Monday, November 30, 2009

INTENTS AND PURPOSES

On November 4, 1979, Americans learned that the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran had been overtaken and militants had captured 66 American diplomats. Some Americans escaped, and some were released a few days later, but 52 were held as hostages for 444 days. The news of that takeover of our embassy sent chills through every American serving in a U.S. embassy. I was at the beginning of my second year in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Almost immediately rumors began that other countries might take hostages. Security measures were tightened, none of which made me feel any better, especially since I lived alone in a huge, three-story, 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom house.

U.S. ambassadors throughout the world were ordered to make “demarches,” i.e., diplomatic initiatives to the prime ministers of their country for assistance in getting our people released. Tanzania was non-committal, not to mention non-cooperative. It was a Socialist country and was friendlier to the forces opposed to the United States than to the United States. The Tanzanian government would not budge from its position to not assist the U.S. We Americans serving there were quite unhappy with that decision. It was interesting that none of our contacts or “friends” mentioned the hostage situation when talking to us. Tanzanians continued to come to our library and to cultural events. They continued to visit our offices in quest of fellowships to U.S. universities or for 30 day visits to the U.S. during which time they met with professionals in their fields. Those programs were especially for people identified by the U.S. government as likely to be key leaders in the future. The capture of Americans in Iran wasn't even the leading news of any of Tanzania’s media. It was almost as if it had not happened.

On January 16, 1979, the Shah of Iran had fled the country when his proposals for economic and social reforms, but not much in the way of political reforms, failed. The country was thrown into much violence by the nationalists, and the Shah and his family had to flee. The Ayatollah Khomeini who had been arrested and exiled, and who was an opponent of the U.S., returned to the country and added his anti-American rhetoric to the calls for revolution. The rest is history.

We had gotten some news about of the treatment of our people in Iran and the news was frightening. We knew the hostages had been split up and taken to different locations. One woman had remained at our library in Iran with an open telephone line telling officials in Washington what was going on. After a few days the Iranians picked her up. Shortly thereafter, 13 women and blacks were released. The woman who had been on the telephone refused to leave without her colleagues, and she and another woman remained as hostages for the entire time. Some of us thought the U.S. would consult Israel because they always managed to get their people out of tight situations. We remembered Entebbe in Uganda. And then came the devastating news that President Carter had tried to free the hostages. The plan failed, and eight U.S. servicemen were killed. We were horrified and angry that the U.S. would attempt such an escape. I know that President Carter’s intentions were good, but most of us felt that any attempted rescue would put our people in greater danger if not get them killed.

Then came the astonishing news that six Americans hiding in the Canadian Embassy in Iran for three months were free and back in the U.S. The Canadian Ambassador, Kenneth Taylor, had courageously hidden the six at great risk to himself and his Canadian staff. Our people were able to leave Iran disguised as Canadians. American diplomats everywhere rejoiced. I screamed with glee when I heard the news. More sobering were thoughts of what Iran’s reaction would be to.

I called the Canadian Embassy and asked for a photo of Ambassador Taylor. I had our staff blow up the picture and put it on an easel in the front window of our office, facing the main street. On each side of the photo I placed U.S. and Canadian flags, and beneath the picture of the ambassador in two foot high letters was a sign that read: “THANK YOU, AMBASSADOR TAYLOR!” The Canadians were thrilled and came to take photos to send home. Several Tanzanians asked what were we thanking the Canadians for. I had to take a deep breath, bite my tongue, clear my throat, and then I said we were thanking the Canadians for having the courage to hide our American colleagues who were in grave danger, when other countries were too cowardly to speak out; that they did this humane act despite the possible danger to their entire embassy and staff, and lastly for spiriting our people out of the country to safety. It turned out that the families of the six knew that they were in hiding, as did Canadian and American officials and several news reporters. Not one word was breathed because of the incredible danger those in hiding and their hosts would have been in. Two years later when I was working at our embassy in Liberia I watched a movie about the escape from Iran and even though I knew the ending, I still stood and cheered when they were safely out of Iran.

When our hostages were released I was in Washington recuperating from an unplanned gall bladder surgery and enroute to Liberia. (This was back in the days when they slashed you wide open and you had to recuperate for six weeks). Shortly after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, it was announced that the hostages had been freed. President Carter looked stricken. What a slap in his face by the Iranians. I felt very sorry for him. He was a good person and he meant well.

Our people were coming home! All of the U.S. rejoiced. Yellow ribbon became difficult to find because every tree and doorway sprouted yellow ribbons. Algeria lent its services to fly the hostages out of Iran. My heart bled as I watched my colleagues blindfolded, going through a gauntlet of jeering and spitting Iranians. Our people didn’t know where they were going. For all they knew, they were going to another Moslem country, instead of home. We watched the hostages board the Algerian plane and watched them cheer when the pilot announced that they were out of Iranian air space. Later I learned that the Algerians had not accepted food prepared by the Iranians for the Algerian flight crew and the Americans. They were taking no chances that the food might have been tampered with.

In Algeria our people disembarked wearing warm jackets. They looked a bit more cheerful, but still not completely aware that they were free. A few of them waved as they left the plane. Inside the terminal they were hugged by the American ambassador Ulric Haynes, Jr. and his wife, and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Finally, they realized they were completely free of Iran and its terrorists. Within moments they boarded another plane to be flown to Germany for medical care and debriefing. When they arrived in Germany at an American base, they were greeted by many, many fellow Americans waving yellow ribbons and cheering. The military men were in uniform and they gave crisp salutes to the officers welcoming them. The other former hostages were dressed smartly, and their wide smiles telegraphed their joy to the world.

And then they came home to the United States, and what a homecoming it was! As each officer appeared in the doorway of the plane and began his or her descent, the noise of the crowd overwhelmed them. They stood straight and proud. They were Americans and they were home again! These were our heroines and heroes and I wanted to honor them. I wanted desperately to be in that crowd, but it was too soon after my surgery for me to be out. Buses met them upon their arrival and as their caravan moved slowly into Washington, DC, crowds along the way cheered and waved, and the former captives leaned out of the bus windows acknowledging the welcome. All of Washington was awash in yellow. Yellow ribbons fluttered from every tree and doorway. The caravan came down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, and then on to the Department of State. The entire country was in a festive mood. Free at last! Free at last! Our hostages were free at last! We cried, we laughed, we prayed and we saluted our brave, indomitable men and women who never let the bastards get them down, but who remained what they always were – proud, dignified Americans who had been held for 444 days.

It wasn’t until 1987 that the American public learned that the “honorable” President Reagan had gotten the hostages released in exchange for giving weapons to Iran. He and his campaign strategist, William Casey, later named head of the CIA, determined that if the hostages were released before the presidential election, President Carter would probably win. Therefore, despicably, Reagan’s people held secret meetings with the Iranians and instructed them to hold the hostages until after Reagan was sworn in.




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Monday, November 23, 2009

A BLESSED THANKSGIVING


Greetings:

I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving Day and month and year. Sometimes it is difficult to see what there is to be thankful for. But then I remember our priests in prison and I am so thankful that they are in my life. Our Lord seems to have put us together and here we are. I am the better person for knowing and loving each and every one of them.

Tears fall when as I remember family and friends who are no longer here. I just wish I could tell them now how much they meant to me. We always seem to think that our loved ones will be with us forever. We dare not think of the unthinkable. Everyone in my small family is gone. I had no siblings. My mother had 6 siblings and they are all gone. My last aunt, Aunt Bess, died six years ago at 98 yrs. of age. I used to tell her that she had to make it to 100. She tried. During her last stay in the hospital I told her that it was just the two of us left and she could not leave me. She nodded. And she tried. Two weeks later, the last time I saw her, I realized how selfish I was being. I told her that it was OK to leave me. I said, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are waiting to greet you. It’s OK to leave me. I’ll be fine.” She smiled and nodded, and within hours she was gone. She and I were the ones other family members looked to for advice. She was my support and then she was gone. But I was not alone, not without love.

The Lord blessed me with “other parents,” Mama Gladys (Mother’s best friend) and Daddy Dougie. I love those two people. They have always introduced me as their daughter and they have taken good care of me during these retirement years. They are both 86 yrs. old. I have “sisters” Bernie and Joyce who have been best friends of mine since grade school at St. Bridget’s. Bernie and I entered first grade together. They were my support system during those dark days when I felt so alone in the world.

I threw myself into volunteering: animal handler at the zoo; Crown Hill Cemetery tour guide; volunteering for everything at the Women’s Prison, teaching a weekly class there, and establishing a Prison Ministry at my church. And then because I asked a question some incredible priests responded and my life changed. I had a new ministry. Somebody needed me. We hugged each other through our letters as they poured out their hearts and souls to me.

I have become their advocate. I will never let another diocese ignore a priest’s health if I know he is sick in prison. I will beat down the doors of some bishop’s office to get medical care for him. I promise I will never let a diocese ignore their health as it did another priest who died on my watch. Dolores Crowley, another dear sister, called the diocese several times trying to get medical help, but she was ignored. When I learned of that priest’s death – due to mistreatment in prison and lack of medical care – I was shocked, hurt and outraged. I promise them by all that is holy that I will never let that happen again. Church officials tremble at the thought of SNAP or VOTF knocking at their doors. Just wait until I call upon them.

I will tolerate no mistreatment of my fallen angels and I will storm heaven and earth to see that justice is done. They are serving prison sentences as their punishment according to law. That does not include additional punishment such as mistreatment by guards or other inmates; deliberate withholding of medical treatment; food that animals won’t eat, or the lack of Catholic Masses or access to Catholic priests and/or Deacons and Catholic materials. I have only to know!

Last year one of my fallen angels had open heart surgery. I was extremely worried. I didn’t hear from him for weeks. I then began calling the prison. At first they refused to give me any information about him since I was not a family member. I only wanted to know if he had survived the surgery and was back at the prison. I had to rant and rave and threaten to contact everybody from the governor down. Finally I was connected to the medical unit and the nurse did not want to give me any information, but he realized that I was not going to go away quietly. There would be blood! He then told me that the priest was back on his pod. That meant he was out of the hospital and apparently doing well.

A few days later I received a letter from Father.
“Nurse H. told me some woman was asking about me but ... as per prison policy he was not able to tell you anything. I wondered who was so caring. I did thinkit might have been you or Dolores. I had the heart surgery..The cardiac team was so supportive – I was a patient first and not ever a prisoner to them. We all prayedbefore the surgery. They also waited for a priest to visit and give me the Sacraments before they would do the surgery!”

Yes, Dolores Crowley and I are hell on wheels (and off wheels too, truth be known!) She cares as much about priests in prison as I do. Twice we have visited a priest in prison in California. Last month we drove to Ohio to visit another priest in prison, and on her way back to CA she stopped to visit Fr. K. in Texas.

She had been told that she could not have a contact visit with him since she was not a relative or a spiritual advisor. She reluctantly accepted that. When she arrived at the prison amazingly enough she was allowed a contact visit with him for 4 hours! Methinks Dolores could talk her way out of hell! Surely she won’t have to, but she could!

And so, this Thanksgiving month I am most thankful for all the fallen angels in my life. I thank them for coming into my life. I thank them for their love and their prayers. I am humbled and honored. Yes, tears still fall, but they are tears of great humility and thankfulness.

As I always say to priests in prison - Never forget: God loves you and so do I.


The Lord’s Peace, always

Monday, November 9, 2009

GOD LOVES YOU AND YOU ARE HIS

GOD LOVES YOU AND YOU ARE HIS

I am strength for all the despairing, healing for the ones who dwell in shame…
                                                           - David Haas *



In January I journeyed to New Mexico to attend a Memorial Mass for a priest who died in prison. His name will be omitted here because of his family’s concerns about hate groups. Father was the first incarcerated priest to write to me when I reached out to ask how priests were being treated in prison. He never asked for sympathy. He was forthright about his imprisonment, other inmates, and he answered all of my questions. We wrote regularly to each other as friends until his death late last year.

Father died in November but we didn’t learn of his death until mid-December when a priest friend of his went to the prison to visit him. He walked out of the prison in shock and numb. He telephoned me as he sat in a nearby park and we cried together as we mourned the death of our friend.

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear

In January this priest arranged for a Memorial Mass to be held for Father in New Mexico. On January 28, 2009, four noble priests of the order of Melchizedek concelebrated a Mass for Father. Also present were three women there to honor a man and a priest who had been so vilified. Due to the past negligence of the diocese in New Mexico, we concluded that permission to have a Mass said for Father in a Catholic Church would have been refused, so the Mass was held at another location. Those present came from California, Texas, New Mexico and Indiana.

The readings for that day spoke of priests and seeds planted and nourished, as we remembered Father's joy in the small garden he planted and tended. On the altar were flowers and a framed watercolor painted by Father, a gifted artist. Our Mass cards featured an exquisite water color painting done by him. Some letters written to us by him were laid at the base of the "altar." Those letters spoke of his dark night of the soul, his love of his priesthood and his faith, his angst over his sins, his search for forgiveness, and his acceptance of his punishment. Pain hung heavy in that room. One celebrant asked if a man should be remembered for the worst thing he ever did and no thought be given to the good things he did. We remembered Father for his priestly ministry that he tried hard to live.

You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice

As we prayed and sang, I felt like the early Christians must have felt when they met in secret in the catacombs. Twice I heard loud sounds from somewhere in the building and I wondered if our Mass was going to be disrupted by hateful factions. After Mass the seven of us went to the cemetery to visit Father’s grave where we placed flowers, prayed, and sang. Each of us knelt for a moment and touched his grave. We were not able to be with Father when he died, but we were with him that day, and he was certainly with each one of us.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see

This priest’s suffering went beyond his prison sentence. His talented fingers were broken once when he refused to give an inmate some of his artwork. On a visit to a doctor, his ankles and legs were shackled so tightly that the doctor was unable to examine him and complained to the warden. He was never taken back to the doctor. Instead, every morning he was given an aspirin and some “lotion” for his legs. Nobody in the diocese cared enough to check on him, despite phone calls asking them to do so.

In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light

In his final days, a guard put him in solitary for a trumped-up charge. He was supposed to be there for two days, but he was “forgotten” and left there for two weeks. There were apologies, but at that point Father had lost his will to live.

Come and rest in Me

On November 13, Father wrote what would be his last letter to the priest who visited him monthly. In the letter he indicated that he had made funeral arrangements because, “I feared the New Mexico prison system will treat my dead body with the same disrespect with which they have treated my living body.” He died of a broken heart. He is buried in a plot donated by an order of nuns.

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name

There is no doubt in my mind that this wounded priest is in heaven with our Lord.

In Psalms 85 we are told that – “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.” I pray that it will happen during our lifetime.


I will bring you home
I love you and you are Mine.












*You Are Mine”

by David Haas

Friday, November 6, 2009

SPIRIT

SPIRIT


"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can
be judged by the way its animals are treated."
-  Gandhi




The black and white dog dragged herself along the deserted street with great difficulty. She had to get further away from those who had injured her so badly. Every step caused excruciating pain. Someone had placed a firecracker in her rectum and ignited it. When it exploded she frantically tried to remove the painful, fiery thing with her mouth. Now her mouth was burned and was as painful as her backside. She knew she was badly injured. Humans had caused her injuries, but she knew in her heart that all humans were not like the bad ones who hurt her. She searched for a caring human.

As she rounded a corner she saw a car just drawing to a stop in front of a house. The dog limped to the driver’s door. When the car door opened, a woman got out and the injured dog managed to crawl into the car. The woman and her daughter, who was still in the car, saw the singed fur and terrible burns on the animal. They realized she was badly injured. While the daughter remained in the car and spoke softly to the dog, her mother ran inside to call the Humane Society. She was told to bring in the dog and they drove frantically across town.

That evening a shocked public watched, and many cried, as the TV nightly news showed the courageous animal struggling bravely to walk from the car. Veterinarians examined her and despite the tremendous pain, she bore it all bravely. The firecracker had caused appalling damage. She was burned inside her rectum and all around it, and her mouth was burned when she tried to remove the burning firecracker.

The Humane Society caregivers named her Spirit because of her gutsy nature. She won the hearts of everyone who read about her or heard about her. She underwent all the painful treatments with a resolve that was awesome. Spirit caught the attention of an admiring public and checks poured in for her extensive and expensive medical care. Ebony and I took toys, blankets, pillows, treats, and more poured into the shelter.  Spirit happily shared them with the other animals. A lot of prayers were said, especially to St. Francis, to help Spirit’s healing. Her condition was updated daily by the TV stations.

The Humane Society reported that Spirit wore a collar and appeared to have been taken care of. Where were her owners now? People wanted answers as to who tortured this precious being. No one ever came forth to claim her. Some speculated that someone in the family that owned Spirit had injured her and the family did not claim her for fear of prosecution.

Spirit spent several weeks recovering at the Humane Society. Hundreds of people wanted to adopt her. One lucky woman who had worked with Spirit during those long, painful weeks became her adopted mother. When Spirit healed and was ready to leave for her new home, the public was invited to meet her. The Humane Society held a farewell party for Spirit so that her friends and admirers could meet this wonderful, loving dog whose spirit had touched so many. Spirit was indeed spirited at the party. She greeted each guest, wolfed down her special cake, said her good-byes, and walked majestically out the door and into a new life, healed in body and spirit.

Wicked people critically injured her; her owners turned their backs on her, but with that incredibly lovable manner of dogs, Spirit remained trusting and gentle. Should Spirit ever meet her torturers in the future, she would, in the extraordinarily wonderful nature of dogs, undoubtedly greet them with warmth and affection.

Spirit is owed a debt of gratitude and thanks for the valuable lesson she taught us about love and forgiveness.

Why can’t people be more like animals?




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