On June 1, Fr. Louie Vitale celebrated his 78th birthday in Lompoc Federal Prison, near Vandenberg Air Force base, north of Los Angeles. A Franciscan priest and one of our great voices for peace and disarmament, he is currently serving six months for crossing the line last November at the gates of Fort Benning, Ga., to call for the closing of the notorious “School of Americas.” Louie has spent many years in prison for peace. His life has become one long prayer for peace, like his teacher St. Francis. Last year, he visited Iran, Hiroshima and Egypt with me, in the hopes of getting into Gaza. He expects to be freed July 24.
He’s been writing a series of letters from prison, and I thought, in his honor, I would share excerpts from some of his writings. Readers can write to him at: Louis Vitale #25803-048, FCI Lompoc, Federal Correctional Institution, 3600 Guard Road, Lompoc, Ca., 93436.
My initial experience as a Franciscan was as a penitent, but a strong conviction and love of this pathway of Jesus and Francis engaged me at a very deep level. After novitiate I was ordained as a Catholic priest and took on the life-long commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience.
Major currents were sweeping through society and the church at this time. For the church it was the Vatican Council and the new insights coming from scripture, liturgy, and history — with new understandings of religious life and the role of Bishops. Most amazing and hopeful was the presence of the Bishops from the emerging cultures — Latin America, Africa and Asia. With this came new languages, new forms of worship, and new understanding of scripture.
From this came the breakthrough document, “The Church in the Modern World” and an awareness that the church was a church of the poor. The Spirit was moving within the poor to change history. Many of us experienced this as intoxicating. We Franciscans were especially blessed to have far-sighted mentors who already were immersed with the poor throughout the world. Francis’ charism for the poor and for all creation was our legacy. Then came the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. I joined with others in mounting the Federal Court House steps and challenging the U.S. government’s war in Vietnam. We Franciscans were close to Cesar Chavez and experienced a new form of pilgrimage when we marched to Sacramento under the banner of our Lady of Guadalupe.
When the Vietnam War finally ended, I was in Las Vegas, Nevada, working with farm workers and for welfare mothers’ rights. As part of this process, we did a sit-in on the famed Las Vegas Strip, temporarily halting traffic. A journalist covering the event commented to me that though the Vietnam War was grinding down, the nuclear arms race was heating up.
It came to my attention that the leading edge of the arms race was the testing of new weapons, which was going on right near us in the Nevada desert. If we could stop the testing, we realized, that might stop the arms race. So in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the birth of St Francis, the Franciscan community organized a series of nonviolent vigils and actions at the Nevada Test Site, culminating in an arrest action on Good Friday and a joyful welcoming of the resurrection at the test site on Easter morning. A new church was being born.
Over the years, we did succeed in influencing a moratorium on testing that still holds today, and we helped create an outbreak of nonviolence. It is amazing how this keeps growing. The Nevada Desert Experience, almost 30 years old, is still going. It gave impetus to the Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, which recently celebrated 20 years of providing resources and training in the spirituality and practice of active nonviolence. These days, we face a new breakthrough — Creation Theology. Christians believe that the all-compassionate love which fills our universe fills all creation, and is the presence we name “God.” Christians see this presence made present in the human world in Jesus. As we learn more and more, our understanding of this amazing universe enlarges. Some say the giant Hubble telescope has revealed to us more of God’s creation than any previous book, scriptures or story. Francis of Assisi is now seen by scientific and ecumenical ecologists as the first person to understand this all-embracing unity — “Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Sister Water, Brother Fire — All Creation.”
This creation theology fascinates me, even here in this lock-down near the counter sign — Vanderbilt Air Force Base, gateway of world-destroying missiles and rockets — as the United States seeks “Total Global Dominance.” From behind prison bars, but with the confidence of glimpsing the truth which makes us free, we say, “Not in our name! Not in the name of Jesus.”
I have been here a little more than two months. I am completing a six month sentence for federal trespass at Ft. Benning, Ga., concerning the School of the Americas. I was sentenced in late January at the Federal Court in Columbus, Ga. I declined self-reporting, even when the magistrate offered no bail given my lack of income. I preferred to start my sentence immediately, knowing that meant some time in county jail(s), and some time in transport. I spent the first night at the county jail in Columbus, then was picked up the next morning by Crisp County Sheriff’s Deputies and taken to Crisp County Detention Center in Cordele, Ga. I went the same route in 2005, but had my trial then after three months in Columbus. I remained the last three months awaiting transportation in Cordele, and then was released. This time, since I had six months to go, I was told by the marshals that I would probably be moved to a federal facility in about a month. This is what happened.
After one month, I was transported by federal bus to Atlanta under “transit” status. I was there three weeks. Since there is a wide range of prisoners at Atlanta, there is some segregation according to security needs.
I was in the larger population. We had two man cells and were locked down 23 hours a day. We had an hour for showers, cleaning, phone, recreation, TV and commissary. The key is to have money on your books via the Des Moines Bureau of Prisons account which is good at every federal facility. So commissary was available and I had funds for phone calls. You are not allowed visitors unless you have a very long sentence.
After three weeks we were suddenly put on a plane and flown to the transit center at Oklahoma City Airport. The planes taxi right up to the facility. It is large and relatively new, and has about five floors of cell blocks. Again, there were two to a cell, but we had more time in the open area and the rec area.
After a few days we flew out to Victorville, Calif., where we transferred to buses. Ours was destined for Lompoc. We then had a five-hour ride (during which we were handcuffed and shackled). Personally, I found the ride delightful -- through the high desert, across the fertile citrus groves and avocado trees. We then had a beautiful drive up the Pacific Coast past Ventura and Santa Barbara, seeing the beaches filled with surfers and the sun beginning to set in the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean.
After arriving here at the “F.C.I. Low,” we were processed and assigned to various units. These do not seem to be segregated according to security. There is a fairly tight schedule. When you are confined in your area, your unit is locked except at move times. During the day, most inmates have jobs, at least half of the day. Many are orderly jobs in the dorms. I am assigned as an orderly in the chapel. There are kitchen jobs, such as dining room clean-up, yard jobs, painting, and even barbers.
There are also classes. One must demonstrate high school graduation, otherwise one must participate in G.E.D. classes. I had to attend classes until I received a copy of my transcripts from Loyola High School and U.C.L.A. grad school. We have a nice chapel for worship and music. They have A.V. materials, various classes, Bible studies and worship services, and also an outdoor area used by Christians, Muslims, Jews and Wicca. What is the population here? Ethnically it is “mixed” (with 1,100 inmates) but at present time it is said that we are 75% Latino. There is a special structure for immigration cases which is very intense and heavy.
The facility has a lot of fences with razor wire, so it would not be easy to escape. They have had occasional “riots.”
Last weekend was Memorial Day. There were many athletic events and a rather festive meal. I was out for a visit on the day itself, but did see some of the activities. We actually saw “Avatar” (the only movie I have watched here).
For the most part, the inmates seem friendly, even to an old man. I get a lot of razzing about my mail (especially with my recent birthday), but it seems friendly.
I am particularly pleased with the chapel environment and programs. I came to Lompoc just before Holy Week. Caphucin Fr. Harold Snyder arrived on the scene as an answer to prayer, to preside at the Catholic services, first for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, and then for ongoing Sundays. He has services in “Low,” at the nice chapel, but also at the “Medium” and at the “Camp.” He is a good presider with a real openness to the inmates. Bishop Thomas John Curry, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, came recently and officiated at Confirmation and was very gracious and friendly. There are also Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and other chaplains.
The visiting facilities are quite nice both inside and outside with a large grass yard and vending machines. It is a pleasant atmosphere. The weather is mild. Some ocean winds and fog represent the ocean on three sides. Many of us enjoy walking some miles daily on the track. The food, while being a uniform, institutional menu, has a fair amount of variety, including a vegetarian alternative (my choice).
Of course we cannot forget it is a prison. There are restrictions and consequences. The climate in our country focuses on repression and punishment. The sentences seem in many cases outrageously long (with many double digit sentences for nonviolent crimes). The court systems seem arbitrary. The trauma to the families for these long absences seems violent in itself. Here in the midst of Vandenberg Air Force Base, where missiles and rockets of war are launched, we dream thoughts of ever greater efforts at peace and nonviolence. We are ever ready to share those dreams and join in the efforts to bring about the “Peaceable Kingdom,” predicted by the prophet Isaiah.
People ask me, “How do you cope?” Especially since most of my time in prison in recent years has been for protesting torture. If I start to feel sorry for myself, I think of the suffering experienced in the horrific situations around the world. How can I really complain? As labor leader Eugene Debs said, “So long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” When I think about these situations (often at night in bed), I am able to cope with my own deprivations.
I try to use these experiences and reflections to create empathy with all of those who suffer these horrific experiences. We are all part of this created world. Each person is a sister and a brother to me. Their suffering is my sorrow as well. The gift of compassion grows as I contemplate such misery. My situation becomes a gateway into the compassionate energy that fills all creation and opens me to transforming experiences that I hope to share with the world. And so, for this I am grateful. I value this precious time.
Pace e Bene,
To contribute to Catholic Relief Services’ “Fr. John Dear Haiti Fund,” go to:http://donate.crs.org/goto/fatherjohn. John will speak on “Gandhi, King and Day,” at Loyola in Chicago, June 25-26 (see: www.asrenewal.org), and teach a weeklong course, “Gandhi, King, Day and Merton,” Aug. 2-6, at Ghost Ranch Center, Abiquiu, NM, (see www.ghostranch.org.) John’s latest book, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Orbis), along with other recent books, A Persistent Peace and Put Down Your Sword, as well as Patricia Normile’s John Dear On Peace, are available from www.amazon.com. For further information, or to schedule a lecture, go to www.johndear.org.
HOMILY FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 13, 2010:
My friends, we are reminded today that we are all sinners. Nobody is immune from sin, not even the greatest and holiest men and women. In our first reading, we hear of the grave sin of the great Kind David. Despite literally having it all, he still lusted for Bathsheba, and in order to have her for himself, he arranged for the death of her husband, Uriah, by sending him to the front lines of battle. The king’s sin of adultery was compounded with the sin and crime of murder. And yet, David remained oblivious to the gravity of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent him the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual malaise and moral numbness. Only then did he repent and asked God for pardon.
And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long; likely a prostitute. Fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound conversion. Infinitely grateful for the forgiveness granted her by Jesus, she went to see Him at dinner in the Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with her sincere acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman of ill repute were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And so, they received forgiveness from God.
How different this is from our own typical experience. In our world today, confessionals are among the loneliest places in the world as we tend to be a people who either justify even our grave sins, or worse yet, are completely unaware of our sinfulness and the need to seek God’s gracious forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is not the fact that we fall into sin; but rather, that we lose the sense of sin, that we become insensitive to sin. Then we do not realize the need to ask forgiveness, and therefore remain unrepentant and unforgiven.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, on one occasion, granted permission to a Russian prince to visit a French prison and pardon one criminal of his choice. The prince interviewed the prisoners, and every one claimed innocence of the crime they were accused of. Finally he found one who, with sincere sorrow, confessed his guilt and acknowledged himself deserving of the punishment. To him, the prince said, “Today, I have brought you pardon. In the name of the Emperor, I pronounce you a free man.” The man was released, but the rest were not, because they did not ask forgiveness. There is a Japanese saying, “Forgiving the one who is not sorry, is like drawing pictures on water.”
This is exactly what is happening with Simon the Pharisee in the Gospel today. He invited Jesus for dinner in his house. From his behavior, it’s obvious that his invitation wasn’t out of respect for Jesus. Rather, he was looking for an opportunity to have something against Jesus. This explains the awful treatment he gave to our Lord. He did not fulfill the basic requirements of hospitality: he did not greet Jesus with the traditional welcome; he didn’t offer Him water to wash His feet; he didn’t pour perfumed oil on His forehead. But worse than all of this, he was so proud and self-righteous that he did not see his own sinfulness and unworthiness. All he saw was the sin of the woman, the seeming scandal of having her touch Jesus, and the excessive waste of the costly oil. He was swift to judge and condemn others, but he was blind to his own sins.
How often are we just like Simon the Pharisee? We can be very quick to begin judging and condemning one another. We live in a world of violence and war precisely because we refuse to end the vicious circle of revenge and retaliation. There is only one way to achieve peace – and that is through forgiveness. There is an African proverb that says, “He who forgives ends the quarrel.” We all know families that are shattered, relationships that are broken, and hearts that remain wounded due to an unwillingness to forgive. If God forgives us time and again without fail, why are we so stingy when it comes to forgiving and giving a fresh chance to a loved one who failed us? What has happened to the saying “To err is human, to forgive is divine”? The world becomes smaller everyday, not because of the marvels of technology and communications, but because we lose friends and gain more enemies. Our minds are troubled, our blood pressure shoots up and our hearts palpitate because of our resentments, anger and vengeful desires.
Jesus offers us another way; the way that leads to happiness and peace – the way of forgiveness. That is why He is always ready to forgive us. But there are two conditions to receive his forgiveness: first, we must humbly admit our sins and then we must ask for forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance is the way that He left us to accomplish this peace. God does not forgive us when we are too proud and self-righteous to ask for it. And second, we must be willing and ready to forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we pray. Doing this not only makes us disposed to receive God’s forgiveness, but it also transforms us into His instruments for peace in the world. We will then be numbered among the peacemakers who are blessed, for “theirs is the kingdom of God.”
As we hear in the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”
“Lord, forgive the wrong we have done,” and teach us to forgive one another.
May God give you peace.
Rome, Italy, Jun 6, 2010 / 06:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian singer Andrea Bocelli has told the story of his mother’s pregnancy, during which doctors suggested that she abort him because he would be born with a disability. In a new video he praises his mother for making “the right choice,” saying other mothers should take encouragement from the story.
In a YouTube video titled “Andrea Bocelli tells a ‘little story’ about abortion,” the singer sits at a piano and tells his audience a story about a young pregnant wife hospitalized for “a simple attack of appendicitis.”
“The doctors had to apply some ice on her stomach and when the treatments ended the doctors suggested that she abort the child. They told her it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability.
“But the young brave wife decided not to abort, and the child was born,” he continued.
“That woman was my mother, and I was the child. Maybe I'm partisan, but I can say that it was the right choice.”
He said he hoped the story could encourage many mothers in “difficult situations” but who want to save the life of their baby.
Bocelli has congenital glaucoma and lost his vision completely at age 12 after getting hit in the head during a soccer game.
The video itself is produced by www.IamWholeLife.com, an initiative of the Human Rights, Education and Relief Organization (HERO). HERO is a partner of the pro-life movie star Eduardo Verastegui.
In the 13th Century, an Augustinian nun, Sr. Juliana of Liège in Belgium had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect except for one dark spot which a voice told her represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Eucharist. Sr. Juliana had tremendous devotion to the Eucharist and so she worked tirelessly for the Church to establish a feast. This led to today’s feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ) first introduced into the church calendar in 1264.
We could reflect on many things today – how the Sacrifice of the Cross is related to our celebration; how it is that we believe Jesus to be truly present through this transubstantiated bread and wine; how we need a greater devotion to the Eucharist today. This list goes on and on. But, in my reflection for today, I came across another thought on today’s feast; another way of thinking about the Eucharist and ourselves.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that precisely those Christians who preach the necessity of having a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ as Savior might are often less inclined to believe that Jesus is really, truly and personally present in His Sacred Body and Blood? And on the other hand, it’s equally interesting that precisely those Christians, like us Catholics, who do believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are often less inclined to speak about having a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.
That contrast comes to mind as we heard the words of Jesus from the Last Supper today: “This is my body that is for you…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The Last Supper, a moment we hear about throughout the New Testament, is all about intimacy with the Lord, an intimacy with Christ so personal that He invites us to consume Himself, to feed on the life He offers us: the same Body and Blood in the supper of His table, as the life He offered on the altar of the Cross. It is all is about how close Jesus wants to be with us, how close He wants us to be with Him -- and how close He wants us to be with one another. The question the scriptures present, then, isn’t whether or not the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood - or how that happens - but rather about Christ’s desire for communion with us.
What Jesus is saying here is this: Let me tell you how close I want to be with you. Like your mother or father, like your spouse or your best friend, I would give my life for you - so much do I love you. But if I give my life for you, I still want to be with you, so in the communion of my Supper I will give myself to you again and again and again. I want to remain in you - and I want you to remain in Me. As the Bread you eat and the Wine you drink become part of you, so I will become one with you: the Bread will be My Body broken for you, the Wine will be My Blood poured out for you.
We can ask, how real is Christ’s presence in the Eucharist? It is as real as God’s word of promise to us; as real as a soulmate’s commitment; as real as forgiveness heals a broken relationship; as real as the love offered for us on the Cross; as real as the bread and wine offered on this altar; as real as the power of God’s Spirit to make of our gifts today into the very same gift Christ offered to His Father for our sake: His very Body and Blood, His life, given, handed over, in love.
The Eucharist is the way - the sacrament - for renewing and refreshing our relationship with Jesus. When we receive Christ’s body and blood in this sacrament we are drawn into a holy communion of persons, meant to render us truly present to one another, breaking open our own lives, like bread, pouring ourselves out, like wine, to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ once did for us on the altar of the Cross and does each time we gather here to remember and to meet Him at this table.
St. Augustine said, “If you receive (the Eucharist) well, you are what you receive.” If we receive Jesus reverently, faithfully, we become what we receive: the Real Presence of Christ Jesus in our world. And so, this day, begs of us, are we ready for such intimacy, such union with Christ? Do we want to be this close to Him and do we want Him this close to us? Do we desire a personal communion with Jesus and are we open to the communion-with-others that this demands? Do we want to remain in Him and He is us?
To return to the original contrast: the faith of a Christian whose life is based in a real, personal encounter with Jesus cannot help but be graced, enhanced and deepened by belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and the faith of a Christian who believes in this Real Presence cannot help but be graced, enhanced and deepened by welcoming a more personal relationship with Christ whose Real Presence we revere.
If this is what we want there is no better way to find it than to be faithful to the table Christ sets for us here. For here we will find nothing less than the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ our Lord.
For his flesh is true food, and his blood is true drink. This is the bread that came down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever.
May the Lord give you peace.
(Based largely on a homily by Fr. Austin Flemming, http://concordpastor.blogspot.com)
The archbishop explained first off that the council, which specializes in pastoral care for people on the move in any form, held its plenary meetings last week. Those meetings, he said, focused on the "co-responsibility" of the Church and states for the care of migrant and itinerant people.
During the meetings, he said, "admiration" was expressed for the U.S. bishops, "for their attitudes in relation with ... the presence in the States of a lot of what we call 'irregular' migrants - we would not say 'illegal' migrants, no other word is worse for us."
Their work, he continued, is a sign of "concretization, of realization" of the human rights of migrants.
Further discussion at the assembly focused on the recognition of the role of states in regulating "fluxes," and the necessity of securing respect for all people's human rights, the common good of the nation and the importance of placing it in the broader context of the universal common good.
"We confirmed that there are fundamental rights which must be respected, and this is valid also in the United States," he said about the meeting's results.
Archbishop Marchetto also commented on Arizona's recently approved legislation SB1070, which, when passed into law on July 29, will allow police to question individuals based on "reasonable suspicion" about their legal status.
Bishop of Salt Lake City John C. Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration has said that it "gives law enforcement officials powers to detain and arrest individuals based on a very low legal standard, possibly leading to the profiling of individuals based upon their appearance, manner of speaking, or ethnicity.”
The pontifical council secretary told CNA, "I think for us, this criminalization of irregular migrants is something wrong." He recalled that a similar law regarding migrants and security has come up in Italy and that they took a "strong approach" to opposing it.
"I think it is a fundamental battle ... on the part of the Church, about the fact that we cannot accept the criminalization of irregular migrants,” he said.
"Unfortunately it is a tendency these days, I must recognize, among some states. And if we can speak in general terms, there is a tendency to diminish throughout the world the attention to fundamental human rights, and this is a very pitiful situation."
He added, "I'm always saying, if we are not defending human rights in a time of peace, how will we manage when there will be a time of war."
Recalling his trip last year to 15 U.S. universities to speak on the pastoral care of foreign students and to present the dicastery's John Paul II-approved document “Erga migrantes caritas Christi” (The Love of Christ towards Migrants), he said that he noted the difficulty Catholics have in accepting this vision of the social doctrine of the Church
It's not only a question in the United States, he explained, but often "Catholic social doctrine is considered optional and this is against what is preached and (against) the insistence by John Paul II to try to help the people understand that it is a dimension of the moral teaching of the Church. It is a part of the ethical attitude of the good Christian, Catholic member of the Church," Archbishop Marchetto said.
The archbishop spoke of the "great effort" that must be carried out to promote Church teaching on issues such as life, abortion, and other important questions. "But," he added, "we cannot forget also other aspects of Catholic teaching and we cannot accept these difficulties from a part of the Catholic population in accepting some (other) aspects of the Catholic social teaching of the Church …
Church cannot accept criminalization of immigrants, says Archbishop Marchetto :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)