Tuesday, April 3, 2018

AIR TRAVEL CAN BE TORTURE BUT SOMETIMES IT'S WORTH IT!

ALL TIED UP IN KNOTT'S


I travel a lot leading priests/deacon retreats. I have done well over 100 in 10 countries (15 in Canada alone) in the last 14 years. I started in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2004. I have 7 already on the calendar for 2018 and it is only the first of March. I have 2 for 2019 so far. Besides that, I have made 9 mission trips to the Caribbean islands in the last three years. As a result of all this, I have grown to dread airports and airplanes. 
The last priest/deacon retreat I completed was just recently - in late February. I was in the beautiful Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia at the invitation of Archbishop Robert Rives OP of the Archdiocese of Castries. 
You would think that such a trip would be "a chance of a life time" and "heaven on earth." The retreat itself went very well. In fact, it was one of the best. They want me back next year. Getting there and back was another story! 
I decided to go down on a Sunday to make sure I got there on time for Monday's morning's opening. I got to the Louisville airport very early in the morning, boarded the plane thinking I had plenty of time to make my connections in Charlotte. I chose to go through Charlotte, rather than Miami, because it is a smaller and a less congested airport. 
Right after I boarded the plane here in Louisville, the pilot announced that "Charlotte is holding us here because the airport there is fogged in." We sat on the ground for well over an hour before they allowed us to take off for Charlotte. I landed in Charlotte thinking that my plane to Saint Lucia would also be delayed, and I would make my connection even though I had missed the scheduled departure time, because no planes were allowed to fly into Charlotte. Wrong, wrong wrong! International flights were allowed to leave "on time." I missed my plane by ten minutes! This meant I had to re-book for the next day and spend the night in a Charlotte hotel. 
I was lucky enough to get a seat on the only flight of the day the next day. This meant that I would get to the retreat late, but I would get there. The priests and deacons had been waiting all day for me to arrive. The archbishop's driver picked me up for the hour and a half trip to the retreat house. I got to the retreat house about 5:00 pm just in time to give my first conference and lead an Anointing Service and preach. I did not even have time to take my luggage to my room. 
I adapted my schedule to fit the shorter time frame and the retreat turned out extremely well. Besides a plumbing problem that flooded some of their guest rooms (including the archbishop's) a couple of times, everything went off without a hitch the rest of the retreat. The food was great and the placed was well organized by the Benedictine nuns who run it. 
The day I was going to be taken back to the airport, the archbishop told me that he and his driver were going to give me a tour of the island. It sounded very nice and hospitable of them. Because the roads are very curvy, the drivers was whipping through them and I was sitting in the back seat, I got car sick! After stopping once to "throw up," I told the archbishop that it might be best to go back and cancel the tour. 
We dropped the archbishop off and, after lunch, the driver and I headed back to the airport - another hour and half of curvy roads. I had a "zip lock bag" in my hands, just in case! I made it OK. We got there three hours early. I went through customs and security and waited till it was time to board, thinking that I could maybe sleep soon after I boarded. Wrong, wrong, wrong! 
They announced that we had a "mechanical problem with the plane" and we would be delayed. First it was "fifteen minutes." Then it was "thirty minutes." Then it was another "hour." (They always lie in small doses to keep the passengers from rioting.) Finally, three hours late, they announced that we could board. I thought I could finally relax, get on board and get settled in. Wrong, wrong, wrong! 
I was one of three pulled out of line for a "second screening." Hauled into a little tent, myself and another man were rubbed with a small patch of cloth, as well as our computers and cell phones. They tucked the little patch into a machine and we both tested for "explosives!" We freaked! It was a mistake made by a young agent. He forgot to change his rubber gloves after handling the "sample of explosives" they use to check the machine. He changed his gloves, we tested "clear" and finally boarded the plane and flew to Charlotte. That experience scared me to death! I imagined rotting in a Caribbean prison with other terrorists like you see on TV! 
Once in the air, the flight attendants told us that "those with connections" that night would probably not make them and that we should be prepared to spend the night in Charlotte and be re-booked out in the morning. I had the good sense, before we left Saint Lucia, to talk the woman at the counter to reserve a seat on the morning flight to Louisville "just in case." She said she was not really allowed to do that, but I "sweet talked her" into doing it anyway, pointing out that this whole mess was the airline's fault. I can be charming when needed! 
As it tuned out, we got to Charlotte with about 25 minutes before my plane was to leave for Louisville. In that 25 minutes, I had to go through customs and security and run to the next terminal. Thank God I had no checked baggage. Don't ask me how I did it, but I got to the gate for Louisville just after they closed the door. I begged them to open the door and let me on the plane. They did! I got on the plane just before they shut the door of the plane, dripping wet with sweat and my heart pounding, after running with two pieces of small luggage. I threw my luggage in the overhead bin, turned around and faced all the passengers and yelled, "Don't ever go to Saint Lucia," sat down and ordered a gin and tonic. I got home about 1:00 am about as happy as I have ever been for a man who had just had some good luck among all the the bad! A 74 year old priest should never run that far and that fast, with luggage, through an airport after an intense week! It could have invited a heart attack! 
I was not the only traveler, of course, who had a "bad experience." On the way down to Saint Lucia, I sat next to a woman on her honeymoon without her husband. He had washed his passport in his pants pocket the night before and they would not let him board the plane with a tattered passport. She went ahead by herself. He rented a car in Charlotte to dive to Atlanta to see if he could get a temporary passport and meet her the next day in Saint Lucia. I don't know if he got a passport replacement and caught a plane the next day, but I told her that she was going to have a great story to tell her kids someday about her honeymoon in Saint Lucia. 
If you can't run with luggage, if you can't handle stress and if you can't deal with not getting there on time, don't try to fly anywhere - unless you are in great shape, have the patience of Job and don't care when you get home! Flying is not for wimps!



WHY DO I PUT MYSELF THROUGH ALL THIS? 
HERE'S WHY! 


Dear Fr Ron,

Since you were here in Saint Lucia, I have been to Grenada for a Meeting on Debt Relief and Missouri for a funeral.  I have been kept busy.  

How can I say thanks for your three days of Lenten Reflection for our Clergy. You were superb.  You connected with the Clergy and all your themes were very timely and relevant.  All we wanted was more of your wisdom, sound teaching and shared experiences.  

The last words I wrote in my notebook was: BUILD UNITY.  We came to the Days of Reflection with a desire for greater unity within our presbyterate and diaconate in the Archdiocese.  You told us stories, outlined the Church’s rich teachings on building fraternity and communion between bishop, priests and deacons in a local Church and offered us building blocks for achieving our goal of BUILDING UNITY.  Our strength is in unity that come from dialogue, trust, mutual respect and charity.  

The challenge is ours and we are ready to take it to another level that will lead to growth, renewal and greater fraternal bonding among us.  Thanks for sharing you vision of spiritual leadership with us.  I hope you will be able to return in September 2019 to continue the good work you have begun with us.  Thanks for the book you gave me.  Thanks, indeed, for your Days of Reflection.  May Our Blessed Mother, Mary, smile on you today. God bless.

Archbishop Rivas O.P.


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