Makena’s Story

D0g88WZXgAMP4QjI’m an only child.  I was 12 years old when my mother died.  My father was devastated.  A Catholic priest told him that I would be better off living in an Italian orphanage where I would have a good Christian education.  The father believed him because he was a priest.  He was a missionary sent to Kenya for a year and he visited our home when my mother was sick.  He prayed over her and when she died, he officiated at the funeral service.  He told my father that he didn’t have to worry about me.  He promised that I would be well taken care of by the nuns who ran the orphanage.

So, after we buried my mother and saying a tearful goodbye to my father, I went with Father Bernardo to a strange country whose language I didn’t know.  I was scared but Father Bernardo assured me that everything was going to be all right.  All I had to do was trust him. and if I had any problems or concerns, I could always talk to him about them.  It wasn’t until we got to the orphanage that I found out that he lived in one of the units on the grounds.

When we got to the orphanage, I was put to work as a domestic hand as well as carer for the younger children in the orphanage even though I didn’t understand a word of Italian.  I was also chosen to clean Father Bernardo’s unit.  He offered to teach me Italian after I finished my cleaning but things changed.  After I finished cleaning his unit,  had to sit on his lap, and while he taught me Italian, he played with my breasts.

I knew what was happening was wrong and I felt guilty because of my religious Priestupbringing.  Father Bernardo knew it was wrong too but he didn’t stop.  Instead, he made me go to confession and pray to God for forgiveness for my sins because I was making him do what he did.  And he threatened me that if I ever resisted his abuse, he would refuse to give me communion the next time I went to Mass.

As I got older, the abuse got worse.  He started to have sex with me.  While I was cleaning, he would get undressed and climb into the bed and wait for me to join him.  I couldn’t refuse because I knew that he would make good on his threat not to give me Communion.  So, I would let him do what he wanted to me, praying that one day it would end.  It was no use telling anyone about it.  Once when I told one of the nuns that I was bleeding down there, she thought I meant that I had my period and she gave me pads.  And Father Bernardo told me that no one would believe me if I told them about us.  They would accuse me of lying and beat me.

I got pregnant three times and all three times I was forced to have an abortion because he refused to use condoms or contraceptives.  I hated him because he was forcing me to commit murder.  As far as I was concerned abortion was murder.  Each time I had one, I cried bitterly in my room and begged God to forgive me.

I wanted to write my father and tell him what was happening to me but Father Bernardo wouldn’t let me to write or call without his permission.  He made sure that somehow he got a hold of my mail and if there was something in it that he didn’t approve of it was confiscated and discarded.  And I wasn’t permitted to leave the grounds of the orphanage or talk to any of the local boys or the even the gardener.  He got jealous and spiteful when I did.  I not only feared him but I began to hate him.  I wanted to run away from him and this horrible place.

One night I opened my Bible to the Psalms and found Psalm 37.  I read it.  These words jumped out at me were, “Be still in the presence of the LORD and wait patiently for Him to act.”  I decided to do just that.  I had prayed to Him to rescue me from this private Hell and I know He heard my prayer.  Now, I will wait for Him to do something.

I didn’t have long to wait.  While Father Bernardo was in Rome, I left the orphanage and went to live in a house where I worked as a servant.  I was 18.  The couple with whom I lived were paid an allowance for having me and they had me accompany them on trips as nanny to their children.  Fortunately for me they spoke English, although by then, I knew some Italian.  I was happy living with them.  They treated me very well and I was very fond of their children.

Several times, Father Bernardo stopped by to persuade me to return to the orphanage but I refused.  He was taken aback and after his threats failed, he begged me to go back with him and promised that he would use condoms so that I wouldn’t have to have any more abortions but I told him to leave me alone.  He eventually went away and I never saw him again but he made the mistake of writing me a long letter in which he went off on a tirade.

In it he wrote that no man would want to marry me when he found out that I had been an older man’s lover and had three abortions.  He said that he wasn’t an evil man and that it was my fault that he did the things he did.  He said I bewitched him.  He ended the letter, promising that if I resumed our relationship, he would consider leaving the priesthood and marrying me.  I felt sick to my stomach.

I wanted to tear the letter to pieces and flush them down the toilet but I was impressed to show the letter to the couple whom I was working for.  Shocked and appalled, the man made several copies of the letter.   He mailed one copy to the orphanage, to the church where Father Bernardo did Mass, the Vatican and to the local bishop.  No response was forthcoming but the last I heard of Father Bernardo, he was no longer at the orphanage or at the church.  My employer said that they probably just reassigned him to another church instead of removing him from the priesthood.

I don’t hate him anymore but I trust in the Word of God which says, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

user_male_portraitI’m 28 years old now and happily married with two children–a boy and a girl.  My husband, Stefano was the younger brother of the woman whom I was working for.  We met when he drove from Florence to visit the family.  He was very charming and it didn’t take long for him to win my heart.  I wrote to my father about him and he was able to come to the wedding.

It was wonderful seeing my father again.  He looked much older than I remember.  My mother’s death really hit him hard but he has managed to pick up the pieces.  He stayed for a couple of weeks in Florence before flying back to Nairobi.  Next year summer, Stefano, the kids and I will visit him.

I still haven’t told my father about my abuse.  Stefano told me to wait until I feel like I’m ready to do it but I’m not sure I ever will.  Especially not after he said to me as we danced at my wedding, “I’m thankful that Father Bernardo convinced me to let you come to Italy or you wouldn’t have met your young man.”  I don’t want my father to blame himself for what Father Bernardo did to me.

I’m still haunted by the memories and after leaving the orphanage, I have never set foot in a Catholic church.  I have an aversion for priests.   I left the Catholic faith and am now a member of Stefano’s church which is non-denominational.  Stefano had left his faith years ago because of the sex scandals.

There are times when I feel ashamed of what happened and wished that I had done something–anything to prevent it but Stefano told me to stop blaming myself.  Who would have believed me anyway?  It was my word against a priest’s.  With God’s help, I am working through the lingering guilt and the self-recrimination one day at a time.  I still think about the abortions I had and will always regret having them.

This story is fiction but is inspired by true stories of women who were abused by priests as young girls.  One woman was abused for 13 years beginning when she was 15 years old.  There are so many stories of victims suffering at the hands of those who are in positions of trust and millions of people want to know, “what new steps will the bishops take to clean up — or clean out — the church after years of sex abuse scandals?”  The pastoral practice of transferring priest from parish to parish (priest shuffling) has to stop.

Priests suspected of abuse should be removed from their duties/their parishes until there is an investigation into the allegations and once it is proven that they are guilty, they need to be arrested and serve time for their crimes against the innocent.  The Church as a whole has to be held accountable and put policies in place to protect the victims.  Victims should not be treated as if they have done something wrong or be accused of lying.

Anne Barrett Doyle of the research group, Bishop Accountability said that what Pope Francis should do to protect children, is to order the Vatican to release the names of all priests who have been convicted under canon law of abusing minors.  Pennsylvania Attorney-General Josh Shapiro urged local church officials to “cease their denials and deflections” and accept the grand jury recommendations, which include allowing victims to sue the church for abuse that otherwise would fall outside the statute of limitations.  According to Pope Francis, church leaders need to be more concerned about the safety of the children than their own reputations.

No more talk.  No more cover-up.  It’s time for the church to take action and root out priestly sex abuse.

Sources:  The Irish TimesRoyal CommissionKnowing Jesus; USA Today; The Globe and MailWikipedia

Carmela’s Story

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Carmela sat in the empty church which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  She was on her way home from the salon where she worked when she decided to stop in and pray for her brother, Guido who died five years ago from a heart attack.  She hoped and prayed that he was no longer in Purgatory because of all the prayers she and the rest of the family had made on his behalf and that he was in Heaven now.  Still, it didn’t hurt to still say prayers for him.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.”

After she finished praying, she said this prayer for her deceased parents whom  she knew were in Heaven.  “O God, Who hast commanded us to honor our father and mother, look in the tenderness of Thy mercy upon the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their sins, and grant unto me the joy of seeing them again in the glorious light of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

She hoped that one day soon, Guido would join them. She remained kneeling for a while longer and then she made the sign of the Cross.   She rose to her feet went to the front and lit three candles, said a prayer and then left.  Outside it was a bit nippy and drizzling slightly.  She stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few items and then went to the modest apartment she shared with her teenage daughter, Maria.

The place was quiet when she opened the door and went inside.  Maria was still out with her friends.  She said that they were going to hang out at the mall for a while and she should be home by seven. The clock on the wall in the living-room struck five.  She went straight into the kitchen and set the grocery bags on the counter before she removed her jacket and hung it in the hall closet.  She washed her hands and got busy making her famous Manicotti Italian Casserole.

While the Casserole was in the oven baking, she went and took a quick shower.  By the time she was done, the Casserole was ready.  She removed it from the oven and shared it out.  She waited until the oven cooled a bit before she put the plate with Maria’s food inside the oven to keep it hot.  She sat down at the kitchen table and ate hers.  She hadn’t made it since Giuseppe died.  It was his favorite dish.  He always used to boast, “I got lucky when I married you.  You make the best Manicotti Italian Casserole on the planet.  Even better than Mama’s.”

Carmela smiled.  He was such a good husband and father.  It was hard to believe that ten years had passed since he died.  She visited his grave every week and put fresh flowers on it.  And she prayed for him every night.  She couldn’t imagine marrying again.  Giuseppe was her first and only love.  She wanted to remain his wife for the rest of her life.

After she finished eating, she got up from the table, washed the plate and the dirty things in the sink.  She fixed herself a cup of a cup of coffee and took it into the living-room.  She turned on the television and watched the local news.  When it was over, she turned off the television and went to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer.  It was Friday so she went to get the dirty laundry.  She went to Maria’s room first and as she was about to pick up the laundry bin to take it to the washer, her eyes fell on a booklet lying on top of the bed.  On the front there was a picture of a man stooping down in front of a grave with a woman dressed in white standing behind him.  Over his head were the words, Are the Dead Really Dead?

Heart pounding, she dropped the laundry basket on the floor and picked up the booklet.  She sat down on the bed and began to read it.  She was half way through when she heard the key turn in the lock.  Maria was home.  Closing the booklet, she hurried into the living-room.  Holding the booklet up for her to see, she asked, “Where did you get this?”

Maria looked at the booklet.  “I got it from Anna who got it from her cousin, Lucy.”

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“Is Lucy the one who is a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want you to take this and give it back to Anna.  I don’t want this kind of literature in my home.”

“But, Mama, I read it and it makes so much sense to me.  I never believed that you can talk to and pray to the dead.”

“All my life I have been a Catholic and I believe what the church teaches.  The dead are in Heaven or Purgatory or Hell.  They are not sleeping in their graves as this claims.” She shoved it at Maria, shaking her head.

“They use scriptures to back up what they are saying.  Why is it such a bad thing to believe that the dead are in their graves?  Would Heaven be a happy place for them when they see their loved ones suffering?  Take Amy’s mother for example.  Would she be happy in Heaven if she can see Amy’s brother, Michael getting bullied at school because he has a learning disability?  What about Grandpa and Grandma?  How would they feel if they saw Uncle Guido struggling with alcohol addiction or how painful it was for us when Daddy died?  I thought Heaven was supposed to be a happy place but how could anyone be happy there when they can see so much suffering here on earth or their loves one burning up in Hell?  No, Mama, I can’t believe that God who is love would have people burning in Hell forever or stuck in limbo in Purgatory, hoping that the prayers of their loved ones will get them into Heaven and afraid that they might end up in Hell.  I believe what this Study guide says about death.  It is more in line with God’s loving and compassionate character.  I am going to ask Anna for more these study guides so that I can learn more of what’s in the Bible.”

Carmela stared at her.  “So, you’re going to turn your back on your Catholic faith?”

“Mama, I was never a devout Catholic like you and the rest of our family, except Uncle Guido.  I never felt an emotional connection to the traditions and teachings.  I went to Anna’s church last week Saturday and I felt so connected to the people and was so moved by the sermon that I was sorry when it was over.  I felt this hunger to know more.”

“You went to a Seventh-day Adventist Church?” Carmela demanded, incensed.  “How dare you go there without my permission?”

“Would you have let me go if I asked you?”

“No! And for good reason.  Maria, they teach all sorts of negative things about our church such as the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and that the church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelation.  They claim to be God’s remnant church because they keep the Ten commandments which were nailed to the cross and because of some woman named Ellen G. White whom they say is a prophetess.”

“Mama, I really want to go to Anna’s church this Saturday.  The youth are doing the worship service and afterwards there’s a lunch and–”

Carmela’s mouth tightened.  “Forget it.  You’re not going.”

“But, Mama–”

“You heard me.  Now finish taking up your dirty laundry and put it in the washer.  When you’re finished have your dinner.  It’s in the oven.”  She turned and walked out of the room, livid.  “Ragazza sciocca. Tornando indietro alla sua fede. Beh, non ce l’ho. Non finché vivi qui.”

Maria didn’t go to church on the Sabbath but she watched the service on line the next day while her mother was at Sunday Mass.  She did that every Sunday and when she turned 18, she decided that she wanted to be baptized and be a member of Anna’s church.  When she broke the news to her mother, she yelled, “Se ci riesci, voglio buttarti fuori da questa casa” before she stormed out of the apartment.

After she left, Maria went to her room and knelt beside her bed and prayed.

Carmela took the bus to the cemetery and she hurried towards Guiseppe’s grave, tears of anger streaming down her face.  When she got there, she knelt down.  “Oh, Guiseppe, your daughter will be the death of me.  Do you know what she is planning to do?  She’s going to get baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church, of all the churches.  I warned her that if she goes through with it, I will throw her out on the streets.  I don’t know what else to do.  Guiseppe, what do I do?  How could I let her turn her back on our faith?  No one in our family is a Protestant.  Per favore, caro mio, dimmi cosa devo fare.”

She waited for a reply, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her eyes squeezed shut.  There was silence and then she heard a male voice ask, “Why do you seek the dead on behalf of the living?”

Her eyes flew up and she looked wildly about her but she was alone.  No one else was there.  Trembling, she asked, “Whose voice did I just hear? Was it the Lord’s or an angel’s?”

“It is I, Jesus.  Maria has chosen a good thing which will not be taken away from her.”

“What should I do, Lord?”

“Do not cast her out.”

Carmela made the sign of the cross and stood up.  She went away, her heart racing and the words of the Lord running through her mind.  When she got home, she called Maria.  “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said.  “If you’re serious about getting baptized and joining Anna’s church, I’m not going to stop you or kick you out but I won’t be there.”  And she walked past her and went to her room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Maria raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks.  A couple weeks later she was baptized and Anna’s parents invited her to their home to celebrate.  Maria became a member of the church and involved in the Youth Ministry.  She even taught Sabbath School sometimes.  She became a literature evangelist and handed out tracts.  She became a vegetarian much to her mother’s chagrin but there was no opposition.  Maria cooked her own meals.

Carmela saw how happy her daughter was and she stopped lamenting about her leaving the Catholic church.  She continued to attend Sunday Mass.  One Sunday after Mass, she was talking to Father Ricci and she mentioned something about Eve.  One of her regular customers at the salon had lent her the movie, Genesis: The Creation and the Flood which she watched on Saturday.

Father Esposito’s expression changed and he said, “Mrs. Romano, the story of Adam and Eve was not to be taken literally.  It was merely a story in the Bible and should not be taken as fact.”

She stared at him, stunned but didn’t get into any further discussion with him.  “Thank you, Father,” she said.  “Good-day.”  She turned and hurried away, her mind reeling from shock.  She went home and opened her Bible to Chapter Three of the Gospel of Luke where the the Genealogy of Jesus was.  There was Adam’s name and he was called the son of God.  How then, could Father Esposito claim that Adam was not a real person?  And Jesus Himself alluded to both Adam and Eve when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

She closed the Bible and sank heavily down on the sofa.  Why would Father Esposito claim that the story of creation was just a story?  What else in the Bible should not be taken as fact?  She went into the den and logged on to the computer.  She did several searches until she came across a site called, Steps to Life and a book called, Is the Virgin Mary Dead or Alive by Danny Vierra.  At first, she didn’t want to read it but she felt strongly impressed to.

She read the first chapter and her heart lurched when she read the part about the priest who taught his religion class telling him the same thing Father Esposito told her about the story of Adam and Eve.  Heart racing, she continued reading.  She read a few chapters that evening and every evening until she was finished reading the entire book.  Afterwards, she did the online Bible Studies by Marshall Grosboll

By the time she was done with the Bible Studies, she knew that she had a choice to make.  She could remain in the church that she had been born and raised in or she could leave.  As she prayed earnestly about it,  the words, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” came to her.  She had discovered God’s truth and she had to embrace it.

She told Maria everything and her daughter was thrilled.  Together they went to Anna’s church and one Saturday, Maria watched with tears in her eyes as her mother gave her life to Christ.  The following month, on Carmela’s 45th birthday, she was baptized.

Carmela thanked Jesus for talking to her that day in the cemetery and her customer for lending her the movie about Genesis.  Those two events changed her life.  And she was proud of Maria for choosing that “good thing”.

The way to God’s truth is always there.  Some find it sooner and some later.  The important thing is to find it.  And when you do, it will set you free.

Sources:  Our Catholic Prayers; Town and Country; Catholic News Herald;

Francis Finds Love and Faith

“Why haven’t you been by the house?  Are they working you too hard?  When is the last time you went to confession?  When are you going to settle down and get married?”  Mrs. De Vries demanded as her son, Francis walked out of the courthouse and into the late afternoon sunshine.  It had been a hectic day and all he wanted to do was to go home and crash.

“Mother, I’m perfectly happy with my life,” he told her wearily.  “I haven’t been by the house because I have been very busy on a case which was wrapped up a short while ago.  I haven’t been to confession for over a year and I’m not ready to get married as yet.”

He didn’t tell her that he hadn’t been to confession or the church because he was seriously considering leaving the faith.  And the allegations of sex abuse at the hands of the clergy didn’t help.  He knew of one girl he used to go to school with who was a victim but was afraid to say anything because she was afraid that her parents would kick her out of the house.  The last he heard of her, she had left the church and married a Protestant.

He grew up in a strict Catholic home where he was taught never to question the church because to do so was a grave sin.  So, he kept quiet, went to Mass every Sunday with his family, had his First Communion and Confirmation.  He still remembered what happened to his girlfriend, Sophia when she was 16 and preparing Confirmation.  She was in the Children’s Room and she had to write down the sins she had committed against God.  When she told the priest that he had made out with her boyfriend, the man looked at her and told her that she was going to hell.  Distraught and terrified at the thought of burning for eternity, she ran out of the room in tears. Francis never saw her again.  He just went to church to please his mother.  But he could feel himself becoming more and more disconnected to the faith.

“Francis?  Are you still there?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Mother.”

“Marian is having her First Communion next week Sunday.  You are going to come for that, aren’t you?  Everyone will expect to see you.”  Marian was his 7 year old niece.

He didn’t really want to go but he knew he would never hear the end of it if he didn’t show up.  Besides, he didn’t want to disappoint Marian.  “All right, Mother.  I’ll be there.”

“Good.” She sounded very pleased.  “Afterwards, we’ll go over to the house and have a big meal to celebrate.”

“Sounds good.  I have to go now, Mother.”

“All right, Francis.  I will call you again during the week to remind you.”

“I will write it down in my calendar so that I won’t forget.”

“Just the same, I will call and remind you,” she insisted.

He sighed.  “All right, Mother.”

“Have a good weekend.”

“Thanks.  You too.”

“Make sure you go to church on Sunday.  I pray for you everyday, you know.”

“That’s sweet of you, Mother.  I really have to go now.  Goodbye.”

“All right.  Goodbye, Francis. Ik hou van je.”

Ik hou ook van jou.” He ended the call and got into his car.  The sun was setting as he pulled out of the parking lot.  He couldn’t wait to get home and take a long, hot shower before ordering Take Out Thai.  He didn’t have any plans for the weekend.  He was going to be a couch potato for once.

About forty minutes later, he was riding up the elevator.  The doors opened and he headed down the long hallway to his unit.  As he was about to insert the key in the lock, the door opposite his opened and his neighbor, Briana came out of her unit.  Her gaze traveled over his tall frame.   “Hi,” she said.  2451262bc76a34995bfa6c2e7db55843

“Hi.” She had her jacket draped over her arm and her knapsack was on her shoulder.  “Going on a date?” he asked.  He always wanted to find out if she had a boyfriend but never quite knew how to broach the subject without coming across nosy.

She shook her head.  “No.  I’m going to the Living With Hope Evangelistic meetings.  Tonight’s the first meeting.  It ends next week Sunday.”  She showed him the flyer.

He took it from her and studied it.  It looked very interesting.  It started at 7 which was a hour away.  “Do you mind if I come with you?” he asked.

She shook her head again.  “No, not at all.  Have you eaten?”

“No.”

“Neither have I.  I got in a short time ago and didn’t have time to eat anything.  We can grab something on the way.”  They took her car.

As they sped down the high-way, they talked about all sorts of things.  She asked him about his job and he told her about the case he won earlier that day.  His client was found not guilty because of reasonable doubt.  “Do you think he was innocent?” she asked.

“Yes.  And I established that the foreman at the firm as a very possible suspect.  He had motive and opportunity.”

“Well, congratulations.”

“Thanks.  You’re a Physical Therapy Assistant, right?”

“Yes.”  He remembered.  “I love it.  I love helping people.  That’s something you and I have in common.”

He smiled.  “That’s true.”

“So….do you have a girlfriend?”  She knew he wasn’t married.

The question took him by surprise and it took him a moment to reply.  “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.  What about you?  Do you have a boyfriend?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I’ve gone out with a couple of guys but nothing panned out.  We’re approaching Carroll Ave where the church is,” she added. “There are several food places in the area.  What do you feel in the mood for?”

“Is there a Middle Eastern place?”

“Yes.  It’s right up here.”  She pulled into the parking lot and found a parking space in front of the restaurant.  They walked in and over to the Take Out area.  “I’m going to have the Chicken Shawarma.  What about you?”

“I think I will have the Lamb burger.”  His mouth watered as he thought having it with fries.

They ordered and then they went to the car and she drove to the church.  They sat in the car and ate.  He encouraged her to try the fries.  “Next time I think I will try the Lamb Burger.  It looks really good.”

“If you don’t have other plans, I was thinking that tomorrow night after we leave here, we could go a really nice family run Lebanese restaurant in Washington.”

She smiled.  “I would love to.”

They finished eating and then it was time to head inside.  They were hooked the first night and looked forward to going the following night.  Night after night they went to the series together and had dinner afterwards.  By the end of the series, they both decided to regularly attend the church hosting the series.  They each received the Discover Bible Guides from the pastor of the church which they eagerly went through. Then, in the Spring the following year, they were baptized.

At first, Francis’ mother was bitterly disappointed that he had left the Catholic faith but when she saw how happy he was, she relented.  And she was relieved to see that he had a girlfriend.  She became very fond of Briana and even taught her how to make some traditional Dutch dishes.

Two years later, Francis and Briana tied the knot in a simple but elegant ceremony.

 

Sources:  Huff Post; Corpus Christi; Tahoma Park Church