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Celebrating Feast of Saint Peter Claver remained an important part of parish mission

MACON, GA. - The blue masking tape stretched from one pew to another let visitors know where they could and could not sit before 7 a.m. Mass. With only nine people in attendance it would not be difficult finding a pew that was adequately socially-distanced. Meanwhile Father Casey Cole, Order of Friars Minor (OFM), gave a homily that asked for less distance, figuratively speaking, from one another and more togetherness. “There’s a call for us today to have empathy,” he said. “To get outside of our bubbles of comfort.” Father Casey referenced St. Peter Claver, the patron Saint of Slaves and Race Relations, as a great example of getting out of one's comfort zone and to the level of the people he or she wants to help. “St. Peter Claver was a man who didn’t just imagine the poor, but in fact went to the new world himself and experienced the indignities they went through. There was no doubt he felt what they felt.”

“That man had empathy,” said Father Cole of St. Peter Claver. “We are looking for the next St. Peter Claver.”

This year there has not been a religious holiday or celebration that has not been interrupted or altered in some way due to COVID-19. That said, there is still reason to celebrate the Saints that the many parishes within the Diocese of Savannah are inspired by and named after. The Feast of Saint Peter Claver took place Wednesday, September 9 and though different, the Fathers, Sisters and lay faithful at St. Peter Claver Church, Macon and St. Peter Claver Catholic School, Macon did their best to celebrate the patron Saint of Slaves and Race Relations the best they could under the circumstances. There weren’t any gatherings outside of morning Mass and a Spanish Mass (Father Bill is fluent) that was scheduled for later that evening but there were virtual celebrations in both the church and school via Facebook and Zoom. There was also a food outreach that took place that afternoon. 

“Normally our feast day is a bigger deal and there would be more parishioners [here],” said Father William “Bill” J. McIntyre, OFM, the pastor at St. Peter Claver Church, Macon the past six years. “Hopefully next year we can celebrate in a bigger and better way, but this year there will be virtual reflections on the life of St. Peter Claver online on the parish’s website.”

Born in Lleida, Catalonia (located a little more than 50 miles from Barcelona) in 1580, St. Peter Claver upon arriving in the port city of Cartagena in 1610, studied theology prior to being ordained a priest. The slave trade out of Africa, particularly West Africa, into Cartagena greatly disturbed Claver enough for him to dedicate his mission to administering aid to the slaves as soon as they stepped off the ships they were forced to live on for months as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. In many occasions Claver gave the slaves food, medicine, and basic instruction on where they were and what was taking place. Many priests felt the need to pray for the enslaved people, Claver on the other hand went to where the people were in order to minister to them. 

St. Peter Claver is an inspiration to all who work and worship at the parish but according to the school’s principal, Sister Cheryl Ann Hillig, DC, he is also an example of humility and charity for the students at the parish school. “St. Peter Claver is someone who I think our student can relate to,” she says. “It is really important to celebrate the Feast of St. Peter Claver because the kids continue to need to see good role models. Our students understand the meaning of being a good neighbor and why it is important to reach out to their neighbors.”

Sister Kate McFall, Daughters of Charity (DC), a teacher at St. Peter Claver Catholic School echoed her principal’s sentiments on St. Peter Claver as a role model and example, “Not only is he the patron Saint of the school, St. Peter Claver’s drive to serve the people is a great example of what we want to teach,” she said. “He did not want to just be outside among the people, he wanted to be with the people.”

38-year teaching veteran and a parishioner of St. Peter Claver Church for the past 25 years, Mrs. Sandra Davis-Johnson, currently in her fifth year teaching at the school, said about celebrating the feast, “We had to take time to remember all of the great work St. Peter Claver did fight for social justice. He embodied the spirit of Jesus Christ.”

Father Robert Chaney, the pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Church, Savannah did not celebrate the feast of St. Peter Claver was at his parish but he was aware something was missing, but the importance of recognizing what the great man stood for was always in season. “Normally we would have something on the Sunday before the feast but not this year,” said Father Chaney by phone. “As we continue to deal with various social issues and prejudices in general, we are called in faith to treat everyone with dignity. That was what St. Peter Claver did.”

 

 

Daybreak remains a mainstay in Macon

MACON, GA. - Stan Jones looked up at the clock on the wall and hurried to finish cleaning up the kitchen at Depaul Daybreak. Located on Walnut Street a block and a half away from the heart of Mercer University’s campus, the resource center, a project of Depaul USA, a national organization that provides everything from financial assistance to showers to food and clothing for those without homes and the less fortunate, began serving the communities in Macon in 2012. Every weekday the center is open to anyone that needs them. On a recent Monday morning, following breakfast, which is served daily, Jones wanted to play the piano that rests in the corner by a window delivering more than enough sunlight for the 60-ish Jones to be able to play under. He sat down on the wooden bench, his black, red, and green baseball cap read, “I’m not 60, I’m 18 with 42 years of experience”. He began to play several improvisations, more Jazz than classical -- more joyous skill than planned performance.

Jones is one of many participants/volunteers at Daybreak, who give their time to helping the facility run while also utilizing the many on-sight services for themselves. “I was coming down here as part of my daily routine and decided to start volunteering because this place has done a great deal for me,” said Jones who moved to Macon in 1982 and had fallen on tough times not long after having served a nearly 22 year prison sentence. He was homeless in 2014, and Daybreak was there for him when he had nowhere else to go. “I don’t mind giving back. Wherever I can fill in to help, that’s what I’ll do.” 

The volunteers, like Jones, make up the heart of what Daybreak is doing in Macon. It is giving back in its purest form. “You don’t realize that when COVID-19 hit, besides Daybreak, a lot of services and options were closed,” said Daybreak Director Sister Theresa Sullivan, Daughters of Charity. She listed places like local library branches and fast food restaurants as places people go during the day for wifi use, a quick meal or just a place to get out of the elements. It was 95 degrees the afternoon of Monday, July 27. “So many services have gone online so without computer access it’s hard for people to get things done that way. A lot of time, those kinds of resources we are able to connect people with.”

Jones volunteers in the kitchen more often than not but he also plays the piano. “I play after I come in and finish my work,” said Jones who learned to play “as a little boy.” “I do it for the glory of God because he is an awesome God,” Jones says of working at Daybreak. “Plus, working here gives me an opportunity to play the piano for folks and I like that.”

There to serve

Open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. -11 a.m., and 12 p.m.-4 p.m., the hour break allows for cleanup and a reset. Daybreak offers so many on-site services that sometimes it is hard to imagine this much help is available for any and anyone that needs it.

The people who frequent Daybreak are not referred to as clients or customers but rather as “brothers and sisters. They can take showers, get laundry done, use telephones and computers to contact family members, check email, or get online to see about Social Security checks, food stamps and other government benefits. There are health clinics available thanks to a partnership with First Choice Primary Care and Georgia College of Medicine as well. Students from Mercer University Medical School are also among the volunteers helping provide medical services. There was recently an “HIV test day” and a “foot care day” at Daybreak. 

There are many services geared toward helping the homeless, hungry, unemployed citizens of Macon, Daybreak is far from the only of its kind. That said, it is an original in regard to being a kind of “One stop shopping,” said advisory board member Steve Corkery who helps serve breakfast on Monday mornings, going to get the pastries en route to work at Daybreak. “Knowing the poverty in our community here, the unique nature of daybreak is wonderful to see,” says Corkery, a volunteer in one way or the other since the facility opened in 2012. “Some people come here from all over because they heard about daybreak by word of mouth.”

One of those people is Casey Stitt, a volunteer who comes in every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning to work at the front desk. Well, it’s really the back desk as the entrance is now through a courtyard at the side of the building due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Visitors to Daybreak sign in, get their temperature taken and wash their hands before taking part in any 

“People need help, and we’re able to help them,” said Stitt, a Macon resident who moved to town a few years ago. “With the times the way that they are, we all need to help any way that we can.”

Administrative assistant Sydney Campbell, a Jacksonville native who made her way to Macon four years ago to attend Mercer University and plans to attend grad school in the fall, got bit by the volunteer bug as well. She started volunteering while in school and upon graduation applied for and got the job. The homeless problem in her native Jacksonville is always on her mind when she comes to work. “The way we have adapted during this pandemic, with services like laundry and showers, has been amazing,” said Campbell, 21. “We have done what we had to do to keep things pushing. I love Macon, and I love what we do here.” 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed those clinics a bit. However, the brothers and sisters at Daybreak can still get their temperatures checked, masks, and hand sanitizer. “Along with still needing to eat, people still need medical assistance, and we provide that here,” said Tiya Sprinkle, the volunteer coordinator. She has been at Daybreak for three months after decades working in retail and feels like she has found her purpose. “I’m really excited that I have a job like this because it’s more meaningful,” she said. An incoming volunteer, a young lady, waited in the lobby to get her paperwork started. Sprinkle says there is a need for more volunteers after local seniors that once volunteered had to stop due to COVID-19. 

 All for one and one for all

“The community in Macon has been very concerned about our homeless brothers and sisters,” said Sullivan, who has been at Daybreak for three years. She understands fully how important the contributions from the community and all the churches in town, not only the Catholic churches, are to keeping Daybreak running at full force. “Somehow we have continued to get what we need,” Sullivan said, of the continuous donations that come into the facility daily. “54 different churches, of all congregations, truly the people of God, have all contributed,” she said.

 Corkery agrees, “The neatest thing is seeing how all of the churches come together.”

 The day room, full of comfy love seats and tables, and paintings by local artists donated to the facility all over the walls, is a massive space that was once full of visitors. These days that doesn’t occur as much with the 13-person occupancy limit in place for the moment. Social-distancing having touched Daybreak like it has any and everywhere else people once gathered to do their business. “It’s tugging at my heartstrings that we can’t use it the way we used to,” admitted Sprinkle about trying to have proper social-distancing. “We don’t have a perfect solution for that.”

Daybreak has three caseworkers on staff and a pair of volunteer licensed nurses that work throughout the week. The caseworkers are here to give people one-on-one assessments in order to help get things they need, stimulus checks, disability checks, housing, treatment, food stamps, et al. The nurses are on hand to administer medications necessary for those diagnosed with a myriad of diagnoses. 

Daybreak is there to help, whether a brother or sister is from Macon or not, a Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. The people of Macon see the importance of having Daybreak in their community doing the Lord’s work and repay that service with service of their own. Seven bags of donations lay at the front desk, the real front desk around 10:30 a.m. The donations, in plastic grocery bags, were dropped off by someone looking to give back to Daybreak.  “Every time we need something, someone from Macon drops it off,” said Sullivan. 

 

 

Macon March for Life included Rosary, Mass and stories of regret, awareness

 

Macon, Ga. - The Macon March for Life, an annual affair that would normally bring hundreds together for a peaceful march in support of the Pro-Life movement, took place under somewhat differences circumstances Friday afternoon. The crowd was a bit smaller than it was last year before the coronavirus pandemic forever altered how we gather in public spaces but for all intents and purposes the event was a success for so many that attended. Supporters like Ann Marie Cosgrove, who came down from Minneapolis and her longtime friend Jody Duffy, who moved to Macon from Peachtree City, had a number of reasons to be in attendance that day. The pair are with the organization Silent No More, an abortion awareness campaign that would normally be in Washington, D.C. for the national Right to Life march which was cancelled this year due to coronavirus. Their perspective on abortion is similar to many others while also being unique. “I’m just here to give a presence,” said Cosgrove, 63, has no children and explained that she had an abortion when she was a young woman. “We need to be speaking out about what abortion did to us. The ripple effect from an abortion goes on forever. They don’t tell you that when you’re in there and you’re preparing to go through with it.” 

“We are here to promote healing,” said Duffy who went through with an abortion following a sexual assault while serving in the military decades ago. “It’s always important to me to attend a March for Life event. First of all to show my support for the unborn, them to let people know that men and women that have been involved in abortions have regrets and to hopefully discourage anyone from making that decision.” Cosgrove held a sign that read “I regret my abortion.” 

The march began with students from nearby Mt. De Sales Academy leading the way behind a blue  banner with The Kolbe Center logo, the center is located blocks from where the day began with a Rosary celebrated by Father John Wright, the Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph’s Church, Macon. That day’s Mass, also at St. Joseph’s, took place just before noon. Bishop of Savannah Stephen D. Parkes celebrated the Mass and during his homily he welcomed a substantial crowd to the parish. “We are gathered here today to honor life,” he said. “God gave us something so special, he gave us characteristics. All of the combinations of people, only God could have come up with all of those combinations.”

Parkes continued, “God has special plans for us.” He mentioned our thumbs and how no two thumb prints are alike on Earth as an example of the originality and value of one’s life. “God poured into us, we are made in his image and likeness.”

“As a people we are called to do everything we can to protect the dignity of human life.”

The march, which began in Rosa Parks Square, followed the Mass and was silent. Participants were instructed to not react to any comments that may come from passersby or to sing or chant themselves. The Mount de Sales Academy choir sang the National Anthem, and Parkes spoke to the crowd of parents, children, and others, prior to the march.

Escorted by a Bibb County Sheriff’s deputy in a marked vehicle, the procession made their way down First Street. The young and the old, students and teachers, the Bishop of Savannah and a pair of women from Minnesota and Georgia, with regrets and stories to continue to tell whomever will listen.

Rite of Election is a celebration of choices and the mysteries God has in store for all of us

 

MACON, GA.- Jason Ruiz, a parishioner at St. Anne Church, Columbus put his hands on the shoulders of his son Lewis, 14, and daughter Luann, 16, and bowed his head. The active duty United States Army soldier was inside St. Joseph Church, Macon as his kid’s godparent, along with their mom and the couple’s three younger children, who were also there in support. The Ruiz family came to support Luann and Lewis as they began their journeys as Catholics by celebrating the Rite to Election. Jason, their sponsor, was standing witness to his children. As Bishop Stephen D. Parkes asked the catechumens if they “wish to fully enter into the life of the church?,” everyone standing answered “We do,” including Jason, a longtime Catholic who was clearly caught up in the moment. “I think it’s what brings our family together and goes along with our tradition,” he said following Mass. “This is a big part of their lives and I hope it guides them on their journey.”

Father Emanuel Vasconcelos, OFM Conv. was also in attendance to support the Ruiz family. Vasconcoles is the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Anne Church and helped instruct Lewis and Luann during the process. In his third year as an RCIA coordinator, Vasconcelos knows times are different but the mission and purpose of Rite of Election remains the same. “I think it’s important for us in the faith, those of us that have been practicing and may have been born Catholic, to encourage [them] and to see those called to the sacraments,” he said. “Even during a pandemic God is still using people to bring to the faith.”

The Rite to Election Mass for catechumens within the Columbus and Macon deaneries, which took place at St. Joseph Church Saturday, Feb. 20, was described by Father Scott Winchel, the pastor at St. Joseph, as “an opportunity for the church to welcome these individuals into her fold. It is a way on behalf of the church to invite them and embrace them on their journey toward the Lord and ultimately to eternal life.”

Following readings from the Books of Genesis (2: 7-9, 3: 1-7) andRomans (5:12, 17-19), during his homily Bishop Parkes spoke of mysteries and choices, the message mixed within the text of those scriptures that were read moments earlier. “With God there is mystery so there’s always a little of that unknown,” said Parkes. “In life there’s beautiful mysteries, something that we need to celebrate. We really can’t know everything so let's leave something for God. There’s mystery to how God invited you to this place, in the year of St. Joseph.”

Of the choice the catechumens were making on this day he said, “When asked why you’re becoming Catholic I hope you’ll be able to say ‘I’m becoming a Catholic because God has called me to be here’,” said Parkes to the catechumens towards the close of the celebration. ‘I’m becoming Catholic because there’s mystery in God’s plan.’”

Following the Bishop’s homily the seven catechumens, Lawrence Lambert, the Ruizs, Rivers Shackleford, Elizabeth and Lauren Tanner and Brooklyn Youngclaus, each made their way to the altar along with their godparents in order to sign the Book of Elect. Youngclaus, her black and white mask matching her sweater, smiled as she signed the book. Her smiling face reflected that of a child on Christmas day. 

Parkes held the book aloft after the seven new Catholics had signed their names to it. “The reason for us being here today is that God has elected you, God has chosen you to be a part of our family,” said Parkes afterward. “Today is a very important chapter in your life with God.”

Asked how he felt after the Mass, Lambert, who was making his first visit to St. Joseph Church, said of the experience, “It was beautiful and so spiritually assuring. It was a true blessing in my life.”

 

 

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