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L’Arche community to open in Merchantville

The rooms are bare and the walls need paint, but in the three-floor, 19th century Victorian home on Maple Avenue in Merchantville, hope resides.

The goal is for the first L’Arche community, comprising those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their assistants, will come together here where they will share meals and engage in fellowship.

The Merchantville home will become the first L’Arche community in the state of New Jersey, joining 17 communities in the United States, and the 140 communities in 36 other countries.

The roots of L’Arche trace back to 1964, when Jean Vanierbought a small, run-down home in Trosly-Breuil, France and invited two men with intellectual disabilities to come and live with him, to create a loving atmosphere centered on the Gospel.

Coming from the French word for “ark” — as in Noah’s Ark, a symbol of hope — L’Arche has become a worldwide mission, dedicated to making known the gifts of those with developmental disabilities; to fostering a community that responds to the changing needs of its members, while being faithful to its core values; and to creating a better society.

In 1997, Vanier was given the International Paul VI Award by Pope John Paul II, who called L’Arche a “providential seed of the civilization of love.”

The communities that followed the first home are united by the same vision, and the spirit of welcoming, sharing, and simplicity that Vanier envisioned.

L’Arche’s movement into New Jersey began 10 years ago, after a group of parents became concerned about the futures of their children with developmental disabilities.

The Friends of L’Arche New Jersey began and once the Merchantville house, which was purchased last August, opens, it will officially become a L’Arche community.

The home, which will house four adults with developmental disabilities (“core members”), and four assistants, will foster “relationships of mutuality, where (community members) are loved, and able to grow,” said Matt Rhodes, the Community Leader of Friends of L’Arche New Jersey.

“The home is a shelter in the chaos,” he said.

Each resident will have his or her own room, and there will be a hospitality room for guests.

During the day, core members will attend a day program or work at their jobs. Afternoons and evenings will be filled with the simple aspects of daily life, such as grocery shopping, taking trips, preparing meals, and enjoying one another’s company. In the evening, the core members and assistants will share dinner together.

The need is great in the state of New Jersey for homes for those with developmental disabilities. Some 3,000 of these individuals currently live in state-run institutions or developmental centers. Additionally, there are more than 10,000 individuals with developmental disabilities on the waiting list to receive a placement in a group home.

The L’Arche Merchantville community will not only be the first of its kind in New Jersey, but the first in the Delaware Valley, and the first between D.C. and Boston. Friends of L’Arche NJ seeks to expand and open several more homes in the next decade.

“The key is building relationships, with those in the home, God and community,” said Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ, on the board of Friends of L’Arche New Jersey and the Camden Diocesan co-director of Ministry With the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities, adding that the home is “faith-and-family based.”

A main hope for the core members is that “this will be their home for life,” says Rhodes.

Currently, funds are being raised for the renovation of the Merchantville home, and the purchase and renovation of additional homes.

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by Peter G. Sånchez
Catholic Star Herald 

Diocese of Camden enters its 75th year

The Diocese of Camden is entering its 75th year, and the upcoming celebratory year will be filled with events showcasing its past and future and looking ahead to a diocesan Mass on Dec. 9, 2012 — 75 years to the day the six-county diocese was established by Pope Pius XI.

The theme of the anniversary year is “Full of Grace,” taken from the Hail Mary prayer.

At his installation as the first bishop of the Diocese of Camden, on May 4, 1938, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace said, “I command that as long as this Church of Camden exists it will show by its devotion and love … its undying fealty to the Mother of God.”

The anniversary logo, created by Tom O’Shea, graphic designer for the Catholic Star Herald, includes the diocesan coat of arms, the number 75, and the crescent moon, present as well in the coat of arms, and signifying the Immaculate Conception, the “full of grace” Mary captured by the upturned crescent horns.

In his Nov. 4 column published in the Catholic Star Herald, commenting on the anniversary, Bishop Joseph A. Galante called the faithful to “embrace the priorities of the diocese in our time: the development of priestly and religious vocations; lay ministry; outreach to youth and young adults; prayerful liturgy, and compassionate outreach to the needy.”

“We know, by celebrating our history, how much has been accomplished despite great odds. We pray to be up to the challenge of our time as those who began our diocese were 75 years ago.”

In 1937, the six southern counties of South Jersey, as part of the Trenton Diocese, were in poor financial condition, with a small Catholic population, a small number of priests, and fiscally weak parishes.

On Dec. 9 of that year, Pope Pius IX declared that Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem would be a new diocese of the Catholic Church, breaking away from the Trenton Diocese.

The new Diocese of Camden in 1937, contained a Catholic population of approximately 100,000; 49 parishes; 75 diocesan priests; 11 religious community priests; five men religious communities; 15 women religious communities; and 35 parochial schools, 30 elementary and five secondary.

As the anniversary year progresses,  events will be announced in the Catholic Star Herald, and the diocesan website

Collection supports 34,000 retired religious

The 24th annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be taken up Dec. 10-11, in the Diocese of Camden.

Sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., the appeal asks Catholics to Share in the Care of more than 34,000 women and men religious past age 70.

Last year, the Diocese of Camden contributed $197,369.10 to this collection. In 2011, the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy, Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus, Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, and the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception received financial assistance made possible by the national appeal. Additionally, religious who serve or have served in the diocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may also benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious.

“We are continually humbled by the generosity shown this appeal,” said NRRO Executive Director Sister Janice Bader, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. “Since the fund was launched in 1988, Catholics have donated $643 million to assist religious communities in caring for their elder members.”

As a result of the 2010 collection, which garnered $26.7 million, the NRRO was able to distribute $23 million to religious communities to help support the day-to-day care of senior members. An additional $2.7 million was allocated toward initiatives targeted for religious communities with the greatest needs. Ninety-three cents of every dollar aids elderly religious.

While the response to the collection is unprecedented, so is the need. In 2010 alone, the total cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion dollars. Nearly 5,000 religious required skilled care. At the same time, however, religious communities strive to minimize costs. In fact, the NRRO reports that the average cost of care for religious past age 70 dropped slightly this year.

“The real challenge for many religious communities is a lack of retirement savings,” explained Sister Janice. “Most senior religious worked for years for small stipends. There were no retirement plans.”

As religious continue to age, fewer members are able to serve in compensated ministry, leading to a sharp decrease in income. By 2019, National Religious Retirement Office data projects that retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by nearly four to one.

For this reason, the NRRO implemented a comprehensive initiative to provide education, consultation and financial assistance to communities that are 50 percent or more underfunded for retirement. Since this program began in 2009, 55 communities, representing some 7,000 women and men religious, have initiated targeted strategies to address their funding shortfalls.

“We’re working to ensure religious communities can care for their elder members today and tomorrow,” said Sister Janice.

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"Ministry of the laity: not an afterthought," Bishop Galante's message in the Catholic Star Herald

These days we have been focusing on the new translation in the liturgy. Much of the work that has to be accomplished is on the part of the priest. For the laity, there have been some changes, most notably in the response of “and with your spirit,” which will take some time to get used to.

While it’s important to get used to the new translation, we should not lose sight of the fact that we come together to celebrate the great mystery of the Eucharist, with priest and people together offering prayer and worship to God. The role of the laity in the life of the Church is vital.

That celebration of the laity’s role was a central theme of the recent Founders Dinner at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Hammonton during which, as a diocese, we recognized those who support the Lifelong Faith Formation process. As part of that event, we heard lay people who, with the financial support of the diocese and their parishes, educate themselves for parish ministry at institutions such as Villanova University, Neumann University, Georgian Court University, and the College of St. Elizabeth, among others. These students, through the support of generous benefactors, have responded to their baptismal call to deepen their knowledge of the faith and to share that faith with their sisters and brothers.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our unity as Church. But to continue to grow in that unity we must realize that both the ordained and the laity have important roles. The ministry of the laity is not an afterthought. It doesn’t exist merely because there is a growing shortage of priests. Even if we had a super abundance of priests, the Church rightly affirmed in Vatican II the role of ministry for the laity. It is baptism which calls us to ministry, and that call is deepened in Confirmation, nurtured in Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

By our baptism we share in the ministry of Jesus as priest, prophet and shepherd. All of us in some way participate in the mission of Jesus. Yes, the ordained are vital, especially in the sacramental life of the Church. But the laity is most important in bringing the Good News to all people. Evangelization is in so many ways effectively brought about through the example, word and zeal of the laity.

While the ordained may proclaim the Word, especially at Eucharist, the laity in a real way live out that Word in everyday life. The power of that witness cannot be underestimated. The Church at Vatican II reminded us that all are called to holiness. As part of our response to that call, we must live out our vocations. The ordained for their part must continue to deepen their identification with Jesus and live and love as Jesus does. The laity, for their part, must also continue to grow in that baptismal identity with Jesus as priest, prophet and shepherd.

The laity must be willing to live that reality. And they must be supported and encouraged by the ordained so that together we may all respond to the call to holiness. To be holy is  to grow more each day into Jesus. It is a challenge for me and you. Let us pray for each other that we may clearly respond to that challenge.

Fighting Poverty with Faith

With nearly 800,000 New Jersey residents living in poverty, the New Jersey Catholic Conference along with other faith-based organizations met at the State House Annex on Nov. 30 for “A Call to Action” to express their concerns about hunger and poverty in one of the wealthiest states in the country.

“As people of faith, we must come together to take action to help our neighbors in need,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the N.J. Catholic Conference in a prepared statement. “We have no excuse; we cannot fail to act on behalf of the poor, even during the current difficult economic times.”

The event took place not more than a week after the New Jersey Catholic bishops held a press conference in Newark and released a statement calling for urgent action to address poverty in the state.

The bishops support an “Agenda for Action” to convene four task forces that will focus on what they say are critical issues affecting poverty in the state: the weakening of family life, failing education systems, unemployment and low-paying jobs.

The interfaith Nov. 30 event, “A Call to Action: Working Together to End Hunger,” was convened by the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, the N.J. Catholic Conference, and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry New Jersey along with at least 20 other faith-based and hunger advocacy organizations. They are part of a national mobilization to cut domestic poverty in half by 2020.

Also participating in A Call to Action were Catholic Charities, Center for Understanding Islam, Community Food Bank of N.J., Episcopal Diocese of N.J., Hindu American Seva Charities, National Council of Jewish Women — State Policy Advocacy Network, and Wesley United Methodist Church of Trenton, among others.

The 90-minute program began at 10:30 a.m. with prayer, followed by various multi-faith presentations. Adele H. LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, spoke on hunger in the state and was followed by government officials, Jeanette Page Hawkins, director of the Division of Family Development in the Department of Human Services, and Michael Pock, project specialist in the office of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who commented on what the state and federal governments were doing.

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by Rich Luongo for the Catholic Star Herald