2017: Faith in action, living out a vision

One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and living mercy.” The archdiocese’s pastoral vision helps sum up some of 2017’s most important initiatives in the Archdiocese of Omaha. 
Not only did people hear and reflect on the pastoral vision introduced in October 2016, they lived it, by accompanying migrants and refugees, meeting challenges to the faith in the nation’s health care system and supporting advancements in the sainthood causes of two faith-filled priests.
Other highlights of the year included commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima and participating in a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse that crossed Nebraska and a wide swath of the entire country.
Some key moments in the year just ended:
It’s not about programs, workshops or classes. It’s not something people memorize, pass or fail. Instead all parishioners – including students, teachers, parents, pastors and religious education leaders – were encouraged in 2017 to live out the archdiocese’s pastoral vision announced late in 2016 of “One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy.” Those efforts included Archbishop George J. Lucas, priests and lay leaders praying and learning at October gatherings in Norfolk with Father James Mallon, author of the book “Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission.” During the year, parishes hosted evenings for adoration of the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation and community building, and launched Divine Renovation initiatives and other efforts to help Catholics embrace their vocation to evangelize others.
Led by Archbishop Lucas, 22 representatives of the archdiocese attended a nationwide gathering of Catholic leaders July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., and came back with fresh ideas and goals for spreading the Gospel. The archdiocesan group joined about 3,500 other people at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders – the Joy of the Gospel in America.” Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the event was inspired by Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which stresses evangelization and missionary discipleship. Archbishop Lucas said the convocation was a good opportunity to reflect on the pope’s desire for the church, and how that harmonizes with the archdiocese’s pastoral vision.
Nebraska’s three bishops joined Catholic leaders across the country declaring solidarity with young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. With President Donald Trump threatening to end DACA, the bishops Aug. 29 urged Congress to find a solution that would allow the youth to stay in this country. More than 3,000 youth in Nebraska and about 800,000 nationwide have received temporary protection from deportation through DACA. The state’s bishops said in part, “Our DACA youths’ precarious legal and political situation overshadows their daily life and work. Their situation demands a resolution that is befitting of their human dignity.”
Sandra came, as did Manuela, Maria, Jairo, Jose and Juan. Archbishop Lucas also came, to hear the immigrants and refugees talk about their hardships and fear, faith and hope. The Sept. 27 listening session with more than 20 people was part of the archbishop’s response to Pope Francis’ call to Share the Journey with those forced from their homes or seeking better lives in foreign lands. The pope’s two-year, international initiative continues in the United States with National Migration Week Jan. 7-14. To help mark that week, the archdiocese will hold a Jan. 12 Mass and Prayer for Migrants and Refugees at Holy Name Church in Omaha. And Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten campaign this year will use the theme Share the Journey.
Last year brought health care challenges and hope to Catholics and others around the country. President Trump urged Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but legislative efforts failed to gain traction. The U.S. bishops argued that the ACA is not perfect, but the poor and vulnerable should not bear the brunt of reform efforts. In another aspect of health care, Catholics praised the president’s move to expand the religious exemption allowing some employers and organizations to opt out of the federal government’s mandate for employee health insurance to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. An ongoing concern for Catholics is the potential for some medical procedures that violate church teaching becoming a required standard of care, creating pressure to conform. 
Catholics and Lutherans gathered in prayer May 1 at St. Cecilia Cathedral and Sept. 11 at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church, both in Omaha, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and efforts to continue dialogue between the two faith communities. Archbishop Lucas and Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America led both services. “For over 50 years, Lutherans and Catholics have been on a journey from conflict to communion,” Archbishop Lucas said at the May gathering, referring to a half century of efforts to emphasize common bonds. “With joy, we have come to recognize that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”
With prayer and celebrations, people across the archdiocese and around the world helped mark the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, the Virgin Mary’s messages at Fatima, Portugal. Archbishop Lucas led a May 13 rosary, procession and crowning of a statue of Mary at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. That same day in Rome, Pope Francis canonized two of the shepherd children who saw Mary and heard her messages and revelations. And one of two pilgrim statues sponsored by the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA, was in the archdiocese May 25 through May 30, with stops in five parishes in the Omaha area and a parish in Columbus.

The Vatican took a key step forward in the sainthood cause of Servant of God Father Edward J. Flanagan, when it found the archdiocese’s three-year investigation into his life was thorough and without error. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints also found that his life includes evidence of a reputation for sanctity. The findings moved the cause toward a focus on signs of heroic virtue, which could lead to a status of “venerable” for the founder of Boys Town, backers of the effort said. Generally, a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Flanagan would be required for beatification, and a second miracle for sainthood.
Students across the archdiocese were among thousands of people in Nebraska donning special glasses to see a total solar eclipse Aug. 21 that was visible coast-to-coast. All Saints School principal Marlan Burki played host to hundreds of students from nine Omaha-area elementary schools on his property near Tecumseh, which was in the path of the full eclipse. Creighton University professors and students brought telescopes and conducted science experiments, and Burki handed out T-shirts commemorating the event. “I’m absolutely amazed,” he said afterward. “I feel blessed that we were able to do something like this.”
More than 40 Nebraska relatives of Father Stanley Francis Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, were among 20,000 people to celebrate his beatification Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. The first martyr born in the United States, Blessed Father Rother received death threats while serving the poor in Guatemala, one of many priests and religious who became targets during that country’s 1960 to 1996 civil war. Despite the threats, on his last U.S. trip in 1981, Blessed Father Rother said he felt the need to return to the people he served. About three months later, three men wearing masks entered his rectory at night and fatally shot him. Among his Nebraska relatives are cousins Dolores Wieser of St. Isidore Parish and Doris Horne of St. Bonaventure Parish, both in Columbus.
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