Fr. Kelly

Our Sunday Journal is a brief reflection on the scripture readings of the day by Father Kelly, a senior priest in the Diocese of Saginaw.

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:25-37
July 14, 2019

July 30, I will be celebrating 25 years of ordained ministry. For me, this is an occasion to look back over the past quarter century, reflecting on how I put this time to use. A little booklet that was published by Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Ubly, Michigan, provided me with a lot of food for thought. This was my first assignment as a pastor.

The book that triggered many memories, was a brief history of the parish from its foundation in 1887 until 2013. This is what was recorded about me:

In the winter of 1996, Fr. Randy Kelly replaced Fr. John Mullet. Due to the shortage of priests, Fr. Randy’s vision for the parish included parishioners accepting more responsibility for leadership roles in the church. He began training individuals for various leadership roles needed in the parish and set up for Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest.

It pleased me to be remembered for encouraging parishioners to live out their calling as disciples, according to the gifts and talents God has blessed them with. And while it’s an honor to be given credit for having “the vision” to recruit and encourage disciples, the truth is I can’t accept that credit. Anticipating “the priest shortage” was not about prophecy, it was simply a matter of arithmetic…doing the math! However, priest shortage or not…all of the baptized should always be encouraged to share the gifts and talents with which they have been blessed in order to build up the Body of Christ…our Church.

There is one detail about my work at St. John the Evangelist that I feel warrants a clarification. When I arrived, there was already sound, competent and very dedicated “leadership” in place. The parish council and finance committee were terrific. What I felt was needed was for more people to become involved in pastoral ministry.

In my mind, there is a distinction. Leadership often involves authority and control. Pastoral ministry, on the other hand, involves sacrifice and service. So I set out recruiting, training, and coaching people to put themselves at the service of others. In other words, I was looking for Good Samaratins, who were willing to respond to the needs of their neighbors, whether or not there was an emergency situation…and whether or not there was a priest available.

It wasn’t just a matter of recruiting bodies, either. Clearly, there is a skill set for the various ministries that make a parish work and work well. Not everyone can lead a vigil service. Many people are uncomfortable standing up and speaking in front of a room full of people…or should be anyway! Teachers have a special gift and catechesis is all about education.

But no matter what the ministry, or how talented a person might be, there is one quality that is absolutely critical to success…LOVE! Love of God, Church, and neighbor is a requisite to ministry.

A lot has changed at St. John the Evangelist since 1996. Three parishes have now been merged into one. This is the story all over our Diocese. But, what hasn’t changed in Ubly, or Vasser, or Palms, or Linwood, or Alma, or Oakely, or Ryan…or in any of the small communities that are part of The Body of Christ, is that good neighbors live there. So long as there are good neighbors…loving disciples, who are vigilant to the needs of the folks around them…even when there is no life and death emergency…even if there is no priest available…The Body of Christ will remain healthy.

It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed. What’s even more incredible is how things have changed in our world over this past quarter century. But, the vision remains the same. And it isn’t my vision. It is The Lords! LOVE AND SERVE ONE ANOTHER!

On to the next 25!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:1-12, 17-20
July 7, 2019

(Fr. Kelly is presenting a mission appeal for Haiti, where his good friend worked for several years. The Saginaw diocese has two parishes with priest from the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. Donations can be giving at: https://www.oblates.org)

To explain why I am here at your parish doing a mission appeal, I need to tell the story about a friend of mine…a friend who many of you might well have known. I first met Fr. Tom Moore 29 years ago, when Bishop Untener sent him to discuss the possibility of me doing what we hear about in this Sunday’s Gospel: Becoming a laborer in The Lord’s vineyard.

At the time, Tom, along with other Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, were working in Saginaw parishes. In addition to his sacramental ministry in different parishes around our diocese, Tom Moore served as our Director of Priest Formation. He helped Bishop Untener recruit, evaluate, educate, and develop the spirituality of men who, like me, felt a call to priesthood.

So, during the years I was preparing for ordination, I was in close contact with Tom, and through him, became very well acquainted with most of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. After ordination, Tom continued to advise and guide me, especially through the early years of my pastoral ministry.

Eventually, Tom left his diocesan responsibilities and became one of the Chaplains at St. Mary’s Hospital. He may well have brought the sacraments to you if you were hospitalized during his service there. At the same time, he continued to do weekend masses all around our diocese.

After a few years in hospital work, he was sitting next to me at the fall priest convocation. The speaker told the story about a successful professional lay couple, who decided to spend their retirement years working “in the Lord’s vineyard.” They liquidated all of their assets…and, like lambs among wolves, moved to a dangerous part of the world to share their treasure and talent with those in greatest need.

When the talk concluded, Tom turned to me and made the very emotional declaration: “I have to do that!”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Move to the missions.”

I pointed out to him that he had no assets to liquidate and take with him. As a religious order priest, Tom took a vow of poverty…and he lived it faithfully, also pointed out the obvious. At the time, he was no spring chicken. To be honest, that day, I did not take him seriously. But he was.

Immediately following the convocation, Tom contacted the Superior General for the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales and explained that, again, like the 72 in today’s Gospel, he felt that the Lord was sending him out into the world, beyond Saginaw, to bring hope to the hopeless. The Superior General invited Tom to join the Oblate mission efforts in Haiti where he would be able to use his background in formation by living with and guiding seminarians from Haiti and South America studying in Port-au-Prince. At the same time, he could be involved in general missionary outreach. Within months, he was gone.

He shared his rich experiences through a blog that he posted regularly…making his followers feel like they were actually there…in Haiti. But, it was during one of his few visits home that his work really came alive for us…living here in the safety and comfort that we so often take for granted. We could see the emotion in his eyes when he described the hardships of the Haitian people. At the same time, we could see the excitement and love in his eyes as he described the strength of their faith…and their spirit.

As far as his own living conditions…He told about frequent blackouts when power failed…and the definite shortage of safe drinking water. Hot showers were unheard of, and cold showers infrequent because the source was rainwater collected in rooftop cisterns. Meat was scarce, and dinner was often something as simple as an unappetizing dish of plain spaghetti noodles with ketchup poured over it. But he never failed to add how blessed he was compared to most of the Haitian people. Many wealthy people vacation on the beach resorts of Haiti, but Tom’s description of the area of Port-au-Prince where he lived and ministered was less than inviting. He described lots of dust and very little vegetation. His mantra became: There is nothing beautiful in Haiti but the people.

After a year or so, severe back pain made it necessary for him to return to Saginaw for surgery. He absolutely insisted on returning to Haiti…having barely recovered. On the few occasions that he had to make a trip back to the U.S., he would always book the least expensive airfare, which not only made for a very uncomfortable flight, but also required an overnight delay in Miami. I would send him off with pocket money and encourage him to get a hotel room. He never did. Instead, he would sleep in the airport and take the little money I had given him back to the poor.

Needless to say, back in 2009, everyone who knew him was frantic about his safety with the news of the devastating earthquake. After about two days, he was able to send an email and we were relieved to hear he was unharmed. The reports that he eventually sent back to the United States confirmed what we were seeing on television. There was no fake news in describing the horrific damage, as well as the disappointing performance of many of the relief teams. One of the young seminarians that he lived with died, although, Thank God, the others were spared serious injury. But they were surrounded by unthinkable human suffering.

Tom did not think for a moment about abandoning Haiti, in spite of the fact that the danger from aftershocks made it necessary for him to sleep outdoors on the ground. And the lack of sanitation created a high risk of disease. The already difficult living conditions were intensified by the natural disaster. Tom reported, however, that “we have it good compared to most of the country.“

The first weekend after the earthquake, I told my people at St. Thomas Aquinas about Tom. I explained that I was not going to wait for any relief organization, but was going to send my check directly to him. I invited anyone who wanted to reach out in Christian Charity and make an immediate contribution, to get their donation to me as soon as possible. By the end of the week, I was able to send a substantial sum, through the Oblate headquarters, directly to Tom. The money went DIRECTLY from our hands to the hands of the poor. He, together with a local parish priest, saw to it that the money was spent in the best possible way, to bring relief to as many people as possible.

Eventually, a letter appeared in my mail at St. Thomas Aquinas. It wasn’t on fancy letterhead and it was obviously typed on an old fashioned typewriter. It was a beautiful expression of gratitude by the parish priest who was working with Tom. It did not offer a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, but I was confident that it was put to immediate and proper use. I don’t want to give the impression that I think organized charities are bad…because I certainly do not. But I do know that very often, because of their corporate structure, our donations do not reach the poor…penny for penny.

Just this past week…a so-called “charity watchdog” operating out of Great Britain completed an 18-month-long investigation of the relief efforts of one of the major international relief organizations that responded to the earthquake in Haiti 10 years ago. The report, which took all these years to issue, describes the charity as fostering a “culture of bad behavior.”

I am confident that the Oblate mission outreach is a “Culture of Christ.”

You know…The motto of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales is LIVE JESUS! For many years, Fr. Tom Moore did that. He certainly LIVED JESUS here in Saginaw. But he encountered the suffering Christ in Haiti.

There are many other men like him, who heard the Lord’s call to go out among the wolves to bring relief to the lambs…not only in Haiti, but in parts of South America and Mexico, Africa and India…where Oblates LIVE JESUS and encounter Christ in the poor. So today, I ask you to join me in supporting their work of bringing hope to the hopeless, confident that your donation will reach the right hands and be spent in the best possible way…doing the most possible good.

I really need to tell you the rest of Tom Moore’s story. While helping to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, he became ill. The doctors there diagnosed hepatitis, which was logical considering the conditions in which he lived. He reluctantly agreed to return to the U.S. for treatment. The doctors here felt that it was something more serious, and, within days of his return, he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died within the year. One of his great regrets during his final illness was that he could not continue his work in Haiti. But, he found comfort in the fact that other Oblates are doing just that.

Please help their efforts through a donation….and in that way, LIVE JESUS!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 9:51-62
June 30, 2019

Most people have heard of Attention Deficit Disorder. Unfortunately, it’s a condition that is almost epidemic. “Impact ADHD” is an organization with the stated purpose of “helping families help kids” live around the challenges of Attention Deficit. In an article published on its website, the skill of prioritizing is discussed as a way to bring order to a life which might otherwise become chaotic and disordered.

Parent and author Diane Dempster suggests that it is possible to help kids with ADHD develop the ability to “think through things sequentially.” Dempster explains: In my house, I share my to-do list on the weekends. “I’m going to the store first because it takes the longest and I want to get it out of the way. Then I’m going to garden because I enjoy it more – and I can work up an appetite before lunch. I have to balance my checkbook but I’ll do that this afternoon when I’m tired and want to sit down.”

It seems to make good sense. When we prioritize, we are less overwhelmed and frustrated and ultimately more productive. Prioritizing is an important life skill that helps to keep disorder and chaos at bay.

In today’s Gospel, and in an almost shocking way, Jesus encourages us to “think through things sequentially.” The lesson is simple: every “to-do list” should begin with God. Nothing should come before God, because nothing is more important than God.

Most people of faith make the connection between salvation and a healthy relationship with God. But in our Second Reading, St. Paul seems to be telling us that ordering our lives according to God’s plan makes our earthly lives more livable…more enjoyable…more productive…much less chaotic….and filled with Christ’s Peace.

So how does this work?

Maybe something like this: I’m going to say a little prayer…AND THEN go to the store. Shopping takes the longest and I want to get it out of the way…so I will ask God to help me use my time well.

Then I’m going to garden because I enjoy it – and the first thing that I will do is say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the fun I have working with the flowers and plants.

I have to balance my checkbook but I’ll do that this afternoon when I’m tired and want to sit down…and I will start by praying for the energy to concentrate on being a good steward.

The world has changed beyond imagination since the three people approached Jesus hoping to become disciples. In this high speed, hi-tech age, there are countless things that distract us from what God is asking of us. It is more important than ever that we get our priorities right and plan our lives sequentially. If we hope to end our lives in Christ, God must always come first and above all else. That is the proper sequence: God first, God last, God in all things.

To push back against chaos that threatens our spirits and our peace, God must be given top priority every day and in every way. To order our lives according to God’s plan, God must be constantly on our mind and on our lips and in our hearts.

What has not changed since Jesus was approached by the three is the cost of discipleship. The Lord does not sugarcoat it. It involves commitment, discipline, and even persecution. But when we remain focused, the benefit of being always attentive to God is a new kind of freedom that we will enjoy fully in The Kingdom.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
LK 9:11B-17
June 23, 2019

A young nun living in Belgium during the early 1200s had a vision. She saw a brilliant, bright, full moon that had a dark streak running through it. Reflecting on the mystical experience, she came to understand that the moon represented The Church, and that the dark spot signaled that there was something missing.

Subsequently, and over the course of a number of years, she was favored with further visions. Jesus Christ expressed His desire to her that a special feast be instituted and celebrated in honor of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Aggressively pursuing this commission, she was eventually successful in convincing local Church leadership to move forward with the Lord’s wishes. Eventually, the concept of paying tribute to The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist became a universal practice. The Feast of Corpus Christi was initiated and began to grow and flourish. Because of her unique role in communicating The Lord’s wishes, St. Juliana is typically depicted in religious art holding a monstrance.

This Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ has always been regarded as an opportunity to revisit The Lord’s Supper. Our Holy Thursday liturgy concludes just as quickly as the final Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with His followers. There is little time to savor what was served up before rushing out to the Garden of Olives to begin The Passion.

Through this Feast, we are given the chance to do what we do in our own homes with our loved ones after a particularly good meal: linger at “The Table.” Today, we are invited to return to The Upper Room and take the place reserved for each of us. There is no need to rush out and meet a betrayer leading an angry mob. We can simply relax and share our appreciation for what has been placed before us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Through the Eucharist, in a spiritual way, we become part of that night before He was handed over. The fact is, when we follow His command and “DO THIS”…we are not simply remembering or reliving…we are actually participating! We are there! And so, we can join in the after dinner table talk with the Apostles and disciples. At least we can listen in to what they have to say.

At some point, the discussion turns to the beginning of that final meal. In the moment, everyone felt very uncomfortable as The Lord insisted on washing feet. Even Peter resisted. But Jesus insisted. The Lord understood that we would not understand what that was all about…but He insisted. So our after dinner table talk raises the possibility that when Jesus said: “DO THIS”…He meant for us to “DO MORE” than break The Bread and share The Cup. Maybe it was also His intention that we should wash feet. Could it be that “DO THIS” included the command to serve?

Looking back even further in time, folks begin to talk about that beautiful day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. People hung on every word He said as He described the Kingdom of God to them. They were starved for Good News. They couldn’t get enough. That day, The Lord nourished their hungry spirits and they had their fill. When He finished, it was late, but they weren’t going anywhere. They did what we all do after we’ve been well fed. They sat around savoring the spiritual meal. But now, it was their stomachs that were empty. So The Lord provided food for a crowd and enlisted US to do the serving!

Could “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME” also include serving the poor?

The Feast of The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is a celebration of the truth that Jesus Christ continues to be present to us in the Eucharist. But, He is also present to the world through the Church…through us. And He is present to us through the poor…the homeless…the marginalized. They make Christ present to us, and we, in turn, are called to be Christ to them through our acts of charity and service.

We honored the Lord’s request to set aside a day to rejoice in The Real Presence. But, after praying before the monstrance, aren’t we expected to DO MORE? At the end of this Feast Day, will there still be a dark streak running through the brilliant, bright, full moon?

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
JN 16:12-15
June 16, 2019

A number of folks have recently asked me what I think about Pope Francis’s decision to “change the Lord’s Prayer.” That was the way the secular headlines announced what I would report as a clarification of a single element in the English translation, as opposed to the kind of radical alteration that the media suggests. Scripture scholars on both sides of the clarification have certainly been quick to offer their “expert opinions” as to why this is or is not appropriate. Moreover, true to form, Roman Catholic faithful, from what I hear anyway, are divided by the issue according to how they identify themselves: conservative/orthodox/traditional/liberal.

Had a quotation attributed to Pope Benedict XVI, back some 40 years ago when he was still known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made the secular headlines, it would most definitely have caused the same kind of debate and division that is unfolding over The Lord’s Prayer. Maybe it did, but we lived past it, and it is forgotten. Ratzinger was apparently concerned that Catholics were in need of clarification in our Profession of Faith. He felt that beginning The Creed with the words…WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD…was “subversive.” That word “subversive” is pretty harsh, don’t you think? Talk about the need for clarification!

His point, as I understand it, was simply this: When we stress the “Oneness of God” we affirm monotheism, clearly defined at Deuteronomy 6:4…GOD IS ONE! At the same time, however, at least for many of the faithful, that image of ONE God undermines (subverts) what we Catholics know to be true and celebrate this Sunday: THE BLESSED TRINITY. And so, starting on the First Sunday of Advent 2011, we began our profession with the words…I BELIEVE IN GOD…continuing as always, by identifying and reverencing each Divine Person of the Trinity. The clarification was accomplished by simply dropping one word, and then moving forward by affirming the presence, power, and loving relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis’s forthcoming clarification to a single element of the Lord’s Prayer is more complicated and involves more than dropping a single word. This is not the time to discuss the implications or reasons behind the forthcoming change. However, because, at its core, this clarification invites reflection on the role of each Divine Person of The Blessed Trinity, it deserves mentioning today. As you learn more about this clarification, you will hopefully come to appreciate that it helps us better comprehend the role of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church’s mixed reaction is also appropriate to consider on this feast.

The Gospels do not specifically use the title “Blessed Trinity.” In fact, while the early Christians became slowly aware of the truth that Jesus Christ was, indeed, fully human and fully Divine, it took many more generations after that before arriving at universal understanding and appreciation for The Three-ness of our One God. Only after much painful debate and division was the Doctrine defined. This was the case, in spite of the fact the Gospels offer frequent and convincing evidence, throughout Jesus’s earthly mission, of the loving, working relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The debate ended, and the division that the Sacred Mystery of how one God can be Three Divine Persons has healed and is forgotten by everyone but Church historians. But what all Christians have always agreed on is that it is hard to understand. How can Three possibly be One? Maybe it would help if we were to drop some words from our vocabulary. Words such as conservative…orthodox…traditional…progressive…and liberal are divisive and subvert our ability to appreciate the nature of God. In revealing the Divine Self to humankind, there is only perfect peace and infinite love between the Three Persons. The idea of ego or self-promotion does not exist within the eternal relationship of The Trinity. There is only beautiful, unbroken harmony. In Godspeak, there are no words like “mine,” but only “ours.”

We were created to know, love, and serve God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were also created to be an image of our One true and living God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The arrogance of heated debate over any issue of faith or morals is not only divisive but is also subversive. Ego and pride undermine our ability to show the face of God to the world…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is only when we stand shoulder to shoulder as humble seekers of spiritual wisdom that we will better understand the true nature of our One true and living God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…and then no further clarification will be required. In the meantime, when we sign ourselves, it might help to remember that we are not declaring ourselves to be conservative…orthodox…traditional…progressive…or liberal, but rather, adopted and much loved children of the One God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen!

Eternal rest for Sr. Elizabeth Picken, a theologian who explored the mystery of God as a humble seeker of spiritual wisdom. On Pentecost Sunday, all of her questions were answered and no further clarification is necessary.

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
June 9, 2019

Pentecost is the “birthday of our church.” And, as is the custom with birthdays, Pentecost comes with gifts. When Jesus returned to heaven, He did not forget us…or our birthday! He sent the Holy Spirit with seven wonderful presents… gifts that are constantly being renewed. And what’s most amazing is that these priceless gifts are entrusted to specific individuals, those folks who are most likely to put them to full use for the benefit of everyone.

Think about the leadership in your own parish family. Those women and men that deal with community affairs: parish council members, those involved in the finance committee, bookkeepers and groundskeepers, parish secretaries…everyone who helps the parish interface with the world…these folks are all given the gift of RIGHT JUDGMENT. This is the gift that reminds them as they go about their work that our Church might well be a human institution, but we are not just another corporation…we are the Body of Christ. God is present within us. There is no room for politics or ego. And all decisions and actions will be according to God’s will and God’s way…when this gift of RIGHT JUDGMENT is unwrapped and put to full use.

Our sisters and brothers who are involved in the many areas of pastoral care and ministry are given the beautiful gift of REVERENCE. Empowered with this gift, they are able to see Christ in others, especially those in greatest need. And, in turn, they make Christ present to those to whom they are ministering. When taking the Eucharist to the sick or homebound, extending sympathy and support to someone who has lost a loved one, extending Christian charity to those unfortunate souls who have hit on hard times…whatever the pastoral care might be…when it is done with REVERENCE, Christ is present. And that is exactly what we are all about…making Christ present in the world.

One of the most important responsibilities entrusted to every generation of disciples is the work of passing on our faith in the risen Christ. Parents have the primary responsibility for this extremely important obligation. However, they are assisted by folks like our catechists, youth ministers, and the RCIA team. Regardless of the role or title, the Gift of KNOWLEDGE is there for the taking. It is often said that “KNOWLEDGE is power.” If that is true, then there is nothing more powerful than KNOWLEDGE about Christ. The more we know about Christ, the more powerful we become.

We live in very challenging times. Just 50 days ago, on Easter Sunday morning, three Catholic churches in Sri Lanka were the targets of terrorist attacks. It is reported that 250 people lost their lives and there were countless serious injuries. One of the parish priests who was celebrating mass as bombs exploded was recently interviewed and said: These bombs have enkindled in (our) hearts a desire for Jesus Christ.

It takes COURAGE to return to church after that kind of experience, the kind of COURAGE that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This Gift enabled the Apostles and disciples to leave the safety and security of the Upper Room and go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel. The gift of COURAGE was evident among the early Christians, who accepted a martyr’s death during the first bloody persecutions. That special kind of COURAGEis still being given and used by Christians around the world as violent persecutions continue.

But you know, it also takes COURAGE to stand up in front of the community to serve as a lector. It takes COURAGE to be an usher or greeter, especially during these times when we can’t be certain who or what might be coming through the doors of our church. It takes COURAGE, too, for little kids in school, or big kids in high school or college to acknowledge that they are Catholic Christians. It takes COURAGE to remain faithful to our Church…not just in times of bloody persecution but also in times of scandal and shame. That COURAGE is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

One gift that I am personally concerned is being under-used and under-valued is the gift of UNDERSTANDING. An important tool that enables us to deepen our love for the Sacraments, UNDERSTANDING is most visible…or should be… in the eyes of the Eucharistic ministers who serve the Body and Blood of Christ. If we receive the Eucharist with that same gift of UNDERSTANDING that we become what we eat…or should…nothing, not even a terrorist threat or scandal and shame would keep us from the Communion Table.

Allow me to suggest that the gift of WISDOM can be found at work within the music ministry of our parishes. St. Augustine said: When we sing, we pray twice. It takes WISDOM to choose hymns that compliment and highlight the WISDOM of the Readings. Our musicians, cantors, and choirs use this gift well in order to help the community truly experience the Divine Presence among us when we gather for liturgy.

The final gift of the Holy Spirit is WONDER AND AWE. It is the sense that runs through us when we come together as the People of God…The Body of Christ. It is the gift that arouses within our hearts a spirit of joy that we carry out from the Church and into the world, confident that we will be able to face the challenges of the coming week with hope.

Today is our birthday, and if you just look around, you will see the gifts that we have been given are truly at work. And so long as we accept and share these gifts, there is no power on earth that can do us harm.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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