Harvest of Hope parishes give wings to traveling crane prayer chain

While delivering his homily for All Saints’ Day, Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun cradled a massive chain made with colorful origami cranes and referred to an ancient Japanese tradition, which promises that anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted a wish.

Marion Gondringer cuts a thread while Karen Heitzman watches and Karen’s son Mason appreciates the origami craft. With Toni Hudock, they strung the cranes together Dec. 4 at Seven Dolors Church in Albany. (Photo by Toni Hudock)

Father Vebelun, pastor of the Harvest of Hope Catholic Community — which includes St. Anthony in St. Anthony, St. Benedict in Avon, St. Martin in St. Martin and Seven Dolors in Albany — was a missionary in Japan for 12 years and was given the “senbazuru” chain as a gift.

In his homily, he explained the story of Sadako Sasaki, a 12-year-old girl who’d contracted leukemia from the atomic bomb blast over her city of Hiroshima 10 years earlier. With each origami crane she folded, Sadako prayed for healing, but she died after she completed No. 644. Her mission was taken up by her family, friends and schoolmates — and then by people all across Japan and the world, as they continued the tradition of prayer and paper folding.

“That homily was originally designed for the children at Holy Family School — this year I have less interaction with the students and have been doing more ‘show and tell’ with homilies,” Father Vebelun said. “Oct. 25 was the 65th anniversary of the death of Sadako Sasaki, so I had just read a tribute to her courageous story. I extended the homily to weekend Masses because it was so well-received.”

So much so that it’s taken off as a project in all four parishes. He credited Toni Hudock, pastoral associate for Harvest of Hope, with adapting the tradition and linking his homily to the hope for ending the coronavirus pandemic as well as a prayerful activity that all could do.

As each group of cranes were strung by Marion Gondringer, Karen Heitzman and Toni Hudock Dec. 4, they were placed on the table at Seven Dolors Church in Albany. These cranes will be added to a wreath which will travel to each parish in the Harvest of Hope Catholic Community. (Photo by Toni Hudock)

“Our parishioners have been feeling very disconnected, not being able to be together at Mass or share in sacraments with family members,” Hudock said. “But creating our own 1,000-crane chain, each with a prayer, could help us feel like a community again. People could make them at home and at school. Then we’d thread them into long chains and hang them from a wreath which will rotate among our ACC communities for display.”

Because Father Vebelun had never folded an origami crane before, his first one took an hour. He joked that it didn’t become fun until the third one.

Then, he and Hudock created a video so others could learn how. It’s posted along with his homily at https://hohcatholic.org/2020/12/01/the-paper-crane-project.

The directions suggest using a square of paper that is 6 inches per side. Before they begin folding, people can jot what they’re praying for on that paper. Each parish has a box where completed cranes may be left.

“School children and people from each of the parishes have been filling the boxes, so I’ve already started collecting them,” Hudock said. “Originally, we planned to make the chain Wednesday, Dec. 16, but it’ll take more time to string that many cranes together — and the prayers — so we started early to gather and connect them.”

“Some people have sent me photos of their cranes,” Father Vebelun said. “And cranes keep showing up in the boxes. But I doubt we’re halfway yet to a thousand — more are welcome.”

Maggie, left, and Kaylin Merdan fold cranes Dec. 4 for the Harvest of Hope prayer wreath. With their mother Tricia, they have completed more than 75 origami cranes. (Photo by Tricia Merdan)

Tricia Merdan, a parishioner at St. Benedict in Avon, is enthusiastic about the project.

“My daughter Kaylin, who is 11, was the lector at the livestreamed Mass when Father Vebelun did his All Saints’ Day homily,” she said. “After her first crane, Kaylin said it was the most stressful thing she’d done. But once she got the hang of it, she didn’t want to quit. And [daughter] Maggie, who is 9, just went with the flow. The three of us made at least 75 cranes. We prayed for my parents and an uncle who have COVID and other friends in the community. I hope folding 1,000 cranes will bring our parishes together, so we all realize that we’re in this together and will be stronger for it.”

“Our ‘senbazuru’ will be a lasting symbol of the spirit of prayer we displayed in making it through the pandemic,” Father Vebelun said. “Though there are hundreds of ways people have been adversely affected by the coronavirus, we all hope our lives return to normal. I hope this inspires a sense of unity in the face of our common struggle.”

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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