Lessons Learned at Camp Courageous



“The world is wide and beautiful. But almost everywhere,

everywhere, the children are dying.”

(Edward Abbey)



In the summer of 1991, my oldest son and I began attending a place called Camp Courageous. It is a camp where, for one week, he and I served as counselors. Not psychotherapy counselors but softball-playing, bracelet-making counselors. The children who attend are like any group of kids — energetic, testing limits, frustrating. However, there was one word which binds these children together. That word is cancer. Each of these children was waging a battle against cancer or, in a few cases, had won the battle or at least been given a reprieve.

Each year I attended, I was assigned as a counselor to the teenage group. This allowed me the luxury of getting up earlier and running. For the teenagers, thankfully, tended to greet morning with great reluctance, wanting instead to sink deeper into their sleeping bags (especially after having been up half the night.)

My run took me about five miles round trip, the midway point being a lake where the children might go fishing during the week. One of the small joys of my four summers at this camp was the memory that, for each of the last two summers, some of the boys in my group would actually get up a time or two to run with me. (In that regard, I’ll share one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. While running with one of the boys, he turned to me and said with utter innocence “Say, you’re in pretty good shape for an old guy.”)

The children we met over the course of four summers were both remarkable and typical. The teenagers, for instance, were just as adept at power struggles as any I’ve met. The little children (with whom my son usually works) could be annoying and demanding with the best of them. By the same token, these children had a profound insight or perspective. At times, simply hearing them talk about their battles rendered one speechless. My son recalls coming upon four of his charges, all under seven years old and listening to them compare stories about their experiences with portable catheters.

There is something within most of us that screams a resounding “NO” to the idea of children contracting cancer. We may be horrified by the inhumanity that we inflict upon one another but most often when we hear stories of atrocities we sigh. But when we hear of a child diagnosed with cancer, we feel the rumble of a protest within. Such things are not supposed to happen to children, we think. At whom are we raging? Are we not arguing with God? Absolutely! Many of my early morning runs at Camp Courageous were taken up with angry words directed at God. Especially when I had learned that another child known from previous years had died. Such harsh realities stood in sharp contrast to the magnificent forest and technicolor sunrises that surrounded my run.

And so it goes. I am always reminded of the Tao, of the tension of opposites. Bald heads and missing limbs against a backdrop of pine trees and flowers. This seems to be the world we’ve been handed. Even within nature, we encounter these poles. As I wax poetic about the forest, Annie Dillard’s horrifying story about the death of a frog comes back to me. Here is her description of how a water beetle kills a frog:


“(The water beetle’s) grasping forelegs are mighty and hooked inward.

It seizes a victim with these legs, hugs it tight, and paralyzes it with

enzymes injected during a vicious bite. That one bite is the only bite

it ever takes. Through the puncture shoots the poison that dissolves

the victim’s muscles and bones and organs — all but the skin — and

through it the giant water beetle sucks out its victim’s body, reduced to

a juice.”

That passage rivals the greatest horror-writing I can think of .

In contemplating the giant water beetle, I am inclined to view it as the villain and to define what it does to the poor frog as evil. But it is me that imposes a moral judgment here. The water beetle is just being a water beetle. Cancer, too, is simply cancer. It is neither a test nor a punishment, even when the sufferer is a child.

Nature after all is amoral. Thus, those who sadistically argue that a disease is invoked as a punishment, whether the disease is AIDS or cancer or anything else, are only imposing an ugly morality on amoral nature.

The amorality of nature, of course, does not ease our outrage. Are not the rules of nature set up by God? Many of these children, especially the younger ones, seemed to waste little time on such theological reflections, focusing instead on having a good time. Some of the older ones, however, would occasionally give a glimpse of their inner battles. One summer I sat with a young woman who spoke with anguish of how she could no longer dance and of how friends seemed to drift away. She spoke, too, in such a way that I knew she was preparing herself to die. And yet, poet that she was, she spoke of how, when she did die, she would live on by becoming a part of the trees and the wind and so would continue to be a part of the other children whom she’d grown to love so much. Such wisdom from a sixteen year old!

These experiences tend to deepen my outrage with God. Yet I also know that these children taught me clearly that time is indeed of the essence. I have often taken time for granted, assuming that I have lots of it left . I put off saying something or trying to heal a relationship. I allow the passage of time to cause friendships to wither. Were it not for these children, I might still not fully notice how foolish I am when I continue to presume upon time. Certainly adult cancer victims I’ve known have helped me also to appreciate time. But it was these young ones who challenged my assumptions that I will live for many more years. Suppose we all were given the same number of years, let’s say seventy. In other words, we all knew that we’d live until age 70, then die on our seventieth birthday. How might that effect the manner in which I live? Well, in my own case, I believe I would spend roughly sixty years in self-indulgent activity and then begin to worry about my immortal soul for the last ten years. I would quickly become very religious. These young children remind me of the absurdity of that scenario. They are the teachers of the 90th Psalm: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

And then there was John. One day, I walked out onto the lodge porch to find John standing next to a hummingbird feeder, his arm stretched out with his index finger poised by the feeder mouth. When I asked him what he was doing, without moving or looking at me, he said “If you hold your finger out and wait long enough, a hummingbird might land on it.” A chill went up my spine. A few moments later, John lowered his arm and rubbed it, looking at me and commenting “Chemo.” While he rested, I attempted to take a picture of a hummingbird at the feeder. But each time, I lifted the camera to my eye, the hummingbird would dart away. John silently observed, then said “Hold the camera to your eye and wait.” I looked at him and thought to myself  “Am I in the presence of a Zen Master?” I followed his guidance and indeed captured a hummingbird on film. One year later, I returned to camp eager to show John the picture. At the meeting place, I learned that 16 year old John had died two months previous.

The Algonquian tribes had a tradition. On the evening of the death of a loved one, the family would go outside, look up into the sky and select a star to stand as the campfire of their loved one, lit brightly so that he or she could be found when the others would follow.

Each summer after John died, I had the same experience during one of my morning runs, most often on the last one for the year. As I ran, I noticed in the sky a last bright star still visible as sunrise took over the sky. I know that some would say that what I saw was the morning planet. But I know the truth. There is no doubt. It was John’s campfire.



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The Desert: Going Out is Really Going In

El Paso Texas desert, what the ground looks like- can butt up to mountain range. Fort Carson Co, Come And Take It, Sun City, West Texas, Road Trip, Le Far West, Mother Earth, Places Ive Been, National Parks


The Desert: Going Out is Really Going In

“The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wander

for forty years. It is a way of being”
(Lawrence Kushner)

    When I first took up running, the desert was one block from our home and afforded a wonderful myriad of trails, twists, and turns.

What strikes most Easterners first about the Southwest desert is the absence of green. There are no trees, no grass. The color that stands out is brown. That is, until one comes to know the desert a little better. Then the desert takes on a certain quiet beauty uniquely its own. Others may talk of the beauty of the desert in bloom, truly spectacular. I am thinking, however, of the desert in all its brownness and barrenness. This stark facet to the desert’s personality has a certain dignified beauty about it.

Sadly, what could also be found in the nearby desert was a significant amount of trash. Not just your usual bits of plastic and aluminum. Within minutes of our house could be found sofas, mattresses, tires, mufflers, and a vast assortment of discarded building materials. It seems that people may treat the desert with the same reckless disregard as we treat the air and ocean. It is so big. What difference will a little trash make? Sadly, when hundreds take the same attitude, it makes quite a difference.

Towards the end of the film Forrest Gump, Forrest tells his wife of all the places he has run. He mentions with special fondness running in the desert at sunrise. That scene was moving for me because I understood. To see shadowy shrubs and ghostly mounds of sand gradually become illuminated with pink and orange, to smell early morning desert dampness, to spot a dashing road runner or jack rabbit — this is the stuff of wonder. At times, too, even in the arid Southwest, the desert blossoms. Cacti of many varieties as well as shrubs unknown on the East coast take on delicate short-lived blossoms. I treasured my runs through the desert, even in the midst of wind storms where the sand stings or in the midst of heat where suddenly one understands the thirst which the desert evokes.

But civilization has pushed the desert further and further from my home. The desert now begins several miles from my home. Where the desert began there are now churches, schools, a mall, stop-and-shop gas stations, a Pizza Hut and numerous other “cultural achievements”. We no longer have our house and cars regularly sand-blasted. Lizards are rare. Tumbleweeds are now crushed by car tires long before reaching our street. As I run through streets in the area, I can still spot the sunrise but not with the uninhibited vista of several years ago. Something within my spirit has gotten lost in the process.

To connect spirituality with nature is not a new thought. From Emerson and Thoreau to Dillard and Eiseley, we have had prophets who have pointed us back to nature to find a glimpse of God. The spiritual call of nature enjoyed a resurgence of sorts during the eighties thanks in part to the New Age movement. But the New Age movement tended to ignore the dark side of our relationship with nature. There is a tendency to attend to the benefits without also looking within to discern our own sinfulness in our relationship with nature.

We all have within our own dark side a desire to dominate, to control. This shadowy power can be felt as we chop down trees or chase animals. It is in evidence if we carelessly flip a match or cigarette butt into dry underbrush. It is apparent when we dump trash in the desert.

Our shadowy treatment of the desert is especially sad since it is such a potent spiritual place. Many of the great spiritual struggles of the Bible occur in the desert such that the desert is often invoked as an image for a time of spiritual wandering. When we wander in the desert spiritually, we may feel lost, we may even be lost. But we wander with a certain element of hope that eventually we will find our way out. And when we do, we may be surprised to find ourselves changed or at least ready to change. Terry Tempest Williams expresses this thought most clearly: ” . . .every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide and so we are found.”

Once I went on a solitary run into the desert and got lost! I took a turn that I thought would cycle back toward my house. But direction in the desert is deceiving and I realized at one point that I was moving further away from the water tower in the distance rather than closer. What started out to be a four mile run turned into nine miles and extended into the later part of the morning and, therefore, midday heat. I have to admit that, as I tried to find my way back to civilization, I was inundated with all sorts of images from movies and cartoons of French Foreign Legionnaires crawling through the sand dying of thirst. Fortunately, I did get out of the desert although, sunburned and dehydrated.

Metaphorically, this particular run stands as a warning regarding the spiritual journey. One should not run blindly into the realm of spiritual experience and particularly the realm of doubt. We need to approach the spiritual dimension respectfully and with full awareness that, if we take that realm for granted, we can be consumed by it. Yet at the same time, a vibrant spiritual life is not meant to be always comfortable. There are moments of doubt, moments of darkness, times of feeling lost. The spiritual experience of the desert, pursued respectfully, is a key element. Perhaps my foolish desert run was preferable to settling for the known and comfortable. I like to think so. I have run in the desert since then. I am just a little more careful.


My fellow human beings appear to be continuing with their invasion of the desert, pushing it further and further East. In the same way, we continue to push forest and wildernesses further and further away. This disrespect and corruption of power is bound to backfire much as my foolish desert run did. And in that corrupting, something profound will be lost.

One morning my run took me along a street where the desert used to be. It is now paved and lined with warehouses. But in the shadows I saw a jackrabbit! Perhaps the jackrabbit and his desert are waiting, waiting until we curious creatures self-destruct and return the desert to its natives. It may yet be time enough to learn to share what is left of the desert with those who already live there and to simply be grateful when those creatures allow us in as we seek the Spirit.

Williams, Terry Tempest Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Places Vintage Books: New York, 1991, p. 148.



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Do Politicians Really Read the Bible?

Invoking God to justify one’s political position is nothing new. God and Jesus have been used as justification for all kinds of atrocities to include persecutions, genocide, stealing of land,etc. Good grief! The Ku Klux Klan believes their actions of hatred are God-ordained!

In these dark days, it has become more common for politicians of all sides to quote the Bible or otherwise invoke God to justify their actions. I wonder, though, if politicians really take the time to read the Bible or any other form of sacred scripture. The Bible is a challenging book and Jesus’ message is even more challenging. His is not an easy path to follow.

I wonder what the political scenario in America would look like if politicians actually took to heart the following passages:

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you” (Mathew 5:44) Notice that this doesn’t say “Love your enemy unless he/she is a Democrat or Republican.” Nor does it say you have to agree with everything your enemy says. But loving your enemy would at least appear to imply respect and an absence of insults.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners … where everyone can see them…When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly.”  (Mathew  6:5-6) This would seem to argue against publishing photos of a politician praying or being prayed over by others.

“If you call someone an idiot you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Mathew 5:22) Headlines are filled with insults being hurled back and forth. Apparently politicians believe that this quote does not apply to politics.

“You too must show love to foreigners” (Deut 10:19) The Bible is very clear about the command to treat foreigners with love and respect. One need only look across the border here in El Paso to see hundreds waiting for months with the vague hope of being welcomed here in our country.

Perhaps I am a naive idealist but I do believe that political dialogue these days would be much more productive if the politicians were to only practice what they claim to believe.

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On Cheating

As I ponder the Major League baseball cheating scandal and the potential downfall of my beloved Redsox, I realize that cheating is nothing new, whether the scenario is baseball, politics, or just day-to-day living. Even my Church has cheated through lying.

The bottom line of cheating appears to be “It’s only a problem if you get caught!” And if we are all honest with ourselves, we sometimes delight in someone “getting away with it.” Take Gaylord Perry, for example. Perry had a Hall of Fame career. Perry also used the spitball, a pitch that was illegal for many years. Perry never hid the fact that he was cheating. When he retired, he said “Well, baseball will be a little drier now.” I confess that I appreciated this trickster figure.

Election cheating is also nothing new, whether it involves preventing poor people from registering to vote to dumping voting machines into Lake Michigan. Persons running for elected office have long been willing to “get away with” illegal/unethical ways of padding their vote.

Cheating in business also seems to be a way of life whether it is knowingly selling an inferior product, falsifying a tax return, billing for services not delivered, etc. Even the  Bible notes the challenge of people cheating in business.

Is honesty going the way of such values as church attendance? In this fast-paced world, is honesty no longer relevant? Like the call to non-violence, does Jesus’ invitation to honesty suggest that he was nothing more than a naive idealist?

The ultimate challenge of honesty is to be honest with oneself. How often do I make excuses? Overlook bad behavior? How often do I justify lying? Perhaps our culture has become so tolerant of cheating that we don’t feel a need to hold ourselves accountable.

Yes, there are uproars. Baseball managers are being fired. Players may be implicated. Election results are being questioned because of cheating through foreign influence. I’d like to think this outrage reflects some moral awakening but I doubt it.

So what do I do? As with the issue of violence, perhaps the only recourse I have is the most important one — do a moral inventory on my own level of dishonesty and take the necessary steps to establish a more honest, cheat-free lifestyle. Perhaps as I point a finger at any suspected cheater from a baseball manager to a President, I need to recall Shakespeare’s words: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

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On Dementia

Dementia is that category of illness that includes Alzheimer’s as well as other causes of mental deterioration. Some people live with progressive dementia over a long course of time. My father live with it for 6 years.

My father’s dementia was most likely of the vascular type, a result of several strokes. Over time he became difficult to manage because of his temper. He also slowly, slowly lost his past.

It is most often a parent who develops dementia and a child who journeys with them until the parent dies. It can be a long slow journey to that door. However, it also happens to spouses, living day to day “in sickness and in health.”

What I found most difficult about that journey with my father was that I lost him a little bit at a time. My wife commented that, when I came home from visiting with him, I was often sad. Usually there would be some little sign — a forgotten friend, a messed up checkbook, a struggle for a word — that reflected this long slow journey. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and died 3 weeks later. While that death was very painful, in many ways the manner in which I lost my father was more so because it was so prolonged.

The one positive was that, once he was properly medicated, he was able to greatly enjoy the moment. In our day, it is popular to remind ourselves to live in the moment. The last time I saw my Dad before he fell and lapsed into a week-long coma, my wife also came for a visit. She had put on some make-up and wore a pretty blouse. My father, who always had an eye for a pretty girl, was delighted. He truly was living in the moment.

I was not a 24/7 caretaker for my Dad. Others have shared that journey with me and it is an exquisitely painful one. Such caretakers are vulnerable to depression and physical illness. Seeking help and support is essential.

Given my spiritual struggles, I have often questioned God about this disease. Perhaps God has nothing to do with it. Perhaps it’s simply as my cousin said; “Sometimes we live too long.”

I am grateful that my father was willing to move from Scranton to El Paso so that I could more easily help him. I am grateful that he didn’t fight me on giving up his car. I am grateful that he was able to admit when it was time for me to take over his checkbook. And I was very grateful when the Lord finally took him.

For a while after his death, I could only see the images of him toward the end. Thankfully, in time, I was able to recover the way I wanted to remember him.

So if you are making this journey with a loved one, reach out for help. Find some form of respite care so that you can get a break. And be patient with yourself. It’s a long slow journey.

RESOURCES:  Many communities nowadays have some form of support group for families with members suffering from Alzheimer’s. The book The 36 Hour Day I found extremely helpful.

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War and Peace and Christmas

Peace continues to be elusive yet these stories give hope.

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

Plato once said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. A dismal observation yet a cursory study of human history reveals that somewhere in our world someone is at war. The Christmas wish of “peace on earth” seems to be only wishful thinking.

In my years working with veterans, I have seen that those veterans have particular difficulty if in some way they came to see “the enemy” as simply another human being. Yet making those connections is where we find hope. Hope that the human spirit is big enough to be able to rise above differences, big enough to resist the pettiness of leaders, big enough to consider that the man or woman bearing a weapon on “the other side” is also a child of God.

There are a few historical events that give me hope. After the fall of Richmond, President Lincoln was touring a hospital…

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My Home Town

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   Our spiritual journeys all start somewhere. Mine started in my home town of Scranton Pennsylvania, a town best known as the setting of the TV show The Office (yes the opening scenes really are of Scranton) as well as the birthplace of Joe Biden.

“Macon was a tired old town”. Whenever I hear Scout Finch say those words at the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird, I see myself standing on Lackawanna Ave, thinking “So is Scranton. A tired old town.”

Scranton wasn’t always that way. Oh, it was kind of run down back in the 50s and 60s. After all, the coal mines were mostly closed and there wasn’t a whole lot that had taken the place of coal in terms of putting food on people’s tables.

But downtown Scranton was a place to go. There were three department stores to roam around. There were two hotels. There were places of forbidden wonder, mainly strip joints and bars. And there were three movie theaters. Three! Two of them – the Comerford and the Strand were first-run. But the best was the Riviera.

Every Saturday afternoon, the Riviera ran a double-header made up of science fiction or monster movies. One Saturday I might see Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers paired with I Was A Teenage Werewolf. The next week It might be It Came From Beneath The Sea and X The Unknown.

Scranton had its neighborhood movie theaters as well. Dunmore had the Orient. Our theater in the Green Ridge neighborhood was the Roosevelt, better known as the Roosey. Every Saturday featured a Kiddie Matinee which might consist of 22 Cartoons. (Bugs Bunny was the best! I’d go get some candy or popcorn when Caspar the Friendly Ghost came on). Mainly, though, they would show an old movie. It was at these matinees that I met some characters that became truly beloved. There was Manuel in Captains Courageous, Gunga Din. Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. I also had early stirrings as I watched Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet. I’m sure I stayed to watch it a second time to see the very cool special effects. But it was nice watching Anne Francis as well.

One day it was announced that the Riviera would be closing. I was devastated. We were told it would be replaced by a new first-run state-of-the-art theater called the Center. The first movie to play there (for several months!) was Ben Hur. I went to this fancy theater many times to include years later with the girl who eventually became my wife. We watched Camelot  together. But I never got over the demise of the Riviera.

There’s not much left to downtown Scranton. The department stores are gone. The Dry Goods and Samters are boarded up. The Globe houses government offices. The book store I used to haunt is a restaurant. Even Tony Hardings’, the great purveyor of French fries with gravy no longer exists. If Scranton were a Wild West town, you’d expect to see tumbleweeds blowing along Lackawanna Ave.

There are a few remnants. There is Preeno’s, a good Italian restaurant (although to get really good Italian food you have to scour the neighborhoods of Dunmore or Old Forge). There is the courthouse square, largely unchanged from the political gatherings of the 60s such as Earth Day or the Viet Nam protests. But there is especially the Coney Island hotdog restaurant.

This place used to be in a basement across the street from Tony Hardings. Their specialty was and is a wiener dog drenched in onions and a meat sauce somewhere between a Sloppy Joe sauce and chili. Time was you’d go in there and order six dogs. The owner with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth would line six rolls along his hairy arm, then would load each roll with a wiener, some onions, and the magical Coney Island sauce. Nowadays the place is obviously more compliant with the Health Department. But the dogs still beckon.

So does Scranton.

REFLECTION: 1. How did your home town shape your spiritual journey?


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Lessons Learned as a Mailman

Be kind to your mail person, especially this time of year. Mail delivery is one of the many services we often take for granted. I don’t, however. For 4 summers and 3 Christmases I worked as a mailman. It was a job I greatly enjoyed. This was in the days before mail delivery was done by truck. At that time the mail person walked the route. Yes, there were dogs and, yes, there were grumpy customers. But in general I loved it, in part because of some lessons learned.

I have many images from those times. An old coal miner sitting on his porch, attached to an oxygen machine, explaining to me that he had black lung disease. He seemed to be waiting. A young mother with a child asking me to check through my bag to see if her welfare check was there so that she could get to the bank before it closed (I found it!). The remnants of a coal miners village, what they called the Patch.

But what also has stayed with me are some random acts of kindness.

One summer day it was cold and rainy. I was miserable as I stepped into a small family restaurant, hoping to get a cup of coffee to warm up. The waitress behind the counter brought me the coffee and asked “Would you like a bowl of pastafazool?” I honestly admitted that I paid for the coffee with my last quarter. She smiled and said “Oh no! It’s on the house.” To this day, I can smell and taste what may be the greatest bowl of soup ever. The garlic! The tomato sauce! The oregano! The noodles! A young college kid learning kindness through a memorable bowl of pastafazool.

The second story is a Christmas story that I shared hear some years ago. But a good story is worth re-telling. It was snowing and windy cold when I stepped into an apartment building where the mail was to be delivered to several mail boxes. An old man stood by waiting. I ignored him as I went about my business. Then he spoke something I couldn’t quite hear. “Great!” I thought. “probably complaining because I am running late.” Then he reached into his pocket and took out the type of small microphone used by throat cancer sufferers to help them speak. Through the static I heard “Merry Christmas!” I mumbled a merry Christmas in return and as I locked up the mail boxes he added “And a Happy New Year!” I left that place touched and humbled.

It’s important at some point in your life to work in a service job. We tend to see people at their worst as any waitress, airplane flight attendant, or mail person can tell you. But at times we also get to see people at their best. I did thanks to a memorable bowl of soup and a raspy Christmas greeting.



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Further Thoughts on Being a Veteran

Another year and too many are still sacrificing life and limb. Bring ’em home!

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

At Mass this morning, the priest (an Army chaplain himself) asked all veterans to stand and be blessed. I looked around and saw young and old, male and female. I wondered what their stories are. Who served in combat? What stories do they have to tell?

I have spoken with veterans of every war from World War II to the present conflicts. Here are a few things they have taught me:

  1. A World War II veteran gave me the best definition I know of for PTSD. When I asked him about the daily nightmares he suffered, he said simply “I assumed it was the price men pay for going to war.”
  2. Another World War II taught me how important it is to talk about trauma. He had carried within him for 60 years the belief he was a coward for being afraid. When I managed to help him see the…

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On Martyrs: St. Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero is a saint and prophet of our times. He accomplished and continues to accomplish what a true saint and prophet should — he makes us uneasy.

Oscar Romero grew up in El Salvador, became a Catholic priest, and in time its Archbishop. Initially he avoided political involvement despite the persecution of Salvadorans by its own government. He did not align himself with progressive priests who called all Catholics to witness to this persecution and to advocate on behalf of the poor. The assassination of his friend Father Rutilio Grande became a personal moment of transformation for him. Archbishop Romero became a vocal proponent of social justice for Salvadoran poor and openly challenged his government as well as guerrilla groups who saw violence as the only solution. He even challenged President Carter to stop sending arms to the Salvadoran army, arms that were used to kill Salvadoran peasants who protested.

Why does St. Oscar Romero make me uncomfortable? First of all, he challenges me to live Christ’s message and to embrace the poor. His message challenges me to confront my own government as it tries to prevent poor people from finding a better life not only by building walls but by labeling all migrants as criminals.

Jesus clearly calls us to hear and respond to “the cry of the poor”. Archbishop Romero heard that call and responded by giving his life.

Archbishop Romero was rejected by his own fellow Bishops, some of whom suggested he developed Marxist leanings. Interesting, isn’t it, that even in our own country, anyone who speaks for the poor is accused of being a “socialist”. Such accusations of Marxist Church leaders and socialist presidential candidates would undoubtedly make Joe McCarthy smile if he were still around.

I don’t have any easy answer as to how I as a Christian should embrace the cause of the poor. But I do know that I must continue to listen to and learn from the great prophets who challenge me to speak to the needs of the poor, be they in El Salvador or Africa or even in the slums of my own country. I cannot call myself Christian and ignore them.

RESOURCES: Many of St. Oscar Romero’s writings, sermons, and radio addresses are collected in the Modern Spiritual Masters series on him edited by Marie Dennis

The film Romero with Raul Julia is a superb and accurate portrayal of St. Oscar Romero’s transformation. It is graphic in its portrayal of the killings, disappearances, and torture of the poor and those who spoke for them.

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