Diocesan News

Beatrice parish in perfect position to enjoy total solar eclipse

Events encourage knowing God through the universe He created

Story by Reagan Scott

BEATRICE (SNR) – On Monday, Aug. 21, fortunate individuals will be able to witness a spectacle rarely seen, a total solar eclipse.

Tens of thousands of visitors could be in the Lincoln Diocese to view the eclipse, and parishes are ready to welcome them.

While the entire continent will be able to see a partial solar eclipse for two to three hours during that day, parts of Nebraska are in the path of a total solar eclipse. The moon will completely obscure the sun for over two and a half minutes in some places. The day will turn dark, and the sun’s outer atmosphere (its corona) will become visible. A solar eclipse that is visible from earth is rare, with such events occurring sometimes hundreds of years apart.

Many parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln are close to the center of the eclipse’s path, where the total solar eclipse will last for close to two and a half minutes: Sutton, Geneva, Wilber, Dawson and Falls City, to name a few.

But Beatrice, a town of about 12,000, will be a hub for national and international eclipse viewers. It is thought that there could be between 10,000 and 50,000 visitors at the Homestead National Monument outside of Beatrice, an official NASA viewing location for the total eclipse.

While the numbers can seem overwhelming, Father Robert Barnhill, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Beatrice, said he sees the potential of such an opportunity. Under the heading of the Parish Evangelization Committee, a number of events have been planned to welcome visitors to Beatrice, as well as evangelize.

Social events will be held after all Masses at St. Joseph the weekend before the eclipse, when many visitors will be in town. On Sunday afternoon, parishioners and visitors alike will be able to participate in Adoration and a recitation of the rosary at 2 p.m.

Afterward, Father Ronald Homes, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Bruno, and Father Scott Courtney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Geneva, will be in Beatrice to give talks at St. Joseph. Father Homes will speak on the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima, Portugal, her three prophecies that came true, and the miracle of the sun that occurred October 13, 1917. Father Courtney will talk about the three children to whom Our Lady of Fatima appeared, Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin, Servant of God Lucia Santos.

Father Homes explained that when the children began to see the Virgin Mary, all anyone had to go on was their word.  Then, on July 13, 1917, Mary announced that she would perform a miracle in three months. On October 13, thousands of people flocked to Fatima where they witnessed what is known as the “miracle of the sun.”

That day, believers and non-believers alike – tens of thousands – witnessed the sun dancing and spinning around in the sky. The sun seemed to change colors and the people in attendance found that they could look at the sun without harming their eyes.

Father Homes said that while some tried to rationalize what had happened to the sun, no one could explain why the ground, which had been soaked by rain the night before, was completely dry by the time the miracle had ended.

“The miracle legitimizes everything that the children said. Our Lady of Fatima is still at work, and the message of Fatima is still worthy to be shared today,” Father Homes said.
Sunday evening will culminate with a food and music event at St. Joseph, followed by night prayer.

Sunday’s activities will allow the parish to make a connection between science and the faith, especially for people who don’t think that the two can be reconciled.

Father Barnhill used a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (32) to illustrate this point. It states, “The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world’s order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God…”

The eclipse is part of the order of the universe, Father Barnhill explained, and said people can come to know God through events like it.

Father Homes used a quote from St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio” to further clarify that even Church leaders understand the importance of science. St. John Paul II wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…”

The topic of science and faith will continue on the evening of the eclipse. At 7 p.m. Aug. 21, Christopher Check of Catholic Answers will present “The Galileo Affair: A defense of Truth, Church and Science” during a Theology on Tap event in the St. Joseph parish hall.

“The Galileo Affair is one of the most studied events in history, yet the facts of the event, and more importantly what they mean, are hotly contested,” he said. “It is the go-to example for the enemies of Catholicism who seek to portray the Church as oppressive and opposed to scientific thought.”

The talk will expose the dishonesty of that version, refute claims commonly attached to the story, and offer a clear view of what the Galileo Affair was and what it was not.

While the parish continues to prepare the many events surrounding the eclipse, St. Joseph School has been preparing activities for the event for its students since January.

According to Andrew Haake, principal at St. Joseph School, while there are parents who will keep their students from school to spend the day at home, school will still be held for those students whose parents may be working on the day of the eclipse.

That way, students will still have an opportunity to learn more about the eclipse and also to view the historic event with their classmates.

The school has been preparing students for the eclipse since spring, as school won’t be in session for very long before the event.

The fourth- and fifth-graders made pin-hole telescopes which will be used on the day of the eclipse, the second- and third-graders made solar eclipse models and the first-graders and kindergarteners made eclipse cookies.

“Eclipse Day” at the school Aug. 21 will start with Mass as it does every day, followed by a “normal school day” from 8:45 until 10:30 a.m. The rest of the day will feature solar eclipse activities.

Haake will start by showing students videos of an eclipse that happened in Australia so that students will be able to understand what will happen when they view the event, followed by a video explaining what an eclipse is and how it takes place.

Haake will also cover the importance of wearing safety glasses, which the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce will provide.

Students will then be able to go to four different stations. At one station, students will get to try out the pinhole viewers that the fourth- and fifth-graders made in the spring. At the second, students will get to use UV beads to make bracelets and record color changes under different conditions. The beads will give instructors the chance to underscore the importance of UV protection.

At the third station, students will complete a NASA activity to predict the appearance of the sun’s corona. According to Haake, every eclipse has a different corona, so students will be able to use chalk to color around a black piece of construction paper representing the moon covering the sun, to see if they can predict its appearance.

Finally, students will create a “galaxy bottle,” using water, food coloring, cotton balls and glitter, to create their own miniature galaxies in a water bottle.

After that, all of the students will go outside in time to see the partial eclipse before totality, which will occur from 1:02 to 1:04 p.m. They will all be given a flip book to record what the sun looks like at different times during the eclipse.

Afterward, Haake will wrap up the day with “clips and pics,” where the students will be able to describe their thoughts or what they saw in six words. Haake will film the students’ responses to put together in a video.

Throughout the day, the safety of the students will be a top priority. With so many visitors to the area, two adult volunteers will be outside at all times throughout the day to make sure that the students stay safe and that no one enters the school parking lot who shouldn’t be there.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience for our kids, and it’s something they can remember St. Joe’s by,” Hakke said. “It’s our hope that this is something they hang on to.”
Beatrice isn’t the only parish reaching out to visitors during the eclipse. On August 21, 100 students from St. Columbkille Parish in the Archdiocese of Omaha will picnic on the grounds of St. James Parish in Cortland for the event, as the path of the total solar eclipse runs south of Papillion. Cortland lies just 18 miles from Beatrice, so will be very close to the path of totality.

Father John Rooney also hopes to host some of the diocesan schools on the grounds of St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward so that students can witness the event.

For out-of-town visitors interested in coming to see the eclipse, Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House in Waverly will have rooms available, and will offer transportation to the Beatrice area. For details, visit the schedule at www.goodcounselretreat.com.

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