We Still Miss Those Who Flew on the Challenger

On this day 34 days ago many of us gathered around a television set to watch a horrific event. That morning the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch and all seven astronauts died. That day we lost:

At the time I was the Director of Religious Education at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Virginia. It was ordinary morning until my secretary Edye McIntyre (1928-2008) got a call and expressed her grief. When I heard the news my first reaction was: “Oh no, not with the teacher.” It was a hard day.

We humans have always felt the need to explore. What’s over those mountains? What’s across that sea? Can we reach the moon? Can we reach other planets or galaxies? Let’s try.

All attempts put us in danger but we explore nonetheless.

Thirty four years later let us honor these brave Americans whose sacrifice made our exploration better. And let us honor the teacher, and all those teachers who have inspired us.

Auschwitz, 75 Years Later

Today, January 27th, we commemorate the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated the most famous of the Nazi’s concentration camps, Auschwitz. From 1940 to 1945, 1,100,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Most were Jews, but the Nazi’s also murdered Roma (Gypsies), political prisoners, and gays. It’s important to remember them too.

Seventy five years out it’s easy to parrot the phrase “Never again” but that’s not enough. This genocide didn’t begin with the opening of Auschwitz, it began much earlier and “never again” commands that we challenge and call out antisemitism before it becomes the norm, before it becomes acceptable.

Germany after World War I was a mess. Not only did they lose the war, but they were forced into poverty by England and France who demanded crushing reparations.

A few years into this an Austrian who fought for Germany as a lance corporal saw an opportunity. His name was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). He decided that the real source of German suffering wasn’t the Treaty of Versailles but the Jews.

He was a brilliant communicator and was able to convince much of his adopted country that if they could only get rid of the Jews their future would be bright. He was raised Catholic and used a longstanding myth that the Jews killed Jesus Christ to make antisemitism reasonable to Christians. It worked.

Seventy five years ago, when we learned the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism became unacceptable in most quarters. But every year since then we’ve seen antisemitism become more and more acceptable. In August of 2017, at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, we heard, to our horror, the phrase: “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.”

This was part of a larger campaign called “Unite the Right.” Our President, when asked about this campaign, claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

He’s wrong. Fine people aren’t white supremacists. Fine people aren’t anti-Semites.

If we want to ensure there will never be another Auschwitz we need to call out antisemitism when it begins, not when it becomes deadly.

RIP Cokie Roberts

This morning we received bad news: Cokie Roberts died of cancer.

Some who read this will not recognize her name, but those of us who follow the news recognize how much we owe her. She was a journalist who joined National Public Radio in 1978. At the time women often found themselves without a voice, without a path toward reporting the news. NPR deserves credit for hiring Cokie, Susan Stanberg, Nina Totenberg, and Linda Wertheimer. To this day they are known as the “Founding Mothers” of National Public Radio.

Cokie came from a political family. Her father was famously House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (1914-1972). He served his home state of Louisiana in Congress. He recognized his role in campaigning for other Democrats and on October 16, 1972 his plane was lost in Alaska while he was campaigning for Nick Begich.

Cokie’s mother, Lindy Boggs (1916-2013) took her husband’s seat and served until 1991.

Cokie worked as a journalist with NPR and ABC. Her voice resonated in our living rooms for decades and it informed and educated us. Her voice made us recognize that womens’ voices are not alternatives: her voice told us that her voice mattered. Her passion in the last 40 years taught girls and young women that their voices mattered and they had a place in our national discussion.

For women who now find know their voices heard, please know that the thresholds you step over were walls that Cokie broke through.

God Bless you Cokie.

Remembering This Day Eighteen Years Later

September 11, 2001 began ordinarily for us. It was a Tuesday morning and my parents were in town to see the home we purchased five months earlier. It was a good visit and they expected to return to Virginia the next day.

Shortly before 6AM our alarm turned on the radio and we began to get ready for work. But we soon learned that a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the next few hours we learned that another plane crashed into the South Tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into rural Pennsylvania when passengers gave their lives to prevent a crash into the White House.

On that day many of us went to work in a blur of grief, fear, and uncertainty. I spent the morning in a meeting. After the meeting we planned to have lunch to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers. It was a hard lunch as we spent the whole time watching the television in the restaurant.

I spent the afternoon and the next few days visiting patients who wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor. They recognized the bewilderment and the fear of knowing that outside forces drove us into a frightening future. In some ways their memories comforted me because they told me how this attack drew our nation together and good eventually triumphed against evil.

This is a day to remember those who stepped up: the passengers of United Flight 93 who gave their lives and saved the White House; the first responders in New York who gave their lives running into the fire; the Pentagon workers who ran into the fire to save their coworkers.

Also those who spent weeks and months at Ground Zero digging through the rubble who were lied to about the risk and suffer to this day.

To those who lost loved ones, that day and since, I say this: One day we will all be in Heaven and all will be well.

Evil isn’t powerless but it will never defeat good.

Fifty Years Ago Today: Do I Need To Explain?

Fifty years ago today I was, along with my family and the rest of the world, glued to our black and white television set. And I have to confess something: when Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) set foot on the moon he uttered these words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I was once told that he was supposed to say: “That’s one giant leap for a man, one giant leap for mankind” and that makes more sense.

But more to the point, I knew as a 9 year old that I was watching something that would be in history books. I witnessed something that future generations would only read about.
July 20, 1969 was a good day for America, but it was also a good day for all humanity. We are born to explore, whether it be Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), or Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), or Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008).

Fifty years later we still have the same curiosity over what lies beyond. Space travel continues to fascinate us as next frontier. Fifty years later we may not know the next step, but we know there will be a next step.

While we celebrate, let us also remember the costs of space travel. The space race in the United States has yielded sixteen lives and we should honor them. They died in our quest to explore:

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 34: Fifty Years After Stonewall

Fifty years ago it wasn’t easy to be gay. Everyone assumed every adult was attracted to a person of the opposite sex. Men fell in love with women and women fell in love with men.

Except for some people it was different. Some men fell in love with other men, and some women fell in love with other women. We can argue about what percentage, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: how do we treat people with different sexual orientations?

Frankly, fifty years ago most of us didn’t even know about this. But some did and they criminalized not only homosexual behavior, but even homosexuality itself. In many places homosexuality was a crime and in some parts of the world it still is.

In 1969 in New York City gay men and women lived with a secret that prevented them from being open with their family, friends, and coworkers. But they knew there was a place where they could be themselves: the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. There they could connect with other and find love.

But they couldn’t feel entirely safe because they were subjected to police raids. Patrons of the Stonewall Inn grew wearily used to police raids where officers would enter the bar and arrest men dressed as women and others who “looked gay.” But on the night of June 28,1969 something new happened. Patrons of the bar fought back. It led to three days of riots.

In the fifty years later, much has happened. The Stonewall riots empowered gay communities locally, nationally, and globally to demand equal rights. They called us, shamed us, and ultimately persuaded us to understand that they are created by the same God and are called to the same goals: to find love, to live with joy, and build families.

In 2003, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that we can’t legislate against gay sex. Twelve years later they ruled that marriage was legal for all adults, regardless of orientation. I encourage you to read it: Obergenfell v. Hoges.

There’s lots to say about this, but let me say this: those opposed to gay marriage argued that if we allowed gays to be gay they would try to make our children gay. No gay person I know has even wanted to do this and they find this argument deeply offensive. The opponents of gay marriage also argue that if we live in a society that accepts homosexuality God will bring down fire and destruction. Except God hasn’t.

I am straight but not narrow. My gay friends have enlightened (and sometimes challenged) me to understand that they want those things I take for granted. They want to fall in love with someone who loves them. They want to be able to hold hands without being accused to “forcing an agenda.” They want the things I never had to fight to expect.

To those who fought back on June 28, 1969 I say this: Thank you for your courage and thank you for teaching the rest of us that you only want what I never had to demand.

June 6, 1944: Why We Must Never Forget the Longest Day

Seventy five years ago 150,000 soldiers boarded 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes in England and did something incredible: they invaded France despite heavy German fortifications.

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. England and France then declared war on Germany (the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941). But the Germans were able to march into France and France surrendered on June 22, 1940.

Allied leaders knew they needed to invade France if they had any chance to win the war; the Germans knew that too. While the allies planned the invasion, Germany fortified all the beaches in France on the English Channel. The narrowest part of the English Channel was from Dover, England to Calais, France and Hitler was convinced the allies would land in Calais. On the night of June 5, 1944, Hitler went to bed with instructions not to wake him the next morning.

Unbeknownst to him, while he slept the allies boarded planes and ships. They were young, scared, and determined. When the German soldiers (who were also young, scared, and determined), overlooking the beaches of Normandy, spotted the allied ships we can only imagine their reaction. They opened fire with their machine guns, and by the end of the day 4,413 allied soldiers died but they also knew that they needed reinforcements.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Hitler’s generals faced a dilemma. Only Hitler had the authority to send in reinforcements and his generals were too afraid to wake him. When Hitler finally did wake up and was told about the invasion in Normandy, he angrily insisted that this was a diversion and the real invasion was going to be in Calais. By the time Hitler finally accepted that Normandy was the invasion spot, it was too late.

But the invasion wasn’t that easy. The 11,000 planes carried paratroopers whose job it was to land behind enemy lines to block German reinforcements. But they flew at night under less than ideal weather conditions, and many of them landed far from where they intended. It took much longer than expected to form the front line and march toward Germany.

They liberated Paris on August 25, 1944 and Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

Seventy five years out it won’t be long until the last survivor of D-Day dies and our only testimonies will be those written or passed down orally. Those of us who were lucky to hear the stories of these surviving soldiers first hand must never take for granted the gift we were given. Those who only know of these stories from what we read must also never forget.

If you wish, you can read my post from five years ago

And if you haven’t seen these two movies, I highly recommend The Longest Day from 1962 and Saving Private Ryan from 1998.

Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.

When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.

The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).

I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.

Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.

A Hundred Years Ago We Thought We Had Seen the End of War

On the morning of November 11, 1918 (11/11/18) at 11AM something happened that was supposed to change world history: Germany surrendered and World War I ended. Ever since, we’ve celebrated this day, first as Armistice Day, and now as Veteran’s Day.

Libraries have been written about the events of this war and I have no desire to rewrite a library. But I think it’s good to look at the events that led to its outbreak and what happened after.

And frankly, it all began with an event few people paid attention to. On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) and his wife Sophie (1868-1914) were shot to death by Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918) in Sarajevo. The Archduke was the nephew of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary Franz Joseph I (1830-1916).

Unfortunately several nations had secret treaties with each other and favors were called in. Austria-Hungary rightly believed that Princip belonged to a a terrorist network called The Black Hand who was based in one of their territories, Serbia. Serbia wanted independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Austria-Hungary, clearly on the decline, declared war on Serbia. Serbia then demanded their ally, Russia, join them and declare war on Austria-Hungary.

They did. But Austria-Hungary had a treaty with Germany and Germany declared war on Russia. France and England had a treaty with Russia and they declared war on Germany. In 1917 the United States declared war on Germany.

By the time the war ended in 1918 four empires laid in ruins: Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. We can’t be sure, but we estimate that 16 million people (military and civilian) died.

The carnage from World War I led many to hope that it would make war so horrible that nobody would dare take up arms again. Alas, it didn’t. Twenty one years after the end of World War I Germany invaded Poland and began World War II.

The history of the 20th Century cannot be told without talking about World War I.

Someday there will be a war that ends wars.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 31: Fifty Years Ago A Shot Rang Out In The Memphis Sky

I suspect we all sometimes think about the first national event we remember. For me it was the assissination of Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

At the time I was living in Woodbridge, Virginia, about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I remember April 4, 1968 because of the riots that burned parts of the city. It was a scary time.

Dr. King spent his short life battling against discrimination. He was in Memphis that day to support sanitation workers who were treated horribly. They were virtually all African Americans and they struck against the city of Memphis after the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. On February 1, 1968 they sat on the back of a sanitation truck to find shelter from the rain. The truck malfunctioned and they were crushed to death. Their coworkers decided that they’d had enough and went on strike. Dr. King traveled there to support them.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray (1928-1998) saw an opportunity to become a hero in the White community. He learned that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel and rented a room that gave him a clear shot at Dr. King. At 6:01 PM Mr. Ray aimed a rifle at Dr. King and killed him.

I lived briefly in Memphis and walked to the Lorraine Motel several times. It’s now a museum that educates future generations on discrimination.

We may never eliminate discrimination in our nation but let us all take a moment to honor Dr. King.