For Valentine’s day: A Love Story Embraced by the Love of God

By Larry Peterson

It was the spring of 2014. Ed and Cathy Carmello had only been my neighbors for a short time, less than a year, I think, but we had become good friends. They had met when Ed was 60 and Cathy was 40. They fell in love and, never having been married, happily “tied the knot.”  They had just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and were simply enjoying retired life together.

There was a problem. Ed’s prostate cancer had returned with a vengeance and was destroying him quickly. Cathy had been diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma. She told me about that when she had ‘maybe’ six months to live.   Since I was a prostate cancer survivor and my first wife had died of melanoma, they felt comfortable discussing their cancers with me. They knew I understood.

My daily routine usually starts at around 5:30 a.m. with a two-mile walk. For some reason, on this particular day, I decided to take another walk.  It was on a Thursday afternoon around 4 .p.m. I actually tried to talk myself out of taking this walk but finally “talked” myself into it.  

 Out the door I went and headed down the street.  Cathy and Ed’s house is three down from mine. Ed had a Ford pickup with a cap on the bed. As I passed the truck, I saw Cathy standing on her front lawn supported by her walker.  I could see she was fighting to hold herself up. A bit anxious, I hurried over and said, “Hey, Cathy, what are you doing?  Is everything all right?”

“I was waiting for you, Larry.  I need to talk to you.”

I was dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? I never walk at this time of day and you say you were waiting for me?”

“I just knew you were coming by.  I can’t explain it.”

There are times when things happen that cannot be explained. This was one of them. I had a chill run down my back. I really did.  I leaned against the pickup as she leaned heavily on her walker. “You know Ed is dying, right?”

“Yes, Cathy, I know.  We talked about it.  What about your prognosis? Any change?”

She smiled and looked me right in the eye and said, “They told me I only have a few weeks left.”

I tightened my lips, took a breath, and asked, “What can I do?”

They knew that I was Catholic and an EMHC (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion).  She told me that they had been non-practicing Catholics and had not been to church in years. Then she asked me if I could bring a priest over. It was time for them to “make things right with God”.  I said, “I will put a call into Father as soon as I get back to the house.”

“Thank you so much.  That is why I was out there waiting for you.”

I simply nodded. She smiled and thanked me, and asked me to come in and see Ed.  We slowly walked back to her house. She did not mention herself once, only her husband.  She told me how she wished she could ease his suffering and how wonderful it might be if they could go for a bicycle ride just one more time.  Then she mentioned how she thanked God for every moment they had had together.

I went inside and she, Ed, and I hung out for about ten minutes just chatting.  Cathy excused herself and slowly walked back to the bedroom.  Ed quickly told me how he wished he could ease her suffering and how God had been so good to him, allowing him to find such a great woman to share his life with.  I took in a deep breath. (You know, when God is present, sometimes it is hard to breathe).

I called our newly ordained priest, Father Scott. He came over the next day and spent about an hour with Ed and Cathy.  Ed and the young priest both had roots in Roanoke, Virginia, and talked and laughed and had a raucous good time together. Even though the two of them were separated by more than 50 years, it did not matter.  It was as if they had grown up together.  It was beautiful.  

Father heard their confessions, anointed both of them, and gave them Holy Communion. He told them he would come back the first chance he could.  Sunday was Palm Sunday. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and he would be busy.  They all hugged and said good-bye. On Palm Sunday, I had the honor of bringing them Holy Communion.

Easter Sunday, I was again privileged to bring Ed and Cathy Holy Communion. They were lying next to each other in bed, holding hands.  Ed smiled and said, “Larry, we are SO happy. This is the greatest Easter we ever had.”  

He turned and looked at his wife, who was smiling lovingly at him. She reached over and wiped his wet, happy eyes. They stared into each other’s eyes, and I thought they were maybe looking into each other’s souls. It was a moment that was filled with a shared spirituality I had never witnessed before. I could actually feel it. I have no doubt that at that moment Jesus was there with them holding their hands in His.

Ed died the week after Easter.  A week after his funeral Mass, Cathy moved into Hospice House. Her nephew, home on leave from the Air Force for his uncle’s funeral, accompanied her. She lived another two weeks.  

As for me, I thank God for their friendship and for being a part of their final journey.  The love they shared together, and the peace and joy in their hearts as they knowingly approached the end of their lives on earth was so beautiful to watch. I was blessed to have been witness to it. Having faith is truly a beautiful thing.

Wishing all couples  a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY and to those who have lost their spouse (me included) hope you have a heart filled with peace all day long.


Known as the “Boy Judge,” he was assassinated by the Mafia for upholding his Christian faith

Rosario Livatino soon to be Beatified

By Larry Peterson

Rosario Livatino was born in Sicily on October 3, 1952. He was the only child born to Vincenzo Livatino and Rosalia Corbo. Growing up, Rosario was a quiet boy, stayed out of trouble, and was an excellent student. He had a kind heart and never refused to help other students who were having difficulty with their studies. Most importantly, Rosario was devoted to his Catholic faith and loved it deeply.

After finishing high school, he attended the University of Palermo and in 1975 graduated magna cum laude. Three years later, he moved to Caltanissetta (located in central Sicily), where he began his career as a magistrate. After a few years, he became a public prosecutor in Agrigento, and in 1989 he was appointed a judge.

He helped the poor of his town as much as possible

He tried to keep his Christian life quiet and low-key. He helped the poor of his town as much as possible and always wanted to keep it secret. When he attended  Mass, he sat in the back pews trying to remain unnoticed. He kept a Crucifix on his desk and a Bible next to it. The Bible had many pages with verses underlined. Ironically, his church pastor in Agrigento only found out that he was a judge after his death.

Much of what is known about Livatino’s life comes from his diaries, which he began keeping in 1978. During that year, he wrote, “Today I took the oath, and I am a magistrate. May God assist me and help me respect this oath and to behave as demanded by the education I received by my parents.” Rosario took his work very seriously.

Rosario Livatino had to face the realities that were part of Sicily. The most intense reality was the presence of the mafia. The dreaded organization  was strongly connected to most of the local and national politics. Rosario knew he would have to stand for law and order or compromise his character to protect his own safety. As was his way, he turned to Jesus and Mary for their help.

The most intense reality was the presence of the mafia

Judge Livatino knew the identities of the mafia families and did his best to avoid granting them the smallest of favors. He also avoided contact with them as best he could. It was no easy task as he was always being invited to club meetings or even church gatherings. It was at these meetings that members of La Cosa Nostra were frequently in attendance. It was a thin wire he walked, and every day was a challenge.

When he sat on the bench, there was no “thin wire.”  He was a good man filled with God’s grace and determined to fulfill his duties. However, many of the defendants who appeared before him had mafia affiliations.  A just man could not avoid making enemies. As time went by and Judge Livatino meted out sentences prescribed by law, he became hated more and more. The local “bosses” had their form of justice. Many times it was an assassination.

In his diaries, Judge Livatino wrote that issuing judgments is one of the most challenging tasks that men are required to perform. He wrote, “The duty of the magistrate is to decide; however, to decide is also to choose. . . . that the judge who believes may find a relationship with God. It is a direct relationship because to administer justice is to realize oneself, to pray, to dedicate oneself to God.”

Rosario Livatino harbored many doubts and fears. He wanted desperately to meet a woman and get married, but it never happened. He began resigning himself to being alone, realizing it was better he had no family. Two years before his death, he received the sacrament of Confirmation. He knew he needed the strength of a Christian soldier. It was during this time that he rejected having a bodyguard.

The “Boy Judge” said goodbye to his parents and left for work—

On the last day of his young life, the man called the “Boy Judge” said goodbye to his parents and left for work in Agrigento. As he drove his car, he was rammed from behind and forced to stop. A motorcycle pulled up on the other side, and men from inside the vehicle and from the motorcycle opened fire, shooting through the windows. Rosario managed to get out and tried to run, but he fell. He rolled over on his back and watched as the assassins quickly surrounded him, pointed their guns down, and opened fire. The date was September 21, 1990.

A Martyr of Justice

Pope St. John Paul II said that Rosario Livatino was a “Martyr of Justice” and in an indirect way, of the Christian faith.”

Pope Francis has approved his decree of martyrdom and his beatification will take place during the spring of 2021.


Unable to teach the “Undesirables” in India, this Bishop moved to Africa and died serving the poor during a Yellow-fever epidemic

Melchior de Marian Bressilac wikipediia.commons

By Larry Peterson

His full name was Melchior de Marion Bresillac. He was born in a town called Castelnaudary, located in southern France, on December 2, 1813, and was the oldest of five children.

Melchior’s father wanted his boy to pursue a military career. Melchior felt a special calling to the religious life and when he was 19, informed his father of his wishes to become a priest. His dad accepted his son’s wishes, and, in 1832,  Melchior entered the minor seminary at Carcassone to pursue his vocation. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 22, 1838, and assigned as an associate pastor to his hometown parish, the  Church of St. Michael, in Castelnaudry.  

Father Bresillac had a keen mind and prepared and delivered excellent sermons. He reached out to the sick and marginalized, taught catechism to the children, and had immense patience and understanding for others, especially the youth. However,  there was one thing nagging at Father Bresillac. He harbored a strong desire to serve in the missions.

In 1840, Melchior made a retreat with the Jesuits at Avignon. It was at this retreat that he made up his mind to follow his missionary calling. The young priest expressed his desires to his parents and his Bishop about becoming a missionary. They were strongly opposed, but Melchior knew that his calling to this ministry was from God and that he had to pursue it.

Melchior had to summon his courage to resist the heartbreak his mother was feeling. His father was unyielding in his objections. The Bishop refused to give his permission. The young priest never wavered and continued praying and trusting in the Lord. Eventually, both his parents relented. His father wrote him a letter which read, “Go, my dear son. Go where heaven is calling you. Now, I recognize the voice that summons you. May he protect you. Be happy. I submit!”

Melchior now wrote to his Bishop for final approval. The Bishop refused to give his permission. Melchior wrote again and was denied again. The third time was a charm because the Bishop gave Father Meklchior the permission he sought. In 1841, Father Melchior Bressilac left St. Michael’s Church and entered “Missions Etrngeres de Paris” (MEP), aka the Paris Foreign Mission Society. After nine months of missionary training, Father Melchior Bressilac was assigned to Pondicherry, India. He arrived there on July 24, 1842.

Father Melchior spent a few months learning about the culture and studying the Tamil language. The priest quickly realized that there was disagreement among the European missionaries about how to deal with the national customs. The Indian Christians did not like being told how to behave by foreigners. Consequently, the missionaries were resented for wanting to impose European ways on the natives of the country. And the caste system, where the people were divided into different levels of acceptance, hindered evangelization greatly. Contact among the castes was forbidden, and it went against all things regarding the teaching of “love your neighbor.” Creating Christian communities was a daunting task.

Father Melchior spent twelve years in India. He was elevated to Bishop of Prusa, and he was determined to make priests out of the indigenous people. He wanted the native people to have their own clergy, with the Europeans acting as assistants. Their resistance to his objectives was fierce. The people were classified as “desirables” and “undesirables.” Bishop Bressilac was disgusted that so many of his fellow priests agreed with the caste system. He resigned his post and returned home to France

Bishop Bressilac wrote to the Congregation for the Missions in Rome. He asked if he could begin a mission in Africa in order “to go to the most abandoned.” His request was granted, and on February 29, 1856, Rome gave him their permission to start a society. He founded the Society of African Missions and spent the next two years recruiting and training new missionaries. In 1858 the first SMA (Societas Missionum ad Afros).[4]missionaries set forth for the new Vicariate Apostolic of Sierra Leone in western Africa.

A total of six missionary priests (inluding Bishop Bressilac) were in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on May 14, 1859, when a yellow fever epidemic broke out. Undaunted, the priests and Bishop stayed to treat the ill. They all died with Bishop Bressilac passing on June 25, 1859,  six weeks after their arrival.  Father Augustine Planque and some seminarians back in France were the only members of the new order left. Father Planque determinedly continued forward with Bishop Bressilac’s missionary work.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


To Her Husband, the Only Thing that mattered was the Arrival of the Priest

Light after Death

By Larry Peterson

Lee and Shirley Mae had moved from Pittsburgh, PA., to Pinellas Park, FL, back in 1984. Lee, a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific during the war, and Shirley Mae had met at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport years before. Lee, a widower, worked for United Airlines. Shirley, who had never been married, was a waitress at the airport restaurant. They fell in love and got married. A few years after Lee retired from United, they headed south, settling on the Florida west coast near St. Petersburg.  

They purchased a two-bedroom home in a 55+ community called Mainlands of Tamarac. They immediately joined the local Catholic parish called Sacred Heart Church. It was perfect for the happy couple, and they quickly became involved in church ministry. They both volunteered as ushers, and Lee became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. They also worked together every year during the annual Fall Festival, coordinating all the food court workers.

It was sometime in January of 2020 that Shirley began feeling “not right.” She was having a bit of trouble breathing, had a slight cough, and was experiencing fatigue. Lee and Shirley knew it was time to see the doctor, and they did. Doctors told her she had lung cancer.

Treatments with oral medications began in February. The pandemic resulted in a change of lifestyle, and Lee and Shirley adapted the best they could. They did not dare venture outside their home, and food and supplies were delivered and placed near the front door. Days turned to months, and Shirley’s health kept slipping downward.

Lee, who is a vibrant 96-year-old, could no longer care for his wife by himself. Sometime in early September, Hospice arrived on the scene.  Towards the end of September, a hospital bed was placed in the family room. Shirley was no longer able to sit up or eat by herself. Hospice workers were now coming in several times a day.

Hospice wanted to move Shirley to the Hospice center. Lee was horrified at the prospect. He told the nurse in charge, “My wife and I promised each other we would never let any one take either of us to any kind of home. She must stay here with me. Please, please, do that for me?”  Hospice, realizing Shirley’s time was not far away, agreed.

Lee and Shirley are devout Catholics who attended Mass every day. They are also neighbors and close friends of mine. .I became personally involved in helping them early in summer. My most important function was that of being a Minister of Holy Communion. Nothing was more important to them than my bringing Jesus in the Eucharist, especially on Sunday.

The end of September and the beginning of October seemed to blend together. It was about 5 P.M. on October 8th when my phone rang. Brenda, a close friend of Lee and Shirley’s, was calling to say that Shirley had passed a few minutes earlier. I had promised Lee that no matter what time of day or night it was, a priest would come to pray over Shirley when she passed. I immediately called the church.

The church has a phone menu, and if you press #8, you got the emergency line to the priest. I left a message, and I headed over to Lee’s house. Shirley was lying halfway on her side. Her head was bowed down a bit, and her eyes were half-open. She had a simple smile on her face. I was transfixed at how peacefully beautiful she appeared. I called the church again. Then I gathered those willing around Shirley’s bed, and we said a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for her.

Upon finishing the Chaplet, I called the church a third time. As I hung up the phone, it rang. It was Father Kevin, our pastor. He was out in Tampa at a convocation with priests and the bishop. Father Vijay, our other priest, was with him. They were was almost an hour away. The problem was the funeral home van was on the way to pick up Shirley. I was told they could not wait for the priest.

It is interesting how things can work out. Nothing was more important to Lee at that moment than the priest being there to pray over Shirley. Father Kevin said he could leave right away and, if traffic was light, he could make it in 45 minutes. I said, “Okay, father. Thanks, .” 

Fifteen minutes later, the funeral van pulled up. Father Kevin was at least a half-hour away. One of the hospice nurses came over to me and told me that they had another stop to make and could not wait. It was time to get bold.

I walked over to the van driver and told him the situation. The guy told me he was sorry, but he could not wait for more than fifteen minutes. I told him very nicely that “the only way anyone gets near that woman  before the priest does is over my dead body.” The guy smiled and said, “Okay, okay, I get it. I understand.”

Father Kevin arrived within the 45 minute time frame. We all gathered around, and calmness filled the room as Father prayed over Shirley and blessed her. Lee stood next to him, holding his wife’s lifeless hand, tears coming from his eyes. As Shirley was removed from the house, Lee stopped by the gurney and held her hand one last time.  Sobbing softly, he bent down and kissed her goodbye. She was still smiling.

Her funeral is scheduled for October 31st, Halloween. Ironically, wearing masks will be appropriate.

copyright©Larry Peterson2020

 


Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias—Time to Accept the Science and Reject the unknowing Pundits

By Larry Peterson

I was married to a woman who had Alzheimer’s Disease. Her diagnosis was determined not merely by her behavior, but by careful medical diagnosis. Today, there are those who occupy a public forum and use it to disseminate medical analysis based on their own dislikes and prejudices held against those they do not like.   They influence many viewers and listeners who may believe their “expertise” and begin doing their evaluations on whom these pundits reference. Publicly accusing folks of having Alzheimer’s Disease based on personal observation is disgusting. They all need an injection of “humility.” (I wish the CDC could come up with that).

Husband and Wife(s)

I have been widowed twice. My first wife, Loretta, passed away seventeen years ago after being attacked by Stage 4 Melanoma. We had met in grade school, connected in high school, and were married 35 years. Yes—we were together until death parted us. Being a man of faith, I am sure I will see her again.

I met Marty at church a few years later. I was president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and she was interested in joining. Her husband had died four years earlier, and we had something in common. In need of a secretary, she volunteered. We were in frequent contact because of our positions, and about six months later, we went out to dinner. Two years later, we were married. It was something I had never considered. I believe God helped us meet.

Loretta suffered from Lupus, Chronic Pancreatitis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Liver disease. The Melanoma came last. I had become her caregiver and even learned how to administer her IVs and give her injections. I became pretty good at it. However, she never fell victim to the demon known as Alzheimer’s Disease. That was a world that I had only heard of but never experienced “up close and personal.”  I may have been a caregiver to Loretta, but I was not expecting what lay ahead, nor was I prepared for it.

“Newlyweds” and Cancer

You never know what life might throw your way, and we hit our first real “bump in the road” during the winter of 2007 when I was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. However, it proved to be less of a challenge than what we had anticipated.  In May, I had a radical prostatectomy. I was blessed because they told me my Gleason Score was an “8” and I would have been dead in two years if I had not taken care of it. My recovery took several months but it has been thirteen years since the surgery, and I am still cancer free.  Praise the Lord; I can still talk about it. 

But it was not long before a different situation unexpectedly reared its ugly head. It all began when Marty walked up to me, raised her right arm, and ponted to her armpit. She asked me, “Feel this lump. It keeps getting bigger. What do you think it is?”

Marty had never been sick a day in her life. She had noticed the “lump” but had never said anything, expecting it to go away. But it did not go away. Instead, it got bigger; so did the one in her groin. I convinced her to to see our primary care doctor who, upon examining the “lumps”,  referred us to a surgeon. The “lumps” were surgically removed, biopsied, and the diagnosis was; Large Grade B-Cell Lymphoma. Chemotherapy was to be her next challenge. Amazingly, she was not concerned at all. She told me, “This is nothing. I’ll be fine.”

After the diagnosis, we again met with a surgeon. This time it was to discuss having a mediport implanted in her chest.  A mediport is an access point for IV treatments. It replaces the need to always access an IV line by using a person’s veins. The patient can avoid all that by having their port accessed with a Huber needle, designed especially for that purpose. After the infusion is complete, the Huber needle is removed, and a  band-aid is placed over the site where the needle was inserted. The patient never has to be stuck and, in my opinion, it is a wonderful thing. Marty had the surgery in January of 2011  She began chemotherapy treatments in March of that year. 

Time for Chemo

Marty’s cancer was found in her lungs, her liver, spleen, and various other places. A year and a half later the cancer was 50% less than originally seen by the PET Scan. (The full name for   PET Scan is Positron Emission Tomography. It is an imaging test that can show how your tissues and organs are functioning.  A radioactive dye called a tracer is used to show the activity).By 2014 her cancer seemed to be in remission. During this time I did notice a change in Marty’s cognitive state. She seemed to be forgetting things, not much but enough that raise some red flags. For example, she was redundant, constantly asking the same question over and over;  “are we having dinner tonight?”  “are we having dinner tonight?”

The one that always tore me up was when she would look at me with a frightened look and ask, “Are you going away now?’….Are you going away now?” While she was in the hospital, it was always her fear that I would not come back. It was awful to see her fear-filled face. I simply began taking her with me when I had to go out for something.

She had always baked “made from scratch” chocolate chip cookies, and truthfully, they were fabulous. So one day, I am watching as she goes about the kitchen getting out the necessary ingredients to make some. Acting as normal  as can be, she takes out flour, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, butter, and other things (I do not know all the ingredients she used to make these cookies) and places them on the counter. She has done this same thing hundreds of times.

I continued to watch from the TV room, and it was as if everything was perfectly normal. I can remember thinking that maybe she was OK and that they had made a terrible mistake. Then she stopped and stood there looking at all the ingredients and the big stainless steel mixing bowl in front of her. She kept looking, and then she began to cry. I got up and slowly walked over to her. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

She was sobbing now, and I did not understand. Then she blurted out, “What is all of this stuff doing here? What is it doing here? Am I supposed to do something with it?”

I hugged her, and I told her that I would put the stuff away. She smiled, I kissed her on her cheek, and then she went in and sat down on the sofa. I was not sure if she remembered what she was even doing a few minutes earlier. That moment in time was a reality check for me. Unexpectedly, Marty’s cancer went into remission as the Alzheimer’s exacerbated.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia; the difference

It is important to remember that Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are two different things. Alzheimer’s is a form of Dementia, while Dementia is a syndrome or a symptom of a cognitive disorder. There are many other causes of dementia besides Alzheimer’s Disease such as Vascular Dementia, Huntington’s Disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, to name a few.

A football player may develop dementia from years of head trauma received while participating in his sport. A retired fighter may be deemed as being “punch drunk” because dementia has taken hold of his brain after thousands of punches to the head. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease requires a special evaluation by doctors and trained psychologists in the field before the Alzheimer’s label is officially given to the patient.

My wife first exhibited “forgetfulness’ during her chemo treatments in 2011. I had heard of “chemo-brain” and asked her oncologist about her chemo treatments being the cause. He could not answer and said we would have to wait and see. It was not until the summer of 2014 when medical professionals gave an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. That was after an MRI, evaluation by a neurologist, and having her and the family interviewed by two psychologists who specialized in the field.

She lived three years after diagnosis. Some Alzheimer’s patients live up to fifteen years, especially those diagnosed in their early fifties. The course of the illness is unpredictable, but the results are very predictable. Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be slowed or stopped. It just keeps at it until its mission is accomplished.  Here are a few facts:

  • Today, 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s Disease
  • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the USA
  • One in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia

Lastly, from a man who has lived with  Alzheimer’s  and watched it erase his wife’s memory and kill her:  

I wish to say to all those uneducated “experts” who proudly use their “bully pulpit” to place labels of Alzheimer’s disease and other Dementias upon those they do NOT like; you are making a mockery of the profession you are practicing. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

And please, never forget to ask the Patroness of those with dementia and mental illness for her intercession. Her name is St. Dymphna  Click on her name and say “HI.”

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Born paralyzed, this future Saint became a Media Celebrity at the age of 57. Meet Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo
public domain

By Larry Peterson

Gaetana Tolomeo was born in Catanzaro, in Italy’s Calabria region, on Good Friday, April 10, 1936. Father Teodoro Diaco baptized her on July 12, 1936, in the local Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was quite providential since baby Gaetana would devote her life to prayer and hold a Rosary in her hand for her entire life. As time passed by, she became known to everyone as “Nuccia.”

Nuccia suffered from a progressive and deforming paralysis that attacked her when she was just a small child. It stunted her growth, leaving her disabled. Her parents took her to local doctors, but they were unable to help the youngster. They also had a sickly son, Giuliano, who was born on October 30, 1940. He would die sometime in 1944, but between Nuccia and Giuliano, they had been through a  heartwrenching and challenging time. Now it was just eight-year-old Nuccia, but circumstances seemed no better.

With no local help available, they sent Nuccia to an aunt in Cuneo for medical assistance. However, doctors in Cuneo were unable to help, and after a short time, she returned home. As time passed, Nuccia’s condition worsened, and she became confined to either her bed or a chair.

The Holy Spirit was indeed working within her because Nuccia never felt sorry for herself. Instead, she embraced her illness and the suffering that came with it as a way to reach the hearts of those that were living sinful lives. It was not long before she began to draw pilgrims who were coming to her for advice. These included priests, nuns, and laypeople. And they were coming for words of wisdom from a disabled woman with a fourth-grade education. They, too, must have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit when they approached her.

Nuccia saw in her illness a way to participate in the Passion of Jesus. She even alluded to this in her spiritual writings. The people that came to see Nuccia noticed that Nuccia always clasped a rosary in her hands. She also attended Eucharistic Adoration as often as possible. And she managed to become a part of CatholicAction, formed in the 19th century to counter anti-Catholicism.

In 1994, Nuccia began to be a guest on the local radio station, Radio Maria. Her primary objective was to spread the Gospel message to the suffering with whom she could identify. Those that were drug addicts, prostitutes, and the needy, especially families, going through financial struggles. Her program became very popular. She began to be heard on “Il Fratello,” a program where folks called in with problems, and Nuccia would answer their questions. The host, Federico Quaglini, would ask her spiritual questions. Nuccia, a great devotee of a St. Pio of Pietrelcina, would answer them.

Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo suffered a pulmonary embolism and was admitted to the hospital. She was given blood transfusions, but her health continued to decline. She passed away on January 24, 1997, at the age of sixty. The following morning Radio Maria announced her death to thousands of listeners. Sadness at her loss and Joy in her life was the theme of the day.

This is the Easter message given by Nuccia in 1995: “… In his infinite mercy and wisdom, the Lord has prepared a weak body for me, for the triumph of his power of love … I praise and bless the Lord for the cross, of which he adorned me, because by crucifying my flesh, he also crucified my thoughts, my affections, my desires, and even my will, to make me his welcome abode, his satisfaction, his living tabernacle. Thanks to the cross of Christ, today, I can affirm with the apostle Paul ‘It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives and works in me.’ 

Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo was declared a woman of “heroic virtue” on April 6, 2019. She now wears the title of Venerable, and a miracle attributed to her has been approved. A date for her beatification will soon be announced.

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo, please pray for us.

copyright©LarryPeterson 2020


A Rare Occurrence—Remembering and Embracing a Homily

Bible and Crucifix               Public Domain

By Larry Peterson

Many love the Mass, and I count myself among them. What transpires during this splendid celebration of life, death, resurrection, and redemption is what we call the Mystery of Faith. We honor the life of Christ; we journey with Him as He is tortured and killed, and we rejoice in His Resurrection, which heralds our salvation. United, we all say in one voice, “We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”

As often as possible, I attend daily Mass and have been doing so for many years. I have heard many sermons at these Masses. However, I have something to admit, something I am not proud of; I rarely remember homilies. I do not know why that is. I did some research, and according to the Pew Research Center, the average length of a Catholic homily is 14 minutes. (Mainline Protestants are at 25 minutes; Evangelicals at 39 minutes).

One-third of Catholics say they are “very satisfied” with homilies, while fifty-two percent say they are ‘somewhat satisfied.  Fifteen percent say they are ‘not at all satisfied.” Statistics on those who “did not remember” sermons eluded me. Therefore,  I assume that there are others out there that are in the non-remembering category like me.

Then came Wednesday, September 13, 2020. HALLELUJAH—-a homily that STUCK. And it was about LOVE—and what is the Mass about?  It encompasses the Greatest LOVE. And the purity of it all was simply splendid. It all was because of 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 13:1-13.

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is read in its entirety during this Mass. I will only focus on verses 4 thru 7. This is where Father Kevin (our pastor) tied together these verses that made them (at least for me) most memorable. He presented it in such a way that I now  believe this part of the reading should  be made available to all Catholics, including children, as a tool to teach us what love truly means. I’m a senior citizen and I have heard this reading many times. My wife and I even chose it for a reading at our Nuptial Mass. And the wonder of these words never clicked in for me until Father Kevin gave us this easy technique to use. It was a simple case of adding and subtracting. Let me explain.

The reading from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 is as follows: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous,  it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Now, here comes the adding and subtracting with the subtracting coming first. What we simply do is take the word LOVE and references to LOVE i.e.: “It is” or “it does not” out of the reading. and replace each removal with our own name. See the sample below. My name, LARRY, will replace the word LOVE.  See what happens.

“LARRY is patient, LARRY is kind. LARRY is not jealous, LARRY is not pompous,  LARRY is not inflated, LARRY is not rude, LARRY does not seek HIS own interest, LARRY is not quick-tempered, LARRY  does not brood over injury, LARRY does not rejoice over wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. LARRY  bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The short reading about LOVE becomes a personal self-help tool. Having your name replace the abstract word, LOVE, might help us refocus, get our bearings, check our emotions, and remind us how God wants us to be. He wants us to be like Him, and God is LOVE. Imagine having this for not only yourself but also your children. A printed card posted on the fridge with little Jack’s name or his sister Sally’s name written in place of the word LOVE could be a reference point. “Okay, kids, enough! Go read the cards. See who you really are.”

This could be our personal reality check about Jesus and LOVE. After a while, it would stick inside all our heads. We adults might have business-size cards in our pockets or wallets with this printed on it. If you are having a trying moment, reach for your card, and read it.

Interestingly, the Responsorial Psalm for the day was Psalm 33. “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.”  Yes, that is us and being counted among the chosen requires all the self-help tools we can have. One final thought, I timed it , and it only took me fifteen seconds to read it.

Semper meminisse, est amor Dei   (Always remember, God is Love)

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Deadliest Fire in American History was No Match for the Blessed Virgin Mary

We hear of the raging forest fires on the west coast but here is the true story of the worst firestorm in United States history (originally posted in 2017) It happened outside Green Bay, Wisconsin. in 1871. It is also the site of a documented miracle.

Forest Fire raging                                                                                         public domain

By Larry Peterson

On October 8, 1871, in or around a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin, several men were busy setting small fires in the woods. This was a common practice in clearing land for expanding railroads or for developing farmland. Except on this particular day, something unexpected happened. A cold front moved into the area, creating winds that were close to hurricane force. The winds fanned the flames and the resulting Peshtigo Firestorm still can claim the ignominious title as the “deadliest wildfire” in American History.

To this day, no wildfire in the U.S. has ever caused more deaths. Close to 2500 people perished in the raging 2,000-degree inferno. But there is an incredible side-bar to this story. Miraculously, there was a small group who were not harmed at all, and they were right in the middle of the hellacious blaze. This small group of people were with Adele Brise.

Adele Brise was 24 years old when she came to Wisconsin with her parents. The year was 1855, and the family had just arrived from Belgium.  Devout Catholics, Adele had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and prayed to her daily. They found a Catholic church nearby and would walk there every Sunday morning regardless of the weather.

On Sunday, October 2, 1859, Adele was walking home through the woods when she saw a woman, clothed in white, standing between a hemlock and a maple tree. The woman was encased in bright light and had a yellow sash around her waist.  A crown of stars was above her long, blond hair. Adele, filled with fear, began praying, and the vision disappeared. She told her mom and dad about it, and they said to her that maybe it was a soul in need of prayers.

The following Sunday, Adele, was on her way to Mass with her sister and another woman when she saw the apparition a second time. But her sister and friend, who were walking a bit ahead of her, did not see anything. Returning from Mass, the Lady appeared to Adele for the third time. Adele, who had confided in her parish priest about the mysterious Lady, did as he told her. She asked the Lady the question, “In the Name of God, who are you, and what do you wish of me?”

The Lady answered, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Adele was afraid. She knew little about her faith. She asked how she was supposed to do this with so little knowledge. The Blessed Virgin told her, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the Sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

Adele took the Blessed Virgin’s words to heart. She began her new, lifelong ministry of teaching children the Catholic faith by traveling by foot from house to house to instruct children in their homes. Adele’s dad, Lambert Brise, built a small wooden structure at the sight of the apparition. A few years later, after Isabella Doyen donated five acres around the site, Adele, started a small school. Also, a  bigger wooden church was built, and it was named Our Lady of Good Help.

In the meantime, the magnificent woodlands of Wisconsin were being harvested for their fine lumber. Mounds of sawdust and dried branches were being littered about with no sense of cleanup or conservation ever considered. Then came the evening of October 8, 1871. The Peshtigo Fire quickly exploded and began to devour the entire area with its rushing flames and 2000 degree heat. The firestorm started to head for Our Lady of Good Help.

People nearby the chapel began heading to it. There was never an accurate count, but many people came, some even bringing their livestock. Sister Adele organized them together, and they all prayed the rosary. Outside the chapel, they walked in procession, holding high a statue of Mary pleading for her protection. The fire kept coming, and the people moved inside the chapel and continued praying. Soon the fire raged all around the compound, and the flames even arched over it. But the fire never touched the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help or the people there.

Over one million acres were destroyed in the Peshtigo Firestorm. As far as the eye could see was total devastation. Yet, in the middle of it all, the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help and the fenced property surrounding it was untouched. The property had been spared, and no one had been hurt, including the animals. The five acres sat amid the charred landscape like an oasis in the desert. People who came and saw this incredible sight knew the Hand of God was at work that night. The faithful did not doubt that the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Good Help, stood outside the chapel, deflecting the raging inferno away from her children inside.

The story of Sister Adele and Our Lady of Good Help was always well known within the local culture and to the faithful, but many considered it “urban legend”. That was because there was never an “official ecclesiastical judgment” rendered. Then, in 2009, the Diocese of Green Bay launched an official investigation. On December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a special Mass was offered on the site by Bishop David Ricken. At the Mass, the bishop declared that the Marian apparitions witnessed by Adele Brise were “worthy of belief.”

The site of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help is only one of 15 worldwide recognized for Marian apparitions.  It is the only one in the United States. Since its ecclesiastical recognition and approval, The  Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is rapidly growing as a site for pilgrims from around the world. The “cause” for the canonization of Sister Adele Brise will continue. It is a beautiful thing.

 

copyright ©Larry Peterson 2017


Anti-Semitism / Anti-Christianism: Equal Partners in Hate

fire, hate

By Larry Peterson

Too often throughout history man has allowed hate to control his actions.  Anti-Semitism is a hate that has been around for far too long.

My empathy for the Jewish people began when I was a twelve-year-old, but the journey wasn’t completed until about five years ago. I now I harbor a sense of “passion” about anti-Semitism.  It is an evil bound at the hip with anti-Christianism.

Growing up in the Bronx

I was born and raised Catholic. The Jews were always ‘those other people.’ Yes, I know, Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the apostles, et al, were all Jewish. But as a youngster, I never cared about that or even really thought about it.

I grew up in the South Bronx, in a mostly Catholic-Irish/German/Polish neighborhood. But there were some Jewish families in the neighborhood, too.  The Catholic kids went to Catholic school and Mass while the Jewish kids went to public school and synagogue.  Our social lives at school and church and synagogue were quite different and this caused an invisible separation among us. That was just the way it was.  But there was no hate present.  We were not anti-Semitic.  We bore them no ill-will and to the best of my knowledge they felt the same way toward us.

As such, the first real experience I had with our Jewish neighbors impacted me significantly.  It occurred when I was about twelve years old. I remember very well that Friday night so long ago. It was September, and the screaming started at about midnight. The windows were still open because it was hot, but the wailing seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up, and my seven-year-old brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz

“Down there” was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. We got up and followed him. Dad walked down the flight of stairs and up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened.

Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who, crying unashamedly, buried his head in Dad’s chest. My brother and I were stunned.  Leo was our landlord and everyone in the building seemed to be afraid of him. Not Dad. Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo and did not leave for several hours.

When Dad came back up to our apartment, Danny and I were waiting for him. We wanted to know what happened. Dad took a deep breath and began to explain.  As he did, ‘those people’ in the neighborhood morphed into real people.  Two of them were named Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.

Sophie Rabinowitz had been having nightmares that were created years before. Dad took us back to 1943, and a city called Krakow  The Nazis occupied Krakow.

Sophie’s continuing nightmares were of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis.  Leo and Sophie had been forced to watch as their children were horrendously murdered.  Leo and Sophie begged their captors to kill them and spare their children, but the Nazis tortured the parents further by allowing them to live.

Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their children as godless people clubbed them to death simply because they were Jewish. Such evil can only come into people from the very bowels of Hell itself.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

My father has been dead for many years, but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12 – The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That is what my father did on that night so long ago. The lesson stayed with me and it proved to be profound many years later.

I love my faith and use it frequently as my steadfast companion. I am always ready to lean on it, and I often do. Today I find myself sickened by the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping our nation and other parts of the world. My first thoughts go back to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. My own people are being defiled by those consumed by hatred towards people they do not know.

Note that I just called them “my own people.” That is because they are my people. Let me explain.

Genealogy

Our maternal Grandmother was an immigrant from Austria who arrived here as a teenager in 1908. We kids grew up with Grandma living with us, and we took her for granted. We gave no thought as to where she came from, or what her life had been like.  She was just always there. There was never a man in her life.  We never even thought to ask “what happened to Grandpa?”

Grandma died and Mom and dad passed on too, and we never had a chance to ask them about Grandpa.  There had never been any mention of him at all.  The questions only came after we grew up.  I wrote a book about it a few years ago. (If you are interested in reading the story, the book is The Priest and the Peaches, available from Amazon, HERE.)

Our feeble search for Grandpa became virtually non-existent.  Years went by with no information.  But you never know how things will turn out.

About five years ago, I received a message out of the blue on Facebook.  It was from my long lost cousin, Vicki (that reconnect is a story for another time). She had been on a “quest” and managed to locate me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, after almost 40 years, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected.

Vickie had tenaciousness that none of her siblings or cousins possessed. She had plunged into the murky waters of genealogy and found our long, lost grandfather. His name was Isidore Schul.  He was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the very same city Leo and Sophie were from.  Mom’s dad, our Grandpa, was Jewish.  The immigration and naturalization papers all confirmed it. He made it to America in 1907. Just like that, I felt connected to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.

Jesus was a Jew

I have written a number of times about how the very first Catholic/Christians were Jewish. Jesus was a Jewish man.  His mom, our sweet Blessed Mother, was Jewish. His step-dad, St. Joseph was Jewish, his apostles were Jewish, and many of His first followers were Jewish. Many of  these Jewish/Christians died for following and proclaiming Jesus Christ. They were martyrs for their new faith.

Understanding my heritage caused a transformation of sorts. I now embrace in my own heart the concept of my Jewish connection. My maternal grandfather was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the same place Leo and Sophie’s children were butchered.  He was the only one on his side of OUR family who made it to America.  What we have discovered is that the rest of OUR relatives from his side died in the Holocaust.

We have no way of knowing the fate of our great grandparents, Simon and Regina Schul. Either they died before the death camps began or died in one of them. Now, when I read or see programs about the Holocaust, it has a whole different meaning for me. Members of my family were killed there. It is almost impossible for me to describe.

During the Holocaust, supposedly civilized people, both men, and women, willingly went about participating in the systematic destruction of close to 12 million people, including six million Jews. Their leaders wanted to eliminate Judaism from the face of the earth. And the ‘”good” non-Jewish, Aryan citizens did as the authorities ordered. They “followed orders” and they almost succeeded in their quest.

A Spiritual DNA

I have never understood such hate but I know, too, that anti-Semitism will likely continue unabated. Today, its ‘blood’ relative is a monster known as anti-Christianism.  It’s now rivaling anti-Semitism for world dominance.

When you think about it, it was inevitable that Judaism and Christianity would be defiled and denigrated together.  The worldwide hatred of Jews and Christians will continue, and we are now joined together in this hatred.  Thomas Merton once said, “If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”

We Catholics read and hear during Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass from the Roman Canon the following words said by the priest before the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles . . .” 

Were not all of those mentioned Jewish? Yes, they were. There is no denying this fact. And they are all canonized saints.  Their Judaism was always part of who they were, and it all extrapolated into who we Catholic/Christians are today. A kind of Spiritual DNA joins Jews and Christians together forever.

Satan is Hate

Satan rules hell. He put himself there, and his followers plunged right in with him.  When I bring Holy Communion to someone, the first prayer I say is, “We come to know and believe that God is Love. And he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.”

Satan is the opposite of love. He is hate. And those who choose to embrace “hate” embrace Satan, with Satan heartily embracing them back. This war between Good and Evil will continue until the God of Love decides to end it.  We, as believers, must fight for the God of Love, no matter what the cost, up to and including our lives.

It is 2020, and both Judaism and Christianity are under severe attack in the United States of America. It is in our face. We here, in the USA, have had the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so choose for as long as we all can remember. I think it is the greatest freedom the Founding Fathers gave us.

Still, even that freedom is under assault as the pandemic gives the secularists in power the authority to order churches closed while allowing casinos and race-tracks to remain open. However, we have a most potent weapon against secularism. It is the Rosary. We should pray our Rosary every day for our nation. It is a weapon that Satan cannot overcome.

SHALOM and PEACE BE WITH YOU!


He is the Patron Saint of African-Americans, and his Body lies Incorrupt to this Day

Benedict the Moor                Public Domain

By Larry Peterson

No one knows what their real names were. That was because they were Negroes kidnapped from Africa and transported to San Fratello, Italy, in the early 16th century. San Fratello was a small town near Messina in Sicily, and this is where the newly arrived “dark people” would spend their lives. Once settled in by their “owners,” they were assigned Italian names. They became Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri.

As the years passed by, Cristoforo and Diana converted to Christianity and led exemplary lives. In 1526, Diana gave birth to a son, and they named him Benedict. Benedict’s mom and dad had fulfilled their duties as faithfully and thoroughly as they possibly could.  Their owner, a devout Catholic and a kind man, rewarded them by granting freedom to their son on his eighteenth birthday. Benedict, who had never attended school because he was a slave, was illiterate.

Benedict continued his work as a day laborer and a shepherd. His meager wages he shared with the poor, and in his spare time, cared for the sick. Because of his lowly status, Benedict the Moor was often the object of ridicule. He stood tall in the face of the name-calling and mockery, and cheerfully told others that he was known as “The Holy Black.”

One day, when Benedict was about 21 years old, he was see being publicly ridiculed by some people because of his color. A  group of hermits from nearby Mount Pellegrino and their leader, James Lanze, noticed him. Lanze was a nobleman who had left the world to live under the Rule of St. Francis. James Lanze spoke to Benedict, and Benedict sold his few possessions and joined the monastic group. It was not long after that he moved with them to Palermo.

His Catholic faith deeply rooted within him, Benedict, a lay brother, happily worked in the kitchen at the Friary od St. Mary of Jesus. But God had other plans for Benedict. When the director of the friary passed away, Benedict was chosen as the Guardian of the friary. He still could neither read nor write. After one year as Guardian, he was selected as Novice Master. Many wondered how he could effectively hold such a position.

As was part of his job, many people sought his counsel. From those that were novices to professed religious,  people of all classes came to him for advice. Benedict, an uneducated black man, possessed an extraordinary gift of prayer and seemingly had full knowledge of the scriptures and an instinctive ability to understand deep theological truths. Learned men were astounded, and word of Benedict’s spirituality spread. Soon the monastery was flooded with visitors. The poor were there asking for alms, the sick were searching for a cure, and others just wanted advice or prayers.

Many said that St. Benedict’s face was seen shining as with a celestial light whenever he was praying in the chapel. While working as a cook, others said that angels were seen helping him in the kitchen and that more often than not, food seemed to miraculously increase as Benedict placed it on the tables.

Benedict would have preferred to live a hidden life, unknown to the world. As he aged, he asked to be relieved of his duties and be allowed to return to the kitchen. This request was granted, and Benedict predicted the day and hour he would die.  He fell ill and, after a short time, passed to his eternal reward. The date was April 4, 1589. It was the day he had foretold.

Benedict’s death saw a huge cult develop, and his veneration spread throughout Spain, Italy, and Latin America. Three years after Benedict’s death, his body was exhumed and found perfectly preserved. In 1611, King Philip III of Spain authorized the adding on to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus, a shrine dedicated to St. Benedict the Moor. His incorrupt body is on display to this very day for all to see.

St Benedict the Moor was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and was canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. He is the Patron Saint of African Missions and, along with St. Martin de Porres, is the Patron Saint of African-Americans.

In today’s charged political environment, this great saint stands out as a model of patience and understanding when it comes to being confronted with racial prejudice. The following are historically black Roman Catholic Churches located in the United States which bear  Benedict’s name; Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago (2), Pittsburgh, PA, North Omaha, Nebraska, Dayton, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Grambling, Louisiana, and, Savannah, Georgia ( the oldest Catholic church for African-Americans in the entire Southeast.

Saint Benedict the Moor, please pray for us.