WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!
January 22 2017
Back in 1990, I was serving as Chaplain for BLT 2/4 (Battalion Landing Team 2/4), the ground combat element of the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit).
That particular summer we were deployed in the Mediterranean when we received orders to leave “The Med” and move on down the Atlantic to remain at sea off the coast of the West African country of Liberia.
The country was undergoing a great period of unrest, which had by that time grown into a fierce Civil War. The politics and history are much too complicated to explain here, but suffice it to say that the war was fierce, involved combatants of all ages (teens to adults) and essentially fought to remove a perceived repressive regime.
I should add that the fighting was also tribal in nature, and if you were of the wrong tribe, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, the odds of your being killed were very high.
This was the situation into which the 22nd MEU was sent.
When word came that hostages (Americans and other nationalities) would likely be taken and executed, our Marines went into action. Our unit secured the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia’s Capital, and used it as a jumping off base to ferry civilians out of the country.
The marines would first airlift civilians from the embassy to our ship using short-range helicopters. They (the civilians) would then be placed on longer-range helicopters and flown to Sierra Leone where there was air transportation available to fly them back to their native lands.
People from all parts of the country made their way, perilous as it was, to the American Embassy. We evacuated hundreds of people: foreign businessmen and workers, clergy of various Denominations, Religious Sisters and just plain “ordinary” people trying to escape the savage killing that was going on in country.
It was an incredible experience. And I’m grateful to have been a part of it.
Now, fast forward to the year 2016.
As many of you know, I now reside at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC. This holiday season some friends of mine took me to the new Trump International Hotel (the renovated Old Post Office Building) to see the seasonal decorations.
I wasn’t disappointed.
In the center of the Atrium/Courtyard was a Christmas tree standing at least 4 stories tall, beautifully lit and decorated. There were lovely lit garlands and wreaths everywhere! Add to that the magnificent crystal chandeliers that permanently hang from the iron crossbars that are reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, and you get a spectacular Christmas display!
“How wonderful”, I thought!
While there, we stuck up a conversation with Alex, the Front Office Manager. After speaking with him for a minute or two I realized that he had a connection to Monrovia!
We spoke more about it and discovered that he was among the many that we had evacuated from that very dangerous time and place. He was 12 years old at the time, and when he reached Sierra Leone, he remained there to finish his education.
Clearly he did very well, because eventually he made his way to the United States and is now in the employ of the Trump Organization!
Who would have thought that a pleasant evening of sight-seeing would end up with a reunion that was 26 years in the making!?!?
God sure has his ways!
Always expect the unexpected from our Good and Loving God.
Father Scordo, OP
Lions and Tigers and (Teddy) Bears, Oh My!
January 7 2017
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE CHRISTMAS!
Yes, I love the religious aspect of the Feast, but I also love everything else about it. I love the music, the decorations, the lights, the kidnapped Baby Jesus—everything!!!
It really doesn’t bother me that the “season” officially begins when Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My mind drifts back to 1962 when our saintly and wise old Novice Master told us that we shouldn’t be upset with any of the externals of the celebration as long as we remember that every decoration, every light proclaims that Jesus is born!
It’s a bit sad for me when Santa and Christmas are kicked to the curb by all the retailers on December 26th to make way for Cupid in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.
For us Catholics the Christmas season doesn’t officially close until January’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Only then will I put Christmas away—but only for 10 or 11 months or so.
That’s why recently I made a special effort to go over to the Basilica of The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception across the street from the Dominican House of Studies to take in all the decorations, before they disappear until next winter. Spectacular!! Next year, you should take the time to see it all if you live in the DC area.
Anyway, last week friends took me over to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor on the Potomac. If you’re not familiar with this venue, it’s just over the District line in Maryland.
My friends wanted me to see all the Christmas decorations in and around the Resort area. And what a treat!
Every year, the Gaylord sets up an impressive array of Christmas decorations. The trees on the property are covered with lights. Wreaths and garlands adorn the overhang that covers the valet area. Even the top corners of the building are lit up green and red!
Within the Gaylord is a large “Christmas village” that features a special light and music show every night, including a 40-foot tall metallic Christmas tree comprised of stacked stars.
It truly was breathtaking to behold.
As we walked around the Center taking everything in, we came upon an area that was dedicated to the “Build a Bear” business. A local branch of the business is located just a few blocks away at the National harbor, so setting up a display/sales venue at the Center was a natural.
You could pick out any sort of animal that would eventually be filled with cotton and become your newest “best friend”. We looked at teddy bears, dogs, horses, unicorns, giraffes, and many other creatures on which you could set your heart.
Then I saw it…
A little, black pooch that was so reminiscent our Prior’s former pet, “Maggie” that I had to get it for him. I picked out a little heart for this new Maggie, and even got her an honest-to-goodness “birth certificate”, as well as a little cardboard doghouse for her trip home to her master. I was delighted to give her to him, and he was equally delighted to receive little Maggie.
And after all, isn’t that what the spirit of Christmas is all about? Baby Jesus and Maggie, the decorations, and everything else for that matter. That’s what it can be all about.
Happy New Year, everyone!!!
BABY JESUS HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED!
December 31 2016
Happy New Year!
I’m currently residing at the Dominican House of Studies (DHS, for short). It’s a 100+-year-old building in Washington DC where some 80+ friars and seminarians live in faith and fellowship.
About a week or two before Christmas, the DHS had a large Nativity Scene set up in the cloister courtyard. There are large ceramic structures about four feet tall featuring the Kings, Shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and of course, baby Jesus.
It looked lovely.
About an hour later, I noticed that the Baby Jesus had “moved” out of his crib and was now “stashed” on the ground behind the wooden stable. “Poor Baby Jesus, out there on the ground” I thought, making a mental note to put Him back in His proper place later (it was a windy day and I wanted to wait until the weather had passed so He’d stay in place).
And about an hour after that, I noticed that the infant was gone altogether!
I am a big believer in God’s miracles, but I was pretty certain baby Jesus getting up and walking out of the Nativity Scene wasn’t the Lord’s work. So I put up an “AMBER ALERT” notice on one of the doors leading out into the courtyard.
It was a nice Christmas-type piece of paper with a festive holly and greens border. On it I wrote, “Baby Jesus has gone missing…Please pray for His safe return.”
Well that started it.
The next morning a note appeared in my mailbox. It was typed in a font that mimicked the ransom notes made with cut out letters from magazines and newspapers. “If you want to see Baby Jesus again” it began, and urged patience since Jesus was not yet born. I tell you, we have some “real purists” as I call them, here at the DHS.
Not to let a good challenge pass by unanswered, I put up another note in response, threatening to get “my cousin, Guido” involved if Baby Jesus wasn’t returned immediately.
Another ransom note was left in my mailbox informing me that the kidnappers were unafraid of “cousin Guido.” And this time, the note was accompanied by two photos of Baby Jesus: one of him lying on a newspaper next to the date and another showing him lying in the grass on the National Mall!!!
Now I was really determined. I posted another note declaring that not only was Cousin Guido going to be involved, but he was also enlisting his friends, Nino Pecorino and Joey Parmigiano in the effort.
The kidnappers went silent. No more ransom notes. No Baby Jesus.
As much as I wanted baby Jesus returned, I had to respect the “purists’” desire to leave the manger empty until Christmas Day. After all, Jesus technically hadn’t been born yet!
But more than that, this whole episode served as a good “mental break” for the Student Brothers here. They were in the midst of final exams as well as submitting papers due at the semester’s end; so a little lightheartedness was good for them.
It was fun to watch them crowd around the doors each day reading the progression of ransom notes and responses. And it was an unintended but effective preparation for us all for Christmas.
Then, on Christmas Day, miracle of miracles, baby Jesus appeared. Everyone was happy…even though I never discovered the identity of the kidnappers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Father Joseph Scordo, OP.
Merry Christmas From Father Scordo
December 25 2016
What a year 2016 has turned out to be!
If you had told me three years ago that I’d publish a book, go on a book-signing tour, and get on social media, I would have laughed and suggested a psychiatrist.
And yet… here we are!
As we celebrate the arrival of our Lord today, I am filled with gratitude to Him for His Mercy and Divine Promise. It is through His grace that all things are possible, even a crazy old man like me publishing a bestseller… the proceeds of which has already been put to good use, paying for the installation of a new light system to illuminate the front of the Dominican House of Studies!
I want to wish all of you many thanks for your kindness and support. Many plans are in the works for 2017. And I cannot wait to share all of them with you in the coming months.
But most importantly of all, I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and God’s blessings on this Holiday Season.
Father Joseph Scordo, OP.