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.

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