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Faith sustains Catholics in trying times

June 09, 2002|by TONY MULIERI

Growing up as a Catholic, I revered all priests and placed them on a pedestal.

My mom and the nuns in school taught me that priests were Christ-like and were doing God's work.

I believed that then and I believe it now.

The trouble is that not too many other people believe in priests now.

The Catholic Church has been rocked on its heels by this ongoing child sex abuse scandal and being a Catholic these days takes a lot of faith.

But faith is what sustains us.

When I was in elementary school, Father Riggie taught me how to be an altar boy. In those days, altar boys had to make the responses at Mass in Latin and Father Riggie made sure we didn't slur our words. He emphatically showed us what to do if, God forbid, the sacred host ever fell to the floor during Holy Communion at Mass.

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The first time he introduced himself to us, he said, "My name is Father Riggie; it rhymes with Piggie." And Father Riggie was a big man. But he had a kind heart. He would take a few of the altar boys to Ocean City for a week in the summer and buy them Thrasher's french fries on the boardwalk and rent them rafts for the surf.

A week in Ocean City with a priest? Father Riggie couldn't do that today - no way. Parents wouldn't allow it. And that's a shame. Father Riggie was a man of God and I respected him.

Years later after I moved from Severna Park to Hagerstown, I found out Father Riggie was stationed here as a parish priest at St. Joe's in Halfway and was one of the chaplains at the prison complex, south of Hagerstown. He was still doing God's work until the day he died.

Another priest I remember from my childhood was Father Raley. He was the pastor of St. John The Evangelist Church in Severna Park when I was growing up. My mom said his "family had money," but he left it all behind to become a priest.

Father Raley took a mission-sized church in then-rural Severna Park and built it into one of the largest suburban parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore as Severna Park grew and grew into a bedroom community for Baltimore and Washington.

Father Raley may have come from a wealthy family but I remember him as a kind man who went out of his way to help the poor and visit the sick - the things priests do on a daily basis that go unheralded.

The reason I remember priests like Father Riggie and Father Raley is because they were good men who I considered role models. They were human and made mistakes like the rest of us, but they always commanded respect when they wore that collar.

What has occurred in the Catholic church is unthinkable. There is no way to defend what has happened and the only thing I can do is shake my head in disbelief and pray for those involved.

Priests abusing children is unfathomable. But the Catholic Church will survive. The church has survived bad popes, wars and great famines and it will survive this, too.

It will survive because of the many hundreds of priests like Father Riggie and Father Raley who go about their daily lives doing the things for which they were ordained. They give us the strength to go on.

Tony Mulieri is managing editor of The Daily Mail. He can be reached by phone at 301-733-5131, extension 7647, or by e-mail at tonym@herald-mail.com

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