Colorado religious leaders gather for Faithful Tuesdays to advance eradication of racism and support just economy, equity 

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In an attempt to add a deeper moral dimension to the public policy making in Colorado, leaders from different religious institutions in the state, including the Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez, gathered Feb. 5 at the Colorado State Capitol to commence the Faithful Tuesdays program, which will host different religious leaders throughout the 2019 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly to address topics seeking the advancement of a collaborative process in support for a just economy, equity and the eradication of racism.

The event gathered the presence of the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Colorado Council of Churches, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Together Colorado and leaders from different faiths.

Bishop Rodriguez, who spoke on the eradication of racism, called the topic “a very timely subject,” referring to the recent pastoral letter against racism released by the USCCB under the title Open Wide Our Hearts – The Enduring Call to Love; and said that this eradication was in part a duty of all religious leaders.

“Racism is a sin that divides the human family and violates human dignity.  As faith leaders we are called to be consistent voices calling for the eradication of racism in our communities,” Bishop Rodriguez said.  “We all have a duty to recognize that our various faith traditions call on us to break down the walls created by the evils of racism, whether that evil is displayed publicly for all to see or buried deep in the recesses of our hearts.  If we don’t heed this call, we are destined for history to continue to repeat itself.”

The USCCB pastoral letter states: “Racism arises when — either consciously or unconsciously — a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).”

Bishop Rodriguez underlined that in order to respond appropriately to this problem, it is necessary to listen to those who have experienced it first hand, whose story would not only convince religious leaders of its reality, but also allow them to promote justice with empathy.

“We must create occasions to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply engraved on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice,” he said. “Racism is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy – a transformation of the human heart – that compels us to act.  The power of this type of transformation will be a strong catalyst in eliminating those injustices that impinge on human dignity.”

Quoting the USCCB pastoral letter, Bishop Rodriguez called to mind the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the civil rights movement, which brought together Catholics, Protestants and Jews — and called on all people of faith to continue in the same tradition.

“It is my prayer that all people of good will join together to strive for the eradication of racism in all its forms,” he concluded. “For there is no place for racism in the hearts of any person; it is a perversion of the Lord’s will for men and women, all of who were made in God’s likeness and image.”

Jenny Kraska, Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), told the Denver Catholic that in the fight for the dignity of life from conception to natural death, the CCC also fights for the rights of those in life who “fall through the cracks.”

“It’s [about] promoting the dignity of every human person… A lot of the legislation that we’re focused on looks at the lives of immigrants in our community, the lives of those who are most in need, homeless people,” Kraska said. “I think sometimes people in those segments in society fall through the cracks, and it’s up to us as a faith community to show legislators that every human life has dignity.”

Rabbi Joseph Black from Temple Emanuel in Denver spoke on moral economy and emphasized the need for people of faith to speak up against such injustices in society.

“As people of faith we see the world from a prism of relationships… We believe that it is important to live in community and that our lives are intertwined. And as a result, we are responsible for one another,” he said. “To state that we are people of faith means that we are compelled and commanded to speak whenever we see injustice… that we cannot be silent when we see inequities in housing, employment, wages, healthcare, childcare and a myriad of other ills that plague our city, states and nation.”

Bishop Jerry Demmer, from the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, spoke about equity referring to the image of Lady Justice and the Book of Revelation.

“Lady Justice has often been depicted as wearing a blind fold. The blind fold represents impartiality, the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power or even status,” he said. “To have true equity we have to understand what the Bible teaches. And the Bible lets us know in Revelation 7:9, John said, ‘I saw a number that no man can number of all races, kindreds, tongues and nations of people.’ So, when we begin to understand equity, we understand that we have to come together and work together as one people, and then we understand what real equity is.”

The following Tuesday meetings will take place at the Colorado State Capital from noon to 1 p.m. and will address criminal justice, the death penalty and homelessness, respectively.

Featured image by Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

COMING UP: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.