by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join St. John Paul II Parish and how has the parish enhanced your spirituality?
Marianne: I joined the parish in July of 2012 which is served by Polish Redemptorists. They are selflessly dedicated to the parishioners. Their homilies are excellent which provide spiritual food for thought. Fr. Waldemar Latkowski, the pastor, has introduced liturgies and programs to suit the needs of the English, Polish, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking people. I find it helpful that in Confession, I get spiritual direction. The frequency of the Masses both on Sundays and during the week makes it easy for me to attend daily Mass. I enjoy being a member of our Altar Rosary Society where I have made lasting friendships with women who have a like-minded love for the Blessed Mother who leads us to her Son, Jesus. We invite the women of other Altar Rosary Societies to attend our annual Living Rosary in October and a Day of Recollection during Lent. God has granted me many blessings there on life’s journey.
Gordon: You serve as your parish’s liaison to the diocese of Metuchen’s office for parishioners with disabilities. What are your responsibilities?
Marianne: In my role, I contact our parish prayer groups to ask them to pray for people with disabilities. I insert announcements into our parish bulletin about our 24-hour prayer help-line for people to call if they have any kind of prayer request. The largest project is when we have our annual Christmas party for parishioners of the diocese who have disabilities. I help to prepare for it by collecting department store gift cards from the parish to be given to the guests. I also assemble gift bags, help to set up for it and volunteer on the day of the event. The highlight of the day is when Bishop James F. Checchio visits the guests, their parents, and their siblings.
Gordon: You serve as your parish’s liaison for the Diocese of Metuchen’s office of pro-life activities. What are your responsibilities?
Marianne: We have diocesan workshops to familiarize ourselves with the latest news in pro-life legislation and advocacy. We communicate this to the members of our individual parishes. I also contact my legislators to adopt pro-life policies.
Gordon: You are a popular journalist. What are some of the publications to which you contribute?
Marianne: My articles and interviews have appeared in the National Catholic Register, the Catholic News Service, The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper for the diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and Profiles in Catholicism.
Gordon: How do you choose the topics which you address in your articles?
Marianne: It depends on the nature of the story. If I am assigned to cover a liturgical event, I strictly report what happened as a news article. For an interview, I research what the person has contributed or what interests he or she has. For instance, I interviewed His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, Ukraine, and Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. I questioned him about the war between Russia and Ukraine. He responded with the toll it was taking on Ukrainians and said that the American Church helps his country with the special Aid to Eastern Europe collection. His Beatitude also said that donations were needed to properly equip orphanages.
Gordon: You have a special commitment to the poor and migrants. What are the primary factors contributing to poverty in the United States?
Marianne: Lack of employment and underemployment contribute to poverty in the United States. The working poor has jobs, but their salaries are not substantial enough to provide properly for their families. Single women who are heads of households make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. The lack of education which leads to good employment contributes to the problem. Minimum wage jobs are too low to properly support a family. Unscrupulous employers take advantage of migrants who are desperate and will accept small wages which are grossly inadequate. In this climate, discussions about things like paid leave and sick days are icing on the cake when salaries are not generous enough in the first place.
Gordon: What are the United States’ moral responsibilities when migrants seek asylum?
Marianne: We need to shelter those fleeing from horrid, life-threatening situations. It’s simply the humane thing to do. Being a nation of immigrants, we should be sensitive to the plight of those who want to escape danger. Pope Francis and United States bishops have stated that we have a moral obligation toward migrants. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to protect aliens. I would like to think that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not greeted with hostility when they fled to asylum in Egypt. What if they were turned away at the border? Of course, in God’s loving providence, that would not have happened, but it’s worth reflecting on. They were living in a foreign country. It had to have been difficult uprooting themselves from their loved ones and beloved land because of Herod’s designs to murder the Infant Jesus. They probably were short on money, Joseph had to find work to support the Holy Family and they were in a foreign country living with people who worshipped strange gods. That must have been difficult as they were observant Jews. We forget that Jesus grew up during his early years in this atmosphere; he and his earthly family were migrants. Today’s migrants fleeing violence experience the same challenges and deserve our welcome and protection.
Gordon: You have written a romance novel. Please provide an overview of the story in it.
Marianne: The title of the novel is Promises to Theresa. Theresa Jarewski is sixteen years old and an overachiever. She wants to get accepted into an Ivy League college and to be the outstanding editor of her high school newspaper. During summer vacation, she is caught up in the enchantment of a summer romance. One of her boyfriends is an alcoholic and she has a codependent relationship with him. It complicates her life. Theresa’s dreams of a happy future are shattered when she suffers a devastating depression. Although she initially receives treatment for it, the stigma associated with mental illness prevents her from accepting the disease. Through the support of her family and friends, Theresa must learn how to recover. She is aided by the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux. It is a compassionate depiction of one young woman’s attempt to overcome a mental illness. The novel is available in print and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.
Gordon: What inspired you to write the story?
Marianne: One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens who put a human face on the dire social conditions of his day through his novels. He influenced others to remedy poverty and homelessness. I wanted to write a story that would entertain, because that is the first aim of fiction, and yet also show an average teenage girl who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It illustrates her struggles in coming to term with the disease. In doing so, I hope to encourage those with mental illness to seek help. I also would like to help eradicate the fears and the stigma which many people associate with the mentally ill. A portion of the proceeds of the novel will be donated to the Guild of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, a Catholic mental health apostolate. An interview with Timothy Duff, one of its founders, is featured in Profiles in Catholicism. I serve as a member on the Board of the Guild.
Gordon: In commemoration of the Eid al-Fitr, the Holy See of the Vatican issued a letter to congratulate Muslims around the world and to spread a message of peace both to Muslims and Christians.
However, in the United States, we see many incidents of hatred against Muslims. What is your experience have been some of the causes of this hatred?
Marianne: Some of it stems from the after-effects of 9/11 and other acts of violence by terrorists who call themselves Muslim but who don’t practice the true, peace-loving tenets of the religion. So they mistakenly see violent Muslims around every corner. Also, many do not feel comfortable with those who appear to be different like women wearing the headscarf or veil. I once was waiting in a doctor’s office and a Muslim couple entered. The wife was wearing a veil and holding a toddler. She looked at me with apprehension in her eyes. I smiled back at her warmly. Her face lit up in a beautiful grin. In that brief, non-verbal encounter we made a friendly connection. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that we should always take the time to smile at others. She believed that it was in the little gestures of love like this that we spread Jesus’ Gospel message. I agree.
Gordon: There appears to be a general loss of faith by many millennials and young people. What are some of the factors that contribute to this and what can we do to reverse the trend?
Marianne: That’s a difficult question with complex answers. Some think that since millennials were raised by baby boomers who did not expect their children to be obedient, the young are not comfortable with the rules and obligations of faith traditions. Educators and the secular media emphasize an atheistic outlook which has influenced them. Also, many millennials are individualists who feel uncomfortable interacting in a group. The increasing rates of depression and suicide among millennials show that they need faith which could provide them with hope for the future and help with their individual crises.
I think that the Church needs to invest more time and money into programs for our youth. As a former catechist and teenage youth minister, I believe that CCD classes should include all grades during grammar school, not just those in preparation for the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. You also need to get the parents more involved which could be a challenge but is necessary. There should also be fun, social events for the children. We had All Saints’ Day parties where they dressed in saints’ costumes.
In high school, there were dances and basketball. Having Bible study for teens would be a good idea. In my diocese, talks promoting the values of chastity are given by professional speakers at local Catholic schools. Something like this should be provided to children who attend public schools. They experience the pressure of sex education classes which don’t promote abstinence and encourage the use of artificial contraceptives.
Catholic Campus Ministry should be on college campuses and feed the spiritual, emotional and social needs of the students. Courses on topics like Theology of the Body and studying Scripture could be held. It’s important to reach out to college students who may be severely tempted by their peers to abandon the practice of their faith. Dioceses should have Catholic Young Adult Societies for those in their twenties and thirties which provide spiritual and social activities. Young people want to find meaning in life. Clergy, religious and the laity should provide them with avenues to discover the liberating truth and comfort of having a personal encounter with Jesus.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.