Today marks the fifth anniversary of the disaster called Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I remember hearing the news as each report came in describing an increasingly dire situation. At the same time, I must admit, the Katrina disaster was far from the top priority on this day 5 years ago or on subsequent days. For on that day, I received a call early that morning at work letting me know that Jac Campbell, a Paulist priest & friend of nearly 30 years, had died earlier that same morning after a 3+ year fight against lung cancer.
Jac Campbell became pastor of Newman Hall / Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, CA, the year after I became a Catholic, joining that same parish. He had spent his previous few years at the Catholic campus ministry in Austin, Texas; Berkeley & the San Francisco Bay Area were quite a shock to him after Texas. The hippies & radicals still hung around Berkeley, & the gay community in San Francisco was still enjoying the freedom of life before the HIV / AIDS epidemic & were very open & vocal in their enjoyment. These were the years in the Church that were still touched by Vatican II, despite Pope Paul's Humanae Vitae encyclical prohibiting "artificial contraception" to Catholic families. The first Women's Ordination Conference took place in either 1975 or 1976. The US Catholic Bishops issued a wonderful encyclical concerning the needs of the peoples of Appalachia.
At the same time, these were the days of still-rampant homophobia & later, in 1978, Proposition 6, the massacre in Jonestown, Guyana, of the followers of Jim Jones' People's Temple, and the assassinations of SF Mayor George Moscone & Supervisor Harvey Milk. In the midst of it all, in 1978, Pope Paul VI died, his first successor Pope John Paul I died within a month of being elected, and Pope John Paul II died to replace him. And we had no idea at the beginning just what we were in for as Catholics with the election of John Paul II.
Jac helped us through all of that and more, and he became very close friends with many parishioners. In my work-study job, I served as receptionist at Newman Hall, and Jac and I had many good conversations & even more laughs. However, when he left for a new assignment in 1980, I was completely distracted by my life in graduate school, my love of theology, & my even greater love of my first woman lover and missing her after she moved to Seattle, WA, & Jac & I didn't keep in touch.
Very fortunately, Jac & I found ourselves again in the same city in the early- to mid-1980's, when he had moved to Boston to run Landings, the ministry he had created and developed, & I had returned to the Church & begun attending Mass at the Boston Paulist Center. Jac had realized that there was a huge number of "former Catholics" -- adults who had been raised as Catholics & who had left the Catholic Church for any number of reasons. He created Landings as a way to invite them to take a new look at the Church -- without pressure, without church-self-righteousness or arrogance or the typical -- at least feared -- "We're right, you're wrong; go to Confession & return to the Church" attitude. Instead, Landings gathered together 6 - 8 adults, some active-in-the-parish Catholics, & 1 or 2 who were thinking of taking a new look at the Catholic Church. Each person told her / his own spiritual journey story; each week there was discussion of a major topic -- G-D. Jesus, the Church, the Sacraments; and there was a time of prayer. The groups were run by lay facilitators. And Landings became popular in parishes & dioceses throughout the US & UK.
Although I returned to the Church, I didn't do so through a Landings group. I did, however, talk at some length with Jac, who reassured me that leaving was what I had needed to do at the time that I had made the decision to do so. Because of his own journey, his own experiences, Jac was one of the most openly loving, accepting, and forgiving people I've ever known. We would often see one another walking in opposite directions on Park Street; whenever he saw me, he gave me a rib-crushing hug. In the 4 years after his death, it was those chance encounters and those hugs that I missed most of all. Jac is now a member of my Communion of Saints, and I know that's true for many of my friends. Please pray for us, Jac; we still miss you, dear friend.
At the end of this past week, news came of the deaths of two other priests, this time in Lima, Peru. Because one of my closest friends from seminary / graduate school is a priest in that same city, I am, I guess, especially attuned to news from Peru. The two priests who died early last Friday morning were murdered, stabbed when they interrupted a robbery in the San Francisco Monastery where they had a soup kitchen for the city's poor and hungry residents. When I asked my pastor, a Franciscan, if he had heard the news & if the 2 priests who had been killed had been Franciscan, he hadn't heard & didn't know, although he thought they & the monastery were Franciscan. Then he remarked something to the effect, "How awful it is to get international news here. There is nothing except domestic [U.S.] news. This country is so myopic."
That is so true, & so troubling. I agreed with him completely & remarked, "Thank heaven for the BBC!" That's where I hear almost all of my international news, and that's been true for years, ever since the genocide in Rwanda. Early Saturday morning, I went on the web to look for coverage of the murders of the 2 priests in Lima; I found some, but not much. I did find English-language newspapers published in Lima, & I've now saved those in my "Favorites" list. So at least there are some sources.
However, I find it frustrating & more than a little ridiculous that stories of celebs & Tiger Woods' divorce are given much more air time, many more column inches, and much more prominent web display than most international news, unless it is somehow tied to US economic, military, or other interests. I really don't care whether Paris Hilton is or isn't in jail for cocaine possession. I really do care about the deaths of 2 Roman Catholic priests in Peru. And I realized that, had one or both been US North Americans -- i.e., had one of them been my friend or someone else I knew -- that would have been covered by US news sources. How awful a realization. As I thanked G-D that my friend & members of his Jesuit community are safe, I prayed for the souls of Frs. Ananias Aguila and Linan Ruiz, for the people they served, and for the people who killed them. May all find peace and mercy.