Exodus 90 Spiritual Exercises call for sacrifice

The first part of January we had more than 60 college students from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State University that took two buses to Indianapolis for the SEEK Conference, in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is put on by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).

It was through the dedication and hard work of the FOCUS missionaries evangelizing and constantly inviting college students to SEEK that we were able to take this many people from these two small universities in Western South Dakota. God is good!

SEEK was a five-day gathering of thousands of college students from around the country who met to learn more about their faith, to share in friendship, to be encouraged in their unique vocation and to experience the love and hope that comes from a real, personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in his church. The theme for this year’s conference was “Encounter Something More.”

From my experience, those who went to SEEK or those who have encountered someone who went to SEEK are still “Encountering Something More” — in the person of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit two months later.

In Matthew 7:20 we hear, “By their fruit you will know them.” For me personally, this fruit can be seen in the six small groups made up of 20-plus college students and young adults, three FOCUS missionaries, two priests, and one director of campus ministry participating in Exodus 90.

Exodus 90 is a spiritual exercise — at times it feels more like a spiritual boot camp — that is rooted in the great story of the movement from slavery to freedom in the Book of Exodus. Exodus 90 is comprised of four pillars: prayer, asceticism, fraternity and 90 days.

The Exodus 90 program makes prayer foundational in this spiritual journey. Each man is called to do a daily holy hour with at least 20 minutes of contemplative prayer, listening and pondering on the word of God. St. John of the Cross calls contemplative prayer “Silent Love.”

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that it is in silent prayer coming before the face of God that “we let our masks fall and turn our heads back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed” (No. 2711).

As part of the prayer pillar, each man is also encouraged to pray the morning offering, go to daily Mass if at all possible, pray at meals, frequent confession, pray during Eucharistic adoration and pray a daily Rosary. One of the great fruits of the prayer pillar is that I offer Mass at 6 o’clock on Saturday mornings and usually have two or three that will show up, which always warms my heart.

The second pillar, asceticism, helps participants acquire self-discipline. This self-discipline gives men back their interior freedom — the freedom to give up “the things of this world” so as to receive in exchange a blessed freedom which allows us to love our “neighbors” and our God.

The goal of asceticism is to give us the strength to reorder our life. In the catechism it speaks of repentance in this way: “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all of our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance towards the evil actions we have committed” (No. 1431).

The ascetic disciplines within the Exodus 90 program include: cold showers, no alcohol, no desserts and sweets, no eating between meals, no soda or sweetened drinks, no television or movies (without the permission of the fraternity), only music that lifts the soul to God, no televised sports (without the permission of the fraternity), computer and phone for research and communication purposes only, regular and intense exercise, no major material purchases (without the permission of the fraternity), fasting on Wednesday and Fridays by eating one regular meal and two smaller meals while abstaining from meat, and minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.

The small group/fraternity that I am a part of decided at the beginning of Exodus 90 journey that if one of us falls or breaks one of these ascetic disciplines that we all agreed to sleep on the floor. To be honest, sleeping on the floor has been a difficult and a challenging one for me, more so than the cold showers every day — so far it is been six nights on the floor.

Small group fraternities are a real gift to the Exodus 90 program. These fraternities build a band of brothers who help to keep each other accountable in this intense journey to freedom. These fraternities meet three times a week, allowing each brother the opportunity to give a self-report for accountability and to receive encouragement from the brotherhood.

Why the 90 days? It is the length of time needed to re-learn or reboot the spiritual life. Researchers have found that it takes about 90 days for the brain to reset itself. That is why most rehabilitation programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous, use the 90-day model. There is a saying in AA, “90 meetings in 90 days.”

Prayer. Asceticism. Fraternity. We are discovering these are indispensable practices that build one on another as they lead us to true freedom and a transformed heart in Christ.

Black Hills State University Newman Center members taking up the Exodus 90 challenge with Fr. John Paul Trask at Spearfish. (Courtesy photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

S.D. School of Mines Newman Center members taking up the Exodus 90 challenge with Fr. Mark McCormick and on the end at right, Jacques Daniel, center director. (Courtesy photo)

Every Easter we are brought back to the mystery of God’s love

We find ourselves in the holiest week in the church year. The Lenten season of grace is coming to an end.  Jesus — the one who loves us more than we can imagine — is calling us to himself in an ever-deeper way, inviting us into his endless forgiveness and mercy and

asking us to return whole-heartedly to his loving embrace. His outstretched arms are waiting for us. The celebration of the Sacred Triduum, the three holy days, draws us into those outstretched arms. This is why he came down from heaven.

We find our deepest meaning in life in those outstretched arms. It is a place of union in our darkest hours, in our times of greatest pain, in those seemingly hopeless moments. To be held in his loving embrace is to experience eternal life now, though in our limited human way. Here is where we are most loved and cherished.

And as we all know, what follows the embrace of Jesus on the cross is the glory of his resurrection. For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus is the lens through which we must look at all of life. Pope Francis encourages, “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly” (Joy of the Gospel, # 276).

Yes, our world today may not reveal many signs of resurrected life. In fact, it might be difficult for many to even believe in the presence of God and that he really is in control of the things of this world. But as people of faith, we believe that God is alive through the power of his Spirit. We are convinced that he loves us beyond measure and will never abandon us. The resurrection of Jesus is woven into the fabric of human history — past, present and future. If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is useless. (1Cor 15:17) When people have no hope, it is difficult to see that anything or anyone can make life better.

Christ offers us that hope! The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives hope in the darkness. But we must be grounded in faith if hope is to be alive in us. This is what Easter brings for the world. Faith “involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit. This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results” (Joy of the Gospel, #279).

This is Easter faith! Easter faith leads to Easter hope!

This faith will be evident across the diocese at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night as men, women and children will be fully initiated into the life of Christ and his church. It never ceases to amaze me the way God continues to call people to him and sets them on new journeys of life. What will be in store for these new Catholics, only God knows! But it will be exciting if they follow where God leads them, in complete faith and trust. It is important that all of us accompany them with our prayers and support. This Easter faith is not lived in isolation, but in the midst of the body of Christ. Let us support these catechumens and candidates, and celebrate with them through our prayers.

Though Easter comes around once a year, each year we are brought back to this mystery of God’s love for us, his love for creation, and his love for the world. This Easter celebration is more than one day or one weekend. I hope and pray that all of us will celebrate this incomprehensible mystery with great joy over the fifty days of Easter. May each day during the Easter season bring us into a new encounter with Lord of Easter, the Risen Christ, who will lead us to a new life in the Spirit of Pentecost.

The Diocese of Rapid City will begin the Year of the Eucharist in June

Fr. Michel Mulloy, Vicar General

The Diocese of Rapid City, at the desire of Bishop Gruss, will commence a Year of the Eucharist beginning on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ on June 23. Bishop Gruss seeks to deepen the faithful’s understanding and experience of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the hope of leading all in the diocese to a deeper encounter with the Lord. The priests welcomed this idea and a committee was formed to develop the plan and the materials.

The planning committee has focused on two primary areas. Susan Safford and the Pastoral Ministry Department are developing a series of formation activities that parishes will be able to use as their formation program for this coming year or as a supplement to the programs they have. They will also be providing resources that parishes can use to enhance their formation events this coming year.

The Liturgy Commission of the Diocese has been working with me to develop a series of short teachings that can be used throughout the Year of the Eucharist in the context of the celebration of the Mass. A series of homily outlines will also be prepared and offered to the priests to use in preaching about the Mass on certain Sundays of this coming year. These materials are being designed to both help the faithful understand what is happening in the celebration of the Mass and to inspire them to enter more deeply into the Mass and encounter the Lord present there with them.

There will be other activities planned by the Year of the Eucharist Committee and by your local parish. Our regular yearly gatherings like Pastoral Ministry Days and the Stewardship Summit will focus on the Eucharist. So too, will retreats and clergy gatherings. The materials outlined in this article are designed for everyone. They fit into our lives with little or no effort beyond what we are currently doing. Religious formation for children is a part of parish life and the schedules of parishioners with children. In this Year of the Eucharist families can continue to participate in these weekly events. The hope is that parishioners without children still at home  will, if they do not already, also take advantage of these regular events each week.

Similarly, we celebrate Mass weekly. The short weekly explanations offered during our weekend liturgies will help us all to grow in appreciation for the Mass and to encounter Christ more profoundly during our celebration. For those looking for more, more will be available through bulletin inserts, gatherings, podcasts and other online resources. For all of us, this Year of the Eucharist promises to be life changing and transformative. The Lord is waiting to

encounter us and longs to share his life with us. Make the decision to enter into these activities, to anticipate them and share your experience with one another over coffee, the business counter or the dinner table. Make this Year of the Eucharist the beginning of a more intentional discipleship.

Teachings from ‘out of the mouths of babes’

Shawna Hanson, Director Office of Stewardship

 

“Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Mt 19:14).

There are a group of dedicated disciples who are already meeting to assist the Office of Stewardship in planning the Youth Track for Summit 2019 which will be held on Saturday, September 28. Watching all of their creative ideas come together to create a wonderful day for all of the children who will come is truly a joy.

This year our focus will be on the Eucharist and it has been a real gift to me to experience some of the presentations that are given to our youth as part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I think the same holds true for children’s catechesis.  The best lessons are those that are also appreciated by adults. My own faith has been enriched and deepened by these presentations on the Eucharist. They gently and beautifully share the truth of the tremendous gift we have been given and by the time they are finished, my heart has been moved to deep gratitude and wonder.

We often think it is the role of adults to teach children, but in my experience it is children who often teach adults. A very long time ago I read that children are proof that God has not yet given up on us. In the last month three people have shared stories of children with me that both warm my heart and teach me profound truths.

A very dedicated young couple are very actively studying how best to pass on the faith to their eldest son who turned three in December. After learning about a young child’s tremendous capacity for memorization and the benefits to their brain development of doing so, they decided to work with their young son to help him memorize the Baltimore Catechism. They shared this conversation with me:

Mom: Who made you?

3-year old: God

Mom: Who is God?

3-year old: The supreme being who made all things.

Mom: Why did God make us?

3-year old: To share in his goodness and to be with him in heaven

Mom: How do we get to heaven?

3-year old: Uh …on a ladder?

On the Feast of St. Joseph, another mom shared this story:  “This morning I told my 6-year old, Joseph, that today was his feast day.”

Joe: Really? It is my feast day?

Mom: Yes!

Joe: Wow! I have the most powerful saint ever!

Mom: Really? How so?

Joe: My saint was the boss of Jesus!

And finally, a long-time parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral shared this memory with me recently.  “Many years ago, we were at the 10:30 a.m. Mass and a young family was sitting near the front. Their toddler was being disruptive and finally the father picked him up and started heading to the back of the church down the center aisle.  The young boy exclaimed quite loudly, ‘N-o-o-o! Daddy, don’t spank me!’ His young friend, sitting a few pews behind him, yelled back loud enough for all to hear, ‘We will pray for you!’”

What have I learned from these small disciples? That the God who made all things, the billions of stars we see in the sky down to the smallest flower on earth also made us and desires our happiness both in this world and in the next. This God chose to become man and allowed himself to be put under the authority of mere humans, Joseph and Mary. He died a horrific death on the cross out of love for us and that we might have a reconciled, intimate, covenant relationship with him and he invites us to share that love with our brothers and sisters — to pray and support one another in our times of difficulty and in joy. As Christian stewards we are called to care for the many gifts that God showers upon us, to be grateful and to return those gifts with increase to the Lord, but the greatest gift he showers upon us are children. Let us gratefully receive these gifts, rejoice in them and give our best to lead them into the loving arms of our Father. May you have a joy-filled Easter season! He is truly risen, Alleluia!

Pray together with the pope and our bishop

In the four Eucharistic Prayers that are used at Sunday Mass, we pray for unity and peace, for faith and charity in the church. Together with the pope and our bishop, we ask God the Father to grant us these graces. The four Eucharistic Prayers express our belief that we, the body of Christ, the Risen Lord present in the world today, are united with the Pope and our bishop.

I say “we” because, although the Eucharistic Prayer is vocalized by the priest, we all pray the Eucharistic Prayer through our attentive listening and in the sung acclamations. Together with the priest we are offering this prayer to God the Father through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the past few weeks I have reflected on this moment in the Eucharistic Prayer. Our church is under attack. Our Holy Father along with bishops throughout our country have been challenged on many levels. To be sure these are difficult times and there are many unanswered questions about serious matters in the church. All the more reason to renew our efforts to pray for this unity in the body of Christ, for the Holy Father, our bishop and bishops throughout the world.

The words of the Eucharistic Prayer are powerful. This is the high point of the celebration of the Mass. We are joining our sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice. Christ died to bring unity to all people. His first words to his disciples in John’s Gospel when he appeared to them were, “Peace be with you.” Christ desires unity and peace in his church. When we join our sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice, foremost in our minds and hearts should be His desire of unity. As we pray the Eucharistic Prayer, we believe that God the Father hears our prayer because it is the prayer of Christ himself. Jesus told us that God always hears his prayer.

The Eucharistic Prayer also calls us to action. During the disagreements that will inevitably manifest themselves we are called to exercise charity. In our conversations around the dinner table and the office, we must strive for clarity in the truth and understanding. Sharing our understanding must be united to our listening to others. This is how we arrive at the truth and how the unity for which we are praying will be manifested. I am always grateful when those moments of dialogue happen. This is how God continues to work within us and between us.

Unity will come to the church. May we pray earnestly for this and do our part to ensure the building up of church unity.

I would encourage you to reflect on this the next time you celebrate Mass and hear that part of the Eucharistic Prayer that says: “Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant Francis our Pope and Robert our Bishop” (EP III) or “Be pleased to grant her (the church) peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world together with your servant Francis our Pope and Robert our Bishop.” (EP I)

The Diocese of Rapid City would have a public face in the community

The Diocese of Rapid City is working on creating a new pastoral center in the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building on Main Street in Rapid City. The credit union is selling this building and will move into a new facility across the street in a couple months. (WRC photo)

 

The Living the Mission Campaign is moving into full swing. The pilot phase has been successfully completed and the parishes in block one are fully engaged in the process. I am not only pleased, but deeply grateful for the generosity that I have seen thus far in the campaign. It speaks of peoples’ holy desire to live the mission of Jesus Christ, helping the diocese to move forward with what has been laid out in the Diocesan Priority Plan beginning in 2015. It is my hope that we are well on our way to a very successful campaign.

I would like to take the opportunity to update you on a very important priority for the Diocese of Rapid City. It too, was a key priority outlined in the Diocesan Priority Plan — a new pastoral center to include not only the chancery (offices of the bishop, diocesan administration and the archives) but also the offices of the personnel who provide pastoral ministry throughout the diocese. Before I do so, let’s look back for a moment.

As we recall, phase two of the We Walk By Faith appeal had originally planned for the renovation of space at Terra Sancta to be used for all of our diocesan offices. Due to lack of space at the main chancery located next to the cathedral, several departments were moved to the Terra Sancta Retreat Center on the northwest side of Rapid City — not the most ideal situation. The archives and the offices of our ministries including Faith Formation, Family Life Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Stewardship, Vocations, the Marriage Tribunal, and Native American Ministry, are all currently located at Terra Sancta. Because of the overwhelming success of the Terra Sancta Retreat Center and the increase in diocesan staff, the retreat center is no longer a viable option as a new home for our diocesan offices. Our staff has almost doubled in the seven and a half years that I have been here.

Currently, my staff is spread across three buildings in two locations. At the main Chancery located near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we have some staff using space that was originally intended as a closet and file room. We also have staff who work different days each week in order to share a desk and shelf space. We have a very limited number of conference rooms which must be shared by many departments and 40 staff people. The longer these types of issues persist, the more difficult and costly it will be to address.

It has always been my desire to have a new pastoral center that will meet current and future needs more centrally located in Rapid City as a matter of convenience for the people we serve, at least locally. We have been quietly looking for a building that would provide adequate space for a couple of years. When we completed the facility master plan for the Terra Sancta campus a year and a half ago, we included a new pastoral center to be built there because we

already owned the land.

Last February, we became aware that the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building at 225 Main Street was coming on the market in the near future. We toured the building and began a conversation with the owners about the possibility of purchasing it. At the same time we had our architect look at it to determine if the facility had adequate space based on our initial plan for a new pastoral center on the Terra Sancta campus. We also had an appraisal and

inspection completed to assist us in determining if this could be a possibility for a new pastoral center.

My own excitement grew as I thought of the possibility of having the presence of the Catholic Church in downtown Rapid City. What a blessing that would be!

Over the course of the past ten months, we have been in negotiations with Black Hills Federal Credit Union to purchase this building. After a renovation process, it would provide enough office space to meet our current and future needs, allowing all of our staff to be together under one roof as well as ample parking for chancery staff and visitors — not to mention that the downtown location will give the diocese a very public face in our community.

I am very happy to say that we have recently signed a purchase agreement to acquire the building and the parking lots surrounding the Credit Union. We have agreed upon a four million dollar purchase price and could take possession in late February or March,

depending upon how soon Black Hills Federal Credit Union is able to vacate the building and move into their new building across the street. With the remodeling necessary to accommodate the unique features and space requirements of a pastoral center, we believe that this option will cost $1-1.5 million less than a new building. The renovation process could take ten to twelve months.

We have been in our current location since 1975, serving the needs of the diocese from there for approximately 44 years. Like most families, most companies move multiple times in a 44 year history. I believe this new pastoral center will serve the needs of the Diocese of Rapid City for many, many years to come and also allow us to be the face of Christ to those we serve in the heart of Rapid City! That is the true blessing!

 

Blinded by greed and lust traffickers trample human dignity

Blinded by greed and lust traffickers trample human dignity

“Human trafficking couldn’t happen in small South Dakota towns,” was the first notion dispelled by speakers at the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference in Rapid City.

The March 24 gathering was sponsored by the Diocesan Social Justice Commission under the direction of the Office of Family Life Ministries, Catholic Social Services, and the Newman Centers in Spearfish and Rapid City.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Robert Gruss said, “Pope Francis attaches enormous importance to the millions of men, women and children who are trafficked and enslaved.” In Pope Francis’ 2015 World Day of Peace message he called for a mobilization effort as big as the phenomena itself to defeat it. The pope said human trafficking, “is an atrocious scourge on the body of Christ.”

Bishop Gruss added, “While certain factors make some populations exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking … anyone can be a victim. There is no segment of the human population that is immune to this issue.” He explained it is a low risk and highly lucrative enterprise speculated to gross $150 billion a year. He concluded his remarks with a prayer for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita who was enslaved as a child, bought and sold, and treated brutally. (See boxed prayer.)

David Natvig, the director of the Division of Criminal Investigations for the Attorney General for the State of S.D., was the first expert speaker. He brought with him several statistics about the problems.

“Worldwide there are 25 million people enslaved and another 15 million in forced marriages,” said Natvig. He explained trafficking does not require movement. “You can be trafficked in your home,” he said referring to cases where people are exploited for sex by people they know.

He used a power point presentation that listed human trafficking statistics for sex at 71 percent, for labor 15 percent, for combined sex and labor 4 percent, and the remainder for unspecified reasons. He said the tactics used by traffickers include job offers, selling family members or passing as a benefactor.

“We try to prosecute as much as possible in the Federal Courts because federal laws require a minimum sentence,” said Natvig.

Kevin Koliner is the Assistant U.S. Attorney in S.D. One of the first cases he prosecuted concerned labor trafficking in Oacoma, near Chamberlain. “People in town said, ‘There is a guy over at the hotel who has 12 wives and some odd stuff going on.’” It turned out women were being used for hotel and fast food laborers.

Koliner cited the working definition of trafficking as “compelling someone to work or engage in a commercial sex act or using a minor to engage in a commercial sex act.” Coercion can be receiving anything of value: money, drugs, free rent, beer or a tank of gas. For juvenile ages 17-years-old and under state law does not require the prosecution to show coercion.

It is a federal case if there is any interstate commerce — using products not manufactured in S.D., interstate highways, or even the internet. In the past 20 years federal laws have been updated from Civil War statutes to reflect modern day slavery. Nationally there have been 14 life sentences handed down for sex trafficking and eight of those were in S.D.

Koliner said there have been 50 cases prosecuted in S.D. “This happens everywhere, what makes S.D. different is we have dedicated (state and federal) investigating agents, U.S. Attorneys and State Attorney Generals who have made this a priority. It means the best and brightest get put on these cases.

“We have five of the 10 poorest counties in the U.S. About 50 percent of the victims I have worked with are enrolled (Native American) tribal members in those counties. It’s a national embarrassment. In many ways it is a crime of poverty, addiction and prior sexual abuse that needs to be talked about in relationship to those communities.”

Getting witnesses is difficult for prosecutors. He said, “We have victims who are 15 or 16-year-old girls who are embarrassed to talk about details. These are usually people who have not had good experiences with law enforcement and are hesitant to report to us.”

Becky Rasmussen is a public speaker, social advocate and a Protestant minister. She helped establish Call to Freedom in Sioux Falls. It is an anti-human trafficking safe haven that helps victims of trafficking in their office and in conjunction with other social services agencies.

“We work with local law enforcement, medical personnel, and shelters on protocols and responses. I don’t ever look at a boy or girl as choosing that life style. How many three or four-year-old children want to grow up to be prostitutes?” she asked.

The scope of sex trafficking includes prostitution; pornographic photos, websites and films; sex tourism; and forced marriages. Labor victims mostly work in sweatshops, migrant farming, restaurants, manufacturing and contracting. Traffickers identify people who are vulnerable to recruit and use threats and violence to instill fear in the victims. She said some victims cannot speak English and have no one to ask for help.

While many donors have been very generous with Call to Freedom, to receive federal funds applicants need to demonstrate a need. Rasmussen explained statistic keeping for that purpose needs to be streamlined and combined by the agencies which have contact with victims.

She added there is little recrimination against customers. “Buyers fuel the demand and if you don’t address that, you don’t address trafficking,” she said.

Jim Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services, correlated viewing pornography and human trafficking.

“Right now, every second in the U.S. over 28,000 users are looking at pornography, while the vast majority of internet users are looking at free images, more than $3,000 per second is spent on porn. Porn sites have more users than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined,” he said. His research revealed consumers spending 8-12 hours each day viewing porn, most are male, but one-third of viewers are female.

He quoted statistics showing that in 2009 there were 251 registered sex offenders in Pennington County and in 2019 there are 346. It is proportional to the national increase of 25 to 30 percent in that time. He said most sex offenders never see prosecution or jail time.

“We are creating an appetite for every type of twisted perverse behavior. Porn is a pastime for millions in our country. What do we do when we realize what a tremendous impact that has on the human mind, appetites and disorders,” said Kinyon. “In the name of freedom what are we enslaving ourselves to?”

He showed slides demonstrating the effects of addiction to porn, drugs and alcohol on human brains. The parts of the brain that register pleasure show little or no dopamine.That is why the abusers futilely attempt increasing stimulation to spark their pleasure centers.

Supervisory Special Agent Brent Gromer is the Internet Crimes Against Children Commander for the State of South Dakota. Among the investigations  his office conducts are sting operations for offenders interested in exploiting children for sexual gratification — usually publicized after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There have been 48 arrests and over half of those charged are local citizens he said, emphasizing problems in our own communities.

“We are starting to see more and more of a nexus between human trafficking and the internet,” said Gromer. “In the past 10 years our internet crimes unit has worked approximately 400 cases statewide.”

Showing a slide of internet icons he said,  “Now there is a red light district in every town in South Dakota. You place access to that in every child’s hand when you give them a cell phone.”

He also said that legislation is trying to keep up with it. The federal government shut down backpage.com. “We are seeing people going to other websites,” said Gromer. He said a lot of sites are operated in foreign countries that do not have the same laws which hampers investigating those crimes.

“It took me 20 years to understand that even if we don’t get a conviction the case can be successful if we made a difference in someone’s life,” he said.

Agreeing with Jim Kinyon on the desire to escalate stimulation he said the progression of pornography eventually turns to child pornography.  Then it will include torturing and abusing children. “Where do they go from there … they go to hands on abuse against children. There is nothing in our society that is more taboo than sex with a child,” he said.

Rev. Tess Franzen is a licensed minister with Assemblies of God. She is the founder and executive director of Freedom’s Journey in Rapid City. It assists survivors of all types of human trafficking.

“It is so encouraging whenever an organization comes to us and says ‘hey, we want to increase awareness of human trafficking, can you join in?’” she said. “The more of us who are aware of what is happening, the better odds we have of ending it.”

She began college after her youngest child was age 18. She holds both bachelors and masters degrees. “The whole time I was in college I knew God was asking me to do something to address human trafficking. I just didn’t know what it was,” she said.

She worked with FREE International in Las Vegas which is an anti-human trafficking organization. “I knew then that God was calling me to address human trafficking right here,” she said. “It is something that happens in every community in America.”

She researched and found there were no coordinated efforts to address human trafficking here. Every organization she contacted — law enforcement, Homeland Security, social service agencies and religious leaders sent representatives to help out with a task force. For the past three years that task force has been working successfully to pass state legislation to decriminalize prostitution for 16 and 17 year olds. “We maintain that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, there are prostituted children,” she said. The group had already gotten legislation passed that children under age 15 cannot be arrested for prostitution.

July 1, when the new law is enacted, children in the 16 and 17-year-old age range involved with prostitution will be put in the Child in Need of Supervision Program in this state. The task force will be working on more legislation next year.

According to Reverend Franzen, traffickers and people who pay for sex, whether it is a minor or an unwilling adult, have to dehumanize victims.

“If we truly value people as the unique creations of God that they are, we could never use them,” she said. “We cannot watch the news today and fail to see there are some broken things and broken people in our culture.”

She started Freedom’s Journey in 2016 to address the challenges faced by people exiting slavery. Her clients “have been wounded in ways you and I can’t imagine. They need safe people to walk with them,” she said.

Kelly Patterson was trafficked in and around South Dakota as a child. Today, she is a pastor at Restored Life Outreach Fellowship, Rapid City; a wife and mother in a blended family; and a grandmother. She authored a book, “From Trafficked to Treasured,” to illuminate prostitution trafficking rings.

She said the types of traffickers/pimps seen predominantly in the Midwest are Romeo pimps — boyfriends or spouses; Gang/motorcycle club trafficking; familial trafficking, and ring trafficking. Ring trafficking is a criminal organization involved in sex trafficking utilizing several people in various locations.

Polaris Project, founded in 2002, works to end human trafficking. According to Patterson, Polaris has received phone calls from every county of every state in the nation.

According to Patterson the reason she told her story now is news stories on trafficking in this state didn’t cover it to the extent to which she knew it was happening.

At age 4 she was a molested by a man who knew her family; things escalated quickly afterwards. The people responsible were authority figures in her community.

“I assumed there was something wrong with me. What was this thing and why was this thing a secret? I was warned and warned ‘you don’t tell,’” she said.

The average life expectancy of someone in prostitution is 7 years. The average age of induction is 12-13 according to reports she has read.

She was kept in prostitution by threats against her family, sexual assaults and torture.

She said she was pushed into escort services, films, parties, and strip clubs. To keep her weight at 98 pounds her traffickers only allowed her to eat one can of  tomato soup, a candy bar and a cola daily. She added more than 80 percent of survivors have horrific health problems.

Losing a third baby, combined with someone looking her in the eyes and

acknowledging her as a human being and not an object, gave her the guts to try to get out at age of 22. She said 99 percent of the people trafficked die in the system.

“God had a bigger purpose,” she said. “I’d like you to pray for me in all that I do in the future and for all of us doing this work.”

She concluded with a quote from

Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Despite scandal, faith still alive in young adults

I had a blessed surprise right before Christmas. I was celebrating Mass at St. Thomas More Middle/High School and three young adults, STM alumni home from college, came to Mass several days in a row at 7:15 a.m.

I was not expecting this, especially given the recent crisis in our church.  The constant barrage of news stories about sexual abuse by even high-ranking clergy, and how some bishops have mishandled the repeated allegations of abuse, have caused many to question both the church and her leaders’ ability to shepherd and lead.

To see three young college students home for Christmas break and at daily Mass roused in my heart a sense of hope and joy. I shared with them what seeing them at daily Mass did for my heart.

I asked them what it is like to be a believing, practicing young adult Catholic at this challenging moment in the church. All three shared that this has been a difficult time for them. Madison Feist said it has been hard to accept but, at the same time, she is grateful that the church is accepting the reality of the past and wants to make things better. 

Corbin Olson has found his own faith being tested and Dillon Johnson continues to pray for clarity in the church. He added, “The Eucharist gives me the strength to continue defending our Catholic faith, even in times of trial.”

In fact, all three shared with me that it is their love of the Eucharist that brings them to Mass.

“In the Eucharist, I am united with Jesus who brings me eternal joy. The Eucharist unites the world together, and when I receive the Eucharist, I think of family members, friends, faculty and all the people who have impacted my faith journey. Mass unites me to my foundation in Christ,” Madison said.   

Corbin added, “Christ’s light will always shine. I find myself looking for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour to spend with our Savior in adoration, and I push myself to attend daily Mass because, in all of this, I am searching for his light. God is ever-present, but he is waiting for us to accept him into our lives. I have realized in the past couple of months that I have to make an effort to call on him in the easiest and most difficult of times. We must be willing to put absolute faith and trust in him.”

As I visited with these three young adults who are practicing their faith in these trying times in our church, my heart was drawn to our seminarians: What is it like to be in the seminary at this moment in time?

Max Vetch, a sophomore at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, shared, “It is a strange thing to hear about these cases on the news or from other seminarians from their diocese, but it all kind of changes when it is from your own diocese. I am just as confused and angry as everyone else is. What is most frustrating is that these things happen in almost every diocese.

 “At the seminary, we are very aware of everything going on, even if we turn off the news and don’t look at social media. The faculty at IHM is very focused on making good, holy men, and this can only be done through a good awareness of self and the world around us.

 “So we visit about these things — both my brother seminarians and the faculty. We discuss it so that we can grow in holiness. Many people would think that these cases are a deterrent from the seminary, but for the men at IHM, I haven’t seen that at all. The seminarians at IHM are there to discern a vocation given them by God, and no problem or scandal can take that calling away.”

Robert Kinyon, a first-year theologian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome told me, “The recent sexual abuse crisis has been deeply saddening. On a number of different occasions, it has shaken my trust in the church, especially those who are in particularly authoritative positions.

 “Despite all the disheartening and frustrating news, Jesus Christ remains the same. He is still laboring to love me during every moment of every day. Jesus, the head, has not and will not abandon his body, the church.

“I am continuing my formation for priesthood because Jesus Christ continues to lavish his love upon me and his entire church, as broken and wounded as we may be. Before all else, we must tear open our hearts to receive an outpouring of his personal love.”

Father Paul Hoesing, dean of seminarians and director of human formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, shared with me his perception of the climate of seminary life at this time.

“I believe a very healthy, righteous anger has been awakened in these scandals. As a result, there has been no better time to address the tough issues of mental health, chastity and psycho-sexual development. 

“The scandals reveal what is at stake. Only a truly healthy priest can serve the people of God. The people of God are weary. They deserve good shepherds.

“The scandals reveal the need for a truly spousal life on the part of the priest — priests who are willing to lay down their lives for their bride, the church. Otherwise, the priesthood is seen as a strange or dangerous bachelorhood. 

“I see our young men eager to move into a new and vigorous courage in this regard. For the sake of the victims and the bride, the church, the men are responding with a new level of honesty and generosity in answering the question, ‘Where is your heart?’

“It’s been a privilege to witness the Spirit at work in this opportune moment for young men to respond more clearly and maturely.”

Despite the difficulties in our Catholic Church today, the faith is alive in the hearts of our young people and in young men studying for the priesthood, which should renew all of our hearts.

I am grateful for this early Christmas gift I received in the witness of Madison, Dillon and Corbin, our seminarians, Max and Robert, and the hopeful and challenging words of Father Hoesing.