Tag Archives: history

This Aborigine child’s legacy lives on in the 21st Century-Meet Francis Xavier Conaci

Diremera and Francis Xavier Conaci       19th Century Australia Aborigines

By Larry Peterson

Kate Galvin is a nursing student from Australia who is a descendant of the Aborigines, the indigenous people native to her homeland.  Her roots are ingrained in what is known as Australia’s  Stolen Generations.

In July of 2018, she was awarded the Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship. Sponsored by the Australian Catholic University and the Australian government, she flew to Rome where she received her award and is finishing up her final year of study at the Rome Campus. She expects to earn her degree in nursing and midwifery sometime in 2019.

So who was Francis Xavier Conaci and why is a scholarship named after him?

On March 1, 1846, two Spanish Benedictines, Rosendo Salvado, and Joseph Serra, founded a mission on the southwest coast of Australia. It was named New Norcia, (after the Italian town of Norcia) which is the birthplace of St. Benedict. Within one year of their arrival, the cornerstone for their future monastery was set in place.

Friar Rosendo had devoted almost 20 years to spreading the gospel and teaching about Jesus to the Aborigines. Indigenous to Australia and Tasmania, these people were not even considered fully human.  Incredibly, Friar Rosendo had made remarkable progress in bringing the Catholic faith to these folks. He lived with them, camped with them, learned several of the primary languages (there were many), wrote dictionaries for them, and even acted as a lobbyist for them with the colonial authorities.

Rosendo Salvado realized the intelligence of these people and became aware of their potential. He decided to select a few of the children who seemed to shine above the rest and take them to Rome.  He hoped to train these youngsters as European religious so they could go back home and spread the faith among their own people.

Friar Salvado chose two boys: one was Francis Xavier Conaci*, age seven, and the other was John Baptist Diremera*, age eleven.  They left Perth on January 8, 1849. The youngsters were very excited about the journey and were bubbling over with enthusiasm. So was Friar Rosendo.  (They were not the first to travel to Rome. A year earlier the first boy baptized in New Norcia,  Benedict Upumera*, was taken on the journey but sadly, he died on the way. Benedict was only seven years old).

The journey was long and hard. The big sailing ship had to travel from Australia to Madagascar, round the Cape of Good Hope and then north to Europe.  It was several months before they arrived in Rome. But first, Friar Salvado,  was invited to speak before the Royal Geographical Society in London. The Society believed the Aborigines were sub-human and he was able to convince them that they were just as human and of the same intelligence as all of them. Having the two boys with him were his living, breathing, walking, talking, proof.

It was on to Rome, and they had an audience with Pope Pius IX. The Holy Father presented the boys with their black, woolen Benedictine robes. The pope, laying hands on Francis Xavier, said, ”Australia needs a second Francis Xavier; may the Lord bless this boy, and make him into one!”

The boys also met the Kings and Queens of Sicily and Naples and were filled with awe at the royal guards and all the pomp an beauty of the palaces. Then it was off to the monastery in the Campania region of Italy to begin their education. Amazingly, both of them were quick to understand Latin. Little Conaci was not only impressive with his learning he also exhibited a great love for Jesus and prayed often. The friars began predicting he might become the first Aborigine bishop in Australia. But, that would never happen.

In early 1853 the abbot at the monastery advised the Vatican that two boys seemed ill and he could not understand why. Doctors, including the Holy Father’s personal physician, decided that the two young boys who were just homesick. Their advice was to send them home to Australia. It was too late for Francis Xavier. On October 10, 1853, at the age of eleven, he died. He is now buried at the Major Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.

John Baptist arrived back in Australia in May of 1855. The youngster, all of fifteen years old, died three months later. Church historian, Father Brendan Hayes of Melbourne says, “They pined away.”

The scholarship, established in 2016,  is named after Francis Xavier Conaci to extend the boy’s legacy from the beginning in 1849 and carry it to the present day. His youth, his love of Jesus, and the fact that he passed on while at the Benedictine monastery all reach across the decades to embrace the Australian Catholic Church and tie all Catholics “down under” together.

*The boy’s names; Francis Xavier, John Baptist, and Benedict are their baptism names given by the Benedictines. The last names are their Aboriginal or tribal names.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Part II: Martyred Priests and Laypersons of the Cristero War: Canonized on May 21, 2000, by Pope St. John Paul II

Cristero War Priest executed                                      http://www.hereodote.net

By Larry Peterson

On May 21, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized 25 saints and martyrs who died in the  Cristero War in Mexico. Most of the newly canonized were Catholic priests. Six of the priests were members of the Knights of Columbus.

This is Part II which profiles some of these heroes and defenders of the faith who invariably shouted, “Vivo Cristo Rey,” (long live Christ the King) as the executioner’s bullets tore into them or the hangman’s noose crushed their throats.

  • Saint Jenaro Sanchez Delgadillo:   On September 19, 1886, Julia Delgadillo gave birth to a baby boy, She and her husband, Cristobal Sanchez, were humble people and faithful Catholics and they were thrilled with the arrival of their new son.  They named him Jenaro.

 

Jenaro Sanchez was a fine student. After finishing his primary grades, he received a scholarship to the Archdiocesan Seminary at Guadalhara. He was ordained to the priesthood on August 20, 1911, and immediately began his priestly ministry. His primary focus quickly turned to care for the sick in his parish and teaching catechism to the children.

In 1923, with the bishop in exile in Texas, Father Sanchez became the vicar of the town of Tamazulita, He had been jailed once and released several days later for reading a letter from the archbishop which attacked the government for its anti-Catholic policies. However, Plutarco Calles had become president in 1924 and had taken an extremely hard stand against everything Catholic. The fact was, Calles hated the Catholic Church and all its members.

Public worship had been prohibited and strictly enforced under Calles. Father Sanchez and other priests had found places where they could celebrate Mass in secret. A family had given him and his mom and dad shelter in their home located outside the parish boundaries. He had no idea the authorities had been told of his whereabouts.

On January 17, 1927, he and five friends were arrested by the soldiers. When his friends saw the soldiers coming they told him to run and hide.  He refused. The soldiers let the others go but they had other plans for Father Jenaro Sanchez. They tied his hands behind him and dragged him to a nearby mango tree. Then, as they taunted and mocked him, they hung Father Sanchez murdering the man of God.

Saint Janero Sanchez Delgadillo, please pray for us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Priest and the Laymen: These following four Cristeros went to their deaths together: Father Luis Batiz Sainz; Senor Manuel Morales; Senor David Roldan; and Senor Salvador Lara.

Saint Luiz Batiz Sainz: He was born in 1870, entered a minor seminary at the age of 12, and was ordained a priest in 1894. He devoted most of his time to catechesis, had a deep devotion for Eucharistic Adoration, and was a member of the Knights of Columbus; council 2367.

Saint Manuel Morales: He was born in 1898 in a small town called Mesillas. He entered the seminary but had to drop out to go to work to help support his poor family. He became a baker, married, and had three children. He was a member of the local Catholic Workers Union.

Saint David Roldan Lara: He was born on March 2, 1907. His dad, Pedro Roldan, died when David was just one year old. He entered a seminary but, like Manuel Morales, had to drop out to help support his struggling mom. He was an outspoken critic of the Calles government and was the vice- president of National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty. He was only 19.

Saint Salvador Lara Puente: He was born in 1905, and was tall and strong and a fine athlete. He became a miner to help support his widowed mother and was an outspoken critic of the secular government.

The four men listed above were jailed together. Father Luiz was older, and he became not only their spiritual father but also their temporal “father” providing the young men comfort as they all knew what was about to happen to them.

On August 15, 1926, all four were loaded into two cars and driven out to the nearby mountains. They took the prisoners out of the cars and told them they were guilty of conspiracy against the government.

They were directed to a spot where they were to be executed. Together they prayed and then began to walk toward the designated location. As they walked, they all cried out together, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”  Then they all were shot to death by firing squad.

We ask these martyred saints to pray for us all.

(Part III to follow)

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Guilty by Bloodline; Blessed Margaret Pole’s life displays Courage to all Christians no matter the challenge.

Margaret  Pole commons.wikimedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was born on August 14, 1473, in Somerset, England.  She was the last daughter of George Plantagenet (Plantagenet Dynasty), the Duke of Clarence. King Henry VII officiated at her marriage to Sir Richard Pole whose mother-in-law, Edith St. John, was a half-sister of the king’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. The family bloodline was quite complex.

When Henry VIII, took the throne in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon. Margaret was named as one of her ladies-in-waiting. In 1512, the King saw to it that some of her lands were restored to her. These lands had been confiscated by Henry VII. After this, King Henry VIII, who described Margaret as the “most saintly woman in England”, elevated her to the position of Countess of Salisbury, a title that brought prestige and a bit of power.

In due time she was made the governess to Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. But in 1521, due to infighting and subterfuge that was continually going on in the King’s court, Margaret and her sons fell into disfavor with the King. She was permitted to remain at court but her sons were no longer welcome there. Then, in 1525, she went sent with Princess Mary to live in Wales.

Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, was a voice against King Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Reginald even wrote to the king expressing his feelings. His mother was horrified. Knowing how vindictive the king could be, she pleaded with Reginald to retract what he had put in writing. He refused. In her heart she knew her boy was right. They had no idea that King Henry VIII confided to the French ambassador that he planned to destroy Reginald’s entire family, including Margaret, the “most saintly woman in England.”

The family purge began in the autumn of 1536 when Margaret’s sons, Geoffrey and Lord Montague, were arrested. A spy who had been placed in Margaret’s household testified before Cromwell that he was witness to secret meetings and clandestine messages being delivered back and forth among the king’s enemies.

Martha Pole, The Countess of Salisbury, was truly a woman of faith. It did not matter. She was questioned from noon into and through the entire night until the next morning. She knew nothing of what they asked, but it did not matter. The seized all her furniture and goods and transported her to jail at Cowdry. Here she remained isolated for the next few years.

An Act of Attainder was passed by the Parliament in early 1539 against Margaret Pole and her entire family. Her two sons had already been executed when the bill was passed. In it, she was accused of treason. The now elderly woman was dragged off to the Tower of London. She had been placed under a sentence o death, and the sentence could be carried out anytime the King felt so compelled to order it. She would remain there for the next two years.

On May 27, 1541, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, was informed that she would be put to death that very day. She asked why since no crime had ever been committed. She was ignored. Her body was racked with pain from the harsh, cold, stone cell she had been forced to stay in for the previous few years. But she stood tall and walked to her place of execution.

There were no crowds or witnesses present and no scaffold. It was a chopping block in the corner of the room on the floor. Margaret asked everyone to pray with her. They bowed heads and she forgave everyone, commended her soul to God,  and asked for prayers for the King and Queen.

Margaret was subjected to one final and horrendous indignity. The executioner was a novice and missed his target several times. The poor woman’s shoulder, head, and back were hit by the flailing ax before it hit its mark, ending her life. It is hard to imagine having to endure that.

Many called Margaret Pole a martyr. She was a victim of being part of a family that was hated by a ruthless king. For that, she suffered a brutal death.  Pope Leo XIII agreed and beatified Margaret Pole on December 29, 1886.

Blessed Margaret Pole; please pray for us.

copyright©2019Larry Peterson

St. Agnes of Montepulciano—St. Catherine of Siena called her, “Our Mother, the Glorious Agnes

St. Agnes of Montepulciano                                                   aleteia.org

By Larry Peterson

The Dominican Order has five women who are canonized saints. The two best known are St. Catherine of Siena, the stigmatist and a Doctor of the Church, and St. Rose of Lima, the first woman canonized a saint from the Americas. The other three are St. Margaret of Hungary who became Empress of the Byzantine Empire, St. Catherine de Ricci, the stigmatist, and lastly, St. Agnes of Montepulciano.

St. Agnes, who may be the least known of the five, could be the most important among them. What tells us that is, it was St. Catherine of Siena, who knelt by Agnes’ incorrupt body and said, “Our Mother, the Glorious Agnes.” As Catherine bent forward to kiss the foot of Agnes, it raised up so Catherine could easily reach it. St. Agnes had died almost 300 years before that moment.

On January 28, 1268, a baby girl was born into the wealthy De Segni family, in Montepulciano, located in the Papal States (central Italy). The child was named Agnes, and from an early age, she displayed an outward and obvious devotion to God.

By the time Agnes was six years old she was asking her parents to please allow her to enter the convent. When they told her she was much too young, she pleaded with them to move closer to the convent so she could be near to it. On one occasion Agnes was traveling to Montepulciano with her mom and some of the household.  The group passed by a house that was up on a hill and was known as a place of ill repute. Suddenly, a flock of screaming crows soared down from above and attacked little Agnes.

With claws outstretched and beaks flailing away they scratched and clawed at the seven-year-old, causing her to bleed from her head and arms which she was using to cover herself. The women in the group had to fight the shrieking birds off by waving their shawls and yelling at them. The ladies knew that the evil in the nearby house did not want Agnes anywhere near it. It had been a demonic attack. Years later, Agnes would build a convent on that very site.

By the time this child was nine years old she had convinced her parents to allow her to enter the convent. She was so young this was against church law but, Pope John XXI gave Agnes permission to enter the Franciscan monastery. The nuns who lived there were known as the “Sisters of the Sack” because the garments they wore were so coarse. Nine-year-old Agnes happily wore it every day.

When Agnes was fifteen, she found herself in need of another special dispensation. This time it was so she could become the abbess of a new convent in Proceno. She desired to be in a contemplative state where she could simply pray and commune with those above. But she did not complain and humbly followed the path that always seemed to appear before her. On her day of consecration as abbess, showers of tiny white crosses floated down inside the chapel on the people below. Being a fifteen-year-old abbess was unheard of, and everyone took this as a sign of heaven’s pleasure with Agnes.

Agnes was graced with many visions. Probably the most legendary and the one for which she is best known is was when Our Lady appeared to her holding the Baby Jesus in her arms. Our Lady allowed Agnes to hold Him and caress Him. Another time the Blessed Mother gave Agnes three stones and told her to keep them in honor of the Blessed Trinity. She told Agnes that one day she would need them.

Agnes had another vision which told her that she was to leave the Franciscans and join the Dominicans. In 1306 she was asked to return to Montepulciano to build a new convent. She had no money, but she did have the three stones the Blessed Virgin had given to her. Using the three stones as a “cornerstone,” she raised money and built the convent. The sisters embraced the Rule of St. Augustine and joined the Dominican Order.

Sister Agnes died on April 20, 1317. It is said that the children of the city woke up the next morning and sadly cried out, “Holy Sister Agnes is dead.”

Agnes was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. The Dominicans celebrate her feast day on April 20.

St. Agnes of Montepulciano, please pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Why do the Clergy wear Vestments during Mass and other Liturgical Celebrations?

POPE PIUS XII – – in full vestments                                       stock photo

By Larry Peterson

The origins of wearing vestments at liturgical ceremonies date back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament practice of wearing special garb for religious events did influence the church. However, Christian vestments were not adaptions of the Old testament clothing but were more or less copied from the dress of the  Roman-Graeco world.

History tells us that in the early Christian church, priests and other clergy wore the same type of clothing as everyone else. When celebrating Mass or conducting other liturgical ceremonies, they were required to make sure their clothes were pure and clean.

The 4th century saw the beginning development of the vestments we see today. By the beginning of the ninth century rules for vesting were more or less set in place. Finally, by the 13th century,  the Catholic Church had set in place the vesting process which, except for minor changes, has lasted more or less up to the present time.

If you were an altar server or sacristan it would be your job to lay out the vestments the priest would be wearing for that day’s Mass. You would have to know what they were and how to present them. This is the order for the vesting process. It follows the rubrics (rules) of the Church:

  • Amice

The Amice is used to cover the collar of streetwear. Today it is mostly used by priests celebrating the Latin Rite (Tridentine Mass). There are those priests who do wear it when celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass. The Alb can be used to cover the collar instead of wearing the Amice. Originally used as ahead covering the Biblical reference is from Ephesians 6:17: “And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is God.”

  • Alb

The Alb is the long white garment that covers the priest from the neck down to his feet. It is white to symbolize freedom from sin and purity in life.  From the Book of Revelation 7:14: we have; “ “These are the ones who have survived the great period of trial; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

  • Cincture

The Cincture is the long cord with tassels on the end that the priest ties around his waist to hold the alb in place. Unlike the Stole this can be white or the color of the vestments. This reminds the priest of the quote from 1 Peter 1:13: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

  • Stole

The next item you layout is the Stole which is laid on the ChasubleThis is the long cloth that drapes around the neck and hangs down beyond the waist. This may be crisscrossed across the chest which symbolizes the Cross. The Stole is the same color as the Chasuble. It reminds the priest to preach the word of God with courage and conviction. Biblical reference is in Hebrew 4:12: “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between even soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

  • Chasuble

The Chasuble. This is the outermost garment that only a priest or bishop may wear. It is only worn when Mass is being offered. It covers and embraces all underneath it.  Biblical reference is in Colossians, 3:14: “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

  • Maniple

There is one more and it is called the Maniple. This is similar to a large handkerchief that hangs over the left forearm. It is the same color as the other vestments. It stopped being used after 1969. However, it is still required use for those priests who offer the Latin Mass (Tridentine  Mass).

There are many more vestments used in liturgical services such as Benediction, Adoration, and processions. Several common ones are the Cope, the Humeral Veil, the Surplus, and the Dalmatic which is worn by Deacons. These may be presented at another time.

 Copyright©Larry Peterson 2018

 

 

Mary Lou Williams—-This Catholic Convert and famed Jazz Pianist composed Sacred Music including the First Jazz Spiritual Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Mary Lou Williams–Jazz great                                                       www.npr.org

By Larry Peterson

Mary Elfrieda Scruggs was born on May 8, 1910, in Atlanta, Georgia. When she was a toddler the family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and this is where Mary grew up. She was the second of eleven children, but unlike her siblings, Mary was a “gifted’ child.  She had perfect pitch and a superb musical memory and was picking out tunes on the piano at the age of two.

Her mother, a classically trained pianist, recognized the talent and began teaching Mary how to play when she was three years old. By the age of ten, Mary was known as the “Little Piano Girl” and was performing for audiences all over Pittsburgh.

She was only seventeen when she met saxophonist, John Williams. They married, and he and his new wife moved to Oklahoma to join the popular band, Andy Kirk and the Twelve Clouds of Joy. This was when Mary Lou began to be recognized as an outstanding piano player and musical arranger. By the late 1930s, Mary Lou Williams was arranging for renowned musicians such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Louis Armstrong.

In 1942, Mary moved to New York City. Duke Ellington recorded her arrangement of “Trumpet No End,” and her reputation became known all over the country. She began meeting with younger musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker. They would meet in her apartment and discuss and write music together. She made the transition to bebop and wrote songs such as “Waltz Boogie,” “Knowledge,” and “Lonely Moments.” But her life was soon to take a dramatic change.

Mary Lou had always possessed a deep need to develop her spirituality, and she knew something was missing from her life.  In 1955, she began her journey in Harlem at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. She even tried preaching in the streets. Ironically, it was Dizzy Gillespie, who was the link that connected her to Catholicism.

Dizzy introduced Mary Lou to Father John Crowley, a priest he had met in South America. Father Crowley also happened to be a jazz lover. The priest persuaded her to “offer her playing up (to God). Mary Lou embraced Father Crowley’s advice and began doing just that.

Mary then went over to Our Lady of Lourdes parish on 142nd St. in Harlem. She knocked on the door, and Father Anthony Woods answered the door. He invited her in, they became friends, and he soon became Mary Lou’s mentor. She began receiving instruction in the Catholic faith and was baptized on May 7, 1957. She received her Confirmation one month later.

Mary had refrained from performing because she realized that jazz did not fill her spiritual needs. However, once a Catholic she was buoyed by her new faith. Finding the comfort she had sought, she resumed her musical career appearing with Dizzy Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1957.

She founded her own label, Mary Records, which was the first recording company started by a woman. She also started Cecilia Music Publishing Company. Influenced by post-Vatican II reforms and by the civil rights movement, Mary now wanted to write sacred pieces. Looking for some guidance, she asked Father Woods to help.

He assisted her with the lyrics for her first sacred work. The result was a piece called Black Christ of the Andes (1962). This honored St. Martin de Porres,  the lay Dominican from Lima, Peru, who was the patron saint of black and mixed-race people.

Mary Lou was the guiding spirit behind a February 1967 concert at Carnegie Hall, entitled Praise the Lord in Many Voices. She wrote Mass for the Lenten Season (1968), and Music for Peace (1970) which came to be known as Mary Lou’s Mass.

In 1975, Mary Lou’s Mass became the first jazz arrangement to be performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. She became an artist-in-residence at Duke University and taught at the  University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She also received an honorary degree from Fordham University.

Mary Lou Williams died on May 28, 1981, from bladder cancer. She was seventy-one. She is known as the “first lady of the jazz keyboard,” but it was her Catholic faith that ultimately defined her musical legacy.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

All Saint’s Day: Never Forget that Our Christian Roots are Embedded in Judaism

All Saint’s Day                                         achristianpilgrim.com

by Larry Peterson

My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be  Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action.  The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .

I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five-story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four-room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.

It was still September and summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and  blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist.

This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.

The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.”

Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.

We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common.

Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny, and Carolyn had joined Danny and I in the conversation and by the time our five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew”  that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.

As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.

We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like.

They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.

All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2,  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.

My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”

I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—, and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”

“What about them?” I don’t understand.”

“Never ever forget that almost all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity”. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”

I never did.

Forever Connected                                          http://www.cafepress.com

 

copyright©Larry Peterson 2014