New director of youth ministry says program’s success hinges on team effort

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BY TERRY DICKSON

BILOXI – Bishop Roger Morin has hired Ray Lacy to serve as the new diocesan director of youth ministry, effective August 15. Lacy succeeds Bragg Moore, who is retiring after three decades in the position.

Lacy, 37, is a native of Gulfport and a graduate of St. John High School. He is married to Mandy and has three children: Mackenzie, 13, Peyton, 11 and Mia Clare, 6. They are members of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Long Beach, where Lacy has served on and off as youth minister since 2000.

Lacy became Catholic during his senior year at St. John, after having what he describes as “a conversion experience.”

“I wasn’t really practicing anything,” he said. “I attended Catholic churches, but I never participated in the sacraments. I was on the campus ministry team at St. John and, when I had my conversion experience during a retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, I came back and Jack Beattie, God rest his soul, said, ‘You should think about becoming Catholic.’ That’s when I met Msgr. Dominick Fullam, who signed me up for RCIA. There were three of us in the class at St. James Parish in Gulfport and I came into the Church in 1997.”

After that, he said, youth ministry began to play a greater role in his life. So, when St. Thomas pastor Father Louis Lohan asked him to run the parish’s youth ministry and Life Teen programs.

Lacy left his position at St. Thomas after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to teach religion at St. John and then St. Patrick Catholic High School in Biloxi, while continuing to help with youth ministry.

The fruits of working with young people on a parish level, said Lacy, “come from seeing them experience Christ in a way that creates conversion in their life.

“They experience Christ in a way that changes their world view and their understanding of how they are supposed to live out this Christian virtue because, when they get it, it’s amazing,” he said. “When it clicks, when they recognize how much God loves them and how much a part of their life he is, and they acknowledge that and surrender to that, that’s it. I mean that really and truly is it. There’s so much to that but, simply put, it’s about them experiencing the love of Christ and realizing it.”

Lacy said he is excited and nervous to be following in Moore’s footsteps.

“I love where we’re at with youth ministry in our diocese,” said Lacy. “I think we’ve got a lot of good things going and I just kind of feel that we want to keep those things, whether they be the annual youth conference or SEARCH, going in the right direction.”

Lacy said he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Moore.

“When I came into youth ministry, Bragg was one of those people that I would often call on for guidance and input,” he said.

“It was always with just a joyful response of ‘I’m here to help you in every way that I possibly can.’ That friendship became even stronger through the years in doing ministry together, whether it was March for Life or conference, and working more personally with him. I consider him a great friend. I consider him someone who was very, very impactful in me continuing to stay in youth ministry through his encouragement and conversations that we’ve had through the years. I think that one of the things that Bragg is so good about is sitting back and listening and giving that input and encouragement where it’s needed to really keep people plugged in, to keep people engaged in the long-term goal of what youth ministry is. It isn’t about just having fun experiences. It’s about understanding how we are called to impact the younger generation so that they too can come back and do the same thing.”

Lacy said he is “super excited” about working with Brenda Sargent, a long-time fixture in the Office of Youth Ministry.

“Brenda has been great to collaborate with through the years and I look forward to continuing the good things we already have going on,” he said.

Sargent agreed.

“I am excited to see where this adventure leads us,” she said. “Knowing he has so many qualities and ways that Bragg has, we will start out on the beginning of a great work relationship.”

Lacy reiterated that his goal coming into his new position is to keep the good things going.

“As time allows, we will create new approaches and make adjustments where we feel adjustments need to be made,” he said.

“That would be a collective decision, not just something coming from me. There are going to be things that change because I’m not Bragg and that’s just the nature of humanity in and of itself. With Brenda and her influence and all she brings to the table in wisdom of how we’ve done it in the past, there’s going to be great collaboration there that I think will allow us to continue the great things that are going on and, at the same time, allow us to create new ideas.”

Lacy believes every male and female should seriously consider his or her vocation, whether it is to priesthood, religious life, married life, etc., but especially to priesthood and religious life. He said the same thinking applies to young people and their role in the Church.

“There’s the easy road and there’s the opportunity to go deep,” he said.

“The truth is that every person has something to offer. It may not be that your gift is getting up and giving great talks. Your gift may be being quiet and listening. I hope that, as Bragg does so well, I’ll be able to look at someone and say, ‘Don’t believe you don’t have anything to offer because you do.’ Get involved. See where you fit. If it doesn’t work this way, it may work a different way. It may be that his isn’t what you need to be doing at all, but you’ve got to give it a shot.”

Lacy added that he’s very passionate about young people discerning their vocation.

“I’m excited to be able to work with Father Adam Urbaniak and Father Dominic Pham on vocations and reaching into the hearts of our young men and women and just encouraging them to pray about it. There’s no pressure. One of the things I loved when I was discerning was that there was someone available to help me along in the process.”

Lacy also believes that every adult has a major role to play in the spiritual development of young people.

“Age doesn’t matter. Heart matters,” he said. “As you love young people and you give them time and you listen, they respond. That’s what they long for, is to have value. Any person can offer that opportunity to our young people.”

 

After three decades, Moore’s tenure as diocesan director of youth ministry coming to an end

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BY TERRY DICKSON

BILOXI – An era is coming to an end as Bragg Moore, diocesan director of youth ministry, is retiring on September 10, after three decades of service in that position.

All are invited to attend a retirement reception in Moore’s honor on Aug. 20 from 1 pm to 5 pm in the Sacred Heart Center, located behind Nativity BVM Cathedral.

“It’s time for somebody new, it really is,” said Moore. It’s time for some new ideas, some new direction. I just turned 65 in July and this is a young person’s job.”

Ray Lacy, former director of youth ministry at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Long Beach has been selected to replace Moore.

“I’ve known Ray since he was at St. John High School in Gulfport. He’s been a real active part of youth ministry in several capacities,” said Moore. “He’s certainly been a big supporter of our office. I’m real excited. I think he’s excited about the new challenges that will be a part of that. I know Ray will bring some new ideas and direction and he will continue to build up the youth ministry program.”

Moore’s longtime assistant, Brenda Sargent, will stay on in a new capacity as office manager and assistant director of youth ministry operations.

“She’s really going to be able to help Ray figure out this job and what goes on in the Office of Youth Ministry,” said Moore.

“I can’t imagine how that office would function without Brenda’s hard work and dedication and her love for those young people and those who minister to them.”

Sargent said working with Moore has been “a humbling experience.”

“He has helped me to always see the positive in situations, stay focused on what is the best for young people but most of all lead by example,” she said. “The motto around our office is ‘for the good of the group.’  His passion to speak with young people, learn who they are and what they are about, draws young people like a magnet.  No matter what situation or how busy our office is, if a young person walks through the door, everything stops and the focus is on that person.

“Over the years I have watched young people walk through our door with heavy hearts about matters in life.  A little time with Bragg, they are smiling and have a better outlook on life, but most likely they have been challenged, in some way to work on the situation.  He always follows up on those kinds of meetings,” she added.

“I can’t begin to express the number of young people from our diocese who would stand up and tell you that they are who they are today because of the friendship and loving advice Bragg Moore shared with them  many years ago.”

Moore, a native of Pascagoula, is a product of Catholic schools, having attended Our Lady of Victories Elementary and High School. He graduated in 1969 and headed to Mississippi State University in Starkville, where he earned a degree in education, with the aim of becoming a teacher and a coach.

Moore achieved that goal, spending a decade (1976-1986) in the classroom and coaching football, baseball and girls’ basketball at his alma mater, OLV.

He was already involved in youth ministry by the time he became a teacher.

“In 1974, my good friend, Father Louis Lohan, was associate pastor at OLV and asked my wife and I to help with parish CYO,” said Moore.

“In 1984, Father Bernie Farrell asked me to take on the dual responsibilities of Director of Religious Education and Youth ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Pascagoula and I stayed in that position for three years.”

Moore took on his current job in 1987.

“It was really kind of odd how I got the job,” he said. “I was probably the most unprepared person ever for diocesan work. Father Greg Barras had served for one year as diocesan youth minister and really found that ministry to be challenging for him. So he asked for a reassignment to a parish and he forwarded my name to Bishop Joseph Howze. The first thing I know, I’m meeting with Bishop Howze and the job was offered to me. I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to prepare.”

Moore said the highlights of his time in youth ministry would start with the countless people he has encountered on the journey. However, he said the seminal events of his 30 years would include World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 and the annual National Catholic Youth Conference.

“All the trips to our diocesan mission in Saltillo are certainly big highlights in my life and were opportunities to minister with some great kids in places I never thought I would go,” he said.

“But it’s the people, the hundreds; if not thousands of young people and adults I’ve had a chance to work with from parishes that have really me the most joy in my ministry.”

Moore said there are some things he won’t miss.

“I really won’t miss all the long bus rides that we’ve taken, some as long as 18 or 20 hours,” he said.

Moore said he gets great satisfaction out of witnessing teenagers who have grown into active participants in their parishes and parents of children, who are also being raised in the faith.

“That’s always exciting,” he said. I think of all those people I still keep in touch with. Their children are grown. They’ve moved on and have careers. The Church is still very meaningful to them. Then, to see the generation that they’re producing, that’s just awesome.”

Conversely, there have been some low points.

“The disappointment is seeing young kids whose faith was really on fire in high school and then find out later that they’ve maybe moved away from our Church. That’s really disappointing in a lot of ways.”

However, said Moore, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Moore said he’s honored to have had the opportunity to serve three bishops – Bishop Howze, Bishop Thomas Rodi, who is now archbishop of Mobile and the current bishop, Bishop Roger Morin.

“They’ve all been very different,” he said. “Bishop Howze took a chance on a young man 30 years ago and told me that we were a young diocese, a mission diocese and not to be afraid to try new stuff and we did. Then, Bishop Rodi came – we were almost 25 years old when he came – and he brought a lot of stability and structure to our diocese, which I found to be very helpful to me in my ministry. Then, Bishop Morin came and he’s been very generous to work with, very supportive. I’ve enjoyed all three of them. They’ve all added to who I am as a man and as a minister and they’ve certainly each brought their own gifts to our diocese. I hope I have been as supportive of them as I could be.”

Sargent said Moore’s loss will be felt, not only on a local level, but on a national level as well.

“When looking back on all the trips and programs our office has endured it is remarkable to think of the adults and young adults that Bragg has encountered and shared the experience with,” she said.  “Whether it be local Youth Celebration, SEARCH RETREATS, NCYC, NCCYM, March for Life, Notre Dame Vision, Saltillo Mission trips etc.  It is a fact that he has encountered a hug from at least 52,000 people during his time as Youth Director of the Diocese of Biloxi over the last 30 years.”

Moore said it’ll be difficult to give up those things.

“That’s going to be kind of weird,” he said, adding that he’ll somehow manage.

Even though he’s retiring, Moore doesn’t plan to sit at home and twiddle his thumbs. He’s already signed on to teach a religion class at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula come fall. He will be in good company, as one of his teaching colleagues will be his wife, Linda. The Moore’s have two children, a son Matt and a daughter, Kiley Leonard (Jeff), and two grandchildren.

“I’m also hoping to apply to be an usher for the Biloxi Shuckers because I love baseball and free baseball sounds really good,” said Moore. “They work about 80 days a year, so I’m hoping that’s going to happen. There are some other possibilities. I’d like to consider forming a young adult ministry in Jackson County, but that’s kind of just in my head right now. I’m excited about this next chapter of my life. I’m really just looking for some new direction in my own life, recalibrating who I am and where I will be going.”

Before he departs, however, Moore has some words of advice for the young Church of Biloxi.

“Be open to God’s spirit, his movement in your life,” he said. “Be aware, when you feel that God is close, to acknowledge that and be thankful and, when he seems far away, know that he is walking alongside you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Expansion of priesthood for diocese ongoing through education, mentoring to facilitate ‘God’s Call’

Vocations Followup

BY TERRY DICKSON

DIOCESE OF BILOXI – Since 2011, three Polish men, including Father Adam Urbaniak, have been ordained priests for the Diocese of Biloxi and three more are currently in formation.

However, Father Adam, who was recently appointed diocesan director of Vocations, said that while he will continue to recruit men from his homeland and other foreign countries for the Diocese of Biloxi, his main emphasis will be fostering native vocations.

“I think it’s very important that we have American priests, that the majority of seminarians will be American seminarians,” he said. “It’s also important that we continue to look for vocations from Poland and Mexico as well.”

Bishop Roger Morin has appointed Father Dominic Pham to serve as assistant director of vocations. Together, the two priests aim to come up with initiatives designed to nurture American vocations. Father Adam realizes that this will require a team effort.

“A big part of my job, as I see it, is to support the call of the Holy Spirit and, of course, being available to the seminarians. A vocations director is there for them. He has to be available. He has to be in a close relationship with the seminarians. He also has to be available to the seminary authorities and the seminary formation team,” he said.

Father Adam, who became pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Vancleave and Christ the King Mission in Latimer on July 1, said he is very grateful to have Father Pham’s assistance.

“He has already agreed to put his focus on looking for vocations and he’s going to do a lot for the diocese,” Father Adam said.

Addressing the need for vocations with programming, dialogue and discernment – above the din

The Diocese of Biloxi is comprised of 43 parishes and nine missions. There are currently 79 priests in the diocese, 38 are active diocesan priests (nine of whom are nearing retirement age) and the rest are already retired, members of a religious order or extern priests from another diocese or religious order who have diocesan faculties but are not assigned to a specific parish.

These numbers underscore the dire need for more priestly vocations in the Diocese of Biloxi.

“The sacramental life of the Church depends on a body of active clergy who day in and day out serve at the Eucharistic altar, baptismal font and throne of mercy. They witness holy matrimony on behalf of the Church, console the sick at their bedside, and when the time comes, escort them to the Father’s embrace,” said Father Pham. “He is there when someone needs an open ear, a word of encouragement, and just an affirmation. Such is the life of the priest, sometimes overlooked and forgotten, yet so essential to any Catholic faithful.

“If you ask any Catholic priest what he enjoys most about the priesthood, he will tell you just that: Serve the people of God through the sacraments. The shortage of priests today does raise concerns for the Church. God continues to call young men to the priesthood and the seeds of that call are present. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to pray for and nurture those seeds so that they become an acceptance of God’s invitation to work in the vineyard.”

Father Adam admits that he and Father Dominic have their work cut out for them.

“Secularism, relativism, and so much noise that we have in the world – it’s all very challenging in discovering your vocation because you hear God’s voice in silence,” he said. “Yet, I see a lot of people looking for that voice. They’re looking for something else and the only place they can find it is in the community of the Church. It is a big challenge but, at the same time, if God calls, he gives the grace and he leads you. You just have to be available to listen to that call.”

That, said Father Adam, is why it’s so important to implement programs such as vocations retreats for high school and college students, “where people can spend time in silence and look deep into their hearts and listen to the call.”

It’s imperative, he added, that both he and Father Dominic make themselves present to those who are discerning the call to vocations. “That means being present in the parishes and all of the schools and to youth ministry programs,” he said. “We’re thinking of all these things, but, of course, we have to take time to plan and prepare.”

As director of vocations, Father Adam also encourages any woman who is feeling called to religious life to heed the call.

“First of all, we in the Diocese of Biloxi, are grateful for the beautiful service of Catholic nuns, mostly from Ireland, who dedicated their lives to Catholic education and to ministry to the sick and poor,” he said.

“We need that and the Catholic Church needs that and the Diocese of Biloxi needs that. So, if there is a lady who is thinking about this, I am more than happy to help with this process of recognizing the call and providing contact information about different religious communities.”

Recognizing God’s not man’s – call to serve

Again, however, Father Adam stressed that the call to priesthood and religious life comes from God and is nurtured by the Holy Spirit.

“It is very important to understand that it is not me who calls because I’ve seen people in my life who thought they had a vocation to the priesthood because their mom or grandmother told them they did,” he said.

“You can waste your whole life. You can ruin your life. If you don’t have a vocation, if you don’t have the call of the Holy Spirit to be a nun or a priest, you shouldn’t even think about it because it’s too big of a sacrifice. Priesthood is a sacrifice. Like Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross for his people, so a priest sacrifices his life for the good of the Church and the good of the people he serves. The sacrifice is not only celibacy. There’s much more. For me, I’m from Poland and I contact my family only through Skype. I miss lots of family celebrations, lots of family dinners, but it is a needed sacrifice for a priest to leave his family to be with his parishioners, to be with the people of God.”

The upside, Father Adam said, is that “a priest becomes a part of many families.”

“You rejoice with them on the day of their wedding, you rejoice with them on the day of the baptism of their child. You see, you leave your own family to join an even greater family,” he said.

“On one hand, it is a sacrifice, but, on the other, it’s a great blessing to be so close to the lives of so many people. “

Father Adam encourages everyone to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“God answers our prayers and vocations to the priesthood are, very often the fruits of the prayers of the people,” he said. “Pray for the priests of our diocese. A priest always needs the prayers of his parishioners. I would also encourage everyone to talk to any young person who you may think has a vocation to the priesthood.

“When I was young, I never thought I would become a priest. And then my pastor told me I needed to think about the priesthood. That’s how it began. The first thought in my head came because of the pastor and he didn’t call me. He just helped me to recognize the call.”

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Our Lady’s Garden

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OLG parishioners team with OLA students to grow garden honoring the Blessed Mother

BY TERRY DICKSON

BAY ST. LOUIS – Our Lady of the Gulf Parish is a parish on the grow.

Parishioners and students from Our Lady Academy have banded together to plant a community garden.

“I guess you can say the purpose of the garden is for parishioners and school kids to come together and learn a trade that I kind of think is going away,” said Deacon Eddie Renz, who came up with the idea of creating Our Lady’s Garden.

“We’ve forgotten how to work the land and grow our own food. This community garden is a perfect opportunity to get wisdom from the adults and teach the kids a trade that they can hopefully pass down to the next generation.”

In his native Louisiana, said Deacon Renz, “Everybody had a backyard garden.”

“Over here, you’ve still got gardens, but not as plentiful as they are in Louisiana,” he said.

“It’s a little bit harder to grow stuff here and that’s probably why you don’t have as many.”

OLG pastor Father Michael O’Connor agreed that the garden presents a good opportunity for sharing amongst the parish’s older and younger generations.

“He thought it was important, especially before some of us older guys left with the knowledge and the kids don’t know what end of the plant to put in the ground,” said Deacon Renz,

Efforts to plant a community garden began last fall.

“It was a little bit too late to put anything in the ground, so we just started doing the groundwork of getting people involved,” said Deacon Renz. We had a couple of meetings to discuss what we were going to do and whether we were going to do raised bed or in-ground planting, what was the best raised bed we could make, what was the cheapest way, getting topsoil and what kind of plants we were going to put in the ground. From there, it’s still growing and we’re still kind of learning as we go.”

The group has planted potatoes, onions, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers and they’re hoping that their efforts will yield endless salad fixings.

“We have a couple of ideas of what we may do with the produce, depending on how fruitful the garden is,” said Deacon Renz.

“The OLA girls have a salad bar in their cafeteria, so we could give some of it to them to where they have the experience of not only growing it, but also using it in the cafeteria for their salad. Also, there’s the possibility that we might do a flea market with the parishioners, not so much to sell it, because we don’t want to get in the sales business. I’m thinking more along the lines of doing it in exchange for donations to Our Lady’s Garden.”

OLA junior Kloe Lloyd is a member of the school’s beautification committee, which is sponsored by Deacon Renz’s daughter, Karli, who teaches at the school.

“Our name is a mouthful but our mission is simple. We just want to beautify the school and, once we found out that Our Lady of the Gulf was starting a community garden, we decided to help because that’s exactly what we want to do,” said Lloyd.

“We’re also going to get a greenhouse and plant some other stuff around the school. What we’re going to do during the summer is all about bees. A lot of bees are dying off and, if you see grocery stores with the plants bees pollinate, there’s pretty much no produce. There’s nothing. So we’re going to plant bee friendly plants like rosemary and cilantro and some of that can be used in the OLA kitchen too.”

OLA parishioner Gayle Andersson is no stranger to gardening and said she’s delighted to pass on some what she knows to the students at OLA.

“I think it’s a viable program for the kids. It teaches them a whole lot – planting, inception, carry through, and the end results,” she said.

There’s a big payoff for them at the end – either the product they will use for themselves or a charitable product – so, either way, they’ll get something out of it.”

 So far, said Deacon Renz, things are slow going, but he’s happy with the progress that has been made.

“Weather has a been a big factor,” he said.

“We also got some topsoil in, but we finally got that in and got it distributed. So, we’ve got stuff in the ground. I’m happy.”

Of course, in addition to weather, gardeners also have to contend with varmints.

“Father Mike asked me if I’m worried about the four-legged critters,” Deacon Renz said.

“I told him I was more worried about the two-legged critters.”

 

Cuddy spreads God’s mercy step by step

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Cuddy spreads God’s mercy step by step, coast to coast

BY TERRY DICKSON

PASCAGOULA – During the Jubilee of Mercy, Catholics are called to live out God’s loving Mercy by extending it to everyone they meet.

When it comes to answering that call, Dylan Cuddy is not only talking the talk, he’s also walking the walk – all the way from Florida to California.

Cuddy, 24, a native of Walpole, Massachusetts decided to observe the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by embarking on what he describes as a “pilgrimage of mercy” from St. Augustine to Los Angeles.

“On December 8 of last year, the pope declared a Year of Mercy and I decided to heed the call,” said Cuddy, speaking from Sacred Heart Church on the 47th day of that pilgrimage.

“I always had a yearning for travel and it was in high school that I wanted to cross the country on foot.”

However, Cuddy didn’t think it was possible.

“I had a job, I had a car payment and I had to pay rent. All these things were weighing me down,” said Cuddy, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Medway, Massachusetts.

“It was after learning about a man named Ernie Andrus, a 92 year-old WWII veteran who’s running across America to raise money for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day that I decided to do this. I saw something in Ernie and he became sort of a hero to me. I drew a lot of inspiration from him. In my eyes, Ernie was doing the impossible.”

So, thought Cuddy, if 92 year-old Andrus could do it, so could a young man in his 20s.

Cuddy, who had fallen away from the Church, returned home on Divine Mercy Sunday 2015.

“I was born a Catholic and I was led astray, but I returned to the Church and kind of turned over that desire to cross the country back to God,” said Cuddy.

After spending time in prayer, Cuddy decided he should make the journey in the name of God’s mercy.

“So here I am in Pascagoula, Mississippi,” said Cuddy, who started his trek by visiting the Cathedral of St. Augustine, which was built over 500 years ago.

He’s since visited many churches and entered several Holy Doors. He’s also experienced God’s mercy firsthand through his interactions with strangers.

Many of those stories can be read on Cuddy’s blog, mercyrun.com, which started off as a way for the young man to keep in touch with friends and family members, some of whom questioned his sanity when declared his intentions to walk cross country.

“I experience the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy on almost a daily basis,” said Cuddy, who camped out at the church overnight and was slated to continue his journey two days later, due to rain.

“Lots of people give me food and drink. This morning, after a Communion service, some of the folks here brought me over to the activity center for coffee and cake. The previous night, a man named Kenny pulled over in his truck and asked me if I need a hot meal. I said I did and he brought me into his shop and gave me some deer roast. It was really good. It was delicious.”

Cuddy has also been very generous with his possessions, often giving things away to people less fortunate than himself.

Cuddy, who is unemployed, had originally hoped to arrive in Los Angeles in 120 days.

“It’s been a little slower than that,” he said. So I think that anywhere from six to eight months is more realistic. But I’m open to any time period. It could be a year. I think I’ve been making some good ground so far.”

Cuddy has accepted a few rides along the way.

“I usually don’t accept a ride unless I need it, like it it’s severe weather or something,” he said.

I accepted a ride in Mobile, Alabama. I was on the east side of the Bankhead Tunnel and there was no shoulder. So, the Department of Transportation picked me up and gave me a ride through the tunnel. So, the next morning – I don’t know if it’s my stubbornness or whatever – but I just doubled over the bridge and made sure I got all my miles back.”

Andrus will be completing his journey in August in Brunswick, Georgia and Cuddy would like to be there to see him finish. The two are Facebook friends and chat regularly.

He may write a book about his experience.

One thing’s for sure, however, it’s an experience he’ll never forget.

“The Year of Mercy has opened up my heart a lot. I can feel my heart again for the first time in years,” he said.

“When it comes to God’s mercy, it flows both ways. It’s not just people giving me a meal, drink or place to stay. It’s also sharing a meal with a homeless person and it’s really been a unique thing. Society tells me to stay away from these people on the street – poor people, homeless people or drug addicts – but, just being on this journey, I’ve been living amongst them and it’s been very eye-opening and it’s been a humbling experience.”

 

Colten Symmes Ordination, May 7

Colten Symmes cSymmes to be ordained transitional deacon, May 7

 

BY TERRY DICKSON

NEW ORLEANS – Bishop Roger Morin will ordain Colten Symmes to the transitional diaconate on May 7 at 10 am at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral.

A transitional deacon is one who desires to ultimately be called to the priesthood. At the diaconate ordination he commits himself to a celibate life and the daily recitation of the Divine Office. As a transitional deacon, he may baptize solemnly, distribute Holy Communion, preach during the liturgy and witness marriages.

Ordained for service of charity and the proclamation of the Word, deacons continue the ministry of Christ the Servant. As part of their formation for priesthood, all candidates must first be ordained to the diaconate. This formation process helps remind the men that all priests are servants first.

The 25 year-old Gulfport native said he is excited about his upcoming ordination.

“When you discern God’s will over five years during your time in the seminary – a period of really intense discernment – and you come to that conclusion that this what God is calling you to and that moment is slowly approaching, I think the main thing you feel is excitement,” said Symmes, during a recent interview at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where he is currently a third year theology student.

“There is a level of nervousness about what it’ll be like to be in a parish as a deacon and, beyond that, what life is going to be like as a parish priest. So, there’s some nervousness, some anxiety as to what the future may hold, but excitement trumps it all. We’ll just see what the Lord has planned.”

Following his ordination, Symmes, will be assigned to a five-month supervised parish internship. Upon completion of his internship, he will return to the seminary in the fall for a mini-semester followed by a spring semester. He will be ordained to the priesthood in summer 2017.

Symmes is one of 122 men studying at Notre Dame Seminary. Of those 122 men, he and Braxton Necaise are the only two seminarians who are studying for the Diocese of Biloxi.

“Being here at Notre Dame has just been a very powerful, profound experience in every aspect,” he said.

“We have a chapel in our house and I have the opportunity to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament every day. There’s just this deep immersion that you can have in your spiritual life here at the seminary. It’s, in a sense, why seminaries exist – so you can have that time for prayer and discernment.

“There’s also the educational aspect where one learns about the faith in this intense mode. It’s very, very exciting. It’s very life-giving and definitely feeds that zeal to go out and preach the gospel. One of the things that has come into my heart is that I can’t wait to give this to the people.”

Symmes also enjoys living in community.

“The quality of men that are here and discerning priesthood is incredible,” he said.

“We, in a sense, call each other to holiness through our interactions with one another and sharing our lives and knowledge and just building each other up.”

To anyone who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, Symmes has this advice:

“I use the words of St. John Paul II: Be not afraid as to what the Lord may hold for you. Be not afraid to go and search for that because it’s in searching that the Lord will reveal,” he said. “I think that, when you give God just a little bit, he gives you a whole much more. So, be not afraid to go out and discern and, if the Lord does pull on your heart, then answer the call because it’s a life of joy and a life of happiness.”

To the people of the Diocese of Biloxi who have supported him throughout his formation process, Symmes said, “I can’t wait to get to know them, to serve them and to one day becoming a priest.”

 

 

 

 

 

O Come Let Us Adore Him

XLT 1 c.jpgXLT provides Catholic adorers of all ages an opportunity to spend quality time in front of the Blessed Sacrament

BY TERRY DICKSON

GULFPORT – Every Tuesday at 7pm, a small but devoted group of Catholics gathers at St. John the Evangelist Church to spend an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, an experience that is enhanced by songs of praise and worship.

XLT it is a program that has been taking place in the Diocese of Biloxi for nearly two decades.

“It wasn’t actually called XLT then. It was just Praise and Worship,” said Darlene Previto, who has been involved from the very beginning.

“It actually started in this parish so we kind of feel that we’ve come full circle.”

XLT stands for “Exalt.”

“And that’s basically what we do,” said Previto, who sings at the weekly gathering. “We do praise and worship. It’s a very intimate time with the Lord because it’s adoration and nothing’s required of you. People just come and sit and pray however they are most comfortable praying.”

Before coming back to its original home at St. John the Evangelist, XLT was also held at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Ocean Springs, St. James Parish in Gulfport and Nativity BVM Cathedral in Biloxi.

St. John pastor Father Ryan McCoy hears confessions before, during and after adoration, while Deacon Rick Conason gives the Benediction.

Father Ryan’s been great about being here every week for confession but, if he’s not available, then we just let the people know,” said Previto.

“He has had to stay overtime. One night, he heard two solid hours of confessions. It’s really one of the fruits of XLT.”

XLT is also held at the annual diocesan youth celebration.

“On Saturday night, we do have an hour of adoration and praise and worship with confessions going at the same time,” said Previto.

“The priests who have shared with me during that time have said that the confessions are very fruitful. They are very in-depth. They really feel that it’s being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that kind of opens you up and allows you to come and get in touch with yourself and what needs to be addressed in your life.”

Originally geared toward the younger crowd, XLT is now open to people of all ages.

Previto said some parents have started coming to XLT with their teenagers.

“People of all ages are enjoying it and are finding it fruitful,” she said. “It’s open to anybody. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to do anything. You can come for five minutes or stay for the whole hour. We have some young people that will come, stay long enough to go to confession and leave.”

However, it seems to especially attract teens.

“Music is a second language to young people,” said Previto, who teaches Religion at St. Patrick Catholic High School.

“It’s not all about the music. It’s about the Blessed Sacrament. However, from what they tell me, the music enhances their worship. It kind of puts into words things that they are feeling in their hearts. It helps them put into words the things they want to pray, so they actually pray the music.”

Previto said she’s very meticulous about selecting the music.

“I make sure, when I pick out stuff, that it’s faithful to the teachings of the Church,” she said. “It’s nothing wacky or out there.”

Previto said she enjoys being a part of XLT because “it enhances my own faith life and my ability to minister.”

“Somebody use to call us ‘worship leaders,’ but I read an article that said we’re not ‘worship leaders,’ we’re lead worshipers,’” she said.

“I like that much better. I might be up there leading the music, but I’m worshipping as much as they are.”

On a rainy April night, about 40 people gathered at St. John for XLT, including a group of high schoolers, who took up a couple of pews in the front of the church.

St. Patrick senior Shelby Martin, 18, has been attending XLT for four years.

“XLT has changed me. It’s led me to encounter Christ in so many ways,” she said. He’s poured out his mercy on me in the confessional and he pours his grace upon me through the Eucharist. You can feel the love in the presence of the Eucharist here and through the worship band. He’s present everywhere you turn, especially through each other and the fellowship we share afterwards. It’s changed who I am. It’s led me to see God’s call for my life – where to go to College and what to major in. It’s led me to so many different decisions and helped me discern different choices I’ve had to make in my life. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Tuesday nights and XLT.”

Darren Frey, 18, is a senior at Ocean Springs High School said XLT keeps him spiritually grounded.

“We live in this time where there are so many noises around you everywhere,” he said.

“For me, Tuesday night is just a time where I can have my own inner peace in the presence of Jesus and surrounded by my friends. This past senior year has been kind of a hectic year for me, so I’ve been kind of looking forward to Tuesday every week. I know that I can be in his presence and I can go to confession where I can encounter his mercy. It’s those moments that have helped lead me to where I am today. It’s helped me to witness to other people and brought me the friendship of all my friends that I have now. Without XLT, I don’t think I would be who I am today at all or even being close to being on SEARCH team and Spirit Movers.”

Roger Parker is far removed from his senior year of high school but, during a recent confession, his confessor urged him to pray to the Holy Spirit for a pure heart.

“I thought, what better place can I go to pray for that than XLT,” said Parker.

So, Parker knelt before the monstrance and prayed for a pure heart.

“It was as though, instantly, he heard my prayer and he answered it immediately,” Parker said.

“I also relied on the help of St. Joseph and, believe it or not, they’re answering my prayers.”

During Lent, an average of 60 people attended XLT. Attendance has since waned.

“We still get 20 or 30 each week,” said Previto.

However, Previto is reminded of a saying that often comes to mind.

“The Lord said feed my sheep, not count them. So, if there’s one person here. We’re going to do it for that one person,” she said.