Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reflections on Father Joe Zelenka


I feel blessed to have known this gentle yet fearless Prophetic Giant. Pere Gerry was indeed a man who lived the Gospel of Non-Violence. He indeed was a man who cared for the poor He was beyond a doubt the most gentle and loving man that I have ever met.

Pere Jean-Juste was special. He loved life. He loved his God. He loved as Jesus did. He was not afraid to call an injustice an injustice. He was not afraid to face imprisonment. I remember well when he said he would rather spend the entire remainder of his life in a Haitian prison than be exiled from his beloved country.

I had the privilege to spend Pentecost Sunday in 2005 with Gerry at his parish of St. Claire. With me were Bill Quigley and Dr. John Carroll and his wife Maria. Never in my life had I ever felt the power of the Holy Spirit like I did with Gerry and his parishioners. It was prayerful, joyful and very emotional. I felt the hand of God touch me. The reading from Acts on this Pentecost Sunday said “…and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind”. The Holy Spirit was truly present.

To be in the presence of Gerry is incredible. He is courageous, fearless, prayerful and prophetic. He always was calling for an end to violence. He challenged the coup government of Haiti as well as the U.S. government to end the oppression of the Haitian people and return the democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide. He was the voice for those who had no voice. It was because of his voice that he was arrested and imprisoned.

My most memorable memorty of Gerry is him standing in the courtyard of the complex at St. Claire wearing his ball cap with the words “Jesus is My Boss”. As hundreds of children waited in line anxiously to get a meal they spotted him and immediately became silent. Gerry then led them in a prayer. I stood there in amazement and with tears in my eyes I said to myself “This Is Eucharist.”.

Always upbeat despite the troubles he faced Gerry continued to be a source of strength to the poorest of God’s poor. His slogan was “Piti, Piti, na rive” “Little by little we will arrive”. I remember his telling me that he cannot separate his faith from politics. “Jesus was never silent about injustice and the oppression of the poor” he would tell me.

The last time I saw Gerry was last October when he came to Indianapolis and was the Keynote Speaker for the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Parish Twinning Program. It was at this time that my wife Sharel and I were graced with his presence in our home overnight.

I know that he now is with the God who he loved very much. I weep not for Gerry but for me and a world that continues to oppress each other. I pray that one day we will see a world without hunger, without violence.

Rest in Peace my friend. May you now embrace the God that you knew was with you for 62 years.

(Photo Pere Jean-Juste by Joe Zelenka)

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