Saturday, December 31, 2011

(63) PAVLA After Fifty Years III: Recommendations

       This is the third part of a series of five blogs on the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or PAVLA in commemoration of fifty years since its founding in 1961.  I gave it 14 years of my life.  It was a great experience and opportunity to serve.  The first four blogs are parts of a report I wrote: "An Evaluation of PAVLA and My Role in It" in early 1968 with my perspective from that time period.  I will add a fifth part evaluating PAVLA looking back with the perspective of the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.

                                                                  3. Recommendations 

      We volunteers need a greater sense of community and closeness (“See how they love one another.”). How are we going to contribute toward establishing a Christian Community if we don't have it ourselves? if unconsciously some religious orders are building little empires with little desire to cooperate with other orders? I wonder if by obtaining a strong sense of community, mutual love, esprit de corps, and loyalty to PAVLA, we could minimize volunteers going home early.

        Our annual country-wide retreat must be strongly promoted and be made more relevant to PAVLA--- a re-evaluation of ourselves and our goals, aids to help us to grow in love and humility in our relations with Latins, etc. Perhaps the stateside monthly newsletter could bring papal volunteers from all over Latin a little closer together by keeping each informed of volunteer work in other areas. I myself know little or nothing of work outside of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. At the same time we cannot neglect striving for identification with the people and having a greater detachment from our own culture which would help us to be more objective in understanding the people.

      Intercultural training and spiritual formation must be a continuing process. The five months of initial training can only serve as an introduction. Especially evident is that we can't have enough cultural training since it takes years to really understand the people and their culture. There are so many fine points to really understand the culture. Another example is Christian love--- the key to the apostolate and a concept which cannot be worn down to cliché.  It is not enough to simply love the people, but even more difficult, one must be able to communicate it. Then in this one virtue there are so many aspects which each must develop in himself.

       Thus it is important that we periodically re-examine our effectiveness and principles of PAVLA as well as the many ramifications of love and humility in intercultural relations which we forget or take for granted. It seems that various aspects of the Latino culture and human relations can have an entirely different relevance after a year or two in the field. We could in addition learn much from each other's experiences. We could in addition learn much from each other's experiences through discussion. All of this could be done in conjunction with or in addition to the annual PAVLA retreat.

       There are many little mistakes that Americans make in intercultural relations--- little mistakes that can destroy relationships. We sometimes forget that due to a national inferiority complex, Latins are extremely sensitive. Words are twisted or misinterpreted very easily even when one is careful. Nevertheless, we too often persist in being too frank. Simple complaining or conversational comments can be taken as criticizing.. Conversational references to the United States can be taken as comparing. Too often while we criticize, gripe, or relate funny incidents in our work to fellow volunteers, we forget that many Peruvians in hearing range know just enough English to understand the gist of the conversation. Knowing so little English, they can completely misinterpret the intentions and idea of the conversation.

        Often we are guilty of looking down upon the people and their beautiful customs. Latins criticize our attitudes of superiority more than any of our many other shortcomings. We often unconsciously display these attitudes in our conversations, actions, mannerisms, etc. We must continually be aware of and be reminded of how much we can learn from the Latins. We so often judge them by our own standards and our own culture. Who can say which is better?

       No matter how kind and hospitable Latins may make us feel, one should never assume that he is accepted. Since most relationships are superficial, we are always judged. Families are very close and offending one can offend them all with no opportunity to explain one's self. In fact, one may arouse a Latin's anger without every understanding why since often he doesn't believe in being frank and “talking things out”.

         If one lives with a family and any incident in that home is talked about outside of that circle, a cardinal offense is committed even with the best of intentions. Also, since the father is respected as the master of the house, an outsider living there is expected to also respect him as such. The whole family can be offended if the outsider disagrees even over a purely intellectual discussion. All of these details of the culture should be periodically reviewed and re-examined. 

        There should be a greater emphasis on getting the people involved. Are our nurses engaged in curative medicine or preventive medicine? Are the volunteers training others to take their places? Is there sufficient emphasis upon replacing ourselves? Are the people involved as much as possible? Then it becomes their project--- something for them to take pride in instead of being a monument to a few gringos which deteriorates with neglect after they leave.

      Perhaps PAVLA could be brought closer to the people by giving competent Latin and religious laymen in each country a voice and a part in PAVLA. Once key Latins are involved and committed to PAVLA, perhaps we would have more native cooperation and support for our programs. Then there would be true collaboration instead of Papal Volunteers working generally for other North Americans. Slowly efforts are being made to involve us more directly with Latin-sponsored institutions.

        This closer collaboration may be obtained by having an advisory board of competent Latins (lay and religious) meet periodically with the in-country PAVLA representative. Once rapport is established our Regional Director could consult any member as problems come up. There are many bi-lingual, bi-cultural Latins who could be of invaluable assistance in opening doors otherwise closed and help us avoid many a costly mistake. By so participating we could learn from each other and thus help each other to become more effective leaders.

      Potentially PAVLA's most significant accomplishment is the Peruvian Papal Volunteers. This organization comprises Peruvian professional people who try to be more effective apostles in their own work and in their own spare time projects with the poor. They receive formation in their weekly meetings. In this case PAVLA has left something behind that can multiply itself. People such as these can do so much more than a few Gringos. Efforts must be made to establish similar sister groups all over Latin America.

        Most difficult, yet having a tremendous potential, is organizing the energies of students to more constructive ends. Instead of rabble-rousing and politicizing, would it be possible to get them into constructive social improvement projects in their communities--- alphabetization, youth work, catechetics, etc.? In other words, it could be a junior PAVLA which could undergo leadership formation at the same time.

        Funding and Living with the People. What are the merits of encouraging volunteers to live with the people where practical to their work, and to share their life more closely? To live decently in one of the poorer sections, yet live there--- enduring some of the same inconveniences as the people--- e.g., no inside plumbing, electricity, central heating, etc. Then perhaps we could really understand the people and obtain their confidence and acceptance.

       Are there some projects where the requester simply cannot afford to request a Papal Volunteer and provide even very minimal housing? In such a situation where it appears that a volunteer may be particularly effective, could the stateside sponsor provide additional funds for food and housing?

         Some prospective volunteers have difficulty finding stateside sponsors. Some even enter training without a sponsor. Where this is the case, could some of the religious orders who need Papal Volunteers sponsor some? There are at least several congregations using Papal Volunteers with much greater financial resources than PAVLA, and fine public relations built up over the years.

        As a whole I'm enthusiastic about the PAVLA program. We have a tremendous potential. If only we can persevere in overcoming the many unique problems that face our young organization!

Friday, December 30, 2011

(62) PAVLA After Fifty Years II: General Evaluation


        This is the second of a series of five blogs on the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or PAVLA in commemoration of fifty years since its founding in 1961.  I gave it 14 years of my life.  It was a great experience and opportunity to serve.  The first four blogs are parts of a report I wrote: "An Evaluation of PAVLA and My Role in It" in early 1968 with my perspective from that time period.  I will add a fifth part evaluating PAVLA looking back with the perspective of the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.

2. Evaluation of PAVLA in General

      Then the question of evaluation arises: How effective are the Papal Volunteers in their roles? How effective are the thousands of Religious in Latin America?

       To a large extent our work cannot be measured, since many of the fruits are spiritual and abstract. The teachers and youth workers may be long dead before these Latino kids become leaders and our influence is really felt. How can one count the number of leaders that have been formed? We can only hope that the little everyday intangible accomplishments that we cannot see, let alone measure, will add up to significance long after we leave . Just imagine the potential effect of only a few dedicated teachers we can help form who are aware of their individual responsibilities.

       In evaluating PAVLA let me bring up a point that a dedicated Irish priest mentioned to us in our retreat regarding accomplishment: “Don't forget that a large part of what you're doing is pre-evangelization--- laying the groundwork for the people who come after you. Our job is to make them ready to receive the Word of God. Helping the poor through health care, education, self-help projects, etc. restores their dignity and makes them more receptive. A person who lives in animal-like conditions, only living to survive from day to day, isn't going to be concerned with a religion which he may associate with the people who are oppressing him.” Along the same lines, many of the cultural aspects which hinder formation go back to the conquistadores; so we cannot expect to see changes overnight. Thus, often it is pre-evangelization in laying the groundwork for change.

       Spectacular results with all the publicity that goes with it are almost impossible by the very nature of our organization. We are always requested or accepted by an existing institution--- usually by North American priests. Although we may play a significant part, we are usually subject to a Maryknoll parish, a Marianist school, etc. True, this approach has its advantage in that we can avoid many mistakes under the guidance of experienced requesters, but we are not always able to take the initiative we are capable of exercising. As to who receives the credit and publicity is irrelevant and rather childish. In this way, we are spread out very thinly among many institutions, never having sufficient concentration to organize anything really major nor the numbers, support, and supervision to organize the people in many community development projects that the Peace Corps has done.

       A problem which is being solved, but still needs refinement is the relation between lay volunteers and the Religious. At times there seems to be a condescending looking down upon the lay volunteers as young, inexperienced short-timers, as perhaps somewhat inferior, etc. Although these may be true, the lay volunteer should be recognized as a professional person also called by God to play a valuable but different role. It is also certainly true that the lay volunteer is overcome by his own pride as he does not listen. We must make greater efforts to understand each other.

       PAVLA has been criticized on three points: (a) It's more effective to support local people. (b) Three years isn't long enough to be effective. (c) We aren't that skilled. Point (a) is valid if you can find local people, well-formed and skilled but they are not easily found. This is really the main objective of PAVLA--- to replace ourselves by helping to form dedicated Christian leaders. At the same time by only supporting local people,
what we would have is essentially a give away program. Nothing is really added to Latin America except money.  Supporting a local person is valid only if he could multiply himself, or his talents would otherwise be wasted. In most cases, however, this well-formed local leader would be effective in whatever sector of the economy he is working.

       As far a points (b) and (c) are concerned, a volunteer can be effective after a few months if he is selected and trained well. This has been demonstrated many times, especially when experienced people are available to guide them. At the same time it must not be overlooked that a new volunteer can bring in a new freshness, new ideas, and an enthusiasm which can move some of the older volunteers and Religious out of any “rut” they may be in.

       Point (c) depends simply upon selection and placement. True, there are many cases where a volunteer simply shouldn't be here to begin with or placed in a situation where he is not qualified. Poor selection and placement are two of the major “bugs” to be ironed out. The PAVLA National Office is certainly working on these phases. For example, a psychiatrist was added to the National Training Center staff in Washington, D.C.

      These, by no means, are sufficient reasons to condemn the program whose concept is sound, if only because it was first recommended and promoted in 1960 by a saintly Pope--- one of the most effective pontiffs that the Church has ever had. One volunteer, an elementary school teacher, beautifully described PAVLA as still like a small child which is undergoing growing pains, is still learning, and needs time to mature.

       Overall, I think the potential of PAVLA is almost unlimited, but there are quite a few bugs to be ironed out. One problem is inherent in the structure of the North American hierarchy. Each diocese is autonomous--- all independent of each other under the authority of the Pope. Although cooperation among dioceses is excellent, it is nevertheless voluntary. This organization of the Church is remarkably efficient for most purposes, but creates problems for PAVLA. Each diocese voluntarily has a PAVLA program with its own recruiting, promotion, and support--- all under the overall coordination of a national director who also is responsible for training, placement, and problems in the field. The national director, of course, is responsible to a committee of bishops. For this coordination to work, each American bishop must yield some of his authority to a national director which often is not done. Thus, at times a diocesan PAVLA program follows a course contrary if not completely independent of the national PAVLA program.

       For example, in La Paz, Bolivia, there is a group of St. James fathers from the St. Louis Archdiocese who run a large parish. The Papal Volunteers mostly from St. Louis work closely with the local parish and within the local diocese as well.  It is the local Bishop who has the final word regarding any work done in his diocese.  This is a beautiful diocese-to-diocese program, but it seems to follow an independent course.

       Under this arrangement, communications seem to be poor between the PAVLA stateside central office, PAVLA in the field, and the Latin American hierarchy. Although the situation is improving, requests often are not investigated and uninformed requesters are often vague as to the role of PAVLA--- sometimes seeing it as simply free help.   Thus volunteers often are not placed in jobs where they could be most effective. At the same time once a volunteer is placed, he is pretty much left alone with little contact with or direction by PAVLA Headquarters in Lima. This is probably due to the fact that the National Director's representative in Lima is responsible for volunteers scattered throughout four countries. It is most difficult, if not impossible, to cover such a huge area unless senior volunteers in each area act as the Regional Director's assistant or representative.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

(61) Papal Volunteers for Latin America (PAVLA) After Fifty Years I: Its Value and Role

        In 1961 Pope John XXIII appealed to the world to send missionaries and lay volunteers to help the Church in Latin America which had and still has a severe shortage of religious vocations. In addition, the Church was confronting poverty, underdevelopment, social injustice, and military dictatorships. The high class lived well at the expense of the lower class that had to live in poverty and often squalid conditions with low wages. The middle class was small and weak.

       At that Pre-Vatican II time the American Church had an abundance of religious vocations. The Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters along with missionaries of other orders already had a presence in Latin America.....Jesuits, Marianists, etc. They responded to the Pope's appeal with more missionaries and the other orders sent more. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops responded by forming the Society of St. James and the Papal Volunteers for Latin America (PAVLA).......similar to the Peace Corps, but with an apostolic vision. Many dioceses contributed priests to the Society of St. James to work in the missions for a few years........usually to staff a parish. At the same time many dioceses each recruited a few lay men and women to send.

        Each diocese supported the initial spiritual formation, language, and cultural training as well as the upkeep of its volunteers working in Latin America. Much of that was centrally coordinated with Fr. Raymond A. Kevane as the director out of Chicago at least during the 1960s. I was there beginning in 1965. Most volunteers were sent to a language and cultural training center for Catholic missioners in Curnevacca in Mexico or another one in Cochabamba, Bolivia. They were used by lay people as well as religious of different orders. I believe the one in Cochabamba was run by Maryknoll, but I'm not sure about Curnevacca. Both charged a tuition to keep their centers going. Since I already had language and cultural training, the Archdiocese of Baltimore sent me to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario for two months of spiritual formation and then a month of language training in Mexico City. Providentially, they placed me with a Mexican family within a fifteen minute walk from the beautiful shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I went there every day.

        In the field, we had a regional director (John Keenan) to make assignments and help volunteers with any problems they might have. Our area included Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.......about 200 miles from north to south.  He had his office in a center house which the volunteers could use as a place to stay while in Lima as for example, for an annual retreat.  

      An institution or mission could obtain a Papal Volunteer by simply making a request or by accepting an offer of a volunteer.  At the same time, the requester was responsible for providing the volunteer with room and board.  In most cases the volunteer helped out with the mission of an American order at the southern end of the country deep in the Andes.  I was placed with the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria in Arequipa, the second largest city of Peru. It was founded by Fr. William Morris, a Marianist priest of the St. Louis Province. We had volunteers who worked as teachers, nurses, ran coops, did catechetical work, etc.

        PAVLA was a new endeavor feeling its way with problems and growing pains. Some volunteers were poorly selected, not well assigned, and had difficulties adjusting to the culture. The host institutions had little experience working with lay volunteers, who were often green. Some did not finish their three year commitment and went home early. Others did more than three years; I did 14 years. Ron Bosse made a career out of continuing on as a Maryknoll missioner and is still in Peru with his wife. By the late 1960s, people were questioning the cost effectiveness of PAVLA and the authorities were considering disbanding PAVLA which could not show quantifiable results as X number of conversions, X number of Baptisms, etc. By this time, the whole Church was going through the aftermath of the Vatican II Council (1962-65) with its confusion and turmoil.  Wild interpretations were made and as in the United States many missionaries were leaving the priesthood and vocations were falling off.

        I had been teaching two sections of Chemistry I plus seven or eight sections of labs, Integrated Science for Seniors, and the Pedagogy of Science Teaching, four sections of Mathematics and remedial Math in my first three years.

        At this point, I wrote the following report in early 1968. It will give a late 1960s perspective. I will divide it into four parts and then add on a fifth part with a 2011 perspective, showing the potential of the lay apostolate in the missions and contributions which former Papal Volunteers, enriched by their experience as Papal Volunteers, are continuing to make to the Church today. That will give a better perspective in evaluating the long runs benefits of PAVLA and any prospects for a revival far into the future.

1. Value and Role of PAVLA

       In evaluating PAVLA perhaps it would be appropriate to begin by examining the value and role of lay volunteers in the Latin American apostolate. Too many people see the Church as the clergy and religious and are not aware of their own individual responsibilities in the Mystical Body. They can only conclude on the basis of what they see. The overwhelming majority of foreigners working with the Church are Religious. For example, in Arequipa there are about 60 Religious and only five Papal Volunteers among the North Americans. Thus too often if not usually, any American or other foreigner anywhere near a Catholic institution or parish is called Padre or Madre. One day I walked past a group of kids speaking to a Maryknoll nun. Just like in the states she gave them the cue: “Now what do you say?” The old song with the same tune so much a part of the U.S. Catholic Schools came back in nice English: “Good morning, Father.” Perhaps this may serve to illustrate that it may be much easier to develop lay Catholic leaders for the future, if they see not only Religious but also laymen committed to the Church and working with the clergy.

        Thus it is easy to see that with laymen comprising only a small fraction of committee American Catholics in Latin America, the surface hasn't even been scratched as far as PAVLA;s reaching its potential is concerned. Once the selection procedures can be refined and the “bugs” ironed out of a very decentralized organizational structure, the program could be eventually expanded to 10 times its present size. Presently with the majority of stateside dioceses not participating or giving only token support, it is obvious that most bishops are dubious and must be sold on the program. In addition many a possible Peruvian requester does not know that PAVLA exists. PAVLA must also be sold to Latin America.

        The concept of PAVLA is beautiful. Before it was priests and religious being sent to bring the world to Christ. The laity was involved only as financial support. Now the entire Church is more deeply involved. The laity not only are giving their money and prayers but also themselves. The involvement of the North American Church then would be virtually complete with a sufficient number of lay volunteers to complement the religious. The world-wide brotherhood in the Mystical Body becomes more real and tangible. It is not only an expression of love from people to people, but also from diocese to diocese. Support of the missions through PAVLA and the St. James Fathers becomes a local effort rather than a national drive through mission magazines directed form a thousand miles away. Thus the people are involved more deeply in a more personal away. Efforts as these bring the members of the sending diocese closer together in their own Christian community.

        Also to be remembered is the potential of returning volunteers to the future North American Church. The broadness of outlook, experience, commitment, etc., that we obtain here are bound to make us more effective lay Christian leaders when we return to our own sending dioceses.

        We find additional support in the papal document, “Papal Volunteers for Apostolic Action in Latin America”, which quotes St. John Chrysostom: “We cannot place the obligation of every activity of the Church upon the priests; the burden falls upon each one of us in the Church because we are members of that one body.” When individual Catholics of each diocese realize and accept this responsibility, the doctrine of the Mystical Body is more than an abstract theological concept, but concrete and real.

        By sending lay people as well, it is more clear that the Church is a mother. Thus she is more obviously concerned with the material needs of her children in addition to their spiritual necessities. The union of body and the soul are naturally as one. Credit unions, schools, medical dispensaries, etc. are examples of this fact. Once lay people have learned the culture, religious are freed to concentrate more directly on their deeper calling. Lay people are generally more qualified in their areas of expertise.

        As so well expressed by Fr. Kevane in the May 1965 “American Ecclesiastical Review”, “Papal Volunteers are called upon to collaborate with the Church in Latin America --both clergy and laity-- in building and strengthening the human community. They are called as lay people and they work as lay people, exercising their special competence as laymen in bringing Christ Himself into the marketplace, into labor unions, government, education, and agriculture--- into every facet of life in the twentieth century.” And who knows the marketplace, but the laity who form it?

        Without de-emphasizing the obviously great work of the Religious who are called by God Himself to give their lives in the Church, we must also consider the role of the lay person who supplements their work. It is unique in that the layman at times can reach people the Religious cannot, and can bring Christ to places the religious cannot even enter. For various reasons there are people so antagonistic to Religious, they couldn't be touched by a priest “with a ten foot pole”, but may be reached by the good example of a layman. Many a person would never be reached except in a dimly lit bar over a shot of whiskey. A lay person can be a conduit of God;s grace in many ways far different than open to Religious. Often Christ can appear more relevant through the mouth and example of a well-formed layman than the most brilliant theologian. Good example may at times be more powerful than the greatest sermon which too often people take as cliche heard many times on Sunday.

        The work of the Church is vast and will require generations in this great endeavor. Each have their respective role--- one to complement the other. Since the religious are giving most of their lives and the lay volunteers only a couple years, we must realize that the religious with their permanency form the base. Thus we must often yield to their greater experience and accept their leadership while humbly offering our suggestions even though some being very human are at times too proud to listen. The lay volunteers supplement the overall mission of the Church and have their uniquely important role in doing so.

        Among the greatest benefits of the Papal Volunteers is bringing some new and fresh thinking. Despite their inexperience and risk of antagonizing the experienced religious, the new and fresh ideas may be most beneficial if correctly and prudently adapted to local conditions. Many of our American Religious have lived in the culture for so long that they in many respects fall into the system and its sometimes outmoded line of thinking that desperately needs changing. Often for reasons of expediency our older religious simply conform to the path of least resistance. Prudently we must keep the best of the old and modernize methods that no longer serve effectively.

        So much of our role is intangible, good example being the most important. Often when a religious says something or performs an act of charity, no one is really impressed. “After all, they're supposed to be that way” and it somehow doesn't apply to them. Now what does a Latino think when he sees a pretty young Papal Volunteer involved? Being shocked, he can only think, “Why isn't she home with her mother?” Thus her very presence is a living example that must have at least some eventual effect.

        A priest may preach frequent Communion with little effect, but over a period of time the example of a few lay volunteers joining their own little Christian community to the whole will influence some. One can identify himself with another lay person more easily than with a religious even though he may be a foreigner. In our everyday dealings we are observed by many and have many opportunities to be examples of love.

        Then also we make many contacts. In discussions we have opportunities to reach others, introduce ideas, suggest different methods, etc. In this area we can be just as easily a negative as a positive influence. The importance of humility cannot be overemphasized; the slightest hint of superiority or of imposing an idea (pushing too hard) can destroy a relationship even before it starts. This is especially true among relatively educated people older than the volunteer. Often to him the very presence of a volunteer is a humiliation-- a foreigner younger than himself here to help and change things. Especially teachers and youth workers have the opportunity to help form youth, the leaders of the future.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

(60) The Berlin Wall: Fifty Years Since Its Construction.......A Monument to Allied Resolve and Ashes of Soviet Communism and the Cold War

An eyeball to eyeball standoff between East and West at Checkpoint Charlie October 1961

A standoff between American and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie October 1961 
(Click on photo to magnify.)


        It was August 13, 1961. John Kennedy was well past his first 100 days in office and in the middle of his first year as president. He was yet to be tested with a major crisis. Nikita Khrushchev considered him soft and weak. France, Britain, and the United States each occupied a zone in the rest of Germany, but granted their zones of occupation self government, which was called the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany for short in the early 1950s. Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy were the founding members of the European Economic Community or Common Market in 1957. As a customs union, these former World War II antagonists could then trade with each other as though they were one country with no trade barriers among them. That accelerated recovery from the war and the resulting industrial and commercial growth was considered to be an economic miracle.  Today it has expanded into most of western Europe, including Poland and the Baltic states, now called the European Union.

       At the same time the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, & Montenegro) and Albania where the dictator, Joseph Stalin set up puppet governments subservient to Moscow. The economies there were stagnant economically and still recovering from the ravages of World War II. Nikita Khrushchev had already crushed a major uprising in Poznan, Poland and a full blown revolution in Hungary in 1956. Berlin, the former capital of Nazi Germany was in the heart of the former Russian Zone of occupation and behind the Iron Curtain separating Communist Europe from free Europe. By previous agreements made in 1945, it too was divided into four zones of occupation (United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). Three of the zones later became West Berlin, a part of West Germany and the largest zone, East Berlin under the misnomer of “Democratic Republic of Germany” or East Germany. Everyone was supposed to have free access to the city.

        This right of access allowed refugees to go from the Communist countries to West Berlin and freedom. By the summer of 1961, refugees from the Communist countries were streaming into West Berlin. This clearly contradicted propaganda about the communist world being a workers' paradise with democracy, freedom, justice, and prosperity. Thus the Soviet Union ordered the construction of a wall across the boundary between free West Berlin and communist East Berlin to keep the people from escaping. At first it was simply rolls of barbed wire while they constructed the wall.  Thus the communist bloc became one gigantic prison and a symbol of Communism.  At the same time it is also a symbol of man's yearning to be have the basic freedoms we take for granted........religion, speech, press, assembly,   Of course, Communist propaganda stated that it was built to keep out capitalist agitators bent on destroying their system.

       This wall had a marked influence on my life. I was finishing my six month tour of active duty in Ft. Monmouth, NJ. President Kennedy, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, extended active duty commitments like mine by a year as part of a buildup in Western Europe and sent many reserve units to France and Germany as a show of force. I was sent to Orleans, France as a Signal Officer in the Transceiver and Radio Sections of the 269th Signal Company. Our mission was to maintain communications for the supply lines going from French ports to the front lines in Western Germany. The overall mission was to be ready to defend Western Europe in case of a Russian onslaught and to be a deterrent against that ever happening in the first place because that would mean World War III and a nuclear holocaust. It was a great experience for me and I had the chance to travel all over Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land on my leaves. By 1962 we were sending advisers to Vietnam.

The Brandenburg Gate April 1963

Berlin Wall Germany East West Communism Oppression

      In August 1962 my mother and I had the opportunity to visit Berlin. We left our car at the Frankfurt airport and flew into an old and small airport in Berlin, used to airlift supplies to a blockaded Berlin in 1948-49.  My mother had friends there, the Henning family. We had dinner with them and stayed at their home. The next day we went on a bus tour along both sides of the wall.

        The wall was about ten feet high with barbed wire at the top, snaking about a hundred miles through the sprawling city.  It went across streets and in many cases buildings were part of the wall after the windows were bricked in. Sentries were posted in towers along the wall, poised to shoot on sight anyone who tried to scale the wall.  Below East German police (volpos) hold a refugee they killed.  Thus we saw crude wreathed memorials (above and below) to the approximately 300 who were shot and killed in attempts to escape to freedom as shown below.  Over the years refugees built clandestine tunnels underneath the wall. The Communists claimed that they had to build the wall to protect East Berlin from the “imperialists”. They even made the famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate a part of the wall shown above in lacing it with barbed wire with guards behind it.  Berlin was so important in the Cold War that President Kennedy gave a very memorable speech there in 1963 ("Ich bin ein Berliner.")  and President Reagan gave a great one in 1987 ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall").

East German police make an opening in the wall November 1989

It was liberty or death to many who attempted to escape across the Berlin Wall - a 2004  monument to the 300 fallen.
        The Contrast Between West Berlin and East Berlin. To pass through Checkpoint Charlie (at the beginning of the article) in our tour bus on the American side into East Berlin, we were required to wear our uniforms to emphasize our right of free access. The East German police made it as difficult as possible for us, pure harassment......collecting our passports and making us wait. East Berlin was stark with considerable evidence of the war. Some ruins were still evident and reconstruction was obviously slow. Commerce was clearly underdeveloped. The people seemed to be sullen and depressed. West Berlin, on the other hand, was vibrant and bustling........similar to any other city of western Europe with the neon signs, the lights, the ads, the department stores, etc. Except for a bombed out church left as a monument, reconstruction was almost complete.

An escapee to West Berlin communicating with her mother in Communist East Berlin.
            A member of our Gallia County, Ohio community had a part in the history of the Berlin Wall.  He was stationed in the military garrison there as an MP in 1974.  As a dashing 24 year old youth, he had some off duty adventures when he would often go into East Berlin and live it up a little.  He could buy East German marks very cheap on the black market and then dine in the best restaurants of East Berlin and enjoy good German beer in the bars.  He befriended some people there.  One asked him for a favor that appealed to his anti-communist fervor and eagerness to help.  He gave the friend a key to the trunk of his car and someone on the other side of the wall received a duplicate.  So whenever the off duty MP stopped in the restaurant, a refugee would be loaded into his trunk and someone would unload the refugee on the other side of the Wall.  

To this day, Bill Medley has no idea how many East German people he brought to freedom. He never met any person he helped escape to freedom.  Finally he was caught by the East German police (Volpo), who turned him over to the Soviet military.  It was an international incident, but for the sake of detente the Russians did not make a global crisis over it and did not want to disrupt the delicate negotiations to reduce tensions .  The incident did hit the news wires around the world and was mentioned on at least one national television news program.  The State Department and the military authorities negotiated his release after a week of interrogation.  Needless to say, he got into trouble with his military superiors.  Nevertheless, Medley demonstrated a big heart with courage and daring despite personal risk.

Thus he is part of the lore of the Berlin Wall along with the famous “Mole”, Hasso Herschel, who escaped from East Germany in 1961 by using a borrowed passport and smuggled more than 1,000 people across the Berlin Wall over the next decade using tunnels and hiding them in cars.  This inspired the 2001 film, “The Tunnel”.

        The Wall Comes Tumbling Down. One landmark very salient in my mind was the point where the wall passed directly in front of Resurrection Church. Over the main portal is a statue of Christ peering over the wall from East Berlin. It seemed to convey a message of hope.......that “One day Berlin will be free.”

        Indeed the Berlin Wall did come down on November 9, 1989 after Hungary opened its borders on September 10 to East German refugees and the satellite countries were let go by the Soviet Union. Hundreds of jubilant people made the first breach and knocked down the wall with sledge hammers and their own hands. Many took bricks as souvenirs. On October 3, 1990 Germany was reunited as one of the strongest democracies in Europe. However, it was very costly over several years to bring the underdeveloped East Germany up to the level of West Germany.

       Since the wall became the symbol of Communism during the Cold War, this event marked the end of Communism in Western Europe and the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union which took its place on the ash heap of history in 1991. From 1961 to 1989, the wall seemed to be impregnable. No one expected the fall of Communism in Europe. It seemed to be sudden. It happened so the point of being miraculous. It was very reminiscent of the walls of Jericho that came tumbling down after the Israelites followed God's command and marched around the walls seven times on the seventh day.
East German police make an opening in the wall November 1989
Triumph and Jubilation as the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down, reminiscent of the walls of Jericho.

        Pope John Paul II, President Reagan, and Avery Dulles, a Catholic and the Director of the CIA worked together to undermine Communism in Europe, particularly in Poland. The Vatican gave the United States considerable information and the CIA channeled money to help Solidarity in Poland with its activities as printing presses, funds, etc. In addition Pope John Paul challenged the regimes and inspired the Solidarity Movement.  At Fatima, Mary asked that the Pope in union with the bishops consecrate the world to her Immaculate Heart. That Blessed Pope John Paul II did on October 16, 1983 (See  the  complete  text  at  Only six years later, the wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed two years after that.  Did Mary have a part in all of this?

         Today, portions of the Wall remain as well as the Checkpoint Charlie Museum…….monuments of the sacrifices made by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations and its troops.  More than once were we on the brink of a nuclear holocaust (see, and; prayer must have prevailed.  The Cold War taught us the value of vigilance and the fact that freedom is not free.  It must be upheld.  Some old threats remain and new threats arise, particularly radical Islam……Iran, Al Qaida, the Taliban, and other forms of terrorism.  The world still must cope with Communist China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba, while some other countries have leftist socialism (see  Cuba is weak and after the Castro brothers die, there should be significant liberalization. China is evolving toward considerable free enterprise and will be weak in the future.  The country's “One Child” policy mandates abortion after the first child and causes infanticide of female babies because male babies are favored in the culture. Thus there is already a shortage of women as the population ages and even decreases.


          For a history of the Berlin Wall see

For a great web photo exhibition in color see  

(59) Family of the Year: You Mean Us?

        At the end of a sport season or year many publications, organizations, and institutions often award "This of the Year" and "That of the Year".  With the Knights of Columbus, our turn came after being a Knight for about ten years.  Our family continually strives for the be just a tiny bit like the Holy Family.  Obviously we come far short of what we should be and have much to improve on.  Now we're going through the tumultuous teen age years with our youngest two.  Clearly, the jury is still out and we won't know how our four kids will turn out until they are safely with the Lord in eternity. 
        Although each family member has a free will and there are so many secular, cultural, and environmental influences beyond our control, the greatest tragedy and failure of a parent is for one of his or her children not to make it into heaven.  True, many parents do everything right and one or more of their children leave the Church.  I know at least two large families where some of the children are pillars of the parish, including a priest and others have left the Church.  All we can do as parents is our best and constantly pray for our children.  In our case, we know that we are trying and we're doing at least some things right. 

          WE ARE THE DOMESTIC CHURCH.  Every home, every family is its own domestic church within the universal Church.  Every father is supposed to be a priest, a teacher, and take the lead in that domestic church which is the fundamental building block of the universal Church, the Body of Christ with our Lord as the head.  Every mother is a nurturer, a teacher, the heart of the family, and a leader in the domestic church.  As the family goes, so goes the Church.  If the Family is strong, the Church is strong.  If the Church is in crisis, it is because the Family is in crisis.  That is certainly the case in regard to religious vocations.  Are we doing our part?  What a huge responsibility for every parent!  The Lord will judge us on how we complete our most important mission......raising our kids for eternity and the great mission that God has for each one of them here on earth.
       When one family breaks apart, the Church, the Body of Christ is wounded.  Friends and everyone in the parish grieve while the evil one gloats.  We must preserve the family at all costs because the cost of a broken family is always so much greater.  No marriage is easy nor always harmonious; no marriage is perfect; every marriage has problems from time to time; every marriage has its ups and downs.  Marriage is hard work.  Marriage is making up and forgiving every day; it's starting anew again and again.  Marriage is overlooking the other's faults while gently working for mutual sanctification starting first and foremost with one's self.  

       The mother must continue with the same feminine charm that attracted her husband in the first place.  The husband must continue to woo his wife and win her hand as he did during the courtship without looking for or expecting reciprocity although that will come some day.  Since the husband won her hand and she accepted him as he was, good and bad, it's his responsibility to make her happy even if it may seem to be impossible at times and require considerable humility.  It was probably easier during the courtship when we were young and the hormones were flowing and more active.  From the wedding day, the evil one works very hard to plant discord in families, especially in families striving to be holy families.  

        We must keep the family intact and do whatever it takes every day.......the little kind words, deeds, hugs and kisses for continuous nurturing of the relationship; serving the other without concern about who does more for the relationship and the family; the complete giving of self to the other, giving more than 50% each while striving for 100% each.......and as necessary or opportune: counseling; consultations with the pastor who may have to recommend temporary separation for certain extreme cases for treatment, e.g., alcoholism or wife battering; marriage encounters; Retrovaille; Cana Conferences; giving in; compromise; negotiation; and most of all prayer.  There is so much truth in Fr. Patrick Peyton's theme:  "The family that prays together stays together".  Research shows that couples that stick it out are usually happier in the long run......happier than those who quit and break up.  Generally the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence as remarriage brings a Pandora's box filled with a larger set of new problems, more often than not......worse.
       With much of the above in the back of my mind I wanted to share some thoughts upon accepting our award.  Perhaps we could be an example.  Perhaps a few families could learn from us.  The following is a testimony that I felt a need to share with other families in order to stimulate thought when we accepted the Family of the Year Award for 2008-09 from the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus. Laced with bits of humor, you might enjoy it.  In the coming new year may we make renewed efforts to be more loving spouses, more responsible parents, to strengthen our families and bring them all closer to God.
At the Columbus Airport when John Paul returned  from Ave Maria University May 2009 or so.

Knights of Columbus Council 3335 June 17, 2009

        You're giving the Family of the Year Award to US? Are you kidding? If you'd pop in on us at our little house in Rio Grande, you'd certainly find a big mess. And if we're home, a lot of noise.......whining, bickering or arguing about something. I've lost my cool more than once. Ask the neighbors; they'll tell you and they're a hundred yards away. I'm not proud of that.

        Our family is like a perpetual sitcom. Jaga is like Blondie. And me?.....some kind of a combination of Dagwood Bumstead, Archie Bunker, and Father Knows Best. Those characters go a long way back. Remember them? You're showing off your age. And you want to make US the Family of the Year?????

        But you know what? We're doing something right, maybe a lot of things right.
  • We know that it's extremely important for the father to take the spiritual lead in the family. So Jaga lets me think I'm the head of the family, but she claims to be the move the head. If Jaga feels strongly about something she usually gets her way. She's really the heart of our family. Without her, I wouldn't be on time for anything. Jaga complains that she always has to wait for me. Why I had to wait for her for 50 years and I was celibate the whole time. Honest. She keeps me on the straight and narrow, even praying for me over 15 years before we ever met.
  • We really try to be a Christ centered family with family prayer every night. The saint to be Father Patrick Peyton, the founder of the Family Rosary movement and also the once popular national radio and TV show out of Hollywood, “Family Theater”, always said: “The family that prays together stays together.”
  • We have EWTN on all the time and a little altar in the living room with a Marian art gallery throughout the house. Jaga wanted to become a nun..... until she met me. So now I'm married to one and we live in a convent.
  • We all go to Mass EVERY exceptions. That's not negotiable.....period. We go in our Sunday best or almost jeans, no shorts. After all, we're visiting the King of the Universe, not a rock star. We encourage daily Mass too and most of us attend.
  • We insist on modest dress in helping them to maintain purity. I don't want any punk kid ogling at one of my daughters or flirting. We pray that they will wait until that wedding night when for the first time and always she exclusively for him and he exclusively for her. That's special.
  • We encourage participation in sports and the boys are big sports fans; I can't get Jaga interested. But we place a much higher value on education. We expect our kids to study hard and do their very best in school. We try to use TV, videos, and travel for education as much as possible. You want to play another computer game.....OK, but no zip 'em, zap 'em, or shoot 'em up games. And a book.
  • We strongly believe what Pope John Paul the Great taught: “The parents are the primary educators in the Faith”. CCD is only a supplement, as important as it is. We read Catholic publications and refer to the Bible and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. We try to send our kids to a genuinely Christ centered Catholic college, not to a secularized one that has lost its original Catholic mission. John-Paul is a sophomore at Ave Maria University.
  • We're fiercely loyal to the Pope and Church teaching. It's all or nothing, the complete package for our house. We're not in the cafeteria business of picking and choosing only what we like. Morality is absolute, not relative. It's the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions.
  • We've attended several of Catholic Familyland's pray and play vacation retreats for families near Steubenville. It's a great Catholic experience of fun, fellowship, and spiritual growth for family members of all ages. We thank them for their help.
  • We teach the kids honesty and to do what is right despite the consequences (integrity). We try to instill a work ethic --no where near as good as the Stapletons-- but we're working on it. We all serve as community and parish volunteers to give something back from our God given gifts and talents.....a grave responsibility. After all, life boils down to love of God first and then neighbor. That is, family, parish, community, and Country. I build on a teaching of Spiderman and tell the kids: “Great talents and gifts entail great use them for the benefit of Society.” We ask the kids to seek and pray for discernment of the will of the Lord or vocation for their lives.
  • Everybody in our family belongs to a parish group. We try to participate in as many parish activities as possible because every single person is MOST important toward building a strong parish community and making each parish event a success by his/her presence.
  • Because the Eucharist is the source, the summit, and the life of the Church, the entire family spends at least an hour at the St. Louis Church monthly Eucharistic Adoration. As Jaga suggested, I wrote the first draft of this talk in front of the tabernacle. See I listen to my wife. Isn't that right, Jaga?
  • Since spiritual directors recommend monthly confession, we try. That's harder to follow. Jaga rounds us up like the old nuns used to do with us as kids and marches us to confession.
       We're not old fashioned dinosaurs from another age. Do I look like a dinosaur? Did I hear someone back there call me Barney?

        We have a long way to go as a family, but we're trying. The jury is still out on how well we are doing. The future will tell and God will be our judge during our encounter with Him after death. Lord, please help us to be what you want us to be as a family. Maybe we can all repeat that prayer again and again and again.

        Thank you so much for this award. It's humbling because it makes us realize that the award gives us a BIG responsibility to live up to its ideals. After all, the Knights of Columbus are all about family. Every time we have an argument or quarrel, I'm going to scream: “Family of the Year, REMEMBER?” That reminder should help us to work out our disagreements more quickly. Thanks again and God bless you all.