February 27, 2020
A friar is hoping to dial down the rhetoric
PHOTO COURTESY OF AL MASCIAAl Mascia wants to reduce “the disappointing division”.BY TONI CASHNELLI
At a time when discourse is so divisive, friar Al Mascia would like to restore some civility.
And he’s taking his cue from Thomas Merton, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Francis of Assisi and Kermit the Frog.
Their words provided the impetus for a campaign he hopes will “help mitigate the vitriol that’s out there, the reluctance of people to open themselves up to the beliefs and opinions of others.” Al is addressing the issue the best way he can – by writing and singing songs.
His project, which combines 11 music videos, a CD and a concert in the making, is “The Old Frog and the Quiet Pond”, a name borrowed from a reflection by Trappist Merton (see Page 3). Al’s goal is “to advance the priorities of peace and civility” and reduce “the grave incivility” that plagues our nation, the lack of respect for beliefs and opinions other than our own.
“It’s an enormous and ambitious challenge,” says Al, co-founder of The Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Mich. As chair of the province JPIC Committee, he was moved by discussions about “the disappointing division” that exists in America. “It breaks my heart to witness what’s going on in our nation right now, and especially in the upcoming year,” when politics and ideology are front and center. “I think we’re being very uncivil with each other.” Take the name-calling tweets between presidential candidates, for example. “I mean, c’mon! When the president is speaking on the news and you have to bleep out some of the language, what does that say? Sometimes I think we’re living in an alternate universe.”
The Traveler’s Song was inspired by an essay by Merton.
Al took a different approach. “It’s the opinion of some people – and mine – that one thing that might help defuse some of the polemics might come from the arts, from poetry, from music. My hope was to produce music videos, and when I had enough content together to produce a program, go around and take it on the road to promote the material.”
Cat StevensTop, from the Old Frog music video; above, Al in the studio in Berkley, Mich.
Al thinks “music speaks to a different part of the individual. It has the ability to open places that venues like debates and campaign trails and media reports cannot – it has a different entry point. A song can access a different part of a person’s essence. The stuff I’m writing and producing has archetypal elements that are pretty powerful and can help us to, if not understand, at least feel greater connectedness” with each other and our world.
“Some of our current divide is due to spiritual malaise. Because of over-secularization of our culture, people are hungry for the transcendent, and without that we are ill-equipped to deal with one another as children of God and worthy of respect. We don’t have the opportunities to deal with the transcendent and mystical anymore.”
His music video for the song The Old Frog and the Quiet Pond is one example, based upon Merton’s experience of nature as “a glimpse of the cosmic dance”, with the sights and sounds of a pond teeming with life. As Al sings, “There comes a time when you have to put the brakes on. When life itself is just more than you can take on.” It ends with a quote from Kermit the Frog: “Take a look above you, discover the view. If you haven’t noticed, please do. Please do. Please do.”
Among the tunes inspired by poets is Song of Hope, drawn from a Keats poem about maintaining hopefulness despite the challenges of modern life.
The song I Love My Job speaks to our inability to find the delight in everyday life. “It was inspired by a young man I got to know while doing grocery shopping at Kroger,” Al says. “His job was to collect shopping carts. For him it seemed more of a mission than a job and he always seemed very joyful.”
Underlying many of the songs is the idea lived and espoused by St. Francis. Understanding starts with listening, putting “the other” first, as in, seeking not so much to be understood, as to understand.
Al is surprised by the response he received after posting links to his music videos on Facebook. Since the Vocation Office for the Irish Friars shared a video, he’s gotten 50 to 60 “Likes” a day from around the world. “Lutheran Franciscans are reaching out, the Poor Clares and other Franciscan Sisters, a whole bunch of Seculars, the OFM-JPIC office in El Salvador, a Russian Orthodox Bishop, a handful of Franciscan hermits, social workers in Uganda and a surprising number of young people who want to be friends. I never expected to draw the interest of so many people, and interesting people at that.”
The song Civilize It! encourages all people to engage in respectful discourse.Al aims to take his civility campaign on the road with a live, interactive program. It will require “practice, practice, practice” in performing the songs, and enough money to mount a series of concerts. For that he has established a GoFundMe campaign through Song and Spirit that has so far raised $5,500.
The message will be “that hope exists in the face of potential despair. I think there are a lot of people despairing out there, and I would love to imagine this project will remind us that hope remains eternal.
“Like I write on the website, I’m just trying to do my little part, just a friar who can write songs and make little movies.”
(Visit https://oldfrogquietpond.com/ to learn more.)
‘The cosmic dance’
“When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash - at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the ‘newness,’ the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.”
New Seeds of Contemplation
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Friar Bruno Kremp had hundreds of brothers and sisters.
They were the parishioners who relied on his no-nonsense wisdom, members of the Kolping Society with whom he shared a common heritage, and police officers he worked with shoulder-to-shoulder in times of crisis.
Foremost, they were the friars who became brothers when his family left Germany for Cincinnati after enduring the horrors of World War II.
Top, genealogy buff Bruno at the Family History Center in 2012; above, nurses Mindy Cole and Jim Nichols.Hamilton County Sheriff Simon LeisSheriff Jim Neil
“Every one of us in uniform today probably knew him,” said Officer Ken Poppe, a 31-year veteran of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Dept. and part of the Honor Guard at the funeral. As founder of the county’s Police Chaplains Team, Bruno had comforted or counseled many of them, as well as the stricken families of victims of violence. “He knew the trials and tribulations we had,” said Officer Phil Cannon. “It was a blessing to have him among us.”
Police are “very guarded with people they let into their lives,” said Officer Dennis Goebel. Bruno was one of them. “He was very calming all the time. ‘A good guy’ is the best way to say it.” A survivor of bombing and displacement in his native Germany, Bruno knew all about trauma and its aftermath.
That was just one facet of the compelling life story that unfolded at the funeral. Bruno was multitasking long before they had a name for it, serving in parish and retreat ministry, as a police and hospital chaplain, a vocation director, and a judge with the archdiocesan marriage tribunal – often juggling several jobs. Thirty years ago, “He did my annulment for me and didn’t charge me a penny,” said one woman who never forgot Bruno’s generosity. “He did everything with such style and grace. He was all in with whatever he did. He had open hands to what God had in store for him.”
Top, Kolping contingent: Mike Pelzel, Dan Kroger, Nancy Pelzel, Tom Musbach, Ted Hoerstmann, Anna Stukenborg; above, a portrait of Bruno, center, is one of three displayed at the Kolping Clubhouse.As longtime spiritual director or Praeses for the Cincinnati Catholic Kolping Society, Bruno was an esteemed adviser. He and member Mike Pelzel, who wrote a history of the the Kolping Society’s German heritage and service in Cincinnati, shared a passion for genealogy. “He could talk on any subject,” said Mike, “but was always interested in what you had to say. He just made everybody feel welcome when he came.” There are only three portraits mounted on the wall of the Kolping Clubhouse: the previous Praeses, the Founder of Kolping International, and Bruno Kremp.
In 1987 Sheriff Neil, then a young rookie, was involved in a shooting. “I requested that my father and Fr. Bruno be there for the investigation after the incident,” he said. “I got to experience his very fine work. He reassured me that, spiritually, everything would be all right. As a recipient of his wisdom, I think he was who he was because of his own experience. Think about his childhood” in war-ravaged Germany. “He had to deal with it himself, and what made him all the more special was how he dealt with it.” In 1998, the Hamilton County Police Assn. recognized Bruno’s commitment and compassion with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In later years when this seemingly inexhaustible friar retired and dementia fogged his mind and memories, he found another family, the caregivers at St. John the Baptist Friary in Sharonville. Several years ago, “I knew him as chaplain at Mercy West hospital,” said Mindy Cole, a nurse at the friary. “I felt like he was part of my family. I loved him like my own. I felt a personal and spiritual connection more than clinical.” She and colleague Jim Nichols, both of whom had Hospice experience, sat with Bruno in his final hours. “We were his nurses but we took care of him like he was our dad,” said Mindy, who informed the hospital staff, “We’re not here as Hospice nurses. We’re here as Bruno’s family.”
Looking over pews filled with Bruno’s extended families, celebrant Mark Soehner greeted them all. “Welcome to those of the Kolping Society, the many law enforcement involved in Bruno’s life, people from many parishes. Life is changed for Bruno, but it is not ended.”
Readings from Isaiah and Philippians by Hamilton County Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover and Nancy Pelzel of Kolping paralleled the devastation and deliverance that enveloped Bruno and his family during and after the war.
And they particularly resonated with homilist Dan Kroger, the grandson of German immigrants and Bruno’s successor as Praeses for the Kolping Society.
“We’re all here in some way because Fr. Bruno touched all of our lives,” said Dan, who connected the readings about the Israelites with Bruno’s harrowing life story. “Bruno was born in the very difficult time of World War II.” His soldier-father became a prisoner of war. His grandmother and an uncle died in bombing raids. “He saw an awful lot for the youngster he was.”
As for today’s scriptures, “They are intended to give us reasons, symbols, signs of why we are here and the way in which God works. What a tough time it was in Israel…the once proud chosen people were utterly desolate,” as were the people of a shattered Germany. “The kingdom of God is that way. The Lord works in special ways. We are citizens of heaven beyond any nationality or religion. It’s a powerful thing to think of the way God works in our lives.”
Dan related stories from the Reception about Bruno’s frontline work with the police and the support he gave when it was most needed. “He was a chaplain for the FBI as well,” said retired agent Dennis Lengle, who trained months for a particular firing-range test in Quantico, Va. Bruno, in Quantico for two weeks, “volunteered to be a witness for my success or failure,” Dennis said. Bruno encouraged him, “You can do it.” When the marksmanship test ended, Dennis was told, “‘Congratulations, you made it.’ Bruno looked at me and said, ‘With God’s intervention.’”
It was just like Bruno to put things in perspective.
A police escort.As Dan said, “It makes one realize how our individual human lives touch and are touched by others. Bruno suffered difficulties the war wrought.” During the war when Bruno was 6 or 7 years old, his parents moved him from Stuttgart to the countryside for safety, but “He had witnessed the bombing of his hometown and saw the way in which destruction occurred.” He also experienced the lack of respect for the vanquished. “One incident I heard from Bruno. As a kid he asked an American soldier for a cigarette. The soldier lit it and threw it on the ground and stomped it out.” Bruno took it to heart.
“He had the good fortune of a godfather who sponsored him” when the family left Germany for America. “Somehow in all of this Bruno grew in faith and learned about life from all the things he suffered.” Despite everything he had seen, he managed to retain his sense of humor, Dan said. One day while Bruno was preaching as pastor of St. Clement, “A woman in church brought a baby who was a real screamer.” When she started moving toward the door, Bruno said, “That’s all right ma’am; he’s not bothering me.” The mother replied, “Yeah, but you’re bothering the kid.”
The pastor in Bruno surfaced, wherever he served. “Bruno had quite a career,” Dan said. “Good grief, he worked in so many parishes, a couple of hospitals. Bruno was never one to turn down a job or request. He grew and grew in God’s grace.”
Bruno in 1997Asked to be Praeses of the Kolping Society, “He served 17 years until he got very weak,” then passed the torch to Dan, who was advised, “Do whatever you think is good, but talk to people. His spirit still lives on there.” After a pilgrimage to Rome for the 10th anniversary of the beatification of founder Adolph Kolping, “Bruno was thrilled to be part of it and be presented to Pope John Paul II.” He later told Dan, “Whatever you do, tell members to live the values of Fr. Kolping. Honor the values you see.”
Some things are “so deep in our faith it’s hard for us to remember how God touched us,” Dan said. Bruno was often the agent. “He served a lot of people,” said Dan, who could picture Bruno with his just rewards. “He loved to smoke his pipe; he also liked his dark beer. I’m sure he’s in heaven drinking a dunkel with whomever. God bless him.”
After the Mass, police gathered outside St. Clement for a slow-motion, precision salute as Bruno’s casket was carried down the steps. Officer Cannon said what many others at the funeral were probably thinking:
“He was one of us.”
(Annie Timmons shared this story at Bruno’s funeral.)
Fr. Bruno was the father I never had. He was pastor at St. George Parish when I went to school there. He was caring, loving and a disciplinarian.
What I remember most about Bruno was the time I tried marijuana with friends.
I was on Clifton Avenue at around 3 a.m. I was scared and high, and I called my “father”, Fr. Bruno. He was in bed with a 101-degree fever. He got out of bed and came to picked me up, thinking I was in danger. I got into the car giggling and acting out of character because of the marijuana. He said, “Young lady, I am disappointed and I am very sick, so we will not talk about this tonight.” He dropped me off at Anna Louise Inn, where I lived at the time. You better believe he gave me a stern lecture later, and believe it or not, that was the last time I ever did any marijuana.
He was a great guy. He was instrumental in my growth and development as a young lady and a good person. Without knowing it he probably changed the direction of my life and helped to make me the person I am today.
(Annie is Executive Director of Friars Club in Cincinnati.)
BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM
I was the most reluctant of pilgrims to go on a Pilgrimage to the California Missions. As provincial, I travel all the time and was just yearning for a week where I could wake up in my own bed and have a bit of a routine. But as provincial, I had agreed to attend one of the interprovincial pilgrimages that were offered.
The purpose of our travel was not to be tourists. The purpose was to have a healthy mix of friars from different provinces move into “liminal space” of a pilgrimage, and be open to God’s Spirit teaching them about a New Province.
Perhaps because I confessed my reluctance to our group on the first night of the pilgrimage, God was able to work overtime with me. As we traveled by bus to the various missions, the bus became a prayer and personal sanctuary. We learned and then sang the Angelus to a new tune for all of us. We had time to journal, to pray the Rosary, to have silent prayer. The directors set a tone by asking for silence, then after five minutes, singing our Angelus. I could feel the deepening of the group after that.
After some time on the road, we would break into conversations over things we were seeing and experiencing. We got to know each other over the lunch break, or the evening meal. These very simple building blocks of sharing life together allowed for each brother to talk about his life history, or favorite ministry, the latest movie, some way of “getting to know you.” Some disagreements were heard. But so were new insights. We spent one evening trying to name what other provinces should know about the culture of our province of origin. Another night was spent reflecting on how the insights from this pilgrimage could help us in forming a New Province.
One of our directors was Andy Galvin, a Native American from the Ohlone people. His ancestor, a great, great, great, great grandfather, was forced into a baptism in the 1790s. According to Andy, this contradicted the missiology of St. Junipero Serra, who demanded the friars only invite people to consider a new way of life. Andy is now curator of the museum at the Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Most participants expressed the importance of his insights about the interaction of the cultures of New Spain with the many native cultures. The importance of listening deeply to one another emerged as a critical value. This value will help us create something new for our world and times from our own limited cultures of Franciscan living.
Andy was also an example of reconciliation. Despite the violence done to his ancestor by later friars, Andy was the one who worked hard in the canonization process of Junipero Serra. He was chosen to process the relic of Serra during the Mass of Canonization. He is proud of his Catholic and Ohlone culture.
The issue of clarity about our vision and mission as a New Province was heard during our discussions. I brought that with me as the provincials recently met in Chicago with the team from Plante Moran. Provincials affirmed a vision that we believe the world and Church are begging for. What is the world and church calling us to now, in this time? This vision will be unfurled for further honing by our friars at Chapter 2020.
Although I was a reluctant pilgrim at the beginning of this journey, I emerged as a vibrant pilgrim. I really was changed by noticing how our ancestor friars developed their new way through accomplishments and pitfalls. Our future as a New Province is bright. Like the California Missions, that future will have its highs and lows, its successes/failures. It will require a willing coalition of friars for whom sacrifice and love of God’s people is a part of the life of the Friars Minor in a New Province.
Lessons from the past
For me there were many highlights from last week’s California Missions Pilgrimage. One was being with and sharing on various levels with friars from other provinces, including a 92-year-old friar assigned to Alaska.
Another was the way in which the Pilgrimage staff was able to take events from St. Junipero Serra’s life and show how he dealt with several life changes, from being a professor in Spain to a seminary teacher in Mexico City; moving from missions in Baha and then to the missions in the new territory of California. They compared it to present-day friars and the challenges facing us with becoming one province – having to change locations, ministries and familiar surroundings.
The pilgrimage was educational, fraternal and inspiring.
– Joe Hund, OFM
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Al’s project coincides with a year-long initiative launched Nov. 1, 2019, by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Through “Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate”, they’re asking Catholics “to pledge civility, clarity and compassion in their families, The Traveler’s Song was inspired by an essay by Merton.communities, and parishes, and call on others to do the same.” It starts with recognizing that “every person is a beloved child of God who possesses inherent dignity.” The campaign is reinforced by resources that include a prayer and pledge for civility, pastoral aids and Golden Rule 2020, an ecumenical effort encouraging dialogue instead of division.
How does that help? Al quotes singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, who once said, Top, from the Old Frog music video; above, Al in the studio in Berkley, Mich.“You can argue with a philosopher, but you can’t argue with a good song.”