With different pro-life views, can our country be called united?

Perhaps you, too, enjoy travel books about places and people. Books such as John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie" and "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat-Moon are classics of this genre. These essays about off-road places provide a flavor of the unique character that distinguishes a place. With this in mind, one wonders how to understand the United States (with the emphasis on the adjective "united").

Why so few religious vocations? Reasons are many

According to data compiled by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), between 1900 and 1965 women religious numbers showed phenomenal growth, peaking at about 180,000. Since then they have declined to 54,000, a drop of 70 percent. More telling for the future, the average age of a religious sister is now in her 70s, and only about one percent is under 30. If this is to continue, and there seems to be nothing out there to suggest it won’t, inevitably many of the congregations will be forced to merge in the coming decades.

For youth group ministry, good leaders find good successors

With great leadership comes great replacements. Many people do not fully understand the role of a leader. First and foremost, you must lead (I think that may go without saying). However, the second most important aspect of becoming a good leader is finding a good replacement.

Voices from the Holocaust speak, perhaps not for long

Lice, dysentery, bedbugs, fleas and two showers a year. These aren't childhood memories a woman should carry with her, yet when concentration camp survivor Inge Auerbacher talks about her young life in Theresienstadt, a Nazi-run camp in Czechoslovakia, a vitality and optimism seem to transcend the horror. Auerbacher is now 78, but when she spoke at a church in Omaha, Neb., recently, she told the gathering, "I'm still that little girl," the little Jewish girl who was shipped off from her native Germany at the age of 6.

Appreciating our faith and what it gives us

Having concluded, some with disappointment, that Pope Francis will not change the church's stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues in the first week of his pontificate, the bulk of the thousands of journalists covering the papal election left the Vatican.

The right thing to do but for the wrong reason

Sometimes the moral question becomes lost between the practical and the theoretical. A case in point arose in Washington state this March. For the past five years, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle sponsored a bill to eliminate the death penalty. It went nowhere. This year, Carlyle achieved a small victory when the bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee.

With a new pope with many novelties, does it signal a new era?

As the world awaited word on who would be elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, there was much talk about the need for reform and transparency in the Roman Curia -- the church's central administration -- and the virtual impossibility of anyone who might be regarded as a Vatican insider being able to meet the challenge. Then with the white smoke came the surprising news that the cardinal electors had turned to Latin America and elected a native of Argentina, who happened also to be a Jesuit, to occupy the chair of Peter.

As Lent’s end nears, remember to do more than just do without

Sacrifice, sacrifice. sacrifice. That always seems to be the Lenten theme. There are so many ways that this can be done. Many of us fast something, or we "give it up for God." For countless years my mother has given up dessert. Maybe we have at one point tried the Lenten diet, where we give everything up for 40 days, and then go back to the same patterns we were in Easter Monday. Here’s a challenge: why do we always give something up? Why can we not double something or do more?

The pope of the council

Pope Francis is a pope of many "firsts." He is the first non-European pope since the eighth century. He is the first Latin American pope. He is the first Jesuit to be elected pope, and he is the first pope to take the name "Francis." I have been surprised, however, that no one has pointed out that Pope Francis is the first pope to have been ordained after the Second Vatican Council. As a "post-Vatican II" priest, myself, I find this to be the most significant of all Pope Francis' "firsts."

Where is Christ in our midst?

One of my favorite traditions is gathering at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg for the annual chrism Mass. It is a glorious Mass celebrated by our bishop, Lawrence E. Brandt, concelebrated by diocesan priests, elevated by powerful music and attended by faithful people from all four counties of the diocese. Priests renew their priestly promises, and the bishop blesses the oils of the sick and catechumens and consecrates the sacred chrism, which are then distributed to all 85 of our diocesan parishes to be used throughout the coming year.