When i was very very young, i learned one of the oldest, silliest -and as i came to discover in life – most profound stories ever told. It came out of ancient Persia, the tale of a little bird trying to save his forest home from a raging fire. The bird kept flying to a nearby stream where, in front of a frog, it picked up a droplet of water, then flew back to drop it on the growing flames. On one trip the frog asked, “What do you think you are doing, you fool?” The bird simply answered, “I love our forest. I have to try.” Moments later, on the next rendezvous, the flames reached up and swallowed him.
Also when i was very very young, i came face-to-face with great misery – in the “City of Brotherly Love” of all places, my second home. On the sidewalks and park benches of Philadelphia i saw so many men and women sleeping under newspaper-blankets or in cardboard boxes. Later in life, when i had children of my own, i did not shield them from the misery. i took them to my Philly to see the Great America at its best and worst. One of the classic American films was made there, of the classic American hero, Rocky Balboa. The ultimate scene took place in that very park with the hero refusing to give up, rather pushing himself way beyond his limit on the steps of the Museum of Art.
Rocky was Great, Rocky was So Inspiring – but Rocky wasn’t Real. But, my life has been so blessed to have a Real Rocky to call my friend, my brother, and in light of the Pope’s visit to my Philly, i want to now introduce him to my blog, knowing that he will be a frequent “guest” of this site, honoring it with his words and acts of inspiration. His real name is Gerry Thomas Straub, and to me he is the perfect example of all that Pope Francis has been talking about in America and around the world. The American Catholic Publishers’ Association agrees, declaring his book (now also his film), “The Loneliness and Longing of St. Francis,” to be perfectly in tune with the heart and the global mission of this People’s Pope, the Pope of Hope.
My first encounter with Gerry-in-motion was in a mission of his to Africa, where his vehicle nearly ran over a tiny boy, whose almost lifeless body was lying in the dirt, starving. Little Sam was 7 but barely bigger than Gerry’s camera. The genuine loving anguish of this man, as he looked up from Sam, has haunted me every day since: “What are we gonna do?!” he said in a Prayer to God and a plea to his fellowmen, the Persian bird all over again. This boy is my brother and my son, just as all of the other people at the margins of human society are. I don’t know about you, but “I HAVE TO TRY!”
Gerry Straub wasn’t always such a “brother.” Starting out in New York City he quickly shot up like a star in the television and movie world, one of the early producers of one of the all-time hits, General Hospital. Gerry was growing by the day in success and fortune – and utter emptiness. An avowed athiest visiting Italy in the mid-90’s, he came to encounter God through Francis of Assisi, who spoke to Gerry’s “lonely, longing spirit.” There was no time for weighty theological ramblings, but if Gerry wanted to meet God face-to-face, he simply had to join the Saint and his Lord where they live until Kingdom comes. It was like a “peekaboo, I see you!” And then he’s gone, but with the promise, “Find us again wherever the very, very poor dwell…” And so Gerry did – here, there, and everywhere, always with his camera running, capturing the Lord and Francis for all the world to see – in these dusty, hungry, bloated, dying, naked, wounded, bleeding, imprisoned, tired, but so often beaming bodies. All over the globe, from Africa to South and Central America, from the Philippines to Philadelphia!!! Yes, Gerry’s faith, hope, love and camera truly confronted that misery which i had encountered so young. It always seemed so bleak to me, so very hopeless – til men like Gerry came to town. His documentary on the St. Francis Inn, where friars serve the hungry and homeless of Philly, led to donations of $250,000. Gerry seeks nothing. He has all that he needs in the Love and Mercy of God.
Oh, how ready was Gerry for the Holy Spirit’s Gift to the World in the person of Pope Francis. Gerry had already, for a long time, transferred from “General Hospital” to what the new Pope would announce on his Day One to be his “place in this world, namely, the Field Hospital of the world,” the ever-moving care for all of the wounded souls of the earth. Gerry was quite well established in that field-work by then, but the Coming of a True Shepherd has both sealed and strengthened his resolve and hope.
Gerry, being only human, often shares with me how uplifting but also how down-pounding it is, this mission. The severity of poverty and suffering he knows so well is at times so overwhelming, but he NEVER LOSES HOPE, he NEVER STOPS TRYING to make things better one sip of water, one cracker, one new shirt, or just one little smile at a time. So often knocked down himself, this New Yorker transplanted in RockyTown getsright back up with Grace.
i will bring my readers back many times to Gerry. For now i just want them to know that the Hope of the Pope is ALIVE and WELL because of people like my friend, Gerry Straub! You can learn so much more about my hero at his site, Pax et Bonum Comm.org. His movie about St. Francis – and Gerry’s own Conversion – is just now “hot off the press!”And his blog should be a part of every person’s “daily bread” to chew on.