May 20, 2018
Society of the Divine Word Southern Province U.S.A. Provincial Superior, Father Paul Kahan, sent an urgent email to all of us at 8:20 in the morning of May 7, 2018. Held at gunpoint was the title.
Yesterday evening around 7pm, (Father) Gnanavoli (Oli) was outside the rectory of St. Mary in Houston at the parking lot trying to make sure that the gates were closed and locked. A man with a ski mask and a gun went into the parking lot and put his gun to Oli’s head demanding money.
Only by the grace of God, nothing happened. The police were called. Oli stayed with (Father) Anil last night. Oli is fine, but imagine the shock and trauma our young confrere must have gone through and is still going through. Please remember Oli in your prayers.
Many of us live alone at the rectory. Please exercise caution when you leave and return to the rectory, especially at night. Invest some money to make sure the surrounding area of the rectory and church is well lit.
As many others did, I called my confrere Oli to offer thanks to God for guiding his tongue and steps as he maneuvered through the extremely dangerous situation posed by a cowardly, armed desperado hiding behind a mask that concealed all but his eyes. At such a moment, life and death, all the past and present flash before our mind’s eye. With a gun to his head, 35-year-old Father Oli was in a state of shock, able only to say, “I don’t live here,” when the wretched man demanded that he open the rectory. Spooked for an unknown reason, the man abruptly left at that point.
Provincial Superior Paul Kahan emailed us an update from Oli on May 10:
Dear Fr. Paul,
Greetings from Fr. Oli. I sincerely thank you for your support and guidance to handle the situation that had happened to me at St. Mary in Houston. It was a great miracle that I was saved on the day of my Ordination. Now I am fine and safe and coming back to the normal life from the shock and trauma. I would like to thank all our confreres who made calls and assured their prayerful support and comforting words. It really helped me a lot. Continue to pray for me.
Although being people of peace and altruism is a huge plus for believers, we can have a perilous price to pay by being caught off guard. After all, isn’t it our basic belief and practice that we do not judge others or presume that they may be bad? By this very mindset, we may be tempted to abandon a healthy skepticism that does not trust too many people. A highly practical slogan is, “Trust, but verify.” I amend that slogan to read, “Trust only after you have verified.” Humorous Father Arthur Winters of blessed memory, one of our early African American SVD priests, used to say with a wink and a smile, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust anybody!”
Healthy skepticism is not nullified by Matthew 7: 1, 2, “Do not judge, that you may not be judged.” Jesus obviously meant that we should not judge the moral guilt of others. But we may be easily hurt or killed if we do not anticipate the evil intent of people bent on robbery, plunder, even murder. Jesus gives us a fine line to negotiate between being evilly critical or judgmental of others and being cautious and alert.
Between pastorates and eleven years of teaching at Xavier University, I have lived in the “Hood” for some 32 years. Yes, I have seen and experienced the best and the worst of the Hood. I have seen neighbors, even drug addicts, look out for me and defend me at Saint Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge. Sadly, in 1992, as I talked to a neighbor near the Saint Augustine Church hall in New Orleans, a large young man approached us and demanded money. Dangerously aggressive as always, I sized up the situation and was sorely tempted to attack the youngster with feet and fists. Fortunately, instinct held me back. While I turned over all my cash, a glance over my left shoulder revealed an armed associate on a bike, then a third nearby.
As I had on numerous other occasions, I learned that our guardian angels work overtime to keep us safe and secure. One man, who resented my counseling his wife, told me he had hired a 33-year-old to kill me. Mysteriously, the young man suddenly dropped dead. Go figure. Needless to say, I became more careful.
To Father Oli, to all heralds of the Good News, and to all faithful believers the world over, I say, Peace! But beware of the prowling, devouring devil! (1 Peter 5:8)
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)