Using the occasion of the U.S. Bishop’s National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland announced that he is placing the Diocese of Tyler’s efforts to promote the sacredness of human life under the new title of “Sanctity of Life” and will be expanding the ministry to include a wider range of groups in the diocese.

Prior to the announcement, the diocesan Sanctity of Life Office had was called the Respect Life Office.

“I will be bringing together several apostolates that are already established to each be a piece in a mosaic more consciously witnessing to the sanctity of life.  This effort will include groups and ministries like Catholic Charities, our prison ministry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Knights of Columbus, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Gabriel Project, the permanent diaconate, and all of our pro-life efforts,” Bishop Strickland said.

At the first East Texas Sanctity of Life Banquet last October, Bishop Strickland reflected on the sacredness of human life in all stages and circumstances.  He brought attention to the many threats against the sacred dignity of the individual person’s life and conscience and called on the Church in East Texas must do more to witness the Gospel of Life.

In changing the name of the diocesan efforts from “Respect Life” to “Sanctity of Life,” Bishop Strickland hopes to promote closer collaboration between those involved in Church apostolates that specifically encourage the goodness and inviolability of every human life.

In reflecting on the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Bishop Strickland called on the people of the diocese to observe the day through the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and giving alms.

“As we commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s tragic Roe vs. Wade decision, I am even more convinced that recognizing the concept of Sanctity of Life is fundamental for our great nation. Our Founding Fathers believed it was self-evident that our Creator endowed each person with unalienable rights,” Bishop Strickland said. “If there was any doubt in 1972 that an unborn child was human person, scientific study of DNA and ultrasound imaging show clearly each child is a unique human being.  We join with many believers and unbelievers alike who recognize this right given to the unborn by the Creator.  We pray that the fundamental right to life will be recognized by our society and protected in law and in fact.”

“There was a point in our nation’s history where slavery was judged by the Supreme Court to be a protected right.  Please join me in prayer that we will soon reach a point that abortion, like slavery, will be recognized as an evil that is fundamentally wrong,” Bishop Strickland said.

For more information, contact Father Gavin Vaverek, director of the Sanctity of Life Office, at (903) 534-1077.

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.

“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy.  This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.

The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”

Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.

It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn’t depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”

After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”

Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.

“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as ‘visceral,’” he said.

He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”

Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.

Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn’t even allow him to finish his confession – it’s like he covered his mouth.”

Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.

Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.

“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”

After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”

By Elise Harris

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.

“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy.  This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.

The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”

Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.

It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn’t depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”

After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”

Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.

“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as ‘visceral,’” he said.

He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”

Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.

Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn’t even allow him to finish his confession – it’s like he covered his mouth.”

Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.

Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.

“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”

After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”

By Elise Harris

TYLER – Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics has signed a letter of intent to become part of CHRISTUS Health, an international Catholic not-for-profit health system.

The partnership was announced at a press conference Jan. 7 at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.

“We pride ourselves on our commitment to bringing the best patient care and services to East Texas. This has been an integral part of our mission as a faith-based health provider for more than 75 years, and we will continue to realize that vision for East Texas for years to come,” said Lindsey Bradley, President and Chief Executive Officer of TMFHC.

“An alliance with CHRISTUS Health will allow us to build upon the foundation set forth by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth many years ago with a partner that shares our faith-based values and dedication to quality care. We will not only continue to serve the people of East Texas diligently, but grow to expand access to the highest quality healthcare as East Texans have come to expect,” continued Bradley.

Trinity Mother Frances was “founded in the Catholic mission of healthcare in East Texas,” Bradley said. “We’ve been proudly doing that from the very beginning, and we decided that we would be better able to serve an ever broader area of East Texas by seeking out a partner. In the last nine months we’ve been engaged in an organized process to seek out a partner that shares the same culture, the same vision, and that has a reason to want to expand and grow Catholic healthcare in East Texas.”

Bradley said that included “not serving only those who have insurance, but serving the disadvantaged and those who have limited access to healthcare.”

That partner, he said, is CHRISTUS Health, which is “Texas based. They’ve been here in Texas for 150 years. They know Texas.”

CHRISTUS also knows East Texas. The system operates facilities in Texarkana and Atlanta, including the 312-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, the 50-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Rehabilitation Hospital in Texarkana, and the 64-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Atlanta.

The CHRISTUS system is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth will become the third sponsoring religious congregation of the CHRISTUS system, expanding their healthcare ministry to the areas served by the system.

“We see this as a great opportunity to expand the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” Bradley said.

He stressed that the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth will remain a visible presence at the hospital.

“Our sisters are the embodiment of who we are,” Bradley said. “I hope we get more sisters. But the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are here, they’ve been here, and they will be here.”

He also said the name so many in East Texas have grown to know and trust will not change.

“Mother Frances Hospital is named for the foundress of our sponsoring congregation,” he said, referring to Blessed Frances Siedliska. “That is a treasured name and it will not change.”

“We are a world-class healthcare organization. And, we are committed to maintaining that standard here, in East Texas. This announcement today is the beginning of the path that will solidify world-class healthcare in East Texas for decades to come,” said Ray Thompson, FACHE, Chief Operating Officer, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics. “We are proactively defining our future, and this is a day of celebration for our two health systems and for the people of East Texas.”

“We are an integrated healthcare system, and a significant portion of that model of care is our trust in physician leadership,” said Steven P. Keuer, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics and President, Trinity Clinic. “We approach actions with the mindset of ‘How will this affect the patient?’ Our goal is to keep the care of our patients as our priority. This combination reflects those values, and it is important for everyone to know that the physicians of this organization were deeply involved in this process from the beginning.”

“Our process of evaluation has given us the opportunity to get to know the people of CHRISTUS Health and their organization on a personal level and to find common ground,” said Scott Smith, Senior Vice President and Institute Chief, Primary Care, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics. “It gives us a sense of comfort, of hope and of pure joy to be making the right decision for us and for East Texas.”

Smith said TMFHC officials “came up with a list of at least 20 ‘must haves’” during the process of searching for a partner. Among those were “maintaining our Catholic-based heritage and our faith-based healing ministry through healthcare.”

CHRISTUS, he said, “met all of them. We felt there was a very strong blend of cultures. Not only are they dedicated to patient-centered care and improving care, they are also dedicated to doing it through the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. So we could not be more pleased with this partnership.”

“When TMFHC joins with CHRISTUS Health system, it will create a combined platform that we believe will provide significant growth opportunities and healthcare options,” said Ernie Sadau, Chief Executive Officer for CHRISTUS Health. “Together we will forge a stronger Catholic healthcare system East Texans will depend on for years to come. We believe that growing our network of facilities in East Texas will give the CHRISTUS-Trinity Mother Frances system more opportunities to expand access to care in the region, as well as continue to improve the quality of care we provide. It will also offer us more opportunities to pursue new models of health care delivery that depend on a strong geographic presence, ensuring that the residents of Tyler and across East Texas continue to have access to high quality healthcare and the latest ways of accessing the care they need.

“On behalf of our sponsoring congregations, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, our entire board and our 35,000 associates, I’m proud to say that this is truly a milestone event for CHRISTUS Health, but also for Catholic healthcare in East Texas,” Sadau said. “Our missions align – to expand the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Our values align, our cultures align, the charisms of our sponsoring congregations, which are the foundations of who we are and how we deliver healthcare, align. That will allow us to expand healthcare in East Texas so that more and more people can be embraced by God’s healing love. That’s who we are.”

When due diligence is complete and the deal is final, TMFHC will become part of the CHRISTUS Health system. At that time, subject to formal approval by the CHRISTUS Health Board of Directors, four TMF representatives will join the CHRISTUS Health Board, including Lindsey Bradley and Ray Thompson, one representative from the Trinity Clinic, and one sister from the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics include the Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital; Mother Frances Hospital Tyler, Jacksonville and Winnsboro; Trinity Mother Frances Rehabilitation Hospital, affiliated with HEALTHSOUTH; Tyler ContinueCARE Hospital, a long-term acute care facility; and Trinity Clinic. Trinity Clinic is the area’s preferred multi-specialty medical group, with more than 330 Physicians and Advanced Practice Providers representing 36 specialties in 31 locations serving East Texas.

CHRISTUS Health is headquartered in Dallas and is comprised of almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 50 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers and dozens of other health ministries and ventures. CHRISTUS services can be found in over 60 cities in Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Georgia, Mexico, and Chile. The system employs approximately 30,000 Associates and has over 13,500 physicians on facility medical staffs. CHRISTUS Health is listed among the 10 largest Catholic health systems in the U.S.

Mother Frances Hospital has served East Texas for almost 80 years. It was founded in 1937, when Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth came from Chicago to Tyler to open the first modern hospital in the region. The 60-bed municipal facility was scheduled to open on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. But on March 18, the New London Consolidated School was rocked by a natural gas explosion, and the hospital opened its doors and beds a day early to the wounded streaming in from New London.

In a simple dedication ceremony the next day, Bishop Joseph P. Lynch of Dallas said the hospital had been consecrated by the sufferings of more than 100 explosion victims, and by the compassionate care given them by the sisters and hospital staff. The hospital and the nuns thus became forever entwined in the history of East Texas.

In the decades since, the hospital has expanded and become recognized for excellence in cardiac care, maternity care, Level II trauma, pediatrics, orthopedics and cancer. In 1995, the Mother Frances Regional Health Care Center merged with the Trinity Clinic physician group to form Trinity-Mother Frances Health System. Today, Mother Frances has more than 350 beds and is staffed by 340 physicians.

The CHRISTUS Health System, sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio, is comprised of almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers, and dozens of other health ministries and ventures.

The system employs approximately 30,000 Associates and has more than 9,000 physicians on the medical staffs of its facilities in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Chile and Mexico.s

There is a great slogan that is often seen today on billboards and bumperstickers.  It says, “Wise men still seek Him.”  And it’s true.  Those who are wise still seek to be close to Jesus — to know Him more intimately and to love Him more profoundly.  This is what we celebrate this Sunday on the Feast of the Epiphany.  The three Magi were probably wise men from Persia.  There is no evidence that they were necessarily kings, but they would have been pagan astronomers familiar with Judaism and prophesies about the Jewish messiah.  This is why the large star would have appealed to them: God was already showing the pagans that salvation had come to them.  This first epiphany is significant because it is the first time pagans (non-Jews) come to adore Jesus.

Even more significant are the gifts that the Magi bring.  I offer for your reflection the meaning of each gift and how we as Gentile Christians, as Catholics in East Texas, can offer spiritual gifts to Christ this new year of 2016.  The first gift: gold, a gift fit for a king, but a practical gift.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph were poor.  They needed money to provide for Jesus’ needs.  Like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we have needs in this Catholic community.  Maybe we can look deeper into how we give.  Do we give God our left-overs, or do we give Him the very best?  We have to give God the sacrifice of our time, talent and treasure if we want the kingdom of Christ to grow in our town.

The second gift: frankincense, a gift for God.  In the sacred liturgy, you will notice incense being used at many Masses in the Diocese of Tyler on Sundays.  It is a sign of God’s presence and our prayers arising before Him.  In our daily lives, when we are not at church, are we really taking time to pray, to adore God, at least in the morning and in the evening?  A daily rosary?  If we struggle with this, let us resolve to make our daily prayer a gift for Jesus in 2016.

The third gift: myrrh, the oil used to anoint Levitical priests in the Old Testament, but also an oil used to embalm a dead body.  This is another epiphany (manifestation) about Jesus, His mortality and His destiny in God’s plan of salvation.  In our lives, myrrh can represent our own self-sacrifices throughout our day.  They can be little sacrifices in which we die to self, but more importantly, they can be little sacrifices to show our love for Jesus.  At the Mass of the Epiphany of the Lord, we offer our lives to worship our King, our God, and our Savior.  Come, let us adore Him!

Father Nolan Lowry, STL, is the pastor of St. Edward Parish in Athens, Texas.