Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Scapegoating of Catholic Priests in Prison

by Charlene C. Duline





Through my ministry to Catholic priests in prison, I have learned the meaning of sadness, and the reality of what it's like to be abandoned by an institution these priests once served.

No, I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve been upset and torn by the vilification of Father John Corapi, Father Frank Pavone, Father David Deibel, Father Gordon MacRae, and of course, my priests in prison for whom my heart bleeds daily. Every morning during my meditation, each one is named in prayer.

I find it exceedingly difficult to pray for their bishops – our bishops – our shepherds who would lead us out of the forest into the jungle. I guess I will finally have to admit that the U.S. Conference of Bishops (USCBB) is an old boys group who are thumbing their noses at American Catholics as they continue to crucify any priest accused. Can’t they see beyond their noses that people are popping up like jumping jacks to say, “Father so-and-so touched me in 1945”? Or, “I just remembered that in 1960, a priest raped me”? As a victim of rape at the age of eleven, with a gun held to my head, I assure you it is impossible to forget being raped. I wish I could forget it. That rape affected the rest of my life. Money would not have helped me.

Yet the SNAP lawyers would have us believe that millions of dollars for every “accuser” is the cure for “touching” and for “rape.” Somehow they seem to have convinced many Americans that money, and only money, will soothe the ravaged souls of the “accusers.” The bottom line is money. We have been taught that money is the root of all evil. We know that to be true. Our bishops have not yet learned that.

The bishops in their wisdom hoped that by accepting an accuser’s word about being abused by a priest, they would give them the amount of money they wanted and that would make accusers go away. Instead, the prospect of obtaining money without showing any proof, has become the trademark of these miserable lawyers who are now millionaires. Unscrupulous lawyers advertise for people to come forth and make accusations. The vindictive members of SNAP seize every opportunity to shame the Catholic Church. And they call themselves “Catholic”? They hate the Church and are in cahoots with their hateful millionaire lawyers to bankrupt the Catholic Church. Have you noticed that people are not coming out of the woodwork to sue the public schools, or other religions? And why is that? It is because any person with an ounce of intelligence knows that it is only the Catholic Church that doles out money without asking any questions! How unfair to the accused priests and to parishioners. After all, it's our money!

A recent meeting of the USCCB would have been the perfect time to rethink the Dallas Charter. Unless and until that Charter is rescinded, no Catholic priest or parish can relax. I know there are some bishops who abhor the Dallas Charter, and some quietly work to serve priests in prison. There is little they can do except write to the men, and visit them in prison – as our Lord exhorted us to do. The horror is that no accused priest has access to a canon lawyer. According to Canon Law, an accused priest is to be given funds for a canon lawyer by his bishop. Most priests cannot afford a civil attorney and a canon law specialist at the same time. The bishops will not make a canon lawyer available to help an accused priest, and they rush about getting their own lawyers funded by their parishioners’ donations. What a mockery of parishioners and the Church.

Our bishops simply want to rid themselves of any priest who is accused. This is so unfair to men who have devoted their lives to the Church and its people. Among these are some priests who have died, who now have their memories tarnished and their names removed from schools, churches, and other places of honor. I’m told one bishop even had a priest’s body disinterred from holy ground. Can you feel the horror, the unfairness of it all? I can, maybe because I am in touch with many of our priests in prison. I received a letter from one such priest yesterday. I cried as I read the ending:

“Charlene, I enjoyed so much hearing from you and feeling your acceptance of who I am despite what I have done in the past – and it is past. My suffering is small compensation and penance. I know God is loving and forgiving and it is heartening to know that there are people like yourself who are as well. My prayers are daily offered with a remembrance of you and your good works. I beg a remembrance in your prayers. “

These priests have been so vilified that even when one died in prison a few years ago, his family wanted his death kept quiet for fear of the media and SNAP. Father died in a Western state and seven of us journeyed to his funeral concelebrated by four priests in a funeral home. We had been advised not to seek a Catholic Church because the bishop would not permit Father to have a Catholic funeral. Father had been buried, and after the Mass the seven of us went out to the cemetery to place flowers on his grave. We also knelt and sang at his final resting place. He will never be forgotten.

These days I intervene when an incarcerated priest is sick and cannot get medical attention. I rattle the cage of his bishop and parish to intercede, but whether they do or not, I demand medical care, and we usually get action. A committed soul who helps me is Dolores N. Crowley. She writes and cares for six inmates. I try to keep in touch with about 30. We send spiritual books to priests in prison, money for telephone calls, and a little money for commissary items to supplement their extremely poor prison diets. I always thought inmates had to be served balanced meals with meat, veggies and a starch. Not so! They serve them any food items that are recalled and deemed unfit for human consumption. Prisons grab such foods because they are cheap, and that is the bottom line. Many Departments of Corrections are turning over their prisons to private contractors and getting rid of state employees. Inmates say their meals will become worse because private prisons are in the business to show DOCs that they can save them money – even at the expense of the inmates’ health. The inmates are forced to buy additional food items from the commissary in order not to starve. The inmates who have no income or help from family and friends are forced to eat the muck that is served in the prison.

If my parish priest were sentenced to prison for sexual abuse, I would look beyond that, and write to him. I would send him cards on holidays, especially on his birthday. I would send articles from magazines and newspapers that I thought would interest him. I would encourage him to become involved in ministry in his prison. He is still a priest, even if he has been laicized. I am told that very few parishioners contact their priests in prison. I beg you to please contact your priest if he is incarcerated. Do not judge these men. Yes, some are sick men. Some are innocent. They are all human, and humans do make mistakes.

Last Sunday I smiled as the homilist spoke about Jesus’ admonition to visit the sick and the imprisoned – “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-46)

I will remember that…always.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

ITALY (cont.)



Up at 7:00 am to head for Foggia. We took a “high speed train” that left Rome at 10:50 a.m. It cruised along at about 40 mph. Three hours later we arrived at Foggia where we took a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo – the home of St. Padre Pio as he is fondly called. In Foggia we met a nun from the Philippines who needed help with her luggage, and in getting on and off the bus. We were happy to assist her…. Although at that point, I could have used some help myself.

When we arrived at our destination, Dee telephoned the nun she had talked to when she reserved a room at the convent. There was no answer. A shopkeeper said they must be at siesta. Siesta indeed! Dee wanted to take a taxi to the convent. No taxis. The shopkeeper said they were on siesta also. But not to despair. He saw a friend of his and got him to drive us to the convent. We got there and rang and rang and rang. Nobody came to the door. I continued ringing while Dee called on the phone. No answer.

Then a car stopped and a woman got out and came to see if she could help us. In the car with her was the nun we had met when we transferred from the train to the bus. We explained our situation, and she called the hotel that had been recommended to us, and learned that they had a room for us. Only when the hotel is full do the nuns open the convent. Suddenly we saw a nun in full habit hustling down the hilly street toward us. Then we saw a second nun trotting as fast as she could behind the first nun. The streets were narrow and steep. The nuns explained that there had been a cancellation and they had a room for us at the hotel. Hallelujah!! The nuns insisted on hiking back up the hill while we were more than happy to get in the car with our angel lady.


At the hotel we registered, tossed our bags into the room, and headed for St. Pio’s tomb. By now it was around 2 pm and few tourists were around. In the huge, new church there was no tomb. We walked around and around, up and down, and finally we were in the presence of St. Pio. His tomb is located in a very modern, stylistic chapel nestled behind the main Church. His body is no longer on display, but one can view and touch the cloth covering his casket.

Before leaving the holy place, I arranged for a Mass to be celebrated for Fr. Gordon J. MacRae (www.TheseStoneWalls.com). I also wrote a letter to St. Pio asking his help to free Fr. Gordon. The monks there will keep him in their prayers. On both sides of the hallway leading away from St. Pio’s chapel are scenes of St. Pio’s life on one side and St. Francis’ life on the other side: both monks, both Franciscans, both stigmatists. We marveled at the vivid scenes, took photos and finally left to attend the 4:30 Mass in the big Church.

As we walked toward the Church for Mass, suddenly we noticed an old friar walking in front of us. He was slightly bent over and his grey hair and grey beard were reminiscent of St. Pio. I commented that maybe it was St. Pio. Nothing would have surprised me. One felt in the presence of great spirituality. A holy man had walked these hills day after day. His spirit is here. We walked faster. I had to see his face. I was almost convinced that it was indeed St. Pio. Alas, it was not, but for a fleeting moment, there was hope.


There is a huge hospital located at the highest point in the city, called Home for the Relief of Suffering. This hospital, founded by Padre Pio in 1940 and completed in 1956, is known for its technology and is considered one of the best in Europe. The hospital dominates San Giovanni Rotondo.

Early the next morning we began the trip back to Rome. I thought when I left Peru I would never again be in a bus or car riding white-knuckled around mountains with steep, steep drop-offs. Yet, here I was hanging onto the seat in front of me as our huge bus took the sharp curves. There was very little traffic. In fact, the bus ride was considerably faster than the “high speed trains.” With my penchant for worrying, I hoped the brakes were in good working order.


ASSISI
And then there was Assisi. Ah, what a place. We took a train from Rome to Perugia, and another train from Perugia to Foligno, and finally another bus to Assisi. Ah, the beautiful Assisi where one immediately feels the spirituality and St. Francis’ presence is everywhere. I felt at home here. Our hostess had arranged for a seasoned tour guide who lives in Assisi to show us as much as possible in 24 hours. He met us at the station, and we began our tour in the valley.

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli is the first structure we saw. This gorgeous basilica was built to protect the Portiuncola Chapel, the tiny chapel St. Francis fled to when he left his family. He restored the chapel and founded the Franciscan Order. Because so many pilgrims visited this hallowed chapel, the basilica was built to accommodate them. The Portiuncola is a jewel in the basilica. We walked inside and saw where St. Francis lived and preached; we offered prayers; admired the art work, the frescoes, and were overwhelmed by the sanctity of this exquisite chapel. No photos are allowed in the basilica, so we walked through very slowly trying to take in all the history that surrounded us. We descended to the lower Church to visit St. Francis’ tomb.


As we stepped outside the Basilica, we saw a life-size statue of St. Francis. His hands are out-stretched and they hold a large basket. To our amazement there were white doves in the basket. Our guide said, “Yes, they are real.” Since the days of St. Francis, white doves have been coming here. Remember that St. Francis talked to birds and other animals about God. He saved white doves from being sold and probably killed. This is their haven. The doves were gorgeous. They were eating, and occasionally they looked at us and then continued with the business of eating. They were totally unafraid of people. They knew they were safe there. It was an extraordinary sight.


As we entered the rose garden via the sacristy, we saw the beautiful roses that do not have thorns. It seems that St. Francis rolled naked in the bramble thorns one night because he felt tempted to abandon his holy life. He wanted to overcome the temptation. As soon as his body came into contact with the thorns, the thorns disappeared and to this day, those roses are completely without thorns. Our guide said people have tried to plant those roses elsewhere, but they will only bloom in that particular rose garden. Wow, our St. Francis was amazing, n’est-ce-pas?


Later we visited St. Francis’ cell and walked up and down stairs, and ducked our heads beneath low thresholds. We walked in the garden with its one-mile length for exercise for the friars, and we stood at the site where the monks celebrate Christmas Eve Mass as St. Francis celebrated it. St. Francis was the originator of the Creche and popular devotion to the Holy Family scene that we've come to associate with a Catholic celebration of Christmas. He used live animals and people for his manger scene. How I would love to have witnessed that!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

AN AUDIENCE AT THE VATICAN AND MORE, by Charlene C. Duline




I have been blessed to see two of our Popes in person; one I saw two times. Now, in Rome again, I was going to see Pope Benedict XVI. Dee’s archbishop in Anchorage wrote for tickets for us, and when we picked up our tickets we were told that we must be special because our tickets were for the area on the same level as the Pope. The audience was to begin at 10:30 a.m. I was excited and wide awake and ready to get up at 6 a.m., but remained quiet until shortly before 7 a.m. We arrived at St. Peter’s around 8:30 a.m., thanks to a taxi driver who was good, but kept me gasping with his near hits. No, those were not near misses, they were definitely near hits!

At St. Peter’s we went through security and passed thousands of people already there. Our seats were up on a dais close to the Pope. I put on my huge straw hat and sunscreen as the sun bore down. Some people had umbrellas up shielding them from the sun. We knew they knew they were going to have to lower those umbrellas when the Pope arrived. It got hotter and hotter. Several bishops came in along with their friends.

We saw a young priest enter with an older priest. The senior man went to the area closest to the Pope. The junior man came to our row looking for a seat. Apparently he was told the seats were all taken. He turned away dejected and went to the other side to sit where he could only see the back of the Pope’s head. There was an empty seat next to me, and Dee went over and brought him back. He was a young Cistercian who was the private secretary to the Abbott of the order who now sat near the Pope’s chair. I was delighted that he joined us because it gave Dee somebody else to talk to since she had exhausted the family from Texas on the other side of us. Just kidding...sorta!


And suddenly people at the front began standing, and like a wave, people in row after row stood and there in his Pope mobile was the Vicar of Christ himself. Pope Benedict XVI stood waving and smiling, and the applause broke out and didn’t stop. He went up and down row after row, and smiled as if he was as thrilled as we were. Maybe he was. Finally the car drove right up to the dais and the Pope walked to his chair. The readings began. They were about Sodom and Gomorrah. And then the Pope spoke about our society, and in so many words, apologized again for the abuse by some priests. Methinks he has apologized enough because every time he does several hundred false claimants reach for the phone to call Jeffrey Anderson or some other lowlife attorney for some spending money to the detriment of some innocent priests!


Greetings began in various languages. The Pope always added his own special message when the presenter finished speaking. There was one language that we could not identify. Dee said she knew the Pope was not going to speak in that language. Wrong! Ah, what a Pope we have!

I took a number of items to be blessed by the Pope and I was holding them in both hands. I was barely able to make the Sign of the Cross. But I was blessed along with my “family” which includes my family of broken priests, my “other parents” – Mama Gladys and Daddy Dougie, my sisters, and if Ebony had been here, she too would have gotten a blessing. Those items are very, very special and most will be given to my “family” members. Unfortunately I can only share prayer cards with my priests in prison.

It was a magical day even though there were thousands of pilgrims seated in St. Peter’s Square, and hundreds more standing around. Pope Benedict always has a serene expression on his face and when he smiles, his face seems to light up. An aura of holiness surrounds him. He appears to be a man of peace, and a man at peace. What a burden he carries. There is a room in the Vatican called the “Crying Room.” It is the room into which the Pope-designate goes to ponder the burden the cardinals have asked him to undertake – to guide the Roman Catholics of the world. He meditates and prays in this room. Then he dresses in his papal garb, and comes out to lead the Church. It is said that every man has come out of that room in tears. I can understand why.

The first pope I saw was Pope Paul VI who visited the United Nations in 1965. He requested a special audience with the common folk, i.e., clerical staff and others who were not members of a diplomatic delegation to the UN. I was thrilled until I learned that each office would have a certain number of tickets allotted, and we would have to draw for a ticket. My boss was the head of two departments: Archives and Records Retirement. I was the only Catholic in my office, and I desperately wanted to win a ticket. Shortly after the drawing, my boss’ secretary from Archives called me. Frieda was Jewish. She said, “Charlene, I just drew a ticket to see the Pope. I want to see him, but I know it would mean so much to you to hear him, so I want to give you my ticket.” What an offer! I was overwhelmed, but I was able to tell Frieda that I too had drawn a ticket. She rejoiced with me, and together, the two of us, a Catholic and a Jew, attended the special meeting sought by Pope Paul VI. She was as excited as I was to see and hear the Pope. During his talk he told us that he brought each of us a present. I could hardly wait to receive my present.

After two weeks and no present, I called the office of the Secretary-General to ask about it. I was told that the presents would be given out shortly. I waited another two weeks and I called again. This time I said I was going to contact the Pope and tell him the UN was not giving us our presents. And this time I was told the truth: the Pope had not brought enough medals for the staff, and they had to figure out a diplomat way to tell him, and then he had to have additional medals made. So they held onto the medals the Pope had brought with him, and waited for him to send the rest of them. I waited not exactly patiently, but I waited. And then came the day we received our presents!

Each bronze medal was nestled in a small, suede-like bag. It is about two inches in diameter. On one side of the medal is the Pope’s coat of arms and the words Paulus .VI. Pont. VI. UN.4.Oct.1965 [Paul VI Supreme Pontiff, United Nations, 4 October, 1965]. On the other side is a burning bush and the words “Amoris Alumna Pax,” student of love and peace. What a thrill it was for all of us at the UN to receive a bronze medal, a blessed gift from the Pope himself. I had my medal encased, and I now wear it around my neck on special occasions. It is one of my most precious possessions… a gift from a Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
Two years later I visited Rome for the first time enroute to East Pakistan for a two year UN assignment. I managed to get a ticket for an audience with Paul VI, and imagine my surprise to find myself in an audience of several thousands. It was still a treat to see the pontiff.

I have been blessed three times to see two different Popes. The one I yearned to see was Blessed Pope John Paul II. He was my favorite because he made everyone feel special, went everywhere, met all kinds of people, forgave his would-be killer, kissed the ground when he arrived in a country (how often I have wanted to do that in sheer relief at landing safely!), and everybody loved him, even people who were not Catholic. He suffered much before he died. He showed us how to die although few of us, if any, will die with thousands of people beneath our window praying for us, wanting us to remain with them, but knowing that God waited for him on the other side. Blessed John Paul almost gave his life for us. It was our Blessed Mother who took him in her arms that day and saved him. No, selfishly I didn’t want him to leave us, but he deserved to rest in peace with our Lord. I doubt that there will ever be another Pope with such a scintillating personality, deep spirituality, obvious joie de vivre, and who will be so loved, especially by the youth. In their words, “The Pope rocks!” High acclaim indeed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

PILGRIMAGE TO ROME AND STOPS ALONG THE WAY

When I told people that I was taking a cruise to Italy they immediately asked what cruise ship left from Indy. They doubted that my carrier of choice, Royal Caribbean, would cruise up or down our White River, the only body of water anywhere near us. They were right. We were going to arrive at our carrier in Ft. Lauderdale via the old Greyhound bus. My penchant for traveling by any mode except planes has just about done me in. My traveling companion, Dee, and I took a 22 plus hour bus trip to Ft. Lauderdale. The driving was fine, but getting off and on the bus got tiresome fast! It was get off for them to clean the bus, or get off because it’s a rest stop (then let me rest!), or get off to change buses (once in Atlanta).

We arrived safely in Florida. During check in at the hotel, Dee started talking to folks – as she is wont to do! - who were also going to Europe, on another ship. In our room Dee announced that the couple wanted us to go out to dinner with them. I grimaced, and said I was going to get a shower and climb into bed to rest. I felt that my clothes should be peeled off me, and I didn’t know if I should brush or shave my teeth. They felt fuzzy. I wanted no contact with anybody until I had a shower, bed, and some rest in order to regain my good humor which had been absent since I left home.

When Dee returned from dinner hours later, I was resting in bed and watching the news about the killing of Osama bin Laden. My last thought before I slept was: the bastard’s death raises the price on every American’s head. Next morning I was rested, but my mood had not improved. As we approached the pier we saw our ship - it dwarfed all the other ships. It was the Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas – a H U G E ship/city. This is a ship with cafes and shops along the Royal Promenade, a five-story theatre, an ice-skating rink, three-story dining room, a basketball court, etc.

NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS
The boarding went smoothly. I was recovering from a cold and checked the “yes” box on the ship’s form asking if one had a cold. A nurse was dispatched to take my temperature, check ears and nose, to be sure that I was not going to contaminate other passengers. On previous cruises I noticed that crew members were stationed at the doorway of all restaurants, to be sure that passengers entering would use the hand sanitizer. There were no crew members keeping watch this time, and most passengers used the sanitizers, but some simply walked by it.

Our stateroom was ready and I was ready for it. Still exhausted from the bus trip, I wanted to sleep for a week, but adventure awaited! There was no life jacket drill for which I was grateful. I usually just put the life jacket around my neck and wait for an attendant to get it hooked correctly. If I ever have to use one, methinks I’ll just go down with the ship. We met our cabin attendant, a delightful young man from Jamaica, and we began exploring our home city for the next 13 nights.

At dinner we met our tablemates, a delightful elderly couple from Finland who now live in Florida. They were going home for the summer. We had wonderful waiters as I’ve always experienced on Royal Caribbean. After dinner Dee and I hit the casino and the slot machines. We didn’t do too badly.

Up fairly early the next day, well, earlier than I’m accustomed to. Dee was ready to continue exploring. I quickly discovered that whenever we left our stateroom, we had to walk about a mile to get anywhere! Dee was positively giddy because of this unexpected – not to mention unwanted – opportunity for me to exercise. It seemed that everything was at the end of the ship where we were not, and we were in what they called the “middle.” There were a lot of activities and things to do, but they were all early in the morning. That eliminated them for me. On our third night there was a Welcome Reception, a photo op with the Captain of the ship, and champagne.

We met people – how could we not when Dee is determined to meet any and everybody in the vicinity, who pass by, stand in a line, or are on the elevator. In view of the bin Laden killing, I asked her to stop telling people that I am a retired U.S. diplomat. I pointed out that U.S. diplomats would be first on the hit list of bin Laden’s foot soldiers. As we sat sipping our champagne and chatting with a Canadian guy, she went into her usual monologue about my background. Her voice carries and she cannot speak softly. I noticed we had gotten the attention of a group at a nearby table. When we stood to leave one of the women called me over to ask if I really was a retired diplomat and where I had served. Sigh…

I dreaded going anywhere because I knew we would always encounter people, and Dee would start raving about my book and my background. I joke that she’s the best agent I never had. I do appreciate her help, but I had asked her before the trip to allow me to travel in peace. I don’t like being on display ALL the time – and it is ALL the time when I’m with her.

Via our ship’s newspaper, “The Compass,” we learned there was a Catholic priest onboard. We planned to attend his 8 a.m. Mass on Day 4. When our 7 a.m. wake-up call came, the ship was rocking like a cradle. We grabbed our Sea-Band wristbands to stop the motion sickness before it began, and went back to sleep.

Day 5 arrived and escargots were on the dinner menu as an appetizer and as a main course. I live for this on every Royal Caribbean cruise! I ordered snails for my appetizer and snails for my main dish. Dee ordered them as an appetizer. Hers arrived and she dived in. To her credit, she shared one with me. My mouth watered. What can I say? I love French food, especially escargots. Suddenly the head waiter came over and said to me, “I’m sorry, but all the escargots are gone.” Surely he jested. I sat there waiting for him to smile and to bring my escargots. He then said they had run out of snails because so many people ordered them. I was flabbergasted! Later I realized that Americans were in the minority on this ship, most of the passengers were Europeans and, of course, they would enjoy escargots. The waiter apologized profusely, but there was no consoling me. He said they would have snails the next evening. I didn’t believe him. He asked me to order something else, but I didn’t want anything else. He then brought me two coupes of large shrimp with cocktail sauce. I ate the six, and was sharing the other coupe when the head waiter placed before me two plates of escargots! I began beaming. He said he had searched high and low for those two plates. He had gone to all of the specialty restaurants to find them. He never had a more appreciative diner.

We finally got to Mass on Mother’s Day. It was celebrated by Fr. David Remy from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Several hundred Catholics attended, and it was a lovely service with an excellent homily.

I forgot to attend the Welcome Back Party for previous RC guests. I was tired and simply forgot. I didn’t forget the next formal night which was the Captain’s Invitation-Only Reception where the champagne flowed. There was also a special invitation-only event to visit the ice-skating rink. We were told to “dress warmly.” As guests arrived, waiters walked around with trays of champagne, beer, red and white wine, and mixed drinks. Hors d’oeuvres were also available. There was a short talk by the Captain about the ice skating rink, and an introduction to some of their stars on ice. The Captain also shared some information about the newest RC ship which will be available in 2013. It will be another behemoth and will carry 5000 passengers (as opposed to our Navigator of the Seas which carried 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 crew. That means one will have to walk twice as far as we walked on this mammoth. I can hardly wait! We attended the ice show which was spectacular. Even with the rough seas, the skaters performed flawlessly!

Each night there was a performance in the theatre. There were singers, comedians, along with the RC dancers and singers. Wonderful performances. The only night I skipped the performance was the tribute to the Beatles. Sorry, I’m not a Beatles fan.

The Captain announced one day that the next morning at 6 a.m. we would see the Rock of Gibraltar. I woke up at 5 and again at 6. I could barely see the balcony. Back to sleep. Later we learned that the wrong information had been given out; it was the next day that we would see the Rock. Or whoever was up at 6 a.m. would see it.

NIGHTMARE IN CIVITAVECCHIA
The ship posted information that the train station in the port city of Civitavecchia was about “three blocks” from the ship. Because of the amount of luggage we had, we opted to take the shuttle bus to the train station to get the train for Rome. We rode for about 20 min. before reaching the train station. We passed one family walking, or trying to. I prayed that a taxi would drive by for them. Information in English was often incorrect or inaccurate. [We thought of offering our services to teach English to most of the crew who were lacking in English in exchange for free cruises. We’ve already selected the ports we want to visit.]

We arrived at the train station – all several hundreds of us - to get a train into Rome. Dee got in line to buy our tickets while I guarded the five pieces of luggage. She had warned me about gypsies and pickpockets so I was on guard. The tiny station was mobbed. With tickets in hand, we went out to the platform and stood for about 20 min. At that time word began circulating that our train would leave from the platform on the other side of the tracks. We had to descend a long flight of stairs and up a steep flight to the other platform. Dee pulled the two heaviest suitcases, and I had the others. Halfway down the steps my right arm gave out. Dee asked a man descending the stairs to help us. He did, and even took the bags up the stairs to the other side. We were so grateful. He would not hear of accepting any money from us. God bless him.

We hoped we were on the right platform. A Canadian couple wanted to help us but feared we could all be separated. More people arrived and pushed us further back on the platform. The Canadian couple protested loudly that the newcomers should get behind those who were there first. That fell on deaf ears. Finally the train arrived and we all crowded on. We managed to get ourselves and our suitcases into the tiny standing area between the cars, and there we stood. We could not move. More people jammed on. At some stations we refused to open the doors to allow others to even try to cram on. Two men we had to knock about to get on the train turned out to be quite helpful. I gave them hell earlier. They didn’t get angry, just said it was a crazy situation and if everybody (mainly me methinks!) remained calm, we would all be happier. Ha! At the Rome station they got our bags off first, and we parted with smiles and thanks.

We had finally arrived in the Eternal City. Look out, Pope Benedict, here we come!

Friday, April 8, 2011

ANOTHER FALLEN ANGEL IS LEAVING US

Another of my fallen angels is dying, a priest who was thrown out of our Church, who was so loved, but was accused, who did so many wonderful things before and after, and now he is heaven-bound. Until his health began to fail, he worked very hard to establish a place where other men go for solace and soul restoration; a place where they can use their hands to help build a chapel, or walk among the gentle llamas. It is a place where priests hold retreats, or visit to be alone as they soul-search, or they can be with other men who, like themselves, need a respite from what has become a daily grind – being a priest. It is also a place where Father gives men fresh out of jail or prison a second chance and a place to stay, and only asks in return that they do some chores on the ranch.

When several of us visited his ranch, he took me to meet his herd of llamas knowing of my great love for animals. The llamas greeted us, and I lovingly rubbed their furry faces, and met a baby llama born the day before. Father’s dog who had accompanied us saw the new addition to the llama family and he wanted to meet the baby. But the baby was skittish and wanted no parts of the dog. The baby’s mother lay on the ground contentedly chewing her cud. Whenever the dog got too close the baby would jump over her mother to the other side. The mother was not concerned because she knew the dog meant no harm to them. Baby was not of the same mind. It was a funny scenario.

Finally we left, taking the dog with us in the truck and returned to the house. There were several buildings on the property in various stages of construction. Father could not do it all, and when he had helping hands, they would often begin other projects. The result was a number of projects half finished or half done – viewers’ choice. That evening Father celebrated Mass in his tiny chapel. He warned us that mice in the unfinished ceiling sometimes peeked at visitors during Mass. I looked forward to seeing them, but they never showed.

This priest is dearly loved by all who know him. He has walked among many of you. I met Father a few years ago when he concelebrated at a memorial Mass for another fallen angel in New Mexico. There were four priests concelebrating that day, along with three women in attendance. I will never forget that Mass for one of the first priests I met via letters. He wanted nothing more than to apologize to those he abused, but that was not possible. He suffered from his past behavior, but only God could judge him. Very few showed him the love and compassion that our Church teaches us to do. That priest died of neglect – sheer neglect from the prison staff, and indifference from his diocese – and I vowed to never let that happen again.

Back to the wonderful priest I am writing about. Occasionally he and I spoke on the phone. He always referred to me as, “Excellency” because of my diplomatic career. I called him the same. He would tell me that the llamas were asking for me. They were so precious and he was so gentle with them, along with the two dogs and a cat who recently joined the household. Father’s health has been declining, and when we were unable to reach him, we were concerned. The same thing happened near the end of last year. We learned that he had been in the hospital. Now we wondered if he had been hospitalized again. Dee, who has known Father for many years, finally contacted the local church to see if anybody there had news of Father. It was from the church secretary that we learned that Father is very, very sick. Dee called him and then she called me and gave me the news. She also managed to speak to a nurse who visits Father daily.

I just had a brief conversation with Father on the phone. His voice is very weak and he spoke with difficulty. I tried desperately to fight back tears. At one point he said to me, “It’s not that bad, it’s just that I am not used to being sick.” It is not that bad, no, it’s far worse than he knows. For the past two or three years Father has battled a number of illnesses. We are told that that this will be his final battle. A nurse visits daily and tries to keep him comfortable. Two friends are there looking after him, and other old friends are pouring in to see him. He knows he is loved.
This is reminiscent of the death of Bishop Pat Ziemann not long ago. Dee and I spoke to him the day before he died. I remember Dee telling him that her husband, John, would greet him at Heaven’s gate. Through tears I told him I loved him and was praying for him. I wanted to ask for his blessing, but I knew he was too weak.

And so another of my fallen angels goes forth to meet our God. I know his heart and God knows his soul. We all know that he is ready to meet his Savior, but what a loss to those of us who know and love him. After we spoke, I hung up the telephone, bowed my head and talked tearfully to our Lord. I asked Him to take His beloved priest into His arms, that he not suffer, that he be received into Heaven where he can pray for his brother priests. I thanked God for allowing me to know this gentle, loving man who is forever a priest in that sacred Order of Melchizedek.

May God shed His grace on us, one and all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

ONE MUST NOT LIE TO GOD!

Something sort of funny happened today. They say it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, well, it definitely not nice to try to fool God. During Mass today I felt so moved by the homily, and in such a good mood that I told our Lord I was not going to holler and cuss other drivers on the road, that I was going to be a good, good person on my way back home.

I wasn’t bothered by the usual drivers who drive fast and get right on your rear, and then have to jam on the brakes. I was not going to lose my temper. I stopped at a store to pick up a few items and then I was homeward bound.

My next stop was at the post office. I had some envelopes to mail and I was going to drop them into the drive-up mail box. There was a car ahead of me and I saw a little old, old woman standing outside her car putting mail in the mailbox. She then got back in her car and sat there. She had to know that a car was behind her, besides my headlights were on. I sat and she sat. I suddenly noticed that she was looking in a mirror and fixing her hair! Whoa! Without a second thought I hit my horn!! There went my good intention and it was all her fault! She sat for another few seconds and before my inner woman came completely out of me, she drove off. I was furious! I drove up to the mailbox, reached out to put my mail in, and a gust of wind took one envelope out of my hand and into the air it went! Meanwhile, a car pulled up behind me. Without a thought to that waiting car, I had to get out of my car, find the damned envelope, catch it between wind gusts, and place it in the mailbox. I stomped back to my car, crawled in and moved a few feet so that I could attach my seat belt. And then I guffawed! I suddenly remembered my promise to God! He had thumped my forehead! He was teaching me a lesson! Well done, Lord, well done.

In my own defense, I must admit my feelings that old, old people should not be allowed to drive, especially if they can barely see over the steering wheel, want to creep along at 30 mph, and can barely see in general! They should not be on the roads! Nothing gets my ire up more than some old person in some huge car, just meandering down the road as if they have no place to go and no time to be there. I am 73, but far from old, and besides, I definitely am not one of those slow old drivers!

Awhile back, I was at a stop light. My light turned green. Meanwhile, 3 old coots were driving trucks, and one turned left in front of me when his light was yellow. The second old coot turned on his red light, and the third one was coming out into the street when I laid on my horn, and began moving. What the hell was going on? Didn’t they see the stop lights? What did they think the lights were there for? Old drivers are positively scary! They oughta be kept off the streets!

When I moved into my new neighborhood a few years ago, I was driving slowly down a street and looking around. An old man driving behind me was furious. In the rear view mirror I could see him gesturing wildly and his mouth was moving and I knew he didn't learn those words in Sunday School. I ignored him. Finally, he pulled out from behind me and into the left lane.
He yelled, “You’re supposed to be doing 45 miles an hour!”
I yelled back, “No, 45 is the limit. I can drive 10 MPH if I want to! And I want to!”
He pulled ahead like he had been shot out of a cannon, jumped back into my lane, and made a right turn at the corner.

See what I mean? Old people are terrible drivers, run red lights, and holler at people. I only honk my horn. I must admit that I holler at them inside my car, but they can’t hear me. And that is indeed a good thing!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

AN ODE TO PEACE AND QUIET...ALL GONE!

AN ODE TO PEACE AND QUIET … ALL GONE
(With apologies to all poets.)


A few years ago I moved into this quiet haven seemingly designed for seniors and those who wanted no mowing, watering, snow-shoveling, etc.

After a few years, we began to notice the gradual increase of small children. The Board of Directors received complaints about kids running, jumping, bumping and the like, all in the second floor units.

In my building we reveled in our peace and quiet. I never heard one sound from those who lived over me. And then a couple moved into the condo over me. When they walk, the walls shake. It sounded as if giants walked overhead. I gritted my teeth.

And then little ones began arriving. My peace was over. I could even tell who was walking at any given moment. I named them Big Foot, Little Big Foot, and the Kid.
A neighbor and I recently commiserated with each other. A child lives over her also. Kids never walk when they can run. Running through an apartment doesn’t make much sense, but it’s what they do. Parents never think of the people who live under them until it’s brought to their attention that their lil darlings are disturbing other residents. And then the parents resent being asked to control their children and stop annoying the hell out of other residents!

I have enjoyed my little haven these 16 years, but now I fear I’ll have to find another haven. I will let somebody else “enjoy” the elephants overhead. I can only pray that when prospective buyers come to see my unit, the folks upstairs will be out or asleep. Nobody is going to willingly live underneath what sounds like a herd of elephants? Have you noticed that people with children almost always live in upstairs units? Should be a law against it!