Catholics of the Year 2016

The Year of Mercy, which began last year and concluded on the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 20, came at an opportune time in the life of the Church. Pope Francis called for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year so that the Church might “echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort.”

Throughout 2016, the United States and the rest of the world have seen ongoing violence and racial and religious tension. The presidential election divided the country even further. But amid this division, Catholic leaders answered Pope Francis’ challenge and responded by being lights in the darkness.

The men and women chosen by Our Sunday Visitor as 2016 Catholics of the Year represent just a fraction of the amazing people in the Church who are tirelessly working to live out the example Christ set in the Gospel. We hope the contribution these nine faithful leaders made across the globe and in their communities will serve as inspiration to all the faithful as the Church continues to be the face of mercy in the world.

Bishop Robert J. Baker

Bishop in Deep South has courage to explore racial divide

By Mary D. Dillard

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As riots erupted in streets across America in 2015, most notably in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, American race relations marked a 20-year low. This sobering reality weighed heavily on the heart of Bishop Robert J. Baker, shepherd of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. At the heart of his diocese is ground zero for the civil rights movement of the 1960s, where Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed and activists were attacked by police dogs and fire hoses. Instead of quietly lamenting the recent discord, Bishop Baker saw an opportunity for action.

Bishop Baker proposed a conference that would bring together religious and civil leaders to assess the racial divide in America and reflect on how to bridge that divide.

He felt strongly the conference should be held in the context of a Lenten reflection. “Lent is an ideal time to allow God to work in us, to further our steps toward reconciliation and conversation,” he told the planning committee.

Partnering with the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and the city of Birmingham, the diocese hosted “Black & White in America: How Deep the Divide? A Lenten Reflection/Conversation” on March 3-4. Speakers, panelists and participants stepped out of their comfort zones and had an honest discussion and an open examination of ways to reconcile differences and change hearts.

The two-day conference proved to be a step in the right direction. Afterward, Bishop Baker expressed his thoughts, saying: “The conference succeeded in being a conversation, sometimes heated, but respectful, over how deep a racial divide exists in America. A deep divide that needs much healing and the kind of prayerful conversation that brings healing over a period of time.” Upholding his vow to continue the conversation, Bishop Baker regularly holds listening sessions throughout his diocese.

Because of his advocacy in bringing people of all races together, Our Sunday Visitor is proud to name Bishop Baker a 2016 Catholic of the Year.

Mary Dillard writes from Alabama.

St. Teresa of Calcutta

Diminutive nun was a powerhouse for the poor

By Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

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We are undoubtedly blessed by the saints. No matter what era, unfailingly, the saints impart endless wisdom and gift us with tireless intercession. Their ultimate goal is to help us get to heaven.

How fortunate we are to have lived in the time of St. Teresa of Calcutta, recently proclaimed a saint by our Church. Pope St. John Paul II said Mother Teresa was “one of the greatest missionaries of the 20th century.” He also explained that the saints “have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church’s history” (Christifideles Laici, No. 16). God certainly hand-picked St. Teresa of Calcutta to radiate his love during “difficult circumstances.”

Meeting the saint of the gutters about 30 years ago is etched on my heart. By chance, I met the Nobel Peace Prize recipient in our own affluent country — in Washington, D.C., at the Gift of Peace House — a home for the dying.

Struck by Mother Teresa’s size (or lack thereof), I paused to ponder. She was so tiny! But that diminutive living saint was unquestionably a powerhouse of faith, hope and love.

Mother Teresa was not involved in politics or analyzing systems. She simply went straight to every need set before her — one by one. Mother Teresa taught the world how to truly love the poor and that our “love begins at home.” We don’t have to traipse off to the other side of the world to find and serve the poor. They are right here beside us in our homes, communities and workplaces, possibly feeling lonely and starving for love.

As she was officially canonized by Pope Francis in September, Our Sunday Visitor is proud to name her among our 2016 Catholics of the Year.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is the author of “Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship” (OSV, $14.95).

Carl Anderson

Supreme Knight advocates for Middle East Christians

By Michelle Martin

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In order to gain awareness and help for Christians whose presence has diminished from the Middle East at an astounding rate, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, has expanded the charitable efforts of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

“Our interest in the issue of genocide comes from our humanitarian concern for those suffering people and for their spiritual and physical well-being,” Anderson said in a March 10 statement at the National Press Club.The comments followed the release of a nearly 300-page report compiled by the Knights of Columbus and an organization named In Defense of Christians, which called on the U.S. Department of State to designate the activities of ISIS against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities as a genocide.

The Christian population of Iraq is estimated to have dropped by 80 percent from the more than 1.4 million who lived there before the U.S. invasion in 2003. In Syria, the Christian population has dropped from an estimated 1.25 million in 2011 to less than 500,000 this year, according to ADF International. Many of the Christians remaining in those countries have been forced from their homes to other regions.

The report documents murders, torture, kidnapping, rape and mass deportation of Christians and others carried out by members of the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

That designation of genocide made by Secretary of State John Kerry on March 17 was the first such U.S. declaration since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004. It allows the possibility of — but does not require — greater resources for the genocide victims.

Under Anderson’s leadership, the Knights of Columbus have raised more than $11 million since 2014 to aid refugees in the Middle East, both those internally displaced and those who have fled to neighboring countries. Anderson personally has testified about the plight of Christians in the Middle East in front of a congressional subcommittee.

Anderson, 65, has a history of public service, working at the White House under Ronald Reagan and then as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But it is for his work on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East that he has been honored as a 2016 Catholic of the Year.

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.

Vicky Schultz

Catholic Charities leader in Michigan performs works of mercy

By James K. Hanna

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Vicky Schultz is president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genessee Counties in Michigan, an area that includes the nearly 100,000 residents of Flint who continue to endure a lingering water crisis.

Under her leadership, the Catholic community has been at the forefront of providing help to those in need through its Center for Hope and North End Soup Kitchen, distributing clean water and serving 16,000 meals monthly.

“Something Vicky prizes is that she is able to live out her faith through her work on a daily basis. She is a risk-taker for others,” said Mary Stevenson, director of the Center for Hope.

Deacon Jim Kasprzak, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Lansing, applauded her leadership. “Vicky has been relentless in developing innovative approaches to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable persons in the economically hard-hit city of Flint,” he said. “During the water quality crisis, she has been a key community leader in addressing both immediate and ongoing basic human needs as well as the longterm human health and behavioral health needs, particularly of children and families.”

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing told Our Sunday Visitor: “One of the great things about Vicky is that she sees a need and responds and then says we have to figure out how to pay for it! Of course, that doesn’t always work well, but what a great instinct. She is a blessing not only to Flint but to our whole diocese as she calls us to love our neighbor.”

Echoing Bishop Boyea, Deacon Kasprzak added: “Vicky lives every day to be the hands, the feet and the voice of Jesus Christ in doing the works of mercy.

“Vicky is an icon of mercy on behalf of the Catholic Church in Flint.”

For her tireless work for the community during an unparalleled crisis, Our Sunday Visitor honors Schultz as a 2016 Catholic of the Year.

James K. Hanna writes from Pennsylvania.

Richard Doerflinger

Pro-life giant passes the torch after 36 years

By Don Clemmer

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When Richard Doerflinger retired from his post at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of May, he took with him decades of institutional knowledge of the Church’s ongoing call for protection of human life from its earliest stages.

Doerflinger famously interrupted his doctoral studies for what he thought would be a quick foray into the movement that sprang up in the wake of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Suddenly, 40 years had passed.

Doerflinger began his work at the USCCB in 1980 and has served in roles ranging from legislative assistant to associate director of Pro-Life Activities.

Doerflinger is not only a giant in the world of the Catholic Church but also throughout pro-life circles, Catholic and not, and especially on Capitol Hill, as the person who best understood federal and state legislation relating to the sanctity of human life: abortion, health care conscience rights, physician-assisted suicide, human cloning, stem cell research and other challenges in bioethics. Occasionally authoring opinion pieces and letters to the editor or offering testimony to Congress, Doerflinger worked largely behind the scenes, impacting decades of legislation.

Doerflinger’s work at the USCCB is being carried on by Greg Schleppenbach, formerly executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

Doerflinger has received awards for his work, including the University of Notre Dame’s inaugural Evangelium Vitae medal in 2011.

He serves as a public policy fellow at the university’s Center for Ethics and Culture and at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He has served the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life since 2011.

Doerflinger and his wife, Lee Ann, have raised four children and have one granddaughter.

He is most deserving of being a 2016 Catholic of the Year for his decades spent advocating for the sanctity of life.

Don Clemmer is managing editor of OSV Newsweekly.

Mother Angelica

‘Mother’ of the airwaves shared her love of Christ

By Michael R. Heinlein

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Reverend Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration, was arguably the most famous nun in America at the time of her death on Easter Sunday this year. Perhaps better known simply as “Mother,” she founded the Catholic media apostolate Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in the garage of her Alabama monastery in 1981.

“Mother” hosted EWTN’s flagship program “Mother Angelica Live!” Admired for her homespun humor and wit mixed with an unambiguous orthodoxy, Mother Angelica offered an everyday spirituality for the average Catholic in the pew. As preached at her funeral, “She wanted each one of us to love Jesus more.”

But for all her praise, the TV nun also drew criticism. Mother Angelica attracted others with a love for Christ and the Church, often paired with a no-nonsense style that rubbed some the wrong way. But when criticism came, it didn’t get her down. She stood up for what she believed in.

Well-acquainted with suffering from an early age, Mother Angelica experienced miraculous healings from debilitating health issues on two separate occasions. These strengthened her faith and compelled her all the more to share it with others: After the first healing, she remarked, “I knew that God knew me and loved me and was interested in me. … All I wanted to do after my healing was give myself to Jesus.”

Mother Angelica knew more suffering in her last years, bedridden and in silence after a series of strokes in the early 2000s — embracing it as an opportunity for deeper union with her Lord. These years are chronicled in Raymond Arroyo’s 2016 work “Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence: The Last Years and Living Legacy” (Image, $23).

After her death this spring, many have called for her canonization. Though no formal process has been inaugurated, Pope Francis remarked, “She’s in heaven.”

For her remarkable life spent devoted to spreading Christ’s message, Our Sunday Visitor honors Mother Angelica as a 2016 Catholic of the Year.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @HeinleinMichael. Follow The Catholic Answer at @tcanswer.

Bishop Donald J. Kettler

Sister Michaela Hedican

Minnesota leaders practice the mercy they preach

By Maria Wiering

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Bishop Donald J. Kettler (above with a Somali family) and Sister Michaela Hedican (below) were leaders of mercy in St. Cloud, Minn. Courtesy photos

The September stabbing of 10 people by a Somali man at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, worsened tensions between longtime St. Cloud residents and a burgeoning Somali community. In its wake, two Catholic leaders, Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud and local Benedictine Prioress Sister Michaela Hedican, modeled compassion and solidarity with the Somali community, many of whose predominately Muslim members came to the United States as refugees.

Bishop Kettler called for prayers for healing, peace and unity the day after the violence. Sister Michaela, who oversees St. Benedict’s Monastery in nearby St. Joseph, urged Catholics to ask God for wisdom in speaking and showing support, and to reach out to members of the Somali community, noting that the Gospel mandate is “loving our neighbor, no matter who our neighbor is.”

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Her community was already engaged in efforts to bridge Christian and Muslim communities, and both she and Bishop Kettler attended a previously scheduled Christian-Muslim dialogue event at a parish five days after the attack. In a Year of Mercy pastoral letter published in January, Bishop Kettler said Catholics must show mercy to the Somali community — “not just a general feeling but concrete works of mercy evident in our behavior and policies.”

He repeated the directive in a column written after the attack for his diocesan newspaper, The Visitor, pointing to Pope Francis’ 2015 address to Congress, where the pope called for adoption of the Golden Rule when it came to welcoming refugees. Bishop Kettler said Catholics need to “stand with” the area’s Somalis, whose leaders condemned the attack, and to seize opportunities to share meals and conversations with them.

“If we want peace and healing,” he wrote, “let us be instruments of peace and healing in our parishes, neighborhoods and cities.”

The work by Bishop Kettler and Sister Michaela to foster a communituy of mercy warrants their inclusion among Our Sunday Visitor’s 2016 Catholics of the Year.

Maria Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit newspaper in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella

Archbishop navigates the faithful through the Year of Mercy

By Gretchen R. Crowe

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A hallmark of 2016 was the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began in December 2015 and wrapped up in November. As the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella shouldered the burden of making sure the many events of the year went smoothly. For these efforts, Our Sunday Visitor has named Archbishop Fisichella one of its 2016 Catholics of the Year.

Archbishop Fisichella was an integral part of the Year of Mercy, helping with the intense planning, including the development of the eight books of for the Jubilee Year published by Our Sunday Visitor. His office oversaw the arrival of 20 million pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee Year, the coordination of thousands of “missionaries of mercy” and the creation of the official website of the Jubilee, www.im.va. All these efforts were devised to help Catholics grow in their understanding of God’s great gift of mercy.

In comments made shortly after the announcement of the year, Archbishop Fisichella said, “This Jubilee will be an experience of mercy for each person to feel more intimately the love of God, who like a Father welcomes everyone and excludes no one. It will be a significant time for all the Church to remember that mercy is the essence of her proclamation to the world, and to render every believer a tangible instrument of the tenderness of God. As Pope Francis wrote: ‘In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.’”

The Church is indebted to Archbishop Fisichella for his leadership in helping facilitate these “oases of mercy” in 2016.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly.