Saturday, October 18, 2008

Br. Jason Welle, OFM Runs 2008 Chicago Marathon

Beginning of Chicago Marathon 2008 on Sunday, 12 October in Grant Park

by Bro. Jason Welle, OFM
Bro. Jason recently professed solemn vows as a friar minor on the Solemnity of the Assumption, 15 August, in the parish church of Pulaski, WI, Assumption BVM. He is current ly a student at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago

On October 12th, I joined 33,000 other athletes for the 2008 Chicago Marathon, the fourth marathon I have run as a Franciscan friar. Doing a marathon a year is quickly becoming a tradition for my younger brother Scott and I; we have run four together, shoulder to shoulder, start to finish. This year, we completed the 26.2 mile course through twenty-nine Chicago neighborhoods in 3:45.
Chicago Marathoners running through the streets of the City of Chicago, Sunday 12 October 2008
The unusually hot weather slowed down the field on this flat, fast course which starts and ends in Grant Park. Runners weave through the downtown Loop three times total, after jaunts as far north as Lincoln Park and as far south as U.S. Cellular field.

Great crowds in areas like Pilsen and Chinatown lift the runners’ energy, as do playful signs encouraging us that “Oprah did it, you can too!” and to “find your inner Kenyan.” Running for charity also gave me a boost. For the second time, I ran on behalf of St. Coletta’s of Illinois Foundation, an organization founded by Franciscan Sisters to work with developmentally-disabled children and adults.

I think I’m a little different than many of last Sunday’s fitness gurus. I own neither an i-pod nor an mp3 player. When I train, I usually don’t even wear a watch. I just go out and run, to breathe fresh air and immerse myself in the world around me. I’m often struck by how many people ceaselessly try to escape from their surroundings, hiding behind a cell phone, headphones, a newspaper, or any other means they can find to insulate themselves from the world. I find the true value of aerobic exercise in re-connecting with the world, attentively looking at the trees, listening to the birds, and becoming more conscious of how I interact with it all, through my steps, my heartbeat, my breathing, etc.

Our house of studies is just two blocks from Lake Michigan, so I do most of my training out on the lakefront running/cycling trail, where many Chicagoans come for a bit of peace. Getting out into this world for a time clears my head and refreshes me for our other daily tasks: prayer, housework, ministry at different sites around Chicago, and the perennial tasks of reading and paper-writing that mark a house of studies. In time, I have come to see running as a form of prayer, because it renews me, leaves me in better touch with who I am, and better able to face the challenges of each day.

Of course, running a marathon is a quite different from a daily jog by the lake…and I wouldn’t continue to do it if these rather painful days hadn’t taught me an additional, different lesson about myself. People often tell me that they’re impressed with the determination it takes to complete a marathon, that they don’t think they could do it themselves.

It obviously does require discipline, building up one’s mileage over the course of months to prepare oneself for race day. But honestly, running three marathons in Chicago and one in Austin, Texas, has taught me more about relaxing my discipline than how to build it up.

Many people, especially endurance athletes, seek out new and bigger challenges for the sake of having a new challenge, and can’t live with themselves if they fail to complete these challenges, to meet their self-imposed goals. I hear many runners say with pride that they couldn’t imagine not finishing the race. No matter what happens, they have to finish. Marathoning has taught me that my goals for myself are not God’s goals for me. If I miss my goal time or drop out, God still loves me. That might seem obvious, but the way we often fixate on our goals in school, in work, in athletics, in our finances, or other things demonstrates that many people don’t internalize it.

I entered Sunday’s race intending to finish but knowing that if I failed to, God and my ego could accept it. This gave me the freedom to run hard, to do the best I could, and enjoy the race for the graced moment that it was. Even though we ran our best (I’m still rather stiff and sore…), this was the first race when Scott and I missed our goal time, and that was fine on a very hot Sunday morning.

Right: An obviously relieved and rejoicing Bro. Jason after having completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon -- "thumbs up!"

Left: Bro. Jason (R) with his brother, Scott, after having ocmpleted the 2008 Chicago Marathon!

We did what was ours to do, we ran the good race, and we did it together. And God willing, we’ll probably do it again somewhere next year!

Dear Jason Welle, Congratulations from Bank of America for finishing the2008 Bank of AmericaChicago Marathon! Your recorded finish time was3:45:43 and you placed 3925out of 31,401 finishers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Faithful Citizenship" -- Is There a Catholic Vote?

So, who are YOU voting for? Barak Obama or John McCain? Those are rather brazen questions, and quite frankly, it's none of my business!

However, whom WE vote for is all of our business, at least it will be in the end when National Election 2008 is over by late Tuesday, 4 November.

Not so long ago there used to talk of a "Catholic vote". This meant that at least a majority of US citizens who identified themselves as Catholics tended to vote in a particular way, usually Democratic.

This was not universal, but it was strong enough to gain a popular title, at least through the media. Many Democratic candidates, at least in the North, tended to foster policies which the Catholic Church supported -- outreach for the poor, support for laborers, justice for the marginalized and disenfranchized and the like. As the '60s progressed into the '70s, the Catholic Church also supported affordable housing, Civil Rights, an end to the war in Vietnam and initiatives which supported and encouraged the poor, including education and job opportunities without discrimination based on race, ethnic identity, gender and religious affiliation.

Catholics themselves had been the subjects of discrimination, especially with the arrival of the multitudes of Irish people in the mid-1800s. Subsequent European Catholic immigrants also faced a harsh "welcome", in the mines and in the mills, in the Northeast, Midatlantic and Midwest USA.

President John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961. President Kennedy, a desendant of Irish immigrants,
was the first (and only) Catholic elected to the US presidency.

Pope Leo XIII published his socially conscious encyclical, Rerum Novarum in the 1890s to address the social ills of the late 19th century, and especially the growing specter of Marxism in Europe and beyond. Thus began the modern Catholic social teaching which would be added to by Pope Pius XI (Quadregessimum Annum), Pope Bd. John XXIII (Pacem In Terris) and Pope John Paul II (Laborens Exercens). That, and the document of the Church in the modern world at the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes) solidified the Catholic Church's engagement in modern society.

US Catholics, though, found themselves in a quandary and struggled with American identity vis-a-vis the US Supreme Court's decision on 22 January 1973 in the case of Roe v. Wade which paved the way for abortion on demand as a woman's right to privacy and her freedom of choice. As we all know, this continues to be a major significant area of concern, both for Right to Life groups and those which favor a woman's individual right to choose to have an abortion.

The US bishops, in their document Faithful Citizenship encourage Catholics to exercise their right to vote calling such involvement a moral obligation (please see picture above). They also state that each is to vote according to one's conscience.

They can be easily accessed on-line at for the download to this insightful document. The US bishops state that one should not vote for one issue only. At the same time the issue of life, especially for the most vulnerable persons, along with respecting human dignity of all persons from conception to natural death, are crucial. The US bishops call for attention to the issues regarding life -- abortion, euthanasia, embyonic stem cell research (and destruction of human embryoes in the process). They also point to the care for the elderly, infirm and disabled persons, responding to the needs of the poor, rights of workers, the plight of many immigrants, whether they be in this land legally or are undocumented, and the issues of peacemaking and bringing wars to an end.

A very fine video presentation that seems to attempt to address this (with rather dramatic music, by the way) is It is definitely a Catholic perspsective.

The US bishops do not tell us, the Catholic electorate, HOW to vote. Rather, they do give us some rather well thought out guidelines for discerning and making responsible decisions according to one's informed conscience. Conscience, however, is NOT opinion!

Is there a "Catholic" vote? Probably not any longer. At least, not like it may have been once in the past. Nevertheless, there are Catholics -- MANY Catholics -- who vote!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Synod of Bishops in Rome Focus on the Word of God

Many bishops from around the world have gathered with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in Rome to prayerfully study how to respond to the situations in the world and the Catholic Christian response according to the Word of God. You can find the latest updates on the Vatican Web site,, including the working document and responses.

The Holy Bible has always been at the heart of the life of the Church since its beginning. The Lord Jesus, the Word of God made flesh (cf. John 1:14) is often depicted in the Gospels as quoting from the Scritpures [Old Testament] -- in combatting the devil (cf. Mt. 4:4; see Dt. 8:3), in addressing the people at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (cf. Lk. 4:18-19; see Isa. 61:1-2a), and even when hanging upon the Cross, Jesus invokes the Scriptures (cf. Mk. 15:34; see Ps. 22:1).

Pope Benedict XVI, 2008

The Apostles and Evangelists quoted freely from the Sacred Books of the First Covenant of the Jewish people, citing from the ancient texts to indicate that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the nations. Therefore, he is the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible (Hebrew and Greek texts).

The proclamation of the biblical texts has always been part of our liturgical tradition. Direct Scriptural quotes are found throughout the Roman Mass and other sacramental celebrations. Indirectly, there are multiple allusioins to the Bible. Two examples are the "Holy, Holy, Holy" [Sanctus], which quotes from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 6:3 and Psalm 118:26b, and the "Lamb of God" [Agnus Dei], which combines the invocation to Christ as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:36 and Rev. 5:12) with the plea for mercy (cf. Mt. 9:27).

As Franciscan friars we rejoice that Pope Benedict and the bishops from around the world have gathered in the Twelfth Synod to focus on the Word of God. The Bible, being at the heart of the Church, is always at the heart of our Order and our Franciscan tradition.

St. Francis and St. Clare were both inspired to renounce everything for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as our respective Rules state (i.e. that of St. Francis for the Friars Minor and that of St. Clare for the Poor Clare nuns), ". . . to live the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in obedience, without anything of our own and in chastity."

Monday, October 13, 2008

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

When I was growing up back in the late 1960s I remember older folks commenting about the “Great Depression.” Both of my parents were teenagers during the Depression and recounted experiences of struggle, want and family togetherness. Maybe you remember your parents or grandparents (great-grandparents?!) telling the stories?

Strikers protest for just pay and form unions

And every so often I would hear survivors of the Great Depression remark that they thought such a harrowing experience in the present time might bring people together again in a fractured society like it was back then. That, and it might get them back to church!

To be honest, I don’t know what it was like back in the 1930s. The Great Depression, begun when the stock market crashed in 1929, was not my experience. I only know what I read and what people recounted as they remembered. Problem is, nostalgia can also omit facts. And it probably could resurfac songs of the period that depicted the plight of the poor and unemployed in shantytowns such as the title of this article.

Dust Bowl in the 1930s in Oklahoma

What people frequently recount, though, is the sense of community they remember. People helping people; people, if you will, in solidarity with one another.

Of course, it was also a time of great political turmoil – the Ku Klux Klan had reached its zenith of racial, ethnic and religious intimidation in the 1920s and continued in the 1930s (in the North as well as the South), Jim Crow laws were enforced in the segregated South since after the Civil War and mills and mines in the North were the sites of some rather violent strikes.

Economic refugees from the Great Dust Bowl in Oklahoma were not particularly welcomed to sunny California, as well recounted in John Steinbeck’s famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath. So, not all was “togetherness” or “community”.

To be sure, houses of worship were probably more frequented than in the Roaring Twenties. When disaster strikes, off to God we go!

Train station in South Carolina in the 1930s shows effects of "Jim Crow" segregation laws

In the midst of the current financial downturn, and reality for many of job loses or the threat of job less, we can be faced with the temptation to despair. Many did in the Great Depression. Just as preachers warned their flocks in the past so we are being warned today to not put our faith in the “almighty” dollar, but in God Almighty!

Scripture warns us that the love of money is the root of evil (by the way, not money itself) – see 1 Timothy 6:10, and it follows, “. . . and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” (NAB Rev).

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi each renounced fortune and the comforts that their respective parents’ afforded. Not because money in itself was evil, but because they wanted to live for Jesus Christ and him alone. And to love money and seek after it would have defied the Word of God and separated them from the Lord. They each renounced greed, and probably had to renounce it daily in their lives, for there are many forms of greed! They found their hope and their source of strength in the Lord, not in their families’ wealth or social status. And in this they found great freedom.

St. Francis of Assisi as a youth encountering the leper outside of Assisi.
In this meeting Francis found Jesus Christ, which helped lead him to radically change his life.

While the economic forecasters and experts are struggling with what to do next for hope of an economic upturn, all seem to agree that we are not headed for something similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Let’s hope so!

At the same time, this may be a graced opportunity to get our focus right and our proverbial “store in order” as we consider our lives and our futures. Yes, we want what is good for us and for those whom we love – affordable health care, just and living wage, honest work for honest pay. These are important. But our faith in what is eternal is even MORE important.

Like St. Francis and St. Clare, it would seem to behoove us to guard against the temptation to greed. As Franciscan Friars it is our sincere hope that we can offer this insecure world the hope of God’s security!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Franciscan Parade in Manitowoc, WI -- in Fr. Bob's Own Words

From Fr. Robert (Bob) Konopa, OFM

Little did I know that this St. Francis Feast Day, October 4th, 2008, would be most memorable.

Fr. Bob Konopa, OFM at the John Deere tractor for the Francis/Oktoberfest Parade in Manitowoc, WI on Saturday, 4 October 2008

My first opportunity for my “Channel of Peace Itinerant Ministry” began on September 2nd. I became a chaplain for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.The city of Manitowoc, the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Franciscan Sisters collaborated to organize a 9-day Francis Fest/Oktoberfest.

One of the events of this celebration was a parade on October 4th. The Franciscan Sisters constructed a creative, outstanding and attention-grabbing float depicting their history beginning in 1869. But the question arose, “How can we pull this float in the parade?”

They asked me to drive their John Deere tractor. After taking it for a test drive, I realized how many years had passed by since my tractor-driving days on the Wisconsin farm where I grew up. The 50 minute drive on tractor to reach the starting point of the parade (while all the regular traffic whizzed by me) made driving the tractor in the parade pure pleasure, relaxing and fun.

The float in the parade was a hit! It was a great time for the Franciscans and our Franciscan presence in Manitowoc.
Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity float driven by Fr. Bob Konopa, OFM on Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi at the Francis/Oktoberfest Parade on Saturday, 4 October 2008. The Sisters are "modeling" their original habit from the 1860s.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A New Twist on St. Francis Day -- A Franciscan Contribution to a Civic Parade!

Now what are those Franciscans up to? This past Saturday on the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi (4 October), the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc, WI co-sponsored the first Francis Fest/Oktoberfest for the City of Manitowoc, WI.

And our brother, Fr. Robert (Bob) Konopa, OFM drove the tractor! Fr. Bob, a native of Junction City, WI, is currently serving as chaplain to the Franciscan Sisters. Fr. Bob is also my novitiate and vow (temporary and solemn) classmate!

He grew up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. His Mom and Dad moved several years ago from the farm to their present home in Marshfield, WI.

Fr. Robert (Bob) Konopa, OFM at the wheel of the tractor for the Francis Fest/Oktoberfest parade on St. Francis Day in Manitowoc, WI

The idea for this parade emerged as a way to highlight the very strong and long-standing Franciscan presence in Manitowoc. The Franciscan Sisters sponsor a hospital, serve in education at Roncalli High School, Silver Lake College a music conservatory and at the local amalgomated Catholic parish of Manitowoc called St. Francis of Assisi.
Our Franciscan Friars of the Assumption BVM Province had served in the former St. Andrew, St. Boniface and St. Mary Parishes (before the combination in 2005), formerly as chaplain at St. Mary Home. and as chaplains to these Franciscan Sisters.
Fr. Bob had learned many years ago how to drive a tractor, but those skills went into "hibernation" once he left the farm to join the Franciscan Friars. And now they came back as a tool for evangelization!
Fr. Bob Konopa, OFM in the lead pulling the float for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, WI.
So, on a brisk sunny early October day the Franciscan Sisters and Friars made history by participating in this parade -- a great way to joyfully proclaim our Catholic Christian faith, especially by literally taking our faith to the streets!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Happy St. Francis Day!

Franciscans all over the world are preparing to celebrate tomorrow, 4 October 2008, the Solemnity of our Holy Father, Francis of Assisi. For the rest of the Roman Rite Church it is a memorial, but for us Franciscans -- friars (Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventuals, Third Order Regular), Sisters (Poor Clare nuns and the numerous Third Order Sisters communities) and the Secular Franciscans (formerly called Third Order -- lay people and diocesan clergy who have embraced the Gospel life envisioned by our holy founder) it is a solemnity!

Please see below for a contact information -- a Franciscan-themed song!

The San Damiano Cross in Assisi through which the Lord Jesus spoke to Francis and said, "Francis, go and repair my Church, which you see is falling into ruins."

This evening we commemorate the passing, or Transitus of St. Francis on the eve of 3 October 1226, for he died just as the sun was setting! And he died in a small building adjacent to the womb of the entire Franciscan movement, the Portiuncula ("little portion"), one of the chapels which the Poverello repaired at the beginning of his Gospel adventure.

The chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, the Portiuncula (Little Portion) housed since the 17th century within the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, outside of Assisi. The womb of the Franciscan movement.

The Transitus service is actually quite simple. It can begin with a hymn composed by St. Francis (e.g. Canticle of the Creatures [All Creatures of Our God and King], a narration from one of the lives of St. Francis (e.g. Thomas of Celano 2nd Life of St. Francis or St. Bonaventure's Major Life), the proclamation of John 13:1-17, Psalm 142, Intercessions with the Lord's Prayer, a Concluding Prayer and a blessing (with a priest or deacon, the Aaronic blessing from Number 6:24-26, which St. Francis favored). Perhaps another hymn from the Prayers of St. Francis could be sung (or conclude the Canticle of the Creatures).

The tomb of St. Francis of Assisi located in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis in the city of Assisi, staffed by the Conventual Franciscan Friars.

From Sr. Julie Ann Sheahan, OSF of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity (Manitowoc, WI):
Just thought I'd send you a possible blog post starter. Our song of the month is a great tribute to Francis, drifter and dreamer. You may want to send your blogspot viewers to us for a free download of a great song:

Enjoy -- and Happy St. Francis Day!