Saturday, July 1, 2017

How a 3-Day Getaway Led to an Unexpected Marriage Support Group at a Victorian B&B

By Robert R. Schwarz

                        Marriage is that relation between man and woman
                        in  which the independence is equal, the dependence
                        mutual, and the obligation reciprocal.  ( Louis Anspacher,
                        in an address in Boston, Dec. 30, 1934 )

            Two weeks ago my wife Mary Alice and I took a deserved get-away to Muskegon , Michigan; it meant no cleaning nor cooking for her and , for me, the absence of  emails and phone calls from solicitors who dodge the  Illinois attorney's  "do not call registry. "  We took the six-hour drive from Chicago …
Fred and Barb with pets  Oscar and Victoria outside
their BandB in Muskegon , Michigan 

            With Muskegon Lake now  lapping waves a few hundred yards behind us (Lake Michigan was   three miles away ) , we were gazing at the porch  of the Port City Victorian Inn , enjoying an architect's romantic  dream  of a Victorian mansion.  It was built by a lumber baron in 1858  whose will left tons of money to the Muskegon community in gratitude for the tons and tons of trees he had cut down in that area.

            We were here to sleep past six a.m. later, embrace  raw nature , and maybe shop a bit. Nevertheless, by habit as a journalist, I had packed  my camera and voice recorder ,  yet hoping I'd see nothing compelling  to write about. That  hope would soon be dashed. We were ushered in by Barbara Schossau , who with her husband Fred, own and manage the Victorian Inn. Barb (Fred called her that ) is a cheerful  lady , and  she greeted us with raised arms and a "hallelujah" ( meaning,  thank God you found our place !). 
            In the dinning room  with suitcase still in hand, I glanced at a  plaque on the  wall  that read :  CHRIST IS THE  HEAD OF THIS HOUSE, THE UNSEEN GUEST IN EVERY ROOM.  I was surprised to see such an evangelical profession in a resort town BandB.  Well, with the theme of my Internet blog ( Exodus Trekkers )  about some people's lives today  being reminiscent of those ancient Hebrews who trekked a desert to flee  bondage, I had to ask Barb, still waiting for  me to let go of my suitcase , " Are you serious about that?"  I pointed at the plaque.  Mary Alice frowned at my question.
            " We certainly are," she  said , obviously pleased with my question. 

            I knew the fun of  our getaway would be less than  expected.

            Barbara's husband , Fred , suddenly entered the room carrying a screwdriver and a  cell phone.  " The rug people will be here at  nine tomorrow , Barb. Okay ? " He flashed a smile at my wife and me. 

Barb , when interrupted  with her kitchen work
   " Yes," Barb replied,  then turned to us.  " You'll have to excuse us. We're laying new carpeting and having a new stove and kitchen counter put in.  You're  our only guests now . Our season doesn't really start 'til  June. So, you won't need a room key."

            Barb and Fred, as we eventually observed, were meant to have  their own B&B.  She is 79, attractive and  white-haired and a  vigorous conversationalist with her guests, sometimes while simultaneously  multi-tasking in this five-bedroom home . Fred is 68,  a story-teller of  Muskegon history who brings low-keyed humor to the guest breakfast table . He was especially busy this week using the  handyman skills he learned as a director of facilities for a Michigan school district. A metal plate supports one of his  shoulders, owing to some tough labor as a youth in a steel factory.  

            Fred and Barb returned to their chores , and May Alice and sat down in the BandB living room and were greeted by two Yorkshire Terriers, "Victoria " and   "Oscar"  who, we had be advised, were friendly but attention-demanding .  They were  cute and fluffy and very small (bite-size for a  fox ) .   Oscar kept trying to jump up on my lap but couldn't quite make it. "Doesn’t he know by now that he can't do it ," I said to Mary Alice .

            "Pick him up, "  she said. I did, and Oscar  quickly cuddled on my lap . Each time  I paused my petting,  the  dog  clawed at my hand, demanding I resume the affection.  

            When Victoria make a  successful leap onto my wife's lap,  she , being an artist and art teacher,  shooed him off . At the  moment, she  wanted no distraction from her visual intimacy with the   Victorian-era antiques , such as embroidered chairs , love seats,  lamp shades with dangling lace, and the  ceramic statuary imported from Germany (  Fred had ancestry there ).  Mary Alice's eyes also scanned  prints on the walls of famous Victorian-era oil paintings , several depicting Biblical themes .  My eye, when not on Oscar's demanding paw, went to the  beveled glass windows, a hundred-year-old clock ( I saw Fred later wind it ) , and  the staircase spindles and flooring made of natural oak wood.

            Twenty minutes later, we were in our room upstairs; each square foot of the room reflected an  antiquity , I'm sure, once comforted the palace guests of  Queen Ann Victoria herself.  I fell asleep   that night wondering how to get Fred and Barb to talk about that plaque on the wall . ( I had met a few people in life who , for self-serving—usually business—motives, advertized themselves as Christians.  )

Fred winding his 100-year-old clock 
   Fred served breakfast and accepted our invitation to join us . We had a fresh  fruit compote , followed by sausage, waffles, and an egg omelet , prepared by  Barb in a kitchen now under disconcerting renovation.  That skepticism of the last night was rekindled we ate and went  shopping ,  and Mary Alice bought a blouse from a lady wearing very observable necklace with a cross.  When  I handed her my credit card , I sincerely and politely asked ( as I often due in our travels to start a friendly conversation with a fellow Christian ) stranger ) , " Oh, I see you're a Christian  lady. What church do you attend  ?"                                                                               ( I am  planning a future article about  ecumenism ) .

Glad I Brought a Voice Recorder
            That night Mary Alice and I  retired to the BandB living room , along with Oscar and Victoria and their still  insatiable need  for affection. Barb soon joined us , apologizing for all the renovation commotion  and catching her breath from her day-long labors.

            " I never thought of turning this home into a  BandB , but the real estate agent kept talking and talking about the history of this house  and soon had me thinking about tearing down walls, " Barb said. She mention a few notable guests which included the French  ambassador and a psychiatrist wearing an earring  who pulled up in his  motorcyclist and immediately hugged Barb at first sight, exclaiming,  "You must be Barb ! " 

             A few minutes later Fred  sat down , and the four of us became good listeners and candid conversationalists. Little  by little mutual  trust went deeper, considering we were strangers to each other yesterday.    We talked for at least three hours ( until the dogs fell asleep  and Fred's antique clock chimed eleven times ) . We senior citizens were way past our bedtimes. 

            Fred and Barb told  us they had  been married 26 years , without  children ;  a previous marriage by both had given Fred produced three sons and a daughter, 14 grand children, and  two great-grandchildren;   for Barb, it also was  three sons and a daughter , and  13 grand children, and 15 great grand children.  

            I asked Barb what, if anything, made her sad. "I wish  that I had spoken up more when young .I never felt loved by Mom and regret not taking to her about it."

            "Nothing makes me sad, " Fred said . He saw my look of disbelief and added, "I find things saddening., like all the bad news in the world.  I don't like ISIS, and I'm glad we have a president who wants to eradicate it. That's a noble  goal. "

            Instinctively,  we knew any follow up to Fred's last words  were to be avoided for    the sake of group harmony . 

            " So  then what makes you happy  Fred? " I asked;

            "The first thing I do when I  wake  up in the morning is thank the Lord for a new day. : He paused for a thought…"And also a good dinner made by Barb. She's an excellent cook . "         " What about you, Barb" " I asked.

            " Getting along with my husband,  " she said with a faint  smile.

            We  laughed. 

            Barb and Fred said they never get angry, " Just upset, " Barb said.

          know Him . I felt  very empty on the inside. I got  down on my knees one day and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart. "
One of the many Victorian-era art
pieces in the Schossau  BandB
  It was time to ask  about that plaque on the wall  and opened the door for it by asking Barb and Fred if they had had any transformative or epiphany moments in their lives .   Fred said he quit high school when a sophomore and discovered two things while serving for three years in the Navy :  " I wasn't going any place without an education , and  I knew about God but  really didn't

            Fred said  his life  was influenced by Vernon McGee ,  an old time radio  preacher and   ordained Presbyterian minister who , with his Thru the Bible Radio Network program, took his listeners from  Genesis to Revelation in  two and a half  years of broadcasts.. Fred would listen to them  in his car while on lunch break from his steel factory job.

            Barb quickly chimed in:  " I was attracted to Fred because the very first time I saw him, he was carrying a Bible ."  The couple courted for two years. " Thereafter, I  couldn't put the Bible down. " 

             What's kept their marriage  going for 26 years ?  Quipped Fred, " She's a pretty girl. "  Barb  liked that.  " And I love her.  I've been blessed to be with this lady." She liked that even more.

            And tips for newly weds ?  "  Don't  give up, " Barb offered. "Just keep on struggling. Any time you're down or depressed, tell the Lord to take it  away."

            It was Fred's   turn: " Follow the path of the Lord. Barb and I have a common goal        here. It's not always happy or jubilant, but we stay steadfast and we do it. " For those bumps in the road and "off days", he advised a couple to keep the faith.

            Barb spiked her advice with humor likely  applicable  to marriage veterans: " We just yell at each other back and forth. You just finally let it go , and tomorrow  is a new day, you know. "

            Perhaps the biggest bump in the Schossau's  marriage was those  15 years Fred  was on the road with his work as a hospital engineer. Though Barb closed the BandB during winter to be wherever her husband was, Fred divided his four-weeks of employment vacation by coming home on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and  his birthday.Barb chuckled when asked if she ever got lonely . " No, " she replied with mock defiance. " I was too busy working.He would call me on weekends and say, ' Barb, I miss you…when are you coming ? '  I' d answer, Fred, I don't even have time to talk. I've got rooms to clean." Then she would  turn up the phone's speaking volume and lay it on the bed or chair and talk to Fred as she continued  working.  

In  the living room during our long conversation 
    But  when   her husband did come home after a long absence, surely  his wife would fix him a special dinner?  Barb accepted  my tease: " Oh, yes , " she said.  "I would tell  Fred to fix that facet, fix that, and fix this…" 
            I asked Fred what role does  religion play  in his marriage . Before he could reply, Barb said,  " As a child, I grew up in the Catholic church but in my first marriage  we never went to church, and I miss that.  I was a very broken girl when I first met Fred. He  has taught me so much. " 

            Fred told me he used to hold a Bible class in this  BandB . " Really ? " I  said. " How did that come about ? " ow did

            " Well, one day as came from the kitchen to serve several  guests at the table,  I was pleasantly surprised to see them all holding hands and praying. "     

            Fred offered no details other  than telling me all the guests had been strangers to each other since their arrival .He doesn't know what prompted the prayer. e di He did explain, however, that he doesn't talk about religion to any guest unless  "they invite it " and then he  will be tactfully outspoken  (especially regarding his faith in Jesus ) and respectful of whatever their faith or denomination is.  
            When I again asked him about his personal religious beliefs,  he replied, " I don't have a religion. I've always been non-denominational. "  He and Barb attend the community  Celebration Church  in Muskegon. then added in a conversational tone, " Jesus is the absolute reason I live. I talk to Him day and night. He's constantly on my mind, and I read His word almost every day. "

             " Fred has taught me so much," Barb said. 

            "And how we are  to relate to the world as  Christians, " Fred added  .  He put closure on our evening with  the opinion that all of us were living in  the end  days of this world . I nodded. .

Fred and Barb wanted a snapshot of the journalist and his wife
          I was holding my wife's hand as we were crossing Lake Michigan on a car ferry heading for  Milwaukee and,  I said, "Honey,  it's good that Barb and Fred and you and me are different  in several ways  but as for me,  I  do believe we have something in common that's  awfully important . "

            Mary Alice squeezed my hand.
The End

All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz

            e H

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lies of Coyotes and Hellish Days Propel Refugees Across Desert to Our Border

By Robert R. Schwarz

Note:  For reasons of   security and
ongoing  legal proceedings,  a name
or two has been changed .

                                   '  I heard something that moved my  heart so deeply
  that I could no longer live my life the way I had been
                                     living it. ' (  A priest's epiphany on a migrant  desert trail )

I love America .  I feel like this is my country. But if
  I had known what would have happened to me, I never
                                  would have come.   ( Francisco M. , a Mexican immigrant
                                  prayer vigil outside an immigrant detention center  in
                                  Broadview, Illinois  )

                                    It is clear that after  all this [ persecution and torture ]  , I can
                                    never build a normal decent life in Egypt…I've become a
                                    religious pariah…My cell phone, my Facebook account and
                                    that of my best friends are monitored …My father belongs to  
                                    to an extreme Islamic movement. ( a declaration of Ammon   A. ,
                                    a Christian , prior to his fleeing  to Lebanon and then to the
                                    Chicago area )                                    

                                    To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for
                                    the happiness that is proper to every human being,
                                    a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For
                                    us Christians , all human life is an itinerant
                                    journey towards our heavenly homeland.  ( Pope Francis ) 

Weekly prayer vigil outside immigration detention center
      On a chilly April morning this year, Deacon Pierce Sheehan, his wife Midge, and I took a 45-minute drive from our Arlington Heights, Illinois homes  to the  Broadview Immigration Detention Center outside Chicago . There we joined  a 7:15  prayer vigil group of  35 people at the  steps of a dismal looking building  with an adjacent parking lot guarded by  a barbwire gate . We held hands with clergy, nuns ,an  attorney and  family members of  detained  immigrants awaiting a court hearing  and likely deportation to Mexico. We  prayed  in English and Spanish . The attorney , Royal Berg, prayed that President Trump and Congress  "would pass compassionate immigration reform."  Then  the group prayed the Rosary and , after each decade, sang the  hymnal refrain , Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
            The group, founded by two nuns 11 years ago , meets each  Friday and , on the month's first  Friday , their includes people of different ] denominations, including those of the  Jewish faith.  Family visits to their loved ones  had been discontinued a month ago to eliminate emotional scenes which have attracted the media, according to Deacon Sheehan. Visits to the more than hundred Broadview detainees   are now made to a  detention center in Kankakee, Illinois , nearly 60 miles away. 
            The Pierce's have been visiting Broadview for 16 months , motivated after  their church trip to the border town of Nogales, Arizona where they were   "touched"  by the shocking  needs of Mexican families and refugees .    
            That morning , I spoke to  Francisco M.,  who was awaiting an August  court appearance for  illegal entry into the United States.  Francisco   is 37, married , and the owner of a heating and cooling business on Chicago's   West Side. He wife manages a bank branch. With the misguided help of a " coyote "  ( often an unscrupulous Mexican guide  who profits from helping  his fellow countrymen illegally cross the border to the United States, ) , he entered this country in 1999 . As Francisco related it to me,  the coyote promised him that could simply  gain legal  entry by telling immigration border   guards  he was an American citizen. It worked… until in June 2016  when he was ticketed for driving with an expired license; police informed  the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (ICE ) of this violation. Eight days later ICE agents  entered his office, questioned several of his 14 employees, and then handcuffed   Francisco and to took him to the detention center in McHenry Country where he stayed in a cell for seven weeks. His wife at time was six months pregnant . Francisco is scheduled to appear in a Chicago court on  August 16; his alleged crime of illegal entry will be defended by Royal Berg.

Francisco: 'I feel like this is my country "
  Francisco expressed anger that morning: "They treat you like a criminal and I'm not a criminal. I've  been here since I was 17. I'm paying taxes, I don't steal anything.  I work hard. "  He  appeared proud to say  he was instrumental in helping police arrest a gang member who
fatally shot two youths in front of his business by giving police a security video of the shooting.

            In preparing to own and manage his business , he learned attended seminars and classes to learn about heating and cooling and                                                                                          learned  English at   Truman College .

                                    If your friend/relative  is being deported on Friday mornings
                                    you are allowed to bring them property like identification,
                                    money, and sometimes…other possessions like clothes , but
                                    this is not always guaranteed .  ( a rule of an immigration
                                    detention center )

'I love America, but…'
            " I love America, " he said. "I feel like this is my country. " But if I had known what could have happened to me here, I never would have come. I'm disappointed. I thought this was the country of dreams and opportunities. I tell my friends in Mexico not to come unless they come legally. "  His parents , who raised their son on the family's farm in Mexico, have obtained visas and visit  him here now and then .

Deacon  Pierce Sheehan, a regular vigil participant
    Included in the prayers that morning  near the steps  of Broadview , were words from attorney Berg , who asked the  group to pray for "compassionate reform " of immigration laws " and that unfair or unjustifiable long detentions of immigrants such as Francisco be stopped . Berg  cited  lack of certain medical care and of vigilant observation of detainees  who show signs of wanting to commit suicide .  " Tweet Trump, " he urged the prayer group , adding that the "tearing apart of families is wrong. " He reminded everyone that this particular Friday was  Good Friday .
            In a  bulletin of his church, Deacon  Sheehan wrote: "You would have to a heart of stone not to be affected watching family after family go into  the center [ Broadview ]  to say good bye to their loved ones and then leave with tears running down their faces. " 

And there was Ammon  …
            Last February  I received this email from a friend ,  a Lutheran minister—now a Christian convert—who had immigrated legally from Lebanon where he once served as a combat soldier in the Islamic militia : Ammon  needs a Catholic place for a personal retreat. Any ideas ?  

            Here are a few of the 67 statements which Ammon  submitted in his "Declaration" given to immigration officials when he had fled to Lebanon after years of severe persecution there and in his native Egypt:

§  My father…is from a militant Islamic background like the rest of my family who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood  and the Salafist jihad call. 

§  When I was thirteen years old, I was sexually assaulted by the imam of the mosque.

§  I had no information about other non-Islamic religions….until the moment…a Christian began to ask me about the reason for my permanent sadness…At that time  I met also a priest who spoke to me.

§  Christian thoughts appealed to me, so full of love and compassion and God's acceptance of all people, even if they are sinners.

§  When my father started to know this about me, he began to  torture me …they kept me locked up in a cage for dogs.

§  [ note: this is  Ammon 's final statement, which  he submitted to the Lebanese authorities after years of persecution and the spiritual warfare which had brought him to the edge of despair and serious thought of becoming an atheist ]  It is clear that after all this, I can never build a normal decent life in Egypt; I can no longer continue my school  studies. Many of my best friends dare not contact me as if I've become a  religious pariah. Also, I just never dare to walk the streets… afraid of  being kidnapped again. I know my cell phone, my Facebook account and that of my best friends are monitored, not only by the state security police but also by extreme Islamic movement which my father belongs to.

Being Overwhelmed by Everyday Living
            My minister friend didn't tell me why Ammon  wanted to attend a retreat but  did suggest I contact John Sidarous ,  a Coptic Christian who could and would the Egyptian language of Ammon , whose English was limited.

            Ammon  and I met for lunch . With tears, he  told me that his marriage, for various reasons, was falling apart and that his wife wanted a divorce. "I want love," he said ." He indicated that he had given up reconciling with his wife. He told me how much he needed money. He was working for a  manufacturer for $10.07 an hour. After lunch, he invited me to his modest apartment and  introduced me to his  wife, a modest and attractive woman.  She talked candidly about her marriage .Ammon  remained silent . He had told me that soon after he and his wife had emimmigrated from Lebanon,  she began to " show signs of wanting more independence."  He had no idea of what he done to alienate himself from her.  The three of   us held hands and prayed for a several blessings, especially for their marriage to mend.

            I sent the following email to Fr. Matt Foley, a former U.S. Army chaplain who had serve three tours in Afghanistan and now was pastor of St. James church in Arlington Heights, Illinois: I have a special request for help for a Catholic Christian who has fled Egypt, then from Lebanon  to escape   years of life-threatening persecution. He knows of no priest in the metropolitan area who speaks his native Arabic. He is married but the marriage is  nearing a  divorce. He is employed at minimum wage but barely able to pay next month's rent.  He would like you to hear his confession .  

            A week later my wife and I took Ammon  to McDonald's for supper and then went to our church and introduced him to Fr. Matt , who heard his confession. [ Note: an article in the May 13-14 edition of the Chicago Tribune reported that the percentage of Christians of the  total population in Egypt was 18.7 per cent in 1910 and is projected to dip   to 8.5 percent in 2025; for Lebanon, the Christian percentage was 77.5 per cent in 1910 and  likely be 30.4 per cent in 2025.]

            I don't believe Ammon  ever went on that retreat he wanted , nor of course, do I have any  idea of what Ammon  had to confess . But observing his humble  behavior and reading the "declaration" he had given to immigration officials, I doubt if Ammon  was guilty of any major crime nor  had  terrorist leanings.  He wants t o learn English and also  use his cooking skills (especially with fish ) work as a chef. . We set up a weekly schedule for me to teach him English in my home ( this is still on hold ). He does, however, meet weekly for  breakfast at the College of Du Page where he interacts with English-speaking students.

              Then, on May 8, I spoke once more to John Sidarous  , who informed me that  Ammon's  wife had separated from her husband, though she was still working in the same place as her husband.  He is getting some  aid from a social agency and attends a Christian church where Arabic is spoke. Ammon , Sidarous said,  is now earning a bit above minimum wage, and but still pressed for funds, especially after he totaled his car when , while driving , the steering wheel froze . His insurance company is not willing to pay for anything.

            " His spirits are down now and then , but God will provide, " Sidarous said. Ammon  now drives a car which a friend loaned him. He said he has no reason to doubt the statements Ammon  made is that  declaration, knowing that members of Islamic families are sometimes even killed for converting to another religious belief.  "They become social pariahs .  All these refugees are overwhelmed when they arrive here and need all the help they can get, especially with just day-to-day living. " 
Corey Brost, a Knight for the Young  Refugee ;
 His Epiphany on an Ancient Migrant Trail

            Twenty-two-year-old Erick stood before the  school library audience   a little  nervously yet composed  for a half-hour as he related in painful details  his exodus from El Salvador . He told of fleeing to America with  hopes of a life which would not be threatened as was his father's life by gangs in San Salvador , a threat ignored by slothful police . Erick told of days and days   of  traveling with hunger , poverty , and a sense of utter alienation from this world. But then he told of  the grace of God which amazed him when he unexpectedly got off a jet at Chicago and eventually found himself in a haven with the Viator House of Hospitality  in a northwest suburb of Chicago .
Fr. Brost....

            Standing to next to him that night  was his mentoring friend ,   Fr. Corey Brost,  a priest who, inspired by a Bible found on an ancient , migrant  desert trail along the Arizona-Mexico border, left his desk as a high school president two years ago  to migrate into the lives of  young refugees such as Erick.  Previously he had practiced law as a caseworker for a Chicago social service agency .  He authored  the three-book  set, " Gospel Connections for Teens "  and is co-founder of the  Children of Abraham Coalition , a non-profit organization that trains Muslim,              Christian, and Jewish adult and youth leaders to advocate for interfaith peace.

           Since January this year , it  has provided  what Corey  describes as "compassionate accompaniment of young adult ,  undocumented immigrants who have been released from federal detention. "  Erick , which the Clerics of St. Viator  see as one of   "those accounted of little importance" , is one of seven young adults  currently housed there  who are seeking permanent   legal protection.  From  their countries of  Ghana , Guinea, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Niger, Somalia or  El Salvador ,  each youth has made a perilous journey fraught with desperation, pain , threats on  their life, and the equally traumatizing and never ending delays of legality never made clear .
...and Erick's  shoes he is "walking"  in 
  Fr. Corey  is a 56-year-old Viatorian priest who,  with another priest, co-founded the Viator House of Hospitality. ( Viator is the French word  for  traveler. ) 
            Some 80 volunteers at St Viator  have been trained or are   being  trained to mentor these young men in adapting to American culture. In classes they attend in their group home, they learn  English, cooking, gardening, and  stress management. They are also given clothing, physical conditioning, social outings, and  " spiritual accompaniment  "—without proselytizing, Fr. Corey said .  "My goal is to help them practice their faith , " Fr. Corey  said .                                                                                     Of the seven young men there, one is a Catholic                                                                                       and , currently, several are Muslim.

How Some  Refugees Are Treated,  Myths about Others

            The priest spoke passionately this night  about the needs,  abuses, and  myths of  refugees. "Last year   60,000 people under age 18 entered America seeking protection and asylum and were without documentation ,"  he said. " This is where I have dedicated my time. They have fled violence and despair .  Some have had parents killed, they've seen their peers  killed. They want chance of new life ."   He mentioned that his own  grandmother was forced to leave Ireland at age 16 due to the  harsh British rule of her country.

            He further explained that "because they are minors when they get here they are transferred into  custody of the U.S. Dept. of  Health  and Human Services  which funds group homes for these young people . There are ten  homes in Chicago house run by licensed child care providers for   more than 500 of these young people. They can go to court and argue that they should not be deported to their  country because their lives would be endangered there . But this [ waiting for a court hearing ]   could take two or more years unless a family takes them in. When  they  turn 18, immigration  authorities put them in shackles and take them to adult detention centers.   And there they will sit, six months a year . "  All this red tape or bureaucracy  , Fr. Corey asserted, is caused by the absence of  a higher priority refugee for refugee treatment .  

            "These young refugees, " he continued during our recent interview , "have been  traumatized along the journey and now they are traumatized again .  Women  are even more traumatized ,  often by sexually abuse . Viator House is an exit ramp from that ." 

            He and a colleague have a plan whereby on  the evening a youth in one of those ten  homes in Chicago is hours away from turning 18 , he is released to the care of Viator  for about four hours . And then at the hour he becomes 18 ,  he is let  out of government  custody and goes to live at St.  Viator . "He is now  free to develop into the person God hoped he would be., " Fr. Corey  said.   

            As for myths about refugees, Fr. Corey  reported that:  immigrants pay the same taxes as every American ; studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crime that naturally born citizens; and  that they  take jobs no one else will take. One audience member defended  our  country's refugee and immigration policies by  blaming the  problem with refugees and  immigrants on countries of their origin . He argued that  their  governments have failed   to govern properly. Fr. Corey partially agreed but cited two examples where American  foreign policy had failed , stirring up hatred for  America.

Fr. Corey 's Own Migration;

            Three years ago Fr. Corey  traveled with a church group   to the Mexican-Arizona  border, wanting , he  said,  "to immerse myself into the issue of the need for immigration reform. Led by another priest, the group began walking down an ancient, desert  migrant trail.  Fr. Corey said he observed that no border patrol was needed here . "The  the  nearest road  was 20 or 30 miles away, and to walk that distance would either deter an illegal immigrant ,  disable  or kill him. Thousands of bodies have been found in this desert in the past ten or more years, " the priest told his audience .   

            Along their hike, their priest  guide pulled  an weathered Spanish Bible  from his pocket and handed it to Fr. Corey . Presumably the Bible had been lost or left there by a disables Mexican migrant as he crossed the border. In paging through the Bible, Fr. Corey  noticed a checkmark on the page of  Psalm 141.  The psalm's  opening verse leaped out at Fr. Corey , who  reads and speaks Spanish  .With heightened emotion, he read the verse: Lord, rush to me! Hear my voice when I call to you !   

            " As I held that  Bible, " Fr. Corey exclaimed, "I thought about the person who had carried it. What was going on in his life back home ? What had compelled him or her to take life in his hands like this ? And what  in this psalm had given this person so much comfort or strength ? …I couldn't put that Bible down .     I heard something that moved my heart so deeply that I could no longer live my life the way I had been living it. "
           The actual Spanish Bible ( and the psalm )  that changed
       Fr. Brost's  misson in life when he read it on that ancient migrant trail. 

            The emotion of the moment made  Fr. Corey  to extend  his arms and recall the awe of that desert event.  "When I   tell this story and hold my hands out like this ,  I feel like I'm holding that Bible in my hands. What kept  coming back to his mind for the rest of this trip was from that psalm: When I call to you, listen to My voice. Later, I started to hear another voice in my heart: Corey,  in this world millions of people are now calling out to Me, Corey. They're calling out to me in every language and they're calling out to  Me as Christians, and Muslims, and Hindus and  Sikhs . Corey, who will rush to them in My name " ….

            Then, as if he himself  were struggling across some border, Fr. Corey  appeared to pray in front of the audience:   "  Lord , rush to me. I have no one else,  I am fleeing in great despair, I am fleeing for my life,  I don’t know if even I am going to survive the next day. Rush to me. I put my faith in you."

             The room was silent. 

            " There are 65 million people in this world today  who are displace by war or poverty, more even than World I or II, possibly,"  the priest continued. " God is still speaking to us.  trying to guide us where He needs us …When I came back  to  St. Viator High School [ in June of 2015 ]   as its president,  where in essence I was pastor for   1,000 young people, I wondered how can I stand up in front of them and say the number one priority  is not  your ATC score, it's not  where you're going to college, it’s not  whether you got the lead in  the play or the starring  role—those are all good things— but the number one priority is to listen for the call of God. Where you find happiness, where you find true meaning is where you  let that call lead you step by step to somewhere else, particularly into the lives  of people who are suffering. ow can I I I H    How can I not say that to a thousand kids at Mass  ?. . So I went to my  order [  province center ] and said,  'My term is up at the end of this year.  I feel called to move into the lives of refugees and immigrants. ' "  

      The Viatorian  leadership said they were proud of him and would give him financial and
communal  support.

      " So I left not knowing  exactly what I would be  doing . All I knew was  
there was a  huge need; there are 11 million undocumented folks living in our nation. I look at
this prayer [ Psalm 141 ] everyday   and try to remember my own journey . What is my life
worth if I can't hear this voice of God  . I want what Jesus promised, and that's life to the fullest.
  Working with these nine youths has enriched my life beyond all measure. "

            Then he reminded his  audience of God's commandment :  Do not  oppress the  stranger in you midst , which he said was the  most often repeated commandment in the Old Testament.
   Finally, he  asked for questions. Someone  asked, "How can we help ?" 

            "Pray ," was the priest's reply.  " God will guide you. God is calling us to migrate into the lives of these immigrants  as they migrate into ours. "

            Someone  then asked Erick if he got that job for which had  been interview today. "Yes," he said. " Caring for immigrant children. "  There was loud applause.
Corey Brost on the gounds of the Viator House of Hospitality

Rx for the Refugee: The Kindness of Strangers

            A few days after writing this and believing I had a completed manuscript,  I drove to the Franciscan church  at  Marytown in Mundelein for  some relaxation  and to reflect there on the national shrine of Saint Maximilian Kolbe . He is the Polish priest who  defended the life of a fellow prisoner in   Auschwitz in 1941 by offering to take his place.  Fr. Kolbe  was deprived of  all water and food for eight days, and when the guards grew impatient with his dying , they  executed  him with a fatal  injection of carbolic acid . The other prisoner, a Jew, was a family man with  five children , and when freed after the war , expressed his gratitude for  Fr. Kolbe's sacrifice  by traveling throughout Europe  for the rest of his life extolling the virtue of it.

            When I looked at the many  photographs  of how  innocent Auschwitz  prisoners were methodically and gruesomely  murdered for no reason other than their Jewish identity— as were millions of others during the late 1930's and in the 1940's—I choked away some tears and heard my mother's words to me when I was a teenager youth:  "  Robert, " she would say with a deep sigh, " we live in a world of  suffering. "  As a retired journalist who seldom  , if ever,  had no words  to describe the demonic-like behavior  I had to report in detail when  covering Chicago's Englewood district,  I was wordless with disbelief in the basement of Marytown. I shall never understand how an entire country can allow its collective conscience to hate millions of its own citizens  so much and  gruesomely murder them without cause . This maniacal hatred  had been forming this conscience since the early 1920's ;  never could  ignorance of the citizenry  nor its fear of opposing the  government be an excuse for this Holocaust .

            I drove home from Marytown asking myself , Could it happen again ?  Could it happen here? Could that comfort we humans derive from avoiding the ambiguities of daily living by stereotyping large groups of people on the basis of only a very few  we don't like, could that spread like demonic virus to become a wide-spread   mob mentality which  lynched so many Afro-Americans here  not so many years ago ?   When we justifiably  take offense at what one person has said or done to us, are we apt to turn to our neighbor with a pseudo-philosophical, falsely-forgiving air and say, " Well , that's the way THEY  are ? " 

            I knew I had to add  a few more words to this article.

            As  a teenager, my one grandfather was forced to flee Russia to avoid  being drafted into the Czar's army , an event which  his father correctly predicted   took the lives of his five other sons . That grandfather arrived penniless in Baltimore . My Polish immigrant grandfather and his family of eight weathered the Great Depression by feeding the  family off the counters of the small  Bucktown grocery store he owned  in Chicago. I  wish I could sit with them today and learn  about their refugee spirit and then had woven it  into what I'm writing here. Yes,  I can imagine what  dreams these grandfathers   held fast to. I do believe  what greatly helped them was their fortitude,  a steadfastness of  faith in God as they lived day-to-day ,so  often aided by the simple kindness of strangers like you  and me. 

The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Comforts: Often a Blessing, Sometimes a Pitfall


  By Robert R. Schwarz

                                    Comfort:  strengthening, encouragement, incitement,
                                    aid, succor, support .  In a bad sense: to encourage…
                                    that which is evil. ( Oxford English Dictionary )

                                 A ship  is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships
                                  are for . ( anonymous )

                                  The  spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. ( Jesus'
                                  admonition about temptation; Matthew 26: 41 )

            It's a given: our current American culture has never provided so many comforts for mind and  body. Perhaps the best was to quantify this is by recalling the countless number of  compelling advertisements  for comfort products and pleasures we see in the  media. But far be it for this writer to part company with several of his compelling  comforts. Yet as a journalist who  years ago surrendered a brief sybaritic lifestyle, he feels  obligated—and somewhat qualified —to report a few opinions he has gathered about the  dark side of comfort .

            In  the article, "Why Comfort Is Actually Bad for You "  ( http://HuffingtonPost. com  ) , Joe Robinson writes :  "As marketers have known since the days of toga sales, humans love their creature comforts. Tempur-pedic beds and cinema-sized TVs are nice, but researchers tell us we’re a lot happier when we can tear ourselves away from what makes us feel cozy. It turns out that what our brains and bodies really want isn’t comfort. It’s engagement. Comfort is your enemy…. The science shows, though, that it’s just the opposite of the velvet cocoon that gratifies us. Our core psychological needs are satisfied not by how comfy we feel but by breaking out of the force field of routine. The two key factors in long-term life satisfaction are novelty and challenge, says brain scientist Gregory Berns of Emory University School of Medicine. The plush life doesn’t make us happy because, like all external metrics, it doesn’t do anything for you internally, where the real arbiters of gratification live….

            " A study led by Australian researcher David Dunston found that watching TV more than four hours a day is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Alpa Patel, of the American Cancer Society, who studied 120,000 people and their sitting habits, says that people who sit too much cut two years off their life…

            " If you want a memorable life, the research is very clear: You have to live a life worth remembering….

            " We cling to comfort zones because they offer perceived safety and keep the threat of change from our doorsteps. And they’re easy. They require no effort. We’re led to believe that non-exertion is the way to happiness, but our brains hate being on idle, looking into the window of life. We wind up with a hollowed-out life of spectating and learned helplessness, without the initiating skills essential to self-worth and a well-lived life. It’s self-determined actions and experiences that provide the gratification we need. Your core psychological needs — autonomy, competence and relatedness, the social connection — can only be satisfied through participation, not cushy observation….

 " The goal isn’t to avoid lifting a finger on this planet, but to dig in with both hands to the wisdom of uncomfortable places. "

More about Comfort Zones

            On the office wall of Deacon Paul  Schmidt  hangs  a sketch  of a beached and battered rowboat which sole reason for being there is that the boat is empty.  Paul occasionally  looks at the sketch  to remind himself  of  those simple  fishermen who, when  called by Jesus to be His disciples,  immediately left  the "comfort zone " of  their boat  and  followed  Him.

            "This empty boat reminded me  years ago to get out of my comfort zone and  do something for people, "  said the 71-year-old deacon  during our interview . Paul, a deacon  at the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois , left a life of comfort for what he'll tell you  was a more meaningful life  baptizing  babies, counseling  couples about to marry, and comforting  people at funeral wakes—not to mention  working fulltime as  business manager of another church.   

            Last March , Sr. Joanne Fedwa  of Sisters of the Living Word in Arlington Heights,  helped celebrate  a Lenten holy feast day with the theme "Mary's Move from Comfort to Courage. "   Mary "needed to muster up a lot of courage" to say yes  to becoming the mother of Jesus, "  the 87-year-old nun asserted .  "She was likely in shock when asked by the Holy Spirit the give up a simple life of virginity. If she hadn't been willing to leave her comfort  zone, it would have been a sad situation . "
            Years ago , Sr. Fedwa worried when asked to give up her comfort zone to accept a mission assignment to teach in a small rural , Afro-American community in Arkansas.  But  "it turned out to be a positive experience ," she said , and she stayed  13 years.

            What can happen when one has too much comfort?  I asked her.  Her reply: " We then tend to forget the most important things in life, like our relationship with God."

            And  what do you really get when you're willing to step outside of your comfort zone? asks Alan Henry in his posted blog " Mind Hacks " ( ) .  Some of the major benefits he mentions are:

Ø  You'll be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by. We lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the "work trap," where we feign "busy" as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.
Ø  You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. In his article in  The New York Times, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that one of the worst things we can do is pretend fear and uncertainty don't exist. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn't do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prep you for life changes that force you out of it.
Ø  You'll find it easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. This is a soft benefit, but it's fairly common knowledge (and it's easily reproducible) that seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does. Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge, and inspire us to learn more and challenge confirmation bias, our tendency to only seek out information we already agree with. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy.

            In one of his homilies at St.James   during this past Lent , Fr. Derek Ho quoted Pope Benedict XVI , who said , " The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness. "  A week later, Fr. Derek wrote  the following reflection in the  church bulletin:

            " Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, noticed that the first people to die in the concentration camp were not those who died due to a lack of food or water or medicine. The first people to die were those who lacked purpose and meaning. They were enduring a massive amount of suffering but could not find the meaning behind it. And so they gave up…
            "Jesus’ experience in the desert is meant to serve as a reference point for all Lenten resolutions. He chooses to suffer as we choose to suffer,  not simply for suffering’s sake, but to detach ourselves from the comforts offered by the world (and the evil one) and to allow our desire for God to grow ever deeper. "

What Can We Might Learn from Growing Pecan Trees   

            While living on a ranch in Arkansas , I not only learned why a pound of pecans is a costly grocery item but also   something  ( perhaps trivial  to the city dweller )  which remains in my mind about the benefit of discomfort .

            One day while I was planting three pecan tree saplings, a neighbor strolled over to me …I remember our conversation but not his name .

            "You planting for pecans ? " he asked .
            "Right, " I replied. " Where they'll get plenty of sun."
            "Might take ten years before you pick any, you know. Maybe even fifteen."
            I looked at my neighbor with  disbelief  and waited for an explanation.
            " But  some , I'm told , have lived for 300 years. "  He laughed . I did not.

            For the next five minutes,  my neighbor  recited facts about pecan trees. Though his knowledge about these trees was credible, it did nothing to halt my thought of  returning the  saplings to the nursery . Really, they should have screened me for unlimited patience before  I purchased them! 
            " But listen here now ," my neighbor continued. "  You-all  come over to my place  . I got five pecan trees growing there . Been giving nuts for years. But I  had the good sense  not to plant them in the sun. No sir . Planted then in a shady spot. Forced them to  grow, reach for their sun. Three—not ten, mind you—years later  I had me great pecans . Wife put them on ice cream for us and the kids. Delicious ! "

            Nowadays I think how analogous was my neighbor's pecan  anecdote to us humans "planting" our   bodies  and minds  where they  will not wilt or get flabby  from too much comfort ; rather, we should plant them  in our life's work and love so that  when we  get lazy and flabby— sheer will power or passion  can only do so much , you know—we'll be forced to keep reaching for the  sun which God's grace shines on us in all weather. 

            Now in my senior years, when I find myself looking for  a shortcut to heaven by sitting  with eyes half-closed in my favorite chair  and listening to a   CD of  meditation music, I am reminded of the exhortations of the Apostle Paul , who seldom seemed to experience physical comfort. In 50 A.D. , he wrote this  to the citizens of Corinth , a wealthy Greek city know for everything depraved, , dissolute, and debauched :  " Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things…Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I  buffet my body and make it my slave …"  ( I Corinthians 10: 24-27 )

             Lyn Metter  in her National Catholic Register article ( April 2, 2017 ), " Penance Promotes Peace ," quoted these words  from  Fr. Mitch Pacwa , a host on the EWTN television channel :  "Abstaining from many of the easy and comfortable things in our life…aid a person in becoming free of these attachments. "

            She also  quoted 31-year-old Jonathan Conrad of Indianapolis, a member of Exodus 20, a fast-growing fraternity of Christians seeking  spiritual development: " The pleasures of this world are not fulfilling—period. They are all short-lived and leave us longing for something more. Something as simple as a cold shower teaches you the discipline of control over  your most primal sensual urges. If you can't control those, you have no hope for anything greater. "

            Here are  a few words from Saint Catherine of Sienna, a woman whose  spiritual writings  have for centuries been contemplated world-over :  " We become fearful…because we have set our love and trust in something weak, something completely unstable and inconstant, something as passing as the wind…" And lastly, a conviction  of the British martyr, Sir Thomas More,  God is a Christian's only comfort. 
The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz