton 
Diocese of Duluth 

‘The Dawn from on High Shall Break Upon Us’

Bishop Felton releases pastoral letter on Christmas Day 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

On Christmas Day, Bishop Daniel Felton released a pastoral letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth and to all people living in the ten counties of northeastern Minnesota. Entitled “The Dawn from on High Shall Break Upon Us: Healing, Hope, and Joy in Jesus,” the letter is the fruit of listening sessions held across the Duluth Diocese in 2022 and is meant to serve as the foundation and inspiration for how the diocese will live its call as missionary disciples in the years to come.

Bishop Felton announced the letter both in a Christmas video message and in a letter read in parishes on Christmas. 

“It’s not really my pastoral letter as much as the pastoral letter that has come about from the over 50 listening sessions that we had within our diocese,” he said in the video. “Remember when we were trying to discern what’s the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we move to mission? And so the pastoral letter is really a reflection of our common discernment together of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to as the next step [for] the Diocese of Duluth as we move to the mission that has been entrusted to us by our God.” 

The title of the pastoral letter, taken from the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:78), reflects a theme Bishop Felton has turned to frequently in his ministry, of a “dawning moment” for the diocese. He has said that it reflects what many of the faithful expressed to him as he traveled the diocese in his first year as bishop: that after a period of difficulty and darkness there is new light appearing for the church. 

“In recent times, we have been walking in the darkness of many challenges: the listing of priests with an allegation of abuse of a minor, bankruptcy, the merging and clustering of parishes, grieving the loss of Bishop Sirba, enduring the long wait for the appointment of the new bishop, the rise of coronavirus and its impact on all aspects of life, the decline in Mass attendance and reception of the Sacraments, the general decline in population for a majority of counties that constitute the Diocese of Duluth, and the list goes on,” Bishop Felton writes in the pastoral letter. “Let’s just say, the night has been long and dark.” 

Coupled with “a change of era” that has left “many of the ways that we pass on our faith to others” no longer working, the bishop said it has been “hard to see a step forward” and the situation has cast people “deeply into hurt, despair and tribulation in our families, parishes and communities where we live.” 

However, he said, God has not left us but is breaking into the darkness with healing, hope, and joy. 

“As disciples in this divinely revealed moment of dawning, we walk from darkness into His light,” the bishop writes. “In this awakening moment, as disciples on mission, we discover, embrace and give witness to the vision and mission that was given to us from the very beginning when our diocese was begun in 1889, and now in our own time, by God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” 

The 17-page letter goes on to outline a “change of culture” in how the church will approach its missionary call, especially in regional areas of pastoral ministry called mission fields, with three emphases of healing, hope, and joy that build on each other. 

“What is set before us is not only the change of time but also a change of culture that seeks to stand us on our heads so that we might see Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God and our mission and vision from a totally different perspective,” Bishop Felton wrote in a bulletin insert inviting people to read the pastoral letter. 

“This change of culture includes moving from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance; from organizing ourselves for decline to preparing ourselves for growth; from beginning with our diocesan pastoral offices for mission initiatives to beginning with the mission field for pastoral and mission strategy; from understanding the mission of accompanying others closer to Jesus as the work of clergy and religious to being the mission of all those who are baptized; from maintaining all of the programs and apostolates we presently have to sustaining only those programs and apostolates in alignment with enhancing our mission and vision; from pastors as administrators to pastors as shepherds of their mission field; from seeing our parish as the be-all and end-all of our missionary activity to the communities where we live as being the primary mission field.” 

The bishop noted in the pastoral letter that its contents reflect a first step and part of a process of conversation. He said the new culture would be organic and that he expects with parishes and regions there will be a variety of ways of carrying out its vision, mission, and mission initiatives. 

The pastoral letter can be found on the diocesan website in both written and audio formats.