MISSION APPEAL 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
Once again, this year, I am grateful to Bishop Ronald Gainer for allowing the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi to participate in the Mission Cooperative in the Diocese of Harrisburg. I am Bishop Joseph Kopacz, formerly a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, and now in my 8th year as the bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. We are a mission diocese where Catholics are a mere 2-3% of the population in Mississippi. Our diocese has the largest territory of any Catholic diocese east of the Mississippi River, approximately 38,000 square miles encompassing 65 counties. A small Catholic population over this expanse of territory results in many smaller rural parishes who on their own struggle to sustain their mission and ministries. In fact, there are some counties where the Diocese of Jackson does not have even a mission station. In addition, we are implanted in the State that consistently ranks at the bottom of national poverty-indicators, with respect to wages, health and access to health care, education, food, etc. Under these circumstances, it is clear that the Diocese of Jackson benefits enormously from the generosity_ty bestowed through the annual Mission Appeals.
The pandemic which has had a more adverse impact upon the poor and the marginalized, has exacerbated further the pastoral realities already straining under financial pressures in normal times. Many of our rural parishes are experiencing a significant loss of income because the majority of the parishioners are immigrants who work in the massive poultry industry in Mississippi. The gravity of their vulnerability to the COVID-19 virus is well documented and some of the large plants closed their doors because of the high rate of infections. In turn, the parishes and the Diocese of Jackson are reaching out to families whose breadwinner has lost their job because of the impact of the virus, or because of the downturn in the economy. Since June, 2020 our diocesan parishes opened under careful protocols, but for the past 10 months the number of parishioners who can attend Mass in-person is greatly reduced. When speaking with our pastors and lay leadership, it is obvious that they will need the assistance of the Diocese of Jackson through the Mission Cooperative to manage the impact of the pandemic.
I, and all leadership in the Diocese of Jackson, ordained and lay, thank you for your attention, prayer and generosity during these very challenging times for all of us, and especially for the poor and marginalized.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D., PH.D.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE of JACKSON
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
God Prepares the Sent
God is the one who calls and sends us to bear His message of mercy, freedom and love to the world. No one takes the prophetic call upon themselves; it is God who calls and sends. He called Amos to take up the prophetic task. Jesus called and sent the Twelve to preach repentance and deliverance. Before sending out those He called, God prepares them. Jesus prepared the apostles (Apostolos-the sent) by first taking them aside to teach them all they need to know. He shows them publicly by his own life and examples; then, he takes them away from the crowd from time to time to get the proper place and time to impart his grace and wisdom upon them. This time of grace and rest is called a spiritual retreat. We all need the time away not only for vacation but more importantly for retreat when we focus on listening, learning, and praying, time-tested means of growing in the perfection of love.
At this time, the Holy Spirit has called me to go on a spiritual retreat. As the code of canon law says in regards to clerics: for them to grow in pursuit of holiness, that is, a life of perfection, they need a regular period to go on spiritual retreats “In order to be able to pursue this perfection” (c. 276.2. n.4). This period is different from the permitted period of yearly vacation. Canon law says in 533.2 that “a pastor is permitted to be absent from the parish each year for vacation for at most one continuous or interrupted month; those days which the pastor spends once a year in spiritual retreat are not computed in the time of vacation.”
Having established the biblical and canonical contexts, I announce at this time that I will be spending a week of retreat/conference/mission in West Virginia from July 12-18. In August, I plan to take a couple of weeks of vacation as well. I will pray for all of you during my retreat. Hopefully, I will return refreshed and better equipped to carry out pastoral duties Christ has called and sent me to carry out in His name. Pray for me as I pray for you; we are all in the same boat.
Fr. Bernard, OP
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
True Independence Comes from Faith in God
The last time July 4 fell on a Sunday was in 2010. Eleven years after, the Independence Day falls on a Sunday, the day of the Lord. The day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the savior of the world. Why does it matter that July 4 falls on Sunday? Nothing really other than it allows us to incorporate the remarkable day into our worship. When Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, he signifies and actually indicates henceforth our independence from sin, devil, and death. Are we free as a people, as a nation, from the dominance of the devil's evil schemes? Do we have and experience the true freedom of sons and daughters of God?
Let us especially remember our country today. As we celebrate this major holiday, let us pray for true freedom in our country. Let us praise and thank God for the many blessings we have received as a nation because God indeed has blessed America and all people of the world. Let us turn to God in prayer for our president, the congress, the governors and indeed all citizens of this great nation. Let us pray once again the prayer Archbishop John Carroll composed for the inauguration of George Washington in 1791:
“We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our fellow citizens throughout the United States, that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; that we may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.”
The next time July 4th will fall on a Sunday is in 2027. Until then, commit this Sunday to praying for our country to continue to be a nation under One God.
God bless America, Happy Independence Day
In Christ our Freedom,
Fr. Bernard, OP