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August 23, 1996     The Message
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August 23, 1996

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,ugust 23, 1996 m Bishop's Forum Following is the third and last column in a series on hospitality. The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana I iii Welcome?! One of the more stunning of my "coming of age" lessons involved our own diocese. In my high school years in the minor seminary during the 1950s, an incident at St. Mein- rad was yet another occasion for my "growing-up." One of the few Negro students broke his arm. Due to the nature of the fracture and, long be- fore the convenience of our modern outpatient clinics, he had to go to 4 the hospital. He went to Memorial Hospital in Jasper, then a relatively new Catholic hospital, for treatment. No problem. An issue arose, however. Due to the fracture, there was some consideration that he should stay in the hospital overnight. To the surprise of most and horror of some, he could not stay since there was a city ordinance that precluded a Negro from staying the night in Jasper. That very old ordinance had not been purged as yet. Happily, that has changed. There is no such ordinance today. This anecdote is from my own recollection. The ' reader no doubt has her or his own set of stories to 1 tell no matter the age or home place. Obstacles to a welcoming attitude toward some we do not know are not much different today from those of yesterday, at least in my experience of 35 years of priesthood, not : to mention my earlier years. The description of the obstacle may well have changed, but the nature has not. Difference I grew up in a relatively closed Protestant rural By BISHOP GERALD A. GETTELFINGER community for my first 13 years. Then my seminary experience be- ginning after eighth grade certainly expanded the "world view" of a kid whose school population was around 40 in grades one through eight. But even then at 350 students, that view of the world was quite limited. We were more alike than different. I had to learn over a long period of time that difference should not deter me from befriending another person. That has come with many years of conscious effort. Ignorance The evil in this obstacle is not the absence of knowledge, but rather an unwilling- ness to learn about the other person, especially when there are significant differences. There is no question that I experienced some ignorance for lack of opportunity to learn, but I have been blessed with the curiosity to learn about others. I acknowledge that I am gifted with a personality that is outgoing. Fear There are two kinds of fear. Only one is an ob- stacle to hospitality. The first fear arises from what we know -- that is an instinct designed for our own well-being and protection. It is good. The second is fear rooted in ignorance and based on an unwilling- ness to learn. Fear rooted in this kind of ignorance is indeed an ob.tacle to welcoming others into one's circle of life. Language Do you speak another language? I regret that I do not. In fact, bcause of my inability to speak the language of the country I am visiting, I am embar- rassed in not being able to greet them appropriately or to converse with my hosts and hostesses. Worse, I am incompetent to welcome natives of other coun- tries to the United States in their native language, a very consoling act of hospitality. Too often, I am afraid, we slip into the "ugly American" character with the arroghnce of rich bullies. . Threat Anyone of us, hobbled with the above obstacles, may experience a sense of threat in meeting "an- other" unknown to us. This is especially true when the other person is not experiencing any of the ob- stacles I have identified. This may arise as a feeling that there is encroachment into very persona ! space. The best example I can give is the "pew rent" syn- drome. (Happily few can remember pew rent.} The syndrome remains without the payment of rental. Another little sign is the unspoken question "Who does he think he is taking my place?" A sense of threat to one's very person does little to promote hospitality. And, unfortunately, an item less serious, but sometimes even more incendiary is the violation of personal space. The Three Bears Syndrome: "Who's been sitting in my chair?" Hospitality is a gospel mandate. Hospitality is a characteristic of a Christian. "See how they love one another." Our Church proclaims the latter. I challenge our Church, that is you and me, to be conscious of the gospel mandate to love our neighbors as bur- ' selves. But maybe, just maybe, we have worked too little on respecting each enough to realize that dif- ferences are really normal. If we could learn that, the obstacles keeping us from being hospitable might disappear. Welcome to the challenge! Wishing you could have known him It has been 22 years now since first met him. He was 65 years *ld and, even at that age, looked rapressive. He stood tall and Can with a face chiseled from tone. His physical Size, along ith a strong Swiss-German ac- Cent, made a powerful initial im- Pression. But that was only the tart. Commentary By Mike Whicker His name was John Imesch, ad he always wore black. And he had already spent his le in hell. In 1949 he worked China. That year Mao and |te Communists took control ]ev arrested him and all those i" J 1 lke him, and for the next ten iears he suffered in a Chinese close to where I lived. At the time, I was a Baptist and we had little in common, but some- how we became friends. My wife and I invited him to dinner. At first it seemed a bit uncomfort- able. We felt like we should watch what we said. Eventually he spent many holidays with us, and we felt disappointed if for some reason he could not. He seemed to-take a special liking to my family: my wife and chil- dren, my brother, my parents. He was a humble man. He never told us about the 10 years of suffering in a Chinese prison. Only later did I learn about this from a church secretary. He was always an assistant pastor, never the head priest at any parish he served. This was his choice. He felt himself not worthy to have a title of"head pastor." Although outwardly he looked fit, we found out (through the other priest at his parish) that the years of physical torture and starvation had broken his body. He suffered silently with nu- merous ailments. A doctor that knew him told us he had to be in almost constant pain, but Fa- ther Imesch felt blessed that he was allowed to suffer as his Lord had suffered. He took daily com- munion and words of encour- I agement to hospitalizedparish- ione'rs, many of whom were healthier than he. He loved children. John Imesch never understood why this country legalized abortion so the lives of some children would not inconvenience us. The parish he served also had a parochial elementary school. Driving by during recess you could always spot Father Imesch outside smiling and watching the children play. He took great delight in walking into a classroom unannounced and getting the kids "stirred up," much to the consternation of the teachers. He was in his late 70s when my wife and I moved away. When I went to him to say a final good-bye he gave me a beautifully ornate silk Chinese scarf to give to my wife, his sole remaining possession from his time in China as a missionary. He had given everything else away. Just a year or so after we left Denver, Father Imesch retired. He wanted to live out his re- maining years in Denver, but his religious order decided he should return to Switzerland where he was born. He humbly accepted without dispute. Message policy regarding political activity The Message is the official newspaper of the Catholic Dio- cese of Evansville. The policy of the Message is to observe the rules forbidding 501 (c) (3) organizations from engaging in partisan political activity. The Message continues its long-standing policy of pub- lishing new s reports and commentary about political candi- dates and issues, and about their relationship o morality and Catholic social teaching. Political advertising is accepted at the Message from all bona fide candidates on an equal basis. son. Torture, starvation, and gradation were his sentence. the was a spy, not political a tivist, or a criminal. I-Ie was a Catholic priest. I met Father Imesch when I to in Denver, Colorado. He to a parish there, 00ashi=ngton__ ,5 .otinued from page 4 at en tives are more directed  - civility and tolerance renewing the nation's com- tment to family values, hhop Murphy said. "The direc- irl of the bishop s political re-  nsibility statement is, the way Yaone, press secretary Interfaith Alliance, said the anization will be creating its a voter ides in some parts the country, particularly those as where the Christian Coali-  is perceived to have had ng influence in the 1994 con- ssional elections. When we parted for the last time, he asked me to keep in touch and I promised I would. I broke my promise. Oh, I wrote to him for a while, but I'm a busy man so my letters became briefer and less frequent. Fi- nally I stopped writing. Even though he was in his 80s, and despite my failure to respond, he sent a Christmas card every year from Switzerland to my house and another to my mother and father who were still in i |1 5 Denver  yearn agp thecards stopped coming. Joln Imesch no longer suffers for his Lord. John, I often think of you. l wish I would have kept in touch. Sometimes I am indeed a fool with my priorities, Forgive me, dearest friend. And pray for us. Mike Whicker, his wife, Sandy, and their five children are mem- bers of Sacred Heart Church, Evansville. Face up to it One Sunday morning two men were out on the lake fish- ing; One, looking at his watch, remarked: "You know, we really should be at Mass'. The other replied: "I couldn't have gone, my wife is sick? Commentary By MSGR. CLINTON HIRSCH ii i Offering an excuse when we fail is a way to keep the 'ego' in- flated. We don't like to admit failure or mistakes .... Every- body has made an excuse at one time or another. An excuse seems to give a lit- tle temporary relief from the pain; but in the long run it is not beneficial to refuse to face ourselves as we really are; it keeps us from correcting our habits and from improving our character. What is needed is the virtue of humility  to see ourselves as we really are; to see our- selves as God sees us;.., and that is a step in the right direc- tion. Mayor praises FatherPreske The following letter was sent to the congregation of Blessed Sacrament Church, Oakland City, following the death of Fa. ther Felix Preske. The letter is published with the writer's per- mission. Dear Friends in Christ, On behalf of the residents of Oakland City, thank you for bringing Father Felix to serve as your pastor. While he served the Church faithfully, his min- istry went far beyond its four walls and touched all of our lives in such a positive way. For this we are grateful. It was my privilege to be in Kiwanis with Felix, and as, Mayor, observe his many Christ, like virtues every day of the week. His life and death truly reflected the spirit of Christ at its best. Again, thank you for sharing Father Felix with the commu- nity. We are all better people to have been touched by such a man of God. Thank you. Lee Ayers Mayor, Oakland City