Have you ever wondered whether the Hand of God is at work connecting the threads of our lives? This is the amazing true story of a tapestry of God in the making.
Each year at this time, These Stone Walls usually reruns “The True Story of Thanksgiving: Squanto, the Pilgrims, and the Pope.” For some TSW readers, that post has become part of their own Thanksgiving tradition, and some have distributed copies to the guests at their table.
This year, I’m breaking with tradition by sharing it only as a link in order to present a very different Thanksgiving post from behind these stone walls. So if you’ve never read “The True Story of Thanksgiving,” or want to read it anew, I hope you will. The story of Squanto of the Dawn Land remarkably parallels the story of our friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri whose odyssey is the subject of this post.
This may be the strangest Thanksgiving post you’ll see among Catholic blogs. So even if Thanksgiving has already passed by the time you read this, or even if you are not reading it in the U.S. at all, then read on anyway for you may find something of the tapestry of your own life in the tale I am about to tell.
Just as the Thanksgiving story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower is known to every American, most people find the story of Squanto in its background to be a more profound and interesting story of grace and transformation against a backdrop of immense trial.
That is true of Pornchai’s odyssey as well, and though it isn’t the story TSW first set out to tell, it has a power all its own. It is being woven with such complexity and intricate design that I’m not so sure the written word can do it justice.
It’s also a story not yet complete. You have already read some of its beginning, and the threads that will comprise its end, at least from our perspective, are still on the spools of thread in the Hands of God. I can tell only the middle story.
THE LAYOUT OF GOD’S TAPESTRY
One year ago this week, Pornchai and I completed the first “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat ever offered in a prison. It culminated in our Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on November 24, 2013 – the Solemnity of Christ the King. You’ve all seen the now famous photo that appeared in “Mary is at Work Here” by Felix Carroll in the venerable Marian Helper magazine.
In the year since then, I have heard from a staggering number of readers who wrote that they were inspired by Felix Carroll’s article, and by my own account of our path to Consecration in “Behold Your Mother: 33 Days to Morning Glory” posted a year ago. This past year, many TSW readers have commenced their own journey toward Marian Consecration. That is just one of the background stories that have had an amazing impact on These Stone Walls.
In some recent posts, I have used the image of God as a sort of Divine Weaver at work among the threads of our lives.
One such post, “Fr Seraphim Michalenko on a Mission of Divine Mercy” ended with that image. After Father Seraphim showed up in this prison to meet with me and Pornchai, I wrote of this encounter:
“Father Seraphim became an instrument for the threads God was weaving for Pornchai … In spite of myself, in the back of the tapestry where we cannot yet see, those threads were being woven together miraculously, and trust found a foundation in the dawn of hope.”
Father George David Byers, who also has a presence in this story about threads of connection, read that post from his parish assignment in Andrews, North Carolina. Then Father George came across a collection of Padre Pio’s homilies, and found one that reminded him of the tapestry analogy I have described in recent posts.
Padre Pio told the story from the opposite point of view that I did. The scene takes place during Mass. The night before, Padre Pio was severely attacked and beaten by Satan. At Mass, he began his homily:
“Why is there evil in the world? Listen closely to me. There is a mother who is embroidering on a small weaving frame. Her young son is seated in front of her on a small low stool watching the work of his mother. But as he’s watching, he sees only the reverse side of the weaving frame, from underneath. And so he says, “But mother, what are you doing? The embroidery is so ugly!”
“So what does the mother do? She lowers the weaving frame and shows him the other side of the work, the good side with all its colors in place and all the threads making a harmonious pattern. “Thatís it,” said Padre Pio. “Have you seen what evil is like? Evil is like the reverse side of that embroidery, and we’re all sitting on a small stool.'” (Homily of St. Pio of Pietrelcina)
DANGLING AND CONNECTING THREADS
Unknown to me, and certainly unplanned by me, something has been going on in the background all the while I have been writing for These Stone Walls. It’s a story about Pornchai who added the name, Maximilian, in honor of another Patron Saint, one who chose him to mimic that Saint’s heroic Consecration to Mary.
This story also has several connections to Saint Padre Pio who happens to be the other patron saint of These Stone Walls. Pornchai’s Godfather, Pierre Matthews of Belgium, met Padre Pio and was blessed by him. Father Seraphim Michalenko, whose Divine Mercy apostolate has so impacted Pornchai’s life, has also met Padre Pio and was blessed by him. Pornchai was delighted when Father Seraphim told him that Padre Pio gave him a slight “smack in the head” with his gloved hand.
This story now connects people on five continents who have no obvious connection beyond their interest in Pornchai’s life and their immersion in the work of Divine Mercy. Pornchai himself told of his Divine Mercy conversion in “I Come to the Catholic Church seeking Healing and Hope.”
The story of his life and conversion was closely followed by Clare Farr and her husband, Malcolm, attorneys in a small family law firm in Perth, Australia. From reading TSW, Clare Farr has become a much-needed advocate for Pornchai. She has made many connections to investigate his life, in Thailand and in the United States, connections that we did not think possible just a few years ago.
One of those connections has been with Yela Smit, a resident of Bangkok, Thailand and a co-director of the Divine Mercy Apostolate there. You may have read of Yela in an earlier part of this story in “Knock and the Door will Open: Divine Mercy in Bangkok, Thailand.”
Clare’s discussions with Yela in Thailand prompted Yela to also include Viktor Weyand, an Austrian businessman living in the United States. Viktor is a wonderful man who helped found the Divine Mercy Home, a Thai orphanage. He recently traveled to Thailand to attend the priesthood ordination of one of the home’s first residents.
But just before his trip to Thailand, Viktor visited Pornchai twice in prison, and they became immediate friends. Suddenly, after all the frustrating seeking and knocking we did in “Knock and the Door Will Open,” Pornchai had connections building on the far side of the world because of the networking of Clare Farr, Yela Smit, and Viktor Weyand. The connections that Pornchai thought just three years ago were unfathomably out of reach happened because of TSW readers on three continents.
One of the immediate “coincidences” is that both Clare Farr, in Perth Australia, and Yela Smit, in Bangkok, Thailand, have met Father Seraphim Michaelenko through his work in Divine Mercy. Father Seraphim was a postulator for the cause of Sainthood of Sister Faustina Kowalska whose famous Diary became the foundation of Divine Mercy Sunday – which also happens to be the day (in 2010) that Pornchai was received into the Catholic Church.
HANDING LIFE OVER
In another recent post, “Saints and Sojourners: From Prison to Divine Mercy,” I described that Pornchai and I also met Father Seraphim, and our lives have intersected with two other well known proponents of Divine Mercy, Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, and Eric Mahl. Father Gaitley is the author of several Catholic bestsellers including 33 Days to Morning Glory and Consoling the Heart of Jesus, both of which were the basis of the two retreats we entered into in prison before and after our Marian Consecration.
Eric Mahl is an associate in the Marians of the Immaculate Conception who assists the Marians outreach ministry. Eric and Pornchai first became acquainted when they both appeared in another bestseller, a remarkable book by Felix Carroll entitled, Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions. I’ve mentioned this book in several posts because it plays a vital role in this middle part of Pornchai’s story.
Joe and Karen Corvino were Pornchai’s foster parents as a teenager in the years before he went to prison. In “Loved, Lost, Found: A Gift for Mother’s Day,” I wrote of Pornchai’s reunion with his beloved foster parents. For five years I had told Pornchai that we were unable to find Joe and Karen, but that sooner or later they would find us.
This reunion was set in motion when Mrs. Lavern West, a TSW reader in Cincinnati, spotted an obscure reference to “Our son, Pornchai” on a Facebook page. The message was posted on September 10, Pornchai’s birthday, but discovered by Lavern two months later. She then posted a link to Pornchai’s guest post.
I will always remember the look of awe and wonder on Pornchai’s face the next day when I hung up a prison telephone, walked into our cell, and said, “TSW has a comment from Joe Corvino.” Miracles are sort of like being tasered, and this one didn’t disappoint. I told the rest in “Loved, Lost, Found: A Gift for Mother’s Day.”
Now if you have read this far, you might see why the photos below just knocked our socks off!
The threads of Pornchai’s life, past and present, just kept connecting, seemingly of their own accord. Near the end of August this year, Charlene Duline, Pornchai’s Godmother in Indianapolis spotted this news bulletin on the Marians’ website:
“Bestselling Author Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC in Huntersville on Tuesday: In a surprise stop in North Carolina, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC will be speaking at St. Mark Catholic Church in the Lake Norman area. Father Michael will give his personal testimony and a talk on “Mary and the Time for Mercy.” Don’t miss this special event on Tuesday, September 2 at 7:00 PM.”
It turned out that Huntersville was very near Joe and Karen Corvino’s home, so Charlene sent them the bulletin. A week later, on Pornchai’s birthday, September 10, 2014, he received the photo below of his foster parents with Father Gaitley and Eric Mahl. It was accompanied by this message from Joe:
“Karen and I drove out to see Father Michael and the other Marian Missionaries. What a wonderful bunch of guys. Father Michael said that they were not originally scheduled to stop there on their tour. He told the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and all we could think of is our son, “Max.” Later, I recognized a man at a book table and approached him. It was Eric Mahl, and I remembered him from that great book by Felix Carroll about our son.
So I walked up to Eric and said, “We have mutual friends.” He asked, “Who?” Then I said, “Father Gordon MacRae and our son, Max!” Well, you would think you guys were the pope! Eric told someone near him and the next thing you know we were surrounded, talking about God’s mercy taking place in your prison 1,000 miles away!”
Two weeks later, another letter with another photo arrived in the prison mail from Joe Corvino. Joe and our good friend, Father George David Byers met. Joe plans to help Father Byers gather food donations for the food pantry of his parish in Andrews, NC.
All the dangling threads of Pornchai-Maximilian’s life have been coming together. Then came the greatest cause of our Thanksgiving this year. Pornchai has learned that in two weeks he will reunite with his foster parents, Joe and Karen, for the first time in twenty years. They were approved to attend a family Christmas event at the prison and they are making travel plans as I type.
Meanwhile, as all the ideological debates that I’ve been writing about engulf our Church of late, the Marians and their Divine Mercy mission are inviting us all to the practice of faith. If you haven’t visited them and subscribed to their news, you’re missing a thread of connection that could one day be a cause for your own thanksgiving. Carpe Diem! Seize that day!
Editor’s Note from Father Gordon: Over the last year or so, many readers have asked me about our friend, Father George David Byers. He has been helpful behind the scenes of These Stone Walls, and has also been serving a parish as remote as his hermitage. If you wish to contact him, or assist with his ministry in his parish, which includes the most distressed county in Appalachian North Carolina, here is his address:
Father George David Byers
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
214 Aquone Road
Andrews, NC 28901
Father George told me that he would like to invite all of our wonderful TSW readers from North Carolina – from Wilmington to Fontana Dam (at the Tail of the Dragon) – to come out for Mass, fellowship, kayaking and hiking, as well as bear, boar, deer and racoon hunting… and for a bowl of possum stew.)
To the readers of These Stone Walls from Ryan A. MacDonald: Readers have been especially generous and kind in responding to our appeal for assistance with legal costs at the Federal level. It has come to my attention that State officials have filed objections to Father MacRae’s appeal in the Federal courts, and these objections required lengthy and highly detailed responses from the attorney’s representing Father MacRae. One such exchange cost $15,000 that seriously depleted available funds as the appeal continues. So, to compensate, we have raised the bar in our fundraising effort. I know that Father MacRae is most appreciative to all who have aided this effort, and that he would much prefer that many people do a little instead of just a few doing a lot. Let us hope that this could be an undertaking of the whole church. For information on how to assist, please see my post “News Alert: New Federal Appeal Filed in Father Gordon MacRae Case.”