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Why do you read the Herald? For most people, the answer is easy. They like the local news written from a Catholic perspective, have a favorite columnist or enjoy the spiritual readings published every week.

There are also a lot of people who come to the website because they’re trying to find answers to moral and theological questions. Look at the keywords that bring visitors to the Herald’s website, and some interesting questions will pop up: Is gambling a sin? Who wrote the Gospels? What is purgatory, and what is it like? Who were the magi?

Many more come to the Herald looking for patron saints: for swimmers, single mothers, teenagers, motorcyclists, grandparents, Girl Scouts, dogs, bankers, funeral directors, thieves and procrastinators. (Were they procrastinating by finding a patron saint?)

And while “salary of editor at Catholic Herald” will stay a secret, there are plenty of other practical questions the Herald can help with. How often does Pope Francis go to confession? When is Christmas officially over? Just what is a parochial vicar, anyway? The “Straight Answers” archive from longtime columnist Father William Saunders is a handy and popular reference. The keywords “Catholic movie reviews” also have brought a lot of people to Catholic News Service articles posted on the Herald’s website.

What do you want to know?

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Students at St. Louis School in Alexandria held an assembly Sept. 29 to display their life chain, a collection of 1,500 links with the names of the students, their parents and other family members. The effort was organized to celebrate Respect Life Month in October.

See photos from the Life Chain assembly.   More

Have you ever been challenged to do something outside your comfort zone?

What kind of challenge would you participate in for a day, a week or a month?

Would you accept a challenge purely for pleasure?

How about one for physical fitness like the 100x100 challenge (doing 100 push-ups a day for 100 straight days) or walking 10,000 steps a day?

What about a challenge to raise awareness for a good cause? (Does the “Ice Bucket Challenge” ring a bell?)

Would a daily prayer challenge peak your interest?

I am sure you may have seen or participated in one of the numerous challenges constantly showing up on social media.

I accepted two such challenges on Facebook this year. The first was the “five-day gratitude challenge where you are supposed to list three things every day for five days that you are grateful for, and in turn you are supposed to tag and challenge three friends each day on Facebook to do the same.

I have had a difficult couple of years due to stress, a death in the family and illnesses and have had a hard time seeing the good in each day — so this really was a personal challenge.

But, I figured if others could come up with some happy things they were grateful for in life, so could I.

One of the first things to make my gratitude list is the family and friends who have been constant support to me over the years and of course my fabulous job and coworkers.

I tried to be introspective and really share things I was grateful for that weren’t just physical things that make me happy, but, I will be honest and admit that being grateful for wine and chocolate made the cut somewhere around day three.

Another challenge I accepted that may seem more frivolous was a “photo-a-day” challenge. For the month of September, I followed a list of daily topics to photograph ranging from “orange” to “where I am from.” After taking the photo I had to post it on Facebook, and add a hashtag to share my images with others doing …   More

Oct. 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint we pet lovers turn to for help when the cat won’t stop coughing up hairballs or the dog’s arthritis seems particularly painful. It’s not that we think St. Francis can work magic — magic has no place in a world where God’s power is ever-present — but his gentleness with and kindness toward all creatures great and small makes him the perfect intercessor for our friends with furry legs, wings or fins.

Many churches in the Arlington Diocese will celebrate St. Francis’ feast day with a Blessing of the Animals, an annual bring-your-pet-to-the-church-but-make-sure-you-clean-up-after-it festival. St. Charles in Clarendon and St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle will do theirs on the actual feast day, Oct. 4; St. Bernadette in Springfield will have one blessing on the feast day, but will also bless pets of the school children the day before. St. Ann in Arlington will combine their blessing of the animals with a request for donations for the Arlington Animal Welfare League.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan didn’t wait, but gave a blessing to three dozen rescue animals outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sept. 30.

It’s not hard to understand why the Blessing of the Animals is so popular: We form a bond with our pets that is more basic than almost any other relationship. They rely on us in an intrinsic way, completely dependent upon us for their sustenance and their happiness. They obey us without question, and when they err, they return to us penitent, eager for reconciliation with us. In a way, that bond emulates the bond we should have with God, who is truly our Lord and Master.

During the Blessing of the Animals, the celebrant prays the following prayer:

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By …   More

The Edward Douglass White Knights of Columbus enjoy a Labor Day picnic on council grounds in Arlington. Deputy Grand Knight Chris Bannon, Al Camacho and Kenny Goss served as “Master BBQ chefs.”   More

Christian filmmakers Ron Newcomb and Scott Mathias, along with a team of actors and crew, have transformed Virginia’s scenic Rappahannock County landscape into the “land of Adrasil” for their upcoming production, “The Rangers.”

Here, Mathias talks about the web series, due out in December. Click here to read more about the series and see photos from the production.

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St. William of York School, just a few miles away from Quantico Marine Corps Base, serves a large number of military families. Aug. 25 marked the first day of school.

This year three sets of twins and a set of quadruplets will attend the school. Read about their story here.   More

We deny its encroachment with gels and creams, dyes and surgery. We give it euphemisms like “passed away” or “gone on.” Of course we do. Death is “the great unknown.” In fiction and fairy tales, the personification of death is a frightening image. We, as a culture, are scared of death.

In the past month, I’ve gone to a funeral for a 32-year-old mother of four who died from a ruptured brain aneurism and to the home of a 101-year-old man who died two days later. I also have a dear friend who is losing her maternal and paternal grandmothers at the same time. Another good friend just lost his childhood friend at age 32.

So, not surprisingly, I’ve thought a lot about death lately. And the more I think about it, the more important I believe it is to look at death more closely and to meditate on it more regularly. Maybe that sounds morbid, but it need not be.

In the Catholic faith, the most powerful image of death — the Crucifixion — is also an image of life, for it anticipates the Resurrection. Yes, we should contemplate that powerful mystery of course, but there’s another way that we might link death to life.

If I spend time thinking about the reality — the absolute certainty — of death, it can help me call to mind the ripple effects of my little actions. Not the huge ones, the small ones.

Sarah Harkins, the mother pregnant with her fifth child who died July 28, home-schooled, started a Bible study and made clay rosaries. She even made her own natural toothpaste.

One of the things that stood out to me about Sarah was the care she took in designing and making each rosary bead. An anchor, a rooster, a shamrock, a flower; each piece symbolic and selected for a reason. Sarah’s midwife, Parveen Kelly, sent me a photo of the rosary made especially for her. You could sense how loved Parveen felt to have each bead chosen with her in mind, each round and colorful ball molded with care. It was a tangible, lasting gift of the gift …   More

For the past few weeks, Facebook and Twitter have been filled with videos of everyone, from families to bishops to celebrities, dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. The event has raised tens of millions of dollars in funds for researching ALS, the neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The ice bucket challenge started in America, but it quickly caught the attention of a clergyman halfway around the world. Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna of Baghdad is in the midst of a desperate situation. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, kidnapped and forced to flee their homes. Militants have chased the last Christians out of Mosul, according to a report from Catholic News Service.

It’s hard to imagine what someone in Iraq would think of a bunch of comparatively pampered Americans dumping cold water on their heads and calling it a “challenge.” But the bishop took the moment as a teaching opportunity — and issued his own request.

“I think that the real challenge is the challenge of evil and immorality that exists in our world. I think that the real challenge is a spiritual challenge: the challenge of evil that we produce in our hearts and our minds by thoughts, by actions, by intentions.”

Bishop Hanna’s challenge to Catholics everywhere: “Have faith and be in prayer” for peace and for the refugees in Iraq. Specifically, spend 30 minutes in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 11 a.m. EST (6 p.m. in Iraq). Then, take a picture of yourself and your group and post it to his Facebook wall.

Wouldn’t it be great if Catholics in the United States could help him take it one step further? Let’s try to get the challenge trending on Twitter. If you post your photo or tweet about the bishop’s appeal, use the hashtag #prayerchallenge to help him raise awareness.

As Bishop Hanna said, “I challenge you. Don’t forget, …   More

I came across a Facebook post today that asked homeless people in Orlando to write on a piece of cardboard an interesting fact about themselves. No audio interviews, just video snippets of each person writing and then holding up their piece of cardboard. Surely, not a coincidence that the organizers had the people use torn pieces of cardboard, not fresh bright white poster boards.

“Lost it all, starting over,” read one. Another guy wrote, “I’m recovering from open-heart surgery” as he pulled on his T-shirt to reveal a scar. One woman held a sign saying, “I surrendered my kids to save them from homelessness.”

“I speak 4 languages,” one older man’s sign read. Another, “I was born deaf.” One woman said, “I am homeless and I do have a job,” another “I was a figure skater.” A man caught a football tossed to him after showing his sign, “I was on the Buffalo Bills practice squad from 1998-2000,” another “I’ve built robots.”

You get the idea: Homeless people are people with families, back stories, tragedies and triumphs. Who knows why they are homeless: underemployment, costly housing, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, divorce, domestic violence, just bad luck … who knows.

Have you met a homeless person, do you know someone who is homeless? That changes the equation a bit, doesn’t it?

I knew a guy who lived under a highway overpass. He’d been to college, was smart, good-looking, but had an addiction he just couldn’t beat. His family couldn’t help him because he didn’t want to or was unable to change. A friend of mine, just a decade older than myself, is living in a homeless shelter in Canada right now. A falling out with her family after her father died left her without a home, no job, poor health and vulnerable to so many things.

I see another older woman around Arlington a few times a week. She goes to the local post office to pick up her social security check, but I see her late at night …   More

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