We had a whirlwind visit to western Illinois over the weekend, but it was a great opportunity to connect with old friends, meet new ones and speak about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East. It was also a chance to introduce CNEWA to a new audience and talk about how our papal agency is working to support those most in need today.
My colleague Chris Kennedy and I arrived in Moline, IL Saturday morning, and drove across the Mississippi River to Davenport, Iowa, where we had lunch with a longtime donor, the Rev. Tom Stratman, 89 years young, and a lifelong Iowan. Father Tom purchased a CNEWA annuity some years back and has supported our work ever since. He lives in a residence for retired priests in Davenport. It was great to connect with him, hear stories about his family and his priesthood and get to know a kindred spirit.
After lunch, we headed back across the river to Geneseo, IL, driving past acres of cornfields and small Victorian homes, until we came upon our destination, St. Malachy’s Catholic Church.
There, we were met by the parish’s one priest, the Rev. Michael Pakula, who has served as pastor for 20 years and somehow handles three weekend Masses on his own (with the help, I should add, of five deacons.) Father Mike invited CNEWA to serve as his parish’s “mission outreach” this year.
I preached at all the Masses, while Chris manned our information table in the vestibule. The parish also took up a second collection at all the Masses for CNEWA.
During my homily, I spoke about the sisters helping the displaced Christians of Iraq in Erbil — notably Sister Maria Hanna — and spotlighted the remarkable, selfless mission of love they have undertaken. (You can read more about it in our current issue of ONE.) The fervor and faith of the people of Iraq are both humbling and inspiring. And the generous response of the good people in Geneseo was a real blessing. We left uplifted and enriched.
We’re grateful to Father Mike for inviting us to visit — and especially thankful to his parish community for its warmth, hospitality and generous spirit. (A special shout-out has to go to Pat and Kellee Drewlow, active parishioners who made sure we were well fed and well supported during our stay.) St. Malachy’s is a vibrant parish, with a lot of young families, and their commitment to helping others and reaching out to the wider world is an inspiration.
If you’d like CNEWA to come to your parish, just drop us a line. Our development director, Norma Intriago, will be happy to coordinate a visit.