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More Responses from Ed Griffin
In your biography on Amazon it says that you marched with Doctor Martin Luther King in Selma. Did you actually get to meet him? What impact has this experience had on your life and your writing career? (con't)
And from Chapter 11, "St. Al’s is St. Empty"
Another interesting thing happened at an Operation Breadbasket meeting, something that revealed Martin Luther King’s character.
The setting was a typical dingy, damp church basement in the central city, but spruced up for an important visitor, Dr. King himself. Of course, he couldn’t come to every meeting because the group was in several cities, but this day he was at the Cleveland chapter.
Ministers wore their finest and sat around a big ‘U’ of tables, with Dr. King at the head table. While he was talking, the door at the far end of the basement opened and the church janitor entered, humming to himself. He grabbed the trash bucket near the door and groaned at its weight. He looked up, surprised to see a group of ministers at the other end of the basement. He nosily dropped the bucket, and pronounced in a loud voice, “Well as I live and breathe, it be Doctor King himself. Glory be.” As he walked up to the head table, he pulled an old notebook out of his work jeans. “I jest gotta have your autograph, Dr. King, for’s my grandchildren. Do you mind, Sir?”
The ministers around me squirmed and frowned. I could tell they were upset with the man. But not Dr. King. He stopped the meeting, signed the man’s notebook, and shook his hand.
“Me and mine are one hundred percent behind you, Dr. King,” the man said and he turned to go. Dr. King sat down and the man muttered, “Dr. King, who would’a believed it?” on his way out the door.
If I had finally achieved something of Christianity in Selma and Montgomery, I had a terrible lesson waiting for me in Cleveland.
Local media reported that Tom and I had joined the march. In other cities this wouldn’t be news, but in the diocese of Cleveland it was unheard for priests to join a public demonstration.
On my first Sunday back in Holy Family, I walked up to Pete as he was directing traffic between masses. This lanky man was one of the pastor’s old-time friends. When the lines of cars had zoomed out of the parking lot, he turned to me.
“Say, Father Griffin, you don’t much care about us, do you?”
“What do you mean, Pete?”
“This Selma business. I heard people say stuff I never heard them say about a priest.”
“Like they’s gonna kill you. That’s what one guy said, I ain’t kiddin’ you. And you know, don’t you, that a delegation went to see the pastor?”
“No, I didn’t know that. What did they say?” I wondered if Pete was part of the delegation.
“They said, ‘Either you get rid of that nigger-loving young priest, or we’ll never give you another dime. You can leave your new church as just a foundation.’”
“Those words, Pete? Nigger-loving young priest?”
“I’m telling you, Father.”
“And was there any mention from the pulpit about prayers for my safety?”
Pete gave me a look like I was crazy. “Listen, Father, I got get these cars lined up for the next mass. If I was you, I’d be careful.”
A threat? I didn’t know.
My fellow priest told me later that the pastor went to the bishop and the bishop’s office had called and I was to report to him two days hence.
That same night I had a CFM meeting at the Gill’s house. The couples in the group told me they were very happy and inspired by what I had done. When the meeting ended it was dark and I drove back to the rectory. I thought about Pete’s warning. When I pulled into my dark garage next to the rectory, I turned the car off and sat there for several minutes with the door locked. I was afraid to get out.
When I went to see the bishop, his first words were, “Well, Father Griffin, you have certainly raised a lot of trouble out there in Parma, people saying they’re going to kill you and refusing to pay for your pastor’s new church.”
“I am just trying to . . .”
“You had no permission to go on this march. You have embarrassed the church out there and you have caused your pastor a lot of grief. You know he’s not a well man. You understand, Father, our custom is to leave a young priest in a parish for five years. All your classmates are doing fine in their parishes. What happened to you?”
“It’s about racial justice, Bishop, I mean Your Excellency, I was just just . . .”
The bishop waved his hand to stop me.
“You’re interested in the inner city, aren’t you, Father? And the colored people?”
“Yes, but it’s important to stand up against racism. John XXIII said in “Pacem in Terris that . . .”
“Don’t lecture me, young man. I know you’ve only been in Parma for three years, but based on your interest, I’m moving you to Saint Aloysius in the core. Report there in two weeks. Good day, Father.”
I was crushed. I went back to Parma and told my fellow priest what the bishop had said.
“I’m sorry, Ed. We’ll miss you here. Especially the young people and the CFM couples.”
Another assistant came in, heard the news and gave his usual blunt comment – “Ecclesiastical suicide, kid, that’s what you’ve done. But you can repair things. Just keep your mouth shut and do your job at St. Al’s."
I thanked them both and drove out to the country. I stopped at a park and sat in my car. Never in my life had I felt so alone. I wanted someone to be with me, someone to hold my hand, someone to tell me I’d done the right thing.
There was no one.
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