Let mercy overcome misery

Archbishop Aquila

It is the Year of Mercy, and people are starving for God’s mercy, even if they don’t recognize it. I was pleasantly surprised to see concrete evidence of this hunger at Mercy Chose Me, our archdiocesan conference on mercy.

Close to 500 people packed the parish hall at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Northglenn to learn about the role of mercy in the New Evangelization, our archdiocesan model of mercy Julia Greeley, how to incorporate mercy into one’s spirituality, and to discover opportunities to engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Lent, which we began on February 10, is a perfect time to practice the works of mercy and make them a regular part of our daily lives.

The hectic pace of our society makes it difficult to be merciful. It’s easier to pass by the suffering of others, to let our schedules carry us past encounters with others that would be a chance for healing and forgiveness to enter our lives and theirs.

A few months ago, someone approached me and suggested that we should hold a Eucharistic Procession around the Planned Parenthood campus in Stapleton. I told that person I would pray about it, and after I brought it before the Lord, it became clear that we should hold the procession.

The need for God’s mercy at Planned Parenthood or any abortion facility is enormous. The Colorado Department of Health reported that 10,648 children were killed by abortion in 2014 in our state. That means that over 21,000 parents – not to mention other family members – were wounded by the trauma of abortion.

If that many Coloradans lost their lives or were harmed by an infectious disease, I’m sure that the state and federal governments would assemble task forces, coordinate relief for the afflicted and spread awareness through the media. But because the suffering is quietly borne and the unborn are defenseless, the trauma experienced by parents, extended families and siblings goes untreated.

The Church does extraordinary things through our Archdiocesan Catholic Charities to help those who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation or who have made the tragic decision to abort their child. Lives have been changed forever through these works of mercy. No one is beyond God’s mercy.

I am inviting you to join me in carrying out a spiritual work of mercy on March 5 at the Planned Parenthood facility in Stapleton. On that day, beginning at 10:00 a.m., I will lead a Eucharistic Procession seven times around the campus, similar to what Joshua did around Jericho.

Truly experiencing the freedom of the Jubilee Year begins with each of us acknowledging that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. Once we receive his mercy, then we are able to bring it to others. With that in mind, we will ask God as we process around Planned Parenthood to have mercy on all those who enter the abortion clinic, on those that work there, on all those impacted by the evil of abortion, and on our country. We will pray for their deliverance from the evil they participate in.

A wonderful way to prepare yourself to participate in this prayerful procession is to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of Confession before attending. Then, ask the Lord to prepare your heart to be his agent of mercy in interceding for those involved in the sin of abortion.

God’s mercy conquered death when he rose from the dead. The mercy of the Father can overcome abortion, and all sin and evil, when we open our hearts to him. Let us pray for the conversion of all involved in abortion and the spread of God’s mercy throughout the world!

COMING UP: Honored for 50 years of service at Cabrini Shrine, man says it’s been ‘blessing after blessing’

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Every workday, facilities manager Tom Francis starts his morning the same way. He enters the chapel at Mother Cabrini Shrine on Lookout Mountain, turns on the lights and addresses a statue of the shrine’s namesake.

“I tell her, ‘OK boss, this is your place. I’m just a pair of hands. You need to help me or we won’t be able to be here for those who come.’”

On December 1, Tommy, as he is affectionately called, marked 50 years as an employee of the shrine, which is named after St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The shrine staff honored the energetic 71-year-old with a Mass and luncheon.

“Tommy has a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini,” said JoAnn Seaman, Development Director. “He has had a huge impact on the shrine and what it has become. … He is very humble and gives all the credit to Cabrini.”

In 1880, the native Italian nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart by means of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Desiring to do mission work in China, instead Pope Leo XIII urged her to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. From 1889 until her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini did so, even becoming a naturalized citizen in 1909.

Tommy was recognized for service that started when he was a 21-year-old college student who labored summers, nights and weekends at the shrine and lived with his parents, grandmother and siblings in the caretaker’s house. But in reality, his service began when he was still a child and his father Carl worked as the maintenance manager for Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. Located in north Denver, the orphanage operated from 1905-1967. It was torn down in 1969.

“I was blessed to work with my dad and to be around the [Missionary] Sisters all the time,” Tommy said. “By the time my dad passed [in 1984] he’d spent 54 years of his life working for them. It was from him I learned respect for the sisters and their mission.”

Even after Tommy finished college and was working fulltime as a math teacher, he continued working part-time at the shrine. Upon retiring from a successful 30-year teaching career in 2003, he began laboring fulltime at the shrine.

“Mother Cabrini bought this property in 1910, primarily as the summer home for the girls at Queen of Heaven Orphanage,” Tommy explained. “In 1938, when she was beatified, they started building a chapel as there was a lot of interest in Mother Cabrini…. After she was canonized in 1946, that’s when the real development started. In the 1950s the statue of Jesus was placed at the top of the hill. That’s how the shrine got started.”

By the time Tommy started working there, Mother Cabrini had been canonized more than 20 years and was recognized as the patron of immigrants. The shrine was already attracting pilgrims who wanted to walk where a saint had once walked.

Tom Francis has worked at Mother Cabrini shrine for 50 years, continuing the legacy started by his father, who began working for the Shrine in 1930, when it was operating as Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. (Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

They were also drawn by a spring that was discovered in 1912 when Mother Cabrini’s sisters complained to her about the lack of water on the property. The saint told them: “Lift that rock over there and start to dig.” They did and found a spring that runs to this day. Many pilgrims believe that through faith, the water has brought healing and peace to their lives.

A replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, was built over the spring in 1929 and replaced with the current one in 1959. The historic Stone House dormitory, completed for the orphan girls in 1914, now serves as a retreat house.

The 22-foot statue of Jesus, which stands on the highest point of the 900-acre site and serves as a landmark for the shrine, is reached by a prayer path of 373 steps built in 1954. At the foot of the statue is an image of Christ’s Sacred Heart made with white stones by Mother Cabrini with help from her sisters and some of the orphan girls in 1912.

The original pump-house is now a charming museum about the saint and the 50-year-old main building housing the chapel, gift shop and convent is constantly busy with visitors.

In his years with the shrine, Tommy, with the help of many volunteers, has further beautified and enhanced the tranquility of the grounds with his landscaping skills.
“Not only does he take care of the grounds and buildings, but he designed and built all of our meditation and prayer gardens,” Seaman said. “He knows every inch of this place like the back of his hand.”

“Our sisters would not have been able to maintain this ministry without Tommy and his family, who worked for the sisters since the time of the orphanage,” said Missionary Sister Roselle Santivasi, noting that when she arrived to the shrine nine years ago, Tommy’s mother Elda, who died in 2012, was still a helpful presence at the shrine.

“Every Missionary Sister knows Tom Francis and his family,” declared Sister Roselle. “Our whole ministry here was so dependent on Tommy and his family and continues to be. They are a large part of why the [shrine] mission has succeeded and has brought the presence of God to so many people.”

A widower for 27 years as he raised two daughters after losing his wife to cancer, Tommy met his current wife Sarah, a speech therapist, in 2005 when she moved to the shrine from Green Bay, Wis., as a Cabrini Mission Corps lay volunteer. The couple will mark their 10th wedding anniversary in March.

Sarah is just one of the blessings Mother Cabrini has brought Tommy as he labors at her shrine.

“You can feel a connection with Mother Cabrini here — you can feel her presence,” Tommy asserted. “Even though we no longer have orphans, about 50 percent of our visitors are immigrants who have great devotion to Mother Cabrini. The sisters still work with the poor and it’s still the Cabrini vision to spread God’s love through the world.”

The shrine remains a prayerful place of pilgrimage to foster one’s relationship with Christ, whether for a day or for a longer formal retreat. Tommy said he loves his work and plans to go on keeping the shrine vibrant.

“Since my dad started working for the sisters in 1930, it’s my goal to continue working to 2030 so we can have 100 [consecutive] years of service to St. Frances Cabrini in Denver,” he said, not satisfied with the 104 combined years they’ve already given. “The shrine is a wonderful place to be. It’s blessing after blessing here.”