Browsing News Entries

PAUL TILLICH AND “THE SHAPE OF WATER”

I  knew that The Shape of Water would win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It checked three of the...

BAPTISM OPENS DOOR TO HOLY SPIRIT’S ACTION, POPE SAYS

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Parents who prefer not to baptize their children in the hopes that they will “understand and...

SAINT PROFILE: JULIE BILLIART

Born in Picardy, in France, the pious Julie was allowed to make a vow of chastity at age 14 and...

Fond memories of global community echo with bishops' justice advocate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A picture of a young Palestinian boy, with dark, soulful eyes and a bit of a dirty face, hangs on the back wall of Stephen Colecchi's office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

When Colecchi looks at it, he offers a prayer for the nameless child and the Palestinian people.

"I met him in a mosque in Gaza on my first trip there (2007) and he hung around me. He kept smiling at me so I kept smiling at him," recalled Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace.

"I pray for him whenever I look at his picture. I wonder if he's still alive and doing OK."

The boy is one of countless people Colecchi met during fact-finding trips around the world. Their struggles inspired Colecchi's work to protect human life throughout the 14 years at the USCCB.

"The best thing about this work, in addition to working with the bishops," he told Catholic News Service as he approached his April 30 retirement, "was you get to bring three assets of the church together: the experience of the church on the ground in every country around the world; the teaching of the church, the social teaching; and then the relationships ... that help inform what you're able to bring."

Colleagues credit Colecchi with uncounted accomplishments even though he stayed out of the limelight.

"Steve was a delight to work with. He was a man of great wisdom, integrity and very collegial," said retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, who is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The bishop credited Colecchi for doing his homework on vital issues and keeping Scripture and Catholic social teaching at the forefront of his work.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, called Colecchi a resolute partner in advocacy and a gifted friend who is at ease talking with policymakers and struggling people alike.

"The bishops and the wider church have been served incredibly well by Steve and his determined leadership on raising the voice of the church on a whole host of international issues," O'Keefe said.

"He's made a profound difference in shaping the U.S. policy on key issues through supporting the bishops in their role," he added. "He combines his intellect and policy analysis with the ability to connect with people who are suffering great injustice."

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and former executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, brought Colecchi to the USCCB in 2004. Carr credited him for his steadfast pursuit of justice, citing his leading role in securing reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief among other critical international aid programs.

"There are literally millions of people in Africa who are seeing their grandchildren because of his work and a lot of other people's work on HIV/AIDS and debt relief," Carr said.

"He is smart. He is faithful. He is persistent. He is good to work with. He is just a remarkable example of a faithful Catholic who has made a huge difference," Carr added.

Colecchi keeps the accolades in perspective.

"The church's teaching is neither left or right," he told CNS. "Rather it seeks to be faithful. We should always put our moral principles ahead of our partisan political positions and be guided by faith."

Colecchi's commitment to peace and justice was formed early in life. Growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and 1960s, Colecchi was active in the youth group at his family's parish, Holy Family of Nazareth.

"I really saw faith and engagement with society as going together," he said.

At first, Colecchi thought he would do that as a priest.

As he went off to the College of the Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, his father urged him to "do at least a little dating to see if you're really called to celibacy," Colecchi said. In his junior year, Colecchi met his wife, Cheryl, and thoughts of the priesthood disappeared. They have been married 44 years.

The years at Holy Cross were formative in other ways. Colecchi became involved in efforts to end the Vietnam War. It was Jesuit Father Joseph J. LaBran, associate chaplain, who, after an anti-war rally, encouraged Colecchi to consider using his leadership skills to serve the Catholic Church.

Following graduation in 1973, Colecchi entered Yale Divinity School to work on a master's degree in religion. He also worked on low-income housing needs for elderly people. "That was significant because I saw the struggles of poor, inner city elderly residents," he said.

At Yale, Colecchi met Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught pastoral ministry and wrote numerous books and articles on myriad aspects of the church's vital work.

"He was a big influence on me, too," Colecchi said of Father Nouwen. "He helped me understand that it was important to root myself in some spirituality, which I have never been very good at. I've always been more of an activist. That's one of the things I could do better in retirement."

With advanced degree in hand, Colecchi began his career in religious education at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he connected students with outreach to elderly people. Then it was on to Virginia, the one place where Steve and Cheryl could find work together, he in parish ministry and she as a teacher.

Colecchi worked for three years at St. Joseph Church in rural Martinsville and eight years at St. Bridget Church in Richmond. As time passed, Cheryl built a career as a clinical psychologist.

By 1988, Colecchi's skills were noticed within the Richmond Diocese. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a leading social justice advocate who opposed abortion as much as nuclear weapons, hired him on the spot during an interview. Colecchi became director of the Office of Justice and Peace and diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

"It was a big office because it included an office of migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore. It included an office in Appalachia that worked on issues in Appalachia. It included refugee resettlement offices in three different metro areas of the diocese."

The position also required regularly meeting with legislators on any number of concerns. He recalled his most notable legislative achievements as changes in public assistance policies affecting two-parent families and a prohibition on partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, the USCCB called.

The Colecchis were not sure they wanted to move northward. They had two daughters and Cheryl's practice was well established. It was their involvement in the Just Faith program that led them to take the risk. The yearlong program rooted in social justice concerns ends with a retreat during which participants are invited to discern how God is calling them to act on behalf of the poor.

"Together we realized we needed to take a greater risk for social justice, we needed to simplify our lives," Colecchi recalled.

The moved turned out well. Colecchi has earned wide praise for his work and Cheryl was able to build a new practice in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Both were to retire together and planned to return to the Richmond area.

Colecchi said he looks "forward to being a full-time grandpa and a part-time something else" in retirement. He hopes to line up work as an adviser on issues such as nuclear disarmament, world poverty and climate change.

"I think I have something to contribute still."

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

ABBEY ROAD

Late in the afternoon on a recent crisp and chilly Sunday, a single blue balloon floated more than 100 feet...

Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

- - -

Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

HISTORY COMES ALIVE FOR SBS 8TH GRADERS

  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see our country from the eyes of the Founding...

WHAT A CUA SYMPOSIUM SAID ABOUT ‘HUMANAE VITAE’

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News) – The Catholic University of America played host last week...

AS YOUNG PEOPLE SPEAK TO CHURCH, THEY MUST LISTEN TO JESUS, POPE SAYS

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church wants to listen to young people and know where they are coming from,...

ATHLETE PROFILE: LUCIA MUNOZ

With plenty of energy to burn as a young child, Lucia Munoz’s parents had her try a number of different...