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Friday, September 21, 2007

Two more UB stories today

CPT missionary turns faith into practice in Colombia
By Wendy A. Hoke
St. Luke Church parishioner Joseph Betz believes that “presence is peacemaking and storytelling can be healing.”

As a second-year graduate student at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., the Lakewood native is interested in the practical applications of the Christian faith in the world.

Putting his feet where his faith lies, he spent two weeks in July as a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) in Colombia. As one of seven in the delegation from the United States and Canada, Betz came to hear the stories of people who suffer because of the violence of an ongoing civil war.

Influenced by his undergraduate experiences at Mercyhurst College and by his friend, Chris Knestrick, who is a member of the Catholic Worker community here in Cleveland, Betz said, “If faith isn’t practical then what good is it?”

As a future teacher of theology, he believes, “If I can’t say I’ve been there, and met the people I’m going to be less credible to the students.”

CPT has a full-time team in Barrancabermeja north of the capital city of Bogot√°, where the team spent time talking to many groups. It also traveled further north to Mico, a rural community.

With a mix of Christians, Betz said his experiences served as a strengthening of faith, not just of Catholic faith. “I was enriched spiritually by means of meeting other people doing the same work and seeing it be effective.”

CPT’s focus is to go to the areas of active conflict and to get in the way. “We did a lot of listening,” said Betz.

“Hearing difficult stories and not being able to ‘fix’ everything is taxing,” he said, adding that he was mentally and physically exhausted from the experience. But the trip has altered his worldview.

When he thinks of Colombia, he thinks of Carlos, a young man very close to his age (24) kicked out of the (Christian) church for being gay yet continues to remain in the country to do work despite the threats to his life.

“I can’t not pay attention to him because of his stories. The night before we met him his friend (who was in the Catholic Church) was found dead on the train tracks because he was gay. His life is in danger because of his sexual orientation and yet he still believes in the power of the Gospels.”

Betz acknowledges the paradox of the church’s involvement in the conflict, but remains pragmatic about reconciliation.

“The church has roots in the conflict. But there are some great bishops and some great work being done by them. The church today can use its power and place to stand up to an unjust system.”

Part of the commitment to CPT is to share the experience with others. In addition to working on his Spanish, Betz is back home in an academic community where he does so one-on-one and by giving presentations. Being the pragmatist that he is, he also uses the online networking community, Facebook to post snippets and connect others to resources.

“My approach is always the story first. A good storyteller can grab people. Once you’re hooked, then you can get into policy a bit.

“The most important thing we can do is ask questions,” he said.

How to help
Joseph Betz offers the following tips for how you can help CPT’s efforts in Colombia.
• Contact your congressional representative and ask that the mostly military aid we give to Colombia be changed to humanitarian aid, judicial reform and stopping impunity in the country.

• Pick one place, one conflict anywhere and choose to stick with it following articles in the paper, online or via new books that come out on the subject. Then begin to ask questions about how religion might have a role in the conflict and how religion could also be a vehicle for conflict transformation and reconciliation. Here are some Web resources:

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America: (216) 961-0003
Christian Peacemakers Team
The Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program
The Washington Office on Latin America
Latin America Working Group

• Give one minute per day in prayer to those suffering from internal displacement from conflict.

Hoke is a freelance writer.
Patrons of the Arts affords exclusive opportunities when in Rome
By Wendy A. Hoke

In late May of this year, Lorraine Dodero and Denise Jasko were in the chapel at Governatoria in Rome. They were there with other Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum from around the world to tour Italy and meet with dignitaries, including Pope Benedict XVI.

Hanging behind the chapel altar was a painting the women said looked strikingly similar to the Ohio Chapter’s first restoration piece—“Madonna with Child and Saints Anne and Joachim.”

“We had heard that someone requested the painting be hung in their office,” said Jasko, from the group’s Solon office. “We didn’t expect to see it.”

“Certainly we did not expect it to be an altar piece,” added Dodero. But as they sat in the stark white chapel while Pope Benedict XVI gave a blessing they began to think that the painting could be theirs.

“No one said anything to us because the emphasis was on the Holy Father,” said Dodero. “We went back to our hotel and pulled out the materials we had brought along. We had only seen a black-and-white photograph of the piece, but we started comparing angel to angel and saint to saint.”

That evening over dinner they asked the priests with whom they were dining if the altar painting was the “Madonna with Child and Saints” and they replied that it was. “They forgot to tell us. But there was our piece, hanging behind the altar, being blessed by the pope,” said Dodero.

The Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum was formed in 1983 to help provide funding for restoration of the Vatican Museum’s aging and historic artwork. Chapters across the world recruit members whose dues help to pay the cost of restoration of certain works.

Dodero started the Ohio Chapter three years ago and the “Madonna” was its first restoration project. Not all restored work is on public display, which made the experience all the more unique.

Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum share such privileges and intimate artistic and spiritual experiences.

Tourists typically wait in long lines and enter the Vatican sites with the noise and bustle of thousands of others doing the same. Patrons receive special tours often before museums open to the public and with guided tours to explain the history and importance of many works.

Imagine the spiritual experience of visiting the Sistine Chapel with a handful of guests, or watching the nuns working behind-the-scenes on tapestries that are hundreds of years old.

Dodero started the Ohio chapter with Rome’s blessing after she was involved in the Florida chapter. “It’s such a different experience to be able to go to Rome and be treated like dignitaries,” she said.

Annual dues are $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families. The chapter currently has 49 members.

The Vatican Museum compiles a catalog or wish list of items it needs restored and, based on the amount of money collected from dues, chapter members vote to fund a project.

The chapter’s next restoration is the cleaning of an entrance to a library.

“Since we’re a new chapter, we choose projects based on what we can afford. The library entrance will take about two years and involves mostly cleaning and some stucco work,” said Dodero.

Of course there are also the trips to Italy. The last one in May included the special audience with the pope, a visit to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, private viewings of the Sistine Chapel and a tour of the Roman Necropolis. The archeological site dates from the reigns of Augustus to Constantine. The Canadian chapter of the Patrons of the Arts is funding the excavation restoration.

While the Vatican Museum artifacts are of spiritual and historic importance to Christians, Dodero said the Patrons is an ecumenical group also open to all art lovers and philanthropists.

The Ohio Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum's next activity is a clambake at 4 p.m. Oct. 7 at Gamekeeper’s Tavern in Chagrin Falls. Call (440) 398-1300 for more information or visit the Patrons online.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

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