Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Happy Epiphany! Thank you for being a light in the midst of darkness. Thank you to our pastoral staff and the many volunteers who have ministered so faithfully these past several weeks to enrich our Advent and Christmas celebrations. A great debt of gratitude to all who participated in our Advent Giving Tree, providing gifts and needed items for households within our parish and beyond our borders. The liturgies were beautiful ˗ particularly the music ˗ and encouraged us to seek to proclaim the reign of God in our world.  Last month we prayed in solidarity with Pope Francis and people of good will to end hunger in our world. Your generosity to so many of our outreach organizations is a concrete manifestation of our prayer helping us to take small steps to end hunger in our community.

Next weekend we will have the opportunity to continue to serve the poor and needy throughout our diocese with the 2014 Bishop’s Annual Appeal, “Grateful to God, Generous to Neighbor.” You will be receiving a letter from Bishop Burbidge requesting your support of this annual appeal, which reaches out through Catholic Charities to provide assistance to those in need as well as to support the smaller parishes in the diocese. Please prayerfully consider your sacrificial gift to the BAA and bring your pledge card to Mass next weekend.

In 2014 I’ll be leading two pilgrimages. The first will be to experience Mayan Spirituality in Guatemala.  Guatemala, located in Central America, is recognized as the Heart of the Mayan Civilization. We’ll depart on Friday morning, June 20, returning Saturday evening, June 28. The highlight of the pilgrimage will be a visit to our sister parish in Las Margaritas, where we’ll celebrate our 21-year relationship with our brothers and sisters.  As we explore their culture and spirituality, we’ll marvel at majestic volcanoes, roam cobblestone streets that twist past historic churches and monuments, and embrace the warm culture of the Guatemalan people. This pilgrimage includes overnights in   Coban, Las Margaritas, Antigua and Guatemala City.  On Saturday, February 8th, there will be an information night following the evening Mass, at which time I’ll share all the details of this exciting adventure.  This pilgrimage will be  limited to 20 pilgrims.

On Saturday, February 1, following the 5:30 pm Mass, I’ll host an information night in Founders Room for the 2014 Franciscan Italy Pilgrimage. We’ll depart for Italy on Sunday afternoon, August 31, and arrive back in Raleigh on Friday, September 12.   Pilgrims will have the opportunity to reflect upon Franciscan Tradition, Mission and Contemplation (and yes, there will be time for shopping!) as we wander the hillside cities of Italy.  Though we’ll land in Rome, we’ll head directly to Assisi via Greccio, where Francis inspired the Christmas crèche.  In Assisi, we’ll celebrate the 800+ year old Franciscan tradition. During our four-night stay, we’ll visit all of the places that were so special to Francis and Clare, from the baptismal font in the cathedral to their tombs in the Basilicas that bear their names. Just as the early friars did, we’ll head from Assisi to Florence via LaVerna, where Francis received the stigmata. Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, was also the first mission of the friars outside of Assisi. During our stay in Florence (4 nights) we’ll pray at Santa Croce and take sojourns to the surrounding environs, including Siena. We’ll conclude our pilgrimage with time for contemplation, prayer, and relaxation in the lake region of northern Italy.  At the information night, I’ll share all the details of the pilgrimage.  Deposits of $400 per person will be  accepted on a first come, first served basis beginning Monday, January 6. To obtain a brochure or submit your deposit, contact Joan Port in the parish office,  919-847-8205×249.

As with previous pilgrimages, in the months leading up to departure we’ll have opportunities for pilgrims to gather and build community as we brush up on the language, culinary and artistic skills that will prepare us for Guatemala or Italy.

In the peace of Christ,

Fr. Mark