Rockford Actions, Rome Words Connected
By Penny Wiegert
As I read through the online news log from Catholic News Service several weeks ago, two Vatican stories piqued my interest. I went “old-school” and printed them out and put them in my “column ideas” file until I could give the articles some more thought.
Then I got an email last week about an event at Calvary Catholic Cemetery which you can read all about on pages one and four of this issue. The story is about how the Diocese of Rockford, in its ministry to all God’s people, worked in concert with Winnebago County to give dignity and respect to folks whose remains have gone unclaimed and unburied for as long as 20 years. 
After covering that ceremony, witnessing the reaction of the those in attendance, interviewing folks from the Winnebago County Coroner’s office, speaking with Bishop David Malloy and Pastor Sherman Nichols from Rockford’s Central Christian Church at the event, those Rome reports took on a new meaning. I felt there was a connection between the action in Rockford and the words from Rome I had tucked in my file.
Pastor Nichols and Bishop Malloy both talked about life and death over the cremated remains of some 243 people no one in the group of mourners knew. None of the folks were there because they had memories of the deceased to share or mourn. No one was there because of some earthly connection. No one was there because the deceased shared their particular faith denomination or practice. The Catholics, Protestants, government representatives and cemetery workers were all present to respect the life and death of 243 fellow human beings. As pastor Nichols proclaimed in his words at the service, “their lives mattered and so too, their deaths matter.”’
And even though it may seem cliché when we say that we do things or help others not because they are Catholic but because we are, Calvary Cemetery proved it is true. 
On the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 17, Pope Francis told members of an ecumenical pilgrimage from Finland in Rome, that when the goal of Christian unity seems far off, “let us remind ourselves that we are making this journey not as those who already possess God but as those who continue to seek him.”
The pope added that “we need to press forward with humility and patience, and always together in order to encourage and support one another, for this is what Christ desires.” 
Throughout the pandemic I have had the privilege of seeing people working and journeying together as the pope described, in acts of love, mercy and compassion in our parishes, at St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center, at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and by our own bishop as he visits the imprisoned, comforts the sick and, most recently, as he buried the unclaimed dead.
The ministries of this diocese in these months have illustrated, at least in my mind, exactly what Pope Francis said in his Jan. 16 Angelus as he commented on the Gospel of the wedding at Cana.
“God likes to intervene behind the scenes and without fanfare, always ready to help and lift people up. And then, if we are attentive to these ‘signs’ we will be conquered by his love, and we will become his disciples,” the pope said to visitors in St. Peter’s square.
I think God was truly “working behind the scenes” as the plans were made between the county and the cemetery to give rest to the stored cremains. God was working not only to bring rest to 243 persons of his creation but also to bring unity to those of us still living. These kinds of ministries work on our behalf to accomplish great things when we can’t individually do them.
“How beautiful it is to think that the first sign Jesus accomplished was not extraordinary healing or something prodigious in the temple of Jerusalem, but an action that responded to a simple and concert need of common people, a domestic gesture,” the pope said.
I think this kind of beautiful ‘domestic gesture’ happened at Calvary Cemetery Jan. 24. And I like to think it happens every day. We just need, as the Holy Father suggests, to take the time together to recognize it.