Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

TRAVELS WITH TIM – DAY TWO

Monday, August 11th, 2014

If six hours late last night seemed ominous, I woke up in Sacramento this morning and after consulting my watch discovered that we were now nine hours late. During the night, in Oakland, the Union Pacific Railroad lent us another locomotive which attached on to the one AMTRAK engine that couldn’t and the one that could. In addition, in Oakland we added three more cars to the rear of the train which are “Private Cars” chartered by people with more money than God. Sacramento which was scheduled as a twenty-five minute stop took an hour and we just get later and later. Tim’s flight home tomorrow from Seattle is at 830am and we are to arrive in Seattle, if we are lucky which God knows we  have not been so far, at 300am. I am once again more worried about my brother than the ill locomotives.

There is a good side of what has happened to us in that we are seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the West which normally would be traversed at night and in total darkness. As I type this I am looking at gorgeous Mt. Shasta and there is more awesome scenery to come as we journey through Klamath Falls and the Pacific Cascade mountains.

The Second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

The second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

Tim and I slept well in our respective cubicles, oblivious to anything happening to or on the train. At breakfast we sat with a couple who should have boarded the train in Emeryville (San Francisco but across the Bay Bridge) at 954pm last night but instead boarded at 550am this morning. All night long in a train station in Oakland with little information about when their train would arrive. So I guess Tim and I were lucky and he seems to be feeling better each hour which is something of a relief to me because I am now concerned about putting him on the plane tomorrow with no sleep.

He continues to “shine” in the dining car with his stories about the railroads of the past and he is a great story teller. I think our Dad would be proud of him because of his love of trains. He detests Republicans because they want to eliminate AMTRAK (among other things) so I hold my breath when he begins to venture into politics. Sometimes I have to kick him, under the table, of course. When a tablemate mentioned FOX News and their slogan, “fair and balanced”, Tim retorted “We deceive, you decide!” Such are the risks of traveling with Tim.

From what I can tell, the passengers don’t seem too concerned about the delay. Most people just shrug it off and say something like, “It’s AMTRAK, what do you expect?” A long time ago I purchased a scanner which allows me to eavesdrop on conversations on trains between the crew and between the engineer and the dispatcher. On this trip, I have to say that the host railroad, the Union Pacific, has handled this train very well and we have yet to be delayed by pulling into a passing siding to await a freight. The serious part of the delay on this trip is owing to AMTRAK not maintaining their motive power to reliable standards. Because we were so late last night and arrived at major station stops like San Jose, California, Oakland’s two AMTRAK stops, the car attendants have had little time to sleep but they seem to be maintaining their sense of good cheer and that might translate into passenger behavior being more passive. We will see what happens later tonight when they run out of food and beverage.

This morning I read the editorial in THE TAMPA BAY TIMES which picks up on my recent blog about the children of Central America who are being shipped across the border by their parents. I am grateful to the editorial board of the TIMES for their support of my call for a humanitarian response to this situation.

We arrived in Klamath Falls, Oregon at about 445pm and I made my first decision in consultation with Tim. We are going to “bale” on the Coast Starlight in Tacoma rather than ride it all the way into Seattle. The airport lies half way between the two cities so why go all the way into Seattle at 3am only to backtrack halfway. I called the airport hotel where we had reservations and they gave me the number for Yellow Cab who assured me a driver would be awaiting our arrival. Both of us will try to get four hours of sleep on the train prior to arriving in Tacoma and then his plane to Fort Lauderdale is at 830am – poor guy.

At five-thirty, AMTRAK is feeding all the coach passengers with a free “conscience” meal, apologizing in doing so for the incredible tardiness of the train. I must find out what they gave them. They do have a version of the military’s “Ready to Eat” meals but I hope that is not what they are getting. A refund would be much more appreciated!

The on-board crew is slowly beginning to show some times of too much work and too little rest. Amazingly, if they get into Seattle as predicted around 300am, they report back on duty at 700am and work the southbound train back to Los Angeles which is their home base. Tim and I both have an affection for railroad people, since we were both one of them at sometime in our lives.

We bailed in Tacoma where it was 422am when the Sunset Limited came to a stop. The taxi I had ordered to take us to the airport motel for what should have been a full night’s sleep but for Tim ended up being two hours was waiting and by five we were in our rooms. Tim left the  hotel on the 7am shuttle bus and we parted.

Both of us are certain that our long-distance train ride days ended early this morning and neither of us are sad about that. As two brothers who seemed to have grown in love for one another much too late in  life and with Jim who faces back surgery next Friday, we are aware that our final journey looms closer and closer. For that there will be no broken down locomotive, but only our sins and virtues to determine speed and final stop. I did not think Tim and I would ever try a long trip again after the last one and today we are both certain that there will indeed be no more. It’s not AMTRAK’s doing, it is our advancing years and infirmities.

Most of you who read this do not need my advice but don’t take those you love the most for granted. Even a long life is limited. Blessings and thanks, Tim.

+RNL

P.S.  On Monday afternoon, Tim went to see his primary VA physician who promptly placed him in an ambulance and sent him to Hollywood Memorial Regional Hospital where he is presently in the Emergency Room undergoing tests focusing on his heart. They will likely keep him tonight for observation. It is reported that his spirits are good, the earlier CAT scan revealed non return of the previous lung cancer but his EKG is off the charts. What a week that was, has been and hopefully will be! Prayers, please, for both Tim and Jim.

TRAVELS WITH TIM AGAIN

Monday, August 11th, 2014

When last we left my brother Tim in this space, a few years ago he and I had just completed a transcontinental train trip from Seattle to Chicago to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Hollywood, Florida, spanning five days and nights with one overnight in Chicago. Both of us thought that would mark the end of our train travel, likely for the rest of our lives. Recently, Tim’s medical condition worsened and someone our diversionary conversation switched to trains which we wished we had ridden but had not. I should have known better.

As I write this the two brothers are back on the rails again, having left Los Angeles at 1115am this morning [Thursday] bound for Seattle and hoping beyond hope to arrive there sometime tomorrow night, in time for a good night’s sleep before flying back home on Saturday.

Tim is not feeling at all well this afternoon, but he is so excited by the train trip that it is hard to get him to concentrate on how poorly he is feeling. He had a CAT scan on Tuesday prior to flying to Los Angeles yesterday and thinks the injection may have something to do with his general condition. I am worried as I pen these lines and thinking of alternatives. But I probably should be more worried about a “sick” locomotive.

Back to the train trip, however. We are aboard AMTRAK’s train number 14 which is called the “Coast Starlight”. it is a 1377 mile trip from LA to Sleeplessville and if everything works like it should, it will take thirty-four hours. But this is AMTRAK and not everything is working like it should, or maybe I should say it is working exactly like it does (not should). After flying into LA and meeting at the airport yesterday, we overnighted near Union Station in LA to position ourselves well for our 1010am departure this morning.

LA’s Union Station is now one of the nation’s treasures. After years of desuetude, this monument to the days of the great transcontinental trains like the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, El Capitan and Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles has come back to life with trains departing at all hours of the day and evening to San Diego, Santa Barbara, myriad LA suburbs and a few AMTRAK name trains to the Bay Area and Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans. This morning it was full of life and has been magnificently restored. It even has its own Starbucks for heaven’s sake.

The adventure began at LA's majestic Union Station.

The adventure began at LA’s majestic Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

Arriving at 900am for our 1010am departure,we found the special lounge for sleeping car passengers totally full. Tim and I were the youngest people in the assembly by far at 73 and 71. If you are old and want to feel young, just ride an AMTRAK sleeping car!

Anyway, 1010am arrived and there was no train in the station. “We’re having a mechanical issue in the yard and the train has not been cleared yet to back into the station” we were told nicely. At 1035am, good news. “The train has been released and is backing into the station and so please leave for platform 10 and have a nice trip” A delightful Redcap took our luggage, piled us into a golf cart and away we drove to the platform just as the train was arriving. We left LA one hour and five minutes late without moving a wheel – an augur of things to come I suspect.

The very first stop on the journey was twenty minutes outside of Union Station at “Bob Hope Amtrak Station, Burbank where we sat and sat and sat. Eventually the lady conductor came on the PA to announce they hd to summon the police to remove a recalcitrant passenger who was a stow-away without a ticket but still refused to leave the train on his own power. Turns out a night in the Burbank jail might have been better than a night on the Coast Starlight. We are now 95 minutes late and only twenty miles from where we started.

We have two rooms this time because between us we weigh 445 pounds and can generate enough heat in a small space to be comfortable in Fairbanks in the dead of winter. Also, I need to make sure, that one room was on each side of the train because this is the second most scenic train trip in the US (AMTRAK’S “California Zephyr” between the Bay Area and Denver is, in my opinion the most beautiful).

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Ninety minutes after leaving Union Station travelling north, the train hugs the Pacific Coast for about 145 miles, and I do mean “hugs”. There are moments when you can see the fish in the crystal clear water and when not looking at fish, today we saw one in ten Californians enjoying a  magnificent beach day.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

At Gaviota, California, our lead locomotive died. Kerplopp!! Would not start, would not work, would not run the air conditioning system or electrical system. Another forty minute delay but it was decided that we could at least get to San Luis Obispo with the one good engine. Now two and one half hours late and 90 miles from where we started.

The most beautiful part is between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Luis Obispo, two of Father Junipero Serra’s magnificent California mission churches. The rails are right along the seaside and the beach is sometimes less than thirty feet away. Tim is excited and has his HD videocam and his new Canon Sureshot working hard. Someone is going to have to sit through a long showing of ocean pictures taken from a moving train when we get home.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

Lunch was in the Dining Car at noon. There are a lot of people on this train and it is one of AMTRAK’s most profitable long-distance routes. Some will get off tonight when we arrive in Oakland and others will take their place because we are full all the way – four sleeping cars, four coaches, a diner, a lounge and something unique to this train called therr “Pacific Parlor Car” about which I will write tomorrow. Each sleeping car has 43 individual beds and each coach holds 60 people so this journey will find a possible 420 people on board during these very popular summer months.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

This is one of four remaining 1950's era "Pacific Parlour" cars which AMTRAK has retained.

This is one of four remaining 1950’s era cars which AMTRAK has retained.

Outside of San Luis Obispo we pass the southbound Coast Starlight also running two hours and a half late. It seems they ran out of green beans and asked if we would stop and lend them some from our larder (I am not kidding – it was akin to passing Grey Poupon from one train to another.

We leave San Luis Obispo two hours and forty minutes late but we borrow a freight engine from the Union Pacific Railroad to help us climb a steep grade leaving town. It worked, we got to the summit of the spectacular climb, said good-bye to the borrowed engine and proceeded about one half mile when the only good AMTRAK engine we had left konked out. Kerploop. Two additional hours of hard work by the engineer and conductor got it fixed but now we were six hours late and we had only just begun.

AMTRAK's Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

Off we finally rush to Paso Robles, our next stop, which we should have arrived at 437pm but it was now 1037pm when we pulled in. I counted eight stalwart citizens on the platform but then we are told that there has been a medical emergency on board and an ambulance needed to be called. Lost another thirty minutes. That was enough for Tim and I and we went to bed with almost a full moon illuminating the Salinas Valley, breadbasket of California and home to John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN and Cesar Chavez.

The Lynches looked at day one and said “it was good!”

+RNL

IN WHOM DO WE PLACE OUR TRUST?

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Florida summer weather has finally come to far northern Michigan with a vengeance! This was the week-end when I attempted substituting for the pastor of the local parish by hearing confessions yesterday afternoon and celebrating and preaching the 5pm Vigil Mass and this morning’s 8 and 10am. The church is not air-conditioned so everyone felt the need to seek the visiting bishop out and apologize for the heat and humidity. They trusted I would understand. At least they did not blame me for bringing it along with me.

This week I thought a lot about how people in the Church can sometimes so disappoint God’s faithful people. I focused on how some highly trusted and “believed” personalities have fallen into ecclesial disgrace because of things which they have done in life which when revealed cost them their ministry. In my endless desire that this blog not be  place to vent my own anger or outrage, I will not use any names. But there have always been preachers of the Gospel whose actions when made publicly known brought sometimes shame, sometimes disbelief, sometimes great sadness to God’s people. In particular, possibly vunerable are those who are able through the use of the media to connect with the spiritual feelings of people, to often use their electronic pulpits to hammer others with whom they do not agree, to paint a path to holiness that gives great value to material poverty, doctrinal fidelity, clearly delineating the saved from those at risk losing their immortal souls only to be discovered to have themselves not lived by the code and sometimes even the creed which they preached. And when they are discovered, the community of believers are thrown into first the pain of disbelief and then the anger at the betrayal of trust. Everyone has their failings. God knows I do. But in my preaching and in my life I try not to make myself out to be perfect but rather a pilgrim, struggling to get it right more often than get it wrong. I try not to be judgmental in the administration of my office, but to give everyone the same chance at forgiveness which I often feel gifted with. I think the vast majority of priests in our Church try hard and struggle to live life in the gray and not in the black and white. We know the moral absolutes to be sure and we preach them and try to live them but we also know what it means to confess our sins, amend our lives and try hard to offend neither God or neighbor again.

In Christian history as in any history there have always been falls from grace. The presence of evil is a powerful force even in today’s society or maybe even better said it is a major force. It is the weed which attempts to strangle the shaft of wheat. However, God the sower, plants wheat everywhere and no force for evil can ever totally overcome the plan of God which is directed not just to the present but more importantly to the moment of “harvest.” Put your trust in God. Listen to our voices as long as we betray not the task which the Lord has given to us and preach the truth in love. The real soldiers of the Gospel are not those you see on TV or listen to on the radio or read in the printed word, but those who week in and week out stand before you in Church to unpack the Word of God and apply it to daily living – their own and as well as ours. Then your faith will be well placed and it will likely not be shaken in the presence of human failure. In God we trust!

+RNL

WEEK-END UPDATE

Monday, July 11th, 2011

So I lied! I know I said no more blog entries until early August since I would be spending all of July “fishin” but I can’t resist (and also I find that I have more time on my hands to think and write than normal). There can really be no secret about my whereabouts (and there need not be) as yesterday when filling in for the local pastor who began his two week vacation with my arrival at the parish church, the lector for the 1000am Mass is a parishioner of St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the sister of one of our priests, Father Mike O’Brien, was in the congregation with her husband, baseball immortal and Bishop Barry graduate, Bill Freehan. So it is time to fess up. I am spending the month on Crooked Lake (named for its shoreline and not its property owners) which is about six miles east of Petoskey and a similar distance south-west from Harbor Springs in the far northern area of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I am the sacramental ministry presence for St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey for the next two weeks while the fine pastor, Father Dennis Stilwell is away for a brief vacation. The Church is beautiful, indeed bordering on spectacular, except it is not air-conditioned and yesterday, Sunday, was really the first super hot and humid day of the summer (guess who got blamed for the humidity – that visiting bishop from Florida, of course).

Last night I had the honor of being the guest of the bishop of the diocese in which I am vacationing, Bishop Bernard Hebda, Bishop of Gaylord. We had a super dinner together but even better conversation. Bishop Bernard told me that he has about 41 active priests in ministry of whom 19 are either right at retirement or serving beyond retirement. Two of his pastors are in their nineties. The diocese has quite a few square miles to cover but except for Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cheboygan the towns, villages and parishes are very small and very rural. The area is spectacularly beautiful but the winters are very cold and there is a lot of snow. The local Church is the reverse of our experience in the Diocese of St. Petersburg in that during the summer, the Catholic population grows with those seeking relief from the heat of the midwest and Florida and in the winter, the population decreases substantially. The bishop gets around. In fact the priests and people worry for his health as he seems to be omni-present to the point that almost everyone with whom I talk, and they love him, worries about his schedule. He has taken to this local Church (originally a priest of Pittsburgh with some time spent working in Rome) like all these ducks from Canada take to the local lakes around here. This is truly a mission diocese, even in Michigan, and since it is indeed in Michigan, the state with the nation’s highest unemployment, the challenges of the economic downturn are felt even more in the parishes. But he finds a very healthy local church with impressive and dedicated priests and people. The time spent with him last night was pure gift to me.

This morning my hosts asked their cleaning lady to take a quick turn at my apartment. I had known that she was a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation and I do not know if she knows that in trying to convert me, which she attempted this morning, she was dealing with a Catholic bishop. That might have made me “the catch of the day” for her. Clearly, as a church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t particularly care for Catholics, in fact they are pretty certain where we will be spending the afterlife though this woman stopped well short of that assertion. She did tell me that we do not know the Bible (I countered that we were getting better all the time at that), that the end of time is just around the corner because quoting Matthew 24 “the world is rising up in war, nation against nation”. When I said that first happened with World War I she countered with “that’s when the end of time started.” I asked if we would live to see it and she assured me we would. Steadfast, firm, unfailingly polite, she gave not one inch to reason, logic, theology or scripture interpretation. She never in the fifteen minutes or so we spoke explicitly came after the Catholic Church (except that when they call on us, we don’t know the bible). She also said that the “Confraternity Bible” which we use never uses the name of God and that is shameful. I told her God’s name is everywhere in our bible and then she said just as strenuously, “no it’s not! God’s name is “Jehovah” and you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible.” I countered, the word “Yahweh” from which Jehovah comes is all over the  Old Testament and she said, “but that is not God’s name. It is Jehovah.” We parted friends and she said she would pray for me. I call that something of a pyrrhic victory but all in all I had met my match in debate points.

Two distinctly different conversations separated only by sleep, one so comfortable talking about our faith and what we might do to spread it and the other demanding total capitulation. I think I have two choices: either to mop my own floors or to be absent next week when she comes again. Although I don’t understand the nexus often in their faith belief based strictly on a fundamental interpretation of Scripture, I end this with some admiration for the strength of her faith which gave her the courage to open, guide, direct, manipulate the conversation. And I think of yesterday’s Gospel. This woman takes very seriously her responsibility to be both a hearer of the Word and a sower of the same. I think I know which category of earth she falls in as a hearer of the Word, but I wish more of us had the courage and strength of our convictions in sowing what she has heard.

That’s all the news for the week-end from Crooked Lake where the men are all absent, the women are all hard working and the children are all out on boats.

+RNL

GONE FISHIN!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It is that wonderful time of the year again when I can find some time to get away, rest and relax. This year, for the first time in my episcopal ministry, I will be taking the whole month of July. There is nothing to be done, places to visit, just pure rest and relaxation. The pastor of the parish where I am visiting is alone so I will be helping in his parish on Sundays starting a week from today and since he takes two weeks himself each year in the middle of July but has had the custom of returning for the three week-end Masses, thereby interrupting his time away, I will cover for him the week-end of July 16/17 giving him for the first time two weeks away. While I like to keep the location in the US where I am vacationing a secret, I can tell you that under cloudless blue skies yesterday the high reached a whopping 77 degrees and the low last night, my first here, was 57, necessitating a blanket (my hosts had to explain to me what a”blanket” is!). The diocese is never out of my thoughts and you are never out of my prayers.

A month ago I wrote a letter which was distributed in the parishes about the diocese’s history since 1991 in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct against minors, our process and its procedures. The letter has been very well received and the feedback overwhelmingly positive. However, two people very respectfully asked for a clarification of the statement that we have not used Annual Pastoral Appeal monies to pay the costs of dealing with these sad issues. I reaffirm that the statement is correct but it does raise the question as to whence do the monies come if not from the people. At no time did I ever mean to imply that monies used for this purpose comes from anywhere other than the parishes and, therefore, the people. Every parish and institution in the diocese is “taxed” or “assessed” for certain things which are not directly related to pastoral programs which the APA funds. For example, parishes and schools pay a significant amount each year for the health and welfare costs of their employees, likewise for unemployment compensation insurance and pension fund contributions. All of that is deducted mainly from offertory contributions. A fourth and final category of parish and parishioner support is for “Property and Liability Insurance.” We maintain a reserve here to cover some deductibles and catastrophic losses due to hurricanes and storm damage, legal claims and settlements for things like “slip and falls”, fires, etc. We have dipped occasionally and as needed into this reserve to pay what we identified as the costs associated with the diocese’s history of settling with victims in the hope of giving them some sense of pastoral care and solicitude for the immense harm done to them. Anticipating the next question which likely is, “well, has the diocese raised its tax against the parishes to build up this reserve” and the answer is in the negative. From time to time our Property and Liability Insurer, Catholic Mutual, has raised premiums against the parishes and institutions because either the property is seen to have increased in value or risk but this has nothing to do with sexual misconduct claims and payments. So, yes, parishes and parishioners as well as high schools and other diocesan institutions have been the ultimate source of these funds but that fact has not impacted the assessment parishes have been paying because we have had the funds in reserve. I hope this is helpful.

So, the fish are calling and I will sign off, not to be heard from again until sometime in early August. May the Lord spare us storms this hurricane season and may each reader also have an opportunity at some rest and relaxation from the normal. God Bless.

+RNL

 

DEVOTEDLY YOURS TOO – 40,000 FEET

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Hearkening back to my blog entry on the way to Seattle I find myself once again on United, flying over one of those big square states that all look alike between Colorado and the Mississippi River. Our bishops meeting in Seattle ended one hour later than scheduled last night in Bellevue, Washington with a very long Executive Session. The public agenda was very light as I have previously indicated and pretty much devoid of disagreement as I have noted already.

There is a short, succinct statement of the bishops on the matter of Physician Assisted Suicide which can be read on the USCCB website by clicking here. I found it interesting that the site of the acceptance of the document happened in a state (and along with its neighbor Oregon) which allows for it legally and that it follows closely the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian a few days ago – probably the most famous and fatal administrator of assisted suicide in the history of this nation.

Attention was given to fixing some things in the Dallas Charter for another two years before it will once again be revisited and reexamined. I know that some people, particularly victims and groups representing them believe that there are large lacuna in the charter and things which the bishops do not wish to change. Personally, as I have written earlier this week in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, I recognize that the Charter is not a perfect roadmap to complete and total child safety but its efficacy can be seen in the radical drop in new reports of sexual misconduct against minors by priests and other Church employees. In our area of the country, our diocese, you have not had a reported instance after 1995 and contrast that with the instances in the five county public school districts and other organizations dealing with kids.

Our Diocese will be audited under some new rules as well as under some previous rules in October of this year. There is a new auditing firm. They do what are called compliance audits to make sure you are doing precisely what you promised to do. My staff and I welcome this visit and are prepared to tell them that there have been no complaints against priests, religious, volunteers, staff, faculty or volunteers during the period of the audit.

The bishops did agree to start implementing the music attached to the new Mass translations which will be used throughout the Liturgy on the First Sunday of Advent this year, so we will begin to sing the Gloria and the Agnus Dei in English using the new translation in our parishes beginning in September. I need to consult with the staff of my Worship Office to find out how best to accomplish this, so stay tuned here for more information as it becomes available.

Bishops’ meetings are opportunities to spend time with old friends, from the staff of the Conference as well as with brother bishops. This meeting marked the 51st General Meeting I have attended, either as staff (22) or as a bishop (29). My good friend Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyoming, boarded the flight with me in Denver last Sunday and we spent Monday on Puget Sound and celebrated his birthday on the 15th.

What is always hard for me is that the membership of the episcopal conference is about eighty per cent new since I left the Conference’s employ and became a bishop myself. Faces that I could recognize in a nano-second are no longer present and the new faces one does not see often enough to etch them in memory. The outgoing General Secretary paid a nice but unnecessary compliment to me in his farewell speech and now I shall miss him unless and until he returns as a member.

Finally, they almost all want to come back to St. Petersburg for a meeting and soon. They loved the Vinoy, the waterfront, the gelateria on Beach Drive, the walks to Albert Whitted Airport and the Rays baseball games. I told them, you had better hurry, and the clock is ticking quickly on my time. I was happy they loved our area so much. Also the Bethany Center gets brought up often as a destination of choice for retreats and meetings. So we may not have Mt. Rainer (saw it for the first time this morning in all its glory) or Puget Sound or a seafood store where the employees toss salmon at you but we do have things which give birth to good memories. I will be glad when in one hour I step forth at TIA once again and am back with those I love.

+RNL

SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

My brother bishops trying to stay awake at times. Photo furtively taken by me.

Today (Wednesday) is the first full day of the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Bishops and we are in Seattle this year (Atlanta next year in June, then San Diego, then New Orleans). I had a ten hour meeting yesterday involving Catholic Relief Services and find that I am falling asleep around 830pm every night and waking up around 430am. I am not unhappy with that since I hope to somehow “trick” my b0dy into thinking it is still operating on Eastern Daylight Time for my return trip early on Friday morning (a 545am departure).

There are about 200 bishops present for the Spring meeting and the weather has been, well rainy, what else? We are not exactly meeting in Seattle but in a suburb called Bellevue which is the home of Microsoft. Lots of tall buildings, high end shopping stores, and not a McDonalds in sight. There is no view of Puget Sound to be had from Bellevue and no view of Mt. Ranier which has not been available since I arrived from any vantage point due to the very cloudy and overcast weather. So what else is there to do but sit in a meeting room, listen intently and look at one’s watch for the next break.

We passed a few items this morning which did not allow for amendments and listened to some oral reports. One of the more interesting was led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, who has been appointed to work with communities of Episcopalians in the United States who wish as a congregation, including their priests, to come over to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict has reached out to these communities and their priests and will allow them to come into full communion, their priests to be ordained as deacons and priests and they can bring with them the treasured aspects of what is called the “Anglican Rite.” I listened with interest even though I know of no such movement of any parishes or communities in the Diocese of St. Petersburg wishing to come over.

There is one more hour of public session tomorrow and then we dive into the rest of the day in Executive Session which means I will not reveal any of the discussions which take place under that rubric. Overall it is a light agenda and to have come such a long way. Tonight I am invited to a farewell dinner for the departing General Secretary of the Conference, Monsignor David Malloy who will be returning to his home Archdiocese of Milwaukee after completing five years as the chief operating officer of the episcopal conference. Monsignor Malloy is the fourth occupant of that position since my own departure in 1995 (the term is for five years and it can be renewed as it was in my case but annually after five). It is customary that there is a dinner for the departing GS and all living former General Secretaries are invited. By my count there are exactly six of us remaining on this mortal coil. Monsignor Malloy has a priest brother who is residing and working in our diocese as a Chaplain at Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital, Father Frank Malloy. His successor was elected last November and will assume office on Friday with the closing gavel of this meeting.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, our new President, is chairing quite efficiently and we are considerably ahead of our meeting agenda’s schedule going into the Executive Session.

So from the shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, greetings to all back home, leave the light on as I will return on Friday.

+RNL

DEVOTEDLY YOURS

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, then the second Archbishop of Miami, ordained me a priest. He was an incredibly fine man, almost a kindly uncle to me and to most of the other priests in the Archdiocese. His primary way of communicating with the people of the Archdiocese was through an occasional column in THE VOICE  (the weekly Archdiocesan newspaper)and later the FLORIDA CATHOLIC which he entitled “Devotedly Yours”. Every time it would show up, we knew the Archbishop was writing at “altitude” or above 30,000 feet on an airplane going to someplace or coming home. Laptops were not available in those days so the Archbishop would take out a brown pen and write on the back of the air-sickness bag, a piece of hotel stationary – anything he could get his hands on and his wonderful secretary would transcribe it on a typewriter prior to submission for publication. Priests can sometimes be quite “catty” and occasionally when someone would read one of his “Devotedly Yours” columns, some crack would be made about a lack of oxygen at altitude. But those columns were very personal and one never had to struggle to discern what the great man meant.

Well, I am tonight at altitude, on board a small United Airline plane bound first for Denver and then I must switch to their fiancée in the airline business, Continental for the remainder of the trip to Seattle. Having left Tampa on Pentecost night at 710pm EDT, I will arrive Seattle at 235am EDT (1135pm PDT) and probably climb into my Hyatt hotel bed about 4 am by my body time. The Catholic bishops of the United States are holding their spring meeting this month in Seattle. You may recall that last June they held a longer assembly in St. Petersburg which they loved enough to talk about coming back again. How I wish I could once again drive down the street for twenty minutes to attend the meeting.

The actual meeting begins on Wednesday morning and ends on Friday evening but I must leave Seattle at 545am on Friday to return for the celebration of a “Blue Mass” for policemen and firemen on Saturday morning and the second and last wedding of my summer later Saturday. On Tuesday, however, the Search Committee on which I serve for a new CEO/President for Catholic Relief Services will present two candidates to the CRS Board of Directors for their ultimate decision. I am no longer able to fly coast to coast and start a meeting the next morning without some kind of rest day in between. How I hate being 70 (except that on Saturday I was called for Jury Duty in Pinellas County and discovered that if you are over seventy you do not have to serve – the first “bene” from being ancient!)

On these two very long westbound flights I have been able to read the documentation, which precedes each meeting. The most important thing I find on the public agenda is a discussion of the Dallas Charter, which was passed in 2002, and deals with how the Church will handle accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. I have written an “Op-Ed” piece at the invitation of the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times for today’s paper in which I outline the experience in our diocese in the last ten years. It is possible that this agenda item will receive more than its share of media attention this week, but reading the changes, which are being recommended to the bishops to me indicates that there will not be a wholesale re-working of the Charter but some tightening up and tweaking. There will be a first discussion of a new document of the Conference on physician-assisted suicide entitled “To Live Each Day With Dignity, another seeking permission to develop a document on preaching, and some liturgical matters all dealing with the liturgy in Spanish. Once again it is not a particularly heavy or burdensome agenda.

So as I chase the sun west tonight on a never ending evening, I recall celebrating Pentecost this morning at St. Jude’s Cathedral and a lovely confirmation of about seventy-five young people. What a great day to confirm! Pentecost, the birthday of the Church which is the body of Christ. Have a great week and stay tuned – I intend to interrupt any boredom which may occur with blog posts.

+RNL

 

 

OUT OF AFRICA – 2

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Robert Angel, First Theology, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and currently a summer intern with Catholic Relief Services, Sierra Leone

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here http://african-angels.blogspot.com. Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.

Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.

I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.

What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.

Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.

At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.

After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.

Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.

 

Christopher Mertens and myself outside of Corby Hall on the Notre Dame campus in October 2010

There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.

I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.

+RNL

 

 

 

 

 

 

GREAT SCOTT!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).

Governor Rick Scott meets with the Florida Bishops

What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.

On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.

We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.

The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.

Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.

The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.

Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.

+RNL