By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 18 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I've been driving more than usual this past week. Paradoxically I've done so because I'm not good at it and many insist only practice can improve my skill.
A week ago I tackled my longest solo trek ever -- past Duarte, Los Angeles and Pomona (California). My one-day round trip went far better than I or others expected, especially on the L.A. freeway. I attribute that to the helpfulness of my GPS device, which navigated on my behalf. Instead of deciphering a map as I drove, I could focus on steering my sub-compact car safely in the congested stop-and-go traffic.
A guide is such a precious gift when journeying on unknown paths.
Perhaps tired out by my wanderings, I slept in a little several times this week. As weekday Mass is only available locally at 7 and 8 a.m., my sleepiness spurred me to attend later Masses in nearby Fresno instead. Afterwards I visited parts of Fresno to see what glimpses of the past remained.
With family history and a stranger's advice to lead me, I stumbled upon the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple, which is only a block away from where my grandfather operated a Chinatown grocery store in the 1940s. Barbershops, a classic shoe store, restaurants and other businesses remain, but the lively personality the area displayed has diminished with age I suspect.
I walked on Trinity Street where my grandfather tried again with another little store and where St. Alphonsus (of Liguori) Church still rises high, flanked by equally tall palm trees as they all face historic Kearney Boulevard, which itself is lined with similar trees for 20 miles. Decades ago, three convents graced that street and a Catholic school thrived a block away. Now it is a charter school, albeit with statues of saints still looking down from one outside wall. The nuns are long gone. Few Catholics remain in the formerly Italian, then Mexican and now African-American neighborhood.
After a noon Mass another day at the ornate St. John's Cathedral, a public exposition of the Eucharist caught me by surprise. I joined a motley crowd of Catholics, young and old, in prayer and song before the demands of work pulled me away. No priest kept watch or presided, so those there followed a heartfelt liturgy of their own.
The lack of clerical guidance was missed, but a tiny Asian lady filled that void.
Within the next hour or so, I listened to the spontaneous preaching of that woman, who had a strong faith and enthusiasm for God; I talked and prayed with an alcoholic and addict, sober for years, who wanted intercession and encouragement to persevere in the daily struggle; I winced at singing that defied any theories of harmony known to humanity. Yet it was admirable and lovely that so many sang to God regardless of such concerns.
Before I left, I learned that a Passionist priest and writer of 16 books, Rev. Cedric Pisegna, would finish up a three-day parish mission elsewhere on the next day, Wednesday. Helpful guidance indeed.
So the following morning I ended up at St. Anthony of Padua Church in its Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. There Pisegna, who has a show on the Eternal Word Television Network and a local network, celebrated Mass and preached on prayer.
With jests and true stories, he affirmed that God hears our prayers and miracles do happen in response to them. But then he addressed a common lament: what about those long-term prayers that seem unanswered?
In these cases, he proposed, it may be that the greater work of God's grace is taking place in our own selves rather than in the circumstance or loved one for whom we pray. In such situations, he urged acceptance of God's providence without losing hope and becoming resigned. We must trust that God is working in us and through us.
An airline passenger once watched in shock, Pisegna joked, as an angry stranger harassed a baggage handler for roughly treating a suitcase. The worker endured this with such calm and dignity that the observer complimented him for his professionalism. The employee replied, "It was easy to take his abuse, because I knew that man would be going to Florida and his bag will be headed to Milwaukee."
Acceptance of a situation doesn't mean one must despair of future remedy.
On Pentecost Sunday this weekend, some Christians will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let us give thanks for that gift of divine guidance and far more.
Like all families, the Fresno, California, family of Higinio Lozano, seated, would go through many trials in the 1940s and beyond. The mother of the columnist stands second from the left.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 11 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
"Peace be with you," the smiling stranger in blue said.
Part of my brain suppressed an urge to respond, "And with your spirit." Instead I smiled and I hope managed a suitable reply. As she spoke further I realized I'd encountered another reader of this column, which is always a delight for me.
Another such meeting this week introduced me to Rita, who not only relished my writings but also knew my grandfather Higinio Lozano. She did not escape me easily as I sought out what details she could offer.
Rita knew him when he owned a grocery store in the Chinatown section of Fresno, California, during the 1940s. He always dressed nicely and wore a bow tie, she said. He employed his own children and other young people, such as her older brother.
I knew of this venture, which I'm told flourished during World War II. It later failed because he didn't have the heart to deny people credit, even when they weren't timely with repayments. Most of his customers were farm laborers, and he understood their struggles.
During the war, Fresno had a shortage of housing, so the Lozano family lived in a small shed while a friend converted her garage for their use. The nuns of the Company of Mary offered to care for Higinio's teenaged daughter Josefina "Josie" until the family could settle in, and her younger sister Maria Concepcion "Connie", 13, eagerly tagged along.
Josie left after only a week or so, but Connie never wanted to leave and so stayed. She felt God had called her to such a life. She officially joined four years later on May 2, 1951, and professed her vows at 19, after obtaining a dispensation to do so at such a young age. She would spend 22 years as a missionary and educator in Japan.
My mother, too, sought to join the sisters, but a priest would not let her. He felt God had a different plan for her.
In 1970, Higinio's youngest daughter, 29-year-old Carmen, was diagnosed with leukemia, a virulent disease that progressively affects blood-forming organs. Her parents were told she had 30 to 90 days to live, yet she lived for a year and a half. Her final months were at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif., and Higinio and his wife were provided an apartment at special rates so they could remain nearby.
Carmen's condition left her vulnerable to tragedy. An infestation of insects, unnoticed until it was too late, ate at her throat from the inside. With her vocal cords no longer intact, her family struggled to even hear her whispers. In her last week, she could no longer sit up or even lift her head.
Once when her mother visited she found Carmen transfigured by joy. She told her daughter, "Mi hija, you look so beautiful! So radiant!" Carmen just looked at her mother and smiled. Within a week the end would come.
On March 23, 1972, she lay dying in the company of her mother and her two brothers, Francisco ("Frank") and Enrique ("Rico"). Rico sat at the foot of the bed while Frank held his sister's hand. She suddenly sat up with a smile and spoke clearly as she gazed intently at the ceiling.
"There she is. There she is," she said.
"Who? Who is it?" her mother asked. "Is it the Blessed Virgin Maria?"
"It's my home," she replied, and then added, "She's so beautiful."
Her mother asked again, "Who is it? Who do you see?" But her daughter lay down and peacefully surrendered her soul. She left behind a husband and an adopted 5-year-old daughter, Christina.
At her funeral, Higinio led the singing as he celebrated his daughter's birth into Heaven and praised God. Only a few year's later, he too struggled for life as his kidneys faltered. After receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, he died on March 31, 1976, in Saint Agnes Hospital in Fresno.
Not many years beforehand, he wrote a poem in Spanish for a lodge brother: "Neither tears nor flowers are of much use in one's tomb, / the final mansion for a mortal's remains, / Nor a marble pedestal, which time consumes. / No one is born into this world who in the end does not succumb; / A humble prayer, the only consolation to gain…
"Stoke the flames of our faith and strengthen our hope beyond limit / That we may go to sing your glories with the Heavenly Hosts / praising the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! / So -- until later, brother -- in God's peace rest your spirit."