Author: Renewal Ministries Staff

Bishop Witnesses Conversion in Ethiopia

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ August 2019 newsletter.

By Heather Schultz, Renewal Ministries’ Editor

Bishop Lesanu-Christos Matheos, of the Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessir in Ethiopia, recently visited the Renewal Ministries’ offices. He was in the United States to attend the ordination of an Ethiopian priest in Chicago and to visit Ethiopian priests and communities.

Bishop Lesanu has seen amazing stories of conversion in his diocese over the past couple of years, especially in the Gumuz tribe. The Gumuz are very isolated, but two young men from the tribe who had encountered Jesus at school worked with the bishop to bring a priest to their people. Last year, 280 people were baptized!

And this year, Bishop Lesanu helped baptize 405 Gumuz people! He said the Gospel is bringing about tremendous change in the Gumuz culture. He said there are two things the Gumuz people value: not lying and not stealing. He said that even if a member of the Gumuz tribe were to kill someone, they would never lie about it.

He added, however, that the Gumuz also have a habit of killing people if they are annoyed with them. He said they don’t place much value on human life.

He explained that if a person’s family saw their loved one about to be killed, their typical response would be to simply kill the person themselves. By killing you before the enemy, he said, “they think they saved you.”

This “killing culture,” as Bishop Lesanu described it, has been reduced since the Gumuz have come to know Christ.

He shared a story about a mother who asked her sons to seek revenge on their father’s killer. All four sons refused, because “the Lord says not to kill.”

“This was a shock for the society,” said Bishop Lesanu.

Bishop Lesanu added that the Gumuz people are independent; they don’t want to beg. He once received $1 from a woman—“and, with the heart of the lady who gave it to me, that $1 is worth more to me than $1 million.”

“The Gumuz are unique because they are innocent,” he continued. “I tell them to keep that value and tradition. They give back if they are given any more than they need.”

He said he doesn’t like to make the Gumuz people wait too long to be baptized, because “it is a matter of salvation. We don’t need them to be theologians; we want them to be baptized.”

The faithful receive additional teaching before receiving their First Communions.

He described the beauty of the Gumuz people’s faith: “They kiss the cross every time they come to the priest. They love the cross. They will run up to a priest of they see him on the street and say, ‘Bless me, Father’ and ask for absolution.”

Bishop Lesanu’s diocese is both new and very big—more than two-thirds the size of Italy. Yet he only has a very small number of priests and religious to assist him in serving the faithful.

He became acquainted with Renewal Ministries after doing an interview with Church in Need. At the time, he was a chaplain for the Charismatic Catholics, who “looked very Protestant.”

“This was a big load for me,” he explained. “I was given the big responsibility just to be an umbrella over them. I knew no one else. They published the interview, and many Catholics from around the world reached out to me. Michelle Moran, who at that time was president of ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services), contacted me.”

Through that connection, Renewal Ministries’ Country Coordinators Lloyd and Nancy Greenhaw came to serve in Ethiopia. One way the Greenhaws have served is by teaching university students. “We have more than eleven big government universities in our area,” said Bishop Lesanu. “Each university has 40,000-50,000 students, with just one percent who are Catholic. We have to take care of them and give them good formation.”

Bishop Lesanu added, “In 2016, one year after my installation as bishop, I had a lot of problems directed to me. I questioned, ‘Is it really the will of God that I am a bishop?’ I had a car accident, there was division among my priests, and some of the faithful changed religions. It caused me to question myself. I was in contact with Ralph Martin and Sr. Ann Shields, and Sr. Ann told me to prostrate myself in front of the Eucharist very often. In one year, everything changed.”

Additionally, a priest who travelled with the Greenhaws last year saw the bishop’s living conditions—he had no office and worked out of his bedroom—and offered to pay the rent on a bigger house for a year. Now, the bishop has an office space and the Dominican Sisters of Catherine of Siena work there as well, doing pastoral education.

“I can see the Lord put me in that place and is following me, assisting me,” said Bishop Lesanu. “I can see that it is His will that this work be given to me.”

Walking with God’s Word

Peter Herbeck heard the call to serve God full-time when he was in college. At first he thought this likely meant a vocation to the priesthood. After some discernment, however, he discovered that was not the case: He was called to marry and have a family.

But how could he evangelize full time as a layman with a wife and kids? Herbeck quickly found the answer: By trusting in God’s promise that he read in the Bible.

Today, Herbeck is the vice president and director for missions at Renewal Ministries, an organization founded by Ralph Martin in 1980 to evangelize in the Catholic Church through parish missions, conferences and various media initiatives. He’s also an author, in-demand speaker, and co-host of two weekly TV programs on EWTN and one daily show on Ave Maria Radio.

On Sept. 7 Herbeck and Father John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and host of the Ave Maria Radio program “Christ is the Answer,” will speak in La Vista at the 10 Year Anniversary Conference of Seeking Truth, an Omaha-based biblical formation apostolate.

Herbeck spoke with the Catholic Voice about the impact Scripture should play in the lives of Catholics. 

Q: Tell us about your talk at the upcoming Seeking Truth conference.

What I’d like to do is talk a little bit about the times we’re living in to give people a spiritual perspective. You know, St. John Paul II used to say that one of the fundamental calls of the Vicar of Christ is to help the church read the signs of the times and to interpret for the church, to see what the Spirit is saying in response to the signs of the times. And I think it’s very important to just see spiritually what we’re living through right now in the church. It’s significant. 

And then in that context to see how important it is to do what people like Sharon and Steve (Doran) are doing in Seeking Truth, the Bible study, and how crucial it is for us right now. Because the Word of God has a unique capacity to clear up our thinking, give us clear minds, to give us a fresh spirit, a new way of thinking. … It gives us a deep-rooted, strong identity, to be able to see the Lord, understand him, understand his teaching. It gives people an unshakable grounding. And that’s exactly what people need right now. 

The Second Vatican Council talked so much about the core responsibility of the clergy and the laity in the mission of the church. We still have a long way to go for the laity to be awakened to that core responsibility and what that means. And it’s important. It’s serious. It’s what we’ve been baptized and confirmed for. It’s having people like Steve and Sharon and various kinds of lay leaders who are really responding to God’s call in their lives. Now he’s deploying them and they’re going forward, and bearing fruit. It is such an important sign, such an encouraging sign to know. It’s really a work of God.

Q: Could you share with us an experience from your own life in which you were enriched by your study of the Bible?

When I was 20, I had been encouraged by friends and mentors to make sure to take up the Bible each day and to read it. And I was in my dorm in college and I was reading through Matthew 6, that beautiful passage where Jesus said, “Don’t be anxious about anything. What you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to wear.”

It’s so counterintuitive. Reading, I’m thinking, “Everybody’s anxious about everything. How can we not be anxious about anything, about the very things you’re talking about, Lord?” But he’s talking about our need to trust him. And the last line there said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” instead of being anxious. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his way of holiness and everything else will be added unto you. He’ll heal everything. He’ll provide, maybe not everything we want, but everything we need he will provide. 

And I felt like in that moment, that passage, (it was) the first time really in my life probably where a passage just kind of jumped off the page at me. And I felt as though the Lord was saying to me in my dorm room, “Peter, if you internalize this, you take this into your heart, if you accept this and believe it and live it, I will make something beautiful out of your life. I will show you that this is absolutely true.” And it’s absolutely true for anyone who believes it and lives in accord with it. I’m 61 years old. I was like 20, that was 41 years ago when I read that passage, and it’s absolutely true. And all I can say is God is faithful, completely faithful.

Continue reading here.

Ethiopia Mission Reaches University Students, Gumuz Tribe

Members of the Gumuz tribe listened attentively as Lloyd Greenhaw shares his “Genesis to Jesus” story.

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ August 2019 newsletter.

By Nancy Greenhaw, Renewal Ministries’ Country Coordinator

The bishop has been so happy with the results of our visits with his university students that he asked us to give them another weekend session. Each year, we have some returnees and newly enrolled students as well.

Eighty students attended; the bishop was happy. Lloyd began his talks on knowing and defending the faith with an in-depth talk on Mary, going through biblical typology and that the Ark of the Covenant is Mary. He taught all day, going through talks on the Eucharist, confession, idols, and more. The youth were amazed by everything the Church teaches and believes is in the Bible!

The next day, I taught on “Growing in Prayer” and on St. Therese of Lisieux and the “Audacity of Faith.” Bishop Lesanu interpreted for us. He greatly enjoys being with the young people. He explained that these kids experience many problems and hopelessness. Choosing to stay Catholic means choosing the more difficult path—including less education and fewer job opportunities. He said our time with the students always strengthens their faith. One young man chose this university based on reports he had heard about us from prior students. After the session, he said he was not disappointed in his decision!

Lloyd answered the young people’s many questions on faith, marriage, and what being a true Christian means in their lives. I then taught them how to share their testimonies—which they had never done before. Then they practiced giving their testimonies. One young man stood up and said that in his church, a thief stole the Blessed Sacrament and threw the hosts on the floor. Suddenly, the thief was paralyzed. He remained that way all night until morning Mass-goers found him and the police were called; he then was set free of the paralysis, and they took him to jail!

The next day, we drove for about three hours to the small town of Dibate, which was our base for the next few days. We stayed with Fr. Desalegn, who teaches and preaches to the Gumuz Tribe.  He also runs a “hostel” for the Gumuz boys who are getting an education from the government. (Apparently the Church feeds and houses and the government educates them.) We were privileged to speak to nearly thirty of the boys.

Fr. Desalegn says Mass for the Gumuz every Thursday, even though no one has received their First Holy Communion. Lloyd, Fr. Desalegn, our interpreter, Franciscan Seminarian Senay Mesfin, the driver Dagnachaw, the Communication Officer of the Diocese Tegelemma Lemma, and I drove about ninety minutes on a very rough road through the hills around the Gumuz. When we could drive no longer, we got out to walk. It’s a beautiful area, but the young Ethiopians walk faster us up the hills than us flatlanders. When Lloyd and I got too winded, we slowed and loudly told each other, “Let’s stop and look at the view!” The guys laughed at us. We did finally reach the new Gumuz church! This is the only structure for miles that is not made of mud. With the help of the Gumuz, Italians brought in a corrugated aluminum ceiling and walls on poles as their church. It is a step up from the old blue tarp over poles.

The Gumuz had kept in contact with our progress through cell phones, and they were singing loudly for us as we walked in, happy that we were there. After singing, Lloyd began to preach the Gospel, going from Genesis to Jesus. Lloyd spoke in English, which was interpreted into Amharic by the Seminarian and then interpreted to Gumuzegina (the name given to us by the seminarian) by a local young man. Then Father said the short (only one hour) Ethiopian Mass, and then Lloyd led them in a prayer to accept Jesus. Then, Father, Lloyd, and I asked everyone interested to come forward for prayer. All responded. We laid hands on several hundred people, children included, and asked for God’s blessing and healing. Lloyd, with Father’s blessing, blessed them with a large Benedictine Cross. The people couldn’t take their eyes off Jesus!

Afterward, we were invited to the chief’s hut. The wide-eyed children rarely see “Fraenges,” know as whites, and they stared and pressed around me as I took photos. So cute! It was around noon and very hot. We walked several miles back to the truck, and many kids walked with us. We drove back to Father’s house, and we all ate and rested. Then, around 4 p.m., Father took us on another adventure.

He took us to another Gumuz village about thirty minutes away. None of these people have been baptized, and few have heard the Gospel. They practice traditional religion, and Father has gained their trust. Father thought that Lloyd’s “Genesis to Jesus” story was perfect to share with them. Again, we drove as far as we could. This time, we only had to walk uphill about a half mile to a set of mud huts with people sitting on logs in a half circle, with men on the right and women and most children on the left. The people were in no hurry and sat very attentively as Lloyd preached. Afterward, as in the other camp, he asked if they wanted to ask Jesus into their hearts. They did. It was a beautiful experience. Coming from America, it is still amazing that there are places where the Gospel has not been preached. What a fantastic privilege!

At dark, we started back. Many young boys ran after us. They ran faster than we could drive and tried to grab hold of our vehicle. The driver finally stopped and sent them away, but they still followed a long distance, waving and laughing.

. . .

Below are two of the many testimonies we collected from the university students:

When I was in grade eleven, I heard Americans brought teaching and told us what was wrong about masturbation. I longed for an opportunity to listen to these people. I chose the Bahir Dar University so that I could meet you. I knew that such an opportunity from Lloyd and Nancy could only be found in the Bahir Dar diocese.

I learned from the teaching that I was talking bad to myself. I would think things like I was not useful, I was not important. I also had no courage to speak to people. I could not express myself. Lloyd and Nancy taught me, “You’re very important. Jesus gave you the power so you can do great things!” Now I see that I can do great things as the son of God. I will exercise my faith. Now my life is completely changed.

All of you first-year students, you’re very lucky to hear about pornography and to be liberated and how our body is holy. I don’t say that I’m really holy. But I can say at this moment I am far away from pornography and masturbation. You cannot hide yourself from God.

When you spoke about Mary, I had never thought about this before. I am now fully convinced that Mary intercedes for us. During my final exam, I prayed to Mary to help me to pass the exam. I made an “F.” I had already prepared my luggage to move back home. But the teacher called me and offered to help, and he helped me bring my grade up. So, it was a chance for me! I realized Mary really is an intercessor, and when you pray to her, she responds.

Also, I was surprised that abortions are not allowed. I thought, how are you going to keep the population from becoming too big, it will be difficult. I now know that God has us for a purpose. Your teachings opened my eyes. We cannot be against the will of God. Only the Catholic Church is against divorce. It makes me love my Catholicism, because Catholicism is still firm in the teaching and continues its mission.

. . .

I have received many things in my life from the beginning of last year, when Bishop Scott McCaig taught us about Mass. I was converted by the teaching of Bishop Scott. Most of the time, even if you’re a singer in the choir, after Mass, you begin to look at bad photos on your phone. After hearing Bishop Scott, I completely stopped. I started to read the Bible, and I learned how to pray and to read the Bible and understand it.

In Lloyd and Nancy’s testimony, they had been rich and they had many things, but they had to leave that for Christ, for the service of the Lord. Now, I don’t think I will go into government work. I want to do what Lloyd and Nancy are doing. I will do that next year. I have to pay back. I have to do something for the Lord, because I learned from them, from you. After finishing the University, I would like to do evangelization work for the diocese.

The Fulfillment of All Desire

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This abridged article originally appeared on Canadian Board Member Msgr. Gregory Smith’s blog on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It can be viewed here. This article also appeared in Renewal Ministries’ July 2019 newsletter.

By Msgr. Gregory Smith

It was a great joy to have Ralph Martin here for our parish mission and the annual retreat for the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s permanent diaconate community.

I’ve known Ralph for over twenty years. Forty years ago, his book Hungry for God taught me the priceless lesson that progress in prayer is the result of God’s gift, not my effort.

Nine years later, Ralph wrote Crisis of Truth. I read it in seminary and discovered life in the Church was probably going to be more difficult than I had thought. The errors he exposed in that book have since become increasingly evident in the Church.

Despite the influence and importance of these and many other books, I think most people consider his finest work to be The Fulfillment of All Desire. It is “destined to be a modern classic on the spiritual life.”

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, “the fulfillment of all desire” is a perfect theme for a homily.

I could easily devote this homily to the word “fulfillment.” In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist “the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles.” Fulfillment is a one-word summary of what the Scriptures tell us today.

The first reading describes sacrifices—specifically, communion sacrifices—that are intended to solemnize a covenant: a covenant sealed in blood. The blood is first poured on the altar, which represents God. Then it is splashed on the people, uniting them to the blood on the altar. In Exodus, “a union has been created from this blood relationship” and “the terms for preserving that relationship are spelled out” (The Collegeville Bible Commentary, 105).

Every ten-year-old Christian knows what happens next. Before Moses is even down the mountain, the people have already begun to worship the golden calf. To say this covenant is on shaky ground is an understatement.

But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how the Blood of Christ initiates a new and perfect covenant. If there’s any doubt about that, we have the words of Jesus in the Gospel today: “This is my Blood of the Covenant” (Mk 14:24).

Fulfillment. Pure and simple.

But the word that really inspires my thoughts today is “desire.” It seems to me that the Eucharist must be desired to have its full effect in our lives, and that offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves whether the Eucharist truly is the fulfillment of our desire.

Do we long for it? Do we hunger for it?

We should. St. Thomas called the Sacrament the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all Christian miracles—in the same sentence he called it a “unique and abiding” consolation.

We priests and deacons can experience routine and over-familiarity. While giving Holy Communion to hundreds of people every Sunday, we sometimes wonder how many people approaching the altar have any of the feelings that St. Thomas expressed when he wrote, “O precious and wonderful banquet that brings us all salvation, contains all sweetness.” Do we experience “spiritual delight, tasted at its very source”?

One of my parish’s extraordinary ministers told me she sometimes feels sad at the absent-minded expressions of those who stand before her. It’s not what’s on our face, but what’s in our heart that matters—but it’s easy to wonder why we don’t look a little more enthusiastic, a little more reverent, or even slightly awe-struck as we approach the table of the Lord.

Perhaps St. Thomas’ Prayer Before Mass might increase our desire for this saving sacrament and our hunger for the Bread of Angels—so that we might receive not only the sacrament, but also its full grace and power.

“Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.

“Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.”

Why Do Catholics Confess to a Priest?

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By John Kowalski

I’ve often wondered why, when asked the question “Why do Catholics confess to a priest?”, most clergy and apologists seem to skip over the simplest and most important reason: the Eucharist.

Regardless of the denomination of the sinner, sin offends God, but here is the rub: since we as Catholics consume Christ in the Eucharist, the sins we commit are—in a very intimate way—committed directly against the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

Let that sink in for a bit.

When you think about it, the whole concept of confession goes way back. (I’m talking back to Genesis.) Consider this passage:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.”  (Gen 3:6-13)

Why would an omniscient God ask a question like “Who told you that you were naked?“ or “What is this that you have done?”, when He knows everything? God certainly knew what had happened and, because He is God, He knew it before it happened. Why ask a question you already know the answer to? Just ask any parent:

Parent: “Who colored on the wall?”

Child: (holding crayon behind its back) “Umm…”

Obviously, the parent knows the answer to the question, so why even ask it? Because, just like our loving God, the parent knows that it is better for the child to confess on their own and to admit the fault.

And we L-O-V-E to confess our sins, don’t we? We confess on social media and via text message all the time, and we don’t stop there. We even confess other people’s sins in our gossip sessions, in supermarket tabloids, and the like. We confess to our hairdressers, we confess to our co-workers, and we confess to our bartenders. (Ask any bartender if they’ve heard any good confessions lately). In fact, we confess to anyone and everyone.

Everyone except the one person to whom Jesus gave the authority and the mission to forgive sins—a priest.

Put it this way: if I offend you, I can’t go to my neighbor and ask forgiveness, I have to go to you. So, if it is the priest, (acting in persona Christi) who confects the Eucharist that I consume, doesn’t it make sense that only the priest (acting in persona Christi) can forgive sins committed against the Eucharist that is in me? This is why Paul says:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. (1 Cor 11:27-29)

If it is wrong to accept Jesus into us when we are in a state of sin, how can it be any different if we sin once He is already in us?

Do you remember the story of that one woman in the Bible who sinned and kept bugging Peter for forgiveness, and how Peter told her, “Be gone woman and goest though to a quiet place and pray to Jesus for forgiveness by thy self”?

Me neither—because it never happened!

There is simply nowhere in the Bible that we are told to confess our sins to God on our own. In fact, the one time when a sinner did approach Jesus and asked to be “made clean” (Mt 8:2-4), Jesus still sent him to a priest for confession and penance! Isn’t it curious that we want to view our sins as personal and private, yet we want to view Jesus’ forgiveness as public and universal? Reconciliation is neither unusual nor unprecedented. God used His priests all the time to absolve our sins in the past, and He still does to this very day. The Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist are inextricably woven together in the fabric of our faith, and you cannot accept one without the other.

If we don’t self-baptize, self-ordain, self-redeem, or self-marry; why would we think we can self-forgive?

John Kowalski is a cradle Catholic who has been married for thirty-two years with two children and nine grandchildren. He rediscovered the Church while serving in the US Air Force in 1986. While John’s background and training is in information technology, his passion is for the Lord. He serves in many ways at Holy Family Parish in Memphis, Michigan, including as a catechist; on the parish council; and as a RCIA instructor, usher, sacristan, and lector. John and his wife also lead a healing and deliverance ministry at their church and have been active in prison, hospital, hospice, and drug and alcohol rehab ministries. He holds a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary and is the author of four books available at Amazon.