NOVEMBER 22, 2004


Human rights groups say crisis
in Darfur is world’s worst
Bishop Gregory praised
for skill during abuse crisis

Priest documents should be private until trial, says judge

S.F. attorney named
to U.S. bishops’ sex abuse board
Local charities deliver their Christmas wish list

Chicago bishop encourages vocations among blacks

Operation Andrew invites men
to consider priesthood
The holy art of Imperial Russia
on display at St. Mary’s College

New altar is dedicated
in Livermore

Mercy Sisters keep
founder’s goal

Mercy Sisters to open senior housing in Union City
Catholics give millions for religious orders’ retirement costs
Centering prayer is way to put oneself in God’s presence


• Immaculate Conception doctrine defined 150 years ago

• Knitting is one of the ways to be in the presence of God


•Father Jerry Helfrich, SJ
•Rudolf Schulze




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



Two Christian Brothers recall Arafat
as a seeker of peace for Palestinians

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

The Yasser Arafat they knew was not the demon portrayed in many media reports. He was in search of a peaceful end to the Palestinian conflict, he cared about the welfare of his people, and he felt an immense debt to Pope John Paul II and the Holy See.

Christian Brothers Ron Gallagher and Donald Mansir, now at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, agree that Arafat, who died Nov. 11 at the age of 75, failed in some respects as a leader of the Palestinian cause for independence, but, they say, he struggled to create a stable, nonviolent society in his homeland.

“He wasn’t the most prudent man in the world,” said Brother Mansir, who met Arafat several times from 1991 to 1995, when he was vice president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, “but he wasn’t the monster he’s been made out to be.”

He and Brother Gallagher both recall Arafat’s desire to find a negotiated end to the conflict with Israel. “He wanted a civil society that wasn’t in rebellion all the time,” said Brother Gallagher, who served as vice chancellor of Bethlehem University from 1993 to 1997.

Arafat had learned from the 1973 war with Israel, Brother Mansir said, that there could be no military solution to the conflict, that a two-state solution based on United Nations resolutions was the only avenue to Palestinian independence. “He really was trying to find ways to revitalize the peace process,” he said.

But as the years passed, he grew tired and discouraged, according to the two Christian Brothers. “He was a sad man, always really, really sad,” said Brother Mansir, “while he continued to hope for a solution.”

“As time went on,” Brother Gallagher said, “he became more and more tired. The last time I saw him he seemed almost dazed by what was happening around him. In 1997 he was more distracted, he looked weaker, he was less attentive and bright.”

American opposition added to his frustration, Brother Mansir said. “I think he felt – and I agree – that the Israelis and the Palestinians were not treated the same way by the Americans. There seemed to be two different standards. It only frustrated him all the more.”

But Arafat told both men that he was grateful for Vatican support. “He said he was personally indebted to the Pope,” Brother Gallagher said. “He said the Pope was the first international leader to recognize the rights of the Palestinians publicly.”

Arafat had a great respect for the work the Holy See has done for Palestinians over the past 50 years, Brother Mansir said. “He was truly appreciative to the Catholic Church,” he said. “It wasn’t just a nice thing to say.”

Brother Mansir, who was responsible for Vatican humanitarian efforts in the Middle East, said the Church in turn was “grateful for that acknowledgement,” and he believes the support it has given to Palestinians has improved relations between Christians and Muslims.

One of the greatest contributions the Church made, he said, was the establishment of Bethlehem University in 1973.

“(Arafat) wasn’t the best diplomat in the world, and I think that sometimes he was his own worst enemy,” Brother Mansir said, “but he has to be praised for holding the Palestinians together. No other stateless group has kept its identity as long as the Palestinians.”

Brother Gallagher agreed, saying that Arafat was a “tribal leader,” someone who forged close relationships with his people though he was unable to always govern effectively.

He was “a very engaging man,” Brother Mansir said. “He always hugged and kissed and made you feel at home. He treated people he’d just met as if he knew them for a long time.”

But in spite of his success in forging an identity for stateless Palestinians, Brother Mansir said, Arafat failed to prepare new leaders to take his place.
“He held too much authority himself. He trusted fewer and fewer people. I think it’s a mistake for someone to hold that much power because you’re not developing a talented leadership.”

Both men spoke of the media attacks on Arafat. “There were other sides to him that never come out in the media,” Brother Gallagher said. He was charged with supporting terrorist attacks, but Brother Mansir said, he actually wanted “consistent nonviolent resistance” to the Israeli occupation. “He’s accused of being in control of everything and he wasn’t,” Brother Gallagher said.

In the U.S. press, Brother Mansir said, Arafat “was certainly the object of character assassination.” This media campaign, he said, was “much more damaging than shooting Arafat. And it’s worked.” As a result, many believe Arafat was a monster and Palestinians are terrorists.

“I lived and worked there for 10 years,” Brother Mansir said, “and I don’t think that’s true.” While some have resorted to violence, the stereotype is false. He found Palestinians to be among the kindest and most hospitable people he’s met.

Although Arafat had has fervent followers and gave visibility to the Palestinian cause, Brother Mansir said, his death may have created a window of opportunity to bring forth new leadership. “Bush made it clear he didn’t like Arafat,” he said. “Now maybe he will be serious about resurrecting the peace process.”

New leader for U.S. bishops

Bishop William Skylstad

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON—A soft-spoken bishop from Washington state whose diocese is poised to declare bankruptcy was elected Nov. 15 as leader of the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane was elected to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a vote of confidence for a top bishop whose diocese is coping with the financial fall-out of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Bishop Skylstad, 70, earlier said his diocese cannot afford to pay “tens of millions” to settle abuse-related lawsuits, and expects to follow bishops in Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., as the third U.S. diocese to seek bankruptcy protection this year.

“I have no doubt that the days ahead will continue to be days of both blessings and challenges for all of us,” Bishop Skylstad told his fellow bishops after his election.

“It would be easy to be intimidated by the challenges. ... We together can look forward to the future with hope and joy.”

While Bishop Skylstad refused interview requests, Jesuit Father Rev. Tom Reese, editor of America magazine, said the bankruptcy that will likely accompany the bishop’s tenure is a sign of the times for the scandal-scarred American Church.

“This is the Church today,” Father Reese said. “I don’t think you could elect anybody and guarantee that his diocese is not headed towards bankruptcy.”

Bishop Skylstad, who has served as vice president since 2001, was elected on the first ballot with 52 percent of the vote—a low margin that some observers said may signal hesitancy among the bishops to elevate a prelate who may be preoccupied by financial matters at home.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago beat out eight other candidates to serve as Bishop Skylstad’s vice president, setting him in line to assume the top job in three years. He is the first sitting cardinal to be elected to a leadership post.

Cardinal George, 67, is one of 13 American cardinals. Before he was promoted to Chicago, George succeeded Skylstad as bishop of Yakima, Wash., when Skylstad was transferred to Spokane in 1990.

Cardinal George is also the chairman of a key “mixed commission” of Vatican and U.S. Church officials who are overseeing revisions to the bishops’ landmark sex abuse reforms adopted in 2002. He told reporters he does not expect a change of direction under Bishop Skylstad.

“I think Bishop Skylstad is as dedicated to keeping those promises as anyone else,” he said.

Bishop Skylstad is known as an easy-going moderate who works quietly and diligently behind the scenes. He helped draft a regional bishops’ environmental statement on the Columbia River and has been active in social justice ministries.
He has also taken a middle-of-the-road position on denying Communion to Catholic politicians who dissent from Church teaching, most notably on abortion.

“I strongly oppose using Eucharist as a weapon,” he said in a June statement printed in his diocesan newspaper. “... We have neither need nor call to take God’s gifts—God’s plowshares if you will—and turn them into weapons of divisiveness and anger.”

A family mourns

Erica Ramos, the oldest daughter of Javier Ramos, speaks at his funeral Mass at St. Peter Martyr Church in Pittsburg, Nov. 16. He died of burns from a pipeline explosion in Walnut Creek that also killed four other construction workers. Ramos, 36 and a native of Jalisco, Mexico, is survived by his wife, five children, his parents, five sisters and five brothers. Father Enrique Ballesteros, parochial vicar, celebrated the liturgy.



Bishops’ Director of Child Protection
to leave post next year

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

A former FBI official who has overseen the Catholic Church’s response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal said she has “completed what I said I was going to do” and will leave her post in February.

Kathleen McChesney, director of the Church’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, said Nov. 15 that she will resign after she completes her second annual report. She said she will extend her contract that ends Dec. 1, 2004.

We have a lot of initiatives that we’ve completed and others that are ongoing,” McChesney said in an interview. “I think that I’ve pretty much completed what I said I was going to do, and it’s time to move on.”

McChesney, the former No. 3 official at the FBI, was hired in 2002 and promised a two-year commitment. Her office oversaw a massive study of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that revealed more than 4,300 minors had been abused by 10,667 clerics since 1950.

She also oversaw the implementation of new “zero tolerance” reforms that removed abusive priests after a single incident of abuse, as well as an independent-minded National Review Board of prominent lay Catholics that monitored the bishops’ progress.

McChesney said the bishops need to continue their vigilance, especially by reporting new abuse cases and complying with annual audits to ensure they uphold the reforms adopted in 2002.

“Many (bishops) provided excellent outreach (to victims),” McChesney said. “There are others who still have not become involved in that process and need to do more with the victims.”

McChesney’s replacement will be hired by the general secretary of the bishops’ conference, Monsignor William Fay.



Human rights groups say crisis
in Darfur is world’s worst

By David E. Anderson
Religion News Service

The government of Sudan and rebel groups in the nation’s troubled Darfur region, under political pressure from a looming United Nations Security Council meeting in Kenya last week (Nov. 18-19), have signed something of a peace agreement.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warmly welcomed the Nov. 10 accords as a “significant achievement.”

But within hours of the signing of the pacts — one promising aid organizations access to the internally displaced refugees in Darfur and the other banning “hostile” military flights over the region — fighting had resumed. Amnesty International reported new attacks by Sudanese security forces on the Al Geir camp for internally displaced persons.

“The attacks show how urgent it is for the international community to take firm measures at (the) .... U.N. Security Council meeting to ensure the security of civilians in Darfur and the protection of their rights,” the human rights group said in a statement.

It is the way things go in the on-and-off, carrot-and-stick efforts to resolve the 20 months of fighting in Darfur—an area about the size of France—between the predominantly Arab and pro-government Janjaweed militias and the predominantly African rebels.

Unlike the conflict in southern Sudan, which pits Christian and animist Africans seeking greater autonomy against the Muslim government in Khartoum, both warring groups in Darfur are Muslim.

The Darfur crisis is often described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and it poses an immediate test for newly re-elected President Bush.

The administration has often warned Khartoum of “consequences” if it does not rein in the Janjaweed and continues its military operations—such as the latest attack on the refugee camp—in Darfur.


Bishop Wilton Gregory

Bishop Gregory praised for skill
during abuse crisis

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Three years ago, when Bishop Wilton Gregory was named president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the big news was that he was the first African-American to hold the post.

But within six weeks, as the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston and spread nationwide, all that was set aside as Bishop Gregory became the public face of a bruised and battered church. It was a moment, Bishop Gregory said, that would make Martin Luther King Jr. proud.

“One of the graces of the moment was that all of a sudden I was being judged, as Dr. King liked to say, by the content of my character and not the color of my skin,” said Gregory, the bishop of Belleville, Ill. “What a great day.”

Bishop Gregory ended his term as president last week and will return to the workaday routines of his heartland diocese. Church watchers, however, say his widely acclaimed role in steering the Church may not leave him in Belleville for long.

As president, Gregory oversaw the Church’s abuse reforms and pushed hard for a “zero tolerance” response, as well as the creation of an independent-minded lay review board that sometimes clashed with the bishops.

With no manual on how to handle the scandal, Bishop Gregory relied on political and media savvy—and a calm, pastoral presence—to steer the Church toward recovery. It was a performance that won him near-universal praise from the rest of the Church.

“He was the right man for the right job at the right moment,” said Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, chairman of the bishops’ ad hoc committee on sexual abuse.

Throughout the scandal, Bishop Gregory, 56, said he relied on prayer and frequent trips to the confessional to sustain him. At many points, he wished he could talk with his mentor, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Presiding at Mass, Bishop Gregory said he realized how “vulnerable” he was before God.

“I’m no great hero, but the last thing the Catholic Church needed was for its leader to collapse on the road,” he said in an interview. “I’m grateful to Almighty God that I survived.”

Despite the stresses of the job, BishopGregory said he would still do the job all over again because he feels that’s where God wanted him. “Would I have played the game? Without a doubt.”

The presidency of the bishops’ conference carries no real authority, and many describe it as a thankless administrative job. Yet Bishop Gregory transformed the role into a national bully pulpit, prodding the bishops toward reforms and exposing the Church’s wounds to the world.

“We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance, or— God forbid—with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continued to abuse,” Bishop Gregory said during the bishops’ climactic meeting in June 2002, where he asked for “forgiveness” from victims.


Priest documents should be private
until trial, says judge

By Catholic Herald staff

The employment records of Northern California priests accused of sexual abuse in dozens of civil cases should remain confidential before trial, an Alameda County judge said in an order made public Oct. 28.

The order by Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw modifies a tentative ruling he issued Oct. 12, when he recommended that priests’ personnel records be made public.

Attorneys for Northern California dioceses argued that priest personnel records, as well as personal information related to the alleged victims, should remain confidential during the discovery phase of the civil cases.

In the order, Sabraw agreed with Church attorneys that the privacy rights of the Church outweigh the public interest in disclosing that information.

“He decided to recognize and accept the privacy interests of all the parties,” attorney James Sweeney told the Associated Press. Sweeney, who represents the Diocese of Sacramento, argued on behalf of the Northern California dioceses during the earlier hearing.

“We had significant concerns regarding not only privacy rights regarding the institution but privacy rights of the individual, and this looks like a pretty good step in the right direction,” Sweeney said.

Sabraw’s order included general guidelines on which documents should be made public and which should be kept confidential until the cases go to trial. He asked church and plaintiffs’ attorneys to agree to a permanent order by Nov. 5. Because they could not come to agreement, they were to present their arguments before the judge on Nov. 17.

Once made final, the ruling will apply to the more than 150 consolidated civil cases against Northern California dioceses. Co. and the San Francisco Chronicle.

S.F. attorney named to
U.S. bishops’ sex abuse board

By Voice staff

A San Francisco attorney is one of five new appointees to the national review board for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, as president of the U.S. Catholic bishops, named Joseph Russoniello, senior counsel in the San Francisco office of Cooley, Godward and Dean of the San Francisco Law School, last month to a three-year term on the NRB.

Russoniello’s law practice has concentrated on the representation of clients who are targets of criminal investigations. He also assists in the development of internal control and security programs for business and institutional clients.

From 1982 to 1990, he served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. He prosecuted Larry Layton of the People’s Temple for his part in the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan in Jonestown and has tried several other high profile criminal and civil cases. He currently serves as a legal analyst for KTVU-TV Channel 2 and has appeared as a legal commentator on several other national and local television and radio stations.

Other appointees are: Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, an educational consultant who served as the first woman president of Pace University in New York City; Dr. Angelo Giardino, vice president of clinical affairs at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia; Ralph Lancaster, Jr., a Portland, Maine, attorney who has specialized in civil and criminal litigation in state and federal courts throughout the country; and Judge Michael Merz, a United States Magistrate Judge from Dayton, Ohio.

Bishop Gregory named Nicholas Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh and a serving board member, to the chairman’s position to serve until June 2005.

Bishop Gregory said that the NRB has been “vitally important in assisting the bishops of the United States in dealing with the crisis of the sexual abuse of minors within the Church.”

The all-lay board was established by the U. S. bishops in June 2002 to provide an independent review board to critique U.S. Catholic dioceses in their dealings with sexually abusive priests and their victims as well as to monitor what policies and programs the bishops were setting up to create a safe environment for children.

Local charities deliver their Christmas wish list

A Friendly Place
A drop-in center for homeless women run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
Need: Aspirin, cold medicines, spray deodorant, paper napkins, toilet tissue, toothpaste, socks, canned food; unwrapped Christmas gifts for women.
Where: 2298 San Pablo Ave., Oakland 94612
Contact: Sister Maureen Lyons, CSJ, (510) 451-8923

Bay Area Crisis Nursery
A 24-hour care center for children (birth through age 11)
whose families are in crisis.
Need: Age appropriate books, games, puzzles and crafts for ages up to 12; dolls, books, and videos (G-rated) that reflect all ethnicities and nationalities; new, unused and non-violent toys (no war toys, guns, knives or violent materials including action figures); low-denomination pre-paid phone cards (the Nursery requires parents who are homeless to call the Nursery twice a day while their children are staying at the center). Gifts must be unwrapped.
Where: 1506 Mendocino Dr., Concord 94521
Contact: Sandy Hathaway, (925) 685-6633

An international pregnancy service that supports pregnant girls and women who need help by providing positive alternatives to abortion.
Need: Cash donations for operating costs, office volunteers, professional people interested in serving as a member of our board of directors, new baby items such as clothing, crib sheets, wash cloths, and small size maternity clothes.
Where: 857 Second St., Suite D, Brentwood 94513
Contact: Rose Deitz, (925) 634-1275

Need: Crib blankets, receiving blankets, sleeper bags, baby towels, one-piece stretch outfits, diapers, cash donations and volunteers.
Where: 2924 Clayton Road, #C, Concord 94519
Contact: Arlene Verdugo, director, (925) 798-7227

Need: Maternity clothes, baby clothes, size 4 or 5 diapers,
cash donations and volunteers.
Where: 1520 Catalina Court, Building C, Livermore 94550
Contact: John M. Kupski, director,
(925) 449-5887 or 1 (800) 550-4900

Need: Volunteers, prayer support, cash donations, diapers, infant layette items that are new or in very good condition; maternity clothes,
especially tops, jeans and sweats.
Where: 1048 Grant Ave., San Lorenzo 94580
Contact: Edith Krassa, (510) 481-9677

Catholic Charities of the East Bay
Providing help and creating hope for people in need throughout
Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Where: 433 Jefferson St., Oakland 94607
Contact: (510) 768-3100

Care to Share
Individuals, parishes, businesses or schools adopt a family in need throughout the year. This is an opportunity to walk with a family through a particularly troublesome time of their lives, helping locate furniture, bedding, clothing, housing and job opportunities.
Need: Long-term sponsorship of a family; financial contributions, payable to “Catholic Charities Care to Share Project,” 433 Jefferson Street,
Oakland CA 94607
Contact: Doren Martin, (510) 768-3196

A once a year opportunity to help families in need during the holiday season with gifts of clothing, toys and household items (or certificates), food for a special family feast, even a tree and decorations if you’d like. Every family has different needs and they usually provide a wish list including sizes and preferences.
Need: Donors who are willing to sponsor a family (cost is approximately $250). Placements are being made in Brentwood, Concord, Oakland and Richmond areas. Financial contributions are also accepted, payable to “Catholic Charities Adopt-A-Family,” 433 Jefferson St., Oakland, CA 94607
Contact: Doren Martin, (510) 768-3196

Operation New Hope
Pre- and post-release educational program at Alameda County Camp Wilmont Sweeney Juvenile Detention Facility.
Need: Volunteers to be trained as facilitators/mentors to conduct life-skills educational sessions in juvenile detention facilities and offer support to youth transitioning into local communities upon release from incarceration.
Contact: Jacqueline Manibusan, (510) 768-3168

Employment & Training Program
Provides employment services including vocational training,
job counseling and on-job-training.
Need: Microsoft office tutorials for the resource center computers,
bus passes and tickets for job seekers.
Contact: David Lyons, (510) 768-3150

Project Joybells
Annual toy drive for children of our clients.
Need: Financial contributions payable to “Catholic Charities Joybells,” 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Contact: Akili Harrison, (510) 768-3137

Turkey Fund
Distributes Christmas turkeys to agencies, community programs
and parishes for families in need.
Need: Contributions, payable to “Catholic Charities Turkey Fund,”
433 Jefferson Street, Oakland CA 94607.
Deadline: Wednesday, Dec. 10
Contact: Joe Valor, (510) 768-3138

Family Service Centers
Provide localized, comprehensive services at locations in
Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
Need: Replacement of central heating system and a color printer for
Oakland Family Service Center.
Contact: Robert Shepard, (510) 768-3195
Contra Costa

Contra Costa County Interfaith Coalition
A network of faith-based communities, including several Catholic churches, which assist the needy in Contra Costa County by buying, preparing and distributing food at the Concord Homeless Shelter, and by supporting transitional housing programs that help the homeless to become self-sufficient.
Needs: Cash donations; new or washed blankets, box springs and mattresses; clothing; Safeway or Albertson gift certificates; sleeping bags; volunteers.
Where: 3319 Deerpark Dr., Walnut Creek 94598
Contact: John Krajcir, (925) 937-6742
fax: (925) 937-7075, *51

Elizabeth House
The Catholic Worker house provides a one-year residence for single women and women with children who have experienced homelessness, violence or addiction. Mission: to support women and children in their transition to independence.
Need: Cash donations for rent and utilities; food, diapers, toiletries, Safeway or Albertson’s escrip registrations (; office supplies, Pagemaker softward, digital camera, bikes, bike rack, gift certificates or gift cards from Toys R Us, Safeway, Albertson’s, Costco; household tools,
kitchen set, tools and tool box.
Where: 6423 Colby St., Oakland, CA 94618
Contact: Francel D’Andrea , (510) 658-1380

FACE (Family Aid – Catholic Education)
Since 1978, FACE has provided tuition assistance to low-income families who desire to send their children to Catholic schools in the Oakland Diocese. Over 900 elementary and high school students are currently receiving FACE grants, but 1,200 needy students remain on the waiting list.
Needs: Financial contributions to help students on our waiting list; donations of items for our upcoming auction fundraiser; volunteers to assist with mailings and annual auction event.
Where: 3000 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland 94610
Contact: Anne Rynders, executive director, (510) 628-2169

Family Emergency Shelter Coalition (FESCO)
A local, grassroots nonprofit organization formed by a coalition of churches and community members in 1986 to help serve homeless families and children. The emergency shelter has 24 beds; at another site there are four units of transitional housing for 18-month stays, and a transitional co-housing facility for eight families.
Need: Monetary donations, $10-$20 gift certificates for groceries, clothing or household items; printer cartridges, copier paper; preferably new vacuum cleaner; light use copier; twin-size comforters; bedroom alarm clocks; postage stamps; black markers; fax cartridges; duplicate phone message books.
Where: 22245 Main St. #104, Hayward 94541
Contact: Nubia Giles, (510) 886-5473

Jubilee West
A multi-service center for the poor of west Oakland.
Need: Frozen turkeys or Albertson/Safeway gift certificates; non-violent toys, books and school supplies. Deliver to center. Can coordinate an “adopt-a-family” match for parishes, families, individuals interested in providing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for a family in need.
Where: 1485 Eighth St., Oakland 94607.
Contact: Spike or Brother Ayinde, (510) 839-6776

Lasallian Educational Opportunities (LEO) Center
An after-school tutoring and homework help center for 6th-12th grade students in north and west Oakland; English language and computer training for adults. Operated by the Christian Brothers.
Need: Sponsorships for needy students to attend monthly field trips ($10 per student) and summer enrichment program ($50 per student); we have a list of 120 titles of reference books we would like to purchase (approx. $10 per book); calligraphy pens ($10/student); computer hardware ($400),
ink cartridges ($40 each).
Mailing address: P.O. Box 3238, Oakland, 94609
Contact: Brother Christopher Bassen, FSC, (510) 450-0747

Loaves & Fishes of Contra Costa
Serves more than 250,000 meals per year to the hungry in Contra Costa County. Over 60 churches, including Catholic churches, synagogues, service and community organizations, provide the majority of volunteer teams that prepare and serve daily meals at dining rooms in Antioch, Bay Point, Concord, Martinez, Oakley, Pittsburg and at the catering kitchen in Pittsburg.
Need: Cash donations, volunteers.
Where: P.O. Box 3335, Danville, 94526
Contact: (925) 837-8758

Mercy Brown Bag Program
Sponsored by Mercy Retirement and Care Center, this program provides bags of nutritious groceries to over 1,500 needy seniors twice monthly, free of charge, through 12 food distribution sites located throughout Alameda County.
Need: Cash donations, large-sized paper bags, plastic produce bags, all sizes of Ziploc bags. Volunteers to take bags to homebound seniors.
Where: 3431 Foothill Blvd., Oakland 94601
Contact: Joy Clinton, (510) 534-8540, ext. 369

Next Step Learning Center
A literacy program and GED preparation program operated by the
Sisters of the Holy Names.
Need: Volunteer tutors, cash donations for literacy books, financial assistance for students unable to afford a bus pass or to pay cost of GED examination fees.
Where: 2222 Curtis St., Oakland 94607
Contact: Sister Cynthia Canning, SNJM
or Sister Rosemary Delaney, SNJM, (510) 251-1731

Night on the Streets – Catholic Worker
Hospitality to the homeless and needy of our community and the Bay Area by providing food, clothing, shelter, assistance, counseling and referral; and assisting others who do so.
Need: Prayers for the ministry; 3,000 blankets for direct distribution as well as for the new shelter to open this spring with staff from two Catholic Worker houses; volunteers to prepare 10 gallons of soup and serve at thrice-weekly “soup nights” this winter; canned and dry food for our food pantry which serves 100-125 persons per month; a structure capable of housing 8-10 workers and guests with an expanded kitchen, a food storage area and extended bathroom/shower facilities to supplement existing shelter facilities in the East Bay; financial support.
Where: P.O. Box 13468, Berkeley 94712-4468
Contact: J.C. Orton, (510) 845-6151

St. Andrew-St. Joseph Soup Kitchen
Serves daily free meals to the hungry in west and downtown Oakland. Thanksgiving Day meal: 12 - 2 p.m. Christmas Day meal: 12 – 2 p.m.
Need: Cash donations, fresh fruit, food staples and Christmas dinner fixings including turkeys, hams, yams, turkey stuffing, beans, rice; and volunteers.
Where: 3220 San Pablo Ave., Oakland 94608
Contact: Mary Lou Stelly,
(510) 653-7411; Shirley Weber,
(510) 658-6622, soup kitchen.

St. David’s Food Pantry
An outreach ministry that provides food for low-income families. Food is distributed 9 – 10:30 a.m. every Friday behind St. Mark Church, Richmond. Conducted by St. David Parish in Richmond in cooperation with other area parishes and churches.
Needs: Cash donations, volunteers, prayers for the ministry.
Contact: (510) 237-1531
Where: St. Mark Church, 159 Harbour Way, Richmond.

St. Mary’s Center
A multi-service center for the poor in downtown Oakland.
Need: Volunteers to “Adopt-A-Family.” Will arrange a match for individuals, families, or parishes interested in providing Christmas gifts and dinner for a family in need; this includes a gift for each child and monetary donation to St. Mary’s Center marked “Christmas Food” to cover a $75-$100 food voucher for your adopted family; volunteers to prepare and/or serve evening meals for 25 homeless seniors in emergency Winter Shelter, December through April.
Where: 635 – 22nd St., Oakland 94612
Contact: Sister Marilyn Medau, PBVM, (510) 893-4723, ext. 202

St. Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County

St. Vincent de Paul Free Dining Room
Daily free meals to men, women and children in downtown Oakland, 10:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Also prepare free lunches for serving at 15 satellite
locations in the East Bay.
Need: Volunteers, cash donations, turkeys, hams, macaroni, cheese, disposable latex gloves, #10 canned foods, spices, condiments, 8 oz. foam cups, plastic sandwich and/or larger sizes food bags, plastic garbage bags, a new or used ice machine, a copier, a new or used floor scrubber/washer.
Where: 675 – 23rd St., Oakland 94612
Phone: (510) 451-7676, Sister Kathleen Powers, DC (volunteers), Ron Smith or
Vinnie Furlong, (donations).

St. Vincent de Paul Champion Guidance Center for Men
Drop-in center for men, Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Showers, laundry, hair cuts, clothing, games, TV. Dispatch Center for the Champion Work Force. Resource and referral services available; AA meetings Tuesdays, 8 a.m., and 2nd Saturday breakfast meeting, 9 a.m.; NA meetings Thursdays, 8 a.m. Rotary #3/St. Vincent Free Doctors Clinic, 2nd and 4th Fridays, 12 Noon.
Need: Cash donations, volunteers, men’s clothing and shoes, towels, hygiene items, medical supplies.
Where: 2280 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 94612
Contact: Steve Krank, (510) 444-0263

St. Vincent de Paul Visitation Center
Drop-in center for women and children, Mon-Fri 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Showers, laundry, distribution of infant, children’s and women’s clothing, resource and referral services available.
Need: New children’s clothes and new toys for Christmas.
Where: 2060 San Pablo Ave., Oakland 94612
Contact: Sister Marion Bill, DC, (510) 444-3790

SHELTER, Inc. of Contra Costa County
A charitable nonprofit organization that annually helps 4,000-5,000 individuals, almost half of them children, facing homelessness in the county by moving the homeless into homes, preventing homelessness,
and expanding affordable housing.
Need: Twin or double beds, sheets, blankets, pillows; kitchen items such as microwaves, toasters, clock radios, can openers; baby blankets, diapers and training pants. Volunteers with trucks who can help move beds and furniture. Can coordinate groups who would like to provide furniture and household items to help a family move into a home in time for the holidays. Food or gift certificates.
Where: Administrative Office, 1815 Arnold Drive, Martinez
Contact: Amanda Lawson , (925) 335-0698 ext. 101

Tri-City Volunteers
A community-based organization that provides food baskets for 2,000 needy families in the Fremont, Union City and Newark area.
Need: Cash donations to buy food; hams, turkeys, turkey trimmings including cranberries, stuffing, canned fruit, pasta, rice; baby diapers; new toys for children; gifts for teens and senior citizens; volunteers to help sort food and do other tasks.
Where: 37350 Joseph St., Fremont 94536
Contact: Blanca, (510) 793-4583

West County Resource Center
A multi-service program for people who are homeless, sponsored by the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) that includes 38 West Contra Costa churches including Catholic parishes.
Needs: Cash donations; baby high chairs; baby food formula; diapers; women’s hygiene products; earthquake supplies, pillows/twin sheets;
towels and wash cloths.
Where: 165-22nd St., Richmond 94801
Contact: Donna Borden, (510) 236-7614

Bishop Joseph N. Perry

Chicago bishop encourages vocations among blacks

(Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, visited the Oakland Diocese to preside at a Nov. 4 Mass for the Friends of Father Augustus Tolton at St. Jarlath Church in Oakland. FFAT is a diocesan-based group working to encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the African American community. Ordained to the priesthood in 1975, Bishop Perry, 56, was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Chicago Archdiocese in 1998. He spoke with Carrie McClish, Voice staff writer.)

Q: What message do you have for African American Catholics here?
A: I want to talk about the spirit and the life of Father Augustus Tolton, who was from Chicago. Not only do we from Chicago, but really the entire African American Catholic community, claims him because he was the first identified African American priest in our country. He served a very short life as a priest, but he left us a stamp and legacy that is still rich as evidenced by many associations and institutions that bear his name and his title across the country.

Q: What is Father Tolton’s charism and significance for the Church today?
A: In the African American community he is the first and, being the first, brings with it a kind of saga, a suffering saga, of its own making. And being Christians we build upon the suffering ancestors of the past.

It is not a very pleasant experience as a priest, being number one. He met with some respite while he was in Chicago, but he had a hard job. He had to practically start from scratch building up an African American Catholic community in Chicago and then was cut short in that by reason of his own illness. He died of a heat stroke and in those days there were not the medicines, the antibiotics and things of that nature. He probably didn’t have the best medical care. He died in 1897 at age 43.

Q: How serious is the vocation crisis among African American Catholics?
A: African American Catholics are currently in danger of going back to former periods where we had no clergy representation in one sense. … Being the hierarchical Church, we have influence and position in the Church in so far as we have clergy representatives. We have priests and bishops. If we have no priests, we have no bishops. There was a time we had no bishops. There was a time when we had no priests. So if we have no priests, we are going to get lost.
It is a matter of concern. Vocations are a concern to the entire Church in America and in the smaller ethnic groupings it tends to be a much more critical concern.

Q: How many black priests do we have in the U.S.?
A: There are now about 250 black priests.

Q: Does this represent an increase or decrease in recent years?
A: It is a lessening. I think we had roughly about 300 at our peak. Most of our African American priests – at least in their largest numbers – were ordained in the 1970s into the 1980s when ordinations began to drop. Most of us were educated in Catholic schools. And most of us belonged to religious orders.

Q: Does the Chicago Archdiocese have a group like FFAT?
A: Not to the sophistication that you have here in Oakland. We do have a vocations committee that is part of my advisory board that puts on programs and strategies. But I’ll have to pick up a few notes from here to see what you are doing. I think we all have to pick up notes from one another because vocations is hard work.

Q: So you think FFAT can be useful in other dioceses?
A: I think so. We have to shift vocations strategy by way of a lot of education of people in the pews. Traditionally Catholics thought of vocations as a very, very private thing of an individual who felt so called and inspired. But we have to share the wealth and the responsibility of that call. A community that nurtures vocations is very, very important.

When I tell people that vocations come from their homes and from their pews they look at me with a look of surprise. They thought that vocations grow on trees or drop from heaven. But no, they don’t. They come from the homes where we live, the schools where we learn, and the pews where we worship. Otherwise they don’t come at all.

Operation Andrew
invites men to consider priesthood

By Voice staff

Priests, youth ministers, catechists and other parish workers will join in promoting vocations to the priesthood in the lead-up to Operation Andrew, a weeklong program of discernment for men.

Operation Andrew, a program developed in the Diocese of Duluth, Mich., is scheduled for Jan. 9-16, beginning with Sunday liturgies the weekend of Jan.8-9 and ending the weekend of Jan. 15-16 with a convocation on Saturday. “The goal,” said Fr. Larry D’Anjou, Vocations Director, “is to lead men to Jesus.”

All priests involved in parish ministry have received letters from Bishop Allen Vigneron asking them to confer with staff for the names of candidates between the ages of 17 and 35 who show the faith, intelligence, energy, moral values and desire to serve, necessary to become good priests. Each priest has been asked to invite men personally to the convocation and to submit at least two names of those who will attend by Dec. 21.

Bishop Vigneron has also asked priests to launch Operation Andrew Week by highlighting vocations during the Sunday liturgy, giving witness to their own vocations in their homilies.
The Operation Andrew Convocation will take place at St. Paschal Baylon Parish in Oakland from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 15. It will include reflections on the priesthood by three priests at different life stages, from the newly ordained to those who have served more than 40 years. A married couple will also speak of their appreciation for the priesthood.

Bishop Vigneron will address the convocation, and the men will have a chance to explore the priestly vocation in a question and answer session and small group discussions. Father D’Anjou will also introduce discernment tools and the formation program. The convocation will end with a celebration of the Eucharist.

Men who are interested in a deeper look at the priesthood will be provided several options, Father D’Anjou said, such as twilight retreats and other discernment events sponsored by the diocese.

“I’ve learned from other dioceses that Operation Andrew is quite effective,” Father D’Anjou said. This January will mark the first time Oakland has used the program, but Father D’Anjou said he expects it will be continued in the future. The diocese may also sponsor an Operation Miriam program, he said, which is for women considering religious life.


The holy art of
Imperial Russia
on display at
St. Mary’s College

Mother of God of the Sign. A prototype of the Photinas Chapel in Constantinople, this icon represents the intervention of the Mother of God during the siege of Novgovod.

The Apostle Matthew, one of a set of the four Apostles grouped on the iconostasis in the Royal Doors of a Russian Orthodox church.

Details on exhibit of
Russian icon art

Hearst Art Gallery
St. Mary’s College, Moraga

Nov. 6 – Dec. 12
(Closed Thanksgiving Day)
11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
$2 donation
Free parking
(925) 631-4379 or

Seven Christians walled off to escape the persecution of 3rd century emperor Decius miraculously slept for 200 years and awakened to find Ephesus a Christian city.

St. John the Evangelist in Silence. Traditionally bearded and bald, this John is also represented by the lion symbol and the Gospel open to John 1:1. Tempra on wood, mid-19th century.

The “Unburnt Thornbush.” This icon symbolizes Mary giving birth to Christ, the Divine Fire, unharmed, just as Moses sought a bush burned but not consumed in Exodus 3:2.

By Diane Weddington
Special to The Voice

MORAGA – A collection of 125 Russian icons on display at the Hearst Art Gallery of St. Mary’s College provides both spiritual inspiration and a detailed art history lesson.

“The Holy Art of Imperial Russia” spans the 17th to the early 20th centuries and reflects the increasing influence of Western art on Russian iconography.

The word “icon” means image. Orthodox Russians refer to icons as “windows into heaven.” A portable religious object with the purpose of enabling the believer to contemplate the invisible divine, the icon may be painted on wood, cast or stamped in metal or carved.

“An icon is an object of pious religious veneration, one of the outward expressions of the Orthodox faith,” says Vladimir Krassovsky, an iconographer and director of San Francisco’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Choir. He spoke on Nov. 7 at the college.

Icons are not pictures or portraits and should not contain worldly or physical details, he says. Icons may depict pious legends, the lives of saints, visions, hymns, prayers, symbols and allegories.

“An icon is a theology in paint, not the personal religious views of the painter,” Krassovsky says. It is “a means of communication of the faithful with God, the Mother of God and the God-pleasers … a mystical painting or writing of the human spirit … the ancient, silent everlasting propagation of Orthodoxy.”

The forms are dictated by ecclesiastical rules and with rare exception the artist is to remain anonymous.

“The iconographer should be humble, spiritual, modest. (He) glorifies the Saviour, the Mother, angels, saints, not the worldly or the earthly. The iconographer is a poet with paints,” Krassovsky says.

Icons first appeared in 6th century Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, where icons were used to teach the uneducated about the Christian faith.

Church leaders and politicians feared that some believers thought the icons had divine powers and were thus practicing image worship prohibited by the Old Testament. Spurred by their fears, Constantine V in 765 ordered the destruction of monasteries and icons, a practice that continued in Byzantium through the 10th century.

Eastern Christianity became the official religion of Russia in 988. In the early 11th century Byzantine iconographers came to Kiev to teach Russian monks how to write icons.

The craft grew in Russia in accord with the highly stylized Byzantine tradition. Iconographers used vivid color, flat perspective and a non-natural manner, all intended to portray a timeless world with a spiritual nature.

In the mid-17th century, under the Romanovs, the Russian Orthodox Church split into two groups. The conservative Old Believers adhered to the Byzantine tradition.

The State Church opened itself to Western influences. Peter the Great, Romanov tsar in the 18th century, brought the European masters to St. Petersburg. Icons changed, looking more like Renaissance paintings, with three-dimensions, elaborate architecture, and deities and saints who looked like ordinary people. Italian, German, Dutch and Spanish influences are evident. These realistic icons became increasingly popular.

The two traditions grew alongside each other in Romanov Russia, and icons were found everywhere. Icons hung in Orthodox churches, dividing the nave from the sanctuary.

Believers placed icons in a “beautiful corner” in their homes; they thought these icons offered comfort, physical healing and safety from dangers.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended the display of icons. Many were destroyed or given to the government. The government encouraged the sale of Romanov icons to Western countries, a practice which ended only when the Soviet Union collapsed. Others were hidden or brought by immigrants to other countries.

The remarkable exhibit at the Hearst Art Gallery provides an extensive look at the development of the two traditions, containing many beautifully restored pieces from the Hollingsworth Collection.

A forewarning is necessary. The exhibit has no catalogue or printed material. The text on the walls is excellent and inclusive of anything a visitor might want to know. However, to fully absorb the information, count on spending several hours, or making several visits since the wall text is the only material available.

The exhibit is unusually well-lighted, emphasizing the beautiful golds and reds of the icons, the richness of the paint and the diversity of styles.

A tape of Russian sacred music provides a soothing and appropriate background for actual contemplation of the icons. However, the adjacent gallery has another show which unfortunately has an accompanying videotape and soundtrack which interferes with the mood set by the chants.

It would be difficult to single out any work from this collection, but among the more interesting are “The All-Seeing Eye of God,” a 1900 tempera; “The Mother of God of the Sun,” an homage to Mary based on Revelation 12:1; and the inspiring and familiar “The Vladimir Mother of God,” a copy of the most famous Russian icon.

Nearly half the images are devoted to “The Most Holy Mother of God” in various manifestations.

The wall text explains that Orthodox believers venerate, but do not worship, Mary and thus many icons depict her. She is generally shown wearing a burgundy robe on her head and a blue gown.

A calendar of saints, a calendar of liturgical feasts, various saints, rare freestanding sculptures and a number of humble home icons round out this worthwhile exhibit.


New altar is dedicated

Bishop Cummins prays over the altar with Father Robert Mendonca, parochial administrator, seated at left, and seminarian Lucas Pantoja in the role of acolyte.

A parishioner views a relic of St. Charles Borromeo before it is placed in the new altar.

During the Oct. 31 dedication ceremony for a new altar at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Livermore, Bishop Emeritus John Cummins incense the altar (above) and anoints it with holy oil (left ). The dedication completes a year-long renovation of the church. The parish recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.




150 years in Bay Area
Mercy Sisters keep founder’s goal

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

In 1824, when Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, used her inheritance money to build a large residential-educational-social service facility in Dublin, Ireland, the first individuals she reached out to were homeless women.

More than 150 years later, Catherine’s mission to provide the poor with housing and supportive services is as vibrant as ever. The community she officially founded in 1831 has spread across the world, including the Bay Area, with her vision intact. Today, the “Sisters of Mercy” name is synonymous with hospitals and affordable housing.

The legacy began here in 1854, when a contingent of seven Mercy Sisters, headed by Sister Mary Baptist Russell, arrived in San Francisco to care for the poor who had come to the city during the Gold Rush.

The Sisters moved into health care the next year when a cholera epidemic struck. Two years later, they founded St. Mary’s Hospital. Before long, the Sisters were responding to another need—homeless women, whom they sheltered at their new hospital.

The struggle to help people find affordable housing continues as their mission today. Nationally, Mercy Housing, founded in the 1980’s, has developed 15,000 affordable housing units across the United States serving 44,000 individuals. In California, Mercy Housing’s largest venue, there are 92 properties housing 26,000 people.

Two of Mercy’s newest housing efforts are taking shape in the East Bay – Garden Parks Apartments (GPA), a 28-unit housing development for homeless families in Pleasant Hill, and Kent Gardens, a low-income senior housing development of 83 one-bedroom apartments in the Ashland neighborhood of unincorporated Alameda County.

Garden Parks is a collaborative partnership between Mercy Housing California (MHC) and the Contra Costa Interfaith Housing (CCIH), said Mercy Sister Amy Bayley, vice president of community development for MHC. It is supported by Contra Costa County, HUD, the cities of Concord and Walnut Creek, private foundations, local congregations and individuals.

The complex will open on or around Dec. 11. Sister Bayley said that six units are set aside for people with HIV/AIDS. All tenants will be able to take advantage of on-site case management services provided by Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

Offering support services with housing is one of the keys to helping homeless people transition into permanent stability, said Sister Bayley. Counseling, budgeting and parenting classes, and other practical assistance give people the skills they need to avoid pitfalls which contributed to their homelessness.

Providing families and their children with stable housing has a positive snowballing effect in their quality of life, noted Sister Bayley. “When individuals can stay in one consistent setting over a long period of time, everyone benefits. You really don’t realize how much a stable home means until you see what not having one does to people.”

Sister Bayley said that several people living in Mercy Housing’s five other family properties throughout Oakland and San Leandro have recovered financially through gainful employment and have been able to afford down payments on their own homes.

Kent Gardens, the second new Mercy development, will serve seniors in the lowest income bracket. The site for the project was acquired by Alameda County in August 2003 and Mercy Housing California was chosen through a competitive process to be the developer, owner and operator. The apartment complex will include a community room, a library, computer room, and a TV/social room. Similar to Garden Parks, Kent Gardens will provide on-site social services.

On the drawing board are plans for an on-site health and wellness clinic which will work with local hospitals and home health agencies so that seniors can have access to podiatry, blood pressure checks, vision and hearing screening, nutrition counseling and medical reviews. Kent Gardens will open during the summer of 2006.

The Sisters of Mercy also operate Mercy Retirement and Care Center, founded over 125 years ago in Oakland. In 1997, they took their mission to the elderly one step further, joining with the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in sponsoring Elder Care Alliance.

The Sisters of Mercy will celebrate their 150-year history on Dec. 11 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco with a 2 p.m. Mass. San Francisco Archbishop William Levada will serve as celebrant for the liturgy, which is open to the public.

San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop John Wester will give the homily.

Mercy Sisters Suzanne Toolan and Helen Marie Gilsdorf have composed original music for the event, with text by Mercy Sister Rosaleen O’Sullivan. Sections of the liturgy will be in both English and Spanish. A family from Mercy Housing and student singers and dancers from Mercy High Schools of San Francisco and Burlingame will participate in the liturgy.

The celebration encompasses the Sisters from the Burlingame and Auburn regions of the community. Both groups trace their roots to the Mercy Sisters who came to California in 1854. Three years later, several members ventured into the Sacramento vicinity to begin a foundation there. It later became the Auburn region.

Mercy Housing’s East Bay Area properties include Santana Apartments in Oakland, Bermuda Garden and Eden House Apartments in San Leandro, and the C.L Dellums and the Hamilton apartments, special needs facilities in Oakland.



Mercy Sisters to open senior housing
in Union City

By Voice staff

Elder Care Alliance, a non-profit provider of senior care services sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and the Lutheran Synod, on Nov. 16 dedicated the site of a new 79-unit assisted living facility to be built in Union City.

Alma Via of Union City will serve 71 residents in need of assisted living services and 24 residents in need of dementia care. The two complexes will offer studios, one-bedroom apartments and suites, gardens and walking paths along with planned leisure activities and social events, scheduled transportation, home-style meals and spiritual care services.

There will be a full health program including medication management, emergency call systems, wellness checks, and family and caregiver support groups, said Janeane Randolph, Elder Care Alliance CEO and president.

Alma Via will be located at 33883 Alvarado-Niles Road adjacent to James Logan High School, the William M. Cann Memorial Civic Center and the Union City Library. It is part of the Union City Redevelopment Agency’s Senior Village master plan.

There will be a limited number of affordable units offered to qualified seniors through support from the City of Union City and its redevelopment agency.
Alma Via is scheduled to open in the fall of 2005.

Persons wishing information can call (510) 434-2800 or visit the website at


Catholics give millions
for religious orders’ retirement costs

By Religion News Service

A national collection to raise money for the retirement needs of elderly nuns and priests raised $28 million last year, Catholic officials said, and parishioners will be asked to donate again next month.

The annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be held in 174 Catholic dioceses. Last year’s collection gave $20 million to underfunded retirement programs, and $6.4 million in emergency assistance to religious orders with critical needs.

Because religious orders are financially independent of dioceses, they are responsible for their own retirement costs. The average yearly Social Security payment to a member of a religious order is $3,874, compared with a national average of $10,836.

American Catholics have donated $440 million to the annual appeal since it was launched in 1988. Additional funding has come from $1.4 million in direct bequests and gifts to the fund.

The 2003 collection assisted 541 religious orders, with an average of $513 per member over age 70. The Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose received $59,461.31 and the Franciscan Friars, headquartered in Oakland, received $88,203.22.

Centering prayer is way to put oneself in God’s presence

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

The heart of Centering Prayer is a simple practice: sitting in silence to welcome God. But this quiet act, repeated daily, has brought spiritual gifts to thousands who make it part of their lives.

“I find I am much more at peace with myself,” said Jeanne Pletz, who has practiced Centering Prayer for 10 years and helps facilitate a prayer group at Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill.

It brings a greater desire for silence and a deepened relationship with God, Pletz said, echoing the comments of Eileen Halliburton, coordinator of the Oakland-East Bay Chapter of Contemplative Outreach, a support network for practitioners of Centering Prayer.

“You don’t notice a change during the prayer, but you do notice a change in everyday life,” Halliburton said, “in how you handle things.” Practitioners often find they are more accepting of themselves and others, more patient and at peace in difficult situations.

Halliburton came to the practice 11 years ago when she attended a workshop at the suggestion of her therapist. “I must have been searching for something,” she said. “I remember from the very beginning I just dove right in.”

She began to set aside 20 minutes twice a day to sit with her eyes closed, feet uncrossed. The prayer begins with the silent repetition of a word chosen to symbolize the intention to be open to God. It could be “Christ,” “love,” “Abba,” even “door,” but it is not used like a mantra, only for a short while to bring the person into God’s presence.

“You just sit and let go of thoughts,” Halliburton said. “When you find yourself engaged in thoughts, then you repeat the sacred word to bring yourself back. When we sit and close our eyes, we are aware of God’s presence.”

This is not a new prayer, she said, but one practiced in the Church for many centuries. It fell into neglect after the Reformation and staged a comeback more than 30 years ago when a group of three Cistercian priests in Colorado decided to promote the practice.

Fathers Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and William Meninger began to give workshops to lay people and found an enthusiastic response. “Father Keating thought it was a shame people were going to the East to learn meditation,” Halliburton said, “when our own tradition has the same.”

The name Centering Prayer is new, she said – it was once known as the Prayer of Simplicity – but the practice goes back to the earliest years of Christianity. “This is bringing that prayer back into our lives,” Halliburton said.

As the movement grew, it spread throughout the United States and to some 30 countries, and the support network, Contemplative Outreach, evolved to provide training and resources for practitioners.

It was a story she heard at her first Centering Prayer workshop that especially drew her attention, Halliburton said. The presenter told of a driven workaholic who took up the practice, committing to meditate twice a day for 30 days. Two days shy of his goal he was saying to himself, “Thank God it’s nearly over.” But the comments of a fellow worker stopped him in his tracks.

The man had seen a change in him and asked what he had been doing. Whatever it is, he said, if it can change someone like you, I want to try it, too.

Even in prison, Halliburton said, Centering Prayer has transformed the lives of many. Prisoners at San Quentin and Folsom prisons and at the Women’s Federal Correctional Institution in Pleasanton are practicing the meditation and testifying to its results.

Pletz said the benefits of Centering Prayer came into focus for her when she was scheduled for major surgery twice in recent years. “I was very much at peace and calm,” she said, “and that wasn’t really my personality before.”
It wasn’t a sudden change, Pletz said, but a slow process with “peaks and valleys.” Now she can look back and see how far she has come.

After she had practiced the prayer for a couple of years, Halliburton took instruction to become a trainer, spending a week in formation at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and spending a year working with an experienced trainer.

Now she gives workshops about four times a year and talks to parish groups. The five-hour workshops are followed by six 90-minute meetings in subsequent weeks. “It’s all volunteer,” Halliburton said. “I do love doing it.”

She also takes part in a support group, one of 12 in the diocese. The members of her group at St. Theresa Parish in Oakland meet weekly, entering in silence, listening to a brief reading of Scripture, then practicing Centering Prayer for 20 minutes. The meeting may end with a video of Father Keating, the sharing of experiences, or lectio divina, an ancient approach to reading sacred texts.

During lectio divina, Halliburton said, a passage of Scripture is read aloud very slowly, four times, with the aim of “devouring the words of God.” Individuals can also practice lectio, Pletz said. “When you do it individually,” she said, “you stay with the text until you’re ready to go into centering prayer.”

Centering Prayer has led its practitioners into active work for social justice, Halliburton said. “They say if you’re practicing the prayer and it doesn’t come out in reaching out to others, there’s something wrong.” Prison ministry, taking the prayer inside the walls, is one example.

Halliburton is convinced it is the answer to violence. “I think it’s the only way for global peace,” she said, “this silent prayer.” It has shown her how we are all connected. “Saying we’re all one body of Christ means much more to me now.”

Since she met Centering Prayer nearly a dozen years ago, it has proved its worth. “It’s really the most important thing in my life,” she said.