Friday, August 31, 2007

Pray for Carmen Gonzalez, parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Angels

Today the New York Times covered the funeral of Carmen Gonzalez, held outdoors in front of the now closed Our Lady Queen of Angels, in East Harlem. Sewell Chan's piece, Outdoor Funeral for a Protester of a Church Closing, presents an accurate and concise recap of Our Lady Queen of Angels' plight as well as reportage of the current event. The print version of the "Times" features a picture of the deceased's casket in front of the church surrounded by her friends, family and fellow activists.

The article also features the inevitable comments of archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling, who is quoted as saying, “We encouraged the family to approach one of these other parishes in order that Mrs. Gonzalez could have a proper and fitting Mass of Christian Burial. Even though this building is closed, the Church — in the Archdiocese of New York — is open to them. It is too bad that they decided to make this an occasion to protest rather than an occasion to pray for the soul of the deceased.”

Reciprocally, the Archdiocese could have made this an occasion to offer condolences to family, friends and fellow parishioners and to express empathy for their bereavement: Bereavement at the loss of Carmen Gonzalez and at the loss of their parish. Zwilling implies that protest and prayer are dichotomous. Does the fact that this service was not a Mass of Christian Burial mean that those present did not pray for the deceased? He states, "Even though this building is closed, the Church — in the Archdiocese of New York — is open to them." Does the tone and content of his message open a door that these people would really feel welcome to enter?

I am offering prayers for Mrs. Gonzalez and her family and friends. I am offering prayers to all who are praying and acting to preserve the communities of faith that were disrupted by the closure of parishes. I am offering prayers for Archdiocese and for the whole Church.

Please pray with me and ask Mrs. Gonzalez for her help now as she helped in life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A spoon for me and for many others

"Do God's people really have the means to eat the food he prepares for them, or is it wrapped in the cellophane of doctrine and set high on the top shelf of theology? And are they too well trained to dare to mention the problem?"

-Margaret Silf, preface to Inner Compass, An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, 1999

I always left Our Lady of Vilnius nourished. This is why I fight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Rare Bird Sighted at Robert Beddia's Funeral

As I was hanging over a strong cup of coffee and reading "The Metro" section of the New York Times this morning, the coverage of Robert Beddia's funeral, "A Second Day, a Second Massing of Grief for a Lost Firefighter" snagged my interest. Robert Beddia, one of the firefighters who lost his life in the Deutsche Bank fire, is one of those people that you encounter through their obituary and then regret never having met.

After emerging from that reverie, I looked at the lower left hand corner of the accompanying picture and thought that the back of the head, the jawline and the shoulders draped in vestments looked familiar. Father Eugene?

Further examination of the coverage confirmed the sighting. The New York Daily News article, The city stops to honor another lost firefighter features a link to an "audio gallery," a montage of still photos accompanied by audio. In one of these stills, as the celebrants of the Mass emerge from St. Patrick's Cathedral, Father Eugene is among them.

So what does this have to do with Our Lady of Vilnius?

The FDNY has been a substantial element of the parish culture. Father Eugene, having served the FDNY as a firefighter and dispatcher, could be seen wearing an "FDNY" T-shirt often enough, a fact remarked upon by Linda Stasi of The New York Post in her February, 2007, column, Street Preach. The parish office was sprinkled with firehouse bric-a-brac and memorabilia and the crackle of the scanner could sometimes be heard from above, in Father's living quarters. Most important, the best of the FDNY had become a part of Father Eugene's outlook, manifesting itself in the heart and humor that expressed itself in casual exchanges, in homilies and in compassion for the failings of the average man and woman.

We are proud to have a pastor that had been numbered among New York's Bravest and happy to benefit from every good thing that he carried from that experience into the priesthood.

This is one of the things that makes Our Lady of Vilnius unique and irreplacible.

It would be great if that recently-rare bird, Father Sawicki in vestments, could be once again sighted at Mass, at least weekly.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Parishioner is Missing Mary

A parishioner sent me a bookmark to this Wikipedia entry about Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn. The picture at left is the original icon that resides in the Dawn (Eastern) Gate of the Old City in Vilnius, Lithuania. This is the first time that I have seen the icon without its gold and silver "face," and I find it even more beautiful, though I do miss the crescent moon.

The man who alerted me to this site found the icon especially beautiful. He also noted the following quote:

"In Lithuania itself there are 15 churches devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn as well as Lithuanian parishes in New York, Montreal and Buenos Aires."

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn is missing and is missed in the Archdiocese of New York.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Man for Our Parish

Father Eugene Sawicki

Extant. Not venerated, not beatified, but greatly missed.

Blessed George Matulaitis: A Man for Our Parish

"After the example of Christ I embrace all of you. I am ready to die for the truth. I wish to be to all of you a real Father, Shepherd, Imitator of Christ. My field of labor is Christ's kingdom the Church, my party is Christ."

-Blessed George's first address as bishop of Vilnius, Lithuania

All of these facts were obtained from a page on "Catholic Forum".

Born: 13 April 1871 Lugine, Lithuania

Died: 27 January 27 of appendicitis

Venerated: 11 May 1982 by Pope John Paul II

Beatified: 28 June 1987 by Pope John Paul II

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Blessed George Matulaitis - befriend him, emulate him and pray to him for his help!

Father Matulaitis said Mass in our church. Let us pray to him for help in saving it. Let him inspire us to "Overcome evil with good." Let us pray to become more like him.

Here is an excerpt from his journal, presented in Sister Ann Mikaila's "Bridges" article:

"If I may ask, Lord, let me be but a kitchen rag in your Church, a rag used to wipe up messes and then thrown away into some dark and dirty corner. I want to be used up and worn out in the same way, so that your house would be a little cleaner and brighter."
Journal: January 13, 1911

Our Lady of Vilnius Church: A Memorial Site of Blessed George Matulaitis

Recently an Italian-American friend asked me if there were any Lithuanian saints. I really didn't know. Apparently we do not have any at present, but we may have one in the future, and he has said Mass at Our Lady of Vilnius!

Last Sunday the Knights told me about Blessed George Matulaitis. In the July 26, 1998 edition of "Bridges," Sister Ann Mikaila presents a brief biography of this humble and inspiring man, The Life and Work of Blessed George (Jurgis) Matulaitis. On June 28, 1987, Archbishop Jurgis (George) Matulaitis was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Sister Ann Mikaila summarizes: "His vision of God working in and through the human person revives our hope in our power for good." As a young man, Father Matulaitis took the words of St. Paul, "Overcome evil with good," as his personal motto.

The biography goes to to mention a trip to the United States:

"In June (1926) he sailed to the United States to attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Chicago. He also visited 92 Lithuanian parishes ..."

Our Lady of Vilnius was one of them, a fact noted by the older Knights with great pride.

Cardinal Egan, please recognize the sanctity, the meaning and the beauty of our home and let our parish live!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Knights of Lithuania

This Sunday I attended my first meeting as a member of the Knights of Lithuania, Council 12.

I had first met my fellow Knights last year in the basement hall of Our Lady of Vilnius. I was happy to meet many people of my parents' generation. Indeed, several of them may have knelt beside my father and aunts as children, upstairs in the sanctuary.

Despite the closure of our church, spirits were fairly high and I think that people enjoyed seeing each other after such a long time.

Especially inspiring was the appearance of Mr. A. The last time we had seen him and his wife was a month before the closure of the church. He had always done the readings in Lithuanian. I didn't understand the words, but I loved hearing the language in his rich, deep voice. When I could find a Lithuanian missal, I would follow along to learn how the sounds stacked up against the letters. When I couldn't, I followed along in English, learning the meanings of the words. I had always considered him and his wife to be the heart of the Lithuanian community here.

They were always the first to arrive, making sure that the altar was set up, that the coffee was perking and that the missalettes were on the seats. I could not speak to them fluently because I do not speak Lithuanian, but we exchanged a few words in Russian and we always exchanged smiles.

The Sunday that Mr. A. had taken ill, I arrived early for Mass and had found the door locked. As I knew the church was in danger of closing, I feared the worst and went to the rectory. Joy reassured me that the church hadn't been closed and let me in so that I could walk through and open the front door for the others. I breathed a sigh of relief, felt a great gladness at the reprieve and sadly acknowledged that this might be a dress rehearsal for the future. I was saddened to hear of Mr. A.'s illness, which was announced at that day's Mass. He remained in our thoughts and prayers throughout.

Before the church was closed, the absence of this couple threw us into dissarray. We learned everything that they had done by its absence: coffee, flowers for the altar, prayer books and readings. We all took turns hesitantly trying to fill this void. We had almost gotten into a rhythm with our new duties when we were confronted with another void; the locking of the the church.

Seeing Mr. A. was beautiful, a resurrection of sorts. He looked much as he always looked, except walking with a cane. He and his wife were beaming and seeing them again gave us such a lift.

People brought cakes, cookies and fruits to share, and I was happy to be among people that showed so much heart, generosity, humor and longevity. I enjoyed hearing stories and reminiscences that intertwined personal history, the history of the community and the history of our parish.

I am happy to be in the same club as Mr. and Mrs. A., true knights in shining armor.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Kindred Spirit in China

Similar Process, Different Hierarchy

Today's New York Times features a piece on a woman's effort to save her historic ancestral home in Beijing. The story, Little Building Defies Beijing’s Olympic Ambitions, by Jim Yardley describes Sun Ryoh's resistance to the destruction of a home and business that has been in her family for generations. Apparently, it stands in the route of the Olympic marathon, but Ms. Sun suspects other motives as well. Salient quotes:

"In the spring of 2006, Ms. Sun said notices appeared in the neighborhood that buildings would be razed. No other explanation was provided, she said."

"Ms. Sun believes that the Olympics are only one reason that local officials want to knock down her home. She said one official told her that the area would be made into a park for the Olympics but that it would be developed later as a residential and commercial area. Officials have offered the family about 1.6 million yuan, a little more than $200,000, for the building — not enough for what is expected to become one of the city’s priciest districts. The family has refused."

“No matter what they offer, I won’t be able to afford an apartment here,” she said. “I want to be able to live here.”

Ms. Sun, you are a woman after my own heart. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Jeremiah Moss: I met him at the Moondance Diner

In the blogosphere, that is. I was reading up on the departure of the Moondance and I followed a link to his blog, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York a.k.a. the Book of Lamentations. In his profile, he describes himself as "Still hunkered down in the East Village, waiting for the wrecking ball of gentrification to find me. Until then, I'll write this ongoing obituary for my dying city."

Though this blog implies that I am a one-trick pony obsessed with saving Our Lady of Vilnius, I recognize that the endangerment of our church is one part of a larger, more insidious process: a process that threatens the city with the prospect of an impoverished environment of economic, aesthetic and possibly spiritual uniformity.

I gravitated to Our Lady of Vilnius. I stuck to it like a magnet to steel. What will attract me when all these beloved places are gone?

Check in with Brooks, Jeremiah and Bob to celebrate what lives and to mourn what is gone.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Moondance Diner Leaves Manhattan for Wyoming

Our Lady of Vilnius' Culinary Counterpart

Another vestige of low-rise Manhattan will soon be gone. The Moondance Diner, on Grand and 6th, is being relocated to La Barge, Wyoming, where fisherman will congregate at the counter.

The diner's departure has received its fair share of media attention. The New York Times ran a piece today titled "Downtown Diner Is Moving to Wyoming, Lock, Stock and Original Stools" The article quotes La Barge's town clerk Betty Moceika as saying “We haven’t had a restaurant in town for quite a long time. Everybody is real excited. This is a big deal in La Barge, you know.” Moceika? Is that Lithuanian?

A squib in Resident Publications, headed City Loses Classics notes that the Moondance Diner was the last free-standing diner in Manhattan, and is known for being the diner where Jonathan Larson worked while writing the hit Broadway musical “Rent.” A salient quote from Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation:

"It’s an all too familiar story with the real estate pressure on New York neighborhoods. Many iconic and historic buildings are protected, but not all, and a building like this is a perfect example of buildings that help make the character of the neighborhood that we are losing.”

Mr. Berman is quoted again by Brooks of Sheffield in his "Lost City" post, Moon Over Wyoming:

"It's an indication that the real estate market in New York, and particularly in Manhattan, is so superheated that anything that doesn't dedicate itself to the super luxury market does not seem to be able to survive."

This drew an "Amen, brother" from Brooks.

Amen, brother X 2.