Abortion laws. Vaccines. The centrality of the Eucharist. These and other storms of debate polarized Americans in 2021, but Catholics of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend found themselves with wise counsel as they sorted through the issues. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine, was instrumental in framing public conversation on several issues of public concern; closer to home and in the presence of his faithful, he led the diocese in prayer while sharing the truth of the Catholic faith. Many initiatives brought hope and clarity to the conversations, and as moments of joy punctuated life within the diocese and at its parishes, hope for a new year returned.
Passing into eternal life
The parish of St. John the Evangelist in Goshen mourned the passing of beloved servant Deacon David Elchert in 2021. Two retired priests also gained eternal rest; Father John Pfister, a former vocations director for the diocese, and Father Phillip Widmann, whose interest in preserving history led to the founding of Diocesan Museum. Following Father Widmann’s passing a new director, Kathy Imler, has presented several new exhibits at the museum, including a current display of parish altars decorated with joy and beauty for Christmas. In addition, the Notre Dame community bowed its head in prayer over the November loss of Father David Link, a priest of the Diocese of Gary and a former dean of the Notre Dame Law School.
Youths praise His name during outdoor worship
A diverse crowd of teens converged on Headwaters Park in Fort Wayne for two days of praise, prayer and adoration this past summer. Spanish-speaking young people and their families worshipped Friday, Aug. 27, at ¡Viva! Night of Praise, and hundreds of English-speaking youths convened in the same location the next day for a stateside World Youth Day gathering.
Worldwide conversation opened
Pope Francis opened the Synod on Synodality in late September, and the theme of synodality will be the theme of the next Synod of Bishops in 2023: In preparation, people all over the world are being asked to be open to the Holy Spirit and thus discern toward deeper communion, fuller participation and greater openness to fulfilling their mission in the world.
On Oct. 17, the diocesan phase of the process began. According to Bishop Rhoades, the fundamental question being discussed is: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”
Mass of Healing in Remembrance of the Miami Tribe
Acknowledging generations of pain caused by the forced removal of Miami Indians from the Northeast Indiana region to Kansas and then Oklahoma in 1846, Bishop Rhoades celebrated a Mass of Remembrance and Healing at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Oct. 2. “At this Mass, we say NO to what happened to the Miami peoples here in Fort Wayne 175 years ago,” he told the tribe members present. “We say YES to the encounter between peoples and cultures that takes place with mutual respect, justice and love.”
As refugees from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan were airlifted to countries around the world, Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend was one of several Catholic Charities chapters around the country who jumped to their feet and began making arrangements for some Afghanis to be resettled in the immediate area. By December, 75 individuals were making their homes between Fort Wayne and the surrounding communities and donations were pouring in.
Ordered to Christ and His Church
In April, Bishop Rhoades added the position of vicar for clergy to the diocesan curia and appointed Father Matthew Coonan, pastor of St. Therese Parish, to the responsibility. Ordinations took place in May, June and November with Deacons Brian Isenbarger and Mark Hellinger ordained to the diaconate May 23 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne. Seven new priests, Father Paolo Degasperi, Father Daniel Koehl, Father Michael Ammer, Father Keeton Lockwood, Father Benjamin Landrigan, Father Augustine Onuoha and Father Logan Parrish were anointed June 5, as Bishop Rhoades put it, “to lead God’s people in love.” On Nov. 27, Deacons Isenbarger and Hellinger were joined in their vocations of service by LeeAllen Fortin, who with God’s providence will pledge his life to the Lord at the priestly ordination of all three in June.
A different kind of sacrificial commitment to Christ and His Church was celebrated Oct. 3 when Anne Therese Stephens became the second consecrated virgin in the diocese. At a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, she entered into a bridal union with Christ. Stephens continues her work in the Tribunal office of the diocese and additional ministries as requested by the bishop.
Indiana voucher program expansion
A significant expansion of the Indiana Choice Scholarship program allowed many more Hoosier families to afford Catholic education. After the passing of critical legislation in April, eligibility for the vouchers rose to 300% of the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program, and the tier system was eliminated — meaning the families of all qualifying students receive 90% of the state tuition support for that child.
The year of St. Joseph
A year dedicated to Joseph, of the house and lineage of Abraham and David and the spouse of Mary, was announced by Pope Francis to begin Dec. 8, 2020. Consecrations to St. Joseph flourished across the diocese and a pilgrimage from St. Joseph Parish, Mishawaka, to St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, attracted more than 400 of the faithful. Bishop Rhoades closed the year of the man he called a “model of holiness” Dec. 8 in Mishawaka.
Bishop Rhoades reiterated on a national stage that use of vaccinations to combat Covid-19 was not only morally acceptable according to Church teaching, but an act of charity toward others. In late 2020, he and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, had collaborated to issue a document “Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines;” Bishop Rhoades further clarified in a statement that, in light of oral concerns that Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine was “was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines,” that “while we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”
The eucharistic question
The spring and fall gatherings of the USCCB made headlines over development of a document concerning eucharistic consistency. Many minds construed the discussion as a political one sparked by the second Catholic president in the history of the United States. It was actually about recognizing the Real Presence in the sacrament, however, and the implications of this truth.
The completed document was accepted by the bishops and issued as a statement in November. It focuses on a three-year plan for eucharistic revival that will emphasize the centrality of Christ’s body and blood in U.S. dioceses and parishes. The plan will begin this summer and culminate in 2024 with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.
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