Friday, January 10, 2014


Edmund and his wife Elisabeth

Around 2005 and 2006, I was in need of some significant help getting German texts translated into English.  I was working on a history of the German Capuchins in the Northern Marianas.

I got help from several people, but they were off-island and I still had a good number of archival documents that needed translating and needed it fast.  I couldn't wait for off-island help.

An American Jesuit recommended I ask Edmund Kalau, living in Jonestown, Guam.

The Jesuit let me know that Kalau was a Protestant missionary, flying airplanes in Micronesia which is dotted with hundreds of tiny atolls and islands.  I was told I would have no fear of being received cautiously.  In fact, I would encounter the opposite.  Kalau, he said, loved to engage and to converse.

So I rang him up and set a time to meet him.  Sure enough, after we talked business, he wanted to show me many things he had picked up in Micronesia and beyond.  He told me about his childhood as a Hitler Youth.  In his day, it was as if the whole world in his part of Germany was swept up in Hitler frenzy, believing that he was the savior of their country.

When Hitler failed them, many people looked for God.  He did.

The same happened, to a smaller degree, in Japan at the end of WW2.

I knew a Japanese husband and wife, now deceased, who were teenagers when they saw their country lose the war.  They became disillusioned with politics and an earthly paradise.  They looked for a Catholic priest and were baptized.

Kalau had those translations done in two weeks, so I know he tackled this work with commitment.  When I went to pick up the translations, he refused the $100 I offered him.

It was interesting because all the German works he put into English were dripping with Catholicism; traditional Catholicism.  Yet he never made any remarks about the content of what he translated.

He, an Evangelical Protestant pastor; me, a Catholic friar and priest, silently agreed to disagree and never made our religious differences an issue.  Had we interacted much more, I do not know how we would have handled our different perspectives.  But my sense is that he would have always been a gentleman.

I have friends of other faiths or no religious faith at all.  If they want to know why I believe the things I believe in, they ask with an open mind and I explain as best I can.  Most of the time they can't understand why I believe the things I do, even after I explain myself.  And then we call it a day.  We leave it at that.  We talk about a healthy diet next.

And then there are others who never seek to learn nor to understand.  They just want to beat their ideas into your head.  After one minute of that, I call it a day.  And we don't talk about a healthy diet or anything else after that.  Even Jesus kept His mouth closed in front of some people who had plenty of mouth but not much ears.

We pray for the dead, whether they had done us favors in life or not at all.  But kindness is repaid with kindness.  Kalau helped me and asked no favors back.  So I pray that the Lord reward him for that.  Kalau passed away some days ago.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


July of 1981.  I was in Montreal as a tourist.  But a Catholic one, so yes, churches interested me.  And there are many in French Montreal that are delight to the Catholic eye to see.

Then I heard of a church and the holy man who built it for the first time in my life.

I was advised by locals to visit the Oratory of Saint Joseph, built by one Brother André.

I had no idea who he was.

I had no clue that he was a simple brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross.  That he was so simple and sickly that he was rejected once by the Congregation but was finally allowed to join.  Even then, they gave him one simple task for the next 40 years : answer the door and phone.

He was like many Capuchin saints - a porter.  But that job puts one in constant contact with visitors.  When some of them started to tell Brother André that they or someone they loved was sick, he would send them to St. Joseph.  "Pray to Saint Joseph!"  He would also visit the sick and rub on them some oil from a lamp that burned before an image of Saint Joseph.  People would get well.  Brother André would say, "Saint Joseph healed them."

The numbers seeking Brother André swelled.  He needed secretaries to help him answer letters.

As with almost all the saints of God, he suffered at the hands of the Church and his own community.  Some called him a hoax, a charlatan.  He was viewed with suspicion by many.  Priests complained that he brought too many people to the residence, too many to handle.

He was then assigned another place to receive his throngs of visitors.  When he died, one million people passed his coffin to pay their respects.

The Young Brother Andre

I knew none of this when I took a subway and a bus to go to the outskirts of Montreal to visit his tomb at the Oratory of Saint Joseph, the church he built with all the donations he received, in honor of his great patron.

I felt drawn to kneel at his tomb; he was not even declared a blessed or a saint yet! 

There, I also felt drawn to ask Brother André for a spiritual favor.  I needed a very specific grace.  It was something totally spiritual.  It had nothing to do with a physical or material concern.

I got up from my prayer and that was it.  I kept a holy card of him and went on with my travels.

The Oratory of Saint Joseph built by St Andre Bessette

A week later, I was on a retreat in New Mexico and I had more or less forgotten about Brother André!  I had even stopped, more or less, thinking about the spiritual favor I had asked.

But on that retreat, unexpectedly and out of the blue, that specific grace came.  I cannot speak about it, but it was specific and concrete.  And it came.

And when it came, then and only then I remembered Brother André.  And I thanked him.

So, on his feast today, I must let people know.  Brother, now Saint, André Bessette is mighty indeed!  And I'm sure Saint Joseph is part of the reason, too.


A man was having a hard time walking down the street with his new pair of crutches.

A car passed by and slowed down.  Out the window appeared an elderly man wearing a Roman collar.  The religious said, "My friend!  What happened?"

The man with crutches said, "I got into an accident, and now I have to use these!"

The old man said, "My friend!  Drop those crutches and walk on your own!"

The man thought the suggestion was crazy.

Again the old man said, "Drop the crutches and walk on your own!"
This time the man obeyed.  He dropped the crutches and he couldn't believe it.  He was able to walk perfectly well.

The car with the old man in it drove off.

It was Brother André.