AMISH GRACE: How Forgiveness
Transcended Tragedy, by Donald B.
Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L.
Wiley & Sons. 256 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a freelance
writer who lives in Boston.
ON OCTOBER 2, 2006, Charles Carl
Roberts IV “carried his guns and his
rage” into the Amish schoolhouse near
Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, killing five
girls and seriously wounding five others.
This act was inexplicable to those
who knew Roberts as a loving father
and husband, unaware that he harbored
deep anger toward God because
of the death of his firstborn daughter
nine years earlier.
“I need to punish some Christian
girls to get even with Him,” Roberts
explained before he gunned down the
The media flocked to Lancaster
County to report on the violence that
had “struck a people and a place that
many imagined was immune from
such terror.” The widespread news coverage
of the event led to an enormous
outpouring of material and emotional
Very quickly, though, the focus of
the stories from Nickel Mines shifted
away from the killings and on to the
swiftness with which the Amish “forgave
the killer and offered grace to his
Amish mourners at Charles Roberts’s
burial, one family member reported,
“embraced Amy [his widow] and the
children. There were no grudges, no
hard feelings, only forgiveness. It’s just
hard to believe that they were able to
It is the task of this important and
admirable book to explain the theological,
historical and social reasons
why they could forgive such a brutal
The authors, respected academics
who have written extensively on the
Amish, bring scholarly precision and
lucid writing to the task of explaining
contemporary Amish life in the context
of Anabaptist history.
“Although the Amish are far from
static, their culture draws on values
and practices set in motion hundreds of
years ago, amid events in Europe’s
tumultuous 16th century,” the authors
explain. Anabaptists rejected infant
baptism and a state-supported church;
instead, they developed “an uncomplicated
and often literal reading of the
Bible” to sustain “a voluntary gathering
of those committed to obeying Jesus’
Condemned by both religious and
civic leaders, they suffered imprisonment
and even martyrdom,
stories that are still the
basis of Amish preaching.
The classic is the 1569 execution
of Dirk Willems.
Willems escaped from prison,
and while being pursued
by a guard and the
town’s mayor, he safely ran
across a frozen pond. The
guard, right behind him, fell
through the ice and, crying
out, began to sink. “Willems
stopped, turned around,
and went back to save his pursuer’s life.
Willems literally extended his hand to
his enemy and carefully pulled him to
The theological roots of Amish forgiveness
lie in their understanding
of discipleship—the desire to emulate,
not simply worship, Jesus. Quaker
theologian Sandra Cronk uses the German
translated as “yieldedness” or “submission”—
to describe Amish spirituality.
In Jesus, they see the “paradoxical
pattern” of “God working in
the world with the power of powerlessness.”
Submission to God’s will “expands
into an ethic of yielding to one another,
renouncing self-defense and giving
up the desire for justification or efforts
at revenge.” It leads to “the willingness
to give up one’s self to the
authority of the community and its
Though many New Testament passages
address forgiveness, the Amish
pay particular attention to the Sermon
on the Mount and, most significantly,
the Lord’s Prayer. “The
Amish believe, if they don’t forgive,
they won’t be forgiven. This forms
the core of...their understanding of salvation:
forgiveness from God hinges
on a willingness to forgive others.” This
is the “key to Amish spirituality”
because of the communal nature of
The authors continue,
“The core value of Amish
culture is community. On
bended knees at baptism,
Amish individuals agree to
follow Christ, to place
themselves under the authority
of the church and
to obey the...unwritten regulations
of the church. Here
the key words are self-denial,
and humility—all of
which require yielding to the collective
wisdom of the community.”
One of the most interesting aspects
of Amish Grace is its analysis of the
news reports and editorial opinions
about forgiveness after the murders at
Nickel Mines. The authors are clear
that this act of forgiveness was distinctly
Amish, inseparable from their
countercultural witness which, refined
over the centuries, has formed a religion
that inspires “goodness, forgiveness,
and grace.” In a world where
religion more often fosters retaliation
and revenge, this is amazing grace
You can order AMISH GRACE: How Forgiveness
Transcended Tragedy from St. Francis Bookshop.
MY COUSIN THE SAINT: A Search
for Faith, Family, and Miracles, by
Justin Catanoso. HarperCollins Publishers.
332 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by BROTHER DOMINIC
LOCOCO, O.F.M., a sales representative
for St. Anthony Messenger and spiritual
assistant to the Secular Franciscans’ Holy
HAVING RECENTLY RETURNED from
a jubilee trip to Italy with a group from
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Cincinnati,
followed by a visit with my many
cousins in Sicily, I was happy to be
asked to review this book.
Justin Catanoso is a Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist who writes about
St. Gaetano Catanoso with a passion—and with good reason. Canonized by
Pope Benedict XVI on October 23,
2005, Gaetano was a cousin of Justin’s
grandfather Carmelo, who left Italy
in 1903. Gaetano’s family stayed in
St. Gaetano was born in the small
hamlet of Chorio in 1887. Early on, he
realized that farming was not his calling.
Although only one in 10 families
owned land in Southern Italy in the
1800s, the Catanoso family was a little
better off than most.
Between 1880 and 1930, 4.5 million
Italians entered the United States, 80
percent of them coming from Southern
Italy and Sicily.
Gaetano’s father, Antonio, relished
the thought of a priest under his own
roof, especially his most gentle child.
Gaetano began to grasp that God had
a plan for him. So he and his father
loaded the family donkey and walked
miles to the seminary at Reggio Calabria,
across from the Strait of Messina,
In the summer months, the seminarian
was allowed to preach to the
people from the pulpit. The Lord, he
believed, was stirring in him. As he
would recall later, “It was a beautiful
episode, a joyous anticipation of my
priestly mission.” After ordination at
the age of 23, he asked his family and
friends, “Please pray to the heart of
Jesus to make me a saint.”
His first assignment was in a tiny
hamlet called Pentidattilo, whose villagers
were beyond poor. They were
illiterate, downtrodden and bankrupt of
hope. At Mass only a few old ladies
would attend. Padre Gaetano would
walk the piazza and talk to
the children, inviting them
into church for instructions
in the Faith. That was the
start of a priestly career that
would span six decades and
lift the hopes and spirits of
countless souls throughout
The Mafia at that time
was a strong force for evil in
Sicily, Calabria and Southern
Italy. Father Gaetano
often clashed with them,
mainly in his Sunday sermons. One
incident shows his fearlessness: A
young woman from a poor family had
gotten pregnant by the son of a powerful
Mafia chief and her parents
wanted an immediate wedding.
After discerning the couple’s love for
each other, Padre Gaetano officiated at
their wedding, although he had been
threatened at knifepoint by the father
of the groom. Later, the father begged
the priest’s forgiveness. Padre Gaetano
responded, “Come, in a few
months we will celebrate the
birth of your grandchild.”
Padre Gaetano saw the
need for teachers and social
workers to help him in caring
for the poor and neglected.
But he got into
trouble gathering women in
the area, whom he called
“The Sisters of St. Veronica,”
or “The Veronican Sisters of
the Holy Face.” He continued
to support the sisters by
putting donation boxes into parishes.
During World War II, the archbishop
and a few of his priests were returning
from a meeting when Allied planes
flying overhead mistook them for
Mussolini’s men and opened fire. The
archbishop and several priests were killed. Padre Gaetano was called to
notify the archbishop’s mother. He told
her, “In Domino.” Clutching her hands
to her heart, she understood at once,
“God is passing through my life.”
As he aged, he suffered various illnesses
such as blindness, arthritis, a
painful hernia and diabetes. Before his
death in 1963, however, he laughed
more heartily and smiled more radiantly,
reclaiming his youthful simplicity.
Justin Catanoso, who teaches writing
at Wake Forest University,
admits his knowledge of the
Catholic faith was rudimentary,
and he questioned
most of its tenets. When he
realized there was a saint in
the family, his journalistic
interest was aroused.
One chapter recounts the
sickness of his brother Alan
and how the family stormed
heaven for his cure. The
expected miracle did not
occur, but Alan was at peace
with his cross. He converted the family
into seeing the real miracle of peace
and resignation to the will of God.
What can we learn from Gaetano’s
life? His complete trust in God’s providence,
wholehearted dedication to his
priestly calling and his humble example
of loving service can draw all of us
to emulate this gentle saint.
You can order MY COUSIN THE SAINT: A Search
for Faith, Family, and Miracles from St.
SAINTS OF ASIA: 1500 to the Present, by Vincent J. O’Malley, C.M. Our Sunday
Visitor. 221 pp. $14.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. He has written
three books on saints and edited the last
three editions of Saint of the Day (St.
Anthony Messenger Press).
CATHOLICISM IS STILL considered by
many people as predominantly a European
or North American religion, even
though since approximately 1970 the
majority of the world’s Catholics have
lived south of the equator.
Armenia was the first entire country
to embrace Christianity (third century).
Christian merchants from Syria
brought the Good News of Jesus to
China two centuries later. Approximately
three percent of Asia’s population
is Catholic, but roughly one in 10
Catholics worldwide lives there.
The Asian countries with the largest
Catholic populations in the millions
are the Philippines (63), India (16),
Vietnam (5) and South Korea (4).
Father O’Malley, pastor of St. Joseph
Church in Emmitsburg, Maryland,
describes writing about saints as his
avocation. He has already written books
about the saints of Africa
and North America (Our
Sunday Visitor). The present
volume includes “modern-era
saints and candidates
for sainthood, who either
were born in Asia or ministered
extensively in Asia.
Only people whom the Vatican
has either canonized
as saints or officially introduced
into the process as
Servants of God are included.”
By my count, they
number 443 persons. O’Malley also tells
the story of two Marian shrines (La Vang
in Vietnam and Vailankanni in India).
Most of the canonized saints in this
book are martyrs. China’s 120 recognized
martyrs range from age seven to
79, with 87 people born there and 33
foreigners. The 103 Korean martyrs
(1838-67) number 94 Koreans (including
48 women) and nine French clergy.
Last month Pope Benedict XVI canonized
Sister Alphonsa Muttathupandathu
(1910-1946), the first saint born
in India. The 117 Vietnamese martyrs
were Vietnamese (96), Spanish (11) and
Four people with a U.S. connection
appear in these pages: Msgr. Aloysius
Schwartz (d. 1992 in the Philippines),
Marianne Cope, O.S.F. (d. 1918 at
Molokai), Vincent Robert Capodanno,
M.M. (d. 1967 in Vietnam) and Walter
Ciszek, S.J. (d. 1984 in Pennsylvania).
Father Ciszek wrote With God in Russia about his imprisonment there.
The people listed in this book are
arranged according to the month when
their feast is observed or the month
when they died. The most recent entry
is Sister Rani Maria Kunju Vattalil,
F.C.C., who was martyred in Uttar
Pradesh, India, in 1995.
This volume includes 38 photos or
drawings of the people featured, 16
pages of endnotes, eight pages of bibliography,
an index of people featured
and a geographic list of these people.
One minor complaint—the year that
each person died is not always given.
This volume was clearly a labor of
love. It will enrich all who spend time
You can order SAINTS OF ASIA: 1500 to the Present from St.
THANK YOU FOR THANKSGIVING, by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated
by John Walker. Concordia Publishing
House. 32 pp. $12.99.
Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an
assistant editor of this magazine, with
some help from her nine-year-old daughter,
Maddie, and six-year-old son, Alex.
IT’S NOT OFTEN that you find a
Thanksgiving book that doesn’t in
some way focus on or reference pilgrims
and Native Americans. That’s
why I was so excited to present my
kids with Dandi Daley Mackall’s book
Thank You for Thanksgiving.
The book focuses on the things that
most American families associate with
the holiday—food, family and giving
thanks. Maddie read—and Alex reread—the book, each one bouncing over the
words, thanks to the rhyming pattern
that Mackall uses.
The story takes the reader through
the events of Thanksgiving Day, from
the arrival of family members—“Cousin
Roger’s at the door, looking taller than
before”—through dinner. Before they
eat, though, they all take time to mention
what they’re thankful for. The youngest family member listens as
everyone takes a turn, but wonders
“What’s my prayer supposed to be?
What am I thankful for?” Finally, he
decides, “Lord, can I give thanks for
You? And thank You for Thanksgiving?”
John Walker’s illustrations for this
book are out of this world. Some are so
lifelike that all of us questioned
whether they were drawings or if they
included actual pictures. For instance,
in the illustration where the family is
gathered around the table, the pictures
on the buffet behind the table look like
actual family snapshots.
This is a wonderful book to have
around for the holidays.
You can order THANK YOU FOR THANKSGIVING from St. Francis Bookshop.