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Lent: Time to build solidarity with the poor

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Everywhere throughout the world, the Church is one and the same: “Catholic” means “universal.” And everywhere throughout the world, to one degree or another, the Church is persecuted. Even here in our own country, once the bastion of religious liberty, the noose of bad law is tightening around us. People and policies against the moral law want to silence the Church, threatening to strangle our conscience. To submit is to tarnish or abandon the name of the Lord which we bear. To resist is to suffer ridicule, rejection, perhaps even beatings, imprisonment, or death, along with Jesus Christ.

Just for this reason, the Church every year gives us the season of Lent. The “suffering” of Lent makes us stronger in our faith. These purifying days teach us to live with Jesus in His suffering, so that, however much the world demands it of us, we can remain with Him in our suffering, too.

Lent begins with the sign of ashes, the ashes of false vanity and worldly glory. We belong to God alone, purchased out from slavery by the death of His dearly beloved Son. When we show the world the sign of the Cross marked in ash on our faces, we proclaim our steadfast loyalty to Him. We willingly die to the world for Him who died for us, in the little sufferings of our daily Lenten penances and mortifications. And we can readily accept this cost for our faith, if we look with hope and joy to His glorious Resurrection, knowing that His life is ours, and our true life can only be in and with Him.

The sign of the Cross marks us, not only in Lent, but our whole life. Under its light, we celebrate the mysteries of Christ together. We are made one Body in Him, encompassing every generation of the whole human race. We uphold each other in solidarity, in the celebrating and in the suffering.

This is why Ash Wednesday is a suitable day for our special collection for the Church throughout the world. Your generous prayers and your gifts to this collection will help build up the Church, for the conversion and salvation of the world, by building churches and schools, training and educating pastors and laypeople, publishing Catholic newspapers, sustaining orphanages, evangelizing and catechizing children and adults, and providing scholarships to Catholic students. Please visit www. usccb. org/nationalcollections to see full accounts of your gifts at work. Your solidarity, through material and spiritual giving, matters to your Catholic brothers and sisters in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

In the same way, solidarity with the poor, and especially with those suffering a poverty of faith, is greatly needed at home as well. On the first Sunday of Lent, you will again be asked to offer a gesture of solidarity with those fellow American Catholics who, by means of our traditional missions in this country, are served in Christ’s bounty. I ask you, most importantly, please to pray fervently for them and for our own poor, and to be generous in offering material support to our Catholic missions in this country.

For the same reasons, I encourage you to support Operation Rice Bowl throughout Lent. These donations help Catholic Relief Services provide food and clean water, and support sustainable agriculture, small businesses, and ethical health care, both at home and abroad. Please visit www. /resources for more information on how you can participate in your parish, school, or home.

Thank you for your generosity. Please continue to pray for me, and for all priests, and for the liberty and exaltation of our holy mother, the Church.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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