Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Holy Family Retreat

DURING LENT, WE HEAR THE REFRAIN: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” What exactly does this mean? Get rid of your bad habits and vices? Accept the teachings of the New Testament? Yes, indeed, but first and foremost it means cleaving — heart, mind and soul — to the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel, the “Good News.” Being a Christian believer involves not only renouncing sin and self, but first and foremost establishing a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior — an encounter that blossoms into a lifelong commitment. It’s like climbing a mountain, planting and nurturing a seed, laboring on a building and, yes, carrying a cross, in the sure knowledge that Christ has already accomplished our success and victory. It is a hard road that we walk, but we walk it with Christ. The mystery of his own dying and rising is accomplished in us every day.

For the earliest believers, becoming a Christian meant leaving behind their Jewish or pagan milieu for the sake of Christ and membership in his body, the Church. Listen to what St. Paul has to say about his former life: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:7ff).

St. Paul dared to consider the hallowed life of God’s own people as “loss and rubbish” compared to “the supreme good of knowing and gaining Christ.” What are you and I prepared to do this Lent 2017, for the sake of Christ? Even if we were baptized Catholic as infants, we have to embrace that faith and make our relationship to Christ ever more deeply personal. That means renouncing anything that separates us from Christ.

The way of the world is to say that a little religion is good, but “let’s not get carried away.” Do we really want to be holy? Do we really want Jesus to be our life’s treasure? Maybe we think of Christ as “up there” in heaven, or as a name to call on in trouble, but not as someone present to us in all that we say and do. Perhaps this radical call of the Gospel has never really hit us, because for whatever reason, we’ve never really encountered Christ personally or worked at a spiritual relationship with him, despite our religious upbringing.

Then again, having been baptized as infants, and living in a very individualistic world, perhaps we feel justified in whittling down religious beliefs and practices according to our opinions and preferences, or privatizing them. The truth, however, is that the full mystery of Jesus Christ is an objective reality that embraces faith and morals. It is ecclesial and communal. It is liturgical and sacramental. As Catholics, we should know these things, but how much do we put them into practice?

Lent is the season par excellence to hear once again the graced invitation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus never gives up on us. He is always reaching out and calling out to us in and through his Church.

St. Paul renounced his whole former way of life for the sake of Jesus Christ. So did the apostles, who left family, home and occupation behind. So did others — each in his or her particular circumstances; people like the Samaritan woman at the well, Nicodemus and Zacchaeus when Jesus came to them and called them. It even happened to the Good Thief at the 11th hour on the cross. And it happened to all the first believers, who were caught in the loving gaze of the one who revealed himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and said, “Come, follow me.”

So by all means, let’s observe our Lenten fast and abstinence, let’s fill up those collection boxes to help the hungry and needy, let’s say our Lenten prayers. Above all, though, let’s not forget who it is calling to us, inviting us to himself, so that “we may have life, and have it abundantly,” both now and for eternity.

ARCHBISHOP LEONARD P. BLAIR is the 13th bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford

Welcome to the Catholic Transcript magazine, a new full-color publication that will dynamically advance the tradition of a beloved, respected, award-winning newspaper with roots going back to the year 1829.

In magazine format, the Catholic Transcript will continue to be the communications centerpiece of Catholic news and information for our archdiocesan family of faith. And its visibility and relevance will be greatly enhanced thanks to its digital presence, social media interconnectivity, evangelizing content and distribution 10 times a year to more than double the number of Catholic households than in the recent past.

All this is a direct response to the Your Voice Counts survey, in which a majority of respondents and focus group participants requested content that is more evangelizing and catechetical in nature, while at the same time not neglecting news about the archdiocese and the Church at large. We are eager to share the Good News of the Gospel with everyone, even to the “peripheries” outside our own comfort zone, in the words of Pope Francis, in the hope of drawing them to Christ and into the communion of Catholic faith and practice.

The Second Vatican Council taught that “the Gospel fully discloses humankind to itself and unfolds its noble calling” (GS, 22). The Gospel favors the development of culture, and authentic culture brings people closer to the Gospel. You can look forward to reading personal witness stories in these pages and issues ahead. They will embody our shared commitment to what our Catholic Church believes and teaches about faith and morals in answer to the human search for truth, love and communion with God and one another. While you will definitely see some familiar columnists, also expect to read articles by a spectrum of new writers representing diverse age ranges and cultural perspectives. Most assuredly, anticipate that there will be articles about pastoral planning in every issue.

It is my hope that you enjoy reading this first issue of the Catholic Transcript magazine and will find yourself inspired to share it with family and friends. In other words, please consider using it as an evangelization tool to convey and celebrate your Catholic faith.

Mindful that growth is the only sure sign of life, we are reinvigorating and introducing other communications vehicles, too, again in direct response to Your Voice Counts survey feedback. For example, we have more than doubled our archdiocesan social media platforms to reach a much wider audience, especially millennials and other young adults. In the near future, the Archdiocese of Hartford will make available the myParish app, which will be available free of charge to all parishes as yet another new way for Catholics to be connected with their faith, their parish community and archdiocese, and which will provide local, national and international news about the Church.

As Lent leads us to Easter and its celebration of Resurrection, rebirth and hope, may we heed Pope Francis’ words: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” Why? Because “an evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved them first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (The Joy of the Gospel, 24).

I hope and pray that the Catholic Transcript magazine will be an important source of spiritual enrichment for you, and an instrument that draws many more sheep into the loving embrace of Christ the Good Shepherd.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I wish all of you a holy Advent and a Christmas filled with joy and peace. Once again this year, I urge everyone to “keep Christ in Christmas,” because without him there is no joy or peace.

In the midst of so much materialism and commotion, together let’s make a concerted effort to focus on the spiritual – on prayer and penance – so that we can be made worthy to receive Christ the Lord and to bring him to a world so much in need of healing and peace. I especially ask that we pray for peace in the Middle East, and other places of grave conflict where so many people suffer, including our own military and their families.

In January, you will be receiving something new from the Archdiocese of Hartford. I’m referring to the inaugural edition of the Catholic Transcript in a different format. While it was quite challenging to raise the bar of excellence on an award-winning publication that readers have loved since 1829, the newspaper is being transformed into a full-color magazine. It will now be sent 10 times a year, on a complimentary basis, to more than 192,000 Catholic households in the archdiocese. That is more than a doubling in circulation.

A revamped Catholic Transcript is just part of a broader effort that our local church is making to revitalize, with God’s grace, our practice of the faith and the witness to the Gospel that we are called to give to one another and to the wider community.

Responding to invaluable input from “Your Voice Counts” survey and focus group respondents, we have preserved the most popular elements of the Catholic Transcript newspaper, while honoring the request for a publication that is more purposefully evangelical and catechetical. Mindful of the ways that young adults converse and interact within digital “social communities,” the new Catholic Transcript magazine will include an interconnection with social media, incorporating a mobile app that will soon be available to every parish in the archdiocese.

What better time than the New Year to introduce a new way for me and for the Archdiocese of Hartford to communicate with you on an ongoing basis – a New Year bright with the promise of God’s redeeming and transforming love.

The new Catholic Transcript will also be an essential instrument for wider education and accurate information regarding archdiocesan-wide pastoral planning. I hope that you enjoyed the mailing that was sent recently to our 192,000 Catholic households in anticipation of the new Catholic Transcript magazine. It includes a comprehensive “Stewards for Tomorrow” report prepared by the Office of Pastoral Planning. This is meant to engage you in the pastoral planning process now under way throughout the three counties that comprise the Archdiocese of Hartford.

As we prepare for 2017, Pope Francis challenges us to evangelical “boldness” and creativity as “missionary disciples” “capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, languages and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 27) Simply put, Our Holy Father sees the challenges and opportunities that present themselves at a crossroads that he calls “not an age of change, but the change of an age.”

During this season of material gift-giving, we need to be attentive to the spiritual God-given gifts with which we have been blessed – most especially our potential to do great things for Christ and the Gospel, not by any power of our own, but by opening ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are not the masters, but only the stewards of the Lord’s vineyard. To be good stewards, we have to use our God-given faith and intelligence to cultivate new ways for the church to grow and thrive. Let’s not ever underestimate the power of welcoming others, or the importance of new ideas or solutions, as small as they may first appear. As children, we used to look through a kaleidoscope and be amazed when one seemingly minute fleck of color would shift and suddenly a new, more beautiful shape would emerge. In pastoral planning, too, may our collective imaginations be kaleidoscopic with possibility!

There are many effective and creative initiatives that are taking place, both in our archdiocese and nationally, to reinvigorate Catholic life and practice, marriage and family, evangelization and catechesis, parishes and schools. I pray that through new and renewed communications vehicles like the Catholic Transcript magazine, we will be a closer family of faith, committed to promoting spiritual vitality, organizational efficacy and accountability and social and financial responsibility.

Wishing you and all your loved ones a happy, healthy and Holy Christmas, and a very blessed 2017!

In the year 1965, there were almost 46 million Catholics in the United States served by a total of 58,632 priests. Today, there are over 70 million Catholics with fewer than 38,000 priests whose average age is increasing rapidly. In 1965, there were 535 active priests in the Archdiocese of Hartford. As of 2015, there were 186, a decrease of 65 percent. This sobering number is one of the reasons why our archdiocese has begun a process of pastoral planning.

Jesus says: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37f, Lk 10:2). Although Jesus often drew great crowds, his mission, by worldly standards, was not a success. Rather, to all appearances it ended in ignominy and failure. Yet Jesus knew that the seeds of the kingdom he had planted in human hearts would bear fruit once his earthly mission was accomplished.

And in the Gospel according to John, Jesus says: “I tell you, lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (4:35). If you want the truth of these words to be miraculously revealed before your very eyes, go stand on the altar platform at a World Youth Day, most recently in Poland, and see what a million young people at Mass looks like. The fields are white for harvest.

Some people argue that if only we did away with the celibacy requirement or ordained women to the priesthood our problems would be over. The reality is that in the United States, not only Eastern Orthodox Churches but Protestant churches with married and/or women clergy are also facing difficulties. Recently, one of the most prestigious Protestant seminaries in the country, Andover Newton, announced plans to sell its 20-acre suburban Boston campus. Since 2005, enrollment at mainline Protestant seminaries has fallen by nearly 24 percent. Many of their traditional recruitment networks for clergy have broken down. Like Catholics, Protestants have many people interested in volunteering for part-time or short-term “lay ministry,” but fewer people are interested in giving their lives full-time and permanently to the ordained ministry.

In my judgment, the crisis is not just a crisis of religious vocations, whether Catholic or Protestant. It is a crisis of life-long commitment – the irrevocable “gift of self” – which is at the heart of every Christian vocation, including marriage and the family. People are increasingly afraid to make this gift.

To the extent that today every vow can be broken with impunity in the name of personal freedom, people become very wary of commitments. It takes more courage and faith than it once did for a person to make a lifelong commitment to marriage, priesthood or the convent. When you consider our increasing life span, there is also a realization that this commitment is not just for 20 or 30 years, but 50 or 60.

We have tremendous potential for many more ordinations to the priesthood. I have seen many fine men who would make excellent priests and who have felt the stirrings of a vocation to the priesthood, and many young women drawn to consecrated life. What is often lacking is encouragement from family and friends – and even from priests – to pursue this calling. Parents in particular will want to remember that, not only for themselves but for their children, the depth of true joy and fulfillment in life comes from one thing only – doing God’s will – and not from material things or from following the same path in life as everyone else.

People laugh when I tell them about one lady who was very persistent that I send a priest to her parish. Finally, I said, “Ma’am, I am celibate. I don’t make priests. You and your husband do – your sons, grandsons and nephews. So please give me some priests to send.”

I am deeply troubled when I hear of young men who are interested in the priesthood, but whose parents (even churchgoing parents) are doing everything to discourage them. I would not want such a thing on my conscience.

What can you do? Please be on the lookout in your own family or among parishioners, friends and neighbors for men who would make good priests, deacons or religious brothers, and women who would make good religious sisters. Pray for them (this comes first, as Jesus commanded). Then, when the Spirit provides the opportunity – and I am confident he will, if you are praying – tell that person: “I see qualities in you that I admire in a good priest/sister. Have you ever thought of that option for your life?” This is a compliment, and although the young person may not be able to respond immediately, he or she will surely remember the moment and ponder it privately. It has been shown that a good number of our young people do think about a religious vocation, but no one ever says anything or encourages them, and so they do not pursue it.

Finally, I invite you to go to our archdiocesan website (www.archdioceseofhartford.org) for information about vocations in general, and to www.hartfordpriest.com for priesthood information in particular. There you will also find how you can become a member of the St. John Vianney Vocation Prayer Society, as well as learn about the many resources that are available to assist with the discernment journey.

blair abp len hedshot for web PE7 5205“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (http://bit.ly/2cgjg7j) is the title of the document approved by the bishops of the United States in anticipation of this year’s November elections. For many years now, the bishops of our country have followed this practice in order to help Catholics to be thoughtful about the moral dimensions of their faith as these apply to participation in political life.

Over the years, we have witnessed a great upheaval in the life of our society. Consensus about fundamental moral issues has broken down, for example, with regard to the protection of unborn life and the very definition of marriage and family. In the Catholic Church, this tidal wave of cultural and social change has given rise to a situation in which some people claim to be Roman Catholic and yet dissent from fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, sometimes in a public manner that is scandalous, sometimes out of ignorance of what their own church believes and teaches, other times not.

The bishops’ desire to fulfill their responsibilities as teachers of faith and morals by offering guidance to the Catholic voting public is often the focus of attention and criticism. Some accuse the bishops of trying to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote, thus embroiling the church in partisan politics. Others think that the bishops are timid, and that they should be more pointed in telling Catholics exactly how to vote in light of the gravity of the moral issues.

In “Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops state flatly: “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party.” What the church is calling for is “a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good’” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 205).

The bishops highlight concerns that reflect Catholic moral and social teaching. Without going into the detail that you can read for yourself in “Faithful Citizenship,” these include the following: not surprisingly, first and fundamental to everything else is the right to life and the dignity of the human person; the protection of the God-given meaning of marriage and the moral, social and economic well-being of family life; comprehensive immigration reform; a just and decent standard of living and educational opportunities for all people; conscience protections and religious freedom; adequate health care; an end to every form of unjust discrimination; responsible and limited use of military force; and care for creation.

The question arises on the part of a believing and practicing Catholic: How can I, by my participation in political life, best uphold fundamental moral truths of right and wrong, justice and injustice? In human history, rarely if ever does one candidate or party embody all that is morally good or all that is morally evil with respect to a given situation. Furthermore, to quote our document: “Not all issues are equal [but rather] address matters of different moral weight and urgency. Some involve intrinsically evil acts, which can never be approved. Others involve affirmative obligations to seek the common good.” For these reasons, the bishops seek to provide principled guidance for conscience formation as Catholics make political choices for the common good of their country and participate in the political process.

The bishops refer to a basic principle of moral life when they speak of a well-formed conscience. Today, people sometimes mistakenly equate a well-formed conscience with a supposedly individualistic right to determine good and evil for themselves. This is not what Catholic teaching means by a well-formed conscience. Living as we do in a sinful and fallen world, an individual may sincerely follow a process of conscience formation marred by ignorance or error. And such ignorance and error are not always free of guilt. There are abortionists or racists who may believe that what they do is right according to their conscience, but that does not make either one right. To be well-formed or correctly formed, the judgment of conscience must, in the words of the Catechism, be “upright and truthful … in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.”

In addition to a well-formed conscience, the bishops speak of the virtue of prudence. According to the Catechism, “the virtue of prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (No. 1806). We might say that conscience reveals what is right in a concrete situation, and prudence helps us discern how to achieve it. Never has the need for prudence been greater than in the present political climate of our nation.

I would like to conclude with these words of our bishops’ document: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” It can equally be said that this is an American tradition. The church exercises her constitutional right to bear witness to her religious and moral convictions and concerns in public life. I know that you join me in praying earnestly for divine assistance and the gift of prudence for every voter in November.

Not long ago, Pope Francis made an unexpected appearance at a “Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organized Crime,” a two-day conference at the Vatican organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. To the judges and prosecutors from around the world, Pope Francis said: “Victims … need to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, and their traffickers and executioners must be given no quarter and pursued.”

What exactly is “human trafficking?” It is the illegal trade in human beings for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. As such, it is nothing less than slavery. The number of people trafficked globally is unknown but is estimated at 700,000 to two million people each year. Human trafficking is a $32-billion-a-year industry worldwide and is especially rampant in the United States.

One respect-life publication describes the phenomenon this way: “Lured by promises of a job, an education, a better life, opportunity, freedom, or even romance, women and children come to the United States from Asia, Europe, Central America, Mexico, and other regions. They never suspect that they will be forced to work in brothels, in massage parlors or for escort services. … To keep these women and children enslaved, traffickers may use beatings, rape, threats to family members, debt bondage, and threats of deportation or imprisonment. For a variety of reasons, victims rarely identify themselves. Often they are unable to speak English. They are full of fear and shame and unfamiliar with the protective U.S. laws. … The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is twelve to fourteen. Youth running away from unstable home environments where they suffered sexual or physical abuse are lured by pimps with promises of love, security, and belonging. Pimps adeptly use grooming and recruitment practices, similar to those used by child sexual predators, to create trauma bonds and keep youth enslaved.”

 Connecticut is not immune. Since 2008, our state has documented more than 250 cases of domestic minor sex trafficking, according to the Department of Children and Families. However, many other stolen lives tragically fall under the radar and are not reported. They are cut off from the lifelines of their families and support systems.

What can we do to eradicate these sins and crimes, and to help those whose human dignity and fundamental rights are being violated so grossly? For a long time now, the church has been involved in combating human trafficking by direct assistance, advocacy and education. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and religious women and their communities in particular have been very active in calling attention to this scourge and assisting victims.

This coming October, as part of national “Respect Life Month,” our archdiocesan Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM) will participate in the 17th annual Respect Life Conference on October 15 at the Holy Angels Parish Center in South Meriden. Collaborating with the Pro-Life Outreach Ministry there, OCSJM executive director Lynn Campbell will lead a workshop on “Stolen Lives: A Gospel Response to Human Trafficking” with Alicia Kinsman Esq., director of Victim and Trafficking Services for the International Institute of Connecticut Inc. Also, OCSJM has an array of online resources compiled from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sisters of Notre Dame, National Human Trafficking Resource Center and others. These tools are available to educate individuals, communities and parishes on proactive ways they may get involved to offer help and hope. (See http://bit.ly/endhumantraffic)

It is also crucial to recognize that human trafficking is not just a social problem but a spiritual one, rooted in sin. It would not be as profitable as it is without a wide market for sins of the flesh. Anyone who thinks that he or she can indulge in lewd conduct without contributing to evils like human trafficking, even within the supposed privacy of the web or in other ways, without contributing to evils like human trafficking is deceiving himself or herself. Lust corrupts both individuals and societies. Saint Paul speaks of God’s giving people up to “degrading passions … a debased mind and things that should not be done” (Rom 1:26, 28). And he warns: “Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9f).

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, echoing God’s question to Cain in Genesis, asks: “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way,” the pope implores. “Let us not look the other way.”

As I write this column in July, plans are already under way for our Archdiocese’s annual “Blue Mass,” to be celebrated at St. Joseph Cathedral on September 11, the very day of the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

The Connecticut State Police, the Hartford Fire Department, the Connecticut Department of Correction and many other organizations and individuals who are in the service of protecting the public’s well-being will participate in an opening procession on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. It will lead into the cathedral, the mother church of the archdiocese, where I will celebrate the Sunday liturgy.

While this annual event will once again honor the courage, generosity, personal sacrifice and life-saving competencies of first-responders, it will also be an occasion to reflect prayerfully on our unity as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We witnessed horrific violence in Orlando, and now with each heart-breaking headline about tragic events that give rise to other forms of violence, in Minnesota, Louisiana and most recently in Dallas, it is important to affirm that every life “matters” – whether of those who serve or those who are served. Whatever our racial, ethnic, religious or political differences, we all come from the hand of God to whom we will one day return. Catholic social teaching emphasizes the principle or virtue of solidarity, which, in the words of the Catechism, “presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled” (n. 1940).

Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). This is as necessary as it is challenging at a time of global and domestic unrest, in a world fraught with aggression, terrorism and mistrust. If we are to find peace, healing and hope, we must stand together and in the conviction that ultimately a loving God rules the world, not man, his selfish passions or personal agendas. God is always there for us – even in the face of all our human sinfulness.

Recently, I celebrated two Masses for inmates at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Although the celebration of Mass in prisons has always been part of my ministry as a bishop, it had special significance during this Jubilee Year of Mercy because visiting the imprisoned is one of the corporal works of mercy, as commanded by Jesus himself.

I took the opportunity to remind the attending inmates that we are all sinners – myself included. In fact, if we are not sinners, Jesus can do nothing for us. He can only be a Redeemer to those in need of redemption, which is all of us.

For the closing blessing at the Mass, I held a relic of Saint Maria Goretti, the story of whose death offers a striking example of mercy and redemption. In 1902, she was attacked and stabbed as part of an attempted rape, and as she lay dying, only 11 years old, she said that for the love of Jesus she forgave her attacker, whom she knew, and wanted him one day to be with her in Paradise. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where he remained unrepentant until one night Maria appeared to him in a beautiful vision, which led to his complete conversion. When ultimately released, he begged forgiveness from Maria’s mother, which she duly granted. He moved to a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden for the remainder of his life. He was one of the witnesses who testified to Maria’s holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the crime and the vision in prison, and he was present at the beatification ceremony in 1947.

Nothing is hopeless. No one is hopeless. All things are possible because of the mercy of God, which is no less than his power.

As a resilient people and a unified nation, “under God,” may we show mercy to one another in a way that divine love and grace alone can make possible. May we work and pray for the healing of all bitterness and strife based on race, ethnicity, religion or politics, both in the United States and throughout the world. And may we continue to offer our prayers and express our heartfelt gratitude for all the first-responders who put their lives on the line for us locally, nationally and internationally.

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