By Gordon Nary
Gordon: You are one of the most popular Catholic writers in the United States and are featured in numerous Catholic publications. Could you share with us the names of some of these publications?
Tony: My column is regularly published in various U.S. diocesan papers from Rhode Island Catholic to The Valley Catholic in San Jose, Calif. It is also regularly published in several national and international Catholic publications like the National Catholic Reporter. Catholic Online Catholic News Agency . The Southern Cross (Southern Africa’s national Catholic Paper) Justice Magazine (U.K.) (page 38), CathNews NewZealand and Catholic News (Trinidad-Tobago/print) ..
Gordon: When did you become interested in a career as a Catholic journalist?
Tony: Over 35 years ago I was trained as military journalist at former Fort Benjamin Harrison. But after lots of prayerful discernment, I knew that the Prince of Peace was calling me to renounce military involvement. I thought who would Jesus kill? And the answer is obvious: No one. And so I applied for a discharge as a conscientious object. But I had to prove my case. And that was not easy. But with God’s grace, I finally was given an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, God was moving me into the direction of Catholic journalism – it was a story of turning swords into plowshares. I went on to write a social justice, peace and pro-life column for The Dialog in the Diocese of Wilmington. And then several years later, I felt inspired to send writing samples to Catholic News Services (CNS) in the hope of becoming one of their columnists. Afterwards I called CNS and was told that my chances were next to impossible. But God made the impossible happen. And for 11 years I wrote a social justice, peace and pro-life column for CNS – the U.S. bishops’ official news agency. Then I strongly felt the Spirit leading me to resign from CNS and start self-syndicating my column, which I have been doing for the last five years. It was a wonderful decision. The number of Catholic publications running my column has greatly grown. And thanks be to God continues to!
Gordon: You write heart-felt columns with deep conviction on a wide range of social justice, peace and pro-life issues. What motivates you?
Tony: The Gospel and Catholic social teaching! With an open and prayerful reading of the Gospel, we learn to love as Jesus loved –fully and unconditionally. Meeting Jesus in the Gospel inspires us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love every human being as we love our self – especially the poor and vulnerable of our world. And Catholic social teaching (CST) – that body of mostly papal social justice, peace and pro-life encyclicals -- is an indispensable tool in helping us to apply the ancient teachings of the Gospel to the life and death issues facing humanity in the 21st century. Unfortunately Catholic social teaching is the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. With that in mind, I very often add CST quotes to my columns to strengthen my positions and to help readers become acquainted with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. But it is really important for Catholics to start reading the actual document themselves. I suggest reading the most recent major CST document: Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ ( “On Care for our Common Home”).
Gordon: Tony, you surely have a special interest and expertise in social justice, peace and pro-life issues. What were some of your experiences that contributed to these interests and expertise?
Tony: In addition to my experience as a U.S. Army conscientious objector, I worked as a director of religious education in Appalachia. There I got a real feel for some of the poorest people in the United States. These are people off the beaten path, hidden away in America’s hollows and mountains. Many of them have no indoor running water or toilets. They literally live in shacks with dirt floors. And there is not much work with a living wage for these kind simple folks. Then for two months I lived and volunteered at a leprosy hospital in Bihar, India that was Jesuit administered and staffed with Indian medical nuns. There I saw poverty at just about its lowest and worst level. Being poor in India is hard enough, but being poor with leprosy is almost unbearable. And I have long been active in the right to life movement. Many times I have lobbied for the unborn, as well as peacefully and prayerfully witnessing to their humanity at abortion centers. And recently I entered into a migrant immersion experience in Arizona where I gained a deepened appreciation of the sufferings endured by brothers and sisters south of the border struggling to enter the U.S. to find work and safety for their families (please see: Walking in the footsteps of migrants).
Gordon: You are also a national Catholic speaker. What is your presentation about?
Tony: My talk begins with the story of the two wolves – the Cherokee parable describing the battle between good and evil going on in each person. From there I bridge individual sin to societal sin – what Saint John Paul II called “structures of sin.” Then I lay out four key examples of structural sin: poverty/hunger, war, environmental degradation and abortion. After clearly laying out these problems, I submit life-affirming responses based on the church’s social doctrine. Throughout my address I quote Jesus, saints, popes and other highly respected social justice and peace advocates.
Gordon: Where have you spoken so far?
Tony: I have spoken at the Salt Lake City Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Conference, and at diocesan gatherings in Youngstown, Ohio and Baltimore, at the Faith Formation Conference sponsored by California’s five northern dioceses, in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, at Our Lady of Fatima’s Social Awareness Day in San Clemente, California, Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison, Wisconsin, Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland and at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Tucson, Arizona. This summer I will be speaking at Old St. Patrick Parish in Chicago and at the Consistent Life Network convention in Philadelphia.
Gordon: How can parishes or diocesan offices contact you for a possible presentation?
Tony: I am very happy to speak at parishes or diocesan gatherings. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordon: Tony, you also have written two enchanting little children’s bedtime story books. Tell us about them and how we can order them.
Tony: My latest book, Cracks in the Sidewalk is a delightful invitation for children to deepen their awareness of the many wonders that surround them. In the spirit of Pope Francis, it is written and illustrated to help young children better appreciate the goodness of God, who showers us with wonderful blessings everyday! It is published by Eastern Christian Publications. To order it, please visit www.ecpubs.com and click “Children.” Or you can call 703-691-8862.
My first children’s book, Moonlight Miracle, which very much reflects Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, poetically highlights the interconnectedness of everything on earth, and the longing for universal brotherhood and sisterhood. It is published by Paulist Press. And it can be ordered by visiting www.paulistpress.com and typing inside the search box Moonlight Miracle. It can also be ordered by calling 800-218-1903.
Gordon: Thank you for the interview and your inspirational insights into foundations of our Catholic faith.