Archive for October, 2011

Spalding football coach Mike Whittles is literally fighting for his life and you can read his story in The Catholic Review print edition next week and right now on CatholicReview.org. Whittles has Stage IV pancreatic cancer, but is still coaching the Cavaliers during his treatments. He recently missed a game, though, and his players emotionally visited him.
I sat down with several of them earlier this week for a talk and here is that interview in mp3 format.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore is ramping up its efforts to reach out to Catholic young adults. It’s a challenging age group to connect with, but successful Theology on Tap crowds are showing there’s a thirst for something beyond beer. Faith is the connecting tissue for the people coming together.
Father John Hurley delivered a homily at the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Young Adult Mass at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary that touched on many topics, including welcoming others and finding a place in the faith where you can belong.
I will have more on this in the coming issue of The Catholic Review.
Here, in both English and Spanish, is Father Hurley’s homily in audio format. Enjoy!

Image courtesy of http://catholicnews.com (CNS)

If you grow up as an American kid in the 1980s, 90s or 2000s, there weren’t three bigger real world villains than Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi. There were, and are, other objects of major scorn. But, those three men seemed to have dramatic, spooky music playing in the background wherever they went.
Hussein, Bin-Laden and Gaddafi were Boogeymen and the faces of evil that even crept into our nightmares thanks to news broadcasts, movies and their real world violence.
Gaddafi was the embodiment of terrorism in the 1980s and was responsible for the Lockerbie plane bombing amidst all his other grave sins. Hussein, for young people in the late 1980s and early 1990s, murdered his own people, invaded other countries and was the first face of war we saw. bin Laden, of course, was the man who spearheaded various bombings of the U.S. and its outreaches and partners. In 2001, he brought the devastation to our soil and masterminded the attacks in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Now, all three men are dead. Each met his demise violently. Two of them we’ve seen with our own eyes. The other was so grotesque the U.S. decided not to share it with the world in fear of the fact that some young people would be inspired for revenge.
Hussein and bin Laden’s deaths were met with great celebration by some, while Gaddafi’s was met with more muted feelings here in America.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received the Gaddafi news last week on her Blackberry, she said “Wow” as she prepared for a television interview. Even she didn’t know how to process the news.
 I remember thinking back in 2001 how we seemed so close to World War III. The thought crossed my mind that all of these guys, who are now dead, would put aside their homicidal tendencies and team up with the leaders of Iran and North Korea. The Axis of Evil had the potential to be so much bigger.
Ten years later, Iran and North Korea still stand as legitimate, scary threats to world security with their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il revel in being a thorn in the Western world’s side.
Evil doesn’t go away. Hitler showed that when he vanished unceremoniously from the world almost 70 years ago. That’s why we still have stories on tabloid newspapers reporting that Hitler is walking amongst us today. We never got the bloody images of him dead like we have in the modern era. Looking at those photos and videos of Hussein and Gaddafi, our stomachs turn even if we tell each other that we’re safe now.
Insane men still rise to power and are willing to kill huge swaths of people on the way to, and during, their ruling.
Do the deaths of Hitler, Hussein, Bin-Laden and Gaddafi accomplish what we seek, then? Is all our celebrating in vain if evil still rises? It’s like Wack-A-Mole. You might knock one down, but there are still 11 others waiting in the wings to carry out a destructive mission to reform society to fit their vision.
Is it possible to go deeper underground and confront the issues that lead to all the evil uprisings instead? Dictators and bad guys don’t just materialize out of thin air. It takes years to cultivate. If someone can raise them to be evil, why can’t we raise them to be good as well? More often than not, that’s a harder job. It’s a lot easier to work with easy projects than those living in squalor and frustration.
Generation x and Millennials have been raised with movies that show us what happens when evil is overturned. People celebrate and everyone lives happily ever after. But, reality is a different thing. We can’t simply dust our hands off and say, “mission accomplished.”
There are very real people who have been living under the thumb of tyranny in those countries. The problems that led to a villain’s rise have only been worsened during their time at the time.
As humans, we have a much more vested interest in peace than we do violence.
Bitterness, poverty and lack of educational opportunities don’t go away with the death of a man. The story goes on and bad sequels are produced. No one wants that. It takes hard work solving the world’s problems and the U.S. can’t do it alone. But, we have to play our part now rather than spill needless blood later.
This is where heroes really rise.

Matt Palmer is a staff writer for The Catholic Review in Baltimore.

Nix the Nazi talk

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Hate someone with a passion? Call them a Nazi.
It’s not exactly a new thing, but people are tossing about the term willy nilly lately. In the end, it says more about the person saying it than the person they’re targeting.
In an effort to criticize House Majority Leader John Boehner’s golf meeting with President Obama, country singer Hank Williams Jr. recently said, “That would be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.”
Or, not. President Obama might be a political adversary of Boehner’s, but he’s also not trying to round up Republicans and slaughter them by the millions. Because, you know, that’s what Hitler did. He ordered the elimination of a people in his quest for power and domination.
Williams’ comment was a slap in the face of the survivors of the holocaust and to Jewish people everywhere. He lost his gig as the singer of the Monday Night Football intro and claimed his First Amendment rights were threatened.
No, Hank, you were allowed to say it. It was stupid, immature, thoughtless and businesses didn’t want to be associated with you. That’s their right to react to your comment.
Similarly, actress Susan Saranadon recently said she sent a copy of “Dead Man Walking” to Pope John Paul II, “not this Nazi one we have now.”
She was, of course, referring to German-native Pope Benedict XVI, a leader in the fight against the death penalty. Born Joseph Ratzinger, the pope was raised during the rise of the Nazi party and was forced, like all teenage boys of his age, to join the Hitler Youth. He was drafted into the anti-aircraft corps and eventually abandoned his service. His cousin, who had Down syndrome, was killed by Nazis.
As Catholics, our natural, and justified, reaction to a comment like Sarandon’s is shock. Can you imagine the terror that came with growing up during that era?
It’s sad that Sarandon, who grew up Catholic and in Catholic schools, threw out such a careless insult. It’s become easy to refer to someone else as a “Nazi” of some kind these days. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, though. A person who uses such a term fails to understand the pain that it inflicts on the Jewish people as well.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien celebrated Mass for a World Youth Day reunion Saturday at Mount de Sales and he shared an often humorous and touching story of how he heard about his new appointment as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Here’s the audio of that. Stay until the end because it’s particularly poignant.

In this week’s Catholic Review, I wrote an obituary for Father Joseph Oppitz. One of the reasons I was enthusiastic about doing it was his tale of surviving a massive ship crash in the Atlantic.
Here, in full, is his written recounting of nearly losing his life, thanks to the obituary on the Redemptorist site.

Only the men in my immediate family ever crossed the Atlantic by boat: my father, on a troop ship during the First World War, my brother on an L.S.T. during the Second World War, and myself on a vessel bound for its own battle with disaster in 1956.

After defending my thesis in Rome, I traveled to Genoa to board the Andrea Doria and head for home. The ship was 697 feet long and had all the latest safety devices, the most recent and sophisticated radio and radar equipment, a series of up-to-date safety compartments, such that it would be impossible for the ship to ever sink. We left Genoa on July 17 but before heading out to sea we docked in Naples to welcome the last of our 1706 souls on board.

As soon as the gangplank was fixed in place, about a dozen Neapolitan vendors came racing to the decks, each carrying a sack filled with souvenirs to be sold to those of us already onboard. The first merchant saw me and probably said to himself, “Aha, an American tourist for my first sale of the day.” He came on the run, opened his satchel, and started his pitch. “Authentic gold rings, bracelets of pure silver, diamond ear rings. Make your girlfriend happy!” I assured him that I had no girlfriend. His clever reply was: “Even Americans have mothers! So buy something for your mother.” I told him I had all the souvenirs I needed in my trunk down in the hold. Then he went on the attack: “That’s the trouble with you Americans! You come over here and you don’t respect our customs. And one of our customs is that if we do not make the first sale of the day, we will have bad luck. So you have to buy something!” I replied, “Look buddy, if you don’t stop bothering me, I’ll have that cop throw you off this ship and then you’ll really be in bad luck.” Well, I had heard some elegant curses in my travels, but this fellow topped them all. He spit on his index and middle finger and gave me the Malocchio—the “evil eye”—and yelled, “I hope you have bad luck on the way home.” There you have it. We were a cursed ship even before we launched into the Atlantic.

The rest of the trip, until the night of July 24 and the morning of July 25, was delightful and uneventful. The weather was mostly sunny and warm, the waves were moderate and relatively calm, and we passengers were totally relaxed.

The last day began with the usual sunshine. However, toward late afternoon a fog began to roll in on the horizon. By suppertime, the fog became one of the topics of conversation, especially among those of us who had never experienced fog at sea. It was discussed, not with any fear or apprehension, but rather with a sense of gratitude that we were on the Andrea Doria, a ship equipped with the very latest technology and a Captain with many years of experience. Indeed, I recall that before the final evening dinner, a group of us were talking about the fog, and one of the men, Mr. Cianfarra, a New York Times correspondent, joked that it would be nice if we had a collision in the fog so he could “scoop” the other reporters back in NYC.

At 10 P.M., on July 25, the Andrea Doria was just one mile south of the Nantucket Shoals and the Nantucket Light. The area from the Nantucket Light to the Ambrose Light has been called the “Times Square” of coastal waters due to its heavy traffic in a somewhat confined space. Forty-five minutes later, our Captain Calamai saw a blip on his radar, roughly 17 miles away and bearing four degrees to his right. Whatever the ship was, it was on his starboard side and on a parallel course but heading toward Europe. Calamai was convinced that the two ships would pass each other with no chance of a crossing situation. On his radar there was about a half mile distance between the two ships.

At 11:05, just six minutes before the collision, the Stockholm was four miles distant but bearing 14 degrees over the Andrea Doria’s right bow. Therefore, Calamai made a slight change in course to his left so as to place more water between the two ships as they passed right to right.

Three minutes before the crash, the Stockholm was just 2 miles away but still could not be seen nor could any sound of its fog horn be heard. Our Captain stepped out unto the right wing of the bridge to see if he could sight this mystery ship. Finally he saw the glow of lights just 1.1 miles away and bearing directly over the Andrea Doria’s bow. This was just 100 seconds before the collision. At that moment it became obvious that the Stockholm was making a sharp right turn directly into us. Calamai ordered a hard left in a desperate effort to avoid a tragedy. Fifteen seconds more and the two ships would not have collided at all. The hard-left turn was the correct decision in what is called an “in extremis” condition. Calamai was probably praying for a miracle that would bring us safely away from the Stockholm’s icebreaker prow. That miracle never came. The Stockholm, at practically full speed, knifed almost halfway through the Andrea Doria’s right side just below the wing where Calamai had been standing.

The collision took place at 11:20 P.M. The bow of the Stockholm was crushed in the impact making a huge hole in the Andrea Doria and ripping open her starboard side like a can opener. When the mangled Stockholm floated free, the ocean poured into the gaping wound of the Doria which made us list severely to the right. This happened so quickly that all the lifeboats on the port side became absolutely useless. As the Stockholm floated out of the wound it was obvious that it had lost 75 feet of its own bow. Another major problem was that, after the impact, the Stockholm could not be stabilized because its anchor had fallen. As it circled in the turbulence, it almost hit into us again!

The majority of those who were killed were crushed to death in their beds. The “miracle girl” of the catastrophe was young Linda Morgan. She was in the last cabin to be crushed before the Stockholm floated away. Unbelievably, the impact actually rolled her up in her mattress and she wound up safe within the mangled debris of the Stockholm’s crushed prow.

My own personal miracle had taken place the day we left Genoa when I was forced to change my cabin. Had I not changed quarters I would have been killed in one of the cabins that was completely destroyed. The actual length of the gash was 40 feet wide through seven of the Andrea Doria’s eleven decks.

My first appointment back in the States was to St. Mary’s in Annapolis, Maryland. It was there that I began a long career of “Sinking the Doria” starting at the Naval Academy and working my way through many Communion Breakfast talks, Society Dinners, Guild Luncheon’s, and so forth. And now, with the resurgence of public interest in the Titanic, I am looking forward to the year 2006 which will be the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Andrea Doria, when the Doria-Lecture may well begin all over again.

You’ll find a story on the Goodspeed brothers in this week’s version of The Catholic Review. Now, get to know them individually. Here are some question and answers I did with David Goodspeed. Each of the quadruplets got the same questions, so it’s interesting to see some differences and similarities.

Matt: What was it like growing up as a group of boys together?
David: I’m not really sure how to relate it to anything, because it’s all I’ve ever known. It was definitely an experience, but to me it was just like having four brothers, I was never really conscious about the fact that we were all born at the same time, or even looked similar…they were just my brothers.

Matt: How did your parents keep you guys all in line?
David: A lot of hard work. From what my Mom tells me, we were generally pretty good kids, but there’s always the occasional nudge that needs to be used, or a point in the right direction. If that happened, there was a lot of limiting of our social lives, including taking phones or iPods until we got work done.

Matt: Is there anything you don’t know about each other?
David: I know there’s stuff they don’t know about me, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out there’s stuff that I don’t know about them.

Matt: When did you all join Scouts?
David: We joined as Tiger Cubs in elementary school, to be honest I don’t know what grade or age we were when we entered.

Matt: Did each of you want to do it or was there a holdout?
David: I think we were all pretty excited to do it, we knew that a bunch of our friends were doing it as well, so we just saw it as an opportunity to be with them.

Matt: How much work goes into being a Scout and when did it become a goal to become an Eagle Scout?
David: Looking back, there’s quite a bit of work involved, but I didn’t really feel the load while actually in scouting, except for when working on the Eagle award. To become an Eagle Scout was a goal as soon as we bridged into 737, it was eyes on the prize from day one for me.

Matt: Did you ever think about walking away? What kept you in it?
David: There were many, MANY times that I considered dropping it and moving on, but the thing that kept me going was knowing how much of an accomplishment it really is, as well as wanting to keep up with my friends and brothers. After all, how lame would it be if I had been the only one not to get Eagle?

Matt: Did scouting strengthen your faith? How?
David: It did strengthen my faith, my brothers and I, along with other Catholics in our patrol participated in many different medal opportunities that were offered through scouting. If nothing else, those programs made me delve into my faith and think about WHY I was a Catholic, and what it really meant to be a Catholic.

Matt: How did Scouts help you discover your personal strengths and what would you say are your strengths?
David: As I said before, a lot of work went into Scouts. The scouting program turns undeveloped, directionless young boys like I was into models of efficiency and leadership through the different requirements and merit badges needed to climb through the ranks. Along the way I discovered a lot of weaknesses that soon grew into strengths, and found things I was already good at became even better. I don’t like talking about my own strengths because I personally don’t compare to many examples of strong people that have been in my life, scoutmasters, volunteers, and even peers that are can truly exemplify the values taught in Scouting. One thing I can say I definitely improved with though is leadership, I’ve always been content sitting in the back with my head down and minding my own business, just getting by. After my Scouting experience, though, I feel entirely comfortable stepping into the role of a leader in different situations, and can project confidence that I find calms and inspires good decisions in both myself and others.

Matt: What were your biggest challenges to becoming Eagle Scouts and how did you overcome them?
David: My biggest problem was motivation. I climbed through the ranks ridiculously fast…until it came time to work on Eagle. I was a Life Scout for four years before finally pulling myself together and powering through my Eagle Project. A huge reason I made it through was pressure from my parents and friends, even my girlfriend at the time. She would set dates for me to have something done by, and threaten to excommunicate me if I didn’t have it done in time. Let me tell you, there is no better motivation for the teenage boy than a pretty girl dropping threats of the silent treatment. It was fantastic motivation.

Matt: What did you each pick for your Eagle Scout project and how did you go about doing it?
David: I built and installed five bat boxes around the sediment pond at St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville. My project took place over three days. The first day was cutting the wood/constructing the boxes. The second was on the grounds of St. Louis and was for digging the holes the posts would go into and the last day was actually getting the posts/boxes over to St. Louis and cementing them into the ground.

Matt: What did it feel like to accomplish it?
David: It was absolutely liberating, a huge weight off of my shoulders. I wish I could elaborate, but that’s really the only way I can think of describing it.

Matt: What was it like to stand together at the ceremony as Eagle Scouts?
David: It felt good, knowing that we had all done something incredible as individuals, but also accomplished something new for scouting by all four of us making it through.

Matt: Why did you guys choose to go to Madrid for World Youth Day?
David: It wasn’t really our choice, our Mom wanted us all to go, but I certainly wasn’t against it. I had heard so many good things about it from people that had been to previous ones, and I was really excited to go as well.

Matt: What were some of your highlights of the trip and why?
David: It was definitely the Vigil at Cuatro Vientos on Saturday night. It was easily the best faith experience I’ve ever had, being surrounded by literally millions of young people from around the globe was as invigorating as it was fascinating.

Matt: What did you learn about the Catholic Church while you were there?
David: I think I learned the most while we were in Rome/Vatican City, when we were being led around by a seminarian stationed there from our home parish. A lot of it was just small but extremely interesting facts involving the swiss guard, previous popes, and learning that at one point stepping on the red marble at the entrance to St. Peters Basilica was a cause for death because it was so valuable, and the Church placed it at the entrance to show that material objects are not something to be held in such high esteem, and that anyone and everyone is special enough to touch it.

Matt: If you were to describe World Youth Day to someone, how would you?
David: I’ve been asked about it multiple times since we’ve been back, but I still don’t have a very good way to describe it. My usual answer is along the lines of “Millions of Catholic gathered in one place for the same purpose, absolutely fantastic”.

Matt: Now that you’re all at college, what’s it like being away from one another during the day?
David: It’s interesting, I actually really like it. For me it’s the first time that I’ve really had the experience of basically being a single child, and I’m enjoying everything about it.

Matt: How do you keep in contact now?
David: We really don’t. Well, I don’t. I’ll respond to them if they text me, and I’ll interact with some of their posts on facebook, but other than that I only really communicate with them when I visit home.

Matt: What’s next in scouting for you?
David: As of now, there’s really not too much that I can do being away at school, but way down the road I look forward to being an active member of my son’s troop when he’s old enough.