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MAY 24, 2004

INSIDE
THIS ISSUE

Four to be ordained for Oakland Diocese

Boston archbishop speaks against same sex marriages

Debate grows over banning pro-choice voters from Communion
Groundbreaking at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
Pastor named at St. Monica Parish in Moraga
Workshops to focus on family ministry
Nun addresses DOE
Bishop Vigneron given honorary doctorate
Holy Names College
is now a university
St. Charles anniversary
in renewed church
Cemeteries begin makeover
National honor for
Sister Barbara Flannery
Catholic priest receives $1 million for work among poor
Ancient Samaritans cling
to unique heritage

Commentary:
An old prayer for a new generation of Catholics

Obituary
Deacon Morris Soublet

 

 

 

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.

BISHOP
VIGNERON

FRONT PAGE

Apology service - June 2

Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron will apologize to victims of clergy sex abuse during a prayer service at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fremont on Wednesday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m.
The service focuses on healing for abuse victims and the parish community
where the abuse occurred.

 
FRONT PAGE

 

Experts say efforts just beginning
to heal abuse

By Julie Sly
Catholic Herald editor

A member of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board on clergy sexual abuse said May 14 that if the bishops do not proceed this year with a second diocesan audit on sexual abuse “it will be clearly seen all across the country as an additional sign of retreat that will seriously undermine their effort to restore trust.”

Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, said in an address at Santa Clara University that the board is concerned about the recent move by more than two dozen bishops to postpone the planned 2004 audits and to reconsider other aspects of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The clergy sex abuse crisis “is not a legal crisis, not a media crisis, not a personnel crisis,” he said. “It is truly a crisis of trust and faith. If it persists and if bishops basically try to push this aside and hope the problem will go away by itself, then ultimately trust in our faith will continue to be eroded.”

Panetta was among two dozen experts on clergy sexual abuse – theologians, psychologists, abuse victims, journalists and clergy – who convened for a conference titled, “Sins Against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church.” The conference was designed to shed light on the current status of the Church’s sex abuse scandal.

The conference title is also the name of a book released this month (Greenwood Publishing, Westport, CT. $39.95) and edited by Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. Most of the speakers at the conference contributed essays to the book.

In his address, Panetta also urged bishops to be “more transparent and have an openness to greater participation by the laity” in all church structures. He contended that if bishops govern “not by crisis but by leadership…trust can be restored and the Church will be stronger.”

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Office for Child and Youth Protection, told about 250 conference participants that the sexual abuse crisis and the Church’s effort to regain the trust of parishioners are not over and that audit compliance must continue.

“I think we are at the beginning, just the beginning,” she said. “We know the impact of the often-repeated acts of abuse on children, the impact on their families, the discouragement of the laity, the economic costs to the Church and the erosion of the Church’s moral authority.”

She said victims of sexual abuse are the “most important subgroup” in the current crisis.

“Some are healed, some are on the way, some are irrevocably broken,” she said. “They have shown incredible courage. They have spoken out like never before. They have supported one another. They have educated the rest of the world and the church to what has happened. And they have worked toward healing, reconciliation and prevention.”

McChesney said she “fully expects” her office to be directed by the bishops to undertake a second audit of dioceses this year and predicted that the matter will be resolved when the bishops meet in Denver in June.

During a panel discussion on ethics, Church governance and sexuality, Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who has been involved with helping sex abuse victims for the past 20 years, called for a “radical change” in Church structure and governance.

“The good of the Church has meant protecting the governmental system – the power, prestige and security of the bishops,” he said. “But what the Church should really mean is protecting the most vulnerable and those who have been harmed and cannot take care of themselves. It should mean due process for all those who have a right to due process, not just for those whom it will benefit in the short run.”

Father Doyle urged bishops to “stop playing hardball” and personally apologize to sexual abuse victims and their families.

Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the sexual abuse scandal has shown how little input lay people actually have in decision-making processes in the Church.

While “the vast majority of Catholics” have remained loyal to the Church, “many of them have sensed that something is seriously amiss,” he said. “More lay people are becoming aware that there are no institutional checks and balances that allow them some say in how authority is exercised at all levels.”

At a press conference, Father Rausch added that there is “room for considerable change” in the way that diocesan bishops are appointed.

“There are ways in which you can get input from the bottom…where the laity and clergy and bishops are solicited for suggestions and for an analysis of what kind of bishop is needed when a see becomes vacant,” he said. “The way it’s being done now is…a bad system because it allows almost no impact from local churches or even the hierarchy in the United States.”
Nannette deFuentes, a victim of clergy sexual abuse and a Los Angeles-area psychologist, said potential candidates for the priesthood should undergo rigorous psychiatric exams and counseling to prepare them for a life of celibacy.

She said she is hopeful the sexual abuse crisis in the United States will usher in broad reform, including investigations into clergy sexual abuse in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Plante, who edited a 1999 book on clergy sexual abuse titled “Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned,” said he still believes the sex scandal peaked a few decades ago. Media scrutiny, civil and criminal court cases, and better screening and training of priests reduce the likelihood of more clergy becoming molesters, he said.


 

Bishops agree to speed up debate
on abuse audits

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Under public pressure from a lay advisory board, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse has agreed to propose that a second round of audits to gauge the Church’s compliance with sexual abuse reforms be completed before year’s end. The proposal will be made when the nation’s bishops gather at a private retreat next month in Denver.

Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, chairman of the appointed U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, said her panel was given assurances that approval for the audits will not be delayed until November, as some bishops had wanted.
“They believe it will go forward,” Burke said in an interview, “but you can never say anything for sure.”

For now, Burke only has assurances from the sexual abuse committee. When the bishops meet next month, they could decide to reject both proposals and put off any decisions until their regular business meeting in November.

“What their proposals ultimately will be, I don’t know, but this was the concept we agreed to,” she said.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the exact proposal will not be disclosed until the bishops’ retreat, but said both sides are “very happy” with what will be presented.

Burke said the package will also include a proposal to launch a multi-year “comprehensive study of the causes and contexts” of the abuse crisis—which was part of the reforms agreed to by the bishops in 2002.

On May 11, the National Catholic Reporter newspaper released a March 30 letter from Burke to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops’ conference, in which she charged bishops were trying to return to “business as usual” by stalling on additional audits.

Burke said the board had been “manipulated” by efforts by some bishops to put the brakes on additional audits, as well as efforts to rein in the independent-minded review board.

She warned that parishioners would find it “reprehensible” if the bishops stalled on a second round of national surveys to measure compliance.

“Those who said that the bishops were never serious about breaking free from the sins, crimes and bad judgments of the past will be vindicated,” she wrote.

“A decision to backslide ... will delay the necessary healing and reopen the wounds of deception, manipulation and control—all the false ideals that produced this scandal,” she warned.

The size and scope of the audits are ultimately up to the bishops.
Audits conducted last year (and released in January) showed that 90 percent of dioceses had complied with reforms adopted two years ago.

Some leaders of dioceses that were deemed not to be in compliance — including New York Cardinal Edward Egan and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb.— launched an organized effort to stall additional audits.

Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, has several audit proposals ready to go and said all she needs is approval from the bishops.

 

Bishop says prisoner abuse
shows moral ill

By Religion News Service

The prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq highlights the dangerous allure of tolerating an “ends-justify-the-means morality,” a leading Catholic bishop said. And the Vatican’s foreign minister declared that the Iraq torture scandal is a self-inflicted blow that has caused more damage to the United States than the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Bishop John Ricard of the Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., Diocese, chairman of the international policy committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the photos of U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison have “brought shame upon our nation.”

“We can lose sight of the hard truth that the twin feelings of victimization and moral superiority do not free us from the moral obligation to uphold the basic rights even of our worst enemies who themselves show contempt for such rights,” Riccard said in a May 14 statement.

Bishop Ricard, however, said the photos are “surpassed by the grotesque beheading of Nicholas Berg,” the American civilian who was killed by Iraqi militants as retribution for the prison abuse.

He said the United States must guard against the tendency to adopt a “minimalist morality” that sanctions a “permissive” interpretation of international law, the “inevitability” of civilian casualties and the “realism of an over-reliance on military responses.”

“The moral challenge at this moment is to address the horrendous cases of abuse in a way that proves to the world—and most importantly, to ourselves—that our nation has not succumbed to these risks,” he said.

At the Vatican, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the foreign minister, told the Rome newspaper La Repubblica that if the Bush administration had listened to the arguments of the pope against war on Iraq it would have nothing to regret today. His statement was the strongest yet from the Vatican on the deepening crisis in Iraq.

Like his American counterparts, Archbishop Lajolo called for U.N. intervention, the handing over of power to an Iraqi leader and a clear calendar for the restoration of full sovereignty and independence to Iraq.

The Italian Pax Christi organization expressed hope President Bush’s June 4 audience with John Paul could help speed the process of restoring peace to Iraq.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Fernano Filoni, the Vatican envoy to Baghdad, said in an interview with the Italian monthly 30 Days the torture scandal had seriously compromised the credibility of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and he doubted it could be won back. He said almost every Iraqi he meets feels “indignation and disillusionment.”

“The torture? A heavier blow to the United States than Sept. 11 with the particular that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by the Americans on themselves,” Archbishop Lajolo said.

The Vatican official called the scandal over U.S. servicemen and women degrading and torturing Iraqi prisoners “tragic for relations with Islam.”

“Even if intelligent people in the Arab countries are able to understand that in democracies, actions of this kind are not acceptable and are punished while in Iraq under the past regime and in totalitarian regimes this does not happen, nevertheless the great mass of people—under the influence of the Arab mass media—can only feel aversion and hate for the West grow in themselves,” he said.

Noting the pope’s sustained efforts to persuade Washington not to wage war on Iraq, Archbishop Lajolo said, “Certainly, the pope has spoken very clearly. If they had listened to him, now they would not have so many regrets because violence calls up violence, war calls up war.”

To end the war in Iraq, he urged a U.N. intervention. “Even if the United Nations was excluded at the start of the war, now it is necessary that the United Nations intervene to put an end to the war,” the prelate said.

In Britain, meanwhile, Roman Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham called the treatment of Iraqi prisoners a “shocking misuse of power.”

“Nothing can justify that behavior, which so degrades human beings made in the image and likeness of God,” he said. Noting that power entrusted to a fallible human being could “easily” lead to distorted judgments and exploitative behavior, he said, “The power over others that comes with military victory has been abused, and it is right that such events be brought to light.”

Leaders of the National Council of Churches, in a rare pastoral letter, called the current U.S. policy in Iraq “dangerous for America and the world and will only lead to further violence.”

“We, therefore, call for a change of course in Iraq,” the leaders told the members of 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions who make up the NCC, “and we encourage you to do the same.”

“Specifically, we are calling upon our country to turn over the transition of authority and post-war reconstruction to the United Nations — not only to bring international legitimacy to the effort, but also to foster any chance for lasting peace.”

The bishops of the United Methodist Church issued a similar statement.
In a pastoral letter William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said, “I am saddened and frustrated by the grinding progress of this war, this unending occupation which seems to hold no prospect of a positive outcome.”

(Kevin Eckstrom, Peggy Polk, David E. Anderson and Robert Nowell contributed to this report.)

Displaced students transfer
to other Catholic schools

Charter schools line up to use the buildings

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

As three Catholic elementary schools prepare to close their doors for the last time in June, displaced students are finding new homes at other schools in the diocese, and charter school companies are vying for the right to fill the empty classrooms.

Parents, many of them grief-stricken at the news their schools would close, wasted little time in searching for places in nearby Catholic schools. From St. Elizabeth in Oakland to St. Jerome in El Cerrito, principals report that they have received applicants from the three targeted schools — St. Augustine, St. Paschal Baylon and Sts. Cyril-Louis Bertrand Academy, all in Oakland.

The schools learned on April 30 that they would close at the end of this school year. All of them had suffered from declining enrollment and deficit spending, but they were working to meet a set of goals set by the diocese. The College of Consultors, advisors to Bishop Allen Vigneron, decided, however, that these schools were unable to meet their goals and should be advised about the closings in time for parents to find other schools for their children.

“These parents deeply want Catholic education,” said Holy Names Sister Barbara Bray, assistant superintendent of schools in the Oakland Diocese. Some of them have been calling her on a hotline designed to smooth the way for families seeking new placements.

“I’ve had just a few calls,” Sister Bray said. “It’s been a wonderful way to talk with them and clarify any questions.” The school department has pledged to provide vouchers for new uniforms and to make up any additional cost in tuition for the displaced families who move to other Catholic schools.
Some families are applying to several schools, and, according to Father John Fernandes, pastor at St. Lawrence O’Toole-St. Cyril, some are waiting to find out whether a charter school will open in September at the site of the Academy.

Academy Principal Diana Adams said she and Father Fernandes were negotiating with two groups interested in managing a charter school at the site. “This building and this community will not be left without school service,” she said. “We’re making sure that quality education is available here.”
Charter school companies were also making proposals for the other two sites. “I think our interest is to get the facility used,” said Diana McDonald, who serves on the St. Paschal school board and parish council. “We don’t want it sitting there.”

St. Augustine Parish was approached by four charter schools and one private school, said Father Mark Wiesner, parochial administrator, and the parish council will choose the one that best fits their criteria.
Father Fernandes said charter school companies using former Catholic school sites rent space from parishes, paying about $42 per student per month. A recently adopted diocesan policy requires that a quarter of that amount go to urban Catholic schools and another quarter to paying off the deficit the now-closed school accrued over the years. The parish keeps the rest.

He also said that a number of students from the Academy had applied for space at St. Lawrence O’Toole School. The school “welcomed the parents,” he said.

Some have also applied at St. Martin de Porres Regional School, located at St. Patrick Parish and Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland, according to Sister Barbara Dawson, school president and a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. “Eight people have made applications from the schools that are closing,” she said, “and they are in the process of testing.”

Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Barbara Hagel, principal at St. Elizabeth, said her school has received many requests for applications and is testing students to determine where best to place them. Testing also provides a chance for teachers to become acquainted with the students, she said
At St. Joseph the Worker School in Berkeley, Principal Natalie Tovani-Walchuk said parents have been taking tours of the school while their children are being tested. Some 25 to 30 students from closing schools have applied to St. Joseph, she said.

St. Jerome School in El Cerrito required no testing and, like other diocesan schools, also waived application fees. Six from St. Augustine have been accepted, said Marla Korte, principal. “They were welcomed with open arms.”

Superintendent Mark De Marco said the school department was smoothing the way for principals faced with closing schools that have been in operation for decades. The department has created a guide for where to send records, how to handle equipment provided by the state or federal government and other issues. “We are trying to make it as easy as possible,” he said.

De Marco also said that 38 teachers and staff members met with Penny Pendola, diocesan human resources director, for help in finding new positions. Several teachers have found places in diocesan schools, he said.

He still holds out hope of reopening the three sites as Catholic schools sometime in the future. “I think we’re only gone for a while and we can rebuild as the community and as the need grows,” he said. “Now’s the time to look at it and think outside the box.”

 

INSIDE STORIES

Four to be ordained for Oakland Diocese

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

Bishop Allen Vigneron will ordain four men to the priesthood for the Diocese of Oakland on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Oakland’s St. Elizabeth Church.
The ordinands are Mark Amaral, Ismael Gutierrez, Ruben Morales and Ken Sales.

Mark Amaral
Sometimes the seed of a religious vocation has to remain dormant for a while before it takes root and bears fruit. For Mark Amaral, it took 13 years. When Amaral was a senior at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, one of his teachers asked him if he had ever thought of entering the priesthood. He hadn’t. “I might have taken it more seriously if I hadn’t already been accepted into a college,” Amaral said.

The young man completed both undergraduate and graduates degrees in political science at Sonoma State University and University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In 1992, Amaral decided to take a break from his studies before going on for a Ph.D. degree that would enable him to fulfill his plan to teach at the college level.

During his hiatus from academia, Amaral went to work in sales support for Control Data Corporation in San Francisco and then, later, as a production manager for Amaral & Sons, Inc. in San Leandro, his family’s meat processing business.

While working in San Francisco, he began attending Mass at St. Patrick’s Church on Mission Street and credits the lunch hour liturgies with having “a deep impact on my discernment process.”

When he joined the family business, Amaral started going to St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland where he met Fathers William Marshall, Paul Schmidt and George Sullivan, whom he credits “with helping me to gain an understanding of ministerial priesthood and how to discern a call.” He soon became a lector and Eucharistic minister for the parish. After two years of discernment, he applied for entrance into the seminary in 1996.

The hardest part, he said, “was signing the application and mailing it to the chancery! I recall the anguish that I felt initially, but I knew that this was what God wanted of me. I never felt as much peace and happiness as when I was at the parish or in attendance at a liturgy.”

The Amaral family was initially surprised at his decision “since I had the most normal of upbringings in the Church, but now I know they are just as excited about my ordination as I am.”

Amaral was baptized at St. John’s Church in San Lorenzo and attended Assumption Parish in San Leandro during his growing up years. He went to a public elementary school before enrolling at Bishop O’Dowd High School.
His time at St. Patrick’s Seminary was comprised of “six wonderful years,” he said. Amaral did his fieldwork at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Martinez, St. Benedict Parish in Oakland, and Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont. He will be returning to the Fremont parish as a parochial vicar.

As ordination approaches, Amaral, 37, offers this advice to other men who might be considering the priesthood:

“Challenge the feeling by speaking to a priest and sharing how you feel. Do not be afraid and believe in your feelings. I believe there are no vocation problems in our society today, but I do believe there are ‘listening’ problems. We are a society that fails to trust fully and we are easily distracted. Even a most passing statement like ‘Have you ever thought of being a priest?’ can have a great impact on a person’s life. It did for me, although I waited until I was 31 to answer the call.”

Celebrating the most important day of his life will be his parents, Marv and Lynn Amaral of San Leandro, his brother, Steve, and sister-in-law, Suzanne of Danville and their daughters, Sara, Sophia and Sabrina.

Ismael Gutierrez
Some days, when Ismael Gutierrez was going through difficult times with his seminary studies, the only measures of encouragement he received were from his spiritual director and from a Mass hymn, “Fisher of Men,” which reminded him, “You haven’t searched for wise or wealthy men. You only want me to follow you.”

“I felt like God was talking to me,” said Gutierrez, 34, who struggled with logic and philosophy classes. Finally, “I overcame these barriers…God helped me.”
To flunk out of seminary would have been sad indeed. Ismael Gutierrez had wanted to be a priest ever since he was a child.

He was born in California, but his family moved back to Mexico, where he spent his childhood and teen years. In 1994, he entered Sacred Heart of Mary Salesian Seminary in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In 1998, Gutierrez transferred to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, because he wanted to experience a bi-lingual education. He had another reason as well — his family had moved from Mexico to Union City, California, and Hispanic seminarians from the Diocese of Oakland study at Assumption.

Now, just days from his ordination date, Gutierrez is counting his blessings. Although he had academic difficulties along the way, the ministerial opportunities offered him in seminary have added immeasurable richness and texture to his future as a priest, he said.

He is especially thankful for his friendship with a Muslim family in San Antonio who “helped me to understand the cultural diversity of this country. They taught me to love all cultures.

“When I entered seminary, I thought I could help Latinos because there was such a great need for Hispanic priests, but as I’ve matured in my vocation, I realize a priest is not called to serve one ethnic group, but to all the people of God.”

He counts a recent trip to Guatemala as another treasured experience. Gutierrez went as a bi-lingual translator for a group of American dental surgeons who were offering their services at several indigenous Mayan villages.

Although it was difficult for Gutierrez to witness so much poverty, “it gave me much joy to see the human qualities of the people.”

Gutierrez is being assigned to St. Michael Parish in Livermore as a parochial vicar. Celebrating with him on ordination day will be his parents, Jesus and Severiana Gutierrez, members of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Union City, and eight brothers and sisters.

Ruben Morales

On Ruben Morales’ First Communion day, he remembers “feeling a very intense desire to become a priest.” That same morning the parish priest gave him some unconsecrated hosts to eat after the Mass. “I held them for the following week as I played Mass with my cousins,” he recalls.

Morales never lost his desire to become a priest. When he was 18 years old and about to finish high school in Colima, Mexico, he attended a parish mission during Holy Week, an experience which further strengthened his longing. Two years later, he entered a local seminary program in Colima for philosophy and theology studies.

He linked up with the Diocese of Oakland through a series of seemingly unrelated events, which, in retrospect, all began to make sense. While in seminary, he came to the United States to visit his brother and sister several times. It didn’t take long for Morales to realize “how Hispanic people were needing more Hispanic ministers. Many people who got to know me invited me to join the Diocese of Oakland, since they were really needing Hispanic priests.’’

Morales contacted Franciscan Father Marco Antonio Figueroa, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Oakland, who presented him to the diocese in 2000. He attended an ESL program and helped with parish ministry at St. Elizabeth. As the weeks passed, “my love for the U.S. Church was increasing more and more. I got to know more people, I made more friends and then I said, ‘This is what God wants from me,’ so I decided to join the Diocese of Oakland to serve God’s people from here.”

He entered St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park in 2002 and did his field education at St. Philip Neri in Alameda and St. Benedict in Oakland – “two totally different parishes where I learned a lot,” he said.

During seminary formation both locally and in Mexico, he worked with catechumenate programs, with youth, prayer groups and retreat ministry.
Morales, 31, looks forward to becoming involved with a variety of ministries at St. Louis Bertrand in Oakland, his first assignment. He will be working with pastor, Father Anthony Valdivia, whom he characterizes “as a very good friend and a supportive person, from the very beginning.”

St. Louis Bertrand’s new parochial vicar also expressed his gratitude for “the most wonderful gift from God that I have ever had – my vocation to the priesthood.” And he offers this message to young people: “If someone feels called to priesthood or religious life, do not be afraid to say ‘yes’ to God. He will bless you with all kind of goodness.”

Morales is the second oldest in a family of seven siblings – four brothers and three sisters. His parents, Gloria Morfin and Javier Morales, and two brothers, Hector and Javier, live in San Leandro and attend St. Elizabeth Church in Oakland.

Kenneth Sales
In 1991, Kenneth Sales wrestled with an anguishing decision. Should he continue with seminary studies in the Philippines, or migrate with his family to the United States? If he left the seminary, he’d be giving up a dream he’d had since sixth grade about becoming a priest.

After much deep thought, Sales decided to move with his parents and two siblings to Fremont. From then on, he says he choose to “stay away from anything that had to do with seminary life. I wanted to be more independent and live the American dream.”

He took a swing shift position as a proof machine operator at a Bay Area bank. Even though he’d put his religious vocation aside, Sales continued to attend Mass on Sundays and on weekdays whenever he could.

He met new friends, one of whom introduced him to two Filipino priests in the Oakland Diocese – Fathers Ramon Gomez, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Union City, and Jeff Baraan, parochial administrator of St. Ignatius Parish in Antioch.

“Indeed, God works in marvelous and mysterious ways,” Sales says. His new priest-friends “were such good examples of dedication and willingness to serve God,” that his desire to become a priest came alive once more. In 1998, Sales enrolled at St. Patrick Seminary. Last year he began his transitional diaconate field education assignment at St. Joseph Parish in Fremont.

As his early resolve moves to fruition, Sales spoke his heart with these words from Jesuit Father Michael Barber, “for me a model of priestly life.”

“The priest, no matter where he is located, the diocesan priest, has to be the sharer of secrets, the carrier of burdens, the fountain of consolation and the pillar of strength. Solitary, he is called ‘father’ by thousands; poor, he enriches the lives of thousands; unimportant, he does things each day whose importance cannot be told in any tongue on earth…he is never too busy to hear another’s sorrows; often too busy to realize his own burdens.

“He is a 24-hour a day man. He is called from his dinner; wakened from sleep, disturbed at his prayers. He is at the beck and call of all of his people. He is the target of God’s enemies, the magnet of the needy. Occasionally he attracts attention, but usually he works unnoticed and unacclaimed while he does the noblest work on earth – keeping Christ in the lives of the people.”

Sales, 30, is the son of Basil and Divina Sales, members of St. James the Apostle Parish in Fremont. His first parish assignment will be St. Joachim Parish in Hayward.

Boston archbishop speaks out
against same sex marriages

By Voice staff

On the first day marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts, Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley issued a statement reiterating the need to defend marriage as a unique bond between a husband and wife.

“Marriage is given special protection and benefits in law because it is the institution which best provides for the procreation and the raising of children,” the archbishop said. “The creation of a right to same-sex marriage in the end will not strengthen the institution of marriage within our society but only weaken it as marriage becomes only one life-style choice among many others.”

At the same time Archbishop O’Malley reminded Boston Catholics not to allow their sadness to lead them to anger or vilification of others, especially the homosexual community. “Our task as Christ’s disciples is to build a civilization of love. We must see each person as an irreplaceable gift from God.”

Meanwhile in Washington, DC, African-American clergy joined forces on Capitol Hill to declare their belief that gay marriage is not a civil right. “African-American ministers from different parts of the country have gathered together because we believe that we are faced with a challenge: God versus same-sex marriage,” said Bishop Paul S. Morton, presiding bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. “We represent God. We will not compromise in that area.”

Bishop Morton, a New Orleans pastor, was one of four dozen clergy who participated in a news conference near the Capitol to express their strong opposition to gay marriage and same-sex civil unions. He and other clergy called for members of the Congressional Black Caucus to enact legislation that would prevent civil unions and stated their support for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

Massachusetts was thrust into the center of a nationwide debate on gay marriage when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court issued its narrow 4-3 ruling in November that gays and lesbians had a right under the state constitution to wed. In the days leading up to the last week’s deadline for same-sex weddings to begin, opponents looked to the federal courts for help in overturning the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling. But on May 14 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The U.S. bishops have frequently spoken out against same-sex marriage and in support of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

(Associated Press and Religion News Service contributed to this report.)

Debate grows over banning of
pro-choice voters from Communion

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Catholics in the Diocese of Colorado Springs who vote for politicians who support abortion rights or gay marriage will be banned from Communion until they have “recanted their positions” and confessed their sin, warned their bishop.

Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs said any Catholic who does not reflect Church teaching in the voting booth “makes a mockery of that faith and belies his identity as a Catholic.”

At the same time, Bishop Arthur Tafoya of Pueblo, Colo., said he would not deny Communion to anyone. Bishop Tafoya said abortion is one — but not the only — issue voters should consider.

“Respect for life is also confronted by hunger and poverty, the death penalty, euthanasia, war and ... torture,” he said in a statement, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Bishop Sheridan’s May 1 directive is believed to be the first in the nation that would apply to voters the same controversial sanctions proposed by some bishops against abortion-rights Catholic politicians. It applies only to his diocese of 785,000 Catholics.

“As in the matter of abortion, any Catholic politician who would promote so-called ‘same-sex marriage’ and any Catholic who would vote for that political candidate place themselves outside the full communion of the church and may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled by the Sacrament of Penance,” Bishop Sheridan said.

Some Catholics in Colorado Springs have launched a campaign to block large donations to the diocese in protest. Businessman Ric Kethcart told Bishop Sheridan in an open letter on May 19 that he would revoke his $100,000 pledge for a church-building campaign in Highlands Ranch, Colo., unless Sheridan recanted.
“In this pastoral letter, you have chosen to lay down your staff and replace it with a bludgeon,” Kethcart wrote, according to a copy of the letter made public by the Denver Post.

Kethcart said he has “no doubt” that other donors will join his financial protest.
Peter Howard, the bishop’s executive assistant, said Bishop Sheridan would not be intimidated by money.

Bishop Sheridan’s letter comes as Catholic bishops continue to debate the best ways to treat Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching, a matter that is especially touchy during an election year.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke was the first to say he would deny Sen. John Kerry the Eucharist, while others—including Archbishops Sean O’Malley of Boston, Alfred Hughes of New Orleans and John Vlazny of Portland, Ore.— have urged dissenting politicians to not approach the Communion rail.

Other prelates, meanwhile, are urging caution. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said he would not want to “deny the sacraments to anybody unjustly.”
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who is heading a task force that is examining the issue, reasserted that he does not want to use the Eucharist as “a sanction.”

 

Groundbreaking in San Leandro

Bishop Emeritus John Cummins, accompanied by Deacon Dac Cao, walks, May 2, from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in San Leandro to the site where the parish’s new hall will be built. The hall will accommodate a growing number of CCD and Confirmation classes currently held in the church which has served multi-purposes since its construction in 1969. The new 7,177 square foot building will also provide space for ministerial meetings and social activities. Parishioners raised more than $100,000 in pledges during one three-hour dinner dance; other fundraisers have also been held over the past two years.

CHRIS DUFFEY PHOTOS

Father Minnihan named pastor
of St. Monica Parish in Moraga

By Carrie McClish
Staff writer

Father Paul Minnihan becomes pastor at St. Monica Parish in Moraga on June 12, and already he is praising it as “a gifted, spirited and talented community of faith” that has grown under the “exceptional leadership” of his predecessor, Cath McGee, who is retiring from St. Monica after eight years as parish life director.
She provided “many years of phenomenal leadership,” he said.

Father Minnihan, administrator at St. Jerome Parish in El Cerrito for the past three years, was born in Castro Valley and grew up in Transfiguration Parish, where he was fortunate as a teenager to have had a “phenomenal pastor,” Father Julius Benson.

Father Benson was a man “with a most generous heart” who was “extraordinarily humble,” Father Minnihan said.

“What I saw in him was someone who was not consumed with externals but someone who was very much grounded and had a very deep prayer life. He was extraordinarily stable, and a stabilizing pastor. That was just very attractive to me.” Father Benson served at Transfiguration for eight years before his death in 1986.

Guided by his role model, Minnihan entered St. Joseph’s College Seminary in Los Altos after graduating from Moreau High School in Hayward. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, then went on to the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he received a master’s degree in religious studies.
Ordained by Bishop John Cummins in 1993, he returned to Belgium to complete a licentiate in theology. During that time he served as an associate pastor at a parish in Waterloo, Belgium.

After returning to the diocese he was assigned to the Catholic Community of Pleasanton (1994-97) as parochial vicar. In 1997 he again went to Louvain to earn a doctorate in theology. During that time he was a pastoral minister at the AFNORTH NATO Base in The Netherlands.

In 2001 he returned to the Oakland Diocese and was assigned to St. Augustine Parish in Oakland and was appointed to the U.S. bishops’ Commission on Evangelization. Later that year, he went to St. Jerome Parish.

Today Father Minnihan, 38, is a member of the Presbyteral Council and a priest representative to the diocesan Lay Ecclesial Ministers Council. He finds guidance and counsel in two priest mentors – Father Dan Danielson, pastor of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, and Father Richard Mangini, pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Concord.

Both priests are “extraordinarily wise men,” Father Minnihan said. They are able to put the needs of their respective communities as their top priority, a quality the younger priest deeply admires.

“I find that both of them discern and make decisions based on no self-interest. And in that regard they are extensions of what I saw in Julius Benson.”

Other pastoral assignments
In other pastoral assignments – Dominican Father David O’Rourke, in residence at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Point Richmond, is now parochial administrator; Father Tom Edwards, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland, will also hold the same position at St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish in Oakland.
Also recently appointed as parochial vicars are: Father Jose Lito Chavez, new to the diocese, to St. Ignatius Parish in Antioch; Father Dante Tamayo, new to the diocese, to St. Anne Parish in Union City; and Father Anthony Vazhappilly, new to the diocese, to St. John Vianney Parish in Walnut Creek.

 

Workshops to focus on family ministry

By Voice staff

Steve Beirne and Father Daniel Ramirez-Portugal, two renowned experts in the area of family ministry, will present a series of in-service workshops next month for clergy, religious and lay leaders in the Oakland Diocese to enrich their understanding and vision of family ministry.

They will facilitate a two-day session, June 26-27, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Holy Redeemer Center in Oakland and a condensed one-day format on June 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville.

Both workshops will look at the theological roots and contemporary mission for family life, the dynamics of family systems, states of family growth, diversity of family structures, cultures and ethnicity, and connections between the church of the home with the larger church community.

Steve Beirne established the first office of family life ministry for the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, and directed the office of family life in Portland, Maine. Both Beirne and his wife, Kathy, served as advisors to the U.S. Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family Life from 1996 to 1999. For the past three years, Beirne has facilitated the Family Ministry workshop in several locations around the country.

Father Ramirez-Portugal serves on the Education and Formation Board of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and is pastor at St. John Neumann Parish in Lando, Texas.

Rita Billeci, director of the diocesan Family Life Office, said the workshops are open to all those engaged in family ministry or interested in doing so. These would include youth ministers, bereavement ministers, parent educators, leaders in divorced and separated ministry, teachers and RCIA leaders as well as parish staffs.

Registration fees are $70 for the Holy Redeemer gathering and $40 for the San Damiano workshop. Both prices include continental breakfast, lunch and supplies. No one, however, will be turned away for lack of funds, Billeci said. Spanish translations are available, as are group discounts.

To register by June 18, contact the Family Life Office at (925)-680-8510.
E-mail: laura@oakflo.com. Website: www.oakflo.com

 

 

Opposing nuclear weapons

Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Stella Goodpasture testifies during a U.S. Dept. of Energy public hearing in Livermore last month. She spoke against DOE plans to develop new nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The DOE was seeking citizen input on its environmental impact statement for the lab’s operations for the next decade. Sister Goodpasture lives at St. Elizabeth Convent in Oakland.

GREG TARCYZNSKI PHOTO

Bishop Vigneron given honorary doctorate in sacred theology

The Franciscan University of Steubenville conferred an honorary doctorate in sacred theology on Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron during the May 7 Baccalaureate Mass at the Ohio campus.

University officials said the degree recognized the bishop for helping return Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit to a more traditional Catholic identity and for his call for “ongoing interior renewal” among the people he serves.

In his homily, Bishop Vigneron told the graduates they have mastered a new language. “Not French, German, or Spanish… At this university you are dedicated to fostering the speaking and hearing, the reading and writing of ‘Catholic.’ That’s the language you have come here to learn how to speak.”

Mastering the language of “Catholic,” he said, requires perceiving faith and culture “as one coherent language,” which gets put into practice “after you say farewell to this community and move on to take up your job or profession and shoulder your political responsibilities.”

Holy Names College
is now a university

By Voice staff

From now on, it’s Holy Names University instead of College. As of May 10, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education has classified the Oakland school, one of California’s oldest institutions of higher learning, as a Master’s I University.

In order to qualify for university status from Carnegie, institutions must offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs and award 40 or more master’s degrees per year across three or more academic disciplines, explained Holy Names Sister Carol Sellman, vice president for mission effectiveness

Holy Names, a private coeducational Catholic university, offers seven graduate programs, day, evening and weekend undergraduate programs, and videoconference distance education. The school, celebrating its 136th birthday this month, is located in the Oakland hills.

John McCready, vice president of finance and administration, said that Holy Names’ mission, location and management would remain the same. “We look forward to new opportunities that may present themselves, guided by our central mission of liberating minds and transforming lives, preparing students for leadership and service in a diverse world.”

St. Charles anniversary
in renewed church

By Carrie McClish
Staff writer

The recent completion of a long-awaited church renovation at St. Charles Borromeo Parish has parishioners thrilled with the results of this close-to-home case of extreme makeover.
“I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw the difference,” said Shirley Devany, a longtime member of the Livermore parish.

“You wouldn’t recognize it now, it is just gorgeous,” said Jesuit Father Richard McCafferty, a former parochial administrator who remains in residence there.

Originally built as a multipurpose facility, the building resembled a gymnasium more than a church, said Erin Nieves, the parish’s business manager. The structure was built with the idea that a new church and perhaps a school would rise on the property in the future. However, funds were not available “so it never went beyond that multipurpose building,” she explained.

But two fundraising campaigns over the past decade and a bequest to the parish gave the parish the $860,000 needed for the renovation, which was completed in time for the Easter Triduum. “We did it in 10 weeks and on budget,” Nieves said. “So you know God is good.”

The inside of the facility was completely gutted and transformed into a permanent church space. The parquet floors were cleaned and rejuvenated, new pews and chairs replaced the “plastic bucket chairs,” and a reconciliation room was added. The kitchen and an old hallway were removed to create an open gathering space.

“We also put a glass wall in between our daily Mass chapel and the church because we reserve Eucharist in the chapel,” Nieves said. “So now there’s a viewing window that connects one space to the other so that the sanctuary lamp is always visible.”

The installation of a full-immersion baptismal font delighted many parishioners but none more than Rose Gallagher, the longtime parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) director.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” said Gallagher, who first spotted an immersion font over a dozen years ago during a liturgy workshop. The image of the font was so powerful that when she returned to the parish she couldn’t stop talking about it.

“But we weren’t quite ready for it,” she recalled. The parish obtained a “little round bowl” and used that as the baptismal font. Her spirits soared when the new font was used for baptism at the Easter Vigil last month. “My dream came true after 15 years,” she said.

The renovation comes as the 700-family parish launches its 40th year with an anniversary Mass on June 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the church at 1315 Lomitas Ave. A parish picnic and festival will follow on the parish grounds. The festivities will include a BBQ, games for the kids, and entertainment by a DJ and a big band.

A people who

Father Robert Mendonca, parochial administrator, describes the parish by referring to its motto: “It is not a place where but a people who.” To the priest, who joined the parish last summer, the motto reflects the people he has been getting to know and regard as family. “There is a real spirit of community here,” he said.

A hallmark of the parish is the high level of participation by parishioners who are involved in 44 parish ministries and organizations, including a parish council, finance council, social concerns committee, facilities maintenance committee, small Christian communities, religious education, and a support group for moms.

“We have an exemplary parish council,” said Father Mendonca, who praised the group as dedicated “self-starters” who take the job “very seriously.” They are very much a “visioning body” that he has turned to for assistance.

He also extolled the many parishioners who volunteer their time in outreach to others. Some bring meals to others in the community who are grieving. Others volunteer regularly in soup kitchens and support organizations in the Oakland area that assists immigrants and low-income people. The parish tithes to help missionaries in Latin America even though money is tight.

“We share what little we have,” said Father McCafferty, who served as administrator from 1996-2003. The parish is in the process of forming a stewardship council.

The growth of parish ministries can be traced back to the parish’s founding pastor, Father John Dollard, said Bev Nelson, an original member of the parish. Father Dollard, who served as pastor until 1976, was “ahead of his time,” she said, noting that the priest kept telling parishioners that there were not going to be enough priests and nuns in the future and that the laity needed to take responsibility for the parish, which was carved from St. Michael Parish.

Shortly after becoming pastor, Father Dollard set a unique example. He invited the entire parish, in groups of 10 to 15 at a time, to his home – then a private residence in Livermore – to meet him. The priest shared with parishioners his plans for St. Charles.

“Talk about a personal touch, it was really something,” Nelson recalled. But the thing that “blew people away,” she added, was that parishioners had expected the priest to “hit them up for money” and he didn’t.

That personal touch left a deep impression on Nelson, who spent 31 years as the parish secretary.

Interim worship sites
Such personal touches resonated throughout the parish’s early years when members began meeting in each other’s homes for daily Masses. Shirley Devany, another original parishioner at St. Charles, recalled that her family was one of several families that hosted the Mass. The liturgies were not very long to accommodate those heading off to work. “We had it, I think, at 6:30 in the morning,” she said.
Devany’s family joined with another family in transporting a small organ to and from the parish’s interim worship sites for the Sunday liturgies – at Granada High School, where parishioners gathered for about a year, and the Vine Theater in Livermore for some two years. The church-multipurpose building opened in 1968.

Father Jim Keeley, who followed Father Dollard as pastor in 1976, also left a lasting legacy. Among his contributions were a series of dialogs with leaders at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory regarding nuclear weapons.

Like his predecessor, Father Keeley encouraged lay people to active roles in the parish. “He made a special point to thank people for everything they did,” said Bev Nelson. “He would always say ‘God is good’ – that was his appreciation of people in their goodness. He really focused on that.”

Parishioners showed their appreciation for the priest, who died in 1997, by naming the parish center after him. The Keeley Center opened in 2002 to provide space for many of the ministries he encouraged.

The popular priest, who later became rector at Oakland’s St. Francis de Sales Cathedral (now St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales), welcomed Adrian Dominican Sister Marie Wiedner to the staff as associate pastor in 1980. Sister Wiedner became the first woman in the diocese to serve as parish administrator when she stepped in to fill the position in 1984 while Father Keeley was on a three-month study break.
“She was a good counterpart to Father Keeley,” said Rose Gallagher. “They were both very much people people, very open, someone you could talk to.” Sister Wiedner, now retired, “is a very dynamic woman and it was exciting to have a woman in that position.”

Over the years St. Charles has been blessed with many good priests, Sisters and parishioners, said Shirley Devany. “What I like about it is the friendliness of the people. Our motto is ‘Not a place where but a people who.’ To me that is what it is.”

Cemeteries begin makeover

By Robert G. Mallon
Special to The Voice

The reality TV makeover phenomenon is entertaining for most of us, but mostly remote. Right here in our own diocese, however, Catholic Cemeteries is addressing age-old problems with new vigor and commitment. Starting with Holy Sepulchre in Hayward, the six diocesan cemeteries are being renovated with a firm focus on the core values that the Church supports – our belief in the Resurrection, respect for our deceased, making a place for prayer and reflection, and a firm commitment to environmental and financial stewardship.

Director of Catholic Cemeteries Robert Seelig has committed to a five-year multi-million dollar renovation project aimed at utilizing natural water resources, repaving failing roads, installing modern irrigation systems, straightening monuments, and improving ground and turf appearance at all the cemeteries.

“The Catholic Cemeteries are committed to maintaining beautiful and prayerful places for families to visit. I believe we are distinctly different from the secular for-profit cemeteries. Everything from the signs and symbols of our faith to our commitment to maintaining our cemeteries in perpetuity is a reflection of our values,” said Seelig. “ Our not-for-profit status also insures the lowest possible cost for Catholic families.”

Renovation of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery has already begun with installation of a new well and irrigation system along with resurfacing of the roads. An important by-product of adding wells is that water costs will be reduced over the long term.

More difficult is the straightening of thousands of headstones, many of which date back over a hundred years. The grounds- keepers that handle the 1100 interments at the cemetery each year will carefully reset each monument.

St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo and St. Mary’s Cemetery in Oakland are also earmarked for renovation and repair.

“There is a palpable sense of history at each of our cemeteries. Each burial space touches families through the generations,” said Seelig.

“I believe that the cemetery is a special place for people. We experience every emotion when we visit, from the pain of loss to the joy in celebrating life. This is truly important, especially in a culture that encourages us to ignore death.”

Seelig sees the renovation projects as a visible sign of the cemeteries’ commitment to every family they serve. “Every family that entrusts to us their loved ones needs to see that we honor the past, even as we make this a place for the living to come and visit,” Seelig said.

(Robert Mallon is community outreach director for the diocesan cemeteries.)

 

 

National honor

Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor for the Oakland Diocese, will receive the Tribute Award from the National Association for Lay Ministry June 5 in Kansas City, Missouri. She is being honored for her commitment to lay ministry and for her compassionate work with the survivors of clergy sex abuse, including development of the “No More Secrets” program. She is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and former associate superintendent of schools in the diocese.

GREG TARCYZNSKI PHOTO

Catholic priest receives $1 million
for work among poor in Jamaica

By Breanne Onn
Special to The Voice

The Opus Prize Foundation, developed to promote faith-based social entrepreneurship, has awarded its first annual $1 million Opus Prize to Helping Hands for the Poor, Inc, in honor of Monsignor Richard Albert, a Catholic priest who developed a vast new social service network in Jamaica impacting low-income communities.

San Francisco Archbishop William Levada presented the prize to Msgr. Albert at the May 21 commencement ceremonies of the University of San Francisco where the priest received an honorary doctorate.

Helping Hands for the Poor, Inc., a U.S. based nonprofit organization, will distribute the award over a period of time to support specific Jamaican missionary efforts sponsored by Msgr. Albert.

The priest has spent the last 25 years providing the poorest people in Jamaica with basic services such as education, food assistance, healthcare and access to job skills training.

Known in the local and international Catholic community as the “a Priest for the Poor,” Msgr. Albert has established and maintained a home for abandoned elderly, AIDS victims and those suffering from Hansen’s Disease, basic schools, skills training centers, libraries, soup kitchens and counseling services in teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and human sexuality.

The centers provide much needed resources and skills for the impoverished people who live in low-income, inner city communities of the capital city of Kingston.

The Opus Prize Foundation is a philanthropic arm of the Opus Group, a company providing architectural, construction and real estate development services throughout the U.S.

The Opus Prize Foundation does not accept solicitations.

670-member remnant of ancient Samaritans clings to unique heritage among Arabs, Jews

By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank—Dressed in flowing robes of the type their ancestors wore thousands of years ago, the 670 people in the world who call themselves Samaritans gathered on this lonely mountain one evening in early May and celebrated the holiday of Passover.

At sunset in the small mountaintop village they call Kiryat Luza, the male heads of the various clans prayed and then cut the throats of 30 lambs as part of the Pascal sacrifice in accordance with the Book of Exodus.

For the remainder of the week, while the world below their mountain carried on its own routine, Samaritan children stayed home from school and their parents from their jobs. They ate special foods, including home-made matzah, or unleavened bread.

Despite the Samaritans’ marking of Passover, the Sabbath and other rituals and observances similar to Judaism, Samaritans are not Jews but a distinct people. They are best known from the New Testament parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan who came to the aid of a mugged and wounded traveler.

In contrast to Jews, who follow both the Written Law of the Torah as well as the Oral Law, the Samaritans adhere only to the Five Books of Moses.

Like Orthodox Jews, the Samaritans strictly observe the laws of circumcision, family purity and kosher dietary laws. They write in ancient Hebrew script, the language of their Torah, and pray in the ancient Hebrew dialect spoken by Jews through the first millennium A.D.

“Jews and Samaritans are both sons of the Israelites,” says Israel Tzedaka, one of the Samaritans’ much-honored elders, during the Samaritan Passover feast, which occurred a month after Jews celebrated the holiday.

Tzedaka lives in the Israeli town of Holon, as do roughly half the world’s Samaritans. During holidays and family occasions, the Israel-based Samaritans travel to Kiryat Luza, where the community’s other half resides on Mount Gerizim, in Palestinian territory just southwest of Nablus, the biblical Shechem.

“We trace our roots to the 12 tribes of the Kingdom of Israel,” Tzedaka says, seated in the living room of his friend and kinsman Yaffet Ben Asher Cohen, who lives on the mountain. Cohen created and maintains the community’s tiny cultural museum in a room below his spacious apartment.
While there have been centuries of animosity between Samaritans and Jews, it was Christians and Muslims who almost succeeded in wiping out the Samaritans.

“Once we lived throughout the Land of Israel and there were 1.2 million of us,” Tzedaka says of the Samaritan’s Golden Age, in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. “When the Christians and Muslims came, they persecuted us. They killed many of us and the rest were converted by force.”

By the early 1900s, the community consisted of just 146 people, according to a local census. It grew a bit during the 1930s, under British colonialism and has continued to grow, very slowly, ever since.

Today’s Samaritans are an eclectic mix of ancient and modern. While the older members dress as if they had just stepped out of the Bible, the younger generation sports jeans and T-shirts. They attend college and surf the Internet, while practicing their faith to the letter.

Arguably the most challenging precept the community maintains is the one related to marriage: Under Samaritan law, single women—who are outnumbered by single men by a 3-to-1 ratio—must marry another Samaritan. Usually, that’s a first or second cousin.

Samaritan men are permitted to find a wife outside the group, but only on the condition the bride adhere strictly to the community’s laws and traditions. Thirteen women have entered the community in recent years, bringing with them new blood lines that will hopefully put an end to the group’s inbred diseases, including cancer.

The Mount Gerizim Samaritans identify with their Palestinian neighbors. They speak Arabic among themselves and attend local Palestinian schools. Yet unlike other Palestinians, the Samaritans have Israeli identity papers that enable them to travel freely to and from Israel even when other Palestinians cannot.

Israel-based Samaritan men serve in the Israeli military, “though we’re posted close to home so that we can maintain our traditions,” says Osher Sassoni, a 25-year-old Holon resident who served in the armed forces before becoming a computer expert. “We can’t eat the meat served in the army, so we eat like vegetarians.”

Zahara Yehoshua, the mother of three grown children, credits the close-knit community’s education system and its day-to-day practices with instilling a love of tradition in the younger generation.

“From the time they’re born we raise our children in a Torah atmosphere. By the time they’re 2 or 3, they start learning our language and religion, and how to pray,” Yehoshua says.

Despite living in two such different cultures, the Israeli and Palestinian community members get along well, according to Sassoni. “Of course, we’re not the same. We act differently and even our jokes are different. We dress more like Israelis, who dress like Americans. The others dress like Europeans.”

Since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, “the Holon people have traveled more to Mount Gerizim than vice-versa. We speak better Arabic than they speak Hebrew, but we communicate and get along,”
Sassoni says of his Palestinian Samaritan brethren.

Following such an unusual path, which skirts both Palestinian and Israeli society, is fraught with minefields, says Elezar HaCohen, a Samaritan elder.

“The Arabs see us as Jews and the Jews see us as Arabs, but we’re not Jews and we’re not Arabs. We’re Samaritans. We keep the Torah like they did in the beginning,” he says. “What is permitted is permitted. What is not permitted is not permitted.’”

HaCohen says the community’s leaders go to great lengths to remain apolitical, but adds the group’s biculturalism makes the transition between the two warring societies less harrowing than one would expect.
“Personally, I was born in Shechem but have lived in Holon for 35 years. When I go to Shechem and I meet people there we hug each other.”

Yaffet Ben Asher Cohen, the self-appointed guardian of the community’s priceless ancient texts and family trees that span 3,700 years, says, “our hope is that we will be able to preserve our language, religion, traditions and unity of the people until Judgment Day.

“We also hope that the Palestinians and Israelis will learn from us. We Samaritans have survived countless wars. In every generation they have conquered us, killed us, imprisoned us. War brings only destruction,” the elder warns.