Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan | IgnatiusInsight.com
Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
Catechesis is the science of passing on the Faith and the art of planting
and cultivating faith for ongoing conversion in the heart of individual
believers. It is focused on beginning the process of conversion in an already
baptized child and deepening and developing the faith of individual believers
of any age. Facilitating ongoing conversion in the spiritual life is a major
concern of catechesis because "true participation in the mystery of
Christ is the final goal of all catechetical endeavor." 
It has that in common with preaching and both have their basis in the Scripture.
Catechesis for liturgy, i.e., instruction which draws the believer to the
"source and summit" of Catholic life, the Eucharistic liturgy,
includes prophetic proclamation of the teaching of Jesus, orientation to
the celebration of the feasts of the liturgical year, religious pedagogy
conveying the immense realities of the liturgy, encouragement and instruction
in worship which gives rise to zeal for the Lord, and catechesis which facilitates
Receiving the Word on the Authority of God Revealing
Msgr. Eugene Kevane, premier catechist in the United States and founder
of Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute, points out that catechesis
is actually a work of prophecy. What is passed on is the Word of the Lord,
total and complete, just as Jesus, the Divine Teacher gave it to the fledgling
Church. He is the apex, the pinnacle of prophetic ministry. He came only
to do the will of the Father and to speak what the Father gave Him (John
12:49). "As the life of the Teaching Church reaches back to him for
the content and pattern and baptismal purpose of its teaching, so the prophetic
light shines forward toward him from Moses and the Prophets in the preparatory
What is taught is Christs revelation of the Father, of Himself and
of His Fathers plan for His creatures. Together those revelations
encompass the deposit of faith referred to in 1 Tim. 6:20 and 2 Tim. 1:14.
That deposit is the "instrument for witnessing" which the Church
has carried on for centuries. With the deposit of faith she prophetically
witnesses Christ to all peoples and at all times and, therefore, must carefully
preserve it. Pope Paul VI commented on this concern for the integrity of
The Catholic Church in the past and today, has given and gives much
importance to the scrupulous preservation of the authentic Revelation.
She considers it an inviolable treasure, and is sternly aware of her
fundamental duty to defend and transmit the doctrine of the Faith in
unequivocal terms. Orthodoxy is her first concern. 
The Church is passing on the "very Word of God" in catechesis,
transmitting only what she has been given by Jesus, just as He did with
His Fathers Word. This is the work of prophecy: to illuminate minds
and souls with light, in this case, the "Light of the World."
Teaching and prophesy are both facets of Jesus life, and teaching
Christ and His Gospel is intricately linked with prophesying in His Name.
In catechesis on the liturgy the prophetical ministry of the Word cannot
be overstated. Msgr. Kevane aptly puts it: "(Here) Catechesis (is)
the receiving of a word on the authority of the God revealing." 
The catechist receives the Word on Gods authority, speaks it on His
authority, and the believer hears it on the same authority. Thus, the analogy
with Isaiah 6:6-7 is apt: with lips cleansed by its fire the catechist must
handle the Word and pass it on, blazing, to the believer. Too often the
actual experience of the student/inquirer/believer is that the catechist
enters and leaves the room with faith, never passing it on! A catechist
burning with zeal for Gods Word must know how to give it away.
The liturgical context is the principle and normative means for that transmission.
Biblical-historical narrative of Scripture and reading and meditation based
on a study of the lessons from Sundays and Feast Days are the chief means
to this end. Here the Church proclaims the Divine Word in the context which
Christ entrusted to her, the re-presentation of His saving act, timeless
and true. There the Word prepares the way for the meeting with Christ, just
as it did on the road to Emmaus. The catechetical is intertwined with the
The priority of the liturgy over the Bible must be respected in light of
the Churchs mission but she cannot do the liturgy without Scripture.
It gives her security and truth. She relies on it for the very words of
consecration. Dom Theodore Ghesquiere, O.S.B., Doctor of Theology and abbot,
explained it thus:
The message of the divine word, borne by the Church to all human
generations, becomes in the liturgy a living word, efficacious and up
to date, in which the people of the messianic times discover the secret
of their destiny in the light of the Holy Spirit. 
"Magnificent Unity / Sublime Manner"
The great stages of the history of salvation are outlined in the
chain of their providential development: Israel, the Church on earth,
the Church in Heaven. Facts speak, events answer one another, the mysterious
links which God has willed are brought out by the conjunctions which
in themselves are worth more than any commentary. 
In order to grow in participation in the mystery of Christ the Church
wisely arranges the liturgical year to cover all of the mighty acts of
God. The possibility for contemplation of all of the stages of Gods
salvific action in sacred history are there. The Church maintains the
important link between Gods promise and His oath: from the promise
of and subsequent longing for redemption in Advent; to the stupendous
realization of Gods Word in the Incarnation; to the depths of His
love in the events of Christs Pasch; to the establishment of His
Mystical Body, the Church, on Good Friday and Pentecost. The "sacraments"
of the Old Testament prefigure the sacramental order of the New Testament
and the promises which precede Christ are all fulfilled in Him.
Even more important in the scheme of the liturgical
year then the recounting of sacred history centered on Christological
events is the prime mystery of the Trinity, wherein lies the birth of
the plan for mankind: union with God in the Trinitarian family. There
is one Sunday set aside for celebration of the Triune Godhead but in reality
all of the feasts of the Church converge upon the feast of the Most Holy
This central mystery of the Faith is always presupposed and so must always
be freshly proposed, therefore the wisdom of the Church provides regular
opportunities to reconsider it. In fact, each liturgical event which the
Church celebrates has more and more depth to plumb. Dom Ghesquiere makes
the following point:
Catechesis should carefully shape itself around the mysteries found in those
events and remember that what is most crucial in the liturgical year is
that the faithful are called to live the celebrations of the feasts. In
Mediator Dei (no. 176) Pope Pius XII taught that:
http://www.ignatiusinsight.com. the liturgical year http://www.ignatiusinsight.com.is no cold and lifeless presentation
of past events, no mere historical record. It is Christ Himself, living
on in His Church http://www.ignatiusinsight.com. (The mysteries of His life) http://www.ignatiusinsight.com. are still now consistently
present and active http://www.ignatiusinsight.com. (and are) sources of divine grace for us by reason
of the merits and intercession of the Redeemer.
Preparation for these feasts is an integral factor in them not becoming
"lifeless presentations of past events." These mysteries should
"form the high points of biblical catechesis" according to Fr.
Hofinger. He emphasizes that believers will experience the mysteries in
the liturgy long before they may understand them. There they become "present
religious values" and not just historical narratives.  In fact,
it is often after the fact that at the practical level the liturgical year
becomes a principal means by which the effects of the mystery of Christ
are conveyed. It is a "magnificent unity" expressed in a "sublime
manner," which plunges the believer directly into the heart of Gods
The Word of God is only explicable by itself. God has set, within the limits
of His Revelation, the answers to its own questions. Explaining one Testament
by the other is religious pedagogy or the "law of pedagogy of revelation."
Fr. Oster comments, "The unique grandeur of the New Testament will
become apparent as well as its justification, not rational but
much deeper, interior justification which is rooted in Gods
fidelity and the wisdom of His plan."  The Old Testament will cease
to be just proscriptions and lists. It will be seen to contain hidden jewels
of the Fathers love and indomitable commitment to His covenant oaths.
Everything begins to make sense and wonder grows as His plan is revealed
This method of catechesis cannot be forsaken. The Eucharist, especially,
must be carefully taught. Helping the believer to see the Old Testament
and the New Testament meanings of the deepest mysteries of Christ unlocks
some of the mystery, transforming it from personal opinion or magic or a
"traditional belief system" to a reality whose sweetness and profundity
can be tasted and plumbed in the liturgical encounter, if not exhausted
and mastered. The Eucharistic presence is an astounding fact but if that
is the extent of understanding of the sacred liturgy and the meeting therein
it will not suffice to sustain the life of faith. To the question, "What
happens at Mass?" there must be more of an answer than, "God comes."
There must also be the understanding of "Why?" and "What
difference does it make?" Religious pedagogy uncovers the answers to
Using the means of narrative reading and explication of Scripture, religious
pedagogy opens the way for a sense of the immense reality entered into in
the liturgy. The "marvelous things" which the Lord does, (Job
9:10; Ps. 118:23; Isa. 29:14), are summed up in the fulfillment of His covenant
promises: the Incarnation. On that occasion the Mother of God is known to
have exclaimed the ultimate realization of Gods "marvelous"
actions in sacred history: the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). This prayer, this
acclamation, is the prototype of the response stirred up in the human heart
on realizing the scope of this tremendous love worked out in the economy
of salvation or in the drama of the covenantal relationship with God.
Superfluum / Gift of Superabundance
The overflowing of the heart which is evident in the Virgin Marys
Magnificat is a further example of the aim of liturgical worship and catechesis
for liturgy. Man was made for the glory of God, he was made to receive the
fullness of divine life: to be filled to the maximum with God and to flood
those around him with his excess of Gods life and love. This is exactly
what happened when Marys prayer burst forth from her lips.
Catechesis for liturgy must aim at "rousing amazement in the soul"
 much the same as that found in the Psalms, (especially Pss. 111, 135,
and 136). This "mirari," wonder and amazement, contains an element
of fear and of attraction, as well as exultation which engenders praise.
Consider the reactions of those who had encountered the works of the living
God in the New Testament. For example, after Jesus calmed the storm at sea,
"they were filled with awe and said to one another, Who then
is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:41 and Matt.
8:27) (cf. John 7:46; Luke 8:56; Luke 5:8-9; Luke 7:16; Mark 7:37 as cited
Dietrich von Hildebrand, eminent Catholic philosopher and ethicist,
recounts the importance of the response of astonishment and wonder in the
believer during the liturgy. He uses the term superfluum or gift
of superabundance which comes to the believer from the Holy Spirit in the
context of the worship.
Thus the deepest and most organic transformation of man in the spirit
of Christ is found precisely at that point where we purely respond to
values, in the giving up of ourselves to Gods glory, in the glorifying
of God performed as divine service, in the abiding Coram ipso, (in standing
before Him), in the rejoicing in Gods existence, in the Gloria
Domini, (the glory of the Lord), in the magnalia Dei, (the
great deed of the Lord). As we pray and sacrifice liturgicallyand
this means through Christ, with Christ, and in Christglorifying
God, the Spirit of Christ is imprinted upon us, Induere Christum,
as the liturgy proclaims. 
It cannot be emphasized enough that this response of the heart and soul
to the action of the Holy Spirit during worship is not a particular spirituality
or a matter of personal preference. Rather, liturgy is the work of Gods
people, who were made for "the praise of His glory" (Eph.1:12).
And more than this, the face of Christ is revealed in the liturgy: it is
Christ praying. To learn the fundamental dispositions embodied in the liturgy
means to penetrate more deeply into the great mystery of the adoration of
God, which is Jesus Christ. 
Catechesis for the sake of liturgy affects the mind. Liturgical worship
affects both mind and heart, directing the soul both to God and back to
catechesis for more of His Word.
Be Reconciled to God
The message of the Gospel succinctly is: God loves you, repent and turn
to Himto Jesusthe Savior of your soul, turn away from all else,
join yourself to His Body on earth and receive the promises He has for you
(cf. Acts 2:14-39). Conversion, continual conversion, is the basis of the
Christian life. All that God does is designed to woo man to turn away from
everything but Him and claim the love and inheritance that has been set
aside for him from the beginning of time. The sacred liturgy includes a
powerful attraction for the heart and soul of man because he is made in
the image and likeness of God and for the "praise of His glory."
Nevertheless, participation in the Eucharistic liturgy presumes a conversion
of heart and mind to God which must be prepared for by evangelistic Biblical
In the case of the unbaptized adult Fr. Hofinger describes conversion as,
"That decisive change of mind by which man admits the basic insufficiency
and error of his accustomed view of the world and of life, and willingly
accepts Gods message as the basis for the life he has determined to
start."  Of course, the Christian life includes many similar re-turnings
to God but that initial decision which sets the course of a mans life
is pivotal and crucial. After that he can learn how to return and knows
the peace and joy of life in Christ, the "hope of glory."
Fr. Hofinger further refers conversion to those faithful who are catechized
but not truly converted:
Have they in their hearts truly broken with Satan and the world
as they solemnly promised to do before baptism? For those who have never
done so, or who have unfortunately turned back to the "flesh pots
of Egypt" after a first surrender to God, religious formation must
of necessity possess a function similar to that of prebaptismal catechesis.
It must discover and remove obstacles and prepare the way for a sincere
and complete conversion. 
The same is true for innocent, baptized children who did not prepare for
Baptism and did not acknowledge its gift. Both groups of the faithful need
to be guided to a life that is in accord with their Baptism. Fr. Liege comments
boldly on this:
All catechesis must bring man back to the initial
act of his conversion, an act which, in one way, he never gets beyond.
In the measure that conversion has not been chronologically distinct
from catechesis, as for baptized infants, catechesis will always have
a dialectic period of evangelization, without which it would be mere
religious instruction. 
Currently, many evangelists and catechists are meeting
those who have left the Church, and possibly God as well, and are ready
to "come home." This is a burgeoning new apostolate focusing on
returning souls to Christ and to the Church. For such souls a remedial catechesis
in the mysteries must be prepared and applied to specific life situations.
Probably the most difficult area for conversion catechesis in the Church
today is among the adult population who have not identified a need for more
of Christ or His teachings. Often they simply dont know that they
dont know. For them the heart of the Church cries out, "Who will
preach, who will evangelize, who will teach them?" Pastors, preachers,
evangelists, and catechists are needed who will rise to the occasion and
storm heaven until a way is made clear for them to go after those so much
in danger of perishing for lack of knowledge!
Adult education in the mystery of Christ is the chief form of catechesis
according to no. 21 of the General Catechetical Directory of Pope Pius VI.
This is because they are "persons who are capable of an adherence that
is fully responsible." Among those in the catechetical ministry of
the Church this adult conversion and catechesis is a much discussed topic.
As yet, only a few are having any significant success with it. Christ is
waiting for them. He is surely preparing the way, but "He has no hands
but yours," which was the motto of the Lay Apostolate in the 50s
The conversion of young children is a topic much discussed, written about
and debated among catechists, pastors and liturgists. In fact, the Church
recognizes the sanctity and religious potential of children of all ages
in her canonization process. Many of the adult saints counted a conversion
experience as a young child as pivotal for them.
Children are valuable to the Christian community not only because of their
potential as adults, but primarily they are valuable in themselves. They
are made in the image and likeness of God. When they are baptized Gods
grace is active in them. Their guardian angels are vigilant on their behalf,
urging them to come to know their heavenly Father and protecting them as
much as possible.
Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them and
when the disciples saw it they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him
saying, "Let the children come to Me and do not hinder them for to
such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:15-17).
There is something Christ-like in the nature of young children: innocence,
purity, love, trusting obedience. If the Gospel is explained to them they
"get" it. According to Fr. Jean Mouroux, they are "capable
of receiving and nurturing a personal faith and of recognizing an obligation
of conscience"  at about the age of discretion. Both of these are
crucial to authentic conversion for anyone.
The components of a catechesis for conversion are simple: announcement of
the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel (the kerygma), and introduction
to Jesus Christ in His exact identity and in His glory in sacred history.
 Fr. Jungmann explains the ramifications of the proclamation of the
Gospel as leading to an understanding of "what we are and are called
to be." In the light of Easter morning all believers have the grand
vocation to "proclaim by a holy life the acts of Him Who has called
them from the darkness to His admirable light" (1 Pethttp://www.ignatiusinsight.com2:9). "They
must enter joyfully into the circle of those true adorers, who adore the
Father in spirit and in truth"  (John 4: 24).
He further constrains the catechist to be sure to "show them the Original
which faith will make them resemble" when describing grace to believers.
Jesus must be vividly drawn from Scripture narration. Fr. Jungmann concludes:
Let us reveal, especially to the older ones,
the great perspectives which are discovered by meditation on the life
of grace of Christ at Easter, the Christ of the liturgy. Here the new
creation has commenced; here the spiritual temple is being built of
living stones; here the priestly people is assembled, from all nations
and all centuries, able to offer the worthy sacrifice to God, because
Christ the high priest is at its head  (1 Pet. 2:5).
Teaching Through the Liturgy
It is true that in the wake of the storm following Vatican Council II many
attempts were made to correct the problems of faith and practice in the
Church principally by liturgical experimentation (and catechetical reductionism).
Atrocities such as "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" themes for Eucharistic
liturgies instead of Scripture, "Wonder" bread substitutions for
unleavened bread, and free-for-all discussions in place of preaching the
Word of God were commonplace. They did not convert folks to Christ or insert
them deeper into the mystery of Christ. In fact, the flight from the Church
reached staggering proportions during that period. For these reasons it
would seem that the recent experimental attempts at liturgical reform were
indeed the problem.
Part of the experimentation that was carried out during that period involved
using the liturgy to teach, as a catechetical tool. The catechetical value
of liturgical practice is not the point because most liturgical practice
would need considerable, and probably boring, explication to make it didactically
utilitarian. The sacred liturgy is not about utility.
Liturgy teaches by forming its participants. The experience of a carefully
and reverently done Nuptial Mass speaks to the assembled believers of Gods
love for His Church, of the significance of the marriage covenant and even
of the meaning of life. The experience of the baptisms at the Easter Vigil
stirs up appreciation of ones own Baptism and of the richness of life
as a son of God. Lessons on these topics, no matter how well done, cannot
accomplish the realizations that are gained by participating in such liturgies.
The example of the disciples on the road to Emmaus reiterates that.
Liturgy teaches by presenting the mystery of Christ concretely. Actual participation
always teaches better than theoretical explanation. (Consider John 6:57-59;
Rom. 6:3-14; Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:13.) Therefore, the meeting
with Christ which is the heart of any liturgy cannot be replaced or duplicated
and must not be tampered with. "They recognized Him in the breaking
of the bread" cannot be redacted or didactically maneuvered.
Catechism, Profound Union with the Liturgy
The content of catechesis is the deposit of faith which Jesus left to the
apostles. This was a rich treasure to them, hence, St. Pauls exhortation
to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20) to guard it. Since the time of the apostles the
Church has faithfully protected this deposit so that it would not be enhanced
or reduced, but only carefully explained in increasing depth and clarity.
Things hidden there have been discovered by theology and the pious sense
of the faithful. Likewise, in catechetical endeavors it is essential that
nothing of the deposit be omitted.
For this reason the compendium of the deposit of faith, the catechism, was
used from the earliest times to teach the Faith. Historically, the Catholic
catechisms, notably that of the Council of Trent, have corresponded to Jesus
own pattern of teaching, i.e., the Faith and the correlative triple response
of the metanoia: conversion of heart and obedience to God, sacramental
interaction with Christ Himself, and a spiritual life marked especially
by prayer and a relationship with the Father. (This pattern, or rule, is
referred to in Rom. 6:17.)
The catechetical renewal which preceded Vatican Council II, known as the
kerygmatic movement, attempted to return catechetics to the practice of
proclamation of the Word of God and to the context of the narration of Scripture.
Sound catechetical technique had, in fact, been lost in favor of an academic
approach to passing on the Faith. The catechism had enhanced the academic
schemata because it lends itself to rote memorization of facts. The Roman
Catechism is anything but a dry compendium of facts, however. It is clearly
a prophetic study and definition of Jesus teaching in the deposit
He left to the Church. The recently released Catechism of the Catholic Church
is written in that same vein. Msgr. Kevane explains that, "One must
consider that the catechism is simply the Churchs own historic explanation
of the Apostles Creed and the three basic activities of the Way of
Life which responds to the baptismal Creed." 
In the catechetical renewal movement there was no intention of discarding
a valuable prophetic tool, like the catechism, but there was the attempt
to move catechesis back to Christocentrism and the focus on conversion to
Christ and participation in the mysteries. With the liberties that were
taken immediately after Vatican Council II came more and more aberrations
in catechetical practice. Some parts of the kerygmatic renewal were abrogated
to the "new methodology" of the 60s and the 70s,
others were not. All of the catechism approach was discarded, especially
any emphasis on memorization. (None of this was the work of the Church per
The result was chaos in the ministry of catechetics, especially in the western
Church, and the focus of catechesis was shifted from Christ and His plan
to the individual believer. The cult of the "experts," profane
and sacred, became the driving force of catechetics, instead of the Scriptures.
The effect of all of this on the worship of Catholics was profound. Today
it is unlikely that a young adult Catholic can be readily found who could
explain the purpose of the Eucharistic liturgy, or the meaning of the Incarnation
or sin and redemption for that matter! Yet they are being lured away by
many other specious ideologies. They need answers to lifes most important
questions just as much as their ancestors did, maybe more.
In the ministry of catechetics the need is very great for a return to the
reality of sacred history as the mystery of Christ. The focus must be on
God and His plan, His interactions with man and His Way of Life. The narrative
approach to Biblical catechesis must be relearned. Fr. Vagaggini points
out that if these things are done the "catechism will thereby discover
its profound union with the liturgy."  It will be the preparation
to liturgical life just as Christs exposition of the Scriptures was
for the Emmaus disciples.
The liturgical life will appear as the sacral
concretization, (under the veil of the sensible and efficacious signs
of the sanctification and the worship of the Church,) of the world of
the catechism; and the world of the catechism will be lived sacrally
in its most important act. 
The baptized child, the adult catechumen, the young people seldom in the
pews, and the family struggling against the onslaughts of secularism have
a right to the truth which sets them free. They have the right to be catechized,
to be led to the altar singing for joy, to know their Father, to participate
in the very mystery of Christ. Therefore, let us "pray to the Lord
of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matt. 9:37).
(This article originally appeared in the January/February 1997 issue of
The Catholic Faith magazine.)
 Hofinger, Johannes, S.J. and Francis J. Buckley, S.J., The Good News
and Its Proclamation, p. 26.
 Kevane, Msgr. Kevane, "Toward Research in Fundamental Catechetics,"
Angelicum, p. 372.
 Pope Paul VI in LOsservatore Romano, English Edition, Jan.
27, 1972, p. 1.
 Kevane, p. 372.
 Ghesquiere, Dom Theodore, O.S.B., "Bible-Reading and Liturgical
Life," Lumen Vitae, p. 173.
 Ghesquiere, Dom Theodore, O.S.B., "Bible-Reading and Liturgical
Life," Lumen Vitae, p. 175.
 Hofinger and Buckley, p. 57, 76.
 Oster, Fr. Henri, "Gods Plan," Lumen Vitae, p.
 Oster, p. 49. Fr. Osters extensive footnote regarding astonishment
or admiration are paraphrased in the following text.
 Von Hildebrand, Dietrich, Liturgy and Personality, pp. 7-8.
 Ibid., p. 8, Dr. von Hildebrand points out later that the liturgy must
become a "way of following Christ into transformation into Him,"
 Hofinger and Buckley, p. 32.
 Ibid, p. 35. These are the folks in the pews. Many have never really
been catechized and virtually all have never been evangelized.
 Liege, Andre, O.P., "The Ministry of the Word: from Kerygma to
Catechesis," Lumen Vitae., pp. 33-34.
 Mouroux, Fr. Jean, From Baptism to the Act of Faith, p. 35.
This book is an invaluable aid to understanding faith and moral development
in children up to the age of discretion. It could be especially helpful
to parents and to catechists of children at about the age of discretion.
 Liege, p. 33.
 Jungmann, Joseph-Andre, S.J., "Liturgy and the History of Salvation,"
Lumen Vitae, 1955, p. 268.
 Ibid., p.267. My own experience as a catechist is that when the Easter
Vigil liturgy was restored and assumed its glorious place as queen of liturgical
celebrations, without exception my students, (of various ages), "saw"
the liturgy, the Eucharist and Baptism in a whole new light. They loved
it as they never had previously. See also 2 Tim. 1:12 and 2 Cor. 5:20.
 Kevane, p. 367.
 Vagaggini, Cyrian, O.S.B., Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy,
 Ibid., p. 891.
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Barbara Morgan is
Director of Catechetics and RCIA at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
She holds a Masters degree in catechetics from the Notre Dame Institute
as well as the Pontifical Diploma in Catechetics. She has over forty years
experience in teaching the Faith. She and her husband have five children
and forty grandchildren.
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