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Bishop Paul Sirba: Fall awakens our hope of the Master’s return

As nature sheds her glory, and the daylight shades come earlier, what a beautiful fall we have had. We enter the month of November with hope and expectation: hope as members of the Communion of Saints on the road to glory, and expectation in the truth of our faith that we await the Master’s return with renewed joy and anticipation.

October brought numerous portents of the final consummation, with hurricanes, raging fires and earthquakes, civil unrest, and acts of terrorism. It also brought us powerful reminders of God’s faithfulness and our secure protection in Him. We celebrated that, in the end, “my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” as Our Lady of Fatima predicted, and concluded the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

We are under no illusions as Christians of the challenges to be faced as followers of Jesus Christ. In the Liturgy of the Church, the month of November celebrates the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls and culminates with the Feast of Christ the King. The Sacred Scriptures for those Holy Days rouse us from our slumber, sear our consciences with reminders of our responsibilities as adopted sons and daughters of God, and motivate us to reach out to the poorest of the poor as we await the Master’s return in glory. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a description of what to expect in those last days (CCC 675- 677). Based on Sacred Scripture, the Catechism describes the last days as a period of final trial, deception, persecution, and the machinations of the Antichrist. What follows is a passage that describes the final consummation: “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world” (CCC 677).

How do we prepare for all of this? We live our days in joyful expectation. Like lovers anticipating the return of the beloved. In the face of impending disaster? Yes! Because the Lord, Jesus Christ, has won the victory. In Him we have nothing to fear. Jesus will save us. Believe in Jesus. Serve Jesus. Trust Jesus!

Though we do not know the moment of the final consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which our universe will be transformed, we believe the old order will pass away and give rise to a new heavens and a new earth. One no longer distorted by sin, stains of self-love, and pride, but rather healed of wounds and becoming a well-spring of happiness, peace and love. Christ the King will rule in a universe renewed. We will contemplate the Beatific Vision in the Paschal Feast of heaven, forever.

Please join me in praying for the four men who will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate on the Feast of Christ the King: Michael Marvin, Kyle Eller, Daniel Goshey, Steven Odegard, their wives and families. Vivat Christo Rey!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Betsy Kneepkens: Fatima pilgrimage was a blessing to my faith

I know that I have had more opportunities than most Catholics. My parents sacrificed to send my 12 siblings and me to Catholic schools, both grade school and high school, and nearly all of us attended Catholic colleges. My parents instilled the value of weekly Mass attendance, and while growing up our social life and faith community were essentially the same group of people. I worked at a Catholic college for almost 28 years, and now I have been blessed to work for the Diocese of Duluth in the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

God has graced me with a husband who is a practicing Catholic, and as a young, newly married couple, we serendipitously selected a neighborhood that includes other Catholic families, our church, and the parish school our children attended. And on any given weekend my family has at least a dozen different Mass times to choose from at nearby parishes when our schedule is complicated.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Although I interact with the secular world in daily duties, my foundation is rooted in faith, and I am grateful. These conditions create an idyllic lifestyle so we can more readily focus our lives toward the good, the beautiful, and the holy. I know not everyone gets to experience that same abundance.

Moreover, I have been blessed with additional opportunities which I surmise are even more extraordinary than what the vast majority of Catholics experience in this country. For example, four years ago I attended my first Catholic pilgrimage. I agreed to go not even knowing what a pilgrimage is or what a religious “vacation” is all about. I was intrigued by the trip advertisement, so I signed up.

I quickly learned I was not on a trip or a vacation, I was experiencing something entirely different. I was on a spiritual pilgrimage. I have learned that a Catholic pilgrimage is a journey with a purpose, and that purpose is always the same: to honor God. The travels often take you to a sacred place, but more importantly, this journey is the time of prayer and reflection that calls you to stir your heart toward God.

This retreat, by yourself or with others, allows you to encounter Christ in ways you may never have before. Typically pilgrimages do not provide you the best accommodations or the best food. You might not see a beautiful landscape, and you might be downright uncomfortable during parts or even all of the trip. Nevertheless, I would rather go on pilgrimage anytime rather than a leisure trip. I would go as far as to say I have found vacations less satisfying ever since.

One of my favorite pilgrimages was to Portugal, where I was able to stay a few days at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. This sacred destination is at the site of one of the Catholic Church’s few approved Marian apparitions. Fatima is the site where Mary appeared to three young shepherd children, Francisco, Jacinto, and Lucia, for five months, on the 13th of each month, culminating on Oct. 13, 1917. This October, we celebrate the centennial of the apparition.

I have been to three of the Vatican’s officially approved apparition sites and found great attraction to Fatima. Part of the allure of the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima for me is that this Marian apparition happened while my grandparents were alive. Because this is sort of a contemporary event, technology was such that you can now find videos and pictures on YouTube and read secular archived newspapers which wrote headlines that covered the story. I was even able to look up how this situation was perceived in the U.S. by reading articles from the archived student newspaper at St. Scholastica.

Most impressive to me are the estimates that 70,000 people, believers and skeptics alike, gathered at Fatima 100 years ago this month. Some came to be affirmed and some to proclaim foul. Consequently, this large gathering indeed was able to view the “Miracle of the Sun,” which silenced most critics. This miracle was given as a promise by Mary to the shepherd children, who had to endure hostility, as proof of their vision and to encourage the masses to listen to the messages Mary gave to the shepherd children. This shrine built on the site of the apparitions has since been given to the world, so we remember these important events, most significantly to draw us closer to Christ.

When I went to Fatima, I was among the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who travel there each year. Although outside the shrine there was a bit of commercialization, within the shrine area, which seemed to cover well over a square mile, there was no hint of consumerism. You were not required to pay for anything. Masses were being said in various locations and languages, displaying a diverse harmony was exquisitely Catholic and which I had never seen before. I had the immense privilege of praying the rosary among tens of thousands of other Catholics in every imaginable language while we all processed in a candlelit vigil. Just imagine days of prayer, with others and yet still alone with Christ, all at the same time. Hours were like minutes, and days were like hours. A renewal occurs in your heart that seems to sustain you over time, and that happened to me at Fatima.

I do understand that I have been blessed in ways most of my Catholic brothers and sisters have not. My family and I have been exposed to what the church has to offer us and have tried to remain grateful and humbled by its availability. I also know that the pilgrimages I have taken each year since my first call out an obligation to share what I learn and experience with other faithful. The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is truly a treasure in this church; the centennial draws us closer to Mary’s message at Fatima and her desire to bring us closer to Christ.

For those of us who have had the exceptional experience of going to Fatima and similar sacred destinations, we do have an obligation to share with others. If I meet you someday, don’t hesitate to ask, and if we do, you can learn more about Fatima at fatima-shrine-of-our-lady-of-fatima. I know Oct. 13 this year will be a special day of prayer for me, and I hope it can be for you as well.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Rocking at Built Upon a Rock Fest

When the day’s emcee Father Ryan Moravitz asked the crowd at Built Upon a Rock Fest Sept. 17 if they wanted to do it again next year, there was no mistaking the answer in the big cheer that followed.

The gorgeous late summer Catholic rock concert drew more than 900 people, including about 70 volunteers, to the grounds of the Holy Rosary campus of Stella Maris Academy, while across the street at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, people prayed in Eucharistic Adoration.

The ThirstingAgainst the backdrop of Lake Superior, eagles soared overhead, and a long line formed for the free food — as well as warm drinks like cider as day turned to night and temperatures dropped into the 50s.

A crowd that included Bishop Paul Sirba and numerous priests, deacons, and seminarians in addition to lay faithful from every corner of the diocese ranging from babies to grandparents listened and danced first to the local Aly Aleigha Band and then to headliners The Thirsting.

The whole thing was undoubtedly loud enough to be heard throughout the neighborhood.

When The Thirsting hit the stage and the volume went up, many of the crowd’s younger members made their way up close to the stage to rock out, as the band played its own hits and made Catholic or local riffs off of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home, Alabama” (“Sweet Home, Minnesota”), Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

The band’s high-energy frontman, Daniel Oberreuter, also tuned things down a notch in the middle of the band’s performance, doing a set of his acoustic songs. Throughout, he encouraged people in their devotion to the Eucharist and the rosary.

The event closed at the Cathedral, with confession and Benediction.

Marie Mullen, who had the original idea for the festival after encountering The Thirsting’s music, said it was amazing watching people enjoy the vision come to life. “I knew that the music would have a good impact on people,” she said.

But she was also in awe of the many people who had come together to make it happen, especially the sponsors who overwhelmed her with their generosity, making it possible to put on the event free for all in attendance, and the volunteers.

“I was in awe,” she said. “For me personally, the thing that I was most touched by was just the volunteers. They were all just serving so willingly and lovingly and humbly. I could see Christ in each one of them.”

“Everything was so efficient, and there was always someone to help do something,” she added.

She also relied on the help of her brother, who owns the staging company.

Mullen said they had planned for 1,000, nearly pegging the number who turned out. “We didn’t run out of anything.”

And she noted that the crowd didn’t really fill out that field — which includes Duluth’s most famous sledding hill — at all.

“In potential years to come, you could sit 3,000 in that field, easy,” she said.

And yes, she and the team of organizers, which also included David Walsh, Kevin Pilon, and Ben Foster, are already thinking about next year, and they even have bands in mind.

“We’ve got a lot of feedback,” Mullen said. “People are desiring it to be an annual event. We feel like that’s what God is desiring too.”

It’s still early and nothing has been arranged yet, but Mullen said if they are able to continue with the event, there may be some tweaks with logistics and timing, but the core of the event was what organizers were aiming at, with the simplicity of a Catholic concert that’s easy for busy people to do.

Through it all, Mullen says God was in charge and “blew her away” at every turn. “His hand was in it so much.”

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Jason Adkins: Combating racial disparities can begin in three important places

Racial disparities continue to persist in American life. As a response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently instituted a new initiative to fight racism in all its forms.

Though racism — irrational animus toward others based on their skin color, ethnicity, or race — is a sin within the human heart and cannot be fully eradicated by public policy, we can work in the public arena to mitigate its effects.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

Combating racial disparities will require overcoming policies championed by both the political right and left that entrench established ideological and economic power structures. In other words, it requires the wisdom of Catholic social teaching.

Racism is about exclusion

The effects of racism can be measured many ways, but one way to look at them is the degree to which African Americans and other persons of color are excluded from social, economic, and political participation in American life.

The possibility of participation in the economy, in cultural life, and in politics, is, according to the Church’s social doctrine, a necessary condition for human flourishing. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (1959).

Laws remain on the books that, while not necessarily discriminatory on their face, disproportionately affect persons of color.

Fostering racial justice

The policies that exacerbate racial disparities and deny social participation today are found primarily, though not exclusively, in three areas: education, criminal justice, and the family.

For example, too many children of color are trapped in underperforming schools and, as a result, there is a significant achievement gap between white students and students of color, particularly African-American and Latino students.

As education is the great ladder of opportunity, denying children the right to a good education puts a significant barrier in their path to social, cultural, political, and economic participation.

Kids need a lifeline, and giving families greater choice in education is a top civil rights imperative.

Similarly, kids trapped in failing schools and who lack hope often turn to a life of crime, which is known today as the school-to-prison pipeline. And because of overly punitive sentencing policies that helped politicians win elections, we imprisoned many nonviolent people unnecessarily, particularly African-American men, when what they really needed was treatment, counseling, or a job.

Putting more people in prison will certainly limit crime in the short term, but not without other long-term costs.

Fortunately, public officials on both sides of the aisle now recognize these costs, and Minnesota has led the way in criminal justice reform during the past few years, enacting policies such as “ban the box” and drug sentencing reform.

But more can be done, such as reconsidering the length of probation sentences imposed on offenders who have shown good character, as well as identifying ways to eliminate the collateral consequences of a conviction that impede access to education, employment, and housing.

Imprisoning large numbers of African-American men during their prime education and earning years has severely harmed their long-term economic prospects, as well as their ability to marry and form families. Many of these men are considered unmarriageable and, as a result, 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock to women who are often not even partnered, let alone married.

A major difference in the percentage of white and black children born to married parents (64 to 30) is perhaps the most significant cause of racial disparities, and one that creates a cycle of poverty and exclusion that leads back to the education-to-prison pipeline.

According to the Institute for Family Studies, “Black children in the United States enjoy less family stability than white children, experiencing close to twice as many family transitions — union dissolutions and partnership formations — as white children. Family instability is associated with a host of negative outcomes ranging from asthma to obesity, and from teen pregnancy to substance abuse. It is also negatively linked with fundamental predictors of success in adult life like educational attainment. For these reasons, black children’s family instability is an important part of the U.S. stratification story.”

Similarly, welfare reform was meant to encourage marriage and foster family stability, but is often structured in ways that either do not encourage marriage, or even discourage it. That needs to change.

The data is in: Family structure matters to child well-being, and kids need both their mother and father to play an active role in their life.

To be sure, combating racial disparities is a complex and challenging problem. Other issues, such as discrimination in employment and housing, and the creation of barriers to economic mobility by the monopolistic behavior of businesses and industries, also play a role.

But to decrease the reality of an economy of exclusion and foster greater social participation by minorities and persons of color, education, criminal justice, and marriage are important places to start.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Kyle Eller: ‘Deaths of despair’ point us in the direction of ‘the margins’

“Deaths of despair.”

That’s the jarring term being used to describe a spike in deaths from opioid addiction, as well as from drug and alcohol addictions more generally and from suicide. This spike is showing up in Minnesota and elsewhere around the country.

Kyle Eller
Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

According to a recent article in MinnPost, there were five times as many deaths in Minnesota from drug overdose in 2016 as there were in 2000. Track deaths by suicide and alcohol and the graph line also rises over the same time period, although less dramatically.

Researchers are still debating what’s driving all of this, but many sensibly connect it with things like declining economic opportunity, the breakdown of the family, social isolation, and a general sense of having nothing to live for, no hope for the future.


I would add to the list of indicators. If we are speaking of deaths of despair, I think the conversation ought to include school shootings and other mass killings, abortions, and the push for assisted suicide and euthanasia. In addition to deaths, might despair and a sense of meaninglessness also have something to do with our education woes, obesity, our cratering birth rates and marriage rates, our widespread anxiety and stress? I think so.

And then there’s declining church attendance and religious adherence. I suspect that, too, is related. But as cause, effect, or both?

Making such connections is not a new idea. As I was thinking about these signs of despair, I thought of the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who years ago, in his typical dark humor, used to characterize his habit of chain-smoking Pall Malls as a classier, slow-motion form of suicide.

When you think about it, it’s odd that we should be awash in despair. If we believe the world’s narrative, why should we be?

Isn’t the stock market soaring? Isn’t the economy always recovering and everything always getting better and better, according to whoever is in office?

Hasn’t our technology advanced beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors, putting instant communication around the globe, vast swaths of the world’s knowledge, worldwide news from every point of view, our address books and appointments, and an endless array of videos, music, games, and books, right in our pockets a couple of taps away?

And what about freedom? Primary obstacles to progress, we have been told, have been things like the Catholic view of human sexuality and marriage — archaic, medieval holdovers from the wrong side of history, we’re told. Over the past several years, haven’t these views been almost completely vanquished in the courts, in the media, in corporations, at the polling place, in public opinion?

Pornography is ubiquitous, there are infinite genders to choose from, family may be defined any way one pleases, and sexual license is limited only by consent. Any reservation about this situation is considered bigotry. Has any society ever come closer than ours has to realizing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s infamous modern creed: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life ...”?

Yet despair is growing, not receding. With vast information at our fingertips, we are less informed, less educated. With instant communication we are more lonely, more isolated. Told we can define the meaning of our lives absolutely any way we want, many instead find no meaning at all.

The world has no adequate answer for why this is so. Given the possibility that technology, affluence, pleasure, and a radical freedom from any constraints, even those of human nature itself, do not bring happiness, what’s left for the world to say?

For us, our important duty is finding ways to help people who are, as St. Paul put it to the Ephesians, “without hope and without God in the world.”

Pope Benedict XVI says of this passage that Paul “knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were ‘without God’ and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. … ‘How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing’: so says an epitaph of that period.”

Sound familiar?

Pope Francis urges us to go to the margins, to refuse to be conscripted into a throwaway culture where people we consider inconvenient or burdensome are cast off. “Deaths of despair” point us in the direction of one of those margins, to the neighborhoods of some of those thrown away.

What we have to offer them is hope and meaning, because while we cannot offer them wealth, limitless pleasure and license, or worldly popularity, if we have the courage, we can bring them to God.

And God alone suffices.

Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at

Bishop Paul Sirba: Diocese producing an abundance of blessings, old and new

“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his store room both the new and the old” (Matthew 13:52). Recently, the “store room” of the Diocese has been producing new and old blessings in abundance.

The Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery celebrated 125 years since the foundation of their Monastery. As you might imagine, the Sisters celebrated with great jubilation! A Mass of Thanksgiving was offered at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel. Friends, family, and honored guests were treated to a lovely reception, heavy hors d’oeuvres (actually an abundance of delicious food throughout the Monastery), an open house, guided tours, and story-telling by the sisters. It was a day of thanksgiving.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

I expressed gratitude, on behalf of the Diocese, for the countless prayers and good works of the sisters over the years. May God bless you, Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, with great hope for your future!

Built Upon a Rock Fest was a new experience for us from the store room. God showered His blessings upon an evening of family fun, making new friends, enjoying the beauty of creation, Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, and of course the gift of music! The organizers, Marie Mullin, David Walsh, Ben Foster, and Kevin Pilon, brought together the Aly Aleigha Band and The Thirsting for the first Catholic rock fest in Duluth. If the enthusiasm of the crowd is any indication of success, then we are on to a new opportunity for faith, fellowship, and rocking music in our Diocese.

A group of dedicated adorers cleaned and renovated the Holy Innocents adoration chapel at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth. Please make a visit. Sign up for an hour of adoration.

I am excited about an upcoming opportunity for adults in our Diocese to grow in their faith. Using the “Symbolon” program, along with local facilitators, persons throughout our Diocese will have the opportunity to learn, grow, and pray with one another. As Catholic adults, we must never stop growing in relationship with our Lord, and this is a great way to foster that growth. I encourage all adults, and especially those responsible for teaching the faith, to make use of this opportunity.

Sessions begin in November and will be held in five location throughout the Diocese. Check out “Adult Faith Formation” on our diocesan website or call the Pastoral Center for more information, (218) 724-9111.

October is Respect Life Month. Take a few moments to reflect on how we can become better witnesses to life from conception to natural death. The Women’s Care Center is hosting its annual fundraiser Oct. 17. 40 Days for Life continues, in Duluth, with prayers to end abortion. And the Catholic Advocacy Network through the Minnesota Catholic Conference is looking for new advocates to join the network. Please check it out at

On Oct. 13th, Fatima devotions will highlight the 100th anniversary of the apparitions and round out the celebrations for the year. Please check with parishes in your area for opportunities to celebrate the anniversary. Our Diocesan Assembly on Oct. 14th will feature Joe Miller from the Magis Center. Our annual White Mass for health care professionals will be Sunday, Oct. 15. Our Annual Wedding Anniversary Mass and luncheon is at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 22. All are welcome to attend these events, both new and old.

We give thanks to God for Blessed Stanley Rother, who was beatified on Sept. 23. He is the newest Blessed in the United States and the first native born martyr. Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Daughter of St. Gianna Molla coming to Duluth Oct. 30

“I like the idea of having a child of a canonized saint here, and having people have as close as they can to a tangible experience of a saint,” said Father Richard Kunst.

His parish, St. John in Duluth, will be offering just that Oct. 30, when it hosts Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Molla, a patron saint of the pro-life movement.

The saint, canonized on May 16, 2004, by Pope St. John Paul II, was herself a pediatrician. While she was pregnant with her fourth child in 1961 — the young Gianna — she discovered she had a life-threatening tumor.

Among the options her doctors gave her were abortion, which would not have been morally licit, and hysterectomy, which would have been licit but would also have led to the death of the child. Instead, she insisted on a course of care that would put saving the life of her child as the priority.

Despite efforts to save both mother and child, the saint died a week after her daughter was born. She was 39 years old.

“She’s the patron saint of unborn children and the pro-life movement,” Father Kunst said, as well as the inspiration for parents who have given the name to their own children.

Father Kunst said the daughter the saint died saving, herself a physician as well, has become a spokesperson for her mother’s mission. For instance, she was present at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, with Pope Francis in attendance.

She will also be appearing in the Twin Cities in October, which the Catholic Church in the United States observes as Respect Life Month.

Yet Father Kunst said getting Dr. Molla lined up to come to Duluth was difficult despite the fact that she is coming to Minnesota already.

In fact, at one point, she told Father Kunst it would be “absolutely impossible.” But the next day she wrote again to say she could come for a talk in the parish.

“I’m very excited about it, obviously,” he said.

There is a private fundraising dinner the day before, but the main public event is Oct. 30, with Mass at 6:30 p.m. followed by Dr. Molla’s talk.

This, too, will have a fundraising component. Dr. Molla is raising funds to restore the family home and “make it into a shrine,” Father Kunst said.

“She travels all over the place to share her mom’s story and the vision of what she would like to do in regard to her mother’s ministry in the pro-life movement,” he said.

So he will be asking for a generous freewill donation. But the event is free and is a unique opportunity to meet one of the few people in the world who is a living child of a canonized saint.

“St. Gianna Molla died to save this woman’s life,” he added. “… She’s an integral part of the whole story of St. Gianna Molla.”

He said there are no tickets, it’s just first-come, first-served. There will be closed-circuit TV in the parish’s basement in case there is overflow from the church, which itself can seat quite a few people.

“All they have to do is bring their willingness to support the mission of St. Gianna Molla and the pro-life movement,” he said.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Faith in the Public Arena: Gender ideology is colonizing — not cultivating — student minds

Our schools should be places where children are trained to pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful — or, at the very least, equipped to honestly and rationally engage with objective reality. A school should be a place of education, not ideological instruction.

But a “transgender toolkit,” approved on July 24 by the state’s School Safety Technical Assistance Council (SSTAC), is a clear instance of that vital mission being flipped on its head. The recommendations of the toolkit, advertised as a means of combating bullying, instead distort reality and impede real education.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

The falsehoods of gender ideology — essentially, the view that gender is unrelated to biological sex and can be chosen at will — are not fit to be disseminated anywhere, least of all in our schools. The council’s decision to distribute this toolkit to public schools throughout Minnesota reveals that state bureaucrats are more concerned about colonizing students’ minds than forming them to seek the truth.

Ideological colonization

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has drawn attention to what he calls “ideological colonization,” or the imposition of secular values on religious societies through threats or incentives.

We typically think of ideological colonization in places like Africa, where Western nations and NGOs attempt to impose contraception and abortion on countries in exchange for development dollars. But Pope Francis has also linked it to gender ideology being taught in the classroom.

The pope told the Polish bishops in 2016 that gender theory is the “exact opposite of God’s creation,” and that this “sin against God the Creator” is an example of “ideological colonization” funded by powerful institutions.

“Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money,” the pontiff said, calling the situation “terrible.”

The transgender toolkit is a clear instance of ideological colonization in our own backyard. Through the threat of lawsuits against schools, well-funded activists work to enact anti-bullying measures that are instead vehicles for making disordered views of the human person and human sexuality normative in the broader culture, all the while punishing those who dissent.

Denying reality

We all agree that public schools should be places that are welcoming to all students, regardless of personal challenges that they bring to the classroom. Persons struggling with gender dysphoria or who identify as transgender should be treated with compassion and sensitivity, and reasonably accommodated.

These steps should be taken to create an environment where students can participate in the pursuit of truth, unhindered by things that might hold them back, such as bullying or fear and anxiety. But the advance of gender ideology in the mask of anti-bullying programs undermines the heart of the educational enterprise by injecting a false vision of reality into the language and culture of schools. It requires students and faculty to speak and accept actions in contrast to plainly observable fact, namely, that boys are boys and not girls (or some other thing), and vice versa. As First Things editor R.R. Reno notes, gender ideology forces students to accommodate themselves to lies knowing that truthful words will be punished.

Gender ideology has no credible scientific basis. It requires people to perpetrate falsehoods and is a clear example of the triumph of the subjective will taking precedence over objective reality; it has no place in a setting serious about intellectual inquiry.

Our response

When we see gender theory imposed by public officials, or perpetrated in schools, we have the responsibility to respond, proposing instead the reality of our created nature and the beauty of sexual difference — man and woman, made for each other and made for life.

If the Church is to be a field hospital, as Pope Francis calls us to be, prospective patients need to know that things like gender theory that are peddled by the culture as elixirs of happiness are really poison, and that there is a place that offers healing and hope.

In addition, we must continue to assert that the facts of objective reality and the task of pursuing the truth of things should guide our public discourse and our education system. Otherwise, our discourse becomes mere sophistry and our public policies become tools of oppression and exploitation by those in power.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Betsy Kneepkens: Camp Survive’s transformations are best seen up close

Every August I look forward to the same bus ride: I get to chaperone middle schoolers from the east side of our diocese to Camp Survive.

I see this as a privilege, and I am left wondering why others are not vying for this job. Few situations place you in the midst of adolescents at a time when they are most real. For many, this week is the first time away. For others, they go without knowing anyone else. And still others think they have everything all figured out. The one-and-a-half hour bus trip is an annual education in the lives of young people, and I love every second of it.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneekpens
Faith and Family

A little background on Camp Survive. This week-long church camp is held in McGregor each year. The effort is organized by our Department of Youth Ministry and is probably the most sought-after activity the Diocese of Duluth offers. The 205 open spots fill up in ten days without any formal advertising.

Also, the camp staffing is by trained high school camp returners who serve as junior counselors or prayer team participants. Youth ministers, as well as several priests and seminarians, are responsible for the senior leadership. Whether it is campers, junior counselors, or prayer team members, there are always considerably more young people interested in being part of this particular event than space will allow.

For the past several years I have been the “go to camp” bus chaperone. I greet the campers and families, collect permission slips, and make sure everyone is accounted for. I watch the gentle goodbye hugs and words of affection from the parents as the kids enter the bus. I observe more children being nervous than excited. We begin the bus ride with a prayer, and the parents wave as we leave the parking lots.

Most of the middle schoolers are quiet, anxious, and difficult to engage in conversation. Several of the more reserved students select the first few seats so they can sit alone. I do my best to engage these kids, asking questions about their parish and if they have any experience with this camp before. The students that sit in the front of the bus are typically first-time camp-goers.

I know what fun lies ahead of them at camp because all six of my children have had at least one Camp Survive experience. More importantly, I know what sort of transformations occur at camp, and I can hardly wait for that same thing to happen to these middle schoolers who are so apprehensive as travel the highway to McGregor.

This year my experience was significantly different. Instead of being the “go to” bus supervisor, I was the “go home” chaperone. This new role positioned me perfectly to see the amazing work of the Holy Spirit. The bus arrived on time to pick up the campers, but the entire camp looked like a ghost town. I made my way to the lodge’s large conference room. Once inside, I came upon 300-plus young people finishing Mass.

As the priests were processing, the youths were bursting with praise and worship, making it obvious no one had any intention of leaving anytime soon. The song ended, but the campers did not. These young people continued to sing praise from the tops of the lungs, all the while signing the song and moving to the beat. The best way to describe this is these kids had joy in their hearts, and that happiness was rooted in the Holy Spirit. It was the most glorious sight.

Right before the (much delayed) departure, I witnessed endless hugs, high fives, and “let’s keep in touch” comments by campers from other parts of the diocese who were not taking the bus home. As the driver managed to navigate the large vehicle around the tall pine trees to the main highway, no one needed me to help start a conversation. They talked about their small groups and how cool their leader was, they exchanged adoration and Mass time experiences, they laughed about the jokes they played on each other and how their first impressions of some people were all wrong. They talked about coming back next year, some as campers and some as leaders. It was obvious to me that if these young people did not have an affection for the church before camp, they certainly do know.

These campers were stinky, and they just glowed with the love of the Lord. They were fed at camp, but with a lot more than s’mores. They tasted the beauty and richness of our church. Camp Survive sets that bar high, opening up these children to all that is good and true about our Catholic faith. Any parent that greeted their child after camp can sense the change in their kid. They are bubbling with excitement and are confident about the faith their parents are handing down to them. They are open to more and will take more if given to them.

This is not the first time these sorts of life-changing experiences have happened at Camp Survive, it is just the first time I observed this in the multitudes leaving camp. My children have always returned with a transformational experience. I have tried to take this opportunity to elevate the experience they had into the faith life of our family. I think it would be prudent for our larger faith family to get a better understanding of what happens at Camp Survive so we can continue to feed these kids at this level.

It is beyond words to explain the connection these young people made with Christ, but it is obvious they are have the capacity to go deeper. What should our parishes look like so that this transformation continues to happen? What adjustment must be made so that this energy and truth can be the foundation of every parish?

The future of our parishes is already here, and they are preparing themselves. When we continue to embrace these young people, they will be part of the catalyst which will continue to evolve our parish communities. I am convinced these youth are an important part of the Holy Spirit’s work, which is intended to further enrich and renew the splendor of our church.

Next August, it will be the first time I will not have one of my children on the bus to Camp Survive. Sadly, they have outgrown the camper age. I am hopeful they will be selected to be a prayer team member or a junior counselor, but that leaves them off the bus.

I feel strongly that I should not have to retire from my bus chaperone duties simply because my children have grown up. The education and joy I receive from this experience brings me so much hope for our church, but it also helps keep part of my aging heart young. Next August, I would put my money on being on that Camp Survive Bus.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Camp Survive was an opportunity to consult with young people

The energy was palpable. The welcome was hearty and sincere. The enthusiasm was contagious. Where else can you experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a forum with hundreds of young people, junior counselors, a prayer team, and some extraordinarily dedicated chaperones in a beautiful setting? Camp Survive is the place.

The Diocese of Duluth, under the leadership of Father Mike Schmitz and Heather Serena and their collaborators, have been hosting Camp Survive at Big Sandy Camp and Retreat Center for years. This work of the Lord continues to bear great fruit.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

I had the opportunity to go to camp this year with an added mission. In response to the invitation of Pope Francis and in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Young People and discernment, I thought I would bring the questions posed in the synodal document and ask our young people, youth ministers, and local youth experts to see what they would say. What a wonderful opportunity for consultation!

How would you respond to questions like: How can we help the young people hear and respond to the call to become disciples of Christ in this world? Or: We can often underestimate the potential of youth — how do we change our mindset? What are the ways in which we can engage them and help them offer their gifts to building of the Kingdom and making the world a better place? What are the roadblocks? How can we as a Church walk with them? Listen to their voice? In John’s Gospel, when Jesus was asked by his disciples where he was staying, he replied, “Come and see.” That has not changed — Jesus still invites — he looks at you and invites you to go with Him. Pope Francis asks you — “Dear young people, have you noticed this look toward you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey?” What is it you most need today from your Church? At a parish, diocesan, and universal level?

The responses to the questions will help me frame a response to be prepared for the Synod and our Holy Father. The Diocese of Duluth and our young people will make a difference in the discussion the universal Church will be having with Pope Francis in 2018. The gift of Camp Survive will continue to help our young people grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and form the intentional disciples of the future. Or rather, form the intentional disciples of the present!

One of the many great takeaways for me was the power of Eucharistic Adoration. It was the most frequently mentioned response to the question: What did you most like about camp? Another very important lesson for me was the importance of the good example and witness of each successive generation on the one before. I mean, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders greatly valued the example of the junior counselors, who esteemed the witness of college students, who learned from slightly older adults on up.

We have a trajectory which supports the faith of others and makes it credible. It also needs to be formed at an ever earlier age. Some young people are making decisions about whether to remain in the faith by the time they are entering junior high. Twelve-yearolds are asking why they didn’t hear about something when they were six. Also, few if any read newspapers.

The seeds of faith are being nurtured and sustained by Camp Survive, TOBIT, confirmation retreats and youth programs, religious education programs, and schools, but we must respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the ever-changing needs of our young people. I do believe we are on the front end of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Duluth.

Our words of wisdom to the Synod will help us and the universal Church fan into flame faith in Jesus Christ, who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.