Book Break: Hope Is the Last to Die

In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.

As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession:  Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.

I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.

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Wednesday Witness: Let’s Get Going!

On some level, everyone I know is feeling the strain of the coronavirus quarantine. It’s a challenge to make decisions for own family—balancing basic needs and less urgent desires, physical health and emotional well-being, the fear of endangering someone’s health and the cry of our hearts for flesh-and-blood interaction—so I am grateful not to have the burden of deciding for churches, cities, states or nations.

I am also blessed to be busy with both work and family projects. But lately I find myself oscillating between excitement about the good things that are happening at our parish and home and feelings of futility when faced with an unknown future. Great things are happening at St. Michael Catholic Church and School; the Thorps are installing a long-awaited second shower and, God willing, new floors in our house; and we are preparing for our first granndchild and our third graduate leaving the nest—but what about this virus, the economy and the upcoming election? Can the parish maintain its positive momentum? Should Jodi and I be saving the money we’re investing in our home? What will the fall bring for our children and our grandbaby? Continue reading