U.S. Church News

Film hopes to push Gil Hodges' Hall of Fame bid across finish line

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

This is a screen grab from the documentary "Soul of a Champion: The Gil Hodges Story," produced by Spirit Juice Studios in association with Catholic Athletes for Christ. (CNS screen grab/YouTube, Spirit Juice Studios)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Repeat after me: Gil Hodges is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A lot of people think he's in already.

And a lot of the people who know that he's not in the Hall think he should be there.

One of them, not surprisingly, is his son, Gil Jr.

"I was talking to MLB (Network) this morning and they thought he was in already. 'He's not in?'" Hodges Jr. told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 9 phone interview from his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

"I run into people every week that talk about him, and they talk about him as if they had dinner with him last month," he said. "I find it just amazing that one individual in such a short span of time could have such an impact. And I think a lot of that is praise to him.

"Not only for his athletic prowess, but also because of his integrity and his character. His belief in God, his faith, his country, his family. I think that just shows that good people can leave indelible marks."

A new film, "Soul of a Champion: The Gil Hodges Story," made its online debut at gilhodgesfilm.com Nov. 8, mere weeks before the Hall of Fame's "Golden Days Era" committee considers the on- and off-field attributes of Hodges and a fistful of other players from the post-World War II years. Hodges needs 75% -- 12 of 16 -- of the committee members' votes to be enshrined.

Hodges has already been marked on 3,010 ballots during his Hall eligibility -- more than any other player not already in Cooperstown.

Spirit Juice Productions made "Soul of a Champion" with Catholic Athletes for Christ, for whom Spirit Juice had done several film and video productions previously.

"I had never heard of Gil," said Rob Kaczmark, a co-director and co-producer of the film. After being briefed on Hodges, he said, Kaczmark thought, "Wow, this sounds like an incredible story to tell, for something to happen. I'm excited to see him push the needle a little to get him into the Hall of Fame."

Production began in 2018, but stalled a couple of times, Kaczmark said. But "we tried to do everything we can to get this out in time to put the vote over the edge."

For the uninitiated, Hodges was the first baseman for the Dodgers, both in Brooklyn, New York, and Los Angeles. He was an eight-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and won the World Series with the Dodgers in both Brooklyn and L.A.

Hodges wound up his career playing with the expansion New York Mets in 1962 and '63. He was traded to the expansion Washington Senators, retired as a player and took over the team as manager. As a manger, he was traded back to the Mets -- for a player -- and piloted the "Miracle Mets" to their 1969 World Series win over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.

He died after playing a round of golf on Easter in 1972 with some Mets coaches. "I heard it on the radio after leaving Mass, in the car," Hodges Jr. told CNS.

At the funeral Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Brooklyn, sportscaster Howard Cosell sought out young Hodges Jr., then 22, and took him to a limousine parked outside. In the back seat was Gil's Brooklyn teammate Jackie Robinson, who was weeping inconsolably.

"Next to my son's death," Robinson told Hodges Jr., "this is the worst day of my life."

Baseball-Reference's webpage for each major league player offers a "similarity score," ranking other players' whose careers came closest in terms of performance. In Hodges' case, 1960s Detroit Tigers first baseman Norm Cash comes closest. Cash had 373 home runs to Hodges' 370. And Cash has never been seriously considered as Hall of Fame material.

But two Hall criteria often overlooked -- except when it comes to the game's cheaters -- are sportsmanship and character. And that is where Hodges may have the edge that puts him over the top.

"I heard players refer to him as a saint," said longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully in "Soul of a Champion." "He never missed Mass. Road trips were no excuse," said Scully, himself a Catholic. His priorities were "God, family and country, and those didn't get altered."

Scully told of Hodges declining a steak dinner served on a flight after playing both games of a rare Friday doubleheader. Indicating that he was some 20,000 feet in the air, Hodges said, "I'm too close to the Boss."

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, another Catholic interviewed for the movie before he died, was known to cuss up a blue streak at times. "I wish I could be like him," Lasorda said of Hodges. "This guy did nothing wrong, and he's not in the Hall of Fame!"

Hodges' integrity might have helped the Mets win the World Series. In Game 5, the Mets were down 3-0 when Cleon Jones led off the bottom of the sixth inning. A Dave McNally fastball was way off target. Jones skipped out of the way of the errant pitch, which skittered into the Mets' dugout. Hodges emerged holding a baseball and showed home-plate umpire Lou DiMuro a scuff mark, indicating it was shoe polish from Jones' cleats. DiMuro ruled Jones had been hit by the pitch, and the next batter, Donn Clendenon, blasted a home run to bring the score to 3-2.

On Jones' next trip to the plate in the eighth, he hit a long double and scored the go-ahead run on a Ron Swoboda double. Jones also caught the final out in the ninth inning to secure the Mets' improbable 5-3 win.

Hodges Jr., now in his 70s, remembers tagging along with his dad in the summers with the Senators and Mets, and was even able to take batting practice with the big-leaguers as a kid.

Voting for long-retired players "used to be more often, but how it's every other year, and it's going to turn into every five years with the selection committee. It's been a long, arduous process. We've had the players, God rest his soul. Tommy Lasorda, God rest his soul. Tom Seaver talked about him all the time and tried his best," he said.

Now, Hodges Jr. added, "all we can do is pray."

N.J. priest finished New York City Marathon with personal best time

By Jai Agnish Catholic News Service

Father Manuel Duenas, center, vice rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Kearny, N.J., runs in the New York City Marathon Nov. 7, 2021. He finished the 26.2-mile course just under three hours. (CNS photo/Father Manuel Duenas, courtesy Jersey Catholic)

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Father Manuel Duenas, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and current vice rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Kearny, New Jersey, was among 33,000 participants in the New York City Marathon Nov. 7.

As he waited at the starting line, he had one goal: to finish the marathon in under three hours. He knew it wouldn't be easy. He was counting on 30 years of running experience and, recently, 16 weeks of training to manage the 26.2-mile task.

In the end, Father Duenas finished the race in 2:55:55.

It was a personal best time.

"Maybe at the beginning, I went too fast, and I paid for it at the end," the priest said afterward. "But overall, I am very satisfied with the race and experience."

"The race was very nice. It was as tough as any marathon, but it was very beautiful," he told Jersey Catholic, the news site of the Newark Archdiocese. "I have experienced in my life that you always perform better the day of the race. Very often better than you expect."

The weather was gorgeous, and supporters crowded the city streets. Among those gathered were former parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Church in Bergenfield, New Jersey, where Father Duenas served as parochial vicar.

"It was nice of them to come," he said. "It was a very beautiful atmosphere in the streets. I'm already looking forward to the next marathon."

This year's race was the priest's fourth marathon. He has also competed in half marathons, including the New York City Half Marathon in 2019, where he qualified for the Nov. 7 race.

Father Duenas, 44, was born in Burgos, Spain, and has been running since he was 16. He competed on track teams in high school and college. One of the things he enjoys about running is the peace it gives him. He also loves the thrill of competition.

"I like the possibility that you have to try harder to get better after every race ... to push yourself a little bit harder and to see how good you can do," he said.

One of the things he was thinking about on a recent jog was how running symbolizes living the Christian life. There are many parallels to it, he said, especially when it comes to running a marathon.

"The life of a Christian is basically also like a race," Father Duenas explained. "We are pilgrims on this earth and there is a destination. There is a goal. And the crown is heaven. Being a Christian is not something that you accomplish once and for all. It's a daily challenge. Every day we have to convert."

The priest referred to the New Testament letters where St. Paul speaks of the "good fight" and finishing the race, keeping the faith and the crown of righteousness that awaits the faithful.

"I think it's exciting because you run with other people, and there are other people supporting you as you go," Father Duenas continued. "This is a beautiful image of the Christian community of the church. It's very difficult to live faith all by oneself."

He added: "There are moments when you feel more comfortable and when it seems easier and there are moments when you struggle. We have a community of faith that somehow helps us, supports us, encourages us and prays for us. And somehow, everything becomes easier."

The priest expects to run in the New York City Marathon again next year. For now though, he plans to rest up and then get back to training.

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Agnish is communications manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.

Active and retired military, civilians find community in Capodanno Society

By Denis Grasska Catholic News Service

Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Navy chaplain who was killed while serving with the Marines in Vietnam, is pictured ministering in the field in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers)

SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- San Diego is a military town, so perhaps it's not surprising that the Diocese of San Diego would be home to the Capodanno Society.

The ministry, which is based at St. Brigid Parish but is open to all, is named after Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, who was killed in action as a U.S. Navy chaplain during the Vietnam War, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and is currently on the path to canonization.

The Capodanno Society's mission, as expressed on its Facebook page, is "building community among active duty and retired military Catholics and their families in San Diego."

It has accomplished this through a variety of events, including monthly dinner socials featuring guest speakers. The dinner socials began in March 2019 and were discontinued with the COVID-19 lockdowns, but are set to resume Nov. 18.

The Capodanno Society's origins can be traced back to the fall of 2018 and a conversation between its co-founders, Noreen Domingo and David Murphy, about the challenges they faced as Catholics and as members of the armed forces.

Both Domingo and Murphy have since concluded their service in the U.S. Navy, and Murphy has relocated to South Bend, Indiana.

Domingo, president of the Capodanno Society, said the group was envisioned as "a place where military Catholics can go once a month" to find a community of people who can relate to their experiences.

However, it soon became apparent the group's dinner socials also were attracting civilians, who felt that the speakers' presentations on topics such as spiritual warfare had practical applications for their own lives.

Murphy said he hopes the Capodanno Society gives "people in the pews ... a place to meet and encounter military Catholics, be they active duty, reserve, veterans, dependents or simply supporters."

Attendance is now evenly split between those with a professional or familial connection to the military and those without such ties, said Domingo. Through the group's events, civilian attendees have developed a better understanding of military life, even to the point of knowing some of the jargon.

Diverse life experiences also can be seen among the group's military members.

"It's really unique to have a retired admiral on one side of the room and then a junior enlisted, who just signed up two months ago, in the room at the same time," said Domingo, who sees this as an expression of the universality of the Catholic Church.

Murphy recalled one of the Capodanno Society's first meetings, where a newlywed couple was able to hear two retired captains, a lieutenant on active duty and a former staff sergeant share their advice for a successful Catholic military marriage.

"The (younger) spouses exchanged numbers with the older spouses," he said. "Later, I found out that one of the retired couples took a young spouse out, when her husband was deployed, to give her a night out and be there for her."

Last year, at the height of social distancing, the Capodanno Society held several virtual events, including one in May 2020 where two group members reflected on the similarities between deployment and the COVID-19 lockdown and on how lessons learned from the former could be applied to the latter.

That same month, the group organized a rosary drive on behalf of a group member who was preparing to go on deployment and wanted rosaries to distribute to fellow Marines in his weekly rosary prayer group.

The Capodanno Society also held its second annual Polar Plunge in February, where more than a dozen participants jumped into the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean in an expression of asceticism shortly before the start of Lent, and its first annual "9/11 Run to Remember 5K" to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

At the request of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, the Capodanno Society has been offering weekly catechism classes at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, or MCRD, since summer of 2020.

Domingo personally developed the curriculum with Harrison Trubitt, director of religious education at St. Therese of Carmel Parish in San Diego.

The catechism classes are held every Sunday, except on days when the base has scheduled a guest speaker for all recruits, said lead catechist Thomas zu Hone, a Capodanno Society member who served in the Navy until late July.

The curriculum is composed of 12 lessons, each of which takes about an hour and a half before the recruits are dismissed to attend Mass.

About 250 recruits attend a typical week's class, though that number can swell past 400 during the summer, he said.

"Through the ministry at MCRD, I feel I have been blessed with the opportunity to help these young Marine recruits get an early start to building their faith and their faith community with fellow Marines," said zu Hone. "In doing so, they will hopefully be encouraged and grounded in their Catholic faith in order to boldly pursue a life of Christ while in the military."

Murphy told The Southern Cross, San Diego's diocesan newspaper, he hopes that through the Capodanno Society, people will encounter the group's namesake.

Father Capodanno, who has the title "Servant of God," was not "some 1,500-year-old saint with a huge beard and robed in a habit, emerging through the mists of time across the centuries," said Murphy, who cited pictures of him smoking with Marines, videos of him flying in military helicopters and testimonies of those who served alongside him.

"He showed that even in the military, in the throes of combat, in the difficulties of deployment, amidst a battalion of infantry Marines, sanctity and holiness is possible," he said. "I hope, through meeting this saint, people see that they can incorporate their faith into their daily lives and military careers."

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Editor's Note: More about the Capodanno Society can be found on its Facebook page. The Father Capodanno Guild has more about the priest and his sainthood cause on its website, https://www.capodannoguild.org.

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Grasska is assistant editor at The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego.

Prelates see synodal process as Holy Spirit's realm to inspire the church

By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service

Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, N.J., officially began the local process for his diocese's participation in preparations for the 2023 meeting of the world Synod of Bishops on synodality during Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton Oct. 17, 2021. (CNS photo/Hal Brown, The Monitor)

As Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis sees it, the church-wide synod called by Pope Francis is all about the Holy Spirit.

For the next several months, people from throughout the church -- laypeople, clergy, religious, administrators and even those who have stopped practicing the Catholic faith -- will be coming together to encounter each other, listen and discern as they shape the church's presence in a world experiencing joy and confronting tragedy.

"If there's no Holy Spirit, it's not a synod," Archbishop Hebda said.

With the Spirit's inspiration, the two years of preparation leading to the Synod of Bishops on synodality called by Pope Francis for October 2023 will provide the framework for what the pope envisions as a synodal church -- one in which people are "walking together on the same road" to respond to God's call to serve one another.

Archbishop Hebda speaks from experience. He has seen the Holy Spirit at work in Minnesota's archdiocese, inspiring and shaping the faithful as it has navigated its own synod process since 2019.

The exercise will culminate in a planned archdiocesan synod on Pentecost in June, followed by the release of a pastoral letter from Archbishop Hebda expressing the synod's outcomes on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2022.

"It certainly taught us there is a desire on the part of our faithful to engage in meaningful dialogue and sharing," Archbishop Hebda said.

The synodal process opened by Pope Francis Oct. 10 at the Vatican and commencing a week later in dioceses worldwide is not meant to undo or supersede what is transpiring in any local synod.

The Vatican's "vademecum," or handbook, that offers guidelines for dioceses in the worldwide synodal process, recognizes that some dioceses have recently concluded or are in the midst of their own synod and that there is no need to fully reboot.

Such local synods may be focused on specific ministries, such as young adults or family life, that lead to tangible outcomes. Not so with the broader synodal process called for by the pope, several prelates told Catholic News Service.

In opening the synodal process, Pope Francis described the effort as one to discover how the Holy Spirit is calling the church to be of service to the world and evangelizing through living the Gospel.

The pope's call to synodality is rooted in his deep involvement as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2007 in drafting a document for CELAM, the acronym for the Spanish name of the Latin American bishops' council, which met in Aparecida, Brazil. The document issued repeated calls for a "continental mission," a church that goes out in search of ways to proclaim the Gospel to all.

Synodality -- listening together -- calls for as many voices as possible to be heard, explained Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

"It's kind of like a pilgrimage. It's not the destination. It's what happens on the way," he told CNS.

Cardinal Tobin compared the steps that are just beginning in the synodal process to the V Encuentro, or Fifth National Encuentro, in the United States. It was a multiyear process in which Latinos gathered locally, then at the diocesan and regional levels and finally, in 2018, nationally to discern how to respond as church.

"Try to imagine the Encuentro on steroids," he said of the current process.

That's because the 1 billion Catholics around the world are invited to offer their aspirations, hurts and prayerful insights to shape the church going forward.

Some church observers have questioned the idea of having a synod on synodality, wondering why the church needs to have meetings about more meetings. Such a view misses the point of the synodality, the prelates said.

"It's a way of being church," Cardinal Tobin said of synodality. "The pope is inviting all to be a part of that. The justification for that is that we all share the baptism, and we're all incorporated into Christ."

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, said the process will help inform not just clergy and the pope, but the entire body of the church about the material and spiritual needs of people in the world.

"It's what you read in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles," Bishop McKnight said. "I think that's the way we've got to start conceiving of ourselves in everything."

Admittedly, Bishop McKnight continued, such a way of being church poses challenges in the way the church operates across all its entities, parishes, dioceses and institutions, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It also presents a challenge to laypeople, who, he said, may have defaulted to "a passive role because they'd rather have church officials take care of everything."

"How we conduct our mission needs to be done together," he said.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the process can serve to unify people throughout the church as they encounter each other. "We must engage people," he said.

As the listening, or engagement, stage unfolds from now through June, Bishop McElroy expects that opportunities will arise for the diocese to become more synodal in its operation. He said diocesan leaders will take what they learn, send it on to the USCCB and then start to incorporate the main thoughts into diocesan operations.

The bishop wants synodality to become the norm even before any final conclusions are reached by the Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis in October 2023.

"I hope this is an opportunity not only for us to assess the level of synodality, which is already present in the life of our local church, but to advance it dramatically," he said.

In the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the synodal process is largely in the hands of 260 delegates commissioned by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano to go out and prayerfully meet with people.

From parish town hall gatherings to one-on-one conversations, the delegates will be hearing from people about concerns, hurts and hopes, he told CNS.

"In the end, we're not trying to solve a problem," Bishop Caggiano said. "What we're trying to do is discern the solution that is already there. The Holy Spirit already knows what the solution is."

That requires, he explained, listening and being present to people so that they can express their deepest desires for their spiritual life -- and ultimately the life of the church as society emerges from the pandemic.

"This synod, the way I understand it, is unveiling a new methodology where all the people of God, the baptized in the church, has a role to listen and discern and give feedback so those who are the shepherds of the church will be informed," Bishop Caggiano recalled telling the delegates before they began their monthslong outreach across the diocese.

The effort in each diocese is expected to stretch beyond those who are traditionally active in parish life.

Pope Francis has encouraged that people from the margins of society -- elderly shut-ins, the disabled, the mentally ill, the struggling poor and hungry, those who sleep in tents and cars and people who have been hurt by the church in some way -- be invited to participate in the synodal process.

The Diocese of San Diego is planning to include outreach to the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated and their families. Young adults, who are becoming increasingly disaffiliated with the Catholic Church, are being given added emphasis in the Bridgeport Diocese.

No part of the effort runs contrary to traditional church teaching, said Bishop Robert J. McClory of Gary, Indiana, who came to the diocese a month before the pandemic hit and on the heels of a diocesan synod convened in 2017 to determine ministry priorities.

"It's not overturning fundamental church teaching, but trying to focus our mission and engaging the laity," Bishop McClory told CNS.

"The Holy Father says it is about evangelization and its is about advancing our mission. So we can ask ourselves how we are engaging people able in the life, ministry and mission of the church," he explained.

None of the bishops who spoke with CNS expressed a desire for a certain outcome from the two-year process other than that they hope the church becomes one that listens more carefully, cares a little more deeply and more concretely advances charity and love.

"It's still a bit of discovery for me," Bishop McKnight said. "We're doing what the Holy Father is asking. I'm looking forward to what comes of it all."

Like Archbishop Hebda, Cardinal Tobin has turned the effort over to the Holy Spirit.

"The church is not our project," he said. "It is a project of the Holy Spirit, who gathers the church together and makes reconciliation possible.”

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