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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Wayne Smith

by Virginia Groark Hale

Virginia: Where did you grow up and where did you go to school? 

Wayne: I grew up right here in Chicago where I attended public school and graduated from Hirsch High on the south side.  I attended Columbia College and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and a major in Writing

Virginia: What is/was your profession? Wayne: I became a legally blind professional photographer along with working different jobs in sales. I did a small amount of writing for neighborhood newspapers. Getting work in the 1960s and 70s was difficult for many people with disabilities since the Americans With Disabilities Act  did not pass into law until 1991 and many employers openly discriminated against us.

Virginia: How long have you been a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

Wayne: My wife, Miriam and I have belonged to the parish only for about a year and a half.

Virginia: What drew you to the parish? 

Wayne: We decided to leave our previous parish because it was no longer meeting either our spiritual, mission or community needs.  Our Lady of Mount Carmel is in our neighborhood though not the closest parish geographically and we understand that community is an essential part of our spiritual life.

Virginia: What roles have you served at the parish? 

Wayne: As relative newcomers Miriam and I wanted to learn more about the parish and how we fit in. There was no method or mechanism for introducing new parishioners to the various opportunities for participation in the parish so we kept our eye on the weekly bulletin to learn more about what was going on in parish life and devotions.  We have tried to attend many of the educational events and to join in the prayer life of the community beyond limiting ourselves to Holy Mass, which, of course, is the center of everything. We attend holy hours and spend time with the Lord whenever possible.  Along with that we attend those events that include the Rosary and growth in understanding of Church teaching and a deeper understanding of the Bible.

Virginia: Why did you get involved with the Parish Transformation?

Wayne: At first it was not my intention to be a part of the Transformation program because I was so new to the parish and did not know enough about what was happening and not happening in the parish.  In addition, I had participated in the Parish Transformation in my previous parish and the pastor had abandoned the Transformation Plan as soon as the facilitators were gone.  Miriam and I had a chance to sit down with Fr. Lee to learn more about the parish and the direction of the community for the future.  He was kind enough to give us his time so that we could understand where the parish was and at least some of what his vision for the parish was.  Fr. Lee asked me to participate in the Transformation and I agreed with some foreboding.

Virginia: What area did you focus on in the Parish Transformation? 

Wayne: My main interest was to evaluate the mission of the parish, both from within and through its outreach to the broader community. 

Virginia: How do you think the Parish Transformation will help OLMC?

Wayne: It is always good for all of us, as individuals, to step back and take a look at how our lives are going.  The same holds true for a community.  The Parish Transformation forced all of us along with our pastor and other leaders of the parish to take a close look at where we were and then to form concrete goals that would correct weaknesses, strengthen existing programs and formulate methods for expanding the scope of our faith community.  If the agreed upon actions are acted on then the parish will grow as a prayer and church community.  There is always the danger of allowing secular ideas and prejudices to subvert a community that is intended to be centered in Jesus Christ.  We are to be a missionary, evangelical body and not a social service agency.  It is too early to tell where things will go but there is movement and that is a good thing.  Too many times people confuse the fundamental purpose of Church and they get sidetracked by a secular view.  Most people admire Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta but I wonder how many of them have read her writings and know who she is?  One key that I have found to whether a mission or group is centered in Christ is if they offer Holy Masses for those they serve, pray the Rosary for and, when possible, with them, participate in Holy Hours to pray for those they serve and have times for prayer and fasting for them.  If a group is doing none of this then Christ is not at their center and they do not make themselves partners with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Communion of Saints.  They are cheating those they claim to serve. 

Virginia: How did you get involved in fighting the Illinois SB 1564?  

Wayne: SB 1564 was brought to my attention through an email notice from the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the arm of the Illinois bishops which seeks to protect the Catholic Church in Illinois from discrimination, immoral practices and attacks on our religious freedom.  The ICC sent out alert notices that the Illinois legislators were seeking to force Catholics and other faith communities to participate in actions that are intrinsically evil.

Virginia: Why are you opposed to the legislation?

Wayne: SB 1564 is an intrinsically evil piece of legislation that attempts to force Catholic doctors, nurses, counseling agencies and crisis pregnancy centers to refer patients and clients to places where they can obtain such ungodly “services” as abortion, contraception and sterilization if those providers cannot provide those deadly services because of their religious beliefs.  It constitutes a direct attack on our religious freedom and, more than that, it seeks to force medical and counseling personnel to violate their most fundamental rights of conscience and to force them to give material cooperation to intrinsically evil and sinful actions.  It is part of an ongoing attack against people of faith both in Illinois and throughout this country.  People refuse to believe that the most basic freedoms afforded to people under the U.S. Constitution and, more than that, under the Commandments of God, are being methodically eroded by elements of local and federal government who want the Catholic Church removed from the public square and confined to the walls of our church buildings.

Virginia: What other legislative issues have you been involved in? 

Wayne: Most of my work over the past 15 years has been directly related to legislation concerning threats to innocent human life.  This ranges from local ordinances such as the “Bubble Zone” prohibition against talking to or giving information to women as they are going to an abortion clinic and, thus, eliminating the mother’s opportunity to truly know what choices she has and the possible consequences that their choices may bring about.  So-called “pro-choice” people hate free choices and seek to keep a woman from knowing what choices, resources and options she really has.  “Pro-choicers” hate choice and truth.  They want dead babies-it’s that simple.

Virginia: We understand that you have been very active in the Prolife movement for many years. Could you give us an overview of your background in this movement?

Wayne: The answer to this question and others really requires more extensive time and space than the scope of this interview allows for, but here it is in a nut-shell.  I am a convert to the Catholic Church and I was baptized into the Body of Christ in 1996.  I was raised as a Jew but abandoned the faith in my early teens.  The watered-down structure of Reform Judaism made that departure much easier as it has done so for many, many reform Jews.  Sadly, I see many Catholics going in the same direction.  I moved into atheism quickly and God, ceased to be even a relevant topic for me except when I saw the hypocrisy and authority of any religion as an obstacle to personal freedom and choice.  I was part of the social uprising of the 1960s and 70s and abortion and other life issues were not high on my list.  I simply believed that an unwanted baby was better off not being born.  If you don’t believe that we are created by God and destined to be in Heaven then killing becomes much easier.  I was an active exponent of recreational drugs and, thank God, I did not get addicted to hard drugs.  I thought of sex eliminating the mother’s opportunity to truly know what choices she has and the possible consequences that their choices may bring about.  So-called “pro-choice” people hate free choices and seek to keep a woman from knowing what choices, resources and options she really has.  “Pro-choicers” hate choice and truth.  They want dead babies-it’s that simple.

It was in that mode that I lived my life and viewed the world and its institutions.  During this time I found every opportunity to rebel and to fight for justice.  In that spirit I began in the “Ban the Bomb” movement during the nuclear threats of the Cold War; moved into the Civil Rights movement and then into the anti-Vietnam War movement.  I campaigned, to a much lesser degree, to promote abortion and its mother, artificial contraception.  Through a long-term series of circumstances and events in my life, including slowly going blind, my life fell into despair and I became suicidal as most of my life and my relationships disintegrated.  This lead to a suicide attempt in 1992. 

Out of that suicide attempt there followed a process of psychological healing that was only partially effective.  Despair set in again and out of that despair came a trip to a Catholic Church, St. Michael in Olde Town.  It was there that I encountered Jesus Christ and I learned that he was real and I came to believe. 

Once I believed in Jesus Christ the next step was to join him and I entered the RCIA.  Over time I learned that I, like each of us, was a loved creation of God with great value despite my disability and my failings.  I learned that I had an eternal soul and that I was destined for Heaven to live with God forever if I chose to follow and obey him.  If I rejected him by rejecting his Church and its teachings I would cut myself off from God forever, the worst possible choice.  I learned that God is love and he wills everyone to be saved.  God does not send us to hell, we send ourselves by making a free choice to serve our own selfish needs and desires and rejecting God’s Commandments.  If anyone, even a priest, ever tells you that nobody is in hell-run like hell away from him or her! 

One day I was laying on my sofa at home and I was watching a Catholic TV network, EWTN.  There was a priest who was showing a video of a late-term abortion on a pre-born baby who was more than 6 months in her mother’s womb.  Because of my very poor vision I could not see what was taking place but the priest, Fr. Frank Pavone, described in detail the horrific dismembering of this little, living girl.  She was being cut to pieces while alive.  By the end of that video, which nearly caused me to vomit, I had been converted to want to protect these helpless little babies.  Later I learned, first hand, that rather than these mothers having their “problem” of being pregnant solved by the abortion, many of them were scarred for life and many fell into depression, suicide, addiction, promiscuity and an inability to maintain deep relationships with a man.  The abortionists and their supporters had never told us that side of the story. 

That is the process that brought me into the pro-life, pro-child and pro-woman ministry.

Virginia: There seems to be less activism on the part of some Catholics on Prolife issues in the past decade. Do you have any observation why that may be?

Wayne: I think that it has been going on for much longer than a decade.  Many people grew up in the same period of rebellion and self-will that I did.  This secular view of the world poisoned many minds and hearts and infected so many with the idea that they needed to decide for themselves.  Along with that Vatican II came out it seemed to give even many bishops and priests a license to reject the teachings of the Catholic Church and the fundamental moral values that are the foundation of a Christ-centered society.  Between seminarians that were being formed by very bad and untrue theology and the lack of solid catechesis for the laity people lost track of who they were as children of God in his Church, the Catholic Church.  Without that strong rock of Catholic teaching many have become their own false gospel and have become self-centered and no longer Christ-centered.  You cannot be Catholic and pro-choice.  It is that simple.  Vatican II was not at all intended for that, quite the opposite, but something went terribly wrong and I cannot give you an answer as to why?   

I recommend that every Catholic read the encyclical,Humanae Vitae written by Pope Paul VI.  It is a prophetic document that shows how artificial contraception would lead to pornography, adultery, divorce and sexual perversion.  His prophecy, tragically, has come true.  We have very few priests today who are willing to call sin, sin and speak about the 4 Last Things.  In short, the lack of genuine horror of abortion is the result of a diabolic destruction of Catholic moral teaching and a lack of respect for human life, except for your own, that is.  The secular press, distorted teaching in schools (including Catholic schools at all levels) and a new, deadly Trinitarian view; Me-Myself and I.

This nation is filled with the walking wounded and the walking dead, in my view, the lack of faithful and courageous priests and bishops bares much of that responsibility.  Most Catholics no longer go to Church and among those who do, the majority have decided that; “I think...” and “I believe...” is more important than; “Jesus Christ says...” and “My Church teaches...”  Try asking people what they believe about abortion and contraception and see how many of them site scripture or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Our beautiful Catholic Church is in grave danger from both the secular world, including the government and the press and, sadly, from within from counterfeit Catholics who follow their own false gospel rather than the true Gospel given us by God and interpreted by His Church.  So, in short, the lack of respect for human life is a part of a general disintegration in faith by a very large segment of the Catholic Church.  It would be totally impossible to be pro-abortion and believe in Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church

Virginia: Do you have any suggestions for OLMC parishioners and others who believe in the sanctity and value of human life to become more involved in Prolife challenges?

Wayne: Thank God, Miriam and I have found other parishioners who believe in defending life and we are working to form the ministry.  For parishioners who believe in protecting innocent and helpless people whether they are still in the womb or severely disabled or critically ill or injured we now have a Respect Life Ministry just getting started in the parish. Please bring your prayers, your experiences, you knowledge and your hearts to this ministry. That does not mean that you have to make a full-time commitment to the mission but offer your help when you can.  Let us know what you want to do and we will do our best to work it in.  It may be that you can offer praying the Rosary once a week for us; going before the Blessed Sacrament for an hour; offering a day of fasting or other sacrifice or offering your professional skills, testimony or other contribution.  Everyone who believes in the sanctity of each human life has something they can give-just make the move to do it.  In my previous pro-life ministry we had members from age 11 to 79 and all of them worked hard and made valuable contributions. The young people asked for their own group and we consented eagerly to their request.  As a result many events and ideas geared to the young were produced, with some adult input of course.

Virginia: Considering your leadership in Prolife challenges, some of our readers may not know that you are blind. When did you become blind and how did that affect your faith and profession.

Wayne: I have a hereditary eye disease called, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and I have been partially blind since birth.  When I was about 11 years-old I was at summer camp and my folks had given me a simple box camera to use.  One day a friend of mine was playing tennis. I decided to take a picture of him while he was running to hit the ball. I could only see him as a blur as he ran but, when I got the pictures back, it was incredible. I could see him running with the racket poised as a white streak (the ball) moved toward him.  Even more interesting, his tongue was hanging out of the corner of his mouth. I was able to study that frozen image and see things that I had never seen before.  I also had fun showing the picture around to our friends (smile). 

That epiphany lead to a deeper and deeper interest in the photographic image.  Over time, my pictures became more important to me both as a way of seeing the unseen and in capturing a wide range of images. Eventually, my parents bought me a 35mm camera and things got much more serious. As I developed my skills and technique with a camera I began getting requests from friends, neighbors and family to take their portraits.  People seemed to like what I did. I had to develop tricks for viewing and focusing since part of my eye condition caused “night blindness” which meant that I could not see much in low levels of light. I learned to use a small pocket flashlight to have my subjects hold as a point of focus. I purchased some very bright studio lights to aid in composition and these methods permitted me to get excellent results. For a few years I teamed up with a friend who was also a photographer and our scope expanded from portraits to events such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other special events. Along with these photos I developed an interest in landscape, still-life and, eventually, nudes.  People were amazed at the quality of my work. At Columbia College the instructors in photography allowed me to audit their classes because I could not use darkroom equipment which was an essential part of the classes. Nevertheless, even the instructors were amazed at the quality and variety of my work. Eventually, my vision deteriorated to the point where even my special tools were not enough to create good photographs and in 1985 I closed my studio and sold off my equipment. It was a very difficult time.

Today, I still have many boxes filled with negatives and I have some prints to show, but don’t ask me where it was taken or what it is...

Virginia: Could you share some of the photographs that you took as a legally blind photographer with our readers?

Wayne Yes, but either you or my wife would have to go through them to decide what you wanted to use.

Virginia: I understand that you are very active on the internet because you have a talking computer. Could you explain how a talking  computer works ?

Wayne: I thank God all the time that I am living in a time where there are so many tools to help blind people through technology. My grandfather, Sid, was a I thank God all the time that I am living in a time where there are so many tools to help blind people through technology. My grandfather, Sid, was a blind attorney at a time when none of these tech toys existed. He was amazing. 

I have a screen-reading program called JAWS, which stands for Job Access for Work, produced by a company called Freedom Scientific. It is one of several programs on the market that range from very expensive to free. With JAWS the program interacts with what is on the screen to read it in a mechanical voice. It cannot read graphics but even that is starting to change. I use Microsoft programs, surf the internet and create documents and spread sheets. Some of the young blind tech people are doing even more advance things including programming.

 Many of my blind friends are using smart phones but I still have a flip-phone that talks me through basic functions. The more I learn about I phones the more interested I am in learning to use one.  Good ones are expensive and it isn’t in my budget right now, but I have a feeling that, somewhere down the road, I’ll get one and try to use it. There are other tech devices that would be of help to me, but, again, they tend to have very high price tags since they are not large volume sellers. 

Technically, I am retired now, but God has opened the doors for me to form a not-for-profit corporation called, Not By Sight Media, NFP.  The company exists to tell my story and, eventually other people’s stories, to help others on their life journeys and, hopefully, help them to avoid some of the mistakes that I did, most importantly, to understand that Jesus Christ is who he says he is and that he loves us enough to die on the cross for us.  He wants to save us and bring us to Heaven!  For Heaven’s sake, why do so many people want to stop him?


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