Sunday, November 1, 2015

Voices You May Not Have Heard about the Pope's Visit

Compiled by Robert R. Schwarz,  Exodus Trekker 
author and former newspaper editor

Note: The complete text of Pope Francis' address 
to the United States Congress on Sept. 24, 2015
 appears at the end of this article.

Comments  from here and there…
He's uniting all the faiths… Monica Iken-Murphy, whose husband died in the 9-11 attacks—as quoted in The Wall Street Journal

But this visit is also a spiritual and cultural event. Millions of Americans will display their faith in public. Francis will offer doctrinal instruction for Catholics. But the great gift is the man himself — his manner, the way he carries himself. Specifically, Francis offers a model on two great questions: How do you deeply listen and learn? How do you uphold certain moral standards, while still being loving and merciful to those you befriend?...David Brooks, New York Times columnist

This pope resonates with the Jewish community as a man of openness…  Marc B. Spector , member of a Hebrew congregation on Long Island, New York—as quoted in the Wall Street Journal

We need more people like the Pope. I watched him just about every moment, and I'm not a Catholic.  I think he's an amazing person , and he had messages for all of us. I hope he returns to the  United States and that he continues to speak out. He's speaking out on some major issues facing this world…Dan Makuen,  retired  university dean of students, now a  history story-teller in Ellis Bay, Wisconsin

 I wish that the pope had given more recognition to the way free-market economic principles have been a blessing to the  global poor. He is  right to call out the church and the culture to care for the poor, but I think he minimizes the way that free-market principles have lifted many of the  world's poorest people from poverty… Russell Moore, writer at  the Southern Baptist Convention , as quoted in the Wall Street Journal

To both countries, the answer to anti-Catholic atheism and materialism is the same. The Pope brings a message of mercy. This mercy is not a sentimental laxity. It is not a warm embrace of an indulgent father who could care less about his children. Instead, for those who listen closely, the Holy Father’s message of mercy will be tough love. He is very likely to challenge the continued human-rights abuses in Cuba and the greed, immorality and violence in the United States…National Catholic Register  editorial

It can be hard for some people to understand the pope's positions. But we trust that, if people listen and watch carefully what the pope says and  does, everybody is going to be reassured that the pope is leading the church the right way. He's applying the Gospel  to today's' world…the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

From Arlington Heights, Illinois…
The anticipation having our Pope visit the Americas was so exciting.  About 30 years ago I saw Pope John Paul II in Rome when he celebrated Mass and rode around in the Pope-mobile.  The tears ran down my face in excitement,  and I felt so much pride to be a Catholic. Even though I didn't see Pope Francis in person, just seeing him on TV brought the same pride to be part of his family and watching brought tears of joy.   

This man was certainly sent to us from God, his words and actions, the way he reached out to hold and kiss babies, the way he touched everyone in the crowds with the love he expressed to all was so beautiful. Wherever he went, the people couldn't get enough of him.  They were enthusiastic and respectful, jubilant and joyous.

I can only pray that this feeling knowing there is GOOD in this world, continue and reach all in Chicago.  We all need to keep this feeling alive long after our Holy Father is back in Rome.  He has brought out the best in so many people with his messages.  He said it the way it should be.  Now it is our turn to see that his message gets heard and acted upon…  Bonnie Minaglia-Lombardi , St. James parish …

Watched the entire morning with the Pope addressing the joint session of Congress.
Hands down he was apolitical. His speech was a spiritual Home Run. Much happier with him today… His speech in Philadelphia was profoundly wise. My take:  This pope was raised and cultivated in a communist state with communist prejudice about America. He got here and may have realized that he had to adjust his understanding of Satan America. It seems that he did…
 Theodore Morrison  Homa, Md, St. James Parish…

He inspired me to be prophetic, to be called to serve at every opportunity. It's a happiness to think that I can finish my life in the service of others, if I can only be half the religious person he is. It gives me something to shoot for, and that's not a game to be won…Don Grossnickle, deacon, Our Lady of Wayside parish…

Just a few comments and observations regarding the Pope's visit. It was quite obvious that the people took to him with great interest and pleasure. His various talks were almost like sermons.. He did not preach as such, but spoke with caution and understanding of problems. There did not seem to be any "warnings", but suggestions and comments for improvement. He did not offer
solutions as such, but definitely pointed out where situations needed attention. I think that the fact that he spoke in English with some difficulty, made it all the more reason to listen attentively. He deserves an "A"  overall…Stanley Szott, St. James Parish …

I was so blessed by Pope Francis’s visit to America! I was able to see him on Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, Pa , and I was surrounded by my family and friends.  What really strikes me about Pope Francis is his actions speak loud! He loves and shows this by each embrace he gave to the convicts he met in the prison as he told them he was their brother.  That moment captures how loudly his actions speak to the rest of the world. I felt loved by him, even though I was a person in a sea of people…Sr. Faustina Ferko, director of youth ministry, St. James parish… 

I remember sitting on a plane flying home from California last year when I entered into a conversation with the passenger next to me. He had seen that I was reading the Pope’s “Joy of the Gospel.” This man was not a Catholic, in fact, not even a Christian, but he began to engage in a seemingly well informed conversation about Pope Francis. He seemed to know much more about Jorge Mario Bergoglio than I did. That’s when I realized I needed to delve more deeply into who this new Pope is and what he has to share with us. So when the opportunity came up to travel to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and to attend the Festival of Families and Mass with the Pope, of course I was eager to go!

The World Meeting of Families was well run. There were many opportunities to get “tooled up” for ministry, but more importantly, it gave me a moment to think about my own faith development and beliefs. Families are so complex. The family is an integral structure of society and the primary means for individuals to experience the reality of God. What vehicle is more powerful to invite us into loving relationships, relationships where we actually come to know God because we are cherished, because we belong, because there are human arms to embrace and hold us, because others do not give up on us despite our shortcomings, where forgiveness heals, and where joy and laughter create memories that bind? Of course, this is not always our experience, but I think what Pope Francis does is remind us that this is what families can be for one another. The theme for the week was “Love is our Mission: The family fully alive.” One woman remarked to me, “Pope Francis makes me want to be a better person.” That is how I think of Jesus!

So even though I was happy to be going to Philly, I did not anticipate getting so swept up in the excitement and anticipation of seeing the Pope. We arrived at the grounds for the Festival of Families on Saturday at least five hours before the event. There was this crowd swell of hope the closer we got to the Pope’s arrival. He actually arrived once the sun had set, so they had to use this huge spot light on the back of a truck in front of the Pope mobile so that people could see him. It created a rather ethereal picture as he rode by. Sr. Faustina and I were right at the fence of the road he was on. I think of him as the “cute Pope.”He looks more like a grandpa than the Vicar of Christ! (I mean no disrespect!) People just could not contain their joy! It seems so appropriate that this particular pope speaks so much about joy and encounter. This is exactly what he embodies!...JoAnne Mullen-Muhr , director of faith formation , St. James parish…
(Starting Dec. 6 : "Interviews about Family,
an Indefinable Core of Humanity  " )

All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz


United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Friends,
I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.
Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. 

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead. 

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.
God bless America!

 © Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Poverty Behind a Race Track...Is There Something We Can Learn ( and soon ) from the Poor ?

By Robert R. Schwarz

POOR: Having few or no material possessions; wanting
means to procure the comforts,   or the necessities of life;
so destitute as to be dependent upon gifts or allowances
for subsistence. ( The Oxford English Dictionary )

There's a sense in our culture that  those  who
have [ more possessions and education ] are in
someway superior to those who don't.
( James Bannon, deacon )

            I'm turning 81 soon and will have eliminated a top  bucket list item that has dogged me for decades as a retired  journalist: It's a deeper understanding of those who live  in poverty. Had I been graced with  less journalistic detachment , I would have assigned my staff more stories about poor people. I regret that I did not .
 In writing this report about the subculture of race track "residents"  less than two miles from my upper middle-class suburban home in Arlington Heights, Illinois ,  I am   grateful,  however, for  certain memories of poor people with whom I have interacted during past  decades. I can  vividly recall  "hard times" of people in a high  crime neighborhood  while  a young police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau  and also the poorest of the poor in Calcutta when with Mother Teresa during my global trek, as leadership development manager for Lions Clubs International. Other insights come from  a tour of  the hellish Soweto slum in then  apartheid-afflicted  South Africa; sharing soup with a widow in her South  Korea  hut; a  rag-dressed  child  in the middle of a downtown Manila intersection holding out her hand to me as my taxi paused at a traffic light;  and a dirt-poor family in western Arkansas whom I knew for several months when they  helped my retired father renovate our family's falling-down barn and house which never had had plumbing indoors.

"Maria" , as all Back Stretch residents, is required to
cook outside her dwelling. 
  These memories stirred me relentlessly soon after my  neighborhood block party . At the time I knew very little about  the race track  "Back Stretch . "  But during this merriment of 50 or more  neighbors, and despite the abundance of catered food, the resplendence of dress, perfectly pruned parkway Elms and Lindens, and the infectious cheerfulness coming from those who laid claim to a perfect night's sleep,  I became discomforted . It wasn't any  patrician guilt  about being in the midst of worldly happiness undeserving of any  hard times . Rather, it was a pall I sensed of lukewarm-ness  covering our street . It made me think of two neighborhood  suicides during the last decade , those  marriages  which I suspected were wretchedly  painful,   and  the presence of our  nearby hospital, which always seemed to have a neighbor friend in Intensive Care whom rarely had a neighbor visitor.  And then there were those brazen five daylight burglaries in a six-month span  in which a band of  ethnic "gypsies"—so  labeled  by   police —who,  with lightning-fast precision ,  had violently broke into security-guarded ,  million dollar homes. Our innocent,  felony-free neighborhood reacted as if its social virginity had been violated. I was among my neighbors at  a meeting called by our police to calm  future fears, and  the most vociferous complaint was from a neighbor who chastised our local newspaper for reporting the true  value of his  stolen wristwatch.
Something began to hound me the next day; it was   engendered by  the simple yet  ominous  question I had heard , on television,  posed to a huge  outdoor  audience by Pope Francis as he stood in drenching rain during  one of his recent world visits.
                        "How can the poor help you?"  the pope asked a  crowd composed largely of middle-class  people. Presumably among them were critics, as there had been in several Western countries—the United States included—who thought the pope's  stand on giving a higher priority to helping  the world's poor, bordered on Socialism . Apparently  Pope Francis that day did not offer an answer  to  his curious question .
It was Pope Benedict's address in 2005 to the Roman Curia (which a friend handed me ) that started me  interviewing the  people you'll read about here .   In his rather grim  " state of the union" address, Benedict stated: "The very future of the world is at stake "  and , following his comments about world's current  vulnerability to social, economic, and spiritual collapse, came his  prophetic utterance : "The sun is setting  on the West. "  He really meant it.
            My ageless hound had caught up with me. I now wanted very much an answer to that  elusive question , one which would likely take me into waters over my head, for I was no sociologist. But I sought to know—then hopefully report—what we  can and must learn from the poor if we Americans  are to cope  with our country's future.  It was the thought of an apocalyptic sun dipping behind the horizon of Western  civilization which now  impelled me to visit the  Back Stretch  .          
Making Life a 'Little Less  Miserable'
For Maria , a Back Stretch Resident
            "Your chaplain is expecting me," I told the security guard at  the end  of a private road leading into a rear area seldom seen by patrons of Arlington race track,   known  nationwide for its classy architecture, dining and  cocktail facilities,   and annual  million dollar purse.  The guard waved me in, and I drove to a short distance to the track's   Internet Café,  a fast-food  oasis for the track's 1,800  itinerant,  mostly Mexican  residents  whose homes change with the racing seasons.
            Walking through  the café towards the chaplain's "office", I entered an active  environment of  excited shouts in Spanish from  four men playing pool  and several others watching  a live-streaming Arlington race on each of  three elevated  televisions  sets . A few feet away were some telephone  booths for placing bets. I  wondered how much of  their weekly minimum  wage they  were betting.   
            Luis Trevino, a  73-year-old  Catholic deacon,  met me and escorted me into a  colorless, all-purpose  room that reminded me of a large closet . There were a  few mismatched chairs and cafeteria-style tables  crammed together to make room for whatever was currently scheduled.  I was naturally  anxious to hear what  Luis had to say about what can be learned from poor people. He  pulled out a couple of chairs and a table and we  sat down.  Luis  was cheerful and appeared  eager to  talk about  the Back Stretch  residents . All of them , he said,  had a working  role here : dads groomed  and  fed the horses ,  their sons  walked them  between  3 and  4 a.m.  and moms did  what most moms do—with  one-star rated appliances, of course—they cleaned, cooked, and washed clothes . "My mission, " Luis said, "is to make life a little less miserable for them."
     Luis has been a deacon here  23 years—without compensation, he said—officiating at weddings and funerals  and assisting a priest, when one is available,  the 7 p.m. Sunday Mass held in this room. " The faith of the Hispanic people is really strong, " he said.  "We'll soon have 65 children confirmed ."  A month ago he and his wife attended a world  conference for race track  chaplains in Rome  , where Pope Francis blessed him on his 50th wedding anniversary.   The Trevino's have  three children and three grandchildren.
       I perceived Luis to be a  work-weary man , especially when he said,  " My biggest challenge here is that I'm getting old.  I would like to start lining up a few candidates to take over for me. " He once was sponsored by a nearby church  but now, he said, " I'm like Noah , just floating. "  Luis was born in Monterrey, Mexico , immigrated  to Chicago to join his father and two older brothers help  run a small printing  shop.   " I was just a puppy of 18 then , " he said.
     Joven , como está ? " (youngster, how are you ? ) .  Outside, he pointed at a nearby tree.  " Years  ago we did our  church services under that tree " , and smiling, added, "with  the smell of horse droppings from that pile over  there ." 
Deacon Luis  making rounds as he has for 23 years .
    Luis rose from the  table . " Come on , I'll give you’re a tour  of the place."  . As we exited through the Internet Café,  he  greeted everyone regardless of age: "
            I told Luis I had a silly question about the crime rate here.  " Zero, " he said. " But when I came  here there was a killing or two every year. Now, since they have allowed me to   give them some spiritual help , everything is okay. " 
            We walked down  a long dirt corridor , past a single, two-level row of small , barrack-style dwellings. Outside,  children were playing with a variety of inflated toys and a soccer ball  or   two. At a long table sat several  families eating and making merry like  those families on  television commercials  for Italian food. " Most families have three or four kids, but everybody has some kind of a job here, " Luis said.  "They move out when the horses do ," he said, referring to the track's May to September season .  
 Rent is included in whatever small salary they make , he said . When asked for a dollar amount, he  replied, " I don't want to get into that , but they are very poor. " People drop off  clothing for them, which Luis hands out.  
            I hesitated to ask but did:  " Luis, tell me, how are these people different from you and me. " He obviously welcome the question, especially when I told him his comments would  be read  on my Exodus Trekkers blog in several European and two African countries.
            " For starters, " he began, "we don't pray the same way. You and I might pray for a lighter load in life; these guys will also pray to Jesus but ask for a stronger back. They don't want God to  give them anything except to place  them somewhere where they can work for it. They don't need to go on  any ego trip. But one thing they do have  is family unity . For them, family comes first, then  their  job, and then church.  The biggest thing to give these people is education. Most can not read write even Spanish. "         
         We continued to walk and talk about poverty. " To me,"  Luis said, "a rich person is someone who doesn’t need much to survive. These people here are on a survival mission, not only for themselves but for their families back home [ in Mexico ]. There is a unity here; no one is more important than the other one. " 
            We paused at a door and Luis knocked . " I'll show you poverty, " he said.  A woman named  Señora Maria , perhaps 50 years of age , opened and immediately  welcomed  her  amigo Luis.  She spoke no English . My Spanish was  rusty but usable.  Luis asked if we could come in , that I would like to ask her a few questions take some photographs for an article. " Claro, que si, "  Maria, replied quickly.
The younger set of  the Back Stretch  1,800 "residents "
We  entered a cement floor dwelling  with a single room  no larger than twelve by twelve feet. Alongside a simple  bed at  the far wall was a  small table with an unlit candle next to a sacramental of  the Virgin Mary. On the opposite wall a  small sink and equally  small  refrigerator had been squeezed in . Near the door was the home's only widow, on which  hung a clean but tattered  curtain, and next to that was Maria's closet: a  pole of some sort  on which hung two or three clothing  garments. I saw neither toilet nor stove.   
            " Where do you cook?" I asked Maria , glancing quizzically at Luis.
            "You saw the grill outside the  door, " he said. "They are not allowed to cook inside. "
            "No one ? "  I asked.
            Maria nodded. We talked for several minutes  . In spite of some leading questions ,  Maria had nothing negative to say about anything in her life, though I'm sure she too had a bucket list.  Maria apologetically said she had an appointment with an ill neighbor and  invited us to return later.  
Outside, I took a photograph of three small, well cultivated  vegetable gardens growing beans and tomatoes . Their organic beauty seemed to be  defying what  encircled them :the  nearby tall weeds , a battered metal fence , and a tidy pile of various  junked items,  none of which,  I imagined ,  would ever become absolutely useless.   Beyond the horizon of the  racetrack compound and less than a quarter mile away  cars streaming by on  Illinois 53, and a  few hundred yards southeast of  this  toll way was the towering Randhurst  shopping center. Again I thought:  What can we learn  from    these people?   
" What can we learn, Luis?
"I  learn more from them than what I can give them,  " he said. "ow t  How to be humble. How to appreciate what God has given me. "  Luis expression remained serious.  " Why don't you come  and see more at next Sundays' Mass ?  We'll have a priest "
When Wall Street stocks later began  plummeting historical lows,  I made an effort to focus on  Maria's  humility and apparent fortitude  and on  Luis'  belief that a well-functioning  family  should be one's  highest life priority  . I also reflected on the  Back Stretch men praying   for a stronger back , not a lighter load.  Would my own  future prayers ask for more humility and a willingness and  fortitude  to live with less ?  Honestly, maybe not .  Would I now be just a  bit more prepared to cope with that "setting sun"?   I think so.
Mass in Spanish by the Irish Priest
I  met Fr. Matt Foley at 6:30 p.m. outside his parish office, and he  drove us to the Back
Fr. Matt at the 7 p.m. Sunday Mass 
Stretch. Fr. Matt is 53—he looks several years younger, owing no   doubt to his  frequent gym workouts—and is no stranger to poverty  . Each year he uses his two-week vacation as a volunteer  chaplain for  a dental mission to indigenous farmers in a mountainous region in Mexico . He's also pastored a church in  Chicago's West Side, where he comforted families at funerals said for murdered Hispanic gang members . And prior to coming to St. James as its pastor, he made four deployments to Afghanistan as a U.S. Army chaplain  with a captain's rank.
We parked in front of the Internet Café and took a walk before meeting Luis in  his"office" , which had become a chapel. As we strolled down the long row of dwellings, Fr. Matt, dressed in priestly black,  greeted people continuously—he speaks fluent Spanish.   Many of the kids appeared shy of a priest,  but Fr. Matt's smile invited them to interact with him. When  they did, he  beamed. Fr Matt was obviously in love with his ministry  and wanted everyone around him to know that  here was an outsider, a priest who really cared for them.  I once had asked Fr. Matt what stirred his heart: "I get moved by the Holy Spirit when I see beautiful things, like when children  pray for family and friends. That moves me to the core of my being. "
            When  we at last entered the  chapel,  paper hymnals were being handed out . The room was packed with people of all ages; I counted 35 adults and 15 youths.   Fr. Matt and Deacon Luis were, of course ,  disheartened to once more see this usual  number of Mass attendees . Still,  every  chair was taken,  and one family had to stand and another to sit on  the floor. Families wore a variety of  clothing , clean and ironed .
            The altar was a small white table covered with a white cotton cloth. On it would soon  be the communion sacraments of a  chalice of wine and  a container of wheat hosts. Propped up against the altar  table on the floor was a large print of  Our Lady of Guadalupe (the title of the Virgin Mary associated with a celebrated  pictorial image housed in a basilica in Mexico City ). The print was flanked by  two vases with long stem roses and pink and white flowers.
       First Communion sacrament and blessing from Fr. Matt.  The Mass ended when, after  dollar bills were tossed one after another into  a wicker basket passed by a teenage girl everyone sang Vienen con Alegri  ( " They Come with Joy " ) .
Confirmation day for these three at their bare-bones chapel
     The theme of Fr. Matt's Spanish-spoken homily was the "bread of life",  soon followed by communion  in which all family members  walked one by one  to the altar to receive from the priest and  deacon Luis the " body and blood " of Christ.  I looked at the bunker-like, unpainted walls that seem to entomb us and at the only  light source  coming from four florescent light bulbs and at the water leaking down from a ceiling  air-conditioner  making muddy shoe streaks on  the floor. None of this , I felt, diminished  the solemnity of this hour. Faces expressed this solemnity , especially the children's faces when a dozen of them encircled the small altar for their
And in Tanzania…'Giving Joy and Peace Is All about Friendship'
      Gazing at a setting  sun one evening from my backyard lounge chair, I  began to worry—as was expected—about the unrelenting Wall Street tsunami currently  hitting stock prices. My worries eventually incited me to answer  Pope Francis'   question about what can be learned from the poor. It was one of those insights I get when  my analytical thinking isn't concealing  a simple  truth like: The poor can  teach us how live with less.
            But I needed someone who could expand on this ; and who better than the African-born priest residing in the St. James rectory, Fr. Gilbert Mashurano  from Tanzania .   
            We met in his parish office. Fr. Gilbert is 34   and hails from the Haya tribe and was  raised in a  village (  near Lake Victoria  ) of an estimated 30,000   people .   His priestly studies at  the Salvatorian Institute in Tanzania included Aristotle, Plato, and saints  Augustine  and Aquinas. His priestly formation , he told me, actually began with his grandmother teaching him the virtues of honest labor in the home and on farm land.
            " In my village of Bwajai,"  he said,  " poor people tend to do more things together. They walk together, work together. They live good lives because they depend on one another .  The spirit of the poor is : I need you and you need me . "  He added, though, that  the beauty of this spirit often  diminishes as poor people gain affluence. 
              " We are mostly farmers and don't get to see our neighbors very often, " Fr. Gilbert continued.  "So, on Sundays  our church becomes a community center. But we also acknowledge God during the week while doing ordinary things. We see blessings happening all the time. "  He pointed out that his village has no homeless people and that its residents don't lock their doors or have any need for police.
            He returned to the topic of people needing people to be happy.  " I think personal friendships in Tanzania are stronger than here.  We share things with our neighbors, like giving them a melon or piece of clothing we have just purchased at the store. If our neighbor is ill, we  knock on his door and inquire about  him. And if he has died,  one or more of us will spend a week living with the family in support ."
            The bond between parents and their children is stronger in his native country, Fr. Gilbert believes.   " And the kids obey and respect their parents more.  We don't  push our children to be independent . "      
            Our talk ended with Fr. Gilbert making a philosophical observation. "Poverty is not what you possess in your hand but what you have in your heart or mind. "  Changing people and giving joy and peace to their lives  is   all about friendship, "  he said. 
I didn't know at the time that a few weeks ago Fr. Gilbert  practiced what he preaches about friendship when he brought a group of St. James students to the Back Stretch for a face-to-face visit with its children there.
' Greater than Any Treasure the Emperor Could Possess '
            Well, I've learned how the poor can help me . For one thing , if the stock market crashes as it did during that Great Depression of 1929-39,  I won't leap off  city skyscrapers—which several despairing  people actually did . Nor will  I moan  if I can't buy a certain software app for my computer or be unable to take my wife to our favorite restaurant on a holidays.  And  if my particular life trek gets very bumpy , I'll l try hard not to complain about the absence of all those can't-live-without amenities . I might think, however, of those murmuring ancient Hebrews being  so ungrateful and forgetful about being miraculously  rescued at the Red Sea  and then  promised a future land of milk and honey.  
            Along with the Back Stretch people, Luis and Frs. Matt and Gilbert and I will probably stumble more than once during our own Exodus toward  our  final freedom. But, hopefully. we'll keep in mind words from  Pope Francis like:  "Poverty is precisely at the heart of the Gospel…[and ] the mystery of Christ who lowered himself, was humiliated and made himself poor in order to enrich us."
In 258 A.D. , the Roman emperor Valerian demanded that a deacon named Lawrence  bring all the treasures of the Christian church to him.  Lawrence, who was later martyred and made a saint —he was roasted alive on a gridiron— responded by bringing to the emperor all the widowed, the maimed, and lepers, proclaiming  that  these  people " were greater than any treasure the emperor could possess. "
Deacon Luis  and wife ( on left ) receive a blessing from Pope Francis
on their 50th wedding anniversary in Rome.. They had been invited to a world
conference of race track chaplains. 

Beginning Nov. 1 : "Voices You May Not  Have
about the Pope's Visit "
All comments are welcome.

© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz