The Field Hospital: Covering parish life throughout America

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San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy takes part in a Feb. 8 prayer procession along the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, Calif.  (The Southern Cross)
San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy takes part in a Feb. 8 prayer procession along the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, Calif. (The Southern Cross)

by Dan Morris-Young

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Editor's note: "The Field Hospital" blog series covers life in U.S. and Canadian Catholic parishes. The title comes from Pope Francis' words: "I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. …"

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Nearly 700 faithful gathered Feb. 8 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Calexico, Calif., where San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy blessed the church's "holy door," symbolic of the current Jubilee Year of Mercy. The day also served as the San Diego diocese's annual staff day. Sixty-five diocesan staff boarded two buses at Our Lady of Grace Parish in El Cajon for the trip to the Imperial Valley  "which, because of its geographic distance from San Diego, can feel isolated at times from the rest of the diocese," reported The Southern Cross newspaper. It quoted from McElroy's homily: “We are a border diocese, and that changes the type of church we are called to be. ... We are called to look to the border and see it, not as a place of separation and demarcation and territoriality, but as a place which unites us” to all citizens of the Americas. [Editor's note: if hyperlink changes, the story referenced is "Imperial Valley Welcomes Bishop, Diocesan Staff," by Denis Grasska on The Southern Cross website.]

Gary Spanovich, a member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, Ore., has spearheaded appearances of a dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Oregon through the work of an organization he founded after a 1999 conversation around a kitchen table. Describing itself as "a research, education and peacemaking institute," the Wholistic Peace Institute today exists "to 'stop the killing' by relying on the wisdom of Nobel Peace Laureates," states its website. Among those for whom it has arranged visits and lectures are the Dalai Lama, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung; former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez; Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader; Jody Williams, anti-personnel mines activist; and former South Africa president Frederik Willem de Klerk.

The St. Aloysius Advent Volunteers of St. Aloysius Parish, Spokane, Wash., completed their 16th year of helping low-income senior citizens and disabled adults catch up on house-cleaning and miscellaneous chores. The parish group combines efforts with the Spokane Diocese's Catholic Charities Volunteer Chore Service.

The Spokane community also benefits from a spring break ministry-immersion program sponsored by Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton, Ore. Nine to ten students join four faculty members for the 360-mile, six-hour trip to Spokane where they do yard work for the L'Arche community, help out at Union Gospel Mission, pitch in at Shalom Ministries, assist Catholic Charities, among other services. Spring Break Spokane was started by Luke Waitrovich, a Gonzaga University graduate and Valley Catholic religion teacher. The service program "is deeply meaningful to our students and faculty," said Barbara Kerr, chief communications officer of the Sisters of Mary of Oregon Ministries Corporation.

The Diocese of Boise is supporting an ecumenical program to share the basics of Christianity with public high school students. The instruction takes place during students' release time periods off campus and is permitted by Idaho state law. "The benefit ... is tremendous," says Deacon Robert Barros-Bailey who works with students at Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian, Idaho.

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR's West Coast correspondent. His email is]

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