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February 16, 2006 Edition

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Notes from the Vicar General
Grand Mom
Notes from The Gambia

St. Raphael Cathedral:
An update from the vicar general

photo of Msgr. Paul J. Swain

Notes from the 
Vicar General 

Msgr. Paul J. Swain 

Many have asked me what has been happening since the tragic fire at St. Raphael Cathedral which approaches its first anniversary on March 14.

After several engineering studies and on site examinations, it has been concluded that while the original walls of the Cathedral appear secure and the new steeple suffered only cosmetic damage, the remainder of the church building, including the stained glass windows and the floor, is severely damaged to the point of being unsafe. The mosaics which appear to the untrained eye to have only minor damage have been enclosed to hopefully protect them from the winter weather.

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St. Raphael Cathedral

The three downtown parishes, St. Raphael, St. Patrick, and Holy Redeemer, have been clustered with one pastor. In order to save on heating and other costs, the offices of St. Raphael have been moved to St. Patrick Parish, 404 E. Main St. The telephone number for St. Raphael remains the same. I have moved to the rectory at Holy Redeemer and spend time as pastor at both locations, as well as at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in my role as vicar general.

Study continues

The study of the future of the Cathedral continues. Bishop Morlino and I have discussed this issue with the Presbyteral Council, College of Consultors, Diocesan Pastoral Council, gatherings of priests, the Capital Neighborhood Association, some government officials, and many individuals. Additional sessions will be scheduled. Many have offered their thoughts in writing. Please feel free to do so. Several architects have given their initial opinion on the possibilities. The insurance settlement should be completed soon. Many items in a church are one of a kind and so replacement valuation has been a challenge.

The location of the Cathedral, whether on the present site or elsewhere, is a complicated question that will impact the Diocese of Madison for generations to come. A Cathedral is first of all the Mother Church of the diocese where the bishop's chair, cathedra, is located. It is a sign of the universal church from which the bishop presides and teaches. It is also a sign to the wider community of the presence of Christ's Church in their midst.

Hopefully it can also be a vibrant parish with functional facilities that can serve present and future needs of the diocese and those of the area in which it is located. Among identified needs are adequate seating for diocesan events, sufficient parking, and a beautiful and prayerful atmosphere that lifts us to the transcendent.

Challenge, opportunity

In addition there could be facilities to offer catechetical study, especially for adults, and the opportunity to put Catholic social teaching into practice by outreach to those with special needs. Pope Benedict in his recent encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, God Is Love, noted that "For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being." That expression should be apparent from a Cathedral. All of this is, of course, not without expense.

So you can see that there is much to ponder, study, and pray about. Please pray for Bishop Morlino as he considers this important challenge and opportunity for the Church of Madison.

Msgr. Paul J. Swain is vicar general for the Diocese of Madison.

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Simple ways:
To demonstrate love for each other

photo of Audrey Mettel Fixmer

Grand Mom 

Mettel Fixmer 

It's February, the month we speak of love and remember St. Valentine.

What a happy time! I'm not talking about the commercialized Valentine now, which would have us believe that unless we buy a box of chocolates or a diamond ring for someone or send out dozens of cards, we aren't observing the day. As we mature we have a much more profound understanding of love than that.

I remember how in our Catholic schools we were taught about two kinds of love: love of concupiscence (desire), and love of benevolence (wishing well). Judging by the current images on TV, one would think concupiscence was much more prevalent. As we age, however, we know it is just the opposite.

I was delighted to read recently that Pope Benedict has just issued his first encyclical on that very topic: Love!

This encyclical, which I look forward to reading, bears out the truth of my earlier observations. I have frequently found myself describing the changes in the church since we were kids, and I always say it can be summed up in one word: Love!

Love of Christ

Gone are the fire and brimstone sermons we heard 50 or more years ago. Today's priests put the emphasis on positive images of God. God is love. God is merciful. God is forgiving. The life of Christ was one long act of love: forgiving, curing, caring, right up to the supreme sacrifice on Calvary.

When I hear Catholics judging the behavior or appearance of other parishioners in church, and even suggesting we put up a sign with a lot of "Thou Shalt Nots" in the entryway to the church, I wonder who made them judges. Rather than a long list of behavior problems, why not simply put up a sign that says, "No Sinners Allowed."

Where is the love of Christ here?

Dropping a note

This morning I was talking to my daughter, Kris, about Valentine's Day coming up. Kris is one of the busiest women I know. With her children raised she is in the midst of a full-blown career which keeps her traveling both within and outside the United States.

She is also a dedicated homemaker who loves to cook and garden and knit and read. Yet she always finds time to keep in touch with her old parents, thanks to that car phone we sometimes criticize.

"There are so many ways to express our love," she said. "There's both passion and compassion."

When I complained that I hardly find time to get all my obligations taken care of, let alone do any volunteer work, she told me about a simple solution she found to that age-old problem of No Time.

"Mom, try my method. I keep a list of names of people who are sick or grieving right by my phone and a box of note cards on my desk. Whenever I have a couple of minutes, I give them a call or drop a note just to let them know I'm thinking of them and care about them."

Little ways to love

As soon as I hung up the phone and before I tackled writing this column, I made a quick phone call to my friend, Mary, who is alone and confined to her home. After updating each other about our families, it was time to hang up. Her closing words to me were proof positive of the truth of Kris's advice. "Thank you so much for calling," she said, "Your call has made my day!"

That felt so good that I made one more call to my sister, who is also homebound. Her husband is facing cancer surgery this month, but she asked about my son, Tom, who also has cancer. "I pray for him several times every day," she said.

We don't need to send each other Valentines. We can demonstrate our love in all these little simple ways.

"Grandmom" likes hearing from other senior citizens who enjoy aging at P.O. Box 216, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538.

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Muslim feast day celebrated in West Africa

photo of Tom Brodd

Notes from 
The Gambia 

Tom Brodd 

Eid ul-Adha, or Tabaski as it is called here in West Africa, is one of the main Muslim feast days.

It commemorates how God, or Allah as Muslims call God, tested the faith of Abraham, or as he is know to Muslims, Ibrahim, telling him to take his son Ishmael and sacrifice him to God.

Great feast day

On the way to the place of sacrifice, the devil tempted Abraham to disobey God and save his son, but Abraham refused. Because of Abraham's faith, God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of his son. This also marks the end of the Hajj, to Mecca, where Abraham and Ishmael built a shrine to God to reaffirm their faith.

Aside from the religious meaning of the day it is also a great day of feasting and togetherness with friends and family. All Muslims, if they can afford to, buy and slaughter a ram in commemoration of Abraham's faith in God. So, in a Muslim country, there is a lot of mutton to be eaten on this and subsequence days.

The best way for Americans to understand it is to think of it as a version of Thanksgiving with mutton instead of turkey. In many ways it is like Thanksgiving as many people go home to celebrate the day with their family and friends, people buy new clothes, special items, and gifts for the occasion.

Travel is rather hectic, but everyone is in good spirits.

Gathering of sheep

Unlike in America, though, they do not go to the store and buy their rams already slaughtered and packaged. They go out and buy their family's ram live at the market and do the slaughtering themselves on the day of Tabaski.

As one may imagine, there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of sheep around in the weeks before the holiday. If one had insomnia, one could just go outside and count all of the sheep in the neighborhood.

Rural farmers mostly bring the sheep in from the countryside to be sold to people in the city. Some of the sheep come from as far away as Mauritania.

Of course, all of the sheep in the city just add to the congestion, for the sheep seem to have a vague notion as to what lies before them and are in no hurry to move anywhere. They clog up the streets and sidewalks along with their shepherds trying to get them to move. Sometimes the shepherds even have to pick up the hind legs and push them like a wheelbarrow to get them to move.

In The Gambia, just like in America, people think that the grass is greener, or in this case, the sheep is more tender, on the other side of the fence. I saw people bringing their herds of sheep from the north side of the river to the south side and from the south side to the north side.

As the day of Tabaski approaches, more and more homes have a sheep tied up outside and more and more baaing comes from the back of people's compounds. It makes me wonder what it would be like if we all brought home live turkeys in the days before Thanksgiving, but with the way wild turkeys are increasing in Dane County, it may just happen.

Day of celebration

On the day itself people go to Mosque in the morning, then go home to prepare the meal. As deer hunters know, it pays to have a good butcher in the family. People do not keep all of the meat for themselves, but share it out among their neighbors and friends. I was given a good two or three pounds of my neighbors' rams, as was my landlady.

Most people spend the day enjoying the pleasure of sharing a good meal in the company of their family and friends just as we do. Although there are no football games on the television and no pumpkin pie, one would not notice much difference from how we celebrate getting together with our families.

Of course in the days after there is no shortage of sheepskins to be had and I had the passing notion to just go out and get my own diploma of sheep psychology.

One last thing. Maybe it was my imagination, but the goats and chickens seemed to be feeling and looking a little more happy and livelier on the day of Tabaski.

Tom Brodd of Madison is living in The Gambia, West Africa, as one of 16 participants in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Volunteer Program, which provides U.S. Catholics with opportunities to share their skills through CRS and to live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world.

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