I first met Amanda Brechbill a year ago. She was part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s contingent to World Youth Day in Madrid. During my ten days covering the group, I noticed Amanda was a sweet, caring teenager who made friends with everyone on the trip.
Recently, as I scanned my Facebook home page feed, I saw that Amanda had been on a summer mission trip to Haiti with some fellow parishioners from St. Ann in Hagerstown. St. Ann has a sister parish, St. Clare, in the impoverished nation.
I contacted Amanda to catch up with her and learn more about her trip. She said it proved to be a life-changing one for her. It’s also a trip she wanted to make for years.
“Three years ago my dad and older sister were two of the ten who went to Haiti over the summer,” she wrote me. “Since hearing all of their stories, I have wanted to go, too, but they want you to be 16-years-old before you go,”
The St. Ann group met several times since January to prepare for the trip, Amanda said. Six of the nine going on the trip this year had been to Haiti before, she said.
“We arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday afternoon and it took a few hours to get to the rectory where we stayed,” Amanda said. “This rectory provided us with running water for showers, as well as purified water to keep us healthy. During the week we were there, we spent the days at the school St. Claire to host a vacation bible school for first to sixth graders.”
Amanda continued: “This was the first time to have a service project like this where I was in such a different environment and becoming so close with all those who participated. Within my community I have done smaller projects such as helping in Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, volunteering at hometown festivals and even Vacation Bible Schools at my hometown church but, like I said, nothing to this extent.”
Amanda is a member of Williamsport High School’s Interact Club and in several service efforts in her hometown. The Haiti trip would be an bigger display of selflessness.
“My goal going there was to change someone's life and leaving I realized that this whole time had not only possibly changed a child's life but they defiantly changed my life too,” Amanda said. “After a week of being with the kids everyday, I became very attached. I feel bad but I defiantly had some favorites but I loved them all so much.”
Amanda was one of the two teen leaders that led a song dance and discovery group at the Vacation Bible School. The teens spent the week teaching them the “Rise and Shine” song.
“I loved to hear them singing, especially when they got comfortable with the words because they would be so loud and vibrant,” she said.
The St. Ann parishioners would also play soccer, basketball and race with the Haitian children.
“We did a sack race and a three-legged race throughout the week, which they loved,” Amanda said. “This was the time of day that I became really close to the kids because they could teach me something instead of the other way around. They would speak to me in Haitian Creole and I couldn't understand any of it but their smiles told me everything I needed to know.”
Amanda said that she grew to care about these children deeply.
“There were a lot of amazing moments that week,” Amanda wrote me. “One was one afternoon and a little boy named Judensky came and sat on my lap. He was holding my hand and talking to me and then he gave me his bracelet that was given out as a prize earlier that week. It meant so much to me and I wore it all that week but gave it back to him since he had lost his other one. It was incredible to see that even though they never had much they still live to share and help others.”
During a Mass that concluded St. Ann’s time at St. Clare, some of the children sang the song Amanda taught them. The parents and friends of the children were in attendance.
“I learned what Haitians found important-family,” she said. “I learned this while walking around town and I saw a cemetery. It was astonishing to see these tombs because they were in better shape than the houses where they lived. The tombs were all brilliantly bright colors-pinks, blues and yellows. Haitians show their love for their family in this way of giving them such a wonderful place to lay. For all that they don't have they have family and that can never be taken away from them.”
A year after she was surrounded by millions of young Catholics celebrating in Spain, this trip couldn’t have been more different. She saw poverty and illness. Above all else, she saw hope.
“I am a very lucky 17 year old to Be able to go to Madrid and then Haiti in two different summers,” Amanda said. “I always knew I wanted to travel and I knew that I would find a way to go where I want to go but I never knew I could do that at such a going age. I am so happy and grateful for my patents to support me in all these travels and I know that I will continue my way around the world. From this trip I now see the works as much smaller knowing that what I do here in Williamsport, Maryland actually makes a big difference on the world as a whole.”
August 07, 2012 11:23
By Matt Palmer
Carmelo Anthony of the U.S. smiles during his game against Nigeria at the men's preliminary basketball game during the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 2. Anthony played basketball at the now-closed Towson Catholic High in Maryland during the 2000 and 2001 season. (CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters)
As the USA Men's Olympic Basketball team continues to manhandle competition in London, it's easy to forget how much of an impact Baltimore natives are having on the squad.
Former Baltimore Catholic League standout Carmelo Anthony, who attended Towson Catholic through his junior year, scored 37 points Aug. 2 against Nigeria, hitting 10 of 12 three-point shots. It was a team USA record. He's averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds for the team favored to win the gold medal.
On the bench, BCL Hall of Famer Steve Wojciechowski is serving as a court coach and is in charge of scouting opponents. Wojciechowski is an assistant coach at Duke University during the year and was a standout for Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore during the 1990s.
August 07, 2012 10:11
By Matt Palmer
I stumbled into my home around 3:30 a.m July 20 having just seen a midnight screening of the final installment in the Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight Rises." I tip-toed into the bedroom and my wife woke up to ask if it was good. I explained my disappointment and we soon fell asleep.
I awoke this morning to see that dozens of people were shot in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening. Now, an estimated 71 people were shot and, for now, 12 are dead. A 24-year-old young man, James Holmes, is accused of the heinous action.
Throughout the day I haven't stopped thinking about how those people went into the theater with the same enthusiasm I did. Batman is a man who fights violence and injustice in an often cruel world. He fights brutal people such as Bane and the Joker because he believes in Gotham City.
There is something magical about going to the movies. The lights dim, the curtains part and the screen lights up. You might not know more than two people in a theater, but you're on the same wavelength with hundreds of people, especially with a pop culture phenomenon like "The Dark Knight." It's an incredible communal experience, especially a midnight screening of a new movie.
Real world violence captured the attention of those people in Colorado. No one saw that coming when the movie began at midnight. Movie theaters are a place for an escape from the real world. You can only imagine the horror they experienced and saw in that theater. Some of them of didn't get to go home to their parents, children, husbands, wives or friends last night. Some won't ever breathe again.
I went home to my pregnant wife and slept comfortably. I can't help but think about how lucky I am to write that and I pray for everyone involved in Colorado.
July 20, 2012 04:09
By Matt Palmer
Almost anyone who's a Gen X'er or Millennial spent some significant time in Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre during the 1980s, 1990s and today. That sounded like an advertisement for a mix radio station, didn't it?
It was a place that reflected the rise of video games and a nation's love affair with pizza. They had the best birthday cakes, too. Yep, they were even better than McDonald's cakes. There were rides, slides and ball baths that provided ample opportunity to pelt unsuspecting friends and siblings. It was like an over-aggressive eigh-year-old's dream.
It was where a kid could be a kid, but never really feel like it at any other time in their lives.
For a blue collar kid like me, though, Chuck E. Cheese brought a little of Disney World to Maryland. I realize how sad that is to read. Stick with me, though. Established characters dressed in costumes and came to your table to say hello! Or, they just stood there and waved while a teenaged-worker awkwardly waited a few feet away and acted as a bouncer in case a kid hugged Chuck E. too much.
Then, creepy animatronic versions of those characters stood on stage and sang "Feliz Navidad" and Elvis songs. I remember back in the 1980s when Showbiz Pizza came along and it seemed like I was torn. I waited for the day when I would go to one place and there was going to be a rumble with Fatz Geronimo's Rock-afire Explosion and Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time band over who would get my attention. Yes, I had a hyper-active imagination.
Chuck E. was almost like a Vegas entertainer and even had a cigar at one point. He sounded like a big talker and his bandmates called him "Big C." He had a bow-tie and vest. Wait a second, who thought this guy was appropriate for kids again?
By the the mid-1990s, he got a skateboard and a hat, but still looked like Chuck E. I was a teen at this point, so I thought his renovation came off as a desperate attempt to make him hip. But, kids came to accept that version of him. During the 1990s, a guy most people would never know - Duncan Brennan - began to voice Chuck E. He voiced the character until the last month, when he was replaced for a completely redesigned version of Chuck E., one who enjoys rock and/or roll and is voiced by Bowling For Soup's Jaret Reddick. He looks like Stuart Little went to the guitar shop.
Anyway, at this point, you're probably wondering why I'm writing about Chuck E. Cheese on this blog. It comes down to Jesus. Well, it comes down to Brennan, the oustered voice of Chuck E. Cheese, and Jesus.
Brennan wrote a statement that said: "What it was about, what my sincere hope is that you--you Fans, you parents, and all you kids who have loved Chuck E. Cheese over the years--have seen, heard, or experienced Jesus Christ in and through my life in some way. For He is all that matters, now and for all eternity. I hope that you have seen Christ in me. I hope that He touched your life through mine in some special way and, if that happened, then I was doing my one true real job, which is sharing Him with all of you."
Well, that was unexpected.
It leaves me curious, though, if anyone really did feel the way Brennan intended. Did you, in the middle of plunking down quarters to play bubble hockey, feel closer to Jesus?
July 17, 2012 11:59
By Matt Palmer
I was talking with Father Matt Buening, pastor of St. Paul's in Ellicott City, this morning about movies. He asked me what I thought about Pixar's new movie, Brave, which we've both seen. Yes, two guys in their 30s spent part of their morning talking about a Pixar animated movie.
What struck him about the movie was the idea of freedom and how the main character, Marida, just wants it and never particularly earns it. And she never really learns that freedom comes with a cost. On this Independence Day in America, it's worth remembering that freedom does come with a cost.
In Hollywood movies, freedom is at the core of some of the greatest movies ever. While the Star Wars saga tracks the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, it's also about how tenuous freedoms are. The prequels show how fear can lead us to give up freedoms and hand over authority to power hungry individuals.
The original trilogy shows us that love and sacrifice are the paths to freedom and redemption. Obi-Wan Kenobi takes one look at Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars and smiles before sacrificing himself to Darth Vader's lightsaber and for a greater cause.
Look over Lord of the Rings and the characters who make the choice at the right moment (Boromir, King Theoden, Galdalf), Harry Potter (Harry and seemingly all his friends), the recent Batman movies and Braveheart. For those of us who love cheese-fests, even Independence Day features Randy Quaid flying a jet into an alien ship, knowing it could be a turning point for earth.
At the heart of those movies is sacrifice for others. Freedom comes with a cost. I'm not saying we should all run around laying our lives on the line, but we should be aware that someone else did that for us. We have to fight for them.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus died for our sins. What a gift. It's a freedom we have to earn each day and it's one of the hardest things to accomplish. Like the most recent Pixar movie's title, we have to be brave.
Happy Fourth of July.
July 04, 2012 12:59
By Matt Palmer
I've been reflecting on some of the things Rocco Palmo, who runs the incredibly well-read Whispers in the Loggia, said during the bloggers panel at the Catholic Media Conference June 22 in Indianapolis.
Palmo, and later Deacon Greg Kandra of the very popular The Deacon's Bench, talks about some of the potholes of the new media and blogging in the 21st century.
Palmo said that current tensions "are unlike anything I've seen this last eight years. I don't know if it's election year, I don't know if it's politics, I don't know if it's that people are tired and cranky. It could be any one of those things. I've seen people who I've been around for a long time, in a way that I've never seem them, almost primed to explode at the drop of a hat "
Palmo pondered if new media is bringing people together. It's kind of shocking concept: the Catholic blogosphere's most influential voices pondering if the body of Christ is being built up through their work.
Listen to Rocco Palmo talk about the concerns:
Deacon Greg Kandra said he entered the blogosphere because there weren't many deacon blogs and he didn't recognize the Catholic Church on the web. He said there was partisanship, bias and agendas.
"One of the things I to wanted to impart is that it's a big church," he said. "And the body of Christ is huge. As I like to tell people, it's everybody from Mother Angelica to Madonna and everybody in-between. I wanted somehow to reflect that."
Two weeks ago, Deacon Greg suspended comments on his blog, possibly to the end of the summer, maybe forever. He said the comments were personal and sometimes racist.
"It became exhausting dealing with it," Deacon Greg said.
The Internet is know for having warring factions, particularly politically, but Deacon Greg wasn't expecting a Catholic audience to have venom toward one another.
Perhaps most tellingly, he said: "Here it's all Catholics sort of devouring each other. It's a very sobering thing to watch and to puzzle over and wonder how to handle. As much as you want people to debate and discuss, you don't want them to kill each other either."
I want to step out of the way and let you listen to him explain his thought process in two audio files. When you're done, I'm wondering if you'd comment on your own view of the Catholic blogosphere and the commenters inside of it. Are Catholics coming together on the Internet or are we following American political lines and going our separate ways?
Where do you go online to feel the Catholic Church united?
Listen to Deacon Greg Kandra's thoughts on blog comments:
June 25, 2012 04:42
By Matt Palmer
Earlier today I had the honor of attending the Catholic bloggers panel at the 2012 Catholic Media Convention in Indianapolis.
Among those that appeared on the panel: Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia), Bishop Christopher Coyne, Deacon Greg Kandra (Deacon's Bench), Monsignor Paul Tighe and Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress). Each addressed the issues of Catholic blogging in the 21st century and how they play a role in it.
There are lots of good issues at play, including how they interact with traditional media, what they choose to write about and how they foster community online and in the Catholic Church. In terms of internet religious power players, it doesn't get much bigger or better than this. You can follow my tweets on the Catholic blogger panel and now listen to the panel as well. I'm sorry that it starts just a minute or so into Elizabeth Scalia's talk.
Enjoy the panel, which is nearly an hour in length.
UPDATE: For those of you having trouble with seeing the SoundCloud, here are some individual audio files of the conference's blogger session on my new Audioboo page. I will be updating throughout the morning.
Also, read my blog on some of the bloggers asking if the Internet is bringing Catholics together.
June 22, 2012 03:42
By Matt Palmer
Today was the day Georgina Vaca said goodbye to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. For the last several years she's been the coordinator of Hispanic young adults and youths and worked with archdiocese's overall young adult community.
When I first showed to work for the Catholic Review back in 2008, Georgina immediately welcomed me. When I went out on assignments as youth and young adults beat writer that involved the Hispanic community, she was my go-between. More succinctly, she was my bridge.
That sounds odd, but as a young white guy wearing button-downs, khakis and carrying a notebook when showing up at events with largely Spanish-speaking audiences, it was not always easy. My three-years of Spanish were left back in the 1990s. For some of the Hispanic community, white guys, rightly or wrongly, were kept at arm's length. Some young men were new to the country and they didn't know who to trust and some guys that looked like me didn't always give them a reason to let their guard down.
The face they connected with most was Georgina. She saw no barriers. She only saw possibilities - mainly the opportunity to tell the stories of Catholic Hispanic young people in the U.S. When I would show up to cover something and wanted to talk to someone, Georgina would often go over to people and explain who i was, where I was from and what I wanted to do. They would nod. You could see the reluctance vanish. If she said I was OK, I was.
Almost uniformly, I got the interview. It was Georgina. She was my bridge to them. We connected because she cared. The Hispanic community knew that and always will. So will I.
Georgina is leaving the archdiocese for Catholic Relief Services to be a materials development specialist, where she will put together materials for the U.S. Catholic Church when emergencies happen abroad. The materials include prayer services, petitions and lesson plans.
When I found out she was leaving, Georgina told me the work under her would continue and she let all the young adult councils know that. As always, when she said something was OK, people knew it to be true.
Georgina has an extraordinary heart and it'll put to great use at Catholic Relief Services. I know she'll be close, still, but she will be missed.
June 21, 2012 08:40
By Matt Palmer
In an address to the Catholic Media Convention in Indianapolis, Archbishop Charles Chaput laid out why the Catholic Church and the U.S. Bishops is fighting for religious liberty and locked in a standoff with President Obama's administration over the HHS mandate. In addition, Archbishop Chaput addressed how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is recovering from the sexual abuse crisis.
Listen to his talk, in full, now:
June 20, 2012 10:45
By Matt Palmer
Talk about delusional and inappropriate. On the reality show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," reality star Kim Kardashian compared herself potentially to the Virgin Mary.
"I think if I'm 40 and I don't have kids and I'm not married, I would have a baby artificially inseminated," Kardashian said on her show. "I would feel like Mary, like Jesus was my baby, you know?"
No, I don't know. Flippantly comparing a scientific procedure to the miraculous conception of Jesus is more than a little wrong. Jesus wasn't artificially conceived in a laboratory dish. He came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.
On top of that. Mary's example of purity is something that used to be the barometer for women. The thing about Kim Kardashian is that she has become sort of parallel universe role model for young people, where celebrity is attained by having sex on camera, getting divorced after 72 days and generally just holding few things sacred.
She recently admitted to Oprah Winfrey that she lost her virginity at 14 and went on birth control around that time.
Kardashian has had a skewed view of love and relationships since she was a teenager. What that means is that adults need to recognize that and communicate with young people, particularly teens, about living with morals.
It's not too late for Kim Kardashian. She can replicate Mary's action in genuine ways, both publicly and privately. The world would be a better place if she did.
June 18, 2012 01:05
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By Matt Palmer