Friday, December 31, 2010

THE DEATH OF A PRIEST

As 2010 comes to an end, my mind, my heart, and my thoughts go to the priests who are no longer with us, to those who took their own lives when their lives began crumbling around them due to an accusation. Imagine the angst of a priest who commits suicide. A priest, of all people, knows the seriousness of suicide; he also knows that God forgives us all our sins, and yet when faced with such a crushing accusation of sexual abuse, he thinks that not even God will forgive him. Not only does he think this, but he knows with certainty that his Church will never forgive him. Such an accusation is akin to a death sentence. The accused priest instantly becomes a leper, an untouchable, a throw-away.

His bishop, like Pilate, immediately washes his hands of the troublesome priest lest the hate groups march on him. Terrified of retribution, he hides and points out that the Church has gotten rid of this priest. The rest he leaves to the courts, the paid mouthpieces, and the slimy accusers. His only question is how much money does the accuser want. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Our bishops threw out that concept when they agreed to hand over without question any amount of money an accuser demands. They have done a grave injustice to every priest who wears the collar of the Catholic Church. Every priest in the Catholic Church is at risk. Anyone can accuse a priest, and without any proof whatsoever, his bishop will immediately order him out of the rectory and into the night, caring not where the priest goes or if he even has a place to go to. Oh, it is so sad.

Gluttonous attorneys and people with no morals are having a field day accusing priests, and raking in the money of parishioners. The blood of every priest who has committed suicide after being accused, guilty or innocent, is on the hands of lying accusers and their money-grubbing attorneys. It is blood money. An old adage says a fool and his money are soon parted. Amend that to say a fool and his money are quickly parted. It is said that “God don’t like ugly and He ain’t set on pretty.” Some of us should be very, very concerned about Judgment Day.
We can only pray that someday the bishops who do not help their brother priests, will follow the lead of the few good bishops who DO visit priests in prison, who DO write to priests in prison, who DO what Christ would do. I correspond with a number of priests in prison, and they tell me how grateful they are when they are visited by a bishop, or receive a letter from a bishop. They are so grateful that every one in the Catholic Church has not abandoned them.

I often cry when I read their letters. They thank me for “being Christ” to them. I am not worthy of such an honor. Each of the Christmas letters and cards I received from priests in prison, was full of thanks and praise for my concern for them and my faithfulness in writing, talking to them on the telephone, sending books, etc. Their letters always bring tears because I am only doing what our Lord said we are to do. How can I do less? As long as I have breath in me, I will not abandon our priests in prison. God loves them and so do I, each and every one. I don’t need to know their sins, God knows. I only know that they need prayers and a helping hand, and we reach out to each other. I consider it a blessing to have them in my life.

Our Church has been changed forever. It has done a disservice to many of its priests. There is no way for an innocent priest to regain his reputation after it has been announced at every Sunday Mass that he has been suspended for sexual abuse, guilty or not. Why did none of the bishops think of that when they signed off on the Dallas Charter? There will never be a time when a litigious attorney will not find somebody willing to lie, accuse a priest, and demand money. This will go on and on and on … until every Catholic Church is completely and utterly penniless. Maybe, just maybe then, the greedy attorneys, their clients, SNAP, and VOTF will be satisfied. Somehow, I doubt it.

Father Gordon J. MacRae of www.TheseStoneWalls.com writes eloquently of what priests suffer who are accused:


THE DARK NIGHT OF A PRIESTLY SOUL
By Rev. Gordon J. MacRae

“It seems to the soul in this night that it is being carried out of itself by afflictions . . . This night is a painful disturbance involving many fears, imaginings, and struggles within a man. Due to the apprehension and feeling of his miseries, he suspects that he is lost and that his blessings are gone forever.” (St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, Ch. 9, 5, 7)

In his new book, Secular Sabotage (FaithWords, 2009), Catholic League President Bill Donohue wrote masterfully of the front lines of the culture war between the sacred and the secular. More than at any other time of the year, these two forces face off in the Christmas season in a culture seemingly at war with its own soul.

When I was a younger priest, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day always felt like a mixed blessing. The demands on a parish priest at Christmas are very great. A spiritual observance of Advent and Christmas is an exhausting challenge against an ever-advancing tide of secular materialism.

We priests experience in the Christmas season both the hope of the Incarnation and the limits of our human condition. It’s a spiritually vulnerable time that can heighten the intensity of loneliness, the pain of personal struggles and alienation, the agony of loss. Christmas can bring with it a deeply felt awareness of suffering and shadow, of spiritual and emotional vulnerability. It’s a time when, for some, the spring of hope can feel a lot more like the winter of despair.

When I was asked to write for Priests in Crisis at Christmas, I felt very limited in scope. I was about to mark my sixteenth Christmas in prison. Frankly, Christmas in here is simply not what it is out there. It’s a time when the people around me suffer a great deal. Those with families and children are separated from them by impenetrable prison walls. Those who are alone have their loneliness magnified by the onslaught of Christmas imagery.

I set out to write something warm and fuzzy for other priests at Christmas, but, well, it just wasn’t coming. I kept being drawn to some unfinished business, something that has gnawed at me for seven years. Justice requires that I try to make some spiritual sense of it. Now is the time. What I am about to write may be very painful for some to read. Whether you are a lay Catholic, or a priest, deacon, or religious, if you are reading this, I beg you to read carefully and understand.

Seven years ago today, on December 29, 2002, a brother priest in my diocese took his own life. Father Richard Lower was 57 years old. He was a popular and very gifted – and giving – priest and human being. Father Lower had served Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New London, New Hampshire for the previous thirteen years, and he was much beloved by his parish family. There was a lot that happened in Father Lower’s personal life over the preceding year. He had undergone his sixth painful back surgery. Then he developed septicemia for which he was hospitalized again. Father Lower’s mother died that November. These factors, and likely others that are unknown, left Father Lower physically, emotionally, and spiritually bereft to face the newest terror that was to enter his life two days after Christmas seven years ago.

NO CRUELER TYRANNIES
On December 27th, every priest’s worst modern nightmare was visited upon Father Richard Lower. He was informed by a diocesan official that a claim of sexual abuse had been lodged against him from thirty years earlier in 1972. Father Lower had never been previously accused. The accusation stood alone, but was enough – three decades later – to abruptly end a life of ministry and priestly self-giving.
Based on the single, uncorroborated thirty-year-old claim, Father Lower was informed that the police would be notified. In accordance with the “zero tolerance” policy of the U.S. Bishops’ new Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, he was suspended from ministry and told that he must immediately vacate the parish he had served for thirteen years.

As was every priest in the Diocese of Manchester, Father Lower was also painfully aware of an announcement from his bishop and diocese made just weeks earlier. In an unprecedented agreement between the Diocese and the State announced in December, 2002, the files and details of every accusation against any priest – regardless from however long ago – would be included in a vast public release of documents in March of 2003. Any privacy rights of the individual priests under canon or civil law were summarily discarded and waived by the signing of this agreement.

Two days after celebrating Christ’s birth with the parish community he loved and served for thirteen years, Father Richard Lower lived Christ’s scourging, and was about to live the Scandal of the Cross in a way for which he had no defense. Succumbing to the darkest night of his soul, this good priest, walking alone in the valley of darkness, took his own life.

Father Lower died without having either acknowledged or denied the 30-year-old claim brought against him. He died alone, apparently having reached out to no one. He left no note. A lot of people – including a number of priests – lamented that they could only imagine what Father Lower went through in those three days after Christmas. 
I did not have to imagine anything. I knew exactly what he went through: the feeling of living in a vacuum, the sense of isolation, the feeling of powerlessness, the utter despair of never, ever being able to erase the scarlet letter indelibly marking the accused – guilty and innocent alike; the sheer impossibility of any defense after the passage of three decades; the overwhelming despair of exactly what Saint John of the Cross described in his Dark Night of the Soul:
“Due to the apprehension and feeling of his miseries, he suspects that
he is lost and that his blessings are gone forever.”

Do you know what you were doing on any given day in 1972? Can you document your answer? If you’re a Catholic priest, you may have to, and your very life may depend on it. Innocent or guilty, what Father Richard Lower faced in those days after Christmas seven years ago is a hopelessness unlike anything one could imagine without going through it. It was for good reason that Dorothy Rabinowitz entitled her 2005 book about the power of false sex abuse claims, No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times.

In my prison cell a few days after Christmas in 2002, my eyes closed when I read the headline story. I knew Father Richard Lower. He was a priest I admired, and one of only three priests of my Diocese who ever wrote to me in prison.
Nine months before he was accused, Father Lower wrote to another friend lamenting the terror being visited upon other priests. When so many others looked away in silence, Father Lower wrote courageously to challenge the lack of due process and presumption of guilt when other priests were accused. From an April, 2002 letter of Father Lower to a friend:
“The minute a man is accused, he’s immediately suspended. He is forced to
leave his rectory
within the hour. The result of this horrendous policy is that
the priest is seen to be
guilty until proven innocent.”

With reference to his back surgery and other pressures, Father Lower reacted to the media attack that had so consumed the priesthood that year. In the same letter, he wrote: 
“With all the bad press the Church has received lately, it is very difficult
to either work as a priest in public or even to recuperate as a priest …
As always, the press has had a heyday with this topic and reported
things whether true or untrue. Because the Church did not handle
it properly in the past, they now have a policy of no tolerance …
Another fallout to the scandal is that a ‘witch hunt’ has begun.
It feels like all priests are suspects and no one can be trusted.
Please pray for us.”

After Father Lower’s tragic death, an official of the Diocese of Manchester acknowledged the truth of exactly what Father Lower-feared, but also defended the policy. In a local news article, Father Edward Arsenault was quoted thusly:
“In parish communities where priests have been put on leave,
parishioners already
believe them guilty. I know there is some expense. 
But I am confident that our policy
is fair.”

TREASURE AND TRAGEDY
It has been documented that some twenty-five American Catholic priests have taken their lives after being accused. Some in the news media have implied that their despair is evidence of guilt. How sad and shallow.

People of justice and conscience have expressed concern that our use of the death penalty in criminal cases may have resulted in the execution of some innocent men. Given the hundreds of innocent men who have been wrongly imprisoned for rape and other crimes, then exonerated by retesting DNA evidence, the concern is justified.

But isn’t it just as likely that some innocent priests were on that list of twenty-five who lost hope? Isn’t it possible that what some of them despaired most was the apparent end of justice and fairness, the sheer impossibility of defending themselves? Believe me on this, accusations of sexual abuse are far more devastating for the innocent than for the guilty. I believe that others who have been falsely accused will corroborate this fact.

Absent clear and convincing evidence – and there has been none – I presume Father Richard Lower’s innocence. It’s what the United States Constitution bids me to do. It’s what the rule of law – both Church and civil – bids me to do, and it’s what the Gospel bids me to do. To presume anything else, absent evidence to the contrary, would belie a heart too jaded to claim to live justly and fairly, to claim to live the Gospel of Mercy.

After the tragic suicide of another priest, Father William Rosensteel, in June, 2007, Catholic columnist Matt C. Abbott published a powerful statement on http://www.RenewAmerica.com. It was from an unnamed supporter of Father Rosensteel:

“We need to remember how important a person’s good name is. To knowingly
 harm a person’s
reputation without cause and clear evidence is a serious violation of the Eighth
Commandment. The consequences of such violations are far-reaching and irreversible.
Even a priest who is known to be guilty of the crime of child abuse should not be
required to forfeit his life to satisfy attorneys, insurance companies, the media and
plaintiffs. How much more is this true of a priest whose ‘case’ has not yet been
decided?”
(RenewAmerica, August 7, 2007)

As I held the local newspaper in my hand on December 30, 2002, with a headline declaring the scandal of a priest’s suicide, I would have given anything to be on that wooded path that day with Father Lower at what he feared was the end of all things he held dear. I now wish I had the means to write in 2002 what I am writing here. It may have saved this good priest’s life. Even now there is hope – for Father Lower and for us.

First, there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s especially important that priests and lay people reach out to priests burdened with the tyranny of decades-old claims of abuse. In “The Sacred Priesthood,” an essay for the Year of the Priest Father John Zuhlsdorf wrote:
“The sacred priesthood is the common treasure and responsibility of the whole Church.”

Doesn’t that treasure warrant the benefit of the doubt for priests accused? Doesn’t it call us to support them with our words, our prayers, our mercy, and – if needed – our forgiveness?
“Today, the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2283) recognizing that people who commit suicide suffer from anguish that can mitigate moral responsibility. I don’t think anyone can look justly at what happened to Father Lower and not see anguish there.

This Year of the Priest is a time to have hope for Father Richard Lower’s soul, and, from our practice of mercy, for ourselves. We owe it to him and other priests who lost all hope to assist them still with our prayers and Masses, with our Gospel mandate to be merciful. We owe it to our spiritual brothers and fathers in the priesthood to resolve to never again let another priest walk alone through the valley of darkness.

For my brother, Father Richard Lower:

“Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the
penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip
thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the throne of the most Highest.
Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman,
Conclusion: “The Dream of Gerontius.” 





Fr. Gordon MacRae writes weekly for http://www.TheseStoneWalls.com. His writings from prison have also appeared in First Things, The Catholic Response, Catalyst, and many online Catholic venues. The above article was adapted from an article previously published by Fr. MacRae at www.PriestsinCrisis.com. 


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE....

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of
awareness that created them.
Albert Einstein


[We’ve had torrential rains these past few days (before the snows began), and it reminded me very much of the kind of rains in the tropics.

[Warning: this was written in Panama, in anger, unrelenting heat, and fear. The language is mine, all mine!]

Another day in paradise is what I said to myself during the umpteenth day of rain when leather shoes, purses and everything else was covered with mildew due to constant dampness; when the power went out taking the air-conditioning with it; when I couldn’t get water from the tap because the pressure was too low; when I bathed in dirty water for two days in a row; when bomb threats forced me to flee the office; when I was sick and didn’t know which end to throw over the toilet first, and just when I thought things could get no worse, they did.

We’re not talking Peace Corps here; we’re talking the Diplomatic Service, the U.S. Foreign Service. The American public thinks we live in mansions, have servants waiting on us, drink champagne for breakfast, and do little else. Ha! We live in some wretched conditions, compounded by stiflying heat, snakes – the two-legged kind and the slithering kind, and every other critter known to man that flies or crawls; uncooperative government officials, and then the real kicker now – a hurricane.

It was October 18, and Hurricane Joan was heading toward Panama. Our boss said we should stock up on water and get out the flashlights because the radio reported that power and water would probably go. He said that we would know whether or not to go into work the next day. I suppose if the wind is blowing down everything in sight that’ll be a clue to stay at home. What next? We’ve had an attempted coup; a regime in power that we refuse to recognize; the constitutional president is in hiding; yellow fever is back in the country; dengue fever is on the way with no protection against it; Americans are on everybody’s hit list, and then up jumps a friggin’ hurricane! At home I dutifully filled the two bathtubs and every vessel with water. The Southern Command Network said there would be a “little” rain for most of the next day. I thought that was probably an understatement. I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be raining polecats the next day! The least bit of rain and the damn streets were flooded and we plowed – and I do mean plowed – through the water.

It didn’t help that I was right on the ocean. The waves had been dashing the hell out of the rocks ever since I got home that evening. When Hurricane Gilbert was nowhere near Panama, we caught hell. My apartment was alive and everything shook all night long – the doors, the windows, and me. I felt, as a friend was fond of saying, that if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck. Another day in paradise.

All U.S. diplomatic license plates were going to expire in January and since we didn’t recognize the reigning government, there would be no more license plates issued to American embassy personnel. All American diplomats will then be driving illegally, and there was a strong possibility that our cars would be confiscated. I ran that risk everyday since I had been driving with expired plates for months. I could not drive outside the city – not that I ever wanted to - because there were car checks for proper documents. However, the embassy didn’t dwell on unpleasant matters until the ambassador was going to be affected, then the embassy got concerned. They had no answers as usual. They would think about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, just another day in paradise.

On the whole, life was interesting during those days. Our scholarship program was huge, and university students were clamoring for more scholarships to enable them to study in the U.S. despite the pro-Noriega newspaper blasting my office, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) for “infiltrating” the university. One newspaper’s headline read: “CIA-USIA infiltration at the University of Panama.” I was invited by the students in international relations to help them put on a fair. Their leader got the leaders of the rowdier movements to agree to have no protests while I was on the campus. They welcomed me, and I felt very comfortable. I was invited back to help judge an English speech contest. I sent books to help build the university’s library., and the director of the new Center of Latin Studies at the university met with me to ask for our help. So much for infiltration.

The New York Times and The Washington Post published stories that American diplomats in Panama were operating in the same circumstances as our colleagues were in Iran when they were taken and held hostage for 444 days. I wondered why our media was so anxious to give Noriega ideas! It was a scary time. One of our political officers was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "Noriega has not harmed a hair on an American head, and yet we are all terrified." We knew what he was capable of doing.

As we prepared to greet a new year, we ate, drank and tried to make merry, despite knowing that at any moment all hell could break loose. Our orders from the embassy were to get to one of our six military bases on the outskirts of Panama City. We were aware that the Panamanian military would block the main streets. Once before they blocked access to our bases to show us that it could be done. I was painfully aware that I probably would not be able to reach one of our bases. My secretary was as afraid for me as I was, and she suggested that I drive my car to within a mile or so of her house, leave it, and walk to her house. That was our plan.

Many of us knew this would be the last year for the Panama that we knew. There was little hope. The Americans were to save the Panamanians from General Manuel Noriega, but he was no longer listening to us, and we weren't talking to him.

A few days later, a consular colleague was groaning about an American who had been arrested. The consular officer had finally gotten the authorities to agree to release the man, but his passport and plane ticket had been stolen, and he had no money. He was desperate to leave the country.
My colleague asked, “How can I tell him that nothing can be done until tomorrow or the next day?”
I grinned, “Tell him he has another day in paradise.”

***

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 23, 1963

Dateline: Cuzco, Peru

Thursday evening, November 22nd my roommate, Beverly, and I went into the city of Cuzco to buy groceries and to have our monthly bath. Some other volunteers were also in the city and on Friday, November 23, several of us lunched together, compared notes on our Peace Corps work in the various villages, and afterwards a few of us went to a grocery store.
As we stood in the checkout line another volunteer came up and said, “These people are always starting rumors.” We laughed. Somebody asked, “What now?” He replied, “They are saying that President Kennedy has been killed.” In unison, we all said, “Oh, for pity’s sake.” It went in one ear and out the other. No one gave it a second thought. Everybody loved President Kennedy, or so we thought. No, it was just another of those rampant rumors.

We all left the store together, said our good-byes outside, and went our separate ways. John, a Cuzco city volunteer, and I stopped at the dry cleaners. Bev returned to the hotel. I arrived at the hotel a few moments later and headed for our room. I glanced at the desk clerks who stared at me as I entered, but that was nothing new. People in Peru always stared at me. I was quite the novelty. Today, the stares were not the usual stares. Something about the stares was different.


When I opened the door to our room Bev was crying as if her heart were breaking. I had never seen her cry before. Obviously something was wrong, yet I never asked her what was wrong. I will never understand my reaction. I hung up the dry cleaning and said to her, “It’s time to go to the dentist. Let’s go!”
She turned up a tear-stained, sorrowful face to me and said in a whisper, “Charlene, it’s true.” I wanted to slap her! Between clenched teeth I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about, and I don’t want to know!” I had no clue as to why she was so upset. Or did I know without knowing how I knew? Why was I so angry? Why didn’t I want to know what was wrong? Why didn’t I want to know what was “true”? Only God knows. I left the room. Bev trailed behind me. I could hear her crying. My mind was absolutely blank. I had no idea why she was crying. But the one thing that I was certain of, was that I did not WANT to know. That I knew for certain.

We walked the few blocks to the dentist’s office. There was no one in the waiting room, so we sat down to wait. Bev continued sobbing. I was still angry. At who? At what? I did not know then, and I don’t know now. A radio was on in the background and there was a lot of static. But suddenly the station cleared and we clearly heard the announcement in Spanish, “President Kennedy has been assassinated!”

Like zombies we got up and walked out. In a daze we walked down the street. We passed a group of students and one laughingly said, “Your president is dead!” Bev lunged for him. I grabbed her and whispered, “He would not want this.”

We didn’t have the heart to seek out other volunteers. We returned to the hotel, and when we entered the lobby I realized what was different about the stares of the desk clerks: the stares were not of curiosity, but of pity.

Beverly and I wondered what was going on back home? Who could have done such an act? I prayed that the assassin was not black. I remembered a black woman stabbing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in New York City. I wonder how many other ethnic groups prayed the killer was not one of theirs. We had no way to call home to find out what was going on. We were worried about our families and what they were going through. I knew there were many tears in my family over this man who was seen as a sort of savior of black people. He and his brother, Robert Kennedy, the Attorney-General, had sent troops south to protect black kids trying to integrate so-called white schools, schools for which their parents’ taxes paid, while the black students attended substandard schools. Black people knew the Kennedys were going to end the de facto segregation in the United States. What would happen now? Johnson was a Texan, there were rumors that he and Kennedy did not always agree on important matters. What would happen to black people with him in charge? Would he try to reverse decisions made by President Kennedy? I prayed the Lord would steady and guide his hands.

Somehow we got through the night. The next morning other volunteers picked us up to drive us to our village. We were all sad, confused, and uncertain of our future, or our country’s future. We piled into two jeeps and headed for the first stop, our village of Quiquijana. Cuzco’s mountainous roads were never pleasant to drive on. They are narrow, steep and dangerous. The drop-offs were steep. There were crosses all along the roads where people had died. At some places there were numerous crosses. I was in the first jeep with John. Bev was in the second jeep with Mike and two others. At one point we rounded a curve and saw a bus coming toward us. There was barely enough room for two vehicles to pass. Both usually slowed down and crept past each other. The bus barreled toward us, and we realized he had no intention of slowing down. In fact, he was aiming for us. We glimpsed the bus driver’s face and it was the face of pure evil. We had nowhere to go but over and thousands of feet down! John yelled, “Hold on!” and deliberately went over a huge hump which stopped the jeep and kept us from hurtling to the bottom of the mountain. I held on, but my head hit the top of the jeep. Somehow he managed to stop the car a few feet from oblivion! The bus drove on. The second jeep stopped and everyone jumped out. I was thoroughly shaken. John kept saying, “The guy aimed for us! He aimed for us! Why?” Why indeed! Was it open season on Americans as we grieved for our dead president?

We entered the school grounds and our house without seeing anyone. The news of President Kennedy’s death had not yet reached Quiquijana. The guys dropped us and left. Bev and I were unusually silent the rest of the day and most of the next day. Each of us was lost in her own thoughts. On Sunday we cooked a chicken we purchased in Cuzco. We had no refrigeration, but chicken usually lasted a few days in the cold climate.

After eating lunch and giving the two resident dogs the leftovers, I noticed one dog throwing up. I wondered what he had eaten. I soon found out. An hour or so later I became nauseous and began vomiting. I was also terribly thirsty. The minute the water hit the bottom of my stomach, I had to be on the way outside to vomit in the weeds. There was no way I could trot the block or so to our outhouse. Bev pleaded with me not to drink the water. Even though I knew I would throw up the second the water hit my stomach, I had to have it. My thirst demanded water. I would drink it fast, while standing at the open back door and then dash out to throw up immediately.

An hour later Bev became ill. We looked at each other and said it must have been the chicken. I became delirious. I could hear myself babbling over and over that we were going to die and no one would ever know. Of course it didn’t make any sense. The thirst was indescribable! We were hot and feverish. Bev had more control than I did. She resisted drinking the water despite her thirst. We were two sick puppies all day Sunday.

By Monday morning the village knew about President Kennedy, and villagers began coming to pay their respects beginning at 7:00 a.m. We were usually up by 5:00 a.m., but not that day because we were too sick. Peru’s president had declared Monday as a national day of mourning for President Kennedy. Bev and I took turns getting out of bed to open the door to visitors and fall back into bed. The visitors had to come into the bedroom. We were in no shape to stand. Neither of us knew who was there because it was all we could do to get up, open the door, and stagger back to bed. I vaguely remember people standing over us.

Around 10 a.m. Julia, one of the teachers at our nuclear school arrived, and seeing our conditions, she said no more visitors. She left her teenaged daughter to tell people that we were too sick to see anyone. I remember opening my eyes at one point and three or four people were standing in the bedroom looking at us. We were too sick to talk to them or even to each other. The house was cold. We didn’t have the energy to turn on our little kerosene burner. I remember someone piled more covers on us, lit the stove, and wiped our faces. There was nothing left in us to throw up or out, and since we were so feverish, we slept a lot.

By Tuesday we were beginning to feel human again. Around 8:00 p.m. that evening I was returning from the outhouse with our dogs. Suddenly they stopped as if they heard something. I too stopped, listened, and way in the distance I could hear an engine. I saw lights coming down our road and was astonished to see the jeep of our Peace Corps doctor and his wife. Never were two people more welcomed. They had returned to Cuzco from visiting other sick volunteers, and had an urgent telegraphed message from our school principal that we were deathly sick and needed a doctor immediately. They didn’t unpack; just got back in their jeep and came to see about us. The doctor determined that we had food poisoning, but we were well on the way to recovery. He and his wife spread their sleeping bags on our dirt floor and spent the night. They brought news of President Kennedy’s death and the assassin.


I will always regret not being able to greet each visitor who came to express condolences that day in Quiquijana. Americans were not the only ones who mourned our fallen president. The Quechua Indians of Peru looked to Kennedy and the U.S. as a way for their children to have better lives than the parents had. We were the first links in that chain of progress.


Epilogue: I joined the United Nations as an international secretary after Peace Corps. In 1966 the UN Movie Club showed the new movie, “Years of Lightening, Day of Drums.” The movie was made by the U.S. Information Agency whose work could not be shown in the United States. It was only for overseas distribution. However, since the United Nations is NOT on U.S. territory, it could show the movie. From the opening credits, I began crying and could not stop. For the first time I was able to see what all Americans and most of the world had seen – the mourning, the muffled drums, the dignity of Mrs. Kennedy and her children, the hundreds of foreign leaders who walked shoulder to shoulder with her down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the thousands and thousands of Americans who lined the streets to honor a fallen leader, it was overwhelming. I was not in the country during those terrible, terrible days when most of the civilized world mourned a man cut down in his prime. Seeing the movie was cathartic for me. At last, my grief had an outlet. Later Congress passed a law allowing the government to show the movie to Americans. I saw it once again. It was unforgettable.


********

Thursday, November 4, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOTHER

Happy Birthday, Mother,

It’s your 88th birthday. You left us 15 years ago. You didn’t have many happy birthdays, but I want to apologize to you with this letter, and maybe say some things you never knew. Today is also Mama’s birthday, your mother, and my beloved grandmother.

I spent most of my life trying to make up to you what you lost because of my birth: your youth, a bright future, and a loving husband. You got none of that. You were not quite 15 when I was born, so your mother took over my upbringing. She and I lived in one room in a rooming house. I can remember how happy I was in that one room with Mama. We each had a rocking chair and Mama smoked her pipe. I never understood why Mama could not help me print or to learn the alphabet. I didn’t know that she had not gone to school and could not read or write.

Mama wanted me to get a good education because nobody in our family had gone to high school; some didn’t finish grade school. After kindergarten, Mama enrolled me in St. Bridget’s Catholic School at the other end of our block. Life could not have been better. I loved the nuns and loved the Masses and I wanted to be a Catholic. On Sundays I attended Mass, and then went with Mama to her Baptist church across the street where folks shouted and “got happy.” It scared me. I never complained because I knew that the next morning I would be back at my Catholic Church where incense rose, and the dimly lit Church echoed with beautiful sounding chants and soft music.

Mother, when you came home on weekends from Chicago, you treated me like a little princess. We went to the Automat where I put in quarters and the food selections went around and around and then I chose what I wanted. We always went to a Betty Davis or Joan Crawford movie. Sometimes we went to the bowling alley and I watched you bowl. I was so happy.

When I was nine Mama died and life as I knew it came to a crashing end, and so did yours, Mother. You gave up your job in Chicago to move back home to take care of Mama in her last weeks of life. We moved into the home of Aunt Bess and Uncle Frank. After Mama died, you and I were adrift. We didn’t have anywhere to go. Uncle Frank introduced you to Walter Parks. I heard Aunt Bess urging you to marry him because he could give us a home. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted you to marry Willie who was my heart. He would have been a wonderful father to me. I already loved him because he was funny, and he liked to do fun things with us. He drove us to Kentucky to bury Mama and when Uncle Honey handed that little fur ball to me, it was Willie who urged you to let me keep him. I named the fur ball “Sweetmeat” because he was so sweet.

Suddenly you were married to a man named Walter Parks and we moved into a large house in an affluent part of the city where few blacks lived. Mr. Walt had never said one word to me. Suddenly we were all living together. I didn’t know how to address him, so I began calling him “Mr. Walt.” It was a lonely life for me. I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood. You said I was too young to take public transportation to get to St. Bridget’s School. I would be going to a public school and I would be bused because I could not attend the all-white school a few blocks from our house.

Mother, I know how hard you worked to help pay for that house. I know that some days you went without lunch at work so that I could have lunch at school. There was no love in that house. I kept silent and spent most time in my bedroom with Sweetmeat. I cried in his fur because I missed Mama; I missed my school; I missed my Catholic Church; I missed my friends, and I felt that I was an albatross around your neck. I knew that you didn’t know anything about raising children. I tried not to cause problems for you. I never missed school where I was a good student. I did well in school. I loved school. Mr. Parks ignored me, but his eyes never left my developing body. When I began menstruating he kept tabs on my periods. I found that strange. He told you when he thought I should begin wearing a bra. I cringed whenever I had to walk in front of him. You took an all night job at RCA because it paid more. I didn’t like being alone with him, but I had no say.

And then came that night when I woke up with a gun to my head and Mr. Walt in my bed. He raped me, Mother. He said that when he finished raping me, we were going to the basement and he was going to kill both of us. At 11 years old I was not afraid of death. My only thought was of you coming home in the morning, and finding us dead. I did not want that to happen. I knew you would never get over it. At first I said nothing to him, but then I said I would not tell anyone, and I didn’t. I never said a word because I knew that Uncle Charlie and Uncle Rabbit would kill him and go to prison. I did not want that to happen. Your two brothers were the best uncles a girl could ever have. They loved me and they would have given their lives to protect me. I loved them too, and I chose to protect them. But I began sleeping with a butcher knife under my pillow. I had decided that that beast would never rape me again. As for people who say they didn’t remember being raped for 40 or 50 years, I say bull! There is no way one can ever forget any second of that horrendous act!

You remember you took me to the doctor the next month when my period did not begin on time. I was traumatized I suppose. And then every day thereafter that Parks called me to the basement and yelled over and over who did I have sex with, who was the father if I was pregnant, and if I was pregnant I would find myself on the street. I kept my mouth shut and just looked at him with as much hate as I could. I don’t know how I got through my classes while worrying about being pregnant. I didn’t know what I would do. I had no one to talk to. I wanted to run away, but I knew that I could not take care of Sweetmeat and myself on the streets. I was far from the Catholic Church that I loved, but I knew how to pray and I never stopped praying. My period finally started, and soon thereafter Aunt Annie came to live with us. The happiest day in my life was when I turned 16 years old because four years earlier I had asked you if I could be baptized a Catholic. You said if I still felt that way at 16, then I could. I never said another word about it during those four years, but I never forgot. The day after my 16th birthday I reminded you of your promise. Thereafter, everybody in the family always said if they promised me anything, they had to live up to it. I was the only Catholic in the family, but they all seemed very proud of that fact. Whenever I was introduced to somebody, my aunts or uncles said proudly, “This is my niece, Charlene. She’s Catholic.” I thought it odd, but we were an odd family.

When I went to New York to “visit” Aunt Alma, I knew I would never return to that house. I got a wonderful job as receptionist with a Wall St. law firm and then came the Peace Corps and the United Nations and the world. When I returned after two wonderful years in the Andes Mountains of Peru, we went directly from the airport to Aunt Bess’ home. You told me that Mr. Walt said he did not want me in the house. I didn’t ask why. I knew that he hated me for being successful. Also his conscience was kicking him in the butt. You said you were going to divorce him. I said nothing, just bowed my head, and began making plans to move back to New York as quickly as possible.

Mother, I guess I blamed you for my miserable life after Mama died. I tried not to, but the hurt and the anger were there. I had buried the anger in my heart for so many years, and each time I was with you, the anger seemed to come out. That man tried to turn you against me, and sometimes I thought he was successful. Remember the time you asked me if I was having sex with my dog?? I remember looking at you and wondering if you were losing your mind. And then you said Parks suggested that. What a wicked man. He told you lie after lie about me. I was taught to respect adults and all I could say was, “No, Mother, I didn’t do that.” You didn’t believe me, and that hurt most of all.

And so, Mother, as a child, I could not talk back to you, but as an adult, I took out my anger, hurt and fear on you. I know you sometimes flinched at my harsh words. You didn’t understand why I seemed to be so angry with you. Sometimes I didn’t even know, I just knew that I was angry. But, as you know, God has been good to me. He allowed me to show you some of the world that I lived in, the world of diplomacy. I know you worried about me in some countries – most countries I served in had serious problems – but you knew that I loved my career, and I loved living abroad. I hated leaving you alone, but I wanted to live my life and I did. When I retired in ’95 I thought we could travel the US so that I could see some of my country. But God had other plans. Four months after I returned, you died.

Today I remember your birthday, Mother, with great sadness. I remember your life and hard times. You were tiny, but had the heart of a lion. You had so many tragedies in your life, but each one just made you stronger. As an adult, I marveled at your bravery. You were stronger than any of us knew. Life was not kind to you, yet you always had a smile on your face. You lost your mother when you were very young, and you were thrust into being a mother and a new wife at the same time. I felt sorry for you. You lived in pain, and I know you died in pain because your little fist was clinched. At the viewing I tried to straighten it, but the funeral director told me it couldn’t be straightened after the embalming fluid was inserted. I wanted to scream, “Then why didn’t you unclench her fist before using the embalming fluid.” You were born in pain, and you died in pain.

I am sorry, Mother. Sorry for all the sorrow that I caused you. Sorry that your marriage didn’t work out. Sorry that the world was so unforgiving. Sorry that I never got to show you more of the world. Sorry that I spoke harshly to you. Sorry that you felt inferior to others. Remember how angry I got and I said to you, “DON’T YOU EVER FEEL INFERIOR TO ANYONE! IF ANYTHING YOU ARE SUPERIOR TO MOST!” I hope you never forgot that.

On your last Mother’s Day you were happy as a lark – as you always was – when I treated you as you thought mothers should be treated – and we dined at a cafeteria-style eatery because I had not thought to make reservations at a decent restaurant. You sat eating and smiling, and you handed me a Mother’s Day card. In it you wrote, “Thank you for teaching me.” I wanted to ask what I taught you, but I didn’t. I concluded that you were thanking me for teaching you that you had a lot to offer the world, that everyone loved you, and you had no need to feel inferior to anyone. Happy birthday, Mother. May you rest in peace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BLACK LIKE WHO?

BLACK LIKE WHO?
by Charlene C. Duline

Recently in our local Catholic weekly newspaper, there was an editorial that was very much ado about nothing. The writer was harshly critical of a statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, who needs no lessons from anyone on how to speak or to conduct himself. I don’t pretend to know what was in Ambassador Diaz’s heart when he uttered the words, “Once Americans elect a president, they must stand behind him – no matter what.” I doubt that he thought anyone would write an editorial diagramming and dissecting every word, and conclude that the Ambassador was somehow speaking about morality or abortion! Good grief! What a stretch for the journalist to conjure up a long editorial critiquing the ambassador because he asked for simple respect for President Obama.

The writer said he “assumed” that Ambassador Diaz “was simply overstating the importance of giving the president the respect that is due to him as our elected leader.” Well, good for the ambassador! It is high time that somebody spoke up about respecting President Obama because from where I sit, I see nothing but total and utter disrespect for the man and for the office since he became president.

The author said he found it “troubling” that Ambassador Diaz used the words “no matter what.” He said it’s OK if the ambassador meant that all of us must stand behind the president, but he draws the line at “blind obedience” as if President Obama will order the citizenry to march off a mountain into the sea like lemmings.

President Obama has become a lightning rod for everything that is wrong with America. There is a lot of hate out there. The numbers of militia groups running around in the woods with guns has increased from 170 before President Obama was elected, to 500 and still counting.
It is with incredible sadness that I finally have to recognize what my black sisters and brothers have seen for over one year – that our nation is drifting back to the bad, old days when black people were treated as second class citizens. Ah, you say, “But we have a black president.” Surprise! We do not have a black president.

Let me tell you something that most people don’t know. President Barack Obama is not a “black” man. Let me be emphatic: Obama is not a black man - at least not as white Americans traditionally think of African-Americans pas being “black.” He did not grow up in the mean streets of some rundown neighborhood in the U.S. He grew up in a Caucasian family, and lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. His father was a black African from Kenya. His mother was white and from Kansas. Obama is “black” only in that he has more than “one drop of black blood,” which decades ago our nation’s majority race decided meant that one is officially “black.” His life experiences did not expose him to the segregation, the ignorance, and the constant reminders that if one was not “white” then one was not intelligent, industrious, or beautiful and could never be. He grew up in multi-cultural societies, and his worldview is as different from that of his U.S. brothers as - well, as different as day and night or black and white.

Nobody was more surprised when he was elected president than “black” Americans. None of us thought a black man could ever be elected president, and certainly never in our lifetime. And we were right. The vast majority of Americans did not see Obama as a typical “black” man, and indeed he is not. Fast forward to today. Many white Americans who voted for Obama thought of him as being an extraordinary black man who has risen above the heap. They say he’s “intelligent” as if the country has never seen an intelligent black man. They say he is well educated. Well, I could introduce you to quite a few black men and women who are “well educated,” present company included. Some point out that his charisma is welcomed by our European allies as an antidote to the Bush years when diplomacy and common sense were seldom seen and almost never practiced. Some probably thought that after eight years of Bush/Cheney anybody would be better. Certainly our European allies greeted Obama as a man they could relate to.

The little putdowns of the nation’s first “black” president began on Inauguration Day. As cameras were poised at Blair House waiting for President-elect Obama and his family to leave for the Capitol, a television reporter told us how many minutes late Obama was, and he said, not without disdain, “This will be the last time he (Obama) will be late. From now on his time will be [handled] by the Secret Service, and he will always be on time.” That crack did not go unnoticed by black people. We are acutely aware that blacks have a reputation – deserved or not – for being late. For the record, the president is in charge, not his handlers.

Then we had the ridiculous spectacle of the Secret Service allowing a couple - a white couple - to enter the White House for a state dinner without an invitation. Talk about chutzpah! They sashayed into the White House, passed through two sets of Secret Service agents even though their names were not on either list, and managed to hobnob with the rest of the guests, along with President and Mrs. Obama. They left only when they realized they would have no seats at the formal dinner. I asked myself why the Secret Service was so lax when a black president is in office. Can you imagine that happening with any other president? Try real hard to imagine that. What if I had ambled in, dressed to the nines, and had no invitation? An alarm would have been sounded immediately, and I would have been hauled off to a DC jail faster than a speeding bullet. No, they would not have let me pass. Why? Perhaps because I’m “too dark to pass.” Remember that famous line in West Side Story?

The next spectacle was the congressman shouting at President Obama in the middle of his health care address before Congress and the nation. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted, “You lie!” as the President spoke. We have never witnessed such incivility and disrespect of a president. And then Rep. Wilson did what others do who should have bitten their tongues before opening their mouths and sticking in both feet, he apologized for his outburst. Those apologies are becoming old and ringing false.

During the debate about the health care bill, cameras caught some Republican congressmen as they leaned over the balcony taunting black members of Congress, and at the same time urging on the protestors to new lows. Some protestors took great pleasure in calling our black Congressmen derogatory names. For the most part, these were elderly black men who paid their dues during the Civil Rights struggle. They were taunted and spit upon. What a spectacle that was.

And then came the sickening display of people openly carrying guns in Arizona and New Hampshire. As the President spoke at the convention center in Phoenix, outside some protesters were filmed carrying guns. One tough customer had a rifle on his back. What a message that sent. Nobody seemed the least bit concerned except black people. Yes, we were alarmed at armed protesters near the president. That is asking for an “accident” to happen. As I recall during the Bush years, protesters protesting against anything (!) were swiftly hustled away. For protestors to carry firearms near a President is totally unheard of. Yes, in Arizona and New Hampshire it is legal to carry guns openly, but no one has ever dared or been permitted to carry them near a president. A Washington Post columnist, Courtland Milloy, wrote recently:

”Had [a] black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan's "states' rights" speech
in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River
for his remains.”

I find it extremely troubling when the citizenry begins carrying guns to or near events at which the president is speaking. Yes, they are making a political statement- albeit a provocative one - which they have a right to do, but it is the beginning of something we Americans are unaccustomed to. Our active and moneyed gun lobbyists have gotten gun laws passed that allow more and more people to carry guns in public, to the workplace, to bars, etc. This sorry spectacle is an additional omen of the unraveling of civility, and a return to rule by gun. Bush was not a particularly popular president and people grumbled and groused, but never did they take up arms and cart them around in his presence. They knew better. People were “invited” to his town hall meetings. None of his public appearances were ever open to the public. Members of the audience were “invited.” And the instant there was an outburst, husky men quickly reached the protestor and he was out on his butt. No dissent was tolerated from the citizenry, at least not in the august presence of President Bush or Vice-President Cheney. Cheney was especially scary. He kept his own records; answered to no one, including the president; had his own Shadow Kitchen Cabinet, and basically thumbed his nose at anyone daring to point out to him the “openness” part of the executive branch of government. We still have no idea of the extent to which he damaged the country.

Something scarier is happening. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitors militia groups, many of these hate groups use a photo of President Obama for target practice. Milloy says:

“Imagine that the inauguration of President George W. Bush had sparked an explosive rise in African American militia groups. Suppose thousands of heavily armed black men began gathering at training camps in wooded areas throughout the country, devising military tactics for "taking back their country" after what they believed was an electoral coup. Do you think Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have reacted to a black militia buildup as coolly as President Obama has to the phenomenal growth of white militias?
'If the people we saw running around armed to the teeth were black, I think their organizations would be destroyed in a matter of hours,’ Mark Potok, director of the So u Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, [said]. ‘If people saw on their TV screens photos of black militia members shooting at images of a white president, I don't think they would last.’ ”

Blacks and whites somehow usually manage to see the same happening with different eyes. One viewpoint comes from white privilege. The other viewpoint comes from a black perspective in which one can be certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that if a black did the same outrageous thing as a white, we would very soon find ourselves back in slavery. I'm not so sure that such is a long way off. I exaggerate to make a point. I often felt that we were heading that way during the years of Reagan, and Bush/Cheney.

Some say those among us who are the most flawed – i.e., racists - can change. Yes, they CAN change, but will they? I have my doubts. It’s a nice thought and a pious hope, and I want to believe it, but history tells me it is not going to happen. We are seeing more stories in the news about black men being dragged to their death. The blood lust continues. Instead of lynching by hanging, now it’s lynching by dragging a human behind a moving vehicle leaving skin, blood, and body parts all along the road. How cruel can we become?

Let us not forget the Florida urologist, Dr. Jack Cassell, who placed a sign on his office door:
“If you voted for Obama…seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your
health care begin right now, not in four years.”

When was the last time you saw something like that? Cowards get bolder when somebody else sets the pace. Then they crawl out of their holes in wild abandonment of the rules of civility.

We then had the Wal-mart incidents. On two occasions a New Jersey teen used a courtesy phone at two different Wal-Mart stores to announce: “All black people leave the store now.” The latest incident was in April. The 16 yr. old boy’s identity was not released due to his age. The identity of his parents should have been blared all over the state and surrounding environs. People need to know who he is. His photo should be circulated to every store in the state so that when he enters a store, he will see his picture, and be on notice that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Obviously his parents cannot control him, unless, of course, they concur.

A few weeks after this incident a 14 yr. old girl in a Whole Foods Market, also in New Jersey, grabbed a mike at the courtesy desk and ordered “All blacks leave the store.” What kind of people are being spawned in New Jersey? Again, her identity is kept secret due to her age. Again, some parents get to hide behind their teens’ atrocious behavior. Outrageous!

One of the most unsettling events occurred when General Stanley McChrystal, head of our armed forces in Afghanistan, waxed ineloquently and rudely to a magazine crew about his Commander in Chief and White House staff. That is a definite no-no and a scary scenario. When a military commander begins flapping his gums about his commander, in some countries the next step is an army takeover. When a civilian leader, such as in a democracy like ours, is held up to ridicule and contempt, those around the man with the mouth begin to believe that everybody else is ignorant. Then those with the guns encourage their followers to savor ideas of “what could be” and as they become more and more critical of their civilian leaders, conditions become ripe for a coup. Arrogance does not make for a good military commander, and neither does bashing one’s superior. Be careful, America, be very careful. I have seen democracies and dictatorships fall for far fewer reasons.

Prejudice will always be with us, but so should common decency. Let us be true to ourselves and recognize that some of us harbor evil feelings toward those who are not the same color or creed. Let us pray that we as a nation can move beyond hate and feelings of superiority.

Thank you, Ambassador Diaz, for the gentle reminder that one who holds the highest and most honored office in the land deserves our respect even if he is not of our political party, or has other distinguishing characteristics unpleasing to us.

"We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves." Fran├žois de La Rochefoucauld



***

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A VACATION TO FORGET






If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
-Murphy’s Law


During life as a Peace Corps volunteer (PVC), another volunteer, Lucy St. Cyr, and I saved our living allowance money for a grand vacation. We gave up smoking and buying American canned food, our only luxuries, and we saved a bundle. We took a bus from Cuzco, Peru to Tacna, a border city. It should have been as simple as walking across the street from Peru to Chile, but it was a holiday on the Chilean side.

Chile was celebrating its retention of Arica taken during a dispute between Peru and Chile in the early 1900s. It was a dispute settled in 1927 by U.S. President Herbert Hoover who made a proposal that both countries accepted. Under Hoover’s proposal, Chile returned Tacna to Peru, but retained Arica. It was our misfortune to arrive in Tacna on a day that Peru had little to celebrate. Accordingly, the border was not open, but we were assured that since we were Peace Corps volunteers, that we would be allowed to cross into Chile. First, we had to hunt down the official to stamp our passports, and to authorize the border opening. Since we were PCVs our search was made easier, and we quickly found the official who stamped our passports after wondering aloud why we would want to go to Chile. Finally we walked across the border to Arica to get a plane to Santiago. In Arica we had an indescribably delicious five-course meal, including a marvelous Chilean wine, for about $2.00.


Our plane was five hours late leaving Arica because of bad weather in Santiago. I thought if the plane couldn’t leave Santiago, how was it going to get back? I hoped the airline would cancel the flight, but to my chagrin they did not. Finally I told Lucy that I would fly only if none of the arriving passengers looked upset. They all strolled into the terminal looking very relaxed and quite happy. Too late it occurred to me that they were probably so relieved at setting foot on the ground that of course they would look happy. And so against my better judgment I flew, and the flight was wonderful. We didn’t hit one air pocket. Of course I stayed awake because everybody else was sleeping and I didn’t want the pilot to get any ideas about napping too. The cockpit door was open, and I actually rattled the pages of the magazine I wasn’t reading, cleared my throat, and even coughed a bit so that the pilot would know that somebody was awake and had an eye on him.

Santiago was a lovely city. People stared at us, but not in an unkind manner. I assumed it was because we were so different. Lucy was blonde and white, while I was black and brown. We definitely stood out. People everywhere immediately identified us as Peace Corps volunteers and welcomed us. It was as if we wore signs. Hotel rates, restaurant prices, and even train rates were reduced for us. It was incredible. Those were the days that the Peace Corps name was magical and opened all doors. We walked and toured the city and thoroughly enjoyed being in Chile. I also noticed there were no other black people around. Once again I stood out. Later I learned that years ago Chile killed off its Indian and black populations.

I looked forward to flying from Santiago to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The morning was clear and the skies were bright. It would be a short trip, only two hours and 45 minutes. I sat in the air terminal and began a mystery story about a plane crash. I felt great. My fear of flying was over. And then I got on the damned plane. Five minutes out of Santiago we started dropping. We climbed back up and dropped again. Something was obviously wrong. I wondered why the pilot didn’t go back to the airport before we got too far from it. The skies darkened and he gamely continued. Fool! I thought. Soon I noticed something new. We no longer dropped straight down, we were now dropping sideways. I wondered if we were about to spin. So I closed the curtain at the window and looked at Lucy. She was sprawled in her seat napping. The two stewardesses had retired to the rear of the plane and sat down. Only the tall, handsome steward patrolled the aisle. I kept peeking over the seat ahead of me to see if the “fasten seat belt” sign was on and it remained on. Finally I held my stomach with one hand and clutched the seat with the other. With each drop I would snatch the curtain back, glance out, rip the curtain shut and collapse against my seat.

Suddenly I looked up to see the steward smiling down and saying something silly, “What’s the matter?”
I managed to show a tooth or two and said, “Heh, heh, is it always like this?”
He played innocent: “Like what?”
“This bumping up and down.”
“Bad roads,” he grinned and walked on.

I wondered why the pilot didn’t go up. I didn’t want to consider his going down! The steward kept taking little bags to the woman seated in front of me. I wondered if she was sick or writing farewell messages on them. Finally that damned seat belt sign went off and we sailed along smoothly. The crew brought out lunch trays and began serving. I couldn’t eat, but I managed to enjoy two glasses of delicious Chilean red wine.

Lucy surprised me by saying, “Whew, was I scared.”

Suddenly the stewardesses snatched away the lunch trays as the plane started hitting “bad roads” again. I wondered how much more buffeting the plane could take, not to mention me. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and prayed. Soon the steward announced our landing in Buenos Aires. As we descended, I opened the curtain and peeped out. It was early afternoon, but outside it was pitch black. On our first attempt, we overshot the field. That means we were almost on the ground, not the runway. We could clearly see airport personnel standing in doorways waiting for our plane to crash. We zoomed back up. The steward announced that due to a bad storm we would have to circle for a few minutes. We circled for 30 minutes. I decided that in the event that they had to return to Chile, they would probably have to knock me out. I wanted off that plane.

I never did believe the song, “All God’s Children Got Wings” and I certainly wasn’t ready to test it then. Lucy and I clutched hands as tears streamed down our faces. We were thinking of our families so far away. The steward leaned over us and said something. I didn’t hear what he said, but I had had enough of him. I waved him away. Let us die in peace.

Just before our third attempt to land, the steward announced, in a voice that I can only describe as one of certain doom, that the pilot was going to land. His voice sounded like this is it! Somehow we landed safely. Lucy and I staggered off the plane on jelly legs. For some reason in Latin America often there are photographers at planeside when one lands. True to form, in Buenos Aires there was a photographer who took a picture of us as we descended the steps of the plane, and we looked like two wild, wild women who had escaped from an execution squad. Lucy and did not discuss the flight because we both were painfully aware that we had to return to Cuzco. But I knew what she didn’t know: that my return would not be on a plane.

That evening we went to see Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.” In the middle of the movie Lucy, who had been relatively calm during that wretched flight, suddenly became ill and we had to leave. She was having a delayed reaction, whereas I, who had nearly whooped and hollered throughout the flight, was perfectly fine. The next day I called our director in Cuzco and told him about the flight. I said we were making train reservations, but some of the passes the train had to cross were closed due to snow, and I frankly didn’t know when we would get back to Cuzco. I told him that we might have to stay in Buenos Aires till spring.

Buenos Aires was a gorgeous city. It looked exactly the way I imagined European cities looked. Here was the home of the famed Argentine gauchos (cowboys), pampas (prairies), incredible beef, and the tango. There were lovely boutiques, fine wines, wide boulevards, and the stunning Casa Rosada, The Pink House, the equivalent of The White House. I could have lived there happily until spring or until our money ran out.

We strolled down the world’s widest avenue, Nueve de Julio, with its centered Obelisk that resembles the Washington Monument. We bought souvenirs such as mate (an herbal tea) cups trimmed in silver, along with a matching silver spoon/straw, some inexpensive leather goods, including a leather stationery case with the map of Latin America on the cover. What better place to hunker down until spring? I bought tons of souvenirs, my plane and train tickets, hotel rooms, food, etc. and I only spent a grand total of $250! We took a fabulous five-day train trip from Buenos Aires to Cochabamba, Bolivia. We played cards, chatted with fellow travelers, ate, and napped. We were just going to overnight in La Paz. What a mistake that was!


****

Friday, September 10, 2010

H O T N E W S!! PORNCHAI MOONTRI AND THE ART OF MODEL SHIPBUILDING

PORNCHAI MOONTRI - "Come, Sail Away! Pornchai Moontri and the Art of Model Shipbuilding"

To see exquisitely carved model ships handcrafted by my talented Godson, Pornchai Moontri, go to

http://www.thesestonewalls.com/gordon-macrae/come-sail-away-pornchai-moontri-and-the-art-of-model-shipbuilding/

... and be amazed!! He is incredibly talented! Go now!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ZANZIBAR



ZANZIBAR

Unity among the cattle makes the lion lie down hungry.
Swahili



Zanzibar was the place I ran to when I tired of Dar es Salaam. How I loved that spice island. The first time visited, I flew over on a Fokker Friendship, a tiny plane that held about 14 people. I expected to smell cloves the moment I stepped off the plane. I never did smell cloves, despite this island being the home of cloves. Zanzibar was calming and luscious in an enchanting, old, quaint manner. The people were beautiful and stately, kind and welcoming, and I adored the old, exquisitely carved wooden doors that adorned buildings. I close my eyes and I see old courtyards shuttered by those elaborately carved doors. The island is also known for its ornately carved, wooden chests that range from miniature boxes to larger chests for linens or a trousseau, all done by master carvers who inherited their skills from their forefathers.

This island was once a nation, a tiny one, but still a nation. It thrived and was a wealthy island. Its people are beautiful blends of the African women of Zanzibar, and the Arab sultans who ruled. Zanzibar is also the site of bloody massacres.The more peaceful a place, it seems to me, the bloodier its history. The kinder the people are, the more fire they have come through. Zanzibar and Haiti are two examples of nations whose history is written in blood, and yet both have incredibly gracious, and welcoming people.

Zanzibar was always wealthier than the mainland of Tanganyika, and considerably more modern. It had a thriving television station and those who could afford televisions had them. When the two countries joined and became Tanzania, television remained forbidden on the mainland. President Julius Nyerere said television would never be permitted on the mainland until everybody could afford one.

Once, instead of the 20-minute flight on a Fokker Friendship plane, or 17 minutes on the newly acquired jets, I decided to take a leisurely boat trip over to the island. The trip took four hours. There were hundreds of people on the ship. I napped and read in my cabin until we arrived. After we docked I left my cabin. The women were lined up on one side of the door leading to the gangplank, and men lined the other side. I noticed only the line of men was moving. The women began pushing to get off. To my horror the men pushed them right back. I looked around but could see no ship attendants to maintain order. There were more men than women and that indicated that we would be the last off the ship. One of our Fulbright professors was waiting for me at the dock, and I knew he thought – as did I - that a diplomat would be among the first off. It was not going to happen that day. Diplomat or no, I got in line with the rest of the women and let myself be jostled and pushed as they were. I resented the fact that the ship’s crew were nowhere in sight, and I was furious that the men had so little regard for the women.

When I finally reached the deck I saw that the gangplank went straight down instead of sloping onto the dock. A young American man tried to help me off. He said the gangplank was the one used for cattle. Somehow the ship crew was unable to “find” the gangplank for humans. Women were falling into the water as the men pushed them out of their way. The women tried desperately to hang onto their belongings. It was a scene from hell. It was as if somebody had yelled, “Fire!” The young man stayed behind me to try to keep me from being pushed and pummeled, but when I reached the gangplank I balked at going down. I knew I would fall into the water. He was encouraging me to go down, but I was too scared. I needed space before venturing down that gangplank. When I hesitated, I was immediately shoved aside.

My new friend managed to get off, and stood on the dock yelling at me to throw my huge handbag so that I could use both hands to help myself disembark. I did not want to throw my handbag to a total stranger. I didn’t know his name or anything about him. In my purse were my passport, money, my diplomatic carnet (I.D. card) from the Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I was going to hang onto it no matter what else happened.

I tried putting my handbag around my neck, but it almost choked me because it was so heavy. I also had an overnight bag, but he never asked me to throw that. All around me women were screaming and pushing and being pushed. The men wanted the women to get out of their way. The young man continued trying to coax me down the cattle ramp, but my feet were unable to get the leverage I needed to go down the ramp. Finally, I saw him leaving the dock.

I tried to plant my feet and maintain a stance to prepare to go down the gangplank. I had to push people away from me, and finally I was able to make the dangerous trek down and onto the dock. I wore a dress that had tiny buttons down the front. I never unbuttoned it all the way because there were about 40 buttons. When I got off the ship I looked down, and every button was undone. My dress stood wide open. It took a lot of rubbing, gyrating, and twisting to get 40 buttons undone, but undone they were. And so was I! I was hot, sweaty, and looked as if I had come through a battle, which I had. I calmly put my overnight bag down and continuing to hang onto my purse, managed to button every single damned button on that dress that I never wore again.

It had taken me over an hour to disembark, and the Fulbright professor had left the dock, assuming that I was not on the ship since I was not among the first to get off. I took a taxi to my hotel and immediately made arrangements to return to Dar es Salaam via plane. I had had enough of Tanzanian ships.

The Zanzibaris are warm and outgoing. Fatma was a dear friend who was a curator at the museum in Zanzibar. Periodically she would come to the mainland and spend a week or longer with me. She was a wonderful cook, and she loved cooking. Before she returned to Zanzibar, she always prepared food for me to freeze and have after she left. She told me once that “security people” in Zanzibar had warned her that she should not become too friendly with Americans. I told her not to endanger herself. She pooh-poohed the idea that there was any danger and continued visiting me.

In December of 1979, Fatma came to spend Christmas with me. Fatma was Muslim, and I suppose she wanted to see how Christians celebrated the birth of Christ. I had also invited an elderly American woman, Ruby, a professor from Temple University who had been staying at the dingy YWCA, and who came into my office to get some information. I could not see her remaining in that dingy YWCA over the holidays, and I invited her to move into my residence. After all, I had four bedrooms and four baths. I welcomed the company. The three of us were invited to the homes of embassy families, and I hosted a big Christmas party with dancing. The three of us laughed a lot, and had a wonderful time. I went off to Mass on Christmas Day after leaving tiny presents for my two guests. We were invited to the home of the USAID Director for a traditional Christmas Dinner. Everyone made Fatma and Ruby feel welcomed, and I felt especially blessed in having such delightful houseguests at Christmastime.

{Note: In 1985 I was back on assignment in Washington, DC when I had a telephone call from Fatma. She was working at the Tanzanian Embassy in London as a Foreign Service Officer. It was wonderful hearing from her. We talked about visiting each other soon. Later, she wrote that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and within a few months I learned that she had died. I was devastated. I will always remember her laughter and the fun we had together. Religion was never a factor in our friendship because we respected each other’s religion. Why can’t the rest of the world be as accepting as Fatma and I were of each other? I treasure her friendship, and I miss her terribly.}

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

MEETING UNCLE MICHAEL

MEETING UNCLE MICHAEL
by Ebony B. Duline (a miniature poodle and adorable)

The first time I met Uncle Michael I wasn’t too impressed with him. If truth be told, I wasn’t impressed at all. He and Auntie Queen rushed in one Friday afternoon from Washington, D.C. A lot of other things had been going on in our house and I knew it had to do with Granny Bertha. My mommy was crying and people were coming in and out and I was all but forgotten…until they left at night, and then my mommy cuddled and talked to me.

When the DC-ites arrived they all ran over to Granny Bertha’s apartment and brought back some things. The next day they spent all day over there and when they came back, they were chattering about how hard Uncle Michael worked and what he had accomplished. Hey, what a big word for a little person like me! Mommy always says I’m my own little person, so I guess that means I’m a person. I still wasn’t impressed with Mikey as I thought of him. He seemed preoccupied and all but ignored me. Auntie Queen was sweet, but even so, I could tell that she was not real crazy about me. My attitude was that they could head back to Washington, and the sooner the better.

The three of them came in long enough to shower and change clothes, have a glass of wine……and, oh, that’s another thing. That Mikey was slurping down anything liquid! Mommy had bought him a six pack of some foreign beer. He swallowed that down like it was water and was looking for some more. She seemed surprised that the six pack was not going to last until Sunday. Mikey then looked around and began drinking wine. He could drink and he never got drunk!

Mommy gave me a quick walk – emphasis on quick! – and they were off to dinner at Granny Gladys’ and Grandpa Dougie’s. And why didn’t they take me? That is my question! I had been to my grandparent’s home before. But oh, no, they left me home alone. I had time to think about this visit and my thoughts were not nice!

It wasn’t enough that Mommy gave Auntie Queen the master, oops, the mistress’ suite while we slept in the library as she loves calling that little hole. I call it the black hole of Calcutta cause all you can see is books and magazines piled on top of more books and magazines. A computer sticks up out of the chaos. And that was where I had to sleep while Auntie Queen lolled in MY suite. I was loath to understand why I had to give up my bed just cause Mommy wanted Qwenie to be comfy. So there Mommy and me were stuffed in the library for two nights. There was hardly room for me to turn my ass-sets around. The sofa bed took up all of the space. So, I was not too happy about the sleeping arrangements. Plus, I had been alone all day and now they were going out for half the night.

The next morning Mikey said he would take me walking. Humph. I didn’t want him taking me anywhere. He’d barely said hello to me in two days, and now he wanted to take me walking. What an experience that would be! Mommy was so happy that she didn’t have to change out of her nightgown and take me out. She could get breakfast started. I wasn’t happy worth a dime.

Off I went with Mr. Mikey! He chatted as we walked and I ignored him. I did my bidness and told him to take me home. I led the way. He didn’t know anything about walking me. I wanted my mommy to walk me.
When we got back home, Mikey went into the guest bathroom to wash his hands. Mommy was in the kitchen rattling pots and pans. I decided it was time to let everybody know what I thought of the way I was being treated. I got in the middle of the living room floor. I squatted and I peed and peed just as Mikey walked in, and at the same time Mommy came out of the kitchen. My timing was impeccable! There’s another one of those big words that I know! Mommy shrieked, “Ebony, what are you doing?!” She could see that I was peeing. Mikey yelled, “What a nasty, disgusting little dog!” I was gonna show him disgusting!

Mommy asked Mikey what I did outside. He said I did everything. Neither of them knew then that we doggie persons don’t let out all of our urine at once. We always save some in case we come across a spot that needs to be marked. And the living room definitely needed to be marked as MY territory and not Mikey’s! Mikey retreated to his room in disgust. Mommy’s face looked like a thundercloud. She was hotter than a firecracker as Uncle Rabbit used to say. She grabbed paper towels, stain remover, rubber gloves, and I ran into the library and out of sight. I could hear her talking out loud, and I was pretty certain she had not learned those words in Sunday school. Later, I heard her telling Mikey and Qwenie that Granny Bertha’s death and all the excitement caused by that probably caused me to act out. I really wanted to get into Mikey’s room to pee on his suitcase or on his clothes, or worse. But I never got the opportunity. I wanted to make another statement.

Finally that afternoon the limo arrived to take those DC characters back to the airport. When they said goodbye to me, I replied, “Good riddance.” They didn’t speak my language, but I think they got the message. When Mommy returned from the airport it was just the two of us again. I cuddled up to her and all was forgiven. What a good doggie I am!

***

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Death of a Priest (Summer Re-run) by Charlene C. Duline

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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fr. Gordon J. MacRae: A Curious Case

Fr. Gordon J. MacRae: A Curious Case
by Charlene C. Duline

Precious Lord, take my hand

Thus ends the Year of the Priest. It might also signal the end of the priesthood as we know it. The terrible tar brush of sexual abuse accusations dating from 50 years ago now touches every priest in the United States. Every diocesan priest now is aware that he is only one phone call away from having his priesthood destroyed. One phone call away from being a respected priest and spiritual adviser to his parishioners, to being looked upon as a pervert operating as a priest in order to molest children. Every diocesan priest knows that he is on his own; there is no support from his bishop.

A good example of this is the curious case of Fr. Gordon MacRae, a priest of the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire. When Fr. MacRae was accused, his bishop offered to help fund his legal expenses. It is the rare diocesan priest who has the money to pay for a legal defense. Fr. MacRae accepted his offer. That was the last he heard of the offer. Not one word of help or hope has been issued from his diocese since. His accusers were paid $700,000 and a good priest went to prison for, in effect, the rest of his life. The betrayals continued.

Lead me on, let me stand

Fr. MacRae never stood a chance. During his trial, the judge, Arthur Brennan, apparently had decided that the defendant was guilty and needed to be made an example for others. He instructed the jury to disregard the multitude of inconsistencies in the testimony of the accuser; refused to allow Fr. MacRae and his attorney access to the accuser’s juvenile and adult criminal records, and ignored signals given to the accuser from a witness in the courtroom. The prosecutor was running for a state office, and the conviction of Fr. MacRae was a very public notch on his belt. Between the judge and the prosecutor, it was a match made in hell.

The judge castigated Fr. MacRae for maintaining his innocence, and he also had extremely harsh words for Fr. MacRae’s canon lawyer who testified on Fr. MacRae’s behalf. Furious with Fr. MacRae for insisting that he was innocent, the judge sentenced Fr. MacRae to 33 ½ - 67 yrs for crimes that never happened. Later his accusers said they had been assured that Fr. MacRae would take the plea bargain offered to him, and he would be out of prison in one or two years. Their twisted minds could not fathom that someone with the religious convictions of Fr. MacRae would not succumb to such an offer. They might have been sorry that Fr. MacRae went to prison for the rest of his life, but apparently they were not sorry enough to return the money they obtained fraudulently. Be that as it may, Fr. MacRae knows that he will be delivered one way or another, for didn’t God deliver Daniel from the lions’ den, and David from Goliath, and Jonah from the belly of the whale? Fr. MacRae's faith is what keeps him strong, decisive, brilliant and priestly.

Through the storm, through the night…

When this good priest went to prison, he was greeted by the usual welcoming party reserved for those accused of molesting children: late at night three hooded men came into his cell armed with broomsticks, and beat and kicked him mercilessly. He woke up in the prison’s infirmary where he spent several days recovering from his injuries. From the infirmary he was sent to the “hole,” solitary confinement, for several months. What was he guilty of you ask? He was guilty of being a high profile prisoner, and that made his attackers almost kill him. It was all his fault that he was brutally beaten, and for that he went to solitary for months. Now 16 years later the results of those injuries are manifesting themselves. Fr. MacRae is in constant pain from two collapsed disks in the fourth and fifth vertebrae, highly likely to have been caused by the beating delivered that terrible night so long ago. He says it is unlikely that the prison officials will allow him to have an MRI to determine the extent of his back damage because of the expense. For now, Fr. MacRae is given an over-the-counter pain medication which does nothing to begin to mask the pain, he says. It is becoming increasingly difficult for him to turn his head or to sit for hours on a plastic bucket typing letters or his blog.

I’m tired. I’m weak. I’m worn …

Medical treatment in prison is neither a given, nor is it a right. No matter how sick an inmate is, he has to line up for hours, and hope to see a nurse or someone who has read a first-aid manual. Then, and only then, if that first-aid manual graduate decides the inmate doesn’t need to see a doctor, he won’t see a doctor. Not long ago, one New Hampshire lawmaker proposed hiring veterinarians instead of medical doctors to look after prisoners’ medical needs. His attitude was that prisoners are only slightly above animals, so why shouldn’t they have a veterinarian to look after them, and it would be cheaper. Fortunately his fellow lawmakers did not agree with him.

Fr. MacRae, this priest, this holy man, this noble person, offered to withdraw his defense and remain silent in prison for the rest of his life if his bishop asked him to do so for the good of the Church. “Bishop McCormack later told me that he considered my overture.” The bishop CONSIDERED asking Fr. MacRae to sit quietly in prison for the rest of his life without attempting to save himself, even though the bishop said he knew Fr. MacRae was innocent? That is absolutely unfathomable to me. I’d like to shake both of them - the one for even considering that idiotic notion of staying in prison in order not to embarrass the Church, and the other one for considering such an asinine offer to save his hide. Dear God, forgive me, I just cannot believe You would allow such cruelty, such inconsiderateness, such stupidity to reign in the name of Your Church. What does go on in the minds of men?

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home …

The traditional day of ordination in my Archdiocese is the first Saturday in June. This year there were no men kneeling before the Archbishop for the powerful words ordaining them to the priesthood. Will this change next year? On one hand, we lament this dearth of seminarians. On the other hand, one has to wonder who in his right mind would want to join the number of priests being cast asunder.

Consider the numbers of good priests who proselytize by their very being, who are loved by their parishioners, who work tirelessly, and only during the dark, lonely nights let down their guard and tell our Lord of their struggles. Think how incredibly difficult is for our priests to represent our Church while fearing the wrath of the heathen, and even the wrath of some of their parishioners? One priest said to me, “I now shake hands with the altar servers (the children) and I hug the adults.” He thought that was safe, and so did I at the time. But now I realize that it’s not so safe - God forbid that his hug should accidentally touch a woman’s breast. If she’s a certain type of woman, she’ll be on her way to SNAP and our Archdiocese will be held up by some grubby attorney for millions of dollars. No, our dear priests are not safe anyplace, especially in Church.

Hear my cry, hear my call

I know that our Lord forgave sinners and preached love, compassion and forgiveness. So far, I have heard NONE of that directed to priests in prison. All the rhetoric is about the “victims.” Well, many years ago I was a victim, and nobody has ever apologized to me; nobody has ever thrown any money at me; nobody knows what I still suffer. So, who do I take to court? Is there a Diocese out there with money it can’t give away fast enough, and some attorney who makes his living by suing the Catholic Church, who could help me get some of that money? I could certainly use it for incarcerated priests - to purchase books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, money for commissary items, money for telephone calls, for postage stamps, for toilet tissue, for shaving cream, shoes, craft projects, etc.

Hold my hand lest I fall …

As for Fr. MacRae, in prison he is saving souls and converting inmates solely by his own example. Those around him feel his spirituality even before they learn that he is a priest. The toughest of the tough hang out at his cell. One precious soul sits in a corner in the cell that Fr. MacRae shares with Pornchai, my Godson, and watches television. Skooter has a cell now that he shares with another inmate, but he prefers to sit on the floor in a corner in the cell of this holy man. Inmates stand in the cell and outside the cell asking for Fr. MacRae’s help with any and everything. His patience is unlimited. He turns no one away. He is amazing. As the song goes: “ … more than amazing, more than marvelous; more than miraculous could ever be …** that’s what Fr. MacRae is to those who live with him, to those who know and love him. His is indeed a curious case that gets “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Read it for yourself: www.TheseStoneWalls.com.

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home*







*Written by Thomas A. Dorsey
** Sandi Patty