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Priest convocation addresses the battle with Satan

CHARLESTON—Evil is real, and Satan constantly tries to cast its influence over the world.

That’s an unpleasant fact that many people seem to want to sweep under the rug, but Msgr. John Esseff of the Diocese of Scranton knows a little more about it than the average person. He has served as an exorcist for more than 30 years.

Msgr. Esseff was one of the keynote speakers at the 2015 Convocation for Priests held Jan. 19-22 in Charleston. The event focused on the theme “Exorcism and Reconciliation in the Priesthood.”

He told the priests in attendance that their vocation puts them in the vanguard of the battle against Satan in everyday life, and they must be in constant prayer asking God to protect them and the people they serve.

Msgr. Esseff said that Lucifer’s influence is often behind the conflicts that priests are so often asked to help resolve, whether they involve an entire parish, a school, a family or even just one man or woman.

“As a priest, you are operating as a shepherd of souls,” he said during his speech on Jan. 20. “You need to be aware so that when the wolf comes, you will know what its name is and how to protect your flock. Remember that the spirit of God always unites people, and the spirit of evil always divides.”

He said that too many people tend to deny the idea that evil might be at the root of discord and problems. Msgr. Esseff reminded the clerics of how many times Christ had to do battle with Satan and with demons during his ministry on Earth, and said that battle still goes on for his followers today.

“The devil is like a roaring lion going to devour people of faith,” he said. “You are going to be targeted and constantly in spiritual warfare. Satan wants to destroy you because of who you are.”

Msgr. Esseff urged the priests to become familiar with Church teachings about Satan, and to make prayers for protection and strength against wickedness a regular part of their daily ritual. He also said they need to be willing to discuss the presence of evil with troubled people who come to them, and pray for their protection.

He stressed the fact that being willing to discuss Satan and his reality does not mean priests or anyone else should leap to the conclusion that people undergoing certain kinds of crises or exhibiting strange behaviors are possessed. Possession, according to Church teaching, can only be determined after a person has undergone extensive medical and mental health testing, and exorcism is a ritual that can only be performed after permission is granted by a bishop.

It is important that priests accept the presence of evil and help the people they work with turn away from its influence and live their lives motivated by Christ’s message, and the teachings of God and the Church, Msgr. Esseff said.

He also reminded them that as Christ’s representatives here on Earth, they have a unique power and presence that automatically grants them the ability to help themselves and others overcome evil. The priest’s ability to forgive sins through the sacrament of reconciliation, he said, is one of the greatest weapons against the devil’s influence.

“The main message I have for priests is not to be afraid,” he said. “I tell them that the absolute worst movie, book and play that was written in the past 45 years was ‘The Exorcist’ because it gave the world the wrong idea. It made it appear as if God and the devil are equals. God has total and complete control over the devil, Jesus had total control over Satan, the priest has it as well. Christ always wins.”


Catechetical leaders heed the call to be disciples of Christ

CHARLESTON—A group of about 30 catechetical leaders came together for a Mass and luncheon in their honor at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist recently.

They were celebrating their biannual appreciation day and savored the time to relax, talk and laugh with one another.

Before enjoying a hot lunch, a group of ladies spoke to The Miscellany about their work.

Most of each day, they said, is spent staying on top of paperwork, keeping in touch with the latest news in the world of catechesis, and answering phone calls. A big part of their ministry is simply to listen, as people like to share why they’re joining the Church, or why they’re returning.

The biggest drudgery: paperwork.

The biggest reward: connecting with youth or adults and being the face and voice of Christ.

“To see the transformation of a child into a child of Christ, when they see the light and we see the changes, is beautiful,” said Donna Tomasini, director of Christian formation at St. Peter Church in Columbia.

It is not an easy role.

As Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said in his homily, listening to a leader, and even loving that leader, is not the same as changing your life based on his words. He blessed those in catechetical work for their ministry of passing along the faith to the people; of having them make changes based on their words.

“It’s so important to help people come to an understanding of how important it is to listen to the voice of Christ,” the bishop said. “And don’t just listen, but DO what He asks.”

As they strive toward that goal, catechetical leaders said prayer is the most important aspect of the job.

“We are always praying for the wisdom to know where to lead people,” said Mary Harden, director of faith formation at St. Philip Neri in Fort Mill.

Recently, Harden said, she experienced one of the highs of her ministry when she was asked to sponsor a confirmandi at the Rite of Election. Harden said the new Catholic told her she was instrumental in bringing her into the Church.

Along with wisdom, the leaders said they also pray to always provide a source of strength, patience and compassion to those who are trying to follow the path to God.

They said it’s important for everyone in the church to be warm and welcoming. People who are looking to enter the faith, or rejoin after an absence, are often feeling nervous and unsure and need their first encounter to be a compassionate one.

“We need to see that we’re all on this journey together; we’re all the face of God,” said Elena Ziegler, director of religious education at St. Anne in Rock Hill. “Every encounter is an opportunity for grace for yourself and the other person who comes to you.”


Planning the future of Catholic schools

COLUMBIA—A strategic plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Charleston is one step closer to becoming a reality.

A Catholic Schools Task Force meeting was held on Jan. 13 at St. John Neumann School in Columbia to talk about opportunities and challenges faced by schools.

The group of teachers, principals, pastors, parents, grandparents and members of Catholic school boards will work with a 14-member steering committee and Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone to draw up a strategic growth plan for the schools.

The group learned about Catholic school strengths and weaknesses that were identified through an October meeting of principals and pastors, community input sessions held in each deanery during the fall, and an online survey. They also reviewed demographic and enrollment data compiled by Lydia Doyle, diocesan director of research and planning.

The meetings and surveys revealed community interest in a wide range of topics affecting the schools, including how to keep academics strong, identify and help special needs students, and spread the word about Catholic schools to more people.

It was the latest stage of a year-long process that began in September. Regina Haney of the National Catholic Educational Association and Erik Goldschmidt of the Institute of School and Parish Development are acting as facilitators and will lead the task force meetings.

The strategic plan is meant to revitalize and strengthen schools and will focus on four areas: mission and Catholic identity, academic excellence, governance and leadership, and operational vitality, according to Sandra Leatherwood, director of Catholic education.

Participants in the Jan. 13 meeting divided into four committees. Each is focused on one of the four planning areas, and by March hope to come up with a list of challenges and possible solutions that could be implemented around the diocese. Other task force meetings are scheduled for Feb. 10 and March 19.

The group will then present their ideas to the steering committee, who will draft a list of proposals to present to Bishop Guglielmone in May. After the bishop reviews and makes his changes to the material, it will be presented to the public at a diocesan-wide congress scheduled for June 24.

“By August we want to go into our second phase of planning,” Leatherwood said. “We want to be able to say these are our solutions, now how are we going to implement them?”


LARCUM bishops pray for unity

COLUMBIA—Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone used the life-giving substance of water as a metaphor for the bonds that believers in Christ share during his homily at the annual LARCUM prayer service.

The gathering draws leaders from Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches to pray together at the beginning of the National Week of Christian Unity. This year’s event was at College Place United Methodist Church near the campus of Columbia College.

Bishop Guglielmone was joined by Bishop J. Jonathan Holston of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Herman R. Yoos of the South Carolina Synod for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South, and the Rev. Jeff Richardson, who was representing Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

His homily focused on the reading of Isaiah 55:1-5, which issues the invitation “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!”

“Water conveys meaning at many levels,” he said. “We can think of the beauty and tranquility water can produce, the sense of refreshment of a cooling rain in the midst of oppressive heat, the power of water we see in something like Niagara Falls, the life-giving necessity of water that we see when drought occurs.”

Bishop Guglielmone said these images evoke the natural power of water, but there is also a supernatural facet to it. Water, he said, becomes living water through the sacrament of baptism, and it symbolizes the living presence of Christ in the hearts of all who believe in Him.

“Through these living waters we are incorporated in the body of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We are made the brothers and sisters of Jesus and of each other. We are made disciples.”

Followers of Christ, empowered by this living water of belief, are brave enough to abandon their own concerns and do what they need to do to spread God’s word on Earth, Bishop Guglielmone said.

“We are each given our own gifts that can help complete the Body of Christ in the world,” he continued. “Individually we are limited, but together we form the Body of Christ. We have responded to the call to be ‘fishers of men’ and we do our best to show evidence of His kingdom in the world to all those we come in contact with.”

Bishop Guglielmone said the members of LARCUM have shown their unity over the years by working together to spread the Gospel, seek justice for the poor, help immigrants, and seek an end to racism. He urged the group to continue their efforts on important causes, specifically their most recent endeavor to bolster and support public education around the state.


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