Life-changing experience for Christ the King parishioner

New parochial administrator for Corpus Christi, Fremont

Pope returns Russian icon
in gesture of good will
Pets help bring touch of Eden to nursing homes

Peacemaker’s diary:
Six weeks in Hebron

St. Rose Hospital to cease
as Catholic facility
Marge Perez honored with diocesan medal
Young adults invited to
faith conference at USF
New leader at FST in Berkeley

Catholicism is neither adrift nor foundering




Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.



Charitable groups still aiding those
harmed on 9/11

East Bay Catholics to remember 9/11



Bishops offer election guidelines

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) – The nation’s Catholic bishops have distributed a list of 10 questions voters should ask political candidates but cautioned that they “should not isolate a particular element of Catholic doctrine” and ignore other issues.

On Aug. 20, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops distributed the two-page statement “The Challenge of Faithful Citizenship” as an optional insert for weekly bulletins distributed in America’s 19,000 Catholic parishes.

“The question should not be, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It should be, ‘How can we – all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable – be better off in the years ahead?’” the insert said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Relief Services has launched a web-based program to help college students apply their faith to election year politics. “The Campus Advocate” is a 12-week program that guides students through weekly activities aimed at engaging them in the Nov. 2 election.

And a third faith organization, the Interfaith Alliance, has also produced nonpartisan materials to educate voters about political responsibility. The advocacy group, an alliance of more than 75 faith traditions, is offering “One Nation. Many Faiths. Vote 2004,” which provides five questions for candidates about faith, religious liberty and pluralism.

The U.S. bishops’ bulletin material summarizes Church teachings on Catholics in the public arena and reviews key issues in contemporary politics. It comes during an election year in which both parties are fighting hard for the votes of Catholics, while Catholic politicians who support abortion rights—especially Democratic candidate John Kerry—have come under public scrutiny from some bishops.

Although abortion is mentioned several times, the document calls voters’ attention to other issues, including hunger, support for marriage, health care, immigration, war and peace, and religious freedom. It echoes a Vatican statement that prohibits voting for any policy that “contradicts fundamental principles of our faith.”

“It also reminds us that we should not isolate a particular element of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust our responsibility towards the common good,” the insert said.

The insert is a digested version of the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document on political participation, which is revised every four years. It was prepared by the bishops’ Office of Social Development and World Peace.

The CRS web program includes material on topics such as how to organize a voter registration drive and provides background information on such issues as trade, foreign aid and Church social teaching. The sessions are designed for students, campus ministers or university faculty and staff.

In addition to its list of five questions for candidates, the Interfaith Alliance is providing guides for candidates and houses of worship on how faith
communities may be involved in the election process without violating U.S. law. The Alliance will also hold two national issues forums in Atlanta and Chicago this fall.

The bishops’ insert can be ordered by calling USCCB Publishing at (800)235-8722 or online at

Materials in the CRS web program are available at or by calling Kevin Kostic, campus ministry coordinator, at (410) 951-7430.

Information on the Interfaith Alliance project can be found at or by calling (202) 639-6370.

Deep regret at decision
on partial birth abortion

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

Pro-life activists, reacting with dismay as a second federal judge struck down a law banning partial birth abortion, placed the blame on the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade.

“Today Roe v. Wade once again made the unthinkable constitutional,” said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. “Because of Roe, killing a child in the process of being born is called a constitutional right rather than an act of barbarism.”

Carrie Gordon Earll, analyst for the nonprofit Christian organization, Focus on the Family, called the decision, “simply the bitter fruit of Roe v. Wade.” She added, “We can expect the Partial Birth Abortion Ban to be another of its victims.”

Abortion rights supporters, however, said the decision protects Roe v. Wade from erosion. “We see this decision as another important victory in the ongoing struggle to protect reproductive rights,” said June Walker, national president of Hadassah, a Jewish women’s group.

Their statements came after U.S. Judge Richard Conway Casey in the Southern District of New York released an opinion on Aug. 26 in which he said that the procedure is “gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized” but the ban must nevertheless be struck down under the dictates of Roe v. Wade.

On June 1, a federal judge in San Francisco also declared the law unconstitutional, and a federal court in Nebraska is considering another challenge to the ban. The Bush administration has already appealed the San Francisco ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his opinion, Judge Casey wrote, “This gruesome procedure may be outlawed only if there exists a medical consensus that there is no circumstance in which any woman could potentially benefit from it.”

He also wrote that there is “credible evidence that [such] abortions subject fetuses to severe pain.

Notwithstanding this evidence, some of the plaintiffs’ experts testified that fetal pain does not concern them and that some do not convey to their patients that their fetuses may undergo severe pain.”

President George W. Bush signed the ban into law in November 2003, but it was immediately challenged in the courts. According to Gail Quinn, executive director for the U.S. Bishops’ pro-life activities, the ban faces an uphill legal battle because of Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court decisions that followed it.

“Roe made abortion legal but said it could be prohibited late in pregnancy as long as there is an exception for the mother’s health,” Quinn wrote in a commentary on the Bishops’ web site. But a later decision defining health “was nothing more than a farce,” she said. “It defined health as including ‘all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age.’”

A Supreme Court decision in 2000 broadened this even further. It held that when medical opinions differ on the issue of health, “a health exception is constitutionally required.”

In other words, the courts must then find that there is a danger to women’s health and allow the procedure even if it is banned.

Judge Casey wrote that the arguments in favor of partial birth abortion were “incoherent,” “false” or “merely theoretical,” but he was presented with differing medical opinions and therefore had to require that the law provide a health exception. Since the law had none, he said, he was forced to strike it down.

Pro-life supporters in Congress drafted the law without the health exception because the Roe v. Wade definition of health had become too broad to be effective. Instead, the government argued that partial birth abortion is never medically necessary.

Ruse of the U.S. Bishops Conference said, “The crucial question of medical necessity was never answered in this trial. At every turn where medical records were sought, the medical institutions refused to produce them. In essence, the abortion doctors said ‘just trust us,’ and no hard evidence was considered.”

The New York State case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the National Abortion Federation and several abortion doctors.

The decision handed down last month, Quinn wrote, “shows how clearly Roe v. Wade and the cases that flow from it have taken out of the hands of the American people the right to prohibit some of the most heinous and painful acts committed on the youngest and most vulnerable in the human family.”

(Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service contributed to this report.)

Mourning a De La Salle grad

Bob Ladouceur, De La Salle High’s football coach, tells about 1500 people gathered at Hilltop Community Church in Richmond for the funeral of Terrance Kelly that the teen was “a good player, but more importantly, he was a good person.” Kelly, a De La Salle star linebacker and 2004 grad, was murdered Aug. 12. He was to leave on Aug. 14 for the University of Oregon on a full scholarship.

Since the Aug. 18 funeral, religious leaders held a prayer service at the scene of the murder (above) in Richmond’s crime-ridden Iron Triangle neighborhood and have called on city officials to reopen a youth center closed because of budget constraints.

De La Salle high school football players file past the cascet of Terrance Kelly during the funeral service on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 at Hilltop Community Church in Richmond, California.



Charitable groups still aiding
those harmed on 9/11

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

The United Services Group, a New York City humanitarian consortium that helped victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, closed up shop on July 31. But that doesn’t mean the long-term relief work is anywhere near over.

Stephen Solender, who served as chief executive officer of the group coordinating a range of religious, secular and ethnic groups, estimates that the cases of thousands of people still in need have been referred to social service agencies in the New York region.

“There are ... a certain number of people who feel that we are coddling some of these people and that we ought to say, ‘Look, it’s 36 months since 9/11. It’s time for you to really pull yourselves together and get going,’” said Solender, the former president of United Jewish Communities, a national, New York-based charity.

“Unfortunately, life and human behavioral problems don’t get resolved that way.”

From Methodist relief workers in New York to Catholic Charities counselors in Boston to post-Sept. 11 interfaith gatherings in Washington, religious organizations are continuing to help those who were directly or indirectly affected by the terrorist attacks. As some continue the traditional work of counseling and helping pay bills, others are fostering dialogue between faiths and preparing for whatever tragedy may lie ahead.

Solender said cases now handled by groups such as the Salvation Army, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and Catholic Charities include victims who still carry physical and emotional scars from the flames and smoke of the World Trade Center. Widows with children struggle with the lack of funds after losing their husbands and their incomes.

“There was a delay for a certain number of people in feeling the pain because they were almost anesthetized after 9/11 and it took a year or two for them to fully comprehend how profoundly they had been affected by that tragedy,” he said.

In Boston — the starting point of the two jetliners that were flown into New York’s Twin Towers — Pat Dunn of Catholic Charities has worked with other charitable groups and government offices in a “community of care” to meet ongoing needs.

In July, the six crisis counselors on her staff were on hand when a remembrance garden was dedicated in the Boston Public Garden.

East Bay Catholics to remember 9/11

By Voice staff

Liturgies and a media presentation are among events planned in the Oakland Diocese to remember and mark the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bishop Emeritus John Cummins will preside at a liturgy, “A Solemn Mass for Peace and Justice: A 9/11 Commemoration,” at St. Mary’s College Chapel in Moraga on Sept. 11.

The Mass, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will feature music by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, one of England’s most well-known choirs. Richard Marlow, organist and director of music at Trinity College, will direct the choir.

Holy Rosary Church, at 1313 A St. in Antioch, will host a Fatima devotion on Sept. 11 with a special remembrance for those who died in the 2001 attacks. Mass will begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a procession, Rosary, blessing of the sick and Benediction.

Alameda’s St. Philip Neri Parish, at 3108 Van Buren St. will host a 9/11 Memorial Mass at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 11.

The Committee for Lectures, Art and Music at St. Mary’s College will host an audio/visual presentation on Sept. 9 called “Women at Ground Zero.” Bay Area writers Mary Carouba and Susan Hagen will share the emotional stories and photos of women who risked their lives to save others following the attack on the World Trade Center.

The presentation starts at 8 p.m. in the LeFevre Theater at the Moraga campus. Tickets: $20 general, $19 senior, $10 students. Reservations: (925) 631-4670 .

Local parishioner has life-changing experience providing dental care to poor Russian orphans

Maris Uchikura with Vladik, the young Russian boy she and her husband are trying to adopt.

Volunteers with Santa Barbara-based Medicine Arm-in-Arm work in a make-shift dental clinic at a Russian orphanage.


By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

When Maris Uchikura’s husband, Doug, was transferred to Moscow in 2000 for a three-year assignment with Chevron Texaco, Uchikura, a dental hygienist, turned her long-time career experience into a corporal work of mercy. She began providing free dental care to poor children living inside Russia’s many orphanages.

Soon after her arrival in the former Soviet Union, Uchikura, a parishioner at Christ the King in Pleasant Hill, linked up with Medicine Arm-in-Arm, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1999 in Santa Barbara. Arm-in-Arm uses volunteer professionals to provide free, on-site medical, surgical and educational services to poor people in the U.S and abroad. One of the group’s areas of expertise is dentistry.

When Uchikura contacted the group, they asked if she would like to join a group of U.S. dentists, hygienists and technicians going to orphanages in Dmitrov and St. Petersburg. Eight hundred kids were waiting. Uchikura quickly said “yes.”

Her response became a life-changing event. Uchikura saw the contrasts between Russian and American lifestyles, the hospitality of the Russian people despite their basic deprivations, the enthusiasm of orphanage staffs and the sweetness of the children. When Uchikura returned to her family home in Alamo last fall, she discovered how much she missed the children. So in April she returned to Moscow for a fourth two-week stint.

In recounting her memories, she recalled the first orphanage she visited, where they had been planning for the dental visit for a year. “The place had been freshly painted, staff had spiffed up the old floors as best they could, and they had installed a new electrical system to accommodate our compressors.”

Four tables became dental chairs. Four dentists and a few hygienists who had never met each other worked together for a week to “treat these awesome children,” said Uchikura.

Uchikura discovered that kids are alike all over the world where dentists are concerned. They started out nervous, “but ended up surrendering themselves to this group that is determined to help as many as they could.”

“Often the boys will be in ties and jackets that don’t fit, but they want to offer their best to us,” she said.

Uchikura was in charge of numbing gums before passing the youngsters along to dentists for silver amalgams, cosmetic white restorations, and extractions.

“There were way too many extractions of infected teeth that were just too far gone to save,” she said. The crew worked from early morning until late at night. By the end of each day, Uchikura’s arthritis kicked in from giving all those Novocain shots.

There are thousands of children in orphanages in Russia, Uchikura discovered. Many of them are disabled, but “even more are from families that just cannot cope with the economy and the expenses of life to include children.”

The volunteers stayed with families near the orphanage.
“This experience is something you don’t forget,” said Uchikura. “Their apartments are all very tiny and would fit into one quarter of most of our garages – one small kitchen and bedroom and then a small area with a television comprise most of the apartments.” Families live their whole lives in these spaces, first with their parents, and then with their children, and later their grandchildren.

Nothing is wasted. Soap scraps are put into a little container that “you could swish into water for dish cleaning.” Bits of old clothing were cleaned and stuffed into pillows.

“If you wanted warm water, a gas pilot needed to be lit every morning with just enough to wash your face and hair if you were quick enough.”

Uchikura recalls leaving a morsel of chicken breast on her plate. The next morning she saw “that very piece of chicken in the pan to be used in soup. It just made me stop and think about things I would think nothing of tossing out here.”

Uchikura also learned “how basic bread is around the world. It is a focus at every meal and so satisfying when you are really hungry. For those seeing through my eyes, ‘you will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.’”

Certain kids remain in Uchikura’s memory. Oksana, a 16-year-old girl who served as translator for the dental crew at one of the orphanages, told Uchikura that she had a twin sister also living in the orphanage. They were left there by their mom when they were seven and they never saw her again.

“Of course, tears came to my eyes as the story progressed and the tears came to hers and we just hugged for a long time,” said Uchikura. Later Oksana showed Uchikura some of her treasures – photos of a day trip into Moscow and a soldier she hadn’t seen for a long time – her boyfriend.

Before Uchikura left, the teenager gave her a beautiful lace doily which she had crocheted. “She said she couldn’t believe we were all so nice.”

Oksana was amazed that this California volunteer had brought 350 toothbrushes from eighth graders at St. Philip Neri School in Alameda, who had also done chores at home to earn $15 — the cost of one child’s treatment.

She was amazed that Uchikura’s family, friends, former patients and fellow dentists from the East Bay had also donated clothing and $5,000 for supplies.

One little boy Uchikura first met three years ago is now the child of her heart. She first discovered Vladik, when he was three years old.

She and her husband often volunteered at a local orphanage during mealtimes, helping staff to feed the severely disabled young children, Uchikura explained. Vladik had been lumped in with this particular group for no other reason than because he was their age. He was perfectly normal except for the tendons in his legs, which hadn’t developed properly. No corrective surgery had ever been performed, so “he never walked. He just dragged himself around on the floor.”

Since the children in his ward were in near vegetative states, Vladik’s best friends were the adult staff and volunteers with whom he could talk. A highly articulate, bright little fellow, Vladik charmed everyone, including the Uchikuras.

“My husband nicknamed him ‘the Captain,’ for the way he barked orders to everyone.” But Uchikura said, Vladik “was very tender with me.” Last summer, she connected the boy with a Russian physician who was willing to perform the necessary surgery to get the child on his feet. Before she left for Alamo last fall, Uchikura and Vladik took their first walk together, sans wheelchair.

Uchikura assumed that when she returned home, Vladik “would be another one of the fantastic memories of our life in Russia and I would resume my carefree life.” Surprise — when she returned this past April, the memory came running back into her life, laughing with delight.

It was at that moment that Uchikura realized she wanted to bring the child home to Alamo. She and Doug began adoption proceedings for the little boy, a situation which could mean an arduous wait. Meanwhile they are looking towards the day when they bring him home, where there are five older brothers and sisters, ages 27 to 20, waiting to welcome him.

Raising another kid “is kind of scary,” she admits, “yet life is like that, isn’t it,” she observes cheerfully.

Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont
has a new parochial administrator

Staff writer

“It has been absolutely wonderful,” said Father Stephan Kappler about his first month as parochial administrator at Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont. The assignment marks his return to pastoral ministry after a year-long leave of absence. He had served as pastor at St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Oakland from 1999-2003, and as parochial vicar at St. Michael Parish in Livermore and St. Cornelius in Richmond prior to that. He also co-directed the diocesan Jubilee 2000 activities.

The priest said he is pleased with his appointment to Corpus Christi and to follow in the footsteps of Father Timothy Stier, who had been pastor since 1992 and is now on sabbatical.

Father Stier did an “outstanding job” in leading the parish, said the new administrator. “He fostered a sense of lay participation and a sense of activity and participation across generational levels.”

Parishioners, he explained, support a variety of parish organizations that range from small faith communities (both English and Spanish) and the finance council to the popular Life Teen program, which helps support the spiritual development of the parish’s young people.

Father Kappler, 37, said his first objective is to get to know the people of Corpus Christi. In turn, they are learning more about their German-born administrator who graduated from the University of Munich in 1989, then moved to the East Bay to earn his master of divinity degree at the Franciscan School of Theology at Berkeley in 1993.

Shortly before his 1994 ordination, Father Kappler enrolled in a clinical pastoral education program at San Francisco’s California Pacific Hospital, where he learned how to better reach out to those in need. He also developed a deep interest in psychology. Ten years later that interest has moved him to pursue a doctorate degree in clinical psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco

He believes that a more in-depth knowledge of psychology will be an important tool in his ministry. “The spiritual help that we can give is obviously very important, but many times I have to refer people on to a licensed therapist because there are many times that there is a lot of stuff we cannot cover,” said the priest, who is fluent in German and Spanish as well as English.

Father Kappler also hopes that new counseling skills will help him to help his fellow priests who may feel more at ease talking about their problems with one of their own.

He said his new parish family has offered their support for this academic endeavor. A number of parishioners have encouraged him with, “‘You can do this,’” he said.

Pope returns
Russian icon
in gesture of good will

A man kisses the icon of Our Lady of Kazan while it was on exhibit in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Pope John Paul II is returning the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church in an effort to heal the 1,000-year schism between the churches of the East and West.

By Peggy Polk
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY— On Aug. 25, Pope John Paul II kissed a treasured Russian icon and sent it back to Moscow as a sign of his affection for the Russian Orthodox Church and his desire to end 1,000 years of division between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds.

The frail, 84-year-old pontiff expressed “special emotion” as he presided over a solemn celebration of the Liturgy of the Word for the veneration of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan. He consigned the jewel-encrusted painting to a Vatican delegation that will carry it to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II.

The icon’s antique image depicts the Christ child held upright by the Virgin Mary. John Paul said it spoke of his “affection” for the Russian Orthodox Church “and all the faithful entrusted” to it.

The pontiff referred to “the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is custodian.” He said it was “the desire and the firm intention of the Pope of Rome to progress together with them on the path of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation to hasten the day of that full unity of believers for which the Lord Jesus ardently prayed.”

John Paul referred to himself in the third person in a prayer he wrote in Russian for the ceremony. The prayer, read by a Russian-speaking priest, said, “He asks you, Holy Mother, to intercede in order to hasten the time of full unity between East and West, of full communion among all Christians.”

A papal delegation presented the richly decorated wooden panel in the Kremlin on Saturday, Aug. 28, when the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the Feast of the Dormition. Like the Catholic Church’s Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, the Orthodox feast marks the end of the earthly life of the Virgin Mary. Catholic doctrine holds that she was taken up body and soul into heaven while the Orthodox believe that she fell asleep in the Lord.

John Paul had hoped to deliver the icon himself in a visit to Russia that would mark a major step forward in relations between the churches separated by the Great Schism of 1054. He offered last summer to make a stop in Kazan en route to Mongolia to return the icon to its place of origin, but the Moscow Patriarchate protested, and the trip was canceled.

Alexey II has said repeatedly that he will not meet with the pope until they have resolved serious problems that have arisen between the churches following the fall of communism.

The Russian Orthodox Church accuses Catholics of seeking converts in its traditional territories, especially in Ukraine where the Eastern Rite Catholics and Russian Orthodox churches are also at odds over church property.

Last month, Alexey said, in effect, that the icon—one of many copies made in the late 17th and early 18th century of the original, 16th-century, miracle-working Madonna of Kazan—was not a good enough bargaining chip to win a papal visit.
Because the pope’s icon “is only a copy,” he told the Itar-Tass news agency on Aug. 13, “there is no need at all for him to deliver it himself.”

But an aide to the patriarch spoke in a more conciliatory tone on Aug. 24.
The Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy director of foreign relations, said that returning the icon “is without doubt a worthy act” that demonstrates “good will and a sense of justice.”

The original icon was discovered in Kazan in 1579. Led by visions of the Virgin Mary, a 9-year-old girl found it buried under an oven in a house destroyed by a fire that had swept the Volga River city 500 miles east of Moscow. Art historians believe it had been painted between 1540 and 1550.

The icon is credited with many miracles, including the defeat in 1612 of the Polish army that invaded Moscow on the death of the last czar of the Riurik dynasty. Taken from Kazan to Moscow, it was carried at the head of an army of peasants and beggars that prevailed over the Poles.

A thief stole the original icon in 1904 and when arrested claimed he had burned it after removing its decorations of gold, silver and gems. But the Russian Orthodox Church still devotes two feast days each year to it, marking its finding and the victory over the Poles.

The Vatican has reported earlier that four Russian and four Vatican experts who examined the pope’s copy last year found it to be “an authentic icon attributable to a period not later than the first half of the 18th century.” They said it’s covering of silver gilt and precious stones indicated that “it was an object of worship and of particular veneration.”

John Lindsay Opie, professor of Byzantine art at the University of Rome and an expert on icons, said he considered the pope’s Madonna of Kazan to be “a poor, provincial copy,” one of thousands and with no evidence of miracle-working.
But he said that it and all other authentic copies are valued by the Orthodox Church and believed to have the potential to work miracles.

This is because the Orthodox Church has believed since the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 787 that just as Christ’s body and blood are materially present in the Eucharist, his form is present in sacred art.


Pets help bring
touch of Eden
to nursing homes

JuneKeeney and Cyrano

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

Small miracles happen every day at Mercy Retirement and Care Center, thanks to the Eden Alternative, a new, holistic nature-centered program which pairs residents and staff with dogs, cats, lizards, birds, flowers and kids.

The Eden Alternative “has us thinking outside the institutional box,” explains Stephanie Walsh, director of staff development at the Oakland facility.

Walsh’s words ring true everywhere. Inside the lobby, large colorful cockatiels flutter noisily back and forth on their perches — when they are in their cages, that is. Much of the time, the birds are perching on the shoulders of residents, staff and visitors. A few months ago when one of the cockatiels hurt himself, the residents (with a little help from their families and the staff) had a bake sale, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” to pay for their feathered chum’s vet care.

Walk down the first floor corridor, and Captain, a mellow, 100-pound golden retriever, eagerly approaches visitors, asking to be petted.

Within seconds, Captain has a rival. Annie, a tiny Pekinese/Pomeranian mix, bounces through the door of a nearby office, yipping happily. She rolls over for a tummy rub. Captain isn’t jealous. There is enough attention here to go around for them both.

Today, Annie is hanging out with Sara Main, Mercy’s assistant activities director, and Maurianna Skinner, aged eight, who comes to Mercy during the summer with her grandmother, Wanda Lott, Mercy’s receptionist.

Steve Hardy, director of activities, said other staff members also bring their children or grandchildren to work with them. While the adults are answering phones, dispensing meds or cooking meals, these young visitors play games with residents. Or even help to call bingo.

During the school year, third through sixth graders at nearby St. Elizabeth School visit weekly to take part in art classes with their elderly friends. And the youngsters at the TLC Day Care Center across the street from Mercy drop in every week to cheer up residents living on the dementia floor. There are even a couple of babies who are regular visitors.

A third essential of Eden Alternative – plants — is also abundant.

Just across the hall from Sara Main’s office is a veranda filled with lush flowers and greenery. The place wasn’t this attractive until a year and a half ago when a lady who loved gardening moved into Mercy’s assisted living unit. With the help of her family, she transformed the cold, bare, concrete porch into a mini-garden. The loveliness of the space lures many elders from their rooms to visit, read and pray.

Today the garden has a lone occupant. Betsy, one of Mercy’s half dozen resident cats, snoozes away the afternoon snuggled in her favorite lawn chair. When she wakes from her nap, Betsy will find two bowls of kibble, plus a saucer of her favorite “wet” food, and a container of fresh water. These are the daily goodies left on the patio from the assembly of elders who care for her.

Doug Neff, Mercy’s in-service staff trainer, is convinced that one elderly nun managed to walk a lot longer than the staff thought she ever would because she knew that Betsy depended on her.

“We made Sister Winnie a special platform for her walker so she could carry cat food, a spoon, and can opener down on the elevator,” said Neff.

This particular afternoon, Neff is on his way to the conference room where he will guide staff members through their monthly federally mandated in-service session. But the training is now imbued with the Eden touch. Neff has taken specialized training at the group’s Summer Hill Farm, an upstate New York retreat center offering educational programs.

“Edenizing,” explains Neff, is an ongoing process designed to ease front-line caregivers into the therapeutic use of plants, animals and children — elements that were formerly frowned upon in nursing care facilities. “The nursing home industry is the second most overregulated industry, topped only by nuclear waste,” he said. Overregulation, in the medical model, often boils down to having a sterile, antiseptic environment where elders merely mark time in a hotel or hospital-like setting.

Today, there will be role-playing. The goal of these intensives is to gradually move the staff — administration, kitchen help, clerks, nurses, certified nursing assistants, volunteers, housekeepers and janitors — into a family model which includes not only themselves, but residents, animals and visiting kids.

Neff has the staff volunteers take turns pretending to be Mercy residents with gripes to air. One of the challenges is that some of the residents have poor memories, staff members note. The residents request juicy pork chops, more bacon, more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but don’t remember the staff is already accommodating them as best they can. “Put yourself in their place for a minute,” Neff suggests, “and then figure out some creative responses.”

Such thinking outside the institutional box takes place daily at both Mercy and its sister nursing facility, Salem Lutheran Home, also in Oakland. Both Mercy and Salem are members of the Elder Care Alliance, an organization sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community in Burlingame and the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Mercy and Salem are among more than 300 nursing homes across the United States and abroad, 16 of them in California, designated as registered Eden Homes, explained Kristine E. Watson, community relations director at Mercy. Mercy Center signed on to the program in 1999, according to Mercy Sister Patty Creedon, chief operating officer and administrator, after she and her staff read “A Life Worth Living,” a book written by Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative.

Sister Creedon said she was taken with Thomas’s philosophy because it put words and structure to some of the ideas Mercy was already trying out. “We’ve always felt the residents were why we are here,” said Sister Creedon.

When Mercy built its new facility in 1985, the Sisters knew instinctively that “having lots of light, with an atrium, was important. They knew that rooms situated so that everyone could look out into the courtyard to “see things green and full of life,” were crucial to elder morale. “Dr. Thomas’ work showed us we were doing it right,” she said.

The “Registered” designation means that Mercy is part of an honor society that nursing homes can join by going through a series of intensive trainings based on the 10 principles of Eden, Dr. Thomas explained during a phone interview.

The training is structured around what Thomas calls eradicating the three plagues of “loneliness, helplessness and boredom” by putting elders back in touch with plants, animals and children.

“These three plagues account for the bulk of suffering in nursing homes,” he said. Thomas spells “Elders” with a capital E because he considers older people to be the wisdom sages who can restore society to wholeness by firing up “the engines of intergenerational exchange” once more. Eden’s founding director has his third book coming out Sept. 20, which speaks to this very issue: “What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World.”

Expounding on other Eden principles, Thomas stressed that continuing contact with plants, animals and children create “relationships which provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.”

An Eden-centered community “is about having a whole life, no matter how old or frail or ill you are,” he said.

Thomas believes that medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, “never its master.” He quickly adds that top notch medical care is always a must, but points out that it alone is not enough to “put the light back into people’s eyes.” Rather, it is a both/and situation – good medical care combined with compassionate earth-based principles.

Another significant characteristic of Eden is its emphasis on egalitarian decision- making that includes Elders and those closest to them, as opposed to the hierarchical model where one or two people call all the shots.

Dr. Thomas has seen the Eden program work miracles with its residents. Once nursing homes adopt the Eden model they experience significant decreases in resident behavioral incidents, depression, pressure sores, and bedfast residents, he said. There are also some decreases in staff absenteeism, employee injuries and staff turnover.

To illustrate his point, Dr. Thomas recalled Mr. L, an elderly fellow who “came to us to die.” The staff decided that he needed a feathered friend, so they brought a parakeet to his bedside. Pretty soon, “Mr. L fell in love with the parakeet. He started getting out of bed to feed him.” The upshot of the story is, “instead of dying, Mr. L was able to move back home. And he took his parakeet with him.”

Mercy Center’s Stephanie Walsh can readily identify with such stories. She likes to tell about “Maggie,” (not her real name,) a 93-year-old resident living in the dementia unit. Maggie never smiled, and “she could barely talk.” That is, until she encountered Captain, the golden retriever, for the first time. When he approached Maggie, “her face broke into a beautiful smile and she said, ‘Come here, doggie,’” remembers Walsh.

Sister Patty Creedon admits to being an initial skeptic about the critters-in-nursing homes concept, but she has since become an all-out enthusiastic convert. Well, almost. She has yet to bond with Rocky, the astonishingly large North African lizard who lives in a terrarium on the second floor. However, the nun says she and other staff have come a long way. “Back in the 1970’s we were trained to think animals in nursing homes were a bad idea. Germs, you know.”

Fear of germs dissolve into the background as Sister Creedon walks the halls of Mercy, seeing kids like Maurianna visiting the elders, and “watching our residents sneak cookies to Captain. Things like that are fun. Our staff feels the warmth, too, like we’re one big family.”

A lonely woman’s tears led to development of
Eden Alternative

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

Why did the Eden Alternative come about? Because Dr. Bill Thomas and his wife, Jude, were saddened by the cold, sterile energy which characterizes many nursing homes.

In 1991, Thomas, then 31 and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, became the medical director of a nursing home in upstate New York. “It had a terrific track record for quality of care. But if you looked into the eyes of the people, it wasn’t so fantastic,” Thomas recalls. His patients were listless, withdrawn and sad. But the truly defining moment came the night Dr. Thomas checked an elderly woman’s blood pressure. As he turned to leave, she touched his arm and, with tears in her eyes, told him, “I’m so lonely.”

“Bill was shaken to the core that night,” said his wife, Jude, during a phone interview. At first he didn’t know how to change things, but shortly afterwards the State of New York announced it was giving a series of “best practices” grants to nursing homes for creating programs making life better for elders.

Dr. Thomas suddenly had an “aha”. He went to work creating a program based on bringing plants, animals and children into the nursing home. New York liked it, and gave him one of their grants. In retrospect, the seeds for the Eden Alternative had probably had probably been simmering in his soul since he was a kid, Dr. Thomas muses.

“I grew up reading Mother Earth Magazine and have always been a homesteader at heart,” he said.
So with grant in hand, the physician set about looking for a director who could get his program started. One of the interviewees was Jude Meyers, a speech pathologist who had just come away from the “raw experience” of having to put her dad into a horrible, sterile nursing home, “where he died unhappily.”

Jude got the job. And eventually married her boss. Today, they have five children, two of whom were born with severe disabilities. Haley, 10, and Hanna, 7, have Otahara Syndrome, a disorder which renders them blind and keeps them from speaking, sitting up and rolling over.

“But they hear and they can smile and they are incredibly wise. They are our teachers,” said their mother. The girls require 24-hour care, “so we are practicing the Eden Alternative right here in our home,” said Jude Thomas. Apparently, it is working. Otahara sufferers normally have six-month life spans, she said.

Peacemaker’s diary:
Six weeks in Hebron

After having his head and beard shaved in solidarity with those suffering from a “shaving of the land,” Lorin Peters prays and does penance on the rubble of a demolished home in Beit Ummar


Lorin Peters, a teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School and a parishioner at St. Leander’s in San Leandro, recently returned from a six-week stay in Hebron, a conflict-ridden city in the West Bank of Palestine.

As a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an ecumenical organization, his role was to help provide a non-violent presence in the community.

Peters had visited Hebron on an earlier visit with CPT. His story appeared in the July 5 issue of the Catholic Voice. The following are excerpts from reflections Peters wrote during his stay and flight home.

July 8, 2004
I hate shopping. But last night, in the middle of cooking a really good spaghetti sauce, I was short one green pepper and two tomatoes.

So, down our long stone stairway, through the Chicken Market, into the Old City, right at the 400-year-old Tea Shop, with its iron shutters and miniature stools around outdoor coffee tables, through the first of the medieval stone arches, into the inner Kasbah, with its twisting and branching tunnels, past occasional shafts of light filtering down through the three and four stories of ancient stonework.

Four long peppers plus two large red tomatoes. “Hadish?” (How much?) “Wahad.” (One shekel, 22 cents.) The whole trip took three minutes on foot. This shopping I could do.

Unfortunately, it may not last. The militant settlers in Hebron constantly harass the shopkeepers and are gradually strangling the Old City. Most of these shopkeepers have given up and moved out of the Old City.

A few young Palestinians who long to save their Old City (old, as in, Hebron was here when Abraham arrived 4000 years ago) have launched a campaign to save the Old City.

This afternoon, seven of these volunteers and one very determined shopkeeper came to our apartment. … We meet every Thursday to brainstorm and organize, in this race against harassment and intimidation.

July 10
Things are much calmer here now than two years ago, although we do not go near the settlements. We go out in pairs and walk around the Old City several times a day. We see soldiers making a few Palestinians stand and wait, mostly to humiliate them, almost every day. They usually let the Palestinians go after 20 to 30 minutes.

Wednesday we all went to visit two extended families out on the extreme southwest tip of the West Bank who have been told verbally by the Israelis that all their houses and wells are going to be destroyed soon. Each family has about five houses, several barns and several wells.

Some of these houses are very new and very beautiful. The Israelis appear to want their land, and their water, for themselves, as far as we can see. We are planning to make a strong effort to publicize and to educate Israelis and Americans about these home demolitions.

July 16
Life in a Muslim city is punctuated five times a day by the call to prayer. There seems to be a mosque, however humble, on almost every block in this very traditional Muslim city. They all now have loudspeakers, powerful loudspeakers. Our neighboring muezzin’s voice erupts suddenly in the silence, soars, then skips, dances, and flutters, then launches another long, soaring phrase.

He is soon answered by the same call from every mosque in the city, all at different tempos and in different keys. The cacophony is complex, and dissonant. And yet this dissonance gradually becomes familiar and welcome and eventually soothing and calming, like a mantra, even the call every morning at 4 a.m.

The faithful are at prayer, and God is still honored. If ever they were silent, we would immediately feel, and rightly, that something in the land is seriously wrong.

And so it is with our team life. Every morning begins with worship. We take turns leading. It is simple – maybe a song, a little Scripture, a reading, a sharing of thoughts, or of prayers, a final song. The prayers are for our families, and friends, especially the many who struggle here. And for our enemies, especially the many who are trapped in their fears and their history of violence here.

After worship and the daily team meeting, we try to go out on patrol - just walking around, especially in the Old City, the Hebron Kasbah, checking the hot spots, the places where Palestinians and Israelis or settlers mix, with all their fears and threats, dominations and humiliations, occasionally exploding in anger or violence.

Our presence seems to help calm some of these situations. People occasionally thank us for just being there, that things would be worse without our presence. We greet everyone we know, and some of those we have not yet met, that they may feel safe and secure. Everyone returns our greeting, and so we too feel comfortable and welcome.

The shopkeepers love to say, even if it is their only English, “You are welcome.” And I try to always greet the Israeli soldiers, too, and even the occasional settler, with “Shalom”, or on the Sabbath, “Shabbot shalom.” I find myself growing in sympathy for the enormous pain in their past, and the consuming fear so many cannot get beyond.

August 4
Something interesting happened this morning. I described it in my journal, as follows:

“Sit down.” I had just decided to do my daily meditation indoors, and was halfway across our small patio, when I heard the words. I glanced to my right, and was startled to see, five feet away, a soldier in full battle gear, his rifle pointed directly at me. “SIT DOWN!” This time he was shouting. It took a second for his words to register. I sat down.

Yesterday, a Palestinian journalist friend had explained that when an Arab offers “Salaam,” it means that he feels secure. I wish I had greeted the soldier with “Shalom,” but I was a little rattled that first moment.

Two more soldiers followed. One of my teammates inside realized something was up and came out. “May I help you?” They ignored her offer and pushed past her. About this point my mantra kicked in. They were much more frightened than we were - that’s why they carry guns and why we don’t. Soon I found myself praying for them.

After a few minutes, they said they were looking for the person who had photographed their watchtower on top of the Avraham Avinu settlement, 100 meters east from our rooftop. Photographing military installations, especially the Israeli base 20 meters west of our rooftop, is forbidden. But we have taken photos of this settlement for years without a problem.

One of our delegates finally realized he was the person. Ironically, he had already been required to erase that photo from his camera earlier this morning, when he had been stopped at another checkpoint.

When he stepped forward, the soldiers suddenly became cordial. They even apologized for having tracked a little water into our apartment.

August 14
We were in the middle of dinner one evening. Suddenly there was a sharp crack from the next room, our office. Then another. A second later, we realized the settler boys were stoning our windows again. We had just spent $100 replacing a number of windowpanes in one of our bedrooms and adding a one-inch mesh screen to protect them from future stones.

We all jumped up. Some grabbed towels and blankets to hang in front of the office window. Two of us grabbed cameras to try to get the culprits on film. The boys outside knew they only had a few seconds.

By the time we started photographing, the two boys, about 13 and 10, were disappearing around the corner onto the settler street.

This has happened two or three times before. The District Coordinating Officer, our liaison to the Israeli military, had suggested filing a formal complaint with the Israeli Police. We decided it was time to do that.

So the next day, two of us climbed about one mile up to the main police station, at the edge of the Qiryat Arba settlement, and overlooking our Old City in the valley below. The front gate faces the settlement.

Not being settlers, we could only approach the back gate. Like the Palestinians there before us, we were told to wait at the gate.

After two and a half hours and a change of guard, I repeated our request to file a complaint.

I was eventually interviewed. Amitai, the investigator, explained the report would be in Hebrew. I explained I would decline to sign it, since I do not read Hebrew. “What is your name?” “Lorin. L - O -R...” He shook his head. When I saw he was writing my name phonetically in Hebrew, we both laughed.

“What are you doing here?” “Trying to reduce violence.” “You have failed. We still have as much violence as ever.” “The results are up to God, not us.” Amitai seemed to soften a little, “I’ve been here ten years, and I haven’t succeeded, either.” “God works in ways we don’t see...” “You are Christian?” “Yes, but I also attend synagogue once a month.”

Exiting Israel
Leaving Israel is an ordeal. There are many questions. “Why did you come?” “Where have you been?” “What did you do?” “Who did you meet?” “Give us names…” The interview turns into an interrogation. The interrogation is repeated, multiple times. . .

I went to bed so exhausted I never thought about my exit interviews. I finally remembered them about 5 a.m. Saturday. Many scenarios started playing through my mind. Good answers kept popping into my head . . . All people are children of God. The problem is the occupation. Israel has most of the power. Israel thus has most of the responsibility for creating peace.

I found myself praying. Then I began to recognize that the exit interview is an opportunity. It might be unpleasant, but my role is to lovingly speak truth to power.

At the airport three people each asked me one question: “Why are you here?” “I’m a tourist.” “Where did you go?” “Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ibillin, Bethlehem and Hebron.”

“Did anyone give you a gift?” “Yes, the tour guide at Nazareth Village.” I showed them the gift – a clay oil lamp.

About 60 seconds. That was all. They never let me explain that I teach Scripture or that I took 800 photographs. Or “Why do you support the Arabs?” They never even opened my luggage.


St. Rose Hospital to cease
as Catholic facility

By Voice staff

After 42 years of service in the Diocese of Oakland, St. Rose Hospital in Hayward will soon cease to operate as a Catholic facility; a community not-for-profit board is expected to take over by early 2005.

The hospital is currently a member of Via Christi Health System, a Catholic organization with facilities in Oklahoma and Kansas in addition to St. Rose.
According to Via Christi president Kevin Conlin, the organization decided several years ago that St. Rose should be run by a California-based sponsor, but their search for another Catholic group to manage the facility failed.

“When our efforts to find a Catholic sponsor proved unsuccessful,” Conlin said, “the decision was made to transition ownership of the hospital to the community, which is more knowledgeable of California’s reimbursement system and other local matters.”

Pam Russo, a spokesperson for the 175-bed hospital, said the facility is applying for refinancing to become a community, not-for-profit, unaffiliated hospital and hopes to acquire funding under Measure A, a county health proposal passed by the voters this year. Measure A funds could provide $2.5 million a year, she said.

Half of the patients at St. Rose are eligible for Medi-Cal or have no insurance, and the hospital provides over $8.4 million in uncompensated and charity care annually. Among its services are a pediatric clinic, a community mobile clinic, a breast care center, a tattoo removal project, a program for underinsured and needy seniors and other medical and community outreach services. These programs will continue, Russo said.

Each year the 800 employees and 200 physicians at St. Rose deliver more than 1,400 babies and treat more than 8,000 inpatients, 36,000 outpatients and 31,000 emergency room visitors.

When St. Rose becomes a community hospital, there will be no Catholic hospital in the Oakland Diocese (Alameda and Contra Costa counties).

Providence Hospital, run by the Sisters of Providence in Oakland for more than 80 years, merged with Merritt-Peralta Medical Center in March 1992. The Sisters relinquished ownership but continued to serve on the board of directors of the merged facility which took on a new name, Summit Medical Center.

There are three Catholic hospitals in the San Francisco Archdiocese – St. Mary’s in San Francisco, Seton in Daly City and Seton Coastside in Moss Beach.

Three Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, whose order founded St. Rose Hospital in October 1962, will leave the hospital staff. Two are being reassigned in October, and one will stay at St. Rose until June.

The hospital will honor the Sisters during its annual Grand White Tent events on the hospital grounds next month.

The St. Rose Hospital Foundation is sponsoring Spectacular XVI, a gala fund raiser, on Oct. 2. Proceeds from the black tie event will benefit the hospital’s new pediatric unit, being opened in collaboration with Children’s Hospital in Oakland, and purchase of new digital diagnostic equipment.

A formal dinner with live music, dancing, a silent auction and raffle will take place under the Grand White Tent. CBS 5, KISS 98.1 FM and the Daily Review are acting as media sponsors. CBS 5 celebrities Syndie Kohara and Mike Sugerman will host the evening.

The foundation is looking for auction donations - such as trips, wine, gifts and services - and sponsors, as well as individual guests at $200 per person. For more information call (510) 264-4007.

diocesan medal

Marge Perez, who spent the past 10 years teaching East Bay Catholics how they can make stewardship a way of life, has received the diocesan Merit Medal from Bishop Allen Vigneron.

Perez trained parish stewardship committees and provided numerous resources to aid parishes with the stewardship efforts. She developed materials in seven languages so that parishioners could learn about stewardship in their primary language.

Perez, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood, became director of public relations for the Mt. Diablo Habitat for Humanity on July 1.

Young adults invited to discuss
their faith at USF conference

 By Voice staff

Bay Area Catholics who are in their late teens, 20s and 30s will come together to examine and discuss their faith at Fall Fest 2004: the 8th Annual Young Adult Conference on Sept. 18 at the University of San Francisco, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Bishop Jaime Soto, the auxiliary bishop of Orange and a member of the Youth and Young Adult Subcommittee for the U.S. Bishops’ Office in Washington, DC, will give the keynote address on “Following the Desire of Your Heart.” A discussion will follow the address. Bishop Soto will be the principal presider at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Church.

Workshops offered during the morning and evening sessions will focus on such issues as Catholics and politics, choosing marriage, cultivating peace, and revisiting the sacrament of reconciliation. Presenters include Eunice Park, coordinator of young adult ministry in the Oakland Diocese, and Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, social activist and pastor at St. Boniface Parish in San Francisco. A Spanish language track will be offered for the afternoon workshops.

The Office of Young Adult Ministry of the San Francisco Archdiocese is sponsoring the event in cooperation with the Archdiocesan Department of Pastoral Ministries and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of San Francisco.

The registration fee will be $60 at the door. For more information phone: (415) 614-5596 or visit the website:

New leader at FST in Berkeley

By Voice staff

Franciscan Father Mario DiCicco has assumed the presidency of the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, one of three Catholic schools affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union. He succeeds Capuchin Franciscan Father William Cieslak who served as FST’s president for the past 12 years. Father Cieslak has been on the faculty for 25 years.

Father DiCicco comes to Berkeley from Quincy University (Quincy, Illinois) where has was interim president. He holds two doctoral degrees – in English from Case Western Reserve University and in New Testament theology from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He also has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Loyola University in Chicago.

The Franciscan School of Theology traces its beginnings to Old Mission Santa Barbara, where Franciscans founded an Apostolic College in 1854 to serve native people, Spanish and Mexican immigrants, and an influx of Irish, German and other European immigrants.

In 1915 a theological seminary was established on the foundations of the Apostolic College. In 1968 the school became a member of the GTU.