by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.
“I don’t believe in death without resurrection.”
– St. Oscar Romero
It is a strange new world. Almost every story on National Public Radio is about the pandemic and the medical, economic, and social problems it creates. As I reflect by the window in week two of the “shelter in place” order in the Bay Area that is now extended throughout the state and most of the nation, the trash truck collects the garbage at the apartment complex across the street. While many are out of work or working from home because of social distancing, trash and recycling companies are probably busier than usual because more people are staying at home. Obviously, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, and first responders are the busiest as they try to make less work for another group who are busier than usual, morticians and gravediggers.
So, on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, it is good to remember that we don’t believe in death without resurrection.
A virus of violence killed St. Oscar. Before this pandemic took hold of the world, we had an epidemic of gun violence in this country; a pandemic of oppression and injustice especially toward refugees and immigrants. Romero was killed because he became a voice against the virus of violence that claimed the lives of the poor in El Salvador.
He was denied canonization for years because there were those who felt his death was caused for political reasons rather than rooted in the gospel nonviolence of Jesus. The church finally recognized that when the rule of law in a country is unjust and the poor are being persecuted, the Sermon on the Mount and the witness of Jesus becomes political. Fidelity to gospel nonviolence leads to the cross stained with the precious blood of Christ.
Forty years ago, Archbishop Romero’s blood poured out upon the altar where he was celebrating Mass, martyred for living his faith and giving voice to the cries of the poor. “They can kill me,” he said, “but they cannot kill the voice of justice.”
Now the focus of the nation and the world is on the corona virus as it should be. But the virus of violence will continue unless those who are rooted in gospel values raise their voices against the culture of hate, indifference, and death.
As with other crises we have faced, we are at our best when the news of the world is the worst. The hashtag now is “alone together”—though we are sheltering in place and staying at home, there is a sense of solidarity that we are all in this together. May it also be so in attacking the virus of violence.
As we meet in prayer across the miles, St. Oscar Romero, pray for us.
by Keven Cheung, Precious Blood Volunteer at KC CARE Health Center
2019-2020 Precious Blood Volunteer, Keven Cheung
“So, what brings you in today?” is usually the first question I ask patients once I have brought them back to an exam room at KC CARE Health Care Center. Replies will range from a simple follow-up appointment to a long list of health concerns. Patients will reveal personal and intimate details of their lives within a short period of time. Perhaps it is the natural expectation of vulnerability that comes with seeing a healthcare professional or that being strangers makes the information less personal. Whatever the case, people come through the doors seeking help and willingly expose themselves physically and emotionally.
Many of the individuals that come to KC CARE are those that are most vulnerable in our society: uninsured, undocumented, underserved, or homeless. One of the questions I often ponder is how to uphold the dignity of those that I serve. It can be hard at times to balance the desire to sit and talk to patients with the responsibilities I am tasked with. Given the limited time and fixed schedules, upholding a patient’s dignity is often found in small actions. One example of this centers around women’s health. Women who come in for breast and cervical examinations will often be told to undress before the provider comes in so that less time is wasted waiting for the patient to undress. One provider, however, will always go into the room to talk with the patient before allowing them time to undress. After all, sitting there unclothed on the cold examination table with paper thin drapes over your body waiting for the doctor can be uncomfortable for anyone. This seemingly small decision is one way that I see the personalization of dignity in the clinic.
It is understandably hard to work in an environment that addresses suffering. There is only so much that I can do for a patient. Part of my work as a volunteer is to send referrals on behalf of patients to different specialities. Unfortunately, those without insurance are left with the option to either pay out of pocket or to be put on a waitlist for programs that could take up to a year, both of which only negatively exacerbate financial and physical burdens. The best I can offer sometimes feels vastly inadequate to the circumstances patients face. A phone call, fax, or phone number that patients can follow up with is usually only the first step in a long line of hoops they have to jump through. The best part of my day at times is when a patient finally picks up the phone after weeks of trying to contact them. I never expected to learn so much about the healthcare process through referrals.
A few months ago, I remember calling a patient about his referrals. His friend picked up the phone and told me that she and her husband were the ones that took care of and arranged for his health needs. In the few interactions we had, I was encouraged by her consistent responses over the phone and dedication to helping her friend. Many patients do not know how to, are unable to, or do not have someone to advocate for them. Their health issues can often be neglected in comparison to their other responsibilities. With so many fires to put out, no wonder patients miss appointments, phone calls, and medication refills. Working in the clinic has highlighted more problems than solutions, but I also recognize that the most effective way to create change will be a collective one. My hope is that my time in Kansas City will continue to prepare me to critically tackle these challenges as my role within healthcare further develops.
Keven is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at KC CARE Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 edition of the New Wine Press.
by Fr. Mark Miller, C.PP.S.
During another Advent Season, we are challenged once again to reflect upon what exactly we are preparing for. Are we preparing to celebrate Christmas in a more meaningful way? Are we preparing ourselves to allow the Savior of the World to guide our lives more perfectly? Yes, and much more. We are preparing ourselves for that new creation of heaven and earth of which the Book of Revelation speaks. We are preparing for a time of peace and harmony among all of creation to regain that original blessing which was from the beginning.
There is a difference between an imagined future and an imaginary future. An imagined future is one that guides the decisions of our lives, knowing that whatever we decide will either enhance or diminish the possibility of that imagined future. Certainly, for the Christian, the imagined future is spending eternity with the Lamb seated on the throne along with all the others who are a part of that great cloud of witnesses. But our journey is not one that is walked alone; we are a member of that community who professes our belief in the covenant that God has made with us. Thus, whatever decisions we make along the way will not only benefit or detract us from achieving that imagined future but will also benefit or detract from the rest of creation for that imagined future.
If the future is only imaginary, then it doesn’t make too much difference in what we do. After all, that which is only imaginary is not real; it exists only in the mind of the one who imagines it. Also, if the future is only imaginary, there is no real commitment necessary to achieve it.
Jesus Christ had an imagined future: that they may all be one. For this imagined future to take on a life of its own, Jesus gave us instructions in order to achieve this imagined future. It is primarily contained in Chapter 5 and Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. When we integrate the principles and attitudes of those two chapters, the imagined future will be ours. St. Gaspar had an imagined future: that everyone would experience the saving power of the Blood of Christ. These two imagined futures are now in our hands.
If we believe these two imagined futures are only imaginary; well, then life will go on and we will see our life as divorced from all others. But if we make them our own imagined future, then we will set out on a course that can and will change the world into the reign of God. Advent is the season to decide: what is our imagined future and are we willing to commit to living a life that will make it happen?
“The First Thanksgiving, 1621” was painted by Jean Leon Jerome Ferris between 1912 and 1915. Historians note that the scene depicted here is not historically accurate. The clothing worn by the Pilgrims is incorrect, the Wampanoag did not wear feathered war bonnets, nor would they have been sitting on the ground.
by Dennis Coday, Precious Blood Renewal Center
A teacher who was a guest on a National Public Radio show on November 24th described a scene I could remember from my childhood and my children’s elementary days too. Michelle Portera, an 18-year veteran teacher described how she used to celebrate Thanksgiving in her first-grade classrooms:
You make the Native American headdress, and you make a medallion with your Native American name on it and put beads on your shirt and make all those fun things — and the turkey activities. And then you would have a day where you dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans.
I vividly recall making those construction paper pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses. I remember my children bringing home these same creations, almost as if their teachers and mine had used the same patterns. It left us with good feelings, pride even, about the founding of our nation: stalwart Pilgrims who overcome the odds, surviving and then thriving.
But as Portera continued her story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, she also admitted to a nagging feeling she couldn’t shake: “I didn’t feel like we were teaching truth.”
What most school celebrations of Thanksgiving ignore or at best gloss over is that the Pilgrims were colonizers, intent on taking land away from the Native People’s whose home this was before the landing on Plymouth Rock. In a few short years, the European newcomers would use all means available to kill Native people, up to and including giving them blankets infected by smallpox and drive them from the land. It is an ugly chapter of our national history.
The rest of the NPR program talks about how teachers are adapting their lesson plans to better reflect the reality of the roots and consequences of that first Thanksgiving.
As I was thinking about all these things, I ran across a couple of news stories about a satirical play by Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse called “The Thanksgiving Play.” The premise of the play is, as described by Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty, “Four adults [are] on a difficult progressive mission … to devise a Thanksgiving pageant for an elementary school that will pass muster with today’s unforgiving standards. … [They are] determined to pull off an unobjectionable Thanksgiving commemoration in which no animals will be slaughtered and no Native people will be demeaned.”
FastHorse, a Native American playwright whose work has challenged blind spots in America’s historical narrative and cultural presumptions, isn’t setting up straw men. The disagreements and spats among the characters reveal entrenched conflicts and prejudices that continue in a sanitized form the Pilgrims’ erasure of indigenous reality.
“The Thanksgiving Play” incorporates as interludes skits that are taken from actual lesson plans and classroom ideas for Thanksgiving activities posted by teachers on Pinterest. The casual racism, exhibited in silly songs and playful reenactments, would defy credulity were it not so deeply ingrained.
Reexamining our relationship with Native Peoples was the focus of a program, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Hope, Precious Blood Renewal Center hosted in October. Participating in that program opened my eyes to how the dominant culture shapes – distorts – history. History, as they say, is written by the victors. The program left me with a nagging question: What can we do about this history of injustice?
Why should this matter to us? Precious Blood Father Robert Schreiter has written that a foundational task in the work of reconciliation, a key component of Precious Blood spiritualty, is the healing of memories; this is a first step toward reconstructing societies riven by violence and conflict and crucial to creating safe and hospitable spaces in which the work of reconciliation can take place.
Undoubtedly part of the healing of memories — especially when it comes to reconciling our relationships with Native Peoples — is discovering the truth of the past. Because our Thanksgiving traditions have perpetuated false narratives about our relationships, this time of year is probably an ideal time to do this.
Adults interested in a clearer history may want to look up Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States or, a book that I recently finished by Harvard historian Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, which has just come out in paperback. For kids, one of the teachers on the NPR show suggested these books: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Smith, When We Were Alone by David Robertson and The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp.
But we would all benefit from learning more about our particular situations. What do I mean by “our particular situations”? I mean this: Do you ever wonder about the people who occupied the land where we now live? How many of us know who those people were and what they were like? Part of healing a memory is bringing it into clear focus.
A good exercise for this time of year, then, is learning as much as we can about the Native People who had stewardship of the land we now occupy.
I live in Clay County, Missouri, which is also where the Precious Blood Kansas City province has been headquartered since its inception. Did you know that the official, marked Lewis and Clark Trail runs along Pleasant Valley Road, which forms the northern boundary of the Precious Blood property in Liberty?
This is what I have learned of the people who lived here before us:
The Nebo Hill archeological site near Excelsior Springs, Missouri, has revealed evidence of a culture that flourished here between 3000 and 1000 B.C. These people were the predecessors of the Kansas City Hopewell peoples who lived along what we call the Missouri and Kansas Rivers between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D.
The Hopewell peoples, living in oak and hickory forests were hunters and gatherers, but established permanent villages. They also traded extensively. Archeologists have found in Missouri sites volcanic rock from the Yellowstone, copper from Lake Superior, and shells from the Gulf Coast.
But the stewards of this land when Europeans began their migration to North America were a tribe who called themselves the Niutachi, which in their language, Chiwere-Siouan, meant “People of the River Mouth.” Because of misunderstandings and bad translations, when French traders encountered the Niutachi in the late 17th century, they dubbed them “Wemihsoori” or “Mihsoori,” roughly meaning “people of the wooden canoes.” The name stuck and the Niutachi became the Missouria. (A Catholic footnote to this story: It was the Jesuit missionary priest Jacques Marquette who recorded the name wrong.)
Writing in Missouri Life magazine, Ron Soodalter describes their life:
The Missouria were hunter-gatherers who spent time farming. Semi-nomadic, they would plant their crops — beans, corn, squash — in the spring … leave their villages to go on extended buffalo hunts throughout the summer, and return to harvest their crops in the fall. The fullness of their larders reflected the bounty of their crops, the availability of various species of nuts and fruit, and the success of the hunt.
The Missouria lived in frame dwellings of various types. Some were covered in woven reeds or rushes; others were overlaid with slabs of bark. Some of the lodges were elliptical in shape; others were round.
According to Michael Dickey, site supervisor of Arrow Rock State Historic Site, the Missouria were deeply spiritual and monotheistic, worshipping Waconda, the Earth Maker or Creator. (I found one reference that called the Creator Maun.) The clan, the extended family, was the basic societal unit. While men were polygamous, the women were allowed only a single partner. The women, however, owned the clan lodges and all the possessions therein. While they followed strict gender roles, boys and girls were equally valued in the family.
When the Niutachi and the French met, the tribe numbered some 10,000 members and dominated the territory north of the Missouri River in present-day Missouri. But by 1804 when the Niutachi, met Lewis and Clark at the outset of their Corps of Discovery Expedition, Clark referred to them as “once the most powerful nation on the Missouri River” and reported only about 400 members. Their contact with Spanish, French and American traders exposed them to infectious diseases, especially smallpox that decimated the tribe and made them vulnerable to their traditional enemies, the Sac and Fox. To survive, the Niutachi merged with their close relatives the Otoe around 1790-1800. Together they maintained their territory, but that would not last.
Settlers from the east seeking rich farmland coveted the traditional lands of the Otoe-Missouria people. They fought to keep their land, but the settlers came in multitudes. By 1855, native people and white settlers were in open warfare and the U.S. government intervened, sending troops to confine the Otoe-Missouria to the Big Blue River reservation in southeast Nebraska.
Their tribulations did not end there, however, as the history page on the Otoe-Missouria tribe’s website attests:
Life on the Big Blue Reservation was hard. The tribe was not allowed to hunt for buffalo. The government encouraged a shift from a migratory lifestyle to an agrarian one without consideration of long-established tradition or social structure. For years the tribe watched as acre by acre of their land was sold off by the government to non-Indians. They suffered as treaties were broken and food, medicine, livestock, and basic essentials were not delivered as promised. Sickness was rampant, children starved and the mortality rate climbed higher year after year. In 1881 they were moved to Red Rock, Oklahoma, where the tribe is currently located.
Theirs is the land we claim for ourselves now. What can we do about it now? FastHorse has said, “To acknowledge indigenous culture and history in this nation, we have to acknowledge complicity. And that if you’re here, you’re on stolen land, however you got here.”
If we are about the work of reconciliation, it seems to me that the first and least thing we can do is learn as much as we can about the people who walked here before us.
McNulty, Charles. “Review: The politics of Thanksgiving, served up as lukewarm satire.” https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-11-07/thanksgiving-play-geffen-playhouse-review
Mosley, Tonya and Allison Hagan “In ‘Thanksgiving Play,’ Native American Playwright Larissa FastHorse Tackles ‘Wokeness’ ” https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/11/26/thanksgiving-play-larissa-fasthorse
Otoe-Missouri Tribe. “Otoe & Missouria: Five Hundred Years of History” https://www.omtribe.org/who-we-are-history and https://www.omtribe.org/who-we-are-history-facts.
Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Otoe and Missourias Tribes” https://peacestudies.missouri.edu/di/tribes?q=di/otoe-missourias
Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Alternative narrative from the perspective of the Otoe and Missouria tribes” https://peacestudies.missouri.edu/di/tribes?q=di/counter
Precious Blood Renewal Center. “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change” https://www.pbrenewalcenter.org/blog/2019/09/roots-of-injustice-seeds-of-change/
Schreiter, Robert. “Theology of Reconciliation and Peacemaking for Mission,” https://preciousbloodspirituality.org/spirituality-and-theology/preparing-missionaries-be-agents-reconciliation-and-peacemaking
Soodalter, Ron. “The Tribes of Missouri Part 1: When the Osage & Missouria Reigned” https://missourilife.com/the-tribes-of-missouri-part-1-when-the-osage-missouria-reigned/
Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio. “Teaching Thanksgiving” https://www.npr.org/2019/11/24/782403538/teaching-thanksgiving