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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.’ ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you’” (John 15:9-14).

We are challenged in this passage to follow and remain faithful to the commandments. We are to give of ourselves, even to the point of laying down our lives for others. Above all, we must love each and every other person as much as we are loved by God.

One words sums up this whole reading—Love.

Love is what we remain in and are faithful to. Love is what gives us comfort, challenges us, provides us strength, and love is what we must dare to share.

Our friendship with Jesus demands that we remain in that love. We have to work at sustaining our friendship with him by following the commandments. In baptism, we enter a community that commits itself to remaining in God’s love and to sharing that love with all whom we encounter.

What have been the moments when “remaining” has been difficult and challenging?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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StudentMassI have eleven grandchildren ranging from ages 24 to 10. Among these are twin grandsons, age 21, very handsome and quite nice. I am blessed that all of my grandchildren love and revere their faith.
 
On a spring break visit, I asked Brendan, one of the twins, if there were many Catholic young ladies at his college. You see, I have viewed endless postings of him at various functions with pretty young ladies on his arm. Brendan replied that he thought about 40 percent were probably Catholic, and he added that the percentage isn’t much more at Notre Dame, a Catholic university. I then asked if the girls he dated were Catholic. He sort of laughed and said, “Not like you and I are, Teetee.”
 
Being ROTC students, Brendan and his brother are models of “physical fitness” and work out constantly at the gym. At a couple of his Saturday night fraternity events the young lady he had escorted asked if she could accompany him to the gym the following Sunday morning and what time he would be going. His reply would always be, “I don’t know what Mass I’ll be attending, so I cannot give you a set time.” Her surprised retort was, “You go to Mass?” He’d then asked, “Are you not Catholic?” She’d awkwardly reply, “Why yes I am, but I cannot remember the last time I went to Mass.” When Brendan told me about these conversations, I asked why he hadn’t responded, “That’s sad; you don’t know what you’re missing.” He just laughed and said, “Guys just don’t talk like that, Grandma.”
 
A couple of weeks later I received a text from Brendan asking me to call that evening. He related a new incident almost exactly like the previous one. When the young lady inquired about going to the gym with him on Sunday morning, and found out he first attended Mass, she reacted the same way as the previous young lady and said she had not been to Mass for years even though she and her family were Catholic. This time Brendan responded, “Gee, that’s really sad.” End result, she attended Mass with him and has been going each Sunday since. He said sometimes they even go during the week if they are having a big test.
 
I cannot tell you how happy and proud this grandma is, and I hope Brendan will continue his missionary discipleship, being a new evangelizer in a way that he feels comfortable with and that is consistent with who he is and what he believes. Now I have to work on his brother.
 
Maria Martine is a member of the Rosary Society at Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, N.J.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing’” (John 15:1-5).

Lent is about “pruning” bad habits and eliminating things that get in the way of our relationship with God, our selves, and others. Easter, on the other hand, is about the resurrection, new beginnings, and joy. It is the result of this pruning – a strengthened and invigorated relationship with God or a renewed outlook on life and faith. New life begins from where we have changed or withdrawn from old, unhealthy behaviors.

Think about it this way: When we are consumed by anger, we don’t have as much energy going toward love. We take that energy away from love to feed our anger. If we prune away that anger, we have that much more energy to give to something more constructive.

Now that Lent is over and the “pruning” is complete, we can see how we are connected to Christ and we can choose where to grow by redirecting our energy. Easter is a time to begin anew and become who we now can become only because those old encumbrances are gone.

Only branches that are connected to the vine produce grapes. So, too, will we be fruitful as long as we maintain our connection to Jesus. The Gospel tells us that as long as we live in Christ, even if we occasionally need a little pruning to make us stronger or better, we will always be fruitful.

How have you strengthened your relationship with God this Easter season?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Jesus-The-Good-Shepherd“Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep’” (John 10:11-15).

At one time or another, most of us have probably worked just for the financial reward—we punch in, punch out, and go through the motions. On the other hand, have you ever worked at doing something that you loved? Perhaps something that was challenging but that you found meaning in, and that you felt called to do?

In this gospel passage, Jesus spoke of himself as the good shepherd, as compared to the hired hand. The life’s work and call of a shepherd was to watch over his flock. It was his responsibility to see that no sheep went astray or was preyed upon. A shepherd didn’t just do his job; he was deeply invested in his sheep and herded them with care and concern. Jesus contrasted the good shepherd with the hired hand. The hired hand has no concern for the sheep but only for the reward of earning a day’s wages. When the wolf comes, the hired hand takes off, protecting only himself.

We know that, as the good shepherd, Jesus loves and cares for us. As Christians, we are called to share that love and care with those we serve and those with whom we work.

Ask yourself—are you just doing your job, or are you living out your vocation? Are you the hired hand, working only for the reward of money, prestige, or a line on your resume? Or are you the good shepherd who responds to the call of God, finding and giving meaning to the work you do and the people you encounter?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Carvaggio-Supper At Emmaus“And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:40-48).

In this final post-resurrection appearance, the two disciples were startled and terrified when Jesus appeared to them. Can you imagine—Jesus who had died was in their midst? Was he a ghost? Jesus realized their fears and disbelief and invited them to look at him and touch him. He even asked for food to show them that there was no doubt that he was alive.

In their joy, the disciples came to understand not only the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but to realize that it was also their destiny and calling. Death never triumphs; life and love always have the final say. They were the witnesses of this glory and joy and were charged with spreading this Good News to “all the nations” (Luke 24:47).

Just as the disciples were part of this story and mission, we are too. Jesus lives in and through us. As witnesses of the risen Christ, we are invited to proclaim this Good News throughout our day-to-day encounters, our relationships, and the very way we live our lives. What better way to live than to share the joy of the love of Christ through our words, actions, and our encounters with each and every person we meet?

How do you witness the risen Christ in your life?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’” (John 20:24-29).

Jesus was crucified around 30 AD, and the Gospel of John was written sometime around 100 AD. John’s community was struggling to keep faith in the face of persecution, the absence of Jesus, and the realization that Jesus’ return was not imminent.

Despite the joy we feel as we celebrate Easter, we can’t close our eyes to the fact that the world can be a cruel and unjust place. We are surrounded by examples of poverty, neglect, abuse, and apathy. We can become burdened by these things and lose touch with the loving God who created all things good and sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins. When this happens, doubt can be like a black cloud hanging over us.

The story of “doubting Thomas” is used to communicate this limited thinking. Thomas wanted obvious, empirical evidence. He was unable to let his present experience penetrate his grief over the loss of his rabbi and friend.

Unlike Thomas, we will never “see” Jesus and put our hands into his nail marks. However, we are asked to have faith in Jesus Christ present in the world. Our thinking about faith can never be limited to nailmarks. We can see Christ at work in the world in all of our positive encounters, and we can use that to inspire us to greater belief. We can believe that we were created beautiful and holy. We can believe that things can change for the better, no matter how hopeless a situation may appear.

Let us use this Easter season to respond to Jesus’ invitation to believe in him and to accept the peace that the risen Jesus gives to us. God wants nothing more than for us to live fully and respond to his call – to break free of doubt and proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

When have you experienced doubt? How were you able to overcome it? How did it affect your faith?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“All things seem possible in May.”
 
That observation by naturalist Edward Teale rings true: In May, the memory of winter fades away, new life springs from the earth, and summer no longer seems like an empty promise.
 
This atmosphere of rejuvenation and hope—ideas that are related to motherhood—has inspired Christians in many cultures to dedicate the month of May to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
 
In a way, they are emulating people who came before them: the ancient Greeks dedicated May to Artemis, a goddess associated with such things as hunting, wildlife, wilderness, and childbirth.
 
For the Romans, May was the month of the goddess Flora who, as her name implied, was associated with flowers and with the season of spring.
 
The Christian practice of dedicating the month to Mary arose as early as the end of the thirteenth century when King Alphonso X of Castile wrote about devotions to Mary on certain days during the month, but its popularity really began to flourish in the sixteenth century among Jesuits who encouraged it among their students in Rome, as well as in churches in Genoa and Verona.
 
Honoring Mary during May has been endorsed by the popes, including Pope Leo XIII, who wrote twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary, Pope Pius XII who wrote that the custom of prayer to Mary in May was “of special import and dignity,’’ and Pope Paul VI who said the month of prayer to Mary was an especially appropriate time to pray for peace.
 
Because honoring Mary as “Queen of the May” arose from popular piety, it is practiced in different ways in different cultures.
 
The most well-known devotion is the “May crowning” in which a statue or icon of Mary is the focus of a procession, prayers, hymns, and some physical manifestation such as a floral crown.
 
In many places, this crowning takes place on or near May 1, and in some parishes in the United States it takes place on Mother’s Day—the second Sunday of the month. In some parishes, the procession and crowning involve the children who have recently received first Communion.
 
This May crowning practice waned during the 1970s and 1980s, but it has become popular again in more recent years, and many Catholic adults are again hearing a refrain they know from their youth:
 

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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The Lord is truly risen, alleluia.
To him be glory and power
for all the ages of eternity, alleluia, alleluia!
-Entrance Antiphon Easter Sunday, Mass During the Day

 
empty_easter_eggAfter college and before I became a Dominican Sister, I served three years on the Archdiocese of New York Parish Mission Team. For me, it was a powerful time of grace as we gave parish missions to packed churches each week through prayer, song, and story. Fr. Jim Conlan, the director of the team, was a powerful preacher and one of the most compassionate human beings that I have ever met. He taught us to preach God’s healing love and mercy through story and personal witness. At every parish we visited, he retold a true story of a second-grade teacher and one of her remarkable students.
 
Doris Miller taught before the days of special education. She once had a boy named Jeremy in her class; he was both mentally and physically challenged. One day in early spring, Ms. Miller gave her students an assignment. She presented each student with a plastic egg and asked them to place in the egg some sign of new life and to bring it back to class the following week. When the day arrived each student excitedly placed an egg in a basket on the teacher’s desk. After math class, she began to open them.
 
The first egg contained a little yellow flower. “Oh, yes,” she exclaimed, “this is a beautiful sign of new life.” Little Mary squealed, “That is mine.” She opened the second egg, and it had a slightly opened bud. She exclaimed, “Yes, this is good; it shows the possibility of life.” And Tommy called out, “That is mine, Ms. Miller.” She opened the third egg, which had a rock in it. As she turned it over she saw it was covered with moss. She said, “Wow, this is interesting. At first I only saw a dead rock until I turned it over.” And Billy exclaimed, “My dad helped me with that one.” She then opened a fourth egg, and it was empty. She thought it must be Jeremy’s and that he probably did not understand the assignment. Not wanting to embarrass him, she pushed the egg aside. However, Jeremy called out, “Wait, that one is mine, teacher.” “But Jeremy,” she whispered, “it is empty.” He replied without hesitation, “I know Ms. Miller. It is the tomb of Jesus. It was empty too, you know.” She was stunned. She hesitated for a moment, regrouped, and then she said to the class, “Jeremy has showed us the ultimate sign of life, the empty tomb of Jesus.” Three months later, Jeremy died. The eighteen children and Ms. Miller place nineteen eggs around his head stone. All of them were empty. Jeremy was right. The empty tomb means new life.
 
Easter reminds us of the central truth of our faith that Jesus won the victory over suffering and even death. The Easter message is one of hope for us—nothing, not the darkest night, nor the most devastating news can rob us of life and hope. The God who lifted Jesus from the tomb is the same God who accompanies us in our darkest moments and will lift us into new life. God comes to us when we least expect him, and his messenger is sometimes the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The tomb is empty, Jesus is alive, and Jesus is with us now. Amen. Alleluia!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Your love, O God, embraces all creation, from the tree of the cross.
You have broken open the barriers of sin and selfishness
that separate us from one another and from you.
Remain with us and work through us
that others may come to see that love in us
that they saw and loved in Jesus–
a life freely given for the life of the world.
Until that great day, when your love will reign and all will be one,
may we walk in peace, work for justice, live in gratitude,
and celebrate unceasingly the wonders of your love.
Draw us all to you, O God, through the dying and rising of Christ,
in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available from RENEW International

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small_groupAt the end of the Lenten faith-sharing season we invite you to take time to reflect on and evaluate your small group’s experience this past season in the context of the Paschal Mystery—the life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus. Christ lived, died, rose from the dead, and returned in glory to his Father—not just for himself but for all. In this mystery he overcame death and gained eternal life on our behalf. We celebrate the Paschal Mystery in the sacraments, and we experience it ourselves when we relate to Christ our own sufferings and joys, the deaths and new births that are a part of life.
 
The end of the faith-sharing season is not a time to grade yourself or your group. Rather, it is a time to consider how God is at work in your ministry as a small-community leader, in the lives of the individual participants of your community, and through your community as a whole.
 
Here are some questions to aid your reflection on the Paschal Mystery and your small group:
 

  • What were the blessings that participants in your group shared? What were the group’s blessings?
  • How has the Spirit led and moved in the sharing among the members?
  • What challenges did participants in the group face? How was God at work in dealing with these challenges?
  • In what ways did your group, or members of your group, experience the Paschal Mystery—the life, suffering, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Were there illnesses, deaths, new births, or reconciliations?
  • How did group members put their faith into action? Group members may not recognize the impact of seemingly small actions such as sending a card, visiting someone in the hospital, or some other type of outreach. Don’t diminish or neglect to name such efforts. If the action was taken with love, then it matters—especially to the recipient.
  • In what ways were group members drawn closer to God and his Church?

 
The leader’s role is to lift up and celebrate how God is acting in the participants’ lives and in the community as a whole. Take the time to reflect, name, and savor the goodness of God as experienced in the community, and celebrate God’s presence in your group.

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“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:1-9).

John’s account of Jesus’ Resurrection speaks to the tremendous power of personal witness. Mary visited the tomb, mostly likely to anoint the body, since Jesus had been buried quickly to avoid ritual defilement for Passover, but she found the tomb empty. She did not keep this information to herself but ran to Peter and the other disciple—the apostle John. Mary was not afraid to tell them what she had experienced and act on what she had witnessed. She believed in what she saw and shared it. Such trust in God is at the heart of personal witness.

We don’t know when our moment to witness to God’s love for all people will present itself. We don’t know when we will be asked to speak the truth that others may find challenging. We can, however, draw courage from Mary’s willingness to speak and to act.

We are the powerful personal witnesses to Jesus in the world. Like Mary, we are invited to continue to speak the truth of Jesus, never knowing when our words and witness might draw others closer to God.

How do you witness your faith in your daily life? How can you be a better witness to your faith?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Jesus, our teacher and friend,
help us to follow you along the way of the cross.
When the mysteries of human suffering
and sinfulness overwhelm us,
invite us to live in the grace of your redemptive love.
Thus, may our lives be given over
to works of justice on the path of peace
for the life of the world.
May your promise to draw all to yourself
give us the courage to risk and the hope to proclaim
that life will triumph over death,
for the victory has been won for us
in Christ Jesus, our Lord and brother. Amen
 

 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available from RENEW International

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“At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Some of the bystanders who heard it said, ‘Look, he is calling Elijah.’ One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put in on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.’ Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:33-39)

Coming from Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” can be a troubling statement because it seems to undermine his faith in his own mission and in a God who loves him. Doesn’t Jesus know what’s to come? Doesn’t he believe that God is always with him?

We can all relate to Jesus’ cry. In our times of trial, we, too, may want to call out to God and ask why we have been abandoned. The times in our lives when we feel most vulnerable are often the times when God seems distant.

Jesus’ cry is taken from the beginning of Psalm 22. The anguish and pain of feeling alone pours out in the opening lines. Nevertheless, the author of the psalm does not turn away from God. On the contrary, he says, “you (God) are holy” (Ps 22:3) and “All the end of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him” (Ps 22:27).

The psalm as a whole is not a cry of great despair and obstacles, but of great hope and faith.

Jesus does not deny the profound physical and emotional pain of his situation. But through his pain, he challenges us to identify with the author of the psalm who cries out to God and praises God in the same breath. This challenge goes to the heart of one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith: simultaneously loving a gracious God and not denying the sorrows of human life.

We are invited to remember that while pain is real, it is also temporary. But the love God has for us is eternal.

When have you experienced love coming out of a painful situation? What did it teach you?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Loving God and Father,
we stand before you as seed that must die.
We have struggled long to hold on to ourselves;
our lofty goals, our hard-earned accomplishments,
our prized possessions, and our cherished loved ones.
But you teach us, in Jesus your Son,
that we must lose our very lives in order to find them.
We thank you for allowing us to catch glimpses of life
welling up in the midst of life’s many dyings.
Walk with us, and move within us, as we enter once again
into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We pray that our lives may more and more resemble
the life-giving love of your Son.
We offer you today our YES
to all that you desire to accomplish in us,
as you draw us by bonds of love,
home to your loving Heart,
through Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 


 
Excerpted from Lenten Longings – Year B: For the Life of the World, available from RENEW International

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“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me’” (John 12:23-26).

What does it mean to lose one’s life in order to gain it?

Throughout life, we come across people who live fearlessly because they are inspired by the conviction that they have been called to do what they do. Perhaps it is a colleague who is energized by her work. Maybe it’s a friend whose indignation at an obvious injustice has inspired him to dedicate his time to changing things. Or it is a priest or sister whose devotion to ministry comes from a deep desire to serve.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus is speaking of how we act in this world. Sometimes, we may stand out of the mainstream and seem dead. Other times, we may appear alive but are actually ignoring our core potential. Jesus is saying that we should lose the life the world wants us to have and save the life within that is given to us by God.

Think of the politician who entered public life wishing to serve, but is now afraid to answer a question honestly for fear of alienating voters. Think of the salesperson who pushes a product she knows is inferior just because it means a better commission.

What about you? Maybe you began your career with zeal and now are just concerned about accruing vacation days. Or maybe you have struggled with the pressure of choosing a vocation that will help you make a good living over the call to do something more spiritually gratifying.

When have you needed to lose something in your life in order to save the person God calls you to be?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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