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Father Emmanuel Efiong’s humility and joy inspires a parish

PICKENS—For parishioners at Holy Cross Church, Father Emmanuel Efiong is more than a priest, he’s a member of the family.

To show how much he means to them, one couple gave him an extraordinary gift to help honor his 25th jubilee —a pilgrimage to Rome.

Father Emmanuel, as he is called, said he was blown away by the gesture and by the love and respect it represented, adding that the feelings are mutual.

After Father Emmanuel scheduled his trip, he received a second gift: The dates of the canonization were released and it turned out the priest was going to be in Rome the same week that Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II were elevated to sainthood. It was as if God had smiled on the pilgrimage and given it His blessing.

Father Emmanuel said the entire trip was uplifting and remarked especially on how beautiful it was to celebrate Mass at every historical site he visited.

One thing he carried away with him from the canonizations was a sense of validation in his own ministry.

“These guys were only human beings like me,” he said. “We must learn from their life and always strive to lead a holy life and do our best.”

Parishioners at Holy Cross believe Father Emmanuel takes that philosophy to heart and lives it each day, with many saying he is exactly what a priest should be.

“There’s nobody better. He’s so filled with the Holy Spirit, it’s just amazing,” Judy Masterson said.

Masterson said their administrator is an inspiration who has brought people back into active participation in the church and drawn the whole community closer.

Many credit his appeal to his aura of joy and humility.

In conversation, the Nigerian priest is full of great exuberance, talking passionately about many topics, but always with joy close at hand, so that even in serious issues he can find laughter.

He said the priesthood is not a profession that people choose, but a noble vocation that God chooses for you.

“I do not merit this office,” Father Emmanuel said. “I am a priest today because God chooses me. I must always be cheerful to share this ministry God has given me in a way that is just and honest.”

Born in Nigeria, he was the third of eight children raised in a deeply Catholic family. As a youth, he spent a lot of time in church as an altar server and loved working with the priests. He also was an avid soccer player and sprinter, and is a huge fan of Manchester United. He attended high school seminary, and said he felt called to the priesthood even then — but it was not a vocation he accepted easily.

“I liken my call to the call of Jonah,” he said with a laugh, noting that he ran away from it many times. It was not until the day of his ordination that he finally surrendered himself and said yes.

Left to his own devices, Father Emmanuel said he would have pursued becoming a medical doctor and serving in third-world countries.

He does what he can for his home country, sending money to family and to help build a church, Masterson said, adding that he often talks about life there and how dangerous it is.

Angie Villano, another parishioner, worries about him when he goes home. She said he flew to Nigeria on May 11 to celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for a friend. He will return to Pickens in time to commemorate his 25th jubilee on May 31 with a Mass and reception.

Villano said she wishes they could keep Father Emmanuel here forever, but knows there may be a time his bishop recalls him.

“Since he came here, he’s been a huge part of our family,” she said. “He’s one of a kind; a breath of fresh air. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed having him and do not look forward to the day he has to leave.”

Father Emmanuel admits he is pulled by the need in Nigeria and would like to return one day.

At the same time, he calls Holy Cross home sweet home. “I am very happy here. I am so accepted and loved,” he said.

In the end he laughs, perhaps in relief, that the decision is not his to make: “It is all up to God.”

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Paul Rosenblum is ordained to the permanent diaconate

CHARLESTON—Paul Rosenblum started on a journey of faith and love when he met his wife Cathy more than 30 years ago in Massachusetts.

He was raised Jewish. She had been raised Buddhist in Korea and became a Catholic in the early 1960s. Her example of faith led him to convert to Catholicism and then to begin studies for the permanent diaconate.

The years of work, prayer and devotion were fulfilled when Rosenblum was ordained a permanent deacon by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone on May 9 at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Charleston.

During the ceremony, the bishop described the duties of a permanent deacon and urged him to carry out his work with love and humility. During the Litany of the Saints, Deacon Rosenblum prostrated himself before the altar. Bishop Guglielmone laid hands on him and prayed, and he was presented with the Book of the Gospels.

Deacon Rosenblum said his interest in the faith blossomed during the ’90s when the family was living in Texas. He started attending Mass with Cathy and then went through the RCIA program in 1996. He first thought about studying for the diaconate shortly after they moved to Charleston in 2001 and he took a job as a biology professor at The Citadel.

“I’m not sure I ever said anything about being a deacon to Cathy, but she pointed out a listing about the diaconate formation program in the bulletin one day, so she knew that something was going on,” he said. “She seems to know that all the time.”

“I’m very proud of him,” Mrs. Rosenblum said. “He worked very hard and I think he will make an excellent deacon because he is very faithful, always searching for knowledge and more meaning.”

They have one son, Kevin Rosenblum, who currently lives in Virginia with his wife, Jeanna Rosenblum, and 3-month-old son Elliot. All three were able to attend the ordination.

Deacon Rosenblum will be assigned to St. Mary of the Annunciation, and will also continue his duties with the Charleston Area Port and Seafarers’ Society, an interdenominational ministry at the area’s ports. Rosenblum has worked with the ministry for almost 10 years and said it allows him to represent the Church and the Apostleship of the Sea to people who work on container ships and other vessels.

More than 100 permanent deacons currently serve the Diocese of Charleston. Men in formation for the diaconate may be married or single, and generally attend classes for four years.

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SC Catholic Conference will make a legislative impact

Sometimes Catholics in the state feel like their voices go unheard on important legislative matters, but there is a way to change that.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone recently approved the creation of the South Carolina Catholic Conference and Michael Acquilano, director, said they are already making an impact.

The conference is a public policy organization that makes sure faith is represented effectively on all matters of import, such as pro-life issues, marriage and education.

“The goal is to bring zeal to the pews and get people engaged,” Acquilano said, adding that they are guided by the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It’s easy to become involved. Simply visit www.sccatholicconference.org and register.

People will have the opportunity to choose the topics they are most passionate about, and will then receive email updates on anything that impacts those issues.

For example, someone concerned about immigration will be updated on all state and federal government policies that affect immigration, and directed to the appropriate legislators to lend the power of their voice in either support or opposition.

Catholic conferences are found in almost every state and can directly impact votes important to the Church. For example, in Massachusetts, the conference was key in defeating that state’s assisted suicide bill.

Acquilano said the Catholic community in South Carolina has already demonstrated a strong voice, lending support to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would extend protection to unborn children who have reached 20 weeks fetal age.

The act was passed by the S.C. Senate Committee by an 8-6 vote on May 2 and is expected to come before the full Senate by the end of May.

And the more people involved, the louder the voice.

“Imagine if I had 50,000 or 100,000 people across the state that I could turn to,” Acquilano said.

The Catholic conference could make the difference in other issues currently being debated by the state legislature, including school choice and sex education.

Acquilano said members of the conference will receive newsletters and have access to video updates. They can also join the Facebook page for community sharing.

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Save-A-Smile helps people take a bite out of life

GREENVILLE—For most people, breaking into a smile when they’re happy is second nature.

For Pepper Humphrey, it is a precious gift. The Taylors resident said she avoided smiling for years because she had bad teeth.

“I wouldn’t talk that openly, I would sit there covering my mouth,” she recalled.

Then, in 2011, her life changed dramatically because of a new set of dentures she received through Save-A-Smile, a program run by Catholic Charities that provides dental work for low-income adults.

“It was an answer to a prayer,” Humphrey said. “I was out of work, and getting dentures allowed me to be able to get another job. I was able to communicate with people professionally and socially. Now I don’t mind smiling and I don’t mind talking with people.”

Humphrey, who works part-time as a bookkeeper, is one of more than 700 people around the Upstate who have received new dentures through Save-A-Smile in the past three years.

The program recently received a welcome boost from a $60,000 grant awarded to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston by Greenville Women Giving, a philanthropic group centered on the idea that women can make a real difference in the community.

That money will help about 150 people who desperately need dental work but otherwise couldn’t afford it, said Karl Rogozenski, senior care and development coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Piedmont Deanery.

Rogozenski works closely with Save-A-Smile and sees the results on a daily basis. Many clients are able to land jobs because their appearance and self-esteem improves, and they can be more successful at job interviews, he said.

A full set of teeth also has health benefits, because people are able to eat more foods without difficulty. Rogozenski recalls one woman who was overjoyed because she was finally able to eat an ear of corn again.

“We take pictures before and after, and it’s an incredible transformation,” he said. “We have a bulletin board full of smiles on the wall. You can see the real change in people.”

Candidates for new dentures first attend an oral hygiene workshop given by the dental college at Greenville Technical College, and then complete an interview and application. Once they are approved, recipients receive a voucher to have their dentures made at a local clinic.

Rogozenski said many people who benefit from the program have been struggling with poor dental health for years. Save-A-Smile has served people in their 30s on up.

“It is an unending need because Medicare and other programs don’t help with things like dentures,” he said. “We’ve helped hundreds but we also have close to 400 people on the waiting list.”

Humphrey spent three years on the list before getting her dentures and said the day she received them was an answer to a prayer.

“They have given me confidence and a sense of self-worth,” she said. “I want to show people here I am. See how God has worked in my life!”

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