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Five bishops visit St. Martin Church on St. Francis of Assisi’s feastday

by Jay Nies, Catholic Missourian | October 6, 2022 at 4:09 a.m.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Bishop Bohdan Danylo, eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Josaphat, headquartered in Parma, Ohio, Bishop Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, Montana, and Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm, Minnesota celebrate feastday at St. Martin School in St. Martins, Mo. (Courtesy/Annie Williams)

God can work miracles in every person.

"That's what he wants to do with each and every one of you!" Bishop W. Shawn McKnight told the children and teachers of St. Martin School in St. Martins.

"He wants you to perform a lot of miracles -- by loving him intensely and loving our brothers and sisters," the bishop proclaimed in his homily Tuesday morning in St. Martin Church.

It was a historic day for the growing community just west of Jefferson City -- "probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us," said Father Jason Doke, pastor of St. Martin Parish.

Bishop McKnight celebrated the Mass with four fellow bishops, including an eparch of an Eastern Rite Catholic Church. It was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.

The visiting prelates included: Bishop Chad Zielinski, of New Ulm, Minnesota; Bishop Michael Warfel, of Great Falls-Billings, Montana; Bishop Anthony Taylor, of Little Rock, Arkansas; and Bishop Bohdan Danylo, whose Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Josaphat, headquartered in Parma, Ohio, covers all or part of seven states.

All five bishops are members of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops' Subcommittee on the Home Missions (usccb.org/committees/catholic-home-missions). Bishop McKnight is the subcommittee's chairman.

They were meeting that day in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.

McKnight noted the visiting bishops' home dioceses are in many ways like the Jefferson City diocese -- "a little bit more rural, perhaps not having as many Catholics, but nonetheless very vibrant."

Nearly 40 percent of Catholic dioceses in the United States and its territories are classified as home missions dioceses.

For many reasons, including geographic isolation and a high instance of poverty among the larger population, they need outside help in providing basic pastoral ministry to all or some of their people.

Grants from the Catholic Home Missions, supported by an annual collection taken up in parishes throughout the United States, help fill the gaps. For instance, the Jefferson City diocese has received Home Missions grants for Hispanic ministry.

"The Catholic Home Missions Collection supports dioceses like ours and the works of the church," said McKnight.

'Everything to gain'

Bishop McKnight reminded the children in St. Martins that all who are baptized receive a calling from God to love and serve him and other people.

"St. Francis lived that vocation very, very intensely," the bishop said in his homily. "He had a very special call. Not everybody has the call to live in a religious life, with the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience."

But because St. Francis decided to embrace the life God intended for him, "he had great joy, even in his poverty."

It took St. Francis a while to get there. He indulged in worldly pursuits throughout his youth until a spiritual encounter with God changed everything. In a decaying, neglected chapel, St. Francis heard Jesus, from the cross, tell him to "build my church."

Misunderstanding the call, the young man went about rebuilding the chapel.

"And then he discovered, that's not what God was calling him to do," McKnight said.

"God was calling him not simply to rebuild the church building, but to help reform the church, which is the people," the bishop stated.

St. Francis spent his entire life fulfilling that vocation, of loving God and his neighbor intensely.

"He discovered that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by loving God. It's that simple," McKnight said.

The bishop told of how Francis's intense love for God led him also to love all of God's creation. Even the birds and a formerly vicious wolf responded to the saint's preaching and direction.

"You see," McKnight said, "the person who loves intensely is able to accomplish a lot of things that we think are unimaginable."

He said everyone is called to live with a sense of spiritual poverty -- "where we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by accepting all of God's gifts with a profound sense of gratitude."

McKnight said the most profound expression of that gratitude is the celebration of the Eucharist, through which the people offer God bread and wine made by human hands.

Then, "we're given the great gift of giving Jesus Christ himself back to the Father," in deep gratitude for all the good things God has done and all the blessings he has bestowed, the bishop stated.

"Let us ask him for the gift of his spirit," McKnight said, "that we might witness our faith and love for God by how we treat one another."

Pets and tractors

McKnight thanked everyone "from the bottom of my heart" for the hospitality shown to him and his fellow bishops and for the work of the students and their teachers in preparing for the Mass.

Shortly after the closing strains of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," the bishops, the children, their teachers and some parents gathered in the churchyard as Fr. Doke called down a blessing upon the animals.

This is a time-honored Catholic tradition for St. Francis's feast day.

Signs welcoming the bishops and highlighting their home states adorned the walkway outside church.

The bishops and all the children of the school then looked on as a procession of vintage tractors rumbled past the school. Among the drivers were Fr. Doke and Julie Clingman, principal.

  photo  The bishops, children, teachers and some parents gathered in the St. Martin churchyard as Fr. Doke called down a blessing upon the animals.  (Courtesy/Annie Williams)
 
 
  photo The bishops, children, teachers and some parents gathered in the St. Martin churchyard as Fr. Doke called down a blessing upon the animals. (Courtesy/Annie Williams)
 
 
  photo The bishops, children, teachers and some parents gathered in the St. Martin churchyard as Fr. Doke called down a blessing upon the animals. (Courtesy/Annie Williams)
 
 
  photo  Bishop W. Shawn McKnight celebrate Mass with four fellow bishops, including an eparch of an Eastern Rite Catholic Church at St. Martin Catholic Church. (Courtesy/Annie Williams)
 
 

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