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Peter Novecosky, OSB
Abbot Peter Novokosky
Feb. 2 for consecrated persons

Pope St. John Paul II in 1997 initiated a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. It is celebrated annually on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. That day is also celebrated in some places as Candlemas Day, the day on which candles are blessed. This symbolizes Christ who is the light of the world.

In Vita Consecrata, the 1996 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pope St. John Paul II describes the different forms of consecrated life as “the many branches which sinks its roots into the Gospel and brings forth abundant fruit in every season of the church’s life.” These diverse forms include: monastic life, the orders of virgins, hermits, and institutes completely devoted to contemplation, apostolic religious life, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, and new or renewed forms of the consecrated life.

In 2013 Pope Francis announced a special Year of Consecrated Life to be observed from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2016. It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of Perfectae Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, promulgated on Oct. 28, 1965.

To mark this year, the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishps are posting news, information and videos about religious life on their websites. The CCCB website has posted messages about two Canadian saints whose feast days fell in January: St. Brother André Bessette and St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.

The Prairie Messenger is pleased to feature this week a message by Sister Rita Larivée, SSA, president of the CRC.

A political hero

While consecrated persons tend to be celebrated as heroic, at least by church people, politicians are not always honoured to the same degree. Former U.S. ambassador Robert White, who died at age 88 on Jan. 13, seemed to have been made from a different mould.

According to a Catholic News Service story, White had a 25-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he specialized in Latin American affairs with a particular emphasis on Central America. He put his diplomatic career on the line in opposition to orders from his political superiors.

He was U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in the Carter administration when four U.S. churchwomen were brutally raped and murdered in that country in 1980.

The four women, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Dorothy Clark, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan, were killed Dec. 2, 1980. The four were murdered while driving from the San Salvador airport. Two of them, Donovan and Sister Kazel, had spent the previous night, Dec. 1, at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador as guests of White and his wife. He was on hand when their bodies were recovered from a shallow grave two days after the women were murdered.

“The ambassador provided significant logistical and emotional assistance to the Maryknoll Sisters in the days and weeks following the women’s deaths,” said a statement issued by Maryknoll. He was “a great and courageous man, a man of truth.”

White was a vocal critic of the Reagan administration’s response to the women’s deaths and the subsequent investigation. He wrote in 2013 that he did what he could “to oppose policies that supported dictators and closed off democratic alternatives.”

By February 1981, then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr. forced White’s resignation from the Foreign Service because White refused Haig’s demand “to use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran military’s responsibility for the murders.”

In 1983 five members of El Salvador’s national guard were found guilty of the murders of the women. Efforts to hold the guardsmen’s superiors responsible led to civil trials in the United States of a former director of the Salvadoran national guard and a former defence minister. They were accused of covering up the deaths of the four women.

“The Maryknoll Sisters will always remember Robert White with the deepest admiration and respect,” the sisters said in a statement. “He was an exceptional public servant and he will be missed.”

The world would be a better place with more men and women of his calibre guiding us.