Take me out to the ball game

I was given an opportunity to talk to documentarian Ken Burns, now heading from city to city across the country to tout his new film “The Tenth Inning,” a companion to his 1994 mega-documentary “Baseball,” which ran nine nights (or “innings”) on PBS.

Burns was in Washington June 8 to throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals-Pittsburgh Pirates game. As luck would have it, it was the same game where heralded uberprospect Stephen Strasburg was to make his major-league debut on the mound for the Nationals. “Just dumb luck,” Burns remarked. Strasburg gave up only two runs in seven innings and struck out 14 — including the last seven in a row — with no walks in a 5-2 Nats win.

The filmmaker admitted it can get dicey when trying to interpret history when the era under discussion may not yet be over. That’s why, Burns said, he cut off  “The Tenth Inning” with the  Boston Red Sox’s improbable comeback from a three-games-to-none hole in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, followed by Boston’s sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals to capture the World Series for the first time in 86 years, with a hint of the steroid scandal that was to dog the sport.

“I don’t think this would have been updated if not my team, the Red Sox, had won the 2004 World Series,” Burns explained. But in in trying to be evenhanded about it all, Burns said he made sure to give plenty of time to the Yankees, the favorite team of his documentary partner, Lynn Novick, with particular emphasis on the 2001 World Series, which the Yanks lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth inning of decisive Game Seven.

“For the first time ever, we were rooting for the New York Yankees because of 9/11, and it didn’t happen that way,” Burns said.

Burns gave  his take on a recent baseball phenomenon — the imperfect perfect game tossed June 2 by the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga. For anyone who doesn’t know, Galarraga got the first 26 Cleveland Indians batters out — and would have had the 27th to finish off the perfect game had it not been for a blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce. The ump took a lot of abuse from Galarraga’s Tigers teammates on the field, but once in the solitude of the umpire’s locker room, he recognized he had missed the call and apologized that night to Galarraga. (By the way, Joyce went to Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio.)

Calls have been made to have the perfect game declared retroactively, but Burns said he would have done exactly what baseball commission Bud Selig did: nothing.

“Let’s set the record straight: He was robbed,” Burns said of Galarraga. “But baseball resembles life. Just think if Bud Selig had reversed it one day. Then the commissioner would have set the precedent of changing things” — from the result of the 1919 World Series tainted by the game throwing “Black Sox,” to the sign-stealing aided-and-abetted “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” hit by Bobby Thomson off Ralph Branca (who was consoled afterward by his pastor) in the famous 1951 NL playoff game between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, to the likelihood that the Yankees’ Bucky Dent used a teammate’s corked bat to hit a home run that launched the Yanks — and not the Red Sox — into the 1978 AL playoffs.

“This is a sweater you don’t want to pull the thread on and watch it unravel,” Burns said.

But the grace amid failure that characterized Joyce and Galarraga the evening of the game and the next day — when Galarraga brought Detroit’s lineup card to Joyce, working home plate that game — was, according to Burns, “one of the greatest moments of sports that I have ever seen.”

Year for Priests: Saying goodbye

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

There are few joys that rival the beginning of the end to a school year.  Exuberant celebrations of paper tossing and book shelving give witness to the freedom students and teachers feel as they walk (or run) out of school, not to return until August.

Of course, the end of school also brings a bit of sorrow as we say goodbye to seniors and students who will not return, and part ways with teachers who have decided to move on.  This year, I am one of those teachers.

Over the past year, you have read about my adventures at Detroit Catholic Central High School, but now the time has come for me to say goodbye, both to my family at Catholic Central and to the many people who have read my thoughts over the past year, for this is also the end of the Year of Priests and reason for my contribution to Catholic News Service.

In my own mind, goodbye always equals thank you.  When the editors of CNS first asked me to contribute to this blog, I was both humbled by and a little nervous because of the proposal.  After all, I was stepping into a new ministry as a new priest, with very little idea of how I would process this first year.  Now I write words of gratitude for both have given me the opportunity and reason to reflect more purposely on the first year of my priesthood.  Quite simply, what I thought was an assignment turned out to be a gift.

Each of you has encouraged me to look for the “teachable moments” this past year – something of my experience that might be of value to the lives of others.  In short, you have helped me to become a better teacher, and for that I am thankful.

Like many of you, I have reflected on the spiritual meaning of this year – a year for priests and a year of great shame and disappointment in the wake of so many scandals.  Thus, I am reminded that this ministry is not about me; it is about God.  My own abilities will fail, but this year has reminded me, in many ways, that my love for God must be at the heart of everything I do.

I was told during formation, “God give the best to those who give God the choice.”  Over the years, I have found many blessings in making oneself available, but most especially over this past year.  Scripture teaches that our answer is always “yes;” let God worry about the rest.  In many respects, I hold that idea as a mantra and have been humbled by all that God has done in just one year – much of which, you, as readers, have witnessed through this blog.

Now the time comes for a new assignment – one that is perhaps even more challenging than those before it.  I have been asked by my community to revive campus ministry at the University of Windsor in Ontario.  The Basilians have always provided pastoral care for students on the Windsor campus, but things have been quiet for a number of years.  Now the Basilians have decided the time is right to put the focus on the pastoral ministry at the university.

I must confess that I am intimidated by the responsibility that has been given to me, but I take solace knowing that I did not chose this.  Once again, my community has helped me to see something in me that I did not see for myself, and once again, I am very thankful.

May God bless each of you along your journey, and may you be blessed enough to discover the teachable moments and pass along what you have learned.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May 2009 and has been teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

As baseball fans go, there’s ‘nun better’ than Cleveland’s Sister Mary Assumpta

Sister Mary Assumpta Zabas with Cleveland Indian mascot Slider after throwing out the first pitch before an Indians' game a few years ago. (CNS/Courtesy Catholic Universe Bulletin)

There’s “nun better” in the eyes of the Baseball Reliquary than Holy Spirit Sister Mary Assumpta Zabas of Cleveland.

Sister Mary Assumpta, 64, a longtime fan of the Cleveland Indians, was named the winner of the organization’s Hilda Award for her devotion to the baseball team. The award is given annually for distinguished service as a baseball fan.

Sister Mary Assumpta’s passion for the Cleveland team is well-known throughout northeast Ohio. In the 1970s and 1980s, she became a regular at Indians games, wildly cheering on the team during some of its darkest days. She’s still a regular at games.

In 1982 a local television station gave her a segment –- Tribe Habit — in its newscast. In 1989 she had two cameo appearances in the film “Major League.” Baseball card producer Upper Deck even made a card for her in 1997.

Perhaps the highlight of her career as an Indian fan came in 2005 when she threw out the first pitch at a home game.

Since 1984 she has baked cookies for players, regularly delivering them to the team. The effort evolved into a small business, which she calls Nun Better, in which members of her community and faithful volunteers bake cookies with natural ingredients. Profits benefit the Jennings Center for Older Adults in suburban Garfield Heights, where Sister Mary Assumpta is director of mission development.

She plans to travel to Pasadena, Calif., July 18 to accept the award.

The Baseball Reliquary was established in 2002 in Pasadena, Calif., to recognize individuals for their commitment to the preservation of baseball history.

Pope presents Middle East synod document focused on peace, dialogue

From CNS Rome correspondent Cindy Wooden, traveling with the pope in Cyprus:

Pope presents Middle East synod document focused on peace, dialogue

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNS) — Presenting the working document for the special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for “just and lasting solutions” to the region’s conflicts, which cause so much hardship.

“I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed,” the pope said June 6 at the end of a Mass in a Nicosia sports arena.

The pope gave the document to representatives from the Latin-rite, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Coptic, Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic Churches living in countries from Egypt to Iran.

The synod will be held at the Vatican Oct. 10-24 and focus on “communion and witness” in the region where Christianity was born, but where Christians are a minority.

Pope Benedict told the region’s Catholics that the synod would be an occasion “to highlight the important value of the Christian presence and witness in the biblical lands, not just for the Christian community around the world, but also for your neighbors and fellow citizens.”

(Full story)

CNS editor in chief given top Catholic press honor

Tony Spence accepts the 2010 St. Francis de Sales award from the Catholic Press Association June 4 during the Catholic Media Convention in New Orleans. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

In case you missed this on our Facebook page, CNS director and editor in chief Tony Spence was honored Friday with the Catholic Press Association‘s St. Francis de Sales award, named for the patron saint of journalists. You can read the full story here.

This is the second time in the last four years that Catholic News Service has been honored with the award. CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis was recipient of the award in 2007.

Pope meets Muslim spiritual leader in Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Pope Benedict XVI held an unscheduled meeting with the grand sheik of a Muslim spiritual movement from northern Cyprus June 5.

Sheik Mehmet Nazim Adil, 88, head of a Sufi confraternity — an organization dedicated to the practice and study of Islamic mysticism — met with the pope outside the Vatican nunciature in Nicosia.

During his visit to Cyprus June 4-6, Pope Benedict stayed at the nunciature, which is located on the edge of the line separating the South from the North. Most of Cyprus’ Muslims live in the North, which is controlled by Turkish Cypriots, supported by troops from Turkey.

Pope Benedict did not visit the northern part of the island during his trip; the chief mufti of Cyprus — the religious leader of the Muslim community — invited the pope to cross the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone, but refused to go south to meet the pope.

While the mufti has an institutional and social role among Cypriot Muslims, Sheik Nazim’s authority extends only to his disciples.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Sheik Nazim was seated on a chair on the street leading from the nunciature to the church where the pope was about to celebrate Mass.

As the pope passed in procession on the way to the church, he stopped to greet the sheik, Father Lombardi said.

The sheik told the pope, “I’m sorry. I’m very old, so I sat to wait,” the spokesman said.

The pope responded, “I’m old, too,” he said.

Sheik Nazim brought the pope a walking stick and a set of Muslim prayer beads, Father Lombardi said. The pope gave the sheik commemorative medals of his pontificate.

The sheik asked the pope if he could embrace him, the pope said, “yes,” and the whole thing was over in just 3 or 4 minutes, the spokesman said. “It was brief and very beautiful.”

Performing for the pope in Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Dozens and dozens of children — and a few adults — performed for Pope Benedict XVI this morning at St. Maron Catholic School in Nicosia.

There was some quarreling and some crying backstage before the performance, after all the little ones had been waiting in the hot sun for more than an hour.

But the performance went off without a hitch. The pope seemed to enjoy it. The kids were bursting with pride. And parents distributed lots of hugs.

Maronite Archbishop Youssef Soueif of Cyprus said the theme of the performance was the four seasons and that the various songs and dances were drawn from Cypriot heritage, Latin culture and traditional life in the Maronite villages.